Monday, May 30, 2011

Hey, what's Wong?

I was not near an internet connection during the finals at UFGC. This is both good and bad; I didn't know who won, but no one could spoil it for me either. Instead of starting either Bulletstorm or Crysis 2 during the after affects of a food coma I camped out in front of my computer and watched the finals of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter (I would watched Marvel, but I was falling asleep and the outcome was pretty obvious anyway). High end Mortal Kombat is interesting to watch. You almost never see X-rays; meter is reserved exclusively for breakers because every touch from these guys equals a 25% combo or more. It's still quite early in this games life so it was not surprising to see once person be head and shoulders above everyone else. Perfect Legend had a Kung Lao that no one could crack. PR Balrog gave up have way through the grand finals and just played the matches out because he had to. It will not stay this way, but it was nice to see someone without the last name Wong win something.

Speaking Wong, he took both Super Street Fighter 4 and Marvel. I was hoping for more out of a grand final featuring him versus Valle, but it was really just several matches of Valle not being able to figure out what to do against Wong's Adon (not that I would have any idea, either). It wasn't a dominate performance, but Valle never really had a chance. I just don't understand how one guy can be so good at almost any fighting game he touches. When he wants to win, he wins, and when he doesn't win tournament organizers get on his back for not playing as hard as he can. If he becomes a dominant force in Mortal Kombat as well (he only took third at this tournament) people will start building shrines to him. As it is now commentators fall all over themselves at the very mention of his name. I don't hate Wong, on the contrary his ability has always impressed me, I just wish someone new would show up and give him a fight. This is also not meant to be a slight against PR Balrog, Ricky Ortiz or Wolfkrone. Seeing Ortiz absolutely body Juice Box was hilarious, but none of these guys are as consistent across multiple games as Wong.

And no, I do not think that Daigo's taunting about playing Marvel at E3 will amount to anything. I'm calling it now that he wont even make top eight.

...

Finished Dragon Age 2. Meh. I will talk about it tomorrow when I am sitting in a hotel room cursing the terrible television it contains. 

  

Saturday, May 28, 2011

I am so ashamed

The Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament is running as I write this, a scant two or so hours from where I am sitting. I can come up with all sorts of excuses for not being there: I don't have the money, I don't have a PS3 stick, I haven't been practicing, I have no one to go with, it's in Chicago and I hate Chicago, it might rain, there is kite festival at the lake front that I did not go to but would have if the weather was better, I don't like crowds, I don't like people, I am to old for the scene, I am easily intimidated by those with more skill, the end of the world has been pushed off to October and I need to get ready again.

It's all bull shit, I'm just a big pussy.

I went through the player seedings and Milwaukee and its suburbs are almost completely unrepresented. This is made even stranger by the fact that a guy from Madison is running the thing. I know there is a Milwaukee scene, at least they post on SRK a lot, but none of them are going.

It looks like I am not the only guy from 'north of the boarder' that really hates dealing with Chicago.

...

Dragon Age 2 feels like it is approaching the end, but it is difficult to tell. Each chapter has had its own beginning middle and end, like a collection of separate DLC offerings. There have been two cameos from the first Dragon Age that I have noticed so far. The first was a drunken Alistair going on and on about how he should be a prince but was betrayed by the Wardens. I had chosen Loghain over Alistair. Sure, he betrayed his king and indirectly killed hundreds of fellow soldiers, but he kept his mouth shut. Alistair never stopped bitching, but he was my only tank, so I had to put up with it until I found a suitable replacement.

The second was Zenran, just as evil and gay as he was in the first game. I was okay with not being able to recruit him; I did not want to have to worry about catching a knife in the back something else somewhere else for the rest of the game.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dread

For the second time in two days I had to slink back to the menu and lower the difficulty in Dragon Age 2 because of an encounter that I had absolutely no hope of surviving. This time I stumbled into an ancient dragon. If it was just the dragon it would not have been that bad, but after each quarter of life he retreated to a mountain while dozens of little appeared out of thin air to waste my health potions. They would surround my tank, who was doing what a tank is supposed to do, and the big dragon would join back in and hit her with fire for half health. It really felt like the person who designed encounter realized far to late that the dragon was too easy, but instead of fixing him it just added more monsters.

This is the lazy DM equivalent of having an arena in every town instead of coming up with interesting ways for the heroes to fight things.

I do have to admit that the linearity of the plot does not bother as much as some of the angst ridden fan boys out there. It is pretty clear from early on tate Hawke's trip from refugee to hero was not entirely his own doing. There was a fair amount of luck involved, and there are many events that would have turned out the same way with out without his involvement. He is just along for the ride like everyone else, just making a little profit from the events by helping out every poor and not so poor slob that with compensate him for his efforts. If nothing else, I want to play it. The game is not a chore yet, and since I have given up on impressing (wait for it) anyone, playing in on casual should prevent any potential controller hurling.

