Tag Archives: video games

The Fade

I played a little bit of Dragon Age: Origins tonight. I probably should have spent that time working on one of the two short stories I currently have in progress, or working on the next part of my Codrus’ Labyrinth campaign for my D&D group, or doing some cartooning for one of the webcomics I’m trying to get started. Instead, I chose to veg out for a few minutes and keep my laptop in the bag.

I started Dragon Age a while back and made a lot of progress at first — one might almost say too much progress. There were several side quests in the (long) introductory sequence that I failed to complete because I accidentally stepped into the main story plot a bit sooner than I expected. I doubt that I actually missed all that much in terms of leveling up, but I hate leaving potential story items untold.

Be that as it may, I found myself flung into the main arc of the story with several options available to me. The one I chose to start with was visiting the mages’ tower to recruit them to my cause of standing against the coming Blight. All went well for quite a while. Enemies fell before us, items were found and added to our inventory, and party members leveled up.

Then we met the sloth demon, and that’s where everything went off the rails. Callenon, the elvish fellow I’m playing, wakes up to find himself trapped in the Fade, this otherworldly place of dreams and nightmares, stripped of his friends and lost in a blurry realm of fire and violence. And even this part of the adventure went well at first.

The trouble is, the Fade is a very difficult place to traverse. There are these series of islands surrounding a central island, which is my ultimate goal. Problem is, the only way to get there is to solve the riddles and mysteries of the surrounding islands and unlock a door that only demons can see. Oh, yes — and the other three party members are trapped somewhere on the other islands.

Most of the monsters you meet in the Fade are pretty easy to take down. Quite a few can kill you almost before you can take three steps into the room. I keep dying and having to reload the previous save point, in order to try a different route that will hopefully be a little easier. My options are rapidly dwindling, though, as I clear areas and get no closer to unlocking the door or finding my lost companions.

I put it away after about an hour tonight. That’s about all I can take of the game right now. I’m enjoying things as I find creative ways to win through, but my progress is so gosh-darn slow. I’ve been more than a little tempted a couple of times to kick the difficulty level down a notch (to easy), just in order to get the story in higher gear, but my pride won’t let me. I’d rather fight and lose and be frustrated a while longer in order to have the satisfaction of achieving something difficult than to take the easy way out.

I’ll come back to it again sometime soon and do some more exploring and fighting and see where I end up. Right now, I just want to get out of the Fade — before the place kills me. Again.

Burnout: Paradise

Driving, jumping, crashing, burning

Driving, jumping, crashing, burning.

I recently pulled _Burnout: Paradise_ back out of its box and plunked it down in the tray. The reason? My wife bought me a 26″ HDTV for Christmas, which is a huge step up from a 13″ SDTV. Turns out, you can actually see the streets and cars of Paradise City a lot better on a bigger screen. And let me just say, _Burnout: Paradise_ in HD is absolutely stunning to look at.

Continue reading Burnout: Paradise

Killer Instinct

There’s a “news story on Gizmodo today”:http://gizmodo.com/343186/teen-strangles-father-with-gamepad-cable about a teen gamer who tried to strangle his father with a cord from a gaming controller. Apparently, the father had repeatedly told the boy to turn off the console and finally ended up going into the boy’s room and pulling the power cord, causing the boy to lose all his progress. The kid was so outraged that he proceeded to try strangling his father. Craziness.

Now, I know that as a kid, I often felt angry whenever my parents told me I needed to get off my Nintendo and either A) do my chores, or B) go outside for awhile, ((It might have been a different story had the Nintendo offered a way to save games so that all your progress wasn’t lost every time you quit.)) but I never felt compelled to attempt murder. And even now it’s frustrating to lose game progress to a power outage, disc failure, and console hiccup – but ultimately it’s not the end of the world, and certainly not something worth resorting to violence over.

This story is not, of course, about video games being responsible for violence. It _is_, however, an example of the evolution of cultural norms that place such a high level of value on entertainment that they make foreign ideas like personal control, restraint, and responsibility. Y’know, video games are a luxury, not an essential. If they’re the catalyst for behavioral problems in kids, the wisest thing a parent can do is take the games away until the child (or teen) has learned enough responsibility and self-control to be able to handle them without flying off at the handle. I mean, you can’t tell me that, in this case, this incident was the first time the parents had ever seen a behavioral outburst like this.

The Joy of Halo 3

I avoided Matchmaking in Halo 2 like the plague. I played a lot of Rumble Pit early on when I first got Xbox Live, and I’m sure that certainly helped me develop a lot of the necessary skills to be a somewhat competitive player. My favorite type of match to play, however, were custom games with friends. There were two reasons for this.

The first was that Matchmaking was rife with Timmies. For the uninitiated, a Timmy is a play – usually a child or adolescent – who, regardless of skill at the game, mouth of with words that would make a sailor blush, verbally abuse anyone and everyone around them, declare themselves video game gods when they are playing well and accusing everyone else of cheating when they don’t, and spend a large portion of their time teabagging the virtual corpses of their opponents – whether they were actually the one who defeated them in battle or not. The Timmies still exist in Halo 3 Matchmaking, of course. It’s just a lot easier to put the mute on them and to stick bullets into them.

The second was that I was never quite able to match up competitively with most of my opponents. In all my games of Rumble Pit, I can count on one hand the number of games I actually won. When playing with “my fellow Gunslingers”:http://tiedtheleader.com, I always felt like the dead-weight who was more of an impediment than a help. In Halo 3, I’m _very_ competitive, having achieved skill levels so far in the 18-19 range, where I never consistently made more than a 12 or 13 in Halo 2. I’m enjoying Halo 3 much more than Halo 2 – and for those who know me, they know how much I raved about Halo 2. The games seem much more balanced now, and I feel like I still have room to go up in skill points.

