February 27, 2008

Just some random thoughts, observations and comments today…


The above link takes you to a story on Kotaku about the Game Developer’s Conference (among others) being turned into an invite-only press event. I’ve covered videogames for eight years now. I did not get an invite to E3 in 2007. I didn’t try to get one, but that’s sort of beside the point. When you make these things invite only, it becomes a boys’ club of invitees and I think you end up losing something. Isn’t game coverage corporate enough already? Research and be smarter with your press credentials and this isn’t a problem. By turning it over to the publishers and developers, you’re almost guaranteeing they’ll stack the deck with favoritism and all the same old guys that cover every show (usually with no excitement and a cynical attitude).

I think what I understand the least (and this applies to E3 more than GDC) is that this industry is so intent on keeping the people who love their games away. One of the things that sets gaming apart from other entertainment mediums is the interaction between the game makers and the gamers on messageboards and via e-mail and the like. But when you start talking about those dirty gamers coming to a trade show to play their games, all the pubs and devs want to do is kick them out! Sony got a black eye in 2006 at E3 when no one really cared about PS3 and PSP while they hopped through their booth to get to Nintendo’s, and I think that’s where this all started.

They want to sell us as many games as possible, but keep us at arm’s length.


Some years ago I did a really stupid thing and left one of those 80 CD cases on top of my car and proceeded to drive across town. When I pulled onto the highway, said case went flying and I didn’t realize it until I was up the road quite a ways. I went back but it was gone. One of the games in that case was the one you’ll see at the link above. The Reap is possibly the greatest shooter ever created for the PC. It’s only on the PC and I’ve wanted to replace it for eons. I finally decided to take the plunge on a UK eBay seller and the game arrived today! It’s as awesome as I remember it, and they finally patched it to run on Windows XP so that was a major bonus.

I feel more complete today knowing that The Reap is back in my collection.

Oh yeah, one of the reasons it’s so cool? The game scores in body count. You are the invading aliens destroying humanity. Everything you destroy sends bodies flying everywhere. How cool is that?!

I’m between reviews again (and still waiting for one of them to appear at http://www.crispygamer.com so I can link it here), so today I rented The Club. Normally I’d buy it right out, but I just couldn’t decide if I wanted the PC or the PS3 version of the game. Hollywood Video had the PS3 version on the shelf when I dropped off a movie so I just went with it, even though Game Crazy is in the same store and had both versions for sale. This is a game I know I’ll buy, but with my time so limited lately I didn’t want to spend full price on anything. After I’m done here I’m off to land some headshots so expect a full report on that one sometime later this week.

As an aside, videogame rental pricing is out of control. $7.99 for five days? That’s highway robbery. I immediately decided to start a Gamefly account after running into that massive fee for such a short rental period. I’m going to suspend my Gametap account at the same time since I haven’t had the time to use that lately. I love that service and it’s still the best value in gaming, but when you get back on the writing treadmill, it’s hard to justify having it unless the rest of the family is using it regularly… and they’re not.



How far would you go for twenty cents?

February 26, 2008

Was walking through the grocery store tonight scoping out the cat food aisle and overheard one of the most bizarre statements. A lady who needed one of those motorized carts to get around the store was fairly irate about the price of an item. She noted to her female companion that they would just have to go across the street to another grocery store to buy this can of whateveritwas because it was twenty cents cheaper over there. She was not going to spend 89 cents for something that cost 69 cents at the other store.

First of all, just the drive across the street seems like it would cost twenty cents in gas money given the high price of fuel these days. But even if you set that aside, is it really worth extracting yourself from that store at that moment over twenty cents? What if you want to pick up a few other things and some of them are twenty cents cheaper at the store you’re already in? I guess people don’t think that far ahead? I was baffled by this woman’s statement. I didn’t follow her around to see if she stuck to her word and just headed for the door immediately, but given how bullheaded people can be in this part of Pennsylvania, it wouldn’t surprise me.

As usual, this got me thinking about videogames. Obviously no one’s going apeshit over twenty cents when they’re buying videogames, but people do get awful uppity about paying $5 for a downloadable Nintendo Entertainment System title available through Virtual Console. When you ask them how much they should cost, they usually lower the price by a dollar or two. A dollar… or two… um, yeah. It’s really not all that different from the twenty cents lady in my opinion. The same thing happens with Xbox Live Arcade titles and those available on PlayStation Network Store. Someone’s always complaining about those being overpriced too, as if games available for $10 are an affront to their consumer rights.

Here’s a protip, games at the store cost $60 and you’re happily paying that much for many of those games and getting less than ten hours of playtime out of them. Some of these Live Arcade titles such as Catan or Carcassonne can easily provide years of entertainment value for one-sixth the price. Virtual Console games? Same situation. And what’s really amusing is the cartridges are often more expensive than the price of the game through Nintendo’s Wii Shop. You’re getting a true bargain much of the time, and you don’t have to hunt around flea markets or eBay either.

I guess it’s just the nature of the Internet and of life in general that people are simply very happy to complain about anything and everything. I’ve actually tried to change my personal outlook there whenever possible, but I even catch myself complaining about stupid things sometimes. It’s sort of nice to know that it’s not just on the Internet that people moan about inconsequential price deltas.