Speaking on controller hurling, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition is fast approaching. At $15 for the download it is unavoidable, and I am not near good enough for the intentional unbalancing to make a difference. I do get the feeling that Capcom has found a secret passage to my wallet that I can not keep them from. Hell, I bought Marvel and kept it for all of three weeks before trading it in. They don't care what I did with the game, they still got my money.

...

Distracted today. I have a four day trip next week and I do not know if the TV at the hotel will be of the fat or flat variety. Crysis 2 and Bulletstorm are both on tap and I do not want to play them in low definition.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

(Un)avoidable sacrifices

Warning, geek break!

Believe it or not I do have interests beyond video games and over priced kites. Staying truing to my nerdish past, I will watch a Nova about just about anything, but am especially enthralled when they talk about space. Space is big and full of all sorts of things that will kill you, but it is also beautiful and impossible to fully understand. As a child watching Star Trek: TNG I was envious not of Picard's eloquence or Riker's way with the ladies but of Q and his ability to do basically whatever the fuck he wanted. Walk on a star? Sure. Dive into a black hole? Did that twice yesterday. Be everywhere at once? Before breakfast three days a week. Leaving these childhood fantasies behind is never easy, but in adulthood I always enjoyed the though that we had a robotic envoy tooling around Mars doing science stuff.

Yesterday NASA concluded it efforts to try to regain communication with Spirit. It has not called home since last year and is most likely frozen solid. Good job little buddy, and fuck the government for not sacrificing a jet fighter or two to fund more things like you. They have no idea what they are missing.


...

Much like the first Dragon Age, everything was running along smoothly in DA2 until it decided to through an un-winnable encounter at me. In the first one it was the final boss, this time it was just a room with fiends that respawned for what felt like an eternity. My party, apart from my archer (didn't go against type, after all) consists of a tank and two mages. The tank pulls aggro, I pin wanderers with arrows, one mage does damages and the other heals. This works find when I can control where the monsters come from; it doesn't work when them monster closets that made Doom so much fun decide to intrude. It took me a half an hour of trying and dying to lower the difficulty level, and even then the encounter was not easy. What made it worse was that there was no way to prepare.

Literally, 'Oh look, one of those books I am supposed to collect/destroy.'
*walk into room*
*monsters spawn faster than I can kill them, eventually overwhelming my party in an unpleasant orgy of severed limbs and utter bullshit*

This game is awesome.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I fought the lag and the...

Playing Mortal Kombat with someone who is exceptional at other fighting games is very interesting. I had a series of matches last night against a guy who is very, very good at Street Fighter and Marvel but had not put much (if any) time into Mortal Kombat. It started out a bit lopsided on my side, but only because I knew what my character did and he did not. There were a number of super cheesy victories on my part; he did not know that Kitana's X-Ray always win a projectile or that the ex-fan actually throw two and that I can delay the second. After a while, though, he began to adapt, both to the lag and the game itself. He also figured out that trying to playing smart while underwater is just a good idea. Oh, and he figured out that you could spam most of Ermac's moves and be safe.

In other words, I started to lose.

Once I remembered to do simple things like block and avoid being stuck and mid-screen it evened out, but had the game offered netcode closer to that of Street Fighter he would have been destroying me in short order. It proves that I may not be that good right now, but I was excellent about .5 seconds ago.

Side note: mages are basically shunned in the Dragon Age universe. They are hunted and confined for fear of demon possession to the point where there is an underground railroad for them to get out of town and bounty hunters trade them as currency. Mages also all tend to wield the same weapon: a staff. This would include the two mages that I have in my party at all times. Why is it that the templars are completely focused on finding and removing all apostates yet they miss my party even though we are wandering through the city at all hours casting mother fucking fireballs at random bums?

It just doesn't make any sense, so I try not to think about it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The people who you think hate you don't even know you are there

It did not take much looking to find that I am far from alone in my criticisms of Dragon Age 2, though not everyone has the same complaints. I find most fault with the combat, being sloppy and not at all up to the quality of other semi-D&D based RPG's. Others have more issue with the story, or at least how little impact anything the player does has on the overarching narrative. My question is, how often can the player make significant changes to where the story is going? When you look at the big picture (when you get past how much a dick you are going to be and which party member you are going to bone) Bioware very rarely has given the player control over anything crucial to the story that they want to tell. My guess is they have much to high an opinion of their abilities to let some dumb ass user screw it up, and I agree with them. Imagine playing trough Baldurs Gate 2 and not ending up a demigod, or getting the end of the first Mass Effect and deciding not to fight the giant robot squid from out space. About the only important thing I can think of that they allow you to break is killing Shephard at the end of Mass Effect 2, and I have no idea how they are going to work this into the third game.

