Archive for Gaming

Game Night the First

Game NightThe wife desired a specific sort of birthday celebration this year. She wanted to have a game night. We counted up all the board games we had access to, decided on food and sent out the invites (a month in advance).

Two guests, eager to get out of the house, arrived early. We chatted and played a round of Zombie Dice. After the wife won, we sifted through a few other games trying to pick one to play but more people began to arrive. There was food and drinking, and much conversation.

Eventually, most of the group (about 16 people showed for the night) settled around the big table to play Apples to Apples. We’ve played this game at many gatherings and it is definitely popular. A few (including me) stayed in the kitchen to eat food and talk of other games (video games and tabletop RPGs). With over 10 people playing, you only play to 4 points, but it can take a long while to get there. Eventually a winner emerged and a break was taken.

A couple of people left, and we settled in to a 3 teams of 4 game of Logo. I think the game contributed, but also the mix of people lead to much mirth and merriment, with a heavy helping of sarcasm and snark. It also helped that we tried to split up couples onto opposing teams (though one managed to sneak through) and engendered a healthy level of friendly competition. Team 3 ended up winning after spending much of the game in last place, but then the game is specifically designed to allow for teams to catch up and take the lead if they can just manage a few right answers. I think Logo might make repeat appearances.

By then it was getting late and people with baby sitters, those with curfews, and the elderly (joking!) had to leave. We quickly did the birthday cake and said goodbye to those who were leaving. The night whittled down to just six people and we adjourned to the media room for a round of shots and a game of Scene It! on the 360.

We called it a night sometime between 1:30 AM and 2:30 AM, and then the wife and I cleaned up the things that couldn’t wait (food) and retired to slumber. One lesson was learned: order less food, the two of us will be eating Mexican leftovers for a month. Another lesson learned: take photos.

All in all, the night was a huge success. I look forward to hosting another game night in the future.

Inspiration and Cloning

There are only seven stories in the world. Or so the old saying goes. Every book you read, movie you see or game you play, the plot can be boiled down to one of those original stories or a combination of them, the only thing you get with new stuff is to see it played out in different ways. And to be honest, this is a good thing. Throughout the ages, people have been producing things and inspiring others to produce other things. And in most instances, out-and-out copying was considered fraud.

There is only one Mona Lisa. You can own a reproduction of it. But if someone were to paint a new painting that looked exactly like the Mona Lisa, except with a different signature, people would call it out as uninspired or even criminal.

Cloning in video games is getting enough attention that the New York Times is covering it. It’s one thing to say “I’m going to make a first person shooter” and complete another to take Halo, copy every single thing about it, put a new name on it, maybe tint the textures and call it a new game.

I don’t want to get into the subject too heavily, but there is a quote on the second page of the article I linked that I wanted to call out.

The issue of copying, Mr. Schappert said, is not unique to games, but for the entertainment industry as a whole. He compared the game industry to the movie industry, where new films always borrow ideas from older ones.

“The winner is the one with the best ideas, the best script writing, the best actors, the best cinematography,” he said. “It’s the same thing here. We have to earn the engagement of the consumer. This is entertainment.”

Only, it isn’t like that at all. What these game companies are doing isn’t borrowing ideas. It would be like Universal Studios or Sony Pictures sending people to Sundance to watch independent films from small production companies, record the film with a hand-held camera, not buy them for distribution, come back home, transcribe the script, make up storyboards from the video, cast A-list stars, land a top-notch director, and then produce a $50,000,000 version of the $200,000 film they saw at Sundance.

There is a fine line between cloning and inspiration. Some of these game companies are absolutely crossing it.

Oh Captain, My Captain

I am the Captain

One ugly mutha fu--

I have long said that I think EVE Online is one of the best MMO game designs out there. Being able to train skills while offline and the entire game being of the “you are what you wear” style where you can take a character with all the skills in the world but if you put him in the shittiest new player frigate, he’s not much better than a new player in the shittiest new player frigate – aside from game knowledge and actual skill at playing. The one thing that always irked me about EVE though is that, essentially, you play a ship.

Yeah, you get to make a picture for yourself, and with the newer expansions you can now walk around in your captain’s quarters. Did they add space station ambulation yet? But for most of the game, you are a ship. A ship with no crew but you.

