new challenger

I make games. I also play them. I talk about both activities here.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Games and Metaphor

Eric-Jon Rossel Waugh has written a very brilliant article on the dog chasing its tail that the videogame industry has become (metaphorically speaking - hah). I try to avoid making newsy-type updates, because there are tons of websites you can go to for that type of thing, but I break for insertcredit and their various crusaders. This particular topic is one of my favorite subjects, and rather timely, considering the recent back-and-forth that James Chen and I have been engaging in as of late.

Go check the article out here. I promise that as soon as things at work slow down, I will get back to posting with better regularity. In fact I've got a pretty snazzy set of topics that I'm itching to write about, not including the 8 or so games I've purchased since my last GIPRN update. Please feel free to leave comments.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Games I'm Playing Right Now - Part 6

So slowly but surely, James Chen is eliminating the need for my blog to exist. While we don’t necessarily approach things from the same perspective, we do seem to like to talk about the same things a lot. As an added bonus, he updates much more often than I do. In a bit of turnabout being fair play and all that, I’ve decided to steal some of his presentation cues for the Games I’m Playing Right Now series that he stole from me. I hope you all enjoy it.

The Sims 2/The Sims 2 - University (PC)

Yeah. He got me. When I told my PC gaming-centric co-worker that I spent nearly every waking hour of an entire weekend playing The Sims 2, he kind of laughed, and said, "Oh, you haven't gone through that yet?" And I had not. Content to admire the series afar for years (inspired in no small part by my distaste for the traditional Sim games), I had maintained a comfortable distance from the series. It was a phenomenon, I came to understand, because it had attracted a non-traditional gaming audience. You may have read a previous post of mine in which I asserted that a specific group of people made games for a specific audience. Well, The Sims, whether purposefully or not, had broken down a barrier to a previously untapped audience, namely casual female gamers. Armed with this knowledge I purchased The Sims 2 for my girlfriend - the gaming genius. She played somewhat consistently for about a week before losing interest. I was somewhat disappointed by this, as I'm always trying to find a game that pulls her in as much as so many games pull me in. Then a few weeks ago I decided to give The Sims 2 a try for myself, and inevitably I got pulled in. I can see why the game is so compelling; challenges arise frequently; one Sim is tired here, one bored there. One is carrying around a cloud of green stink-gas. Resolving these challenges gives you a mini-feeling of accomplishment, and these bursts of feeling come often - it's quite intoxicating. I'm not completely devoid of complaint, though. For one, your Sims age and thus you must either spend time delaying their inevitable deaths by completing achievements which earn you money, with which you can buy an age-retarding brew. Or you can simply let them die and replace them with new Sims. This is both a macro-challenge - an overlying "point" to the game - and a way to make the game linear; I don't like either implementation. I much prefer The Sims as a world without time; as a little world I can enter and make happier by helping with life's little challenges. I like what the game has to say about me as a person, and about people as a whole.

Quake 4 (PC)

I bought a new PC. That's really all I can say to explain why I'm playing Quake 4. One of my good friends is the probably best first-person shooter player in the world, and he introduced me to Quake some eight or more years ago. When Quake 3 came out, he used to beat me up in it all time. I never learned how to play competitive first-person shooters, as I have really terrible spatial recognition, and that's kind of what those games are all about. And during the time of Quake 3’s reign, it seemed that unless a first-person shooter was played competitively, it wasn’t really being played at all. Fast forward to today and you have the reign of the single-player shooter. Party helped along by Half-Life and its host of clones, it seems that PC gamers remembered that playing games by yourself can be pretty fun too. Quake 4's single player game was rolling along for me enjoyably (if not a little predictably) until I got to this part where I had to ride this train-like thing around and shoot missiles out of the air. I get to this one point where the train-like thing stops, and all of these missiles rain down on me from off-screen and I die. I die there every time I play the level, and then I turn the game off. It's a shame, because Quake 4 really shows off how awesome my computer is - this game is unfathomably good looking.

Half-Life 2: Episode 1 (PC)

I consider Half-Life 2 to be one of the best games ever made. But that's actually a really boring thing to say because the more I look around the more I realize that everyone thinks Half-Life 2 is one of the best games ever made. I tore through Episode 1 within the span of two sittings, and I'm about to go through it again with the commentary on, just for kicks. In fact, it's occurring to me that there's nothing I can say about this game that will be more meaningful than actually playing it. I give HL2E1 my highest recommendation; it's one of those experiences that come along every so often that makes me forget all the bad things I want to say about video games. It is, in essence, the perfect video game experience. Please, please play it.