Still, I am in no place to call anyone to task for bitching about anything. Sometimes I complain about perfectly acceptable things because it is honestly fun to do so. What I never do is take things I don't like as a personal attack. Bad games aren't put out just to piss gamers off. No one in the upper offices is sitting there with a bullet point list of things that no one likes that are intensionally going into a game. Bad game happen for all sorts of reasons, but malice is not one of them (correction: Desert Bus, but that was never actually released). Being let down by Dragon Age 2 not giving the player a good reason to ever side with the templars is perfectly legitimate. Going full comic book guy and assuming it was done by hateful programmers and writers is not. Never attribute to malice what incompetence can more readily explain.

Speaking of incompetence, I played a fair amount of Mortal Kombat online on Friday night. Not only did I find some with *gasp* a reasonable connection, this same person also kicked by ass over and over with Jade and stayed to play against me for around fifteen matches. By the time we were done I had beaten him once. It too be that long to figure out that a lot of what he was hitting me with were overheads and all I had to do was block high. The game after I figure this out I destroyed him. Much to his credit, he adjusted, then went back to beating me with mix ups. It was the best series of matches I have had with the game, I just wish he didn't do a fatality after every win.

If you are going to gloat, do it quickly, don't rip off poor Kitana's head for the umpteenth time in a row.

Friday, May 20, 2011

In which we wish to witch

I should be playing The Witcher 2 right now. Well, not right right now, but instead slogging my way through another Dragon Age. The reason are am not are multiple and all half assed. I tried to play through the first one on three separate occasions, the third time stopping because a side quest would not fire off and I took it as a condemnation of PC gaming as a whole. I want to love gaming on my computer, but it does not love me, and the amount of money it would take to be able to run Witcher 2 in a manner even close to it was intended to just slightly beyond what my wallet can handle (lies, the system requirements might as well me written in another language and what used to be a sexy beast of a machine is now a post-middle aged loaner in need to a hair piece and personal trainer).

There have been times in my life when the game of getting the game to work was an enjoyable part of the experience, but level of patience was lost long ago. Current day consoles, in spite of day one patches and red rings and leet haxors stealing my passwords, have made me lazy. The game arrives and it works. Unless we are talking about Mortal Kombat where playing online doesn't really work, but that is more poor design, less 'whoops, we didn't know about that.'  I know full well that I am missing something, especially when games like Witcher get skipped, I just wish that Sony or Microsoft would start handing out the money hats and get the thing on console.

I am not going to take a step back from ripping of Dragon Age 2 for its identity crisis plagued combat, but I will say that just about everything else to very, very good. It looks better, loads faster, sounds nicer, has more side quests and is it general more interesting that the first one. The main plot line is a bit hard to keep track of, though I am assuming that there is one. There may not be; it may be just a string of semi-related adventures, but that would be enough to distract me from how clumsy things get when I have to kill someone. I do find it odd that all of the male protagonists are gay and that the one female that I would consider pursuing has no interest in me yet, but I am going to chalk that up to the wicked beard that my character has. Men want it, women fear it, and it is really itchy under my helmet.

It is amusing? Of course it is, Bioware very rarely releases terrible anything, but the combat that I want probably doesn't exist anywhere anymore. No one wants to plan out their combat in a turn by turn manner, micro-managing their delayed blast fireballs and watching that one damn goblin sneak through a carefully designed gauntlet of tanks and thieves with a series of impossible dice roles to kill your precious mage (and then have the game crash and lose an hour of work).


Who else misses Troika? Anyone? No one? Damnit, to GoG for yet another game I will never have time to play.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

That will teach me to have hope

And now it is time to complain about Dragon Age. Again.

They fixed, improved, polished and expanded everything that needed it with the glaring exception on the worst bit of the first one: the combat is still caught in a strange no mans land between action RPG and strategy. On one hand controlling your character is right out of Baldurs Gate Dark Alliance. There are more abilities for each class that are possible to obtain in a single play through, allowing my rogue to be my rogue. Each class has three or four sub classes to play with, so if it was only up to my character to kill things it would be great. Unfortunately it's. The combat still tries to be strategic even though you have precious little control over what your allies are actually doing.

This is exactly where it starts to fall apart. Party combat is still handled by the same kind of tactical setup that wasn't fun when it was a big part of Final Fantasy 11, and it still isn't fun now. There are canned solutions that work, but none of them include something as simple as 'drink a damn potion because you are getting your ass kicked' so you have to add it. Then when the character gains a level and a new ability you either have to manually add the new ability or chose one of the pre-built ones and re-add the 'do not allow yourself to be killed' part. It's just not fun when paired with the real time action of controlling your own character.