Two years ago, Cryptic launched Star Trek Online. I had played in the beta, but it hadn’t impressed me enough to be worth $15 a month. But now it’s gone “Free to Play” and I’ve gone back in. They’ve made some updates and I like what I’m seeing.

I am the Captain

The major element that makes STO good, for me, is that I am just the guy in charge. I’m not the ship. Yes, when I do ship combat the difference between Star Trek and EVE are fairly trivial, but to me they are important. The graphics lend themselves to the idea that I’m not actually in a 3rd person view of the ship, but that I’m at the helm looking at a simulation of what all my sensors are telling me. There are pictures of my crew at the bottom of the screen, on whom I can call to use their special abilities to assist in the battle.

Every bit of this game makes me feel like I am leading a team, as opposed to that I’m controlling a single unit. And it feels good.

When we get to ground combat, I have my Away Team, which other games would call henchmen. Except I get to train them and equipment. I get to build, to raise a team to get the job done. I know their names, and when I get new gear or they earn experience, I get excited to help them be better crew members.

Aside from the senior officers, there are also duty officers. Not originally part of the game, they are probably one of my favorite bits of it now. I find tasks that need doing, either on board the ship or away, and I assign my crew to do them. Picking the right crew is important as it affects the outcomes, and when they succeed they bring in experience, credits, items and more. Critical successes can result in double rewards or even buffs for me and our ship. Most importantly, it is another thing that makes me feel like a captain. (I also earned a couple of levels on my character just by logging in a few minutes a day and using my Duty Officers during a week or so when I couldn’t play for real.)

Until the Next Episode

Recently, the MMO world has been abuzz with Star Wars: The Old Republic, and mostly for their focus on story. By this, people really mean that you get to choose answers to dialog trees that lead you toward either the dark or the light. For me, that is completely uninteresting because I would probably 99% of the time pick the light side answer. In general, I just don’t play games to be the bad guy. I like being the hero, and face it, the Sith side aren’t the heroes.

For me, good story simply means it’s told well enough that I become engaged to the story. And one thing Star Trek Online does well is tell engaging stories – if you read them, that is. Although, some missions do have voice overs. But another thing they do that I like is that their “accept” answers are simple, matter of fact “Accept this mission” and “Beam down to planet” and not more involved, essentially putting words in my mouth. I like it when my MMO lets me be me, instead of trying to tell me who I am (I’m looking directly at you, Cataclysm Goblin Starter Area).

Even more, while the game does have its share of random and daily quests (we’ll come back to those in a second), there are chunks of content that are doled out in episodic form. I sit down, start the next episode, and in a half hour to an hour, I’ve played out a whole plot. Very much like an episode of a Star Trek TV show. I love it!

The Non-Repetitive Dailies

Some games have implemented a form of Daily Quest, things you can do once a day, every day. In a few games it is literally the same quest over and over. In other games, it’s a selection of quests that rotate through on a schedule – it looks random at first, but every one is getting the same random quest, so what’s really happening is that the server is cycling through a list of quests.

STOs Daily Quests are more along the lines of what you would expect from a foundation of a continuing mission to seek out new life and new civilizations. You are asked to go to a cluster or sector of space, seek out random spawning anomalies and systems, and complete three adventures. Sometimes you are just scanning unusual formations. Sometimes you deliver supplied to people in need. Other times you defend outposts under attack. Just the other day, I had to beam down to the surface of a planet that was only in the Stone Age level of technology and retrieve a fallen probe before they discovered it, without being detected myself.

Sure, I get repeats now and then, but there appear to be enough of them, a few dozen at least, that it doesn’t happen often. Oh, and there is a daily to do three player created missions.

That’s right. Players have the ability to create content in The Foundry.

Free to Play Pay

I still find the “Free to Play” moniker to be a bit troublesome. Yes, you can play for free, but there are, as always, limitations. Though these may be some of the most lenient limits I’ve seen. Some of them are even lifted by simply buying something, once from the store. I already bought one thing, and I can see myself buying access to certain ships or other things in the future.

I’m enjoying it. Here are a few screen shots of my current ship.