Invading the Fortress

February 24, 2008

This is almost two posts in one day. Can you dig it?!

After doing some work tonight, I spent my free time playing my favorite game from 2007, Team Fortress 2. Lately, I’ve been hanging out on the Portal of Evil server which is also the unofficial Quarter To Three server as well. Some decent players keep me on my toes there and the map rotation is pretty great.

Badlands, the recently released Valve update of a Team Fortress Classic map, has quickly become one of my favorites. It’s a map that really rewards smart engineer play, and that’s a class I don’t play too terribly often so it’s really fun to wear that hat. What’s interesting is a lot of folks don’t play the engineer class on Badlands, so being the lone guy with a sentry can really rack up the kills. The map is also a lot more vertical than it seems on first glance. A lot of time is spent shooting up at someone on a bridge or hill and those kinds of shots are still the toughest to land. When playing the soldier, I always prefer to be above my targets so I can splash rockets at their feet again and again launching them in the air and ruining their aim.

Once I get revved up, no one keeps their feet on the ground for very long. That’s a key component of playing the soldier. Rockets are deadly but their best benefit is keeping people from controlling their own motion. Once you launch someone skyward, you can either prep to hit the ground where they’ll land or knock them out of the sky with a well-placed shot. This is one spot I’ve been really happy with the Razer Diamondback 3G mouse that I got for Christmas. It’s super precise and responds instantly to my hand motions. I think it’s really improved my first-person shooter skills in all games, but online is where the difference is most notable. I’ve also really enjoyed using the Razer Tarantula keyboard. The keys have a shorter throw on them than standard keyboards and that makes response just that much quicker. I really ought to figure out all the macro programming for it because I know I’m wasting some of its functionality, but like a lot of that kind of thing I ignore it in favor of just playing more. One of these days I’ll get to it.

If you’re still on the fence about purchasing The Orange Box, don’t be. It solidfies in my mind as the best game of 2007 more and more each day. I keep on coming back to Team Fortress 2, and I played through Portal a couple times. I’ve even been working my way through Half-Life 2 as time allows. Even if Team Fortress 2 was the only thing in there, it’d be worth full price, but with all those extras it’s the deal of the year.


More crazy car problems and some Bioshock

February 23, 2008

Troy told me not to say that “It can’t get any worse” and I didn’t. Not once over the last four or five days did those words get uttered, yet today it got worse!

Our second car, a ’97 Ford Taurus wagon with over 100k miles decided to throw a hose or something and now that car is also setting on the lot at a shop waiting for repairs that won’t happen until at least Monday. Ay yi yi… can’t catch a freaking break lately. Fortunately the tax refund is in, some money will probably show up from other work I did some time ago, and my first review for Crispy Gamer should be up there any day. I’m working on a second one for that site this weekend and will be doing more in March. We rented a mini-van so that should get us through til one of these cars is driveable again. I really don’t miss car payments (both were paid off), but it’s probably time to get back onto that choo choo train again. New cars really do have a lot less problems… well, as long as you don’t run into anything. *sigh*

Even though I had to work a lot of hours at my day job this week, and went through all these wacky life issues, I did find time to play some games. the aforementioned Crispy Gamer review game is one of them, but before that got here I was playing some Sins of Solar Empire and Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts. I also spent an hour or so with Bioshock again.

Bioshock really benefitted from the 8800GT on my PC. I still stand by my comments about it in the end of the year roundup. It’s too much of a shooter and not enough of a hybrid role-playing/adventure/real-world simulation type of game. That’s what made System Shock and its sequel so special to me, though both those and Bioshock definitely do make evident that games can be used to tell stories. If you’ve followed my commentary on games over the last eight or so years in any capacity, you probably know that I’m not a huge fan of games being used as movie-like storytelling vehicles. I really want the game to be the focus. All the Shock games do a good job of avoiding the pitfalls of push-button storytelling, but the audio-logs seem more contrived with each successive game.

How do you fix that? I don’t have the solution, but it’s one of the biggest problems facing that particular branch of the videogame tree right now. As game developers try harder and harder to turn their games into blockbuster films where you are in control, they keep butting into that issue of destroying immersion by taking control away from the player. The more I’m watching and not playing, the less I feel I’m in the role they’ve created for me. DOOM 3 is surprisingly good at pushing the audio log design a little further than even Bioshock but a lot of people couldn’t reconcile the old-school shooting that was placed alongside the interesting combination of PDA messages and interactive displays. Half-Life 2 also does some neat things with story advancement without yanking control away much like the original Half-Life streamlined some of the things that were first seen in the first Shock. One thing I don’t particularly like is the way Assassin’s Creed handles its cutscenes and story exposition. Leaving me in control of Altair just so I can decide where to stand while talking heads bombard me with lengthy exposition is not the answer.