Oh, and the enemy AI is just as stupid. I ran into a dragon that I should not have been able to kill because my party was short a tank. All I had were two rogues and a mage with bad aim. It killed me over and over until I realized that it couldn't run as fast any of my characters (even though it had wings). Picture the following situation accompanied by the theme from Benny Hill. I allowed my mage to die, which didn't take long. The dragon could only track one character at a time, so when it locked on to one I switched to him and ran away while the AI did the only think it could: shoot the dragon in the ass with arrows.

It took a long time, but I killed him, and I am not proud of it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Outland Review

There have been a glut of side scrolling action games across both important platforms in the recent months and years. At or near the top are Shadow Complex, a game that proves you can steal everything from the founders of the genre and still have it be a good time, and Limbo, a game that is the absolute triumph of style over substance. Both of these games were excellent but missing a piece or two. Either the plot was terrible and the graphics shiny and uninspired or it used all of its good ideas up in the first thirty or so minutes and ran out of places to go. Outland surpasses both with a delicate balance between game play and presentation, exploration of story telling. It is a sublime product and easily one of the best downloadable titles to come out this year.

You'll be fine.
Outland does not waste much time on exposition and motive: the world was created by sisters of opposing elements who later turned against their creation and were imprisoned by the greater gods. Eons later they are about to escape and it is your job to put them back. That's it, but it is enough to both create framework for what happens later and introduce the core game play element: color switching. This has of course been done at least once before by Ikaruga, a shooter that I never had the patience or skill to get to the end of in spite of owning it at least twice on different systems (note: this is not a bad thing). Rather than beat the player about the head and neck with screens filled with bullets like it distant cousin, Outland takes a much more subtle approach. The ability to switch between colors at will does not even become available until about thirty minutes in, giving the player plenty of time to get their hands around how the hero moves before having to worry about what color he is at the time.

How the character moves is the hidden star here. Right behind the color change mechanic and beautiful levels is hiding a side scrolling platformer with controls that rival games like N++ and Super Meat Boy in the precision of their execution. It actually makes the analog stick a suitable choice and that is not an easy thing to do. Abilities beyond changing polarity are handed out at a slow but steady pace. First there is just a melee attack, then a slide, then more and more until the player is a color shifting, double jumping, sliding machine able to traverse bullet hells that would make Perfect Cherry Blossom proud (ok, not really). It never gets as hard as it could, but that is what sequels are for.

Seriously, don't worry about it.
Exploration is also never as brutal or tiresome as it could be, allowing the player to focus on getting from here to there without dying instead of where to go next. Each area has a crudely detailed map and a general location you need to get to. There are also flashing lights that guide you in between them, so there is some babysitting going on, at least there would be if it wasn't guiding you across a field of bullets and monsters. It's not a guide, it's a dare. It doesn't tell you where all the secrets are, nor should it, but there enough readily accessible to get even the slowest of learners through to the end of the game. The placement and scarcity of helpful items is just like everything else in Outland: perfectly balanced.

It is difficult to not gush about this game, but try as I might I cannot find much to take issue with. Checkpoints are occasionally too far apart, but even then I was rarely stuck on a section for more than an attempt or three. Bosses are exempt, with the final boss killing me just before landing the final hit not once, but twice, and two of them have lengthy intro sections that are repeated after defeat. There is an arcade mode to provide replay andcompetition to those that desire them, but they are not required. Outland was so out of the blue that I had do research on who in the world Housemarque was so I could buy more of their games. It turns out I already have: Super Stardust HD is one of the few PSN exclusives that I still play once in a while. This time around they have gone one step farther in proving that you do not need a gigantic budget and sixty hours to tell a good story by doing it in six, portraying it not with pages of bad voice acting but through the action of the game itself. This is much more than just another Metroid-vania; it is the Metroid-vania until Konami or Nintendo get off their asses and make a new ones, and even then they may not be able to reach the new bar.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review block

I am trying to cobble together a review of Outland and failing all over the place. Maybe I am to close to the game having finished it last night, maybe I am out of practice because I haven't written anything of substance in over or year, or maybe the game is simply too awesome to describe. More the first two that the last one, I suppose, but no excuses, I am going to write something about this game if it kills me, delete the whole thing because it will be terrible, then start all over again. Blogging is nice but it can also make one lazy. not a whole lot of thought goes into one of these posts, they are simple stream on consciousness exercises. A good review has a beginning, middle and end, gets the point across and is entertaining to read all at the same time.

There is one paragraph ready that I have been staring at for well over a half hour, and I am not even sure I like that one. I will save that for tomorrow's slacking at work.