Man vs Wife: The Game of Life

Man vs WifeThe Game of Life, or sometimes just called LIFE, was originally created in 1860 by Milton Bradley and it looked absolutely nothing like the game we know today. It was a modified checker board and included a six-sided teetotem instead of dice. You tried to land on “good” space and collect a total of 100 points, you could earn 50 by reaching the final “Happy Old Age” square. But in 1960, on the 100th anniversary of the game, it was redesigned and re-released in the form that we know it today. The teetotem was replaced with a spinner wheel for movement and a winding track that included three-dimensional elements: bridges, mountains and buildings. And the points system for scoring was replaced with money. Players are given start-up money, a car and a peg, representing them, to drive the car. And away they go.

The Game Of Life

Isn't it pretty?

There are many versions of The Game of Life available. For our game, we played the Target exclusive Vintage Game Classics edition. We bought it, and others in this series, because of the look of the box. It makes for a better display than a traditional cardboard board game box. Of course, the trade-off of the nifty and compact design is that it takes longer to set up. Other versions you just unfold the board and are done. This one you have to unfold the board (eight sections instead of two) and then put all the buildings, mountains and bridges on it, and the spinner. The design is nice, but it makes for a spinner that is less stable – it works, just don’t get crazy with it. Since it was the first time we’d opened this box, we also had to unwrap all the money and bank notes, as well as separate the little plastic people, which in the old days were just straight pegs but now have little arms down the side. My wife decided to be female and chose a pink peg. I decided to be male and chose a pink peg.

We read the rules. Neither of us had played the game in years and we felt certain that there had been some house rules in play, so we decided to stick to the printed rules for our game. I switched my pink peg for a blue one, because the rules state that males are blue and females are pink. It seems The Game of Life is pretty set into its gender roles, although it really doesn’t matter because they’re just pegs on a game board and not a judgement of the players. They could be green pegs and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference. But I digress…

So we spin the wheel and I get the lowest roll, I’m the banker. I control ALL THE MONEY! (Wife: Just like real life.) Hey, do you want to do the math? (Wife: Do you want me to do the math?) No. I set up the bank and give each of us $10,000 to start. We put our cars on the board and spin to see who goes first. (Wife: I win!)

I explain the rules of the board. Yellow squares you do only if you land on them, same as Gold squares. Red squares you have to do as you pass, no choice. And White squares you CAN do if you want as you pass.

Immediately I recall the house rules of youth as we take our early turns. She gets her career, a physician, and heads out. (Wife: I also caught an escaped lion!) I get my career, a journalist, and land on the tornado square that makes me go back to the start. In the old days we tried to hit this spot because we let that person get two jobs! But that’s actually against the rules.

We both bought auto insurance at the start, and we bought life insurance as we pass it. And they work in-game just like in real life, sort of. You buy them and then if nothing ever happens to you it seems like a waste of cash, but if you don’t have them and land on one of those squares it can be very expensive. Unlike real life though, you don’t have to keep paying for it. Oh, and I also captured an escaped lion. (Wife: I think they need to hire better zookeepers.)

You have to get married. You cannot play, nor win, at Life unless you get married. The game takes no position on gay marriage, however specifically states that if you get sent back past the marriage spot you cannot get married again. (Wife: No Big Love or Sister Wives.) No divorce either. The Game of Life is very optimistic in some respects.

(Wife: Lucky Day!) In one of the strange rules of the game, landing on a Lucky Day spot you get $20,000 from the bank, which you can keep or spend on two numbers and spin for a chance to win $300,000. (Wife: I bet the money every time.) And you lost every time. (Wife: I know.) Which is why I’m in charge of the money. (Wife: Shut up.)

We both buy stock. There are some rules about playing the market, she does it twice and I never do. (Wife: Playing the market sucks.) Just like real life! The only reason I bought stock is because of squares that state “If you own stock…” and then you collect a bunch of money. Completely not like real life.

