Saturday, May 29, 2010

Slight Redirection

Life, as it is wont to do, has taken a turn for me. This place has been dormant for a while as work and career issues have taken a larger part of my focus. The biggest of those issues being the process of applying for an MBA. I'm most of the way through that now, but while I was neck-deep in it, I found other people's recollections of their experiences app'ing for b-school very helpful, so I feel like I ought to return the favor.

I'm doing it here, as opposed to starting a new locations for a few reasons. First, I like the name, and I'm loath to give it up in an internet where name-space is rapidly becoming a very limited commodity. Secondly, I'm going to endeavor to keep this going to record the experience of actually being in an MBA and all the eccentricities that come with this stage of a career, and I don't think it's accurate to try to whitewash that and pretend that my interests are purely school and career focused. People don't think in a vacuum, and all my more frivolous interests are just as much a part of my experience and thinking as the more weighty ones.

That said, I've culled a lot of the more esoteric posts from the archive. Many of them were very old, and of rather focus, and would now only be of interest to people deeply immersed in certain pastimes, and even then only for nostalgia's sake.

So, here's to forward progress.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Inevitable Wrath

As expected, I have no where near the willpower to resist another WoW expansion, despite having Fallout 3 and L4D on my plate, with Mirror's Edge and PoP on the horizon. Worse, my new death knight is one of the most fun characters I've played, and also gives me an excuse to finally see horde-side BC.

Undoubtably more will follow.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Recently Played

Work and a lack of reliable internet have killed a lot of my gaming habits recently. But a quick rundown of stuff I've been at recently.

TF2 - Is as stupidly good as ever. EdgeGamers run a pretty nice selection of servers. Pretty strict on the behavior rules (no rudeness, no swearing, no religion, no politics, and a few others), but it seems to lead to a pretty nice climate to relax and frag people in. And going by their size (I believe the largest clan for FPS games, definitely the largest within TF2) they seem to be doing alright (I think they're currently running something silly like 7-8 TF2 servers, 4-5 DoD:S servers, 2 CS:S servers, and a CoD4 server). I've recently found the joy of playing scout and spy in addition to my general love of pyros and demos, so things are good.

CoD4 - I wasn't expecting a lot, but the single player really is very very good. One of the more cinematic and epic gaming experiences I've had recently. I'm also a sucker for unlock systems in FPS games, TF2s class updates, and BF2142 unlocks were both winners for me. It's a shame then that CoD4 is tied down to such utterly terribly multiplayer. If they'd given some sort of BF-like squad system, or really any gametype other than "Kill everyone" (and yes, every CoD4 gametype is "Kill Everyone" because no one understands the other types, i.e. the least intuitively implemented Capture and Hold and CTs/Terrorists modes ever).

Bioshock - Not a fan. Yes, the water looks pretty. And yes, I understand it's a more detailed story than most FPSs try to tell, but it still leaves me cold. Usually I'll dig through to the end of a game's story even if I have to jack the difficulty down to easy or turn on god mode so I can blow through annoying bits, but even then I couldn't be bothered to dig through Bioshock. And this really comes down to two things:

A) The combat sucks. It's a whole host of things from poor weapon accuracy, to spastic enemy movement, to high enemy health and low weapon/spell damage, all on top of ammo conservation concerns. I have the feeling that the developers want me to use combos of weapons and plasmids on every enemy to make things tolerable, which I might have been open-minded about if they hadn't thrown some many random cannon-fodder enemies in, and hadn't omitted a Last Weapon Quickswitch button that's now essentially mandatory for FPS games.

B) I hate everyone. Everyone I felt even mild sympathy for turns out either not to exist, or nailed to a wall. Yes the eventual meeting with Ryan is somewhat impressive, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter when I as a player don't care whether or not all of Rapture sinks into the sea and implodes, taking my character with it. Developers need to learn that simply looking out of a characters PoV for the entirity of a game doesn't buy them empathy, especially when we haven't seen anything from that PoV to induce it (including the, admittedly demanded by the storyline, paper thin protagonist backstory). Slaughtering hordes of faceless flapper beasties just isn't a significant bonding experience.