Rockstar Presents: Table Tennis (Xbox 360)

From the first time I saw this game, I knew I wanted it. Some saw it as Rockstar's attempt to clean up their image in the wake of the Hot Coffee scandal. I discovered in actuality that this game has been in production in one form or another over at Rockstar San Diego for years, going as far back as before they were even owned by Rockstar at all. It seems that the developers are just big fans of table tennis, and thus decided to make a game about it. I cannot express the great respect and admiration I have for this sort of game making. Table Tennis is the most inexpensive 360 game I've purchased. It looks great and is thoroughly executed and polished. It is obvious just from going through the tutorial that the developers really know their ping pong. This, unfortunately, does not always equate into a great experience for all. I ended up playing it for about a weekend tragically, before deciding it wasn't for me. Note I'm not saying it's a bad game - I find it, in fact, to be a pretty good game. But I realized through playing that my interest in ping pong is low, and my desire to play people anonymously over Xbox Live is even lower. This makes me and this game a bad combination. I liken my feelings about Table Tennis to the way I feel about Madden. Having played many different iterations of Madden over the years while not giving a flying flip about the actual game of football, I’ve come to respect the craftsmanship while at the same time having no interest to play the game anymore at all. I consider my Table Tennis purchase money well-spent, however. Sometimes you can just tell when a game is made for passion rather than profit - this is one of those games, and I will show my support as much as I can.

Radirgy (PS2)

I have no idea where I even heard of this game (when reading the katakana, I would like to point out the game’s name is pronounced “rah –jee-roo-gee”) - it might have been from the good people at insert credit; they're always paying attention to things that no one pays attention to. Anyway, Radirgy is a cel-shaded shmup; its graphics are what initially attracted me, as I claim no particular interest in the top-down shooter genre (I do however, observe it with morbid interest. I am convinced that left unchecked, the fighting game genre will follow in the footsteps of the shmup by becoming so overly-complex that only a small, rabid fan base cares about them anymore, dooming themselves to obscurity). I am a bit disappointed that the PS2 version of the game is a bit fuzzy and jaggy around the edges, but I don't know if it's the developer's fault or the hardware's – I’d be curious to see the Dreamcast version of the game, as the arcade version was originally built on Naomi hardware (the Dreamcast’s structural sibling). The game's style still shines through though, and for that alone this game is totally worth it to me. It plays well enough too; you're piloting a ship-like mech-like thing that can shoot bullets, throw up a shield, and swing a sword. The bosses are big and cool, and power-ups come regularly enough to make you want to keep playing. It, like all shmups these days, is a bit too hard for its own good, but I can make it through the first couple of levels with relative ease. I wonder if there’s a way to reintroduce the mass market to this genre; the play mechanics are so ubiquitous – certainly more so than your average third-person console shooter, and the format lends itself well to technological showcasing. Oh wait, this has been done already – it’s called Geometry Wars. Maybe there’s hope for the genre yet.

Black & White 2 (PC)

I wish I could tell you more about this game. I wish I could tell you how fun it was to be a god; how I helped the Greeks rise up and defend themselves against the Aztecs, recruiting other peoples to help them in their cause along the way. I wish I could tell you about the demi-god that I chose as my assistant, the kindly cow, and how I taught him to be a protector of his people. I wish I could tell you more about the game’s impressive engine, which allows you to zoom in to observe the smallest detail of the daily lives of one villager, while at the same time allowing you to zoom out so far as to observe the entire land mass of an island all at once. I can't tell you more about any of that, though, because the god-forsaken game won't behave on my computer long enough for me to discover any more than what I just told you. I have an AMD cpu and an Nvidia video card; apparently, there is no worse setup you can have when trying to run Black & White 2, as it is designed to run best on both Intel and ATi hardware; go figure. It is this, the variable preferences in hardware, that makes PC gaming so absolutely infuriating. That and the blinding speed at which PC hardware becomes obsolete – undoubtedly my shiny new computer will be rendered second-class hardware within the calendar year, and that just sucks. For as much complaining and protesting that people do over the rising price of consoles, I could buy an Xbox 360, a Playstation 3, a Nintendo Wii, a Sony PSP, a Nintendo DS, and another Playstation 3 for the money I just spent on my shiny new computer (and that’s guts only; I did not buy a new keyboard, mouse, sound system, or monitor). That’s right, the very same computer that can’t play Black & White 2.

That more or less sums it up for now. Sorry for the long gaps between updates, but I think a combination of the slow summer months from a release standpoint coupled with the increase in workload professionally has made updating feel more like work than fun. I’m sure something dramatic will happen soon that will stir me to climb my soapbox again soon, but for now all is well.

Thanks for reading.