At various places in the game you can get kids, either by having them or adopting them. At one point I have to choose between having a daughter or collecting $480,000. I choose the daughter. I am an idiot. Because I’m obsessed with science fiction, I keep track of my “other path” the rest of the game. Alternate Reality me is rich, handsome and a world traveler. I have 4 kids, took a vacation on a polluted lake and had a millionaire take revenge on me. (Wife: hehe!) A pox on the 1%! Occupy the Game of Life! (Wife: I have a gold mine!) Shut up. I discovered Atlantis! (Wife: I won the Nobel Peace Prize!) I went fishing. (Wife: I went to the Arctic!) We digress…

She crosses the bridge first, which means that when I eventually catch up I’ll have to pay the toll. She also lands of the Day of Reckoning first, obviously. (Wife: I win!) Not yet. She gets $96,000 for her 2 kids. She spins and crosses into Millionaire. (Wife: I win!) Nope. She spins one more time for her lucky number, which for the rest of the game I have to pay her if I spin it. (Wife: Why didn’t I win?) Because I’m not dead yet, and it’s the person with the most money when they die that wins. (Wife: Really?) No. But also, yes.

I finally drag myself across the finish line. I earn $192,000 for my 4 kids. We both get $120,000 for owning stock, $8,000 for having life insurance, and we count up the money. (Wife: I win!) She wins. (Wife: I win!) You said that already. (Wife: I know … I win!)

Final tally:
Me – $1,117,000
Her – $1,825,000

The primary problem with The Game of Life is that if the first person across the finish line doesn’t go for Millionaire Tycoon and win, then it just sort of drags out. Eventually everyone crosses the finish and we go into accounting, and only after the mathematics is done do we know who won. Kind of a wimpy end for the game.

The second problem with this game is that it is extremely linear with almost no choices for the player. There are only 3 places where you can choose between two paths, and the final Tycoon choice. The game has rules where you can spend money of wheel spins. It gives you the opportunity to lose lots of money, but playing straight through it’s pretty much just luck of the spin.

The game plays better with more players. Being linear and having a rule that two players can’t be on the same space matters more when the chance of it happening is higher. I’d recommend at least 4 players, and the game comes with 6 cars.

Anyway…

Man, 0. Wife, 1.

(Wife: I win!)

Playing Games – Man vs Wife

I had an idea. What if I convinced my wife, who doesn’t generally like games, to play games with me, or rather against me, and I documented each one in a blog series? So I posed the idea to her, and she was lukewarm on it, but over time as I mentioned it now and then she began to like it more.

But what would we call it?

Man vs WifeOh, she didn’t like the name much. But it had actually been the jumping off point for the whole idea for me. I’d seen those shows, Man vs Food and Man vs Wild and the rest, and I thought to myself, “What happens when you take a man who loves gaming and he marries a woman could take it or leave it? Man vs Wife!” And it works for me, as both a play on those reality TV shows and as a play on the ends of wedding vows when the officiant pronounces the couple “man and wife”.

And so it begins. We’ve played one game already and I’m working on writing it up (we actually video tape the session so I don’t have to take notes), and we have a pile of board games and video games. Hopefully I’ll have the first one up within a week. After that I make no promise as to a schedule.

Anyway, that’s it. Just a minor announcement of future content.

Real ID Revisited

So, last year, you know, 2010, Blizzard announced their new Real ID plan. To which I had this to say:

None of the “good” parts of Real ID, the cross server chat, cross game chat, seeing people’s alts, and so on, required the use of real names

Blizzard did back off a little bit. And now they unveil the new BattleTag!

Short version: It’s Real ID without using your real identity.

Now if they can just allow for a character exemption or “invisible” mode so I can choose to play but not be seen by my BattleTag buddies, they’ll have covered just about everything I care about.

Rising in my queue

Dead Rising 2

The Chuck Stops Here

Having received Dead Rising 2: Off the Record for my birthday, I decided I should finally get around to playing Dead Rising 2. I love the DR franchise and always wanted to play DR2, but it got pushed back in my queue by a few other games I also wanted to finish. So I put the game in a couple of nights ago, loaded up my last saved game, and quickly realized why I’d put it aside before in favor of another game. Of all the things I love about the DR games, the one thing I don’t is that it is nearly impossible to “win” on the first time through.