It’s something I’m constantly watching because I think it’s a way that games want to go that often leads to them becoming less of a game and more of a film, and we have plenty of good film to watch so why make games into something they’re not? Interaction is the key to this form of entertainment and stories are usually at their best when treated solely as background for the game itself. That’s at odds with my fascination with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, a game that is very typical in its use of cutscenes to forward the story. That game has a very high quality level throughout though, and I think ultimately that wins out with me over just about anything these days. With so many games begging for my time and money, games of that high quality really stand out and I can overlook a lot of their un-game-like functions.

While typing this, I’ve listened to the entirety of the new Danko Jones record and you should too. http://www.myspace.com/dankojones for some classic hard rock!


Ups and downs

February 20, 2008

Played some games last night. Had a good time. Watched basketball on Sunday evening after watching the Daytona 500 late in the day. Both were good days.

Tonight on the way home from work I smashed my car. Headlights, grill, all busted up. Hood is buckled. Who knows if it’ll even be fixable?

I arrive home from this disaster having driven with no headlights in the dark to get here only to find that water is pooling in the basement because the drain is backing up. I have a minor flood to clean up that smells like shit and looks like it too.

All this after having a really crummy day at work that had me preoccupied on the drive home, thus contributing to the accident.

Today was not a good day.



February 16, 2008

I’ve had an NVIDIA brand video card in my computer for approximately ten years. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a better one than the 8800GT.

I think I’ve talked before about buying this card. It was a sort of convoluted mess where one online retailer claimed to have them in stock for a great price, then proceeded to back order my card, ship more to other people (including new orders) and keep me back ordered. I cancelled the online order the day I saw Best Buy’s online inventory system show them in stock at the store. I picked up that BFG 8800GTOC and that’s what’s outputting the video to the monitor I’m typing this in front of right now.

I’ve made big video card upgrades in the past. Moving from a GeForce 2 series card to a GeForce4 Ti4200 was a nice jump. Moving on to the 6800GT from there was an even better jump. But I don’t think anything tops the move from a 6800GT to the 8800GT I have now. Where I could run games at lower resolutions with most effects and high texture quality on the 6800GT before, now I can run all games at my LCD’s native resolution (1280×1024) with everything turned up to the max. Best of all, there were no other upgrades needed. My Athlon 64 3500+ w/2GB of RAM is more than powerful enough to work alongside the 8800GT at that resolution and I’m probably able to make it a year or more before I truly need an upgrade there.

With some free time today, I was finally able to reinstall Bioshock and Company of Heroes to the new hard drive I purchased back before Christmas. The transformation of those games–which were both running great before–is phenomenal. They easily stand toe to toe with anything on consoles and the 8800GT is the driver. It’s exactly the reason that PC gaming is such a powerful thing. With one hardware purchase, I’ve essentially got a brand new computer to play with. It makes “old” games into “new” ones literally overnight. This doesn’t happen with consoles except maybe in the case of the smoothing that PlayStation One games get on PS2 and PS3. Heck, as good as those PlayStation enhancements are on there, even better smoothing is done through emulators that run PlayStation discs on the PC. Once again showing the power of the personal computer as a game playing device.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, that’s exactly the reason I wish Microsoft has poured their enormous Xbox resources into the PC instead. The benefits would have been far greater as far as I’m concerned.

But back to the title of this topic–the 8800GT. Call it a sales pitch if you want, but this is the best card NVIDIA has released, maybe ever. It’s not that it’s the most expensive or the highest of the high end, it’s that it’s completely affordable and provides enormous value for those dollars. I suppose if you were already running an 8800GTS, you’re not so enamored of the 8800GT. After all, it provides comparable performance for at least $50 less than you paid for that card. It’s sort of callous but that’s the price you pay for adopting early. Maybe I’ll regret the 8800GT somehow when the next range of NVIDIA cards ships later this year? Looking at it today though, this is the best money I’ve spent on computing in a long time. Now I’m off to play some more!


Where’s he been?!

February 15, 2008

How long’s it been since I updated here? A week? Nearly.

Sorry for the interruption of service. I’ve actually got a lot I’d like to talk about here but I also have a new job writing game reviews again and needed to dedicate all of my time to that this past week. I’ve got that finished now, but will be right back at it next week again. As soon as the first review is posted, I’ll link it here but if updates get sporadic (and you care enough to keep checking in), you know what I’m up to at least.

As for other gaming, I plan to spend some time with Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts this weekend since I found that for a measly $10 at Circuit City today. I also want to dig deeper into Sins of a Solar Empire, another game I bought recently but haven’t spent nearly enough time with yet. I’d really like to get some multiplayer in with that title, but I’m a bit concerned about game length preventing it. Seems like anything but a small map is going to be a good two hours or more. We’ll see.

I’m still pretty enamored of the PlayStation 3. It’s our primary movie player now and I finally got to watch a Blu-ray DVD last weekend and was suitably impressed. Most folks don’t know it, but I spent three years working in the movie rental business and became quite a film buff. You can’t help but get really into film when you have so many to choose from every single day you’re on the job. While I don’t watch as many today as I used to, I still have a massive appreciation for the craft of filmmaking and I can easily see why high-definition film at home is worthwhile. The price is probably too high for the average movie watcher, but as a bonus with the PlayStation 3, it’s definitely a superb deal.

Expect at least one more update this weekend, and I hope everyone had a great Valentine’s Day.