The game itself is visually and audibly stunning, taking advantage of the full processing power of the Xbox 360 to provide a cornucopia of delights. Forge is a beast, allowing you to customize maps to your heart’s content, and Saved Films, Screenshots, and File Share are revolutionary pleasures. I’ve joked in the past that Halo 3 is probably the most expensive video game to date, since many of us acquired an Xbox 360 for the sole purpose of playing this game. It’s no joke now, though. Halo 3 is worth every penny, and I look forward to many more hours of enjoying this game with my friends and the Halo community.

The Story That Drives the FPS

John Scalzi “points out on his blog”:http://scalzi.com/whatever/?p=18 that the Writers Guild of America has created a new award for videogame writing. This brings into sharp relief again one of the elements that has me so hooked on the Halo series.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m really not an FPS gamer, at least not as a rule. There are only two FPS games that I play with any regularity – Halo (duh) and Rainbow Six: Vegas. Before Halo, I had played a little Duke Nukem multiplayer in college (and got smoked every time) and toyed a little with Wolfenstein. I quickly gave up on both. I never could quite manage the controls – using a keyboard and mouse in smooth coordination was always beyond my reach – and frankly, the games themselves never really inspired me to master them.

The first – and only – FPS I ever fell in love with was Halo, which surprised me as much as it did my friends who knew how much I disliked FPS games. So what made the difference? For starters, all the controls were contained in a single controller that actually had logically placed triggers for firing weapons. It took me a little time to get used to manipulating two sticks for movement, but that was actually a small hurdle.

What _really_ gripped me with Halo, however, was the story. Here finally was an FPS that actually had a fascinating storyline that gave some reason for the madness of fighting one’s way through hordes of enemies. Duke Nukem never had than a shallow story at best, and Wolfenstein’s story – well, I never played long enough with that one to know what kind of story it had.

_Halo: Combat Evolved_ grabbed your attention right from the first cutscene and held it all the way through the game as the UNSC and Master Chief explored this huge ring-link structure and uncovered some of the most ancient mysteries of the universe. This story has caused the formation of avid fan communities that continue to push Halo to the top of the bestseller and most actively played lists in the gaming industry. The storyline that powers these games is robust and lush, providing enough material for four novels. Between the story and the community that sprang up around it, not to mention the way that Bungie continues to revolutionize gaming, it should be no wonder why Halo is one of the most successful FPS series to date.

Oh So Busy

Well, I’m afraid that my writing time has been at a bit of a minimum the last week or two. In addition, I’ve had no time as yet to develop the new WordPress theme for “Flashes of Speculation”:http://fs.shamuswrites.com in preparation for its re-launch. This is due, in part, to the fact that I’m back to work full-time. Now I’m trying to get caught up on some new projects while shouldering new responsibilities for an entire database management system that our university uses. I think it will be enjoyable work in the long-run, but the task of getting up to speed on how some of the backend processes work is, quite frankly, a little daunting.

It also doesn’t help that Halo 3 came out for the Xbox 360 last week, and I’ve been as much free time as I can playing online with friends and “clan members”:http://tiedtheleader.com as well as playing around with the new File Share capabilities and dabbling a bit in Forge. I still want to write up a review for Halo 3 but that, like so many other things, is something I haven’t found time for just yet.

I do want to get back to writing here a bit more again, just as soon as things settle down at the office enough for me to be able to fit a little blogging in around projects.

In the meantime, don’t forget to comment on “my book giveaway”:http://shamuswrites.com/2007/10/01/book-giveaway-the-gunslinger/ and check out “my tumblelog”:http://tumble.shamuswrites.com.

Xbox 360 Elite

Xbox 360 EliteWell, my 360 died this past Sunday. No red ring, just a disc drive that stopped working. Basically, it would play a video or game for about 15-20 minutes, then the whole console would reboot, and the disc drive would no longer open or read discs, unless you turned it off for a couple of hours and then fired it back up. At least then, you could retrieve the disc trapped inside before the drive decided to die again.

This is a story of how much I love shopping with Best Buy. Rather than wait to have a box shipped to me from Microsoft, just so I could then wait another handful of weeks for them to ship me a repaired or new one back, I just took out my 2-year service warranty and took my console back to Best Buy. After chatting with a member of their Geek Squad for a moment and verifying that, yes, I could upgrade from a 360 to an Elite, I walked back and grabbed myself one of the black boxes. And then, after paying the difference between the 360 and the Elite, I walked out of the store the proud owner of a brand spanking new Xbox 360 Elite!

My wife even liked the color. Me, I’m just thrilled to have the 120GB HDD.

Halo 3 and Forge

Just before we received the news that “Halo 3 has gone Gold”:http://www.bungie.net/News/content.aspx?type=topnews&cid=12737, we were treated to a delectable little video demonstrating the awesomeness that is the Forge customization module in Halo 3. For every custom game fan, this is a dream come true. Forge is quite literally a drag-and-drop utility for customizing multiplayer maps. If something doesn’t quite meet your satisfaction, Forge will let you change things until everything is just right. Or it will simply let you monkey around with the settings to create new, interesting, or just plain wacky gametypes. And once you’re done messing with the settings and you’ve created just the right environment for some crazy, insane carnage, you can save your modified map out to Xbox Live and share it with all your friends. Bungie will then be able to pick out their favorites and incorporate them into matchmaking. Halo 3 is going to change the face of the way we play video games on Live.

(Source: “Xbox 360 Fanboy”:http://www.xbox360fanboy.com/2007/08/28/video-halo-3-forge-demonstration/”)