Tonight will see Dragon Age 2 get its fair shake. I was luke-warm on the first game, convinced that I played it on the wrong device. For consistency (and because I can't actually afford the game right now) I will play the second on a console as well, more prepared for its limitations. There is a temptation to go against type this time around, perhaps play homosexual cleric instead of my ranger that cruises from town to town, emptying drawers of both woman and the baubles they contained. Then again I am not Catholic and I do not think there are children in the game, so the irony would be lost before it even got going.

Here I am making bad puns when I should be writing the review. Damn I have gotten lazy.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Bruce Lee is full of shit

A quote purportedly from Bruce Lee, though it may be apocryphal:

  

I'd like to call attention to one part in particular: There are no limits.

This is bull shit.

Prepare yourself for brutal truth (with a cynical bend). There are limits on everything a person can do; real, physical, unmovable limits. The human body is nothing more than a wonderfully complicated, squishy machine. There are things that it can do and things that it can't. Add to that the not so subtle differences between different people and I seriously wonder how anyone can delude themselves into thinking that anything is possible. For an extreme example, take Bruce up there. Yes, he worked his ass off to get where he was, but nothing he did would have been possible had be not been a freak of nature. It took a random combination of genetic bits and pieces along with his drive to get where he was, but never forget that he was honestly a freak to begin with. The same is true for all professional athletes. They are not normal and that means that they should be celebrated, but it does not mean that their accomplishments should be cheapened by saying that anyone could do that with enough time and effort.

The same holds true for everything mental as well, as your brain is just a part of the squishy machine. Mystical beliefs aside, the human brain is an electrical, chemical device and nothing more. A freak of mental nature is still just that: a freak. Saying that one can achieve anything is all fine and good for a person with the correct random combination of things to do so (and they can't do anything, either, they can just do more than you), but telling that to someone who physically can't do these things and will never be able to do these things is just cruel. Sisyphus, anyone?


This is not meant to be depressing. I think true happiness lies in acknowledging ones limits and achieving all you can within them. Spending your days trying to do something that you simply cannot do through no fault of your own is the real depressing option. Knowing your limits is not a bad thing.

...

Yes, I had a shitty night playing Street Fighter. Sometimes I hate that fucking game.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Better late than later

Blogger was down for a day.

And I have been lazy, and I really need to change my 'Now Playing' graphic.

There are two right now, actually. One is quite good and one has it's share of problems but gets the job done. The good would be Outland, a game that defies attempts at categorization, mixing equal parts 'Splosion Man, Ikaruga and N++. It is a side scrolling platformer, but with controls more refined than I thought possible. It honestly works better that it should, allowing precise movements with an analog stick. At first there is only one color of thing to dodge, but at about the one hour mark the hero gains the ability to match that color and absorb the attacks. Not surprisingly attacks of the opposite color make their appearance, and shortly thereafter it goes full on Ikaruga and allows you to swap back and forth. Couple that with the exceptional controls and puzzles that appear impossible are opened up within a life or so of experimentation.

This kind of progression leads to back tracking, but never to the point of it being a chore. Areas change between visits, always getting more difficult on subsequent passes. Bosses (or the one boss that have seen so far) are pattern based behemoths that are just hard enough to keep you interested. Outland has found the perfect balance between progression and frustration, saving the mind numbing repetition for a time based arcade mode. The story is laughable and thin, but for once it doesn't matter. Was there story in 'Spolosion Man beyond sploding and escaping? Yes, there were doughnuts. Outland has story that attempts to explain why you can change color and why it is important, but it is superfluous and ignorable. It is pure game play and well worth the $10.

Homefront, on the opposite end of things, is generic to the point of being indistinguishable from its peers. Take Call of Duty and add a White Castle, or Half Life 2 with a Hooters (including the silent protagonist). Not bad, just not new. It also has the nerve to get a few keys things wrong, and the worst of them is how you NPC compatriots act. They don't actually shoot anyone, so every bad guy in the level runs right past them on the way to get you. They also take up the best cover locations and will not move. I can't tell you how many times I snuck around a corner to kill some people then couldn't walk backward because a ninety pound woman with a twenty pound gun had taken up position behind me and would not move. Allies should at worst be transparent, never obstacles, and I would trade them all in to be able to carry more ammunition.

Mediocre shooters are much more tolerable than mediocre anything else. It is fun to shoot people, after all.

There was Street Fighter played as well, but the return of Mike Ross and Gootecks to their excellent adventures seems to have called all of the 10,000 BP players out of retirement. It was not a good evening: I quit the game for good at least twice and dented the wall behind me with a coke can. It reminded me of playing Marvel...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Unexpected...