Mass Effect - Much much better than I expected. This is apparantly where all the talent that I'd expected in NWN2 went, and in the end I'm not unhappy, as I'd rather have one stupidly good space opera RPG than yet another fantasy rpg. Naked space booty is just an added bonus. The combat took me a little getting used to, but I did really enjoy it once I got into it. It's a fairly linear experience, the sidequests are very much sidequests. But frankly non-linear storylines are overrated, especially in RPGs, where I suspect a well written linear experience is much more preferable to a game that lets you explore it's mediocrity in whatever order you prefer (especially since I find most games whose storyline is the draw equally boring to replay regardless of linearity, so non-linear games simply make me feel like I've payed for content I haven't seen because one playthrough doesn't get through all of the story). I'd also like to point out the final assault on the Citadel as a good example of imaginitevely using the setting (lets have the them fight up the side of a building!) to seem like you're doing something different with out actually having to build anything new (other than some textures). Unfortunately now I'm left waiting for the sequel. /pout

Halo 2 - I've finally figured out what it is about the Halo series that does it for me: music, and voice acting. Because really, it's kind of a mediocre shooter, probably a bit better when it first came out, but the fight mechanics don't change drastically in the series. It's still the same old-school unrealistic (read: enemies can require many shots to kill) shooter at the end of the day. The combat is so-so, and most of the levels are very very repetitive. You could probably slice out 50-60% of every map (the copy/pasted bits) and end up with a much tighter experience (which is essentially what CoD4 did, same focus on story but with much shorter walks between epic setpieces).

But the sound gets you over that. The music really is amazingly well done, a good blend of epic stings and action guitar to help move the monotony of space hallway #1241. The wheel that keeps everything, including the player, moving in the end is the Chief/Cortana relationship. The story is nice and epic, but it's only interesting through the lense of those two and their scrambling to move from one precarious position to the next. It moves through the cutscenes, and her in-mission asides, and (I think) is one of the primary reasons the Arbiter missions feel so flat, as Tarturus generates no empathy as an obvious villain from the get go, and the elite with half a face is almost indistinguishable from the redshirts he drops in with, there's no emotional hook.

The problem with all this is that since the cutscenes for the entire series are now on Youtube, you can simply watch them in order there and enjoy 80-90% of the music and voice acting. While it's obviously less that what you'd get playing through the game, I'm not sure if the remaining 10-20% is worth $50 and 25 hours of playtime.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Never Read Your Old Posts

Navel gazing with Google Analytics, and I saw that someone had linked to the first (and so far only) part of my Kara guide a few days ago (still far and away my post popular post, once again proving that people don't give a crap about you, they just want useful information dammit). Clicked through to the page by instinct more than anything else and began skimming what I read, and let me say I really really need to stop posting from work where I'm less likely to run things through a spelling/grammer checker. Because good lord is some of that disgusting English.

Games as Art

So around New Year's, Slate had one of their year end wrap up discussions on video games. They usually run these sorts of things, with 3-5 critics having a short posted conversation on their thoughts on the years offerings on music and movies, so I wasn't deeply surprised to see one of games this year.

I'm not a huge Slate fan, I read it fitfully these days mostly out of habit started by a friend from college who used to write the Sunday edition of their today's papers feature. And this set of articles is full of the out of touch attempts to explain 'hip' topics to the unwashed masses and getting most of it wrong that so often annoys me about the magazine/site/thing.

But it brought up something that I've wanted to articulate for a while. The three critics they gotten together has the same 'Games as Art', 'There should be better stories', 'Why should things be hard when this is entertainment' bumpf that seems to soak out of the officially magazine/newspaper critics so often.

And don't get me wrong, I love a good story, and more artistry in games is great. Lord knows I didn't play through that many Final Fantasy games for the gameplay. And I already know that I'll plunk down cash for any game Ragnar Tornquist wants to claim is a sequel because of the artistry I know he and his team are capable of. And lastly I'm haven't been above cheating in order to see the end of a game for a very very long time (i.e. since the internet came around to make it possible). If a game is aiming for that sort of thing, then by all means, the gameplay, and the puzzles, and everything else shouldn't be getting in the way of that goal.

But, invevitably, while making these sorts of points critics feel the need to take a swing as some of the more well known examples of games where the story takes a backseat to other concerns. And here's where there seems to be a disconnect between the officially sanctioned critics (who in fairness, are probably only spending a limited amount of time with many games), and those of us who play this stuff on a more...extensive level. Which is probably why a, say, Tycho or Yahtzee review, reads much much differently than anything written for a print mag.