The last thing I expected tonight was to manage to finish the main story of Two Worlds 2. Chapter 1 was about three times as long as everything else combined, holding the majority of the side quests and the largest area to explore. Planning it this way makes little sense, so I can only hope that the developers ran out of money and just had to finish the game up with existing assets. As is usual for big, open ended western RPG's it really had no idea what to do for a final confrontation. There had been a boss encounter or two previously, but they were little more than powered up normal baddies that took two shots from my arrow shotgun instead of one. After a plot twist that I didn't see coming (though I was pretty sure that the 'prophet' who was helping me was evil; only dark magic could maintain such obnoxious cleavage) a dragon showed up. It was the largest thing that had shown up, so I was excited to fight it.

No luck. Not only was the game not entirely sure how to end, when it had a reasonably good monster to end it with it didn't know how it should be fought. I never actually fought the dragon with my bad ass archer who was one shotting most of the monsters for the last thirty hours. No, I had to run around the top of a tower, dodging dragon breath and lobbing ballista fire. It was lame, but should not have been a surprise. Somewhere along the way I had forgotten that Two Worlds 2 is not a worthy substitute for Skyrim. It is a B (or C) game and could not help but be underwhelming in the end. There were side quests left to do, but after ending with a whimper I have no reason to go back for them.

All that being said, they snuck one excellent bit of humor right in the middle of a swamp torn right off of Tatooine. It started off as a cave based on the end of the last Indiana Jones movie (the third...). The first two tests were the same: duck to avoid invisible blades and follow a path so you don't crash through the floor. The final test was a battle with a black knight.

'None shall pass'
'What?'
'NONE SHALL PASS'
'...I hope this doesn't end in a lawsuit.'

Jumped from Indiana Jones to The Holy Grail without missing a beat. If nothing else, Reality Pump knew their audience.

There is a god!

I am in a hotel room with a decent (not great) HDTV, my 360, and about five hours with nothing to do.

I had two Guiness with dinner, feel just a little bit nice, and don't have to get up until 7:00.

Screw blogging, it's time to loaf like a motherfucker.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Just happy, really

It is not often that I have my house to myself during the day. Most of my gaming takes place at night when I have to do courteous things like not wake the neighbors with my subwoofer. Today was different. I had approximately an hour with no one around and little concern for volume. This would  normally lead to Rock Band 3, and it has been quite a while since I last played the game (the pro-guitar fiasco scarred me off). The thing is, I didn't want to play with the normal five button guitar and I have decided that my drum set needs an upgrade, so all there was left to do was sing.

I don't sing. Correction: I don't sing well, sober, or if there are any witnesses. Alone, with the volume up, there were no excuses. This was this first time I have used the mic personally, and it came with the Rock Bank one pack I bought years ago, and I would be a liar if I said it wasn't a good time. A little STP here, some Pearl Jam there, less singing and more shouting on key, but it was what I could handle. I passed over Paradise By the Dashboard Light and Holy Diver, then all the Iron Maiden I have, just because I didn't want to kill myself, but I could not resist giving Bohemian Rhapsody a shot. Freddie Mercury hits notes that do not actually exist in the spectrum of tones possible with the human voice, so it was going to be ugly. I made it through (on Medium) but I will never  be the same. Yes, I have permanently injured my vocal cords, but I think this small attempt to step into 'Queen's' shoes may have had a deeper, more fabulous affect.

Suddenly I want to watch 300 then go shopping for a shiny vest while singing 'Fat Bottomed Girls.'

Friday, May 6, 2011

My history with rolling plastic shapes

Last night (or was it two nights ago?) I completed one of the most ridiculous side quests I have ever done in a role playing game. While wandering through a new town in the middle of the night I had been approached by a business woman because it looked like I would be able to take care of something her. She wan in the umbrella business, and there was a problem with her last shipment: they ate people. She wanted me to check her last few clients, rescuing them if need be from their psychotic parasols. I thought it was a joke, but sure enough, I walked boldly into the first house and house and found three things flying around the room that looked like fleshy umbrellas with teeth. It reminded me of all the silly things that had happened during the countless hours I spent rolling dice, drinking beer, and playing pretend with other men.

D&D started for me in late grade school. A friend and I got some books and messed around with a few adventures, never really getting past looking up monsters and fighting them with dice. Most of the game was over my head, and it wasn't until college that I understood what it meant to actually role play a character. I fell into it almost by accident, sitting in with a group that met once a week. There were no store bough modules here, only a DM's handbook, a monsters manual and guy with a screen. It was a custom adventure he had written the framework of himself, filling in the details as he went along based on what the party did. This made it much more fluid, allowed the players to better dictate what was happening, and was often downright hilarious.