My point, and I'm getting to it, is that there's different kinds of entertainment, and people expect and demand different things from them. Video games superficially look a lot like movies and tv, so I guess I understand the obvious instinct to examine them within the same framework we used on those mediums (which in turn are mostly carried over wholesale from frameworks used for literature and static visual art like painting/drawing/sculpting). However, the interactive nature of games, and now not just with the code, but as a mode of communication, with other people as well, makes them a different kind of beast. It makes them akin, in some ways, to the many other recreational persuits people pursue, watching sports, personal trials, clubs, etc.

In many ways that's how I see WoW. It's not a game as I've thought of them in the past. I don't play to see what dialogue Illidan has when you down him. It's not art for me, and in many ways, it's not even a game to win or lose, but it's still entertainment. For me, and I suspect for many others with guilds, WoW is a club. It's a social fixture, it's a communal challenge. It pushes a lot of the same buttons for me the rowing club I belonged to in college.

And with that frame of mind, hearing critics poo-poo WoW for not living up to artistic standards, or for being a time sink, feels kind of like an art critic berating you for joining a soccer team because the jerseys are ugly and games are too long.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Orange Box

Contrary to what posts here might suggest, I do actually play games other than WoW (though the stability of my system and the low requirements for WoW, and the general, you know, crack cocaine nature of the game, means WoW is my primary electronic passtime).

As most gamer folks, at least the non-wow and non-johnny come lately console jockeys, know The Orange Box came out this week. Which means a) the next Half-Life episode (if you don't know Half-Life please back your head against the wall several times and then go buy it) and somewhat more importantly b) Portal and TF2.

I'm a little torn about HL games, they're very good, and the storyline is nicely paranoid and I like them, but it game out a bit before I got into FPS games, and ultimately most single player FPSs leave me a little cold. My normal routine is to finish 70-90% of a Half-Life game, turn on god mode and finish off the rest to see the end of the storyline. That said, it's still the big daddy of large scale shooters, all the frat boys drooling over Halo 3 should pause for a moment of silent reflection, because this shit? This is what dragged FPS's kicking and screaming once and for all from the shareware ghetto.

That said, Half-Life, and to a lesser extent HL2 are the 900 lbs. gorilla of modding platforms. No game has spawned so many good mods as this franchise.

Portal is good. Short, but reasonably fun (and unexpectedly atmospheric at a few points). Apparently the brainchild of a group of DigiPen students it's a nice simple idea (Portal Gun! Puzzles!) executed rather well. And luckily it avoids most truly shit bits of the 'puzzle' sections from Half-Life and HL2 (namely all those crap bits about moving stuff around to build bridges, especially all those ones with floating objects in water, because holy crap is the HL mechanic for picking up and putting down objects bad, and yes the gravity gun is included in that, it was utter crap, deal with it). It avoids the feel of 2D platformer badly ported to 3D for the most part as well. There are a few finicky bits, and a few moments where I'm sure I managed to launch myself in the right direction with appropriate momentum by blind luck alone, but it was good enough for me to play till 4.30 in the morning so I could see the ending.

Team Fortress is the granddaddy of non-deathmatch online fps. Classes? Objectives? They started here (admittedly they went back to the even then tired well of CTF, but no one's perfect). TF2 is pretty much what you'd expect in all the good and bad ways that suggests. If you didn't like previous incarnations of TF, you'll probably dislike TF2. If you did like them, you're in luck, TF2 is TF with improvements (shockingly). Most stuff plays exactly the same (a few tweaks to the medic, but by and large everything plays just like it did), just with better art direction (the taunts are classic, and are different for each weapon, be sure to try them all). It's still fast, and like it's predecessor much closer to the old school Deathmatches from which it was born than new uber-organized games (like the Battlefield series), but it's still very very fun.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Memory and BF2142

So I plunked some more memory into my box a few days ago, upgrading from 1GB to 2GB. I'd like to take BF2142 out for a spin and see if I can run it in something higher than the absolute lowest settings possible. I've seen vids (e.g. Squadplay which has some great fun fraps of casual but organized play) which show how gorgeous the game can look, and I've heard memory is one of the big sticking points (anything under 2GB gives it problems). So I dug around for my disk and loaded it up.

The good news is I can run it in significantly higher resolutions, the bad news is the patch process crapped out, so while it, for the most part, runs, it registers as a modded version of the game, so I can't log into any of my old regular servers. So I think I'll have to do a full reinstall to get it working, which means I might just hold out until I move the system to Vista (what the memory was actually for, honest).