Thus started a once a week meeting that lasted for almost all of college. We played the same characters for years, growing more and more attached to them as they grew in power. Rules were bent in the name of keeping things interesting because there was a human being in charge of what was going on. My poor character (Phaedrus) was barely recognizable by the time he was retired. He started out as some sort of dwarven fighter, but had died, been resurrected, modified, demonized, and just plain torn to pieces that no one was quite sure what he was anymore. As a part we did wonderful awful things: took over towns, ran bars, killed giant monsters with lucky rolls that pissed of the DM. There was nearly constant inner party conflict, especially between myself and a couple of the damn mages we toted around. One evening one of them cast a sphere of invulnerability around me; I failed the save and could not get out. The two of them proceed to bat be back and forth with Bigsby's forceful hand like a gerbil in an unfortunate game of handball. I stormed off, got in my car, sped off, hit some ice and took out a light pole.

It was a good night. Thank goodness I was sober.

Years later it was my turn to take the DM role. It was right at the end of things and with a new group, plus the lot of us were fighting the demands of the rest of the goddamn world, so getting together even once a month was a victory in and of itself. I ran a ridiculous high level campaign full of death knights, sphere's of annihilation, liches, death dogs, swarms of gibberlings, and at one point a greater feyr.


Keep in mind that the party consisted of a minotaur, centaur, high level wizard, and a ninja. I had to be creative or they would dominate. None of them had fought one of these before: they are the byproducts of horrific nightmares, usually bound to places where people had suffered and died over long periods of time. Much to my delight, they did not do well. The ninja actually died, bitten in two following some poor decisions and a natural one.

My campaign only lasted a few sessions. I had great plans to take them into the outer planes. They made it as far as Sigil, met the Lady of Pain, traded sexual favor with the minotaur to the guards for safety, and realized that they were no more than pawns in a intraplaner conflict that starred Phaedrus as it's main bad guy (my campaign, my guy can come out of retirement and be cool again). Residents of the prime material plane, while generally weaker than other planer creatures, could not be forcibly returned to their home plane via magic. Other beings, regardless of power, could be dismissed by a powerful enough spell, thus primes were perfect for either espionage work or strait up invading a neighboring plane. My adventure would have taken them to the base of the spire that held Sigil in place, an area where no magic works and gods literally go to hang out and play cards. From there they would become embroiled in the blood war: a never ending battle between the baatzu and tanar'ri (lawful evil and chaotic evil) that could tip the balance of the lower planes and send the entire multiverse spiraling into chaos and death.



This was going to be epic shit, and for all sorts of reasons, it never happened. We all got jobs, got married and had kids. Then Third edition came out and, to put it bluntly, fuck that shit.

This history of role playing in the same room as people is what to this day puts me off of MMO's. First of all they will never match the creativity, depravity and hilarity of a bunch of guys in a dim room making up shit as they went along. And secondly, we understood that the rules of the game were there to form a framework for telling a story and having a good time doing it, not to act as a hard boundary to what can and cannot be done. The ninja I killed with the greater feyr? He came back with only a nasty scar and embarrassing story, plus I turned all of his clothes pick just because. World of Warcraft doesn't care about you having a good time, nor does any other MMO. The rules are the rules, and they are arbitrary and sometimes counterproductive.

Like sands through an hourglass

You know days are starting to blend together when you skip a blog post because you are certain that you already made a post that day.

It's time for a break from Two World 2. It did remind me of same great. old D&D stories that I want to tell, but they will have to wait until later.

In the mean time, prepare yourself, Sherman, and warm up the way back machine.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Can't show it, sorry

I have little to say today, nothing to follow up yesterdays bought of introspection, anyway.

Two Worlds 2 remains enjoyable. My character is slowly morphing into the evil, evil thief that I played in Oblivion (minus the sneaking around, because stealth is handled very poorly in this game). There are quests that require decisions based on your character's moral code, but there is no arbitrary scale to show how evil or benevolent I have been. Being as good or as evil as possible became its own game in Fable and KotOR, lessening the thought that went into the decision itself. These decisions matter less to the game so they actually have more weight to them. So far I have been neutral good boardering on true neutral, helping a person I supposed to kill because she made overtones of a nice reward (which was delivered) and then killing a person I was sent to kill that turned out to be mostly innocent just because I wanted the money.

The second quest's ending was actually very interesting. The leader of a band of rebels sent me to kill someone in his camp that he was sure had been feeding information to the enemy. I found him, interrogated him, and realized that the only thing this guy had done was figure out the leader swung the other way, wink wink nudge nudge say no more. I killed him anyway. Upon reporting the successful hit my employer was actually dismayed that I had done what I was paid to do. If the voice acting wasn't so terrible and the characters faces not hideous to behold it might have been an emotional moment. Instead, and much like the sexy times reward from the first quest, it was a little embarrassing to behold.

Apparently they haven't invented paper bags yet, because she really needed one.

...

I just gis'd 'Two Worlds 2 Reesa' and didn't come up with a single picture that I can post on the blog without changing it's status from SFW to NSFW. Oh well.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Games don't hurt the kidneys. Much.

It seems silly to complain about there not being enough leisure time in a day when my problems are my own making. Sharing time between an RPG and a shooter is not that difficult, but keeping track of what is going on between to 40+ hours games is nowhere near as easy. I am faced with Two Worlds 2, a game much better than any of the reviews will lead you to believe, and Dragon Age 2, a game that seems to have disappointed many but is still worth playing. I just don't think that I can handle these games at the same time, not to mention XBLA sneaking out excellent titles every other week. The demo for Outland was fantastic, and I intend to play the whole game, I just don't know when. Add to this conundrum waiting for the magic patch to fix Mortal Kombat's online and trying to be not shitty at Street Fighter and I am about to become paralyzed by difficult choices.

Which begs the questions: Why do I play all these games, anyway?

I have always resisted the the temptation to label anyone, including myself, but what they do. For example, I work in IT, but I do not think of myself as an 'IT guy.' I know enough to do my job and where to find out the (great many) things that I do not know. Similarly, I have a family but am not just a family man, I fail to see the point in voting but I am not a raging anarchist, I like to fly kites but I am not a huge fag. When it comes to games, though, it is a bit more difficult to dodge the colloquial definition. My default setting is to be playing something, only interrupted by sleep and work and eating, all of which would be neglected if they were not required to play more games. It is a good thing that I am not independently wealthy; without work to take up the vast majority of my time I would be an even pastier hermit than I already am.

But that still doesn't answer the question: Why do I play all these games, anyway? 

Habit, perhaps. Escapism, definitely. Laziness, most assuredly. These are all part of it, but mostly I just love to play. I like diving into someone else's world, seeing what their ideas were, laughing at the terrible ones and rolling around in the good ones. With the admitted over abundance of time (really, who needs three hours a day to game) my standards have slipped, but finding that diamond in the rough is still a thrill. It's what I do, at least it's what I want to do.

I have asked myself what I would do if I suddenly had no access to video games. In short bursts, as happens occasionally when I am away from home, I end up watching nothing but the Discovery Channel and going to bed early. Long term, though, I have no idea. It has become such a part of my precious routine that I get pretty testy faster than I should. So I play because I want to, but also (in a small way) because I have to. There is a underlying neurosis here, one that I do not care to have splayed open by over paid kooks with uncomfortable couches. GameFly is cheaper than therapy, and I don't think shrinks will let me drink while exposing my darkest secrets.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sir Elton certainly is toasty

Saturday night was for Street Fighting, and it was good to both play someone who is only slightly better then I am and get my ass kicked by someone who can beat my best with his worst. After a 11 to 1 rout of Honda vs anyone I could throw at him (with the one win being a lame Guile cheese fest) it was time to play with people we didn't mind losing with. For me, it was license to move away from my precious charge character and trot out my scrubby Ryu. My Ryu is terrible, relying mostly on trying and failing to reproduce things I have seen done on streams. At one point I actually managed to FADC an uppercut, but then did nothing with it. I got frustrated, because that it what I do, when I heard:

'Dude, why are you getting pissed about not being able to pull off shit you never practice?'

which was the total truth. The only time I play Ryu is when I am messing around and just playing for fun, so it should come as no surprise that my techniques are limited to crouching medium kick into fireballs, and even those don't work all the time. There is a zen state to playing these games that I am missing, the ability to divorce yourself from all the stress of trying to virtually beat the shit out of someone and just play the game the best of you ability. Honestly I think this would be easier to attain if there were people there to witness my childish out bursts. I can tune out people; when there is nothing to tune out then I no longer censor my reactions and end up pissing myself off, if that makes any sense.

After Street Fighter it was time to revisit Mortal Kombat. This was a mistake and I knew it: Street Fighter, while not perfect, is almost always playable. Mortal Kombat is at the best of time completely under water (I love that term). I was not surprised to lose the first six matches in a row to some dude who kept rotating characters and spamming abusable moves. After the sixth loss I realized that I had to completely change how I was playing. Kitana, at least in practice, is an effective rush down character with relatively easy mid-screen combos that top out between 20% and 30% and can lead into her X-ray. Online, with a half second or more of input delay, they just don't work. What does work is blocking all the damn time and punishing newbs with sensible, reliable combos. Kitana has a nice four hit combo that is around 18%, which is plenty for online purposes. So that is exactly what I did: I blocked, waiting for this gut to do something that left him open, then hit him back.

He never learned.

This same tactic pulled me from 0-6 back up to 6-6, and only his Noob Saibot spam got him a final win, after which he ran away. It was a sad, sad display on his part, but it made me feel better. I really need to stop being such a pussy and just register for the UFGC at the end of the month, then bribe someone to let me borrow a stick. At this rate I could go 2-0 in two games, thereby making the trip even more worth it.