If you aren’t familiar with the games, your character gains experience (PP) and levels up as you complete tasks, save people and kill zombies. When you lose, and you will lose, you can start over, retaining your levels and unlocked abilities, thus making the second trip through easier. During the first game, this was an interesting mechanic, but in DR2 I found playing the first run through a bit disheartening as I knew I wasn’t going to succeed. I last saved my game just moments away from failure.

Of course, failure of the game’s main mission has its own reward: you can keep playing. Once the mission failed and I was informed that the truth had vanished, I was reminded why I didn’t mind failure in the first game. Now with an open world and no real reason to be there, I’ve been going on zombie killing sprees and saving random people when I’m able.

In the zombie genre, there tends to be two stories to tell. The first is full of hope, that our intrepid band of survivors is going to make it – final stand not withstanding. The second is stubbornness. Our survivors are only survivors for now, everybody dies, it’s just a matter of when. When in a DR game you fail the main mission and the story, the path to hope, fades, your game shifts from the first type of story to the second. Hope is gone, you’re all going to die, but not yet, not if you can help it. It’s sort of a “rage against the dying of the light” feeling.

I love it.

Originally posted on Google+, but I just had to repost it here since it isn’t public over there.

Allow me to retort…

Ten Ton Hammer’s WoW site has posted The Top 5 Reasons World of Warcraft is the Best MMOG.

JuliusAs the title of my post says, allow me to retort.

They say: You are never alone in Azeroth

But you are alone… so very alone. Sure, every zone on every server has players in it, but most of them won’t talk to you, largely because they don’t need to. With the game being so eminently soloable, why bog yourself down with socializing? WoW has become the epitome of the alone together, or together alone, style of play. If you aren’t in a dungeon or on a raid, all those other people are just background.

They say: Endless content means endless fun in Azeroth

Even more, they say that most games give you a single quest chain that goes from zone to zone. Easy to hold against a new game… but WoW is nearly seven years old. And still… have you played it recently? While there may be many zones to choose from that are appropriate for your level, especially after Cataclysm, there still remains only 1 real quest chain to progress you through the story of the zone. Skip some quests and others won’t unlock, you have to start at the beginning of the zone and play through or else all is lost. And once you get to the top, unless you like starting over and forcing yourself to play classes and races that weren’t your first choice, you’ll start repeating content, endlessly. Welcome to the grind, leave your fun at the door.

They say: The value for your money is insane compared to modern standards

All MMOs, even ones that aren’t WoW, are insane values for your money. Once you’ve bought in to the $15 a month fee, you can play as much as you want. The question really is, what sort of value are you getting for your time? They choose Netflix to hold it up against, and for pure money, if you still subscribe to both disc mailing and streaming, WoW is cheaper. But if you go with just streaming, because honestly if you are a real MMO player then you’ve got a DSL, cable or other high-speed connection, now Netflix is half the price. And what will you do in WoW? Dungeon Finder? Battlegrounds? Like with the previous item, unless you like playing Alts, you’ll be repeating the same content over and over. With Netflix Instant, on the other hand, as long as you don’t crave watching only the newest releases, you can watch movies and TV from all genres. A little horror, some action, a romantic comedy with the significant other, a TV show you missed that all your friends say you should have watched, cartoons for yourself or with the kids, documentaries, and so much more. If you want, you can even repeat content over and over on Netflix. Every December I watch a couple dozen Christmas movies on Netflix, I’ve seen them before, but they’re still good. Value is where you find it.

They say: There is nothing like community

I can almost agree here. WoW’s community is HUGE. Which enables you to find a niche of it you enjoy, surround yourself with them and isolate yourself from the rest of the people who are out to ruin your game. Don’t want to play with spoilers? Too bad, the community is going to ruin that for you unless you play alone with all chat turned off. Want to role play? Better get on an RP server and then find a group or guild that likes to RP the same way you do or else you’ll find yourself at the butt end of jokes or power players. And for Pete’s sake, stay the hell away from the cesspool of the official forums… unless you like that sort of thing, in which case, go, join in, and accept that other people will hate you. Want to raid? Be prepared to play their way and install the add-ons they demand. Oh, and while we are on add-ons, what about PlayerScore… the add-on that lets people judge you before they even get to know you. There is nothing like community, but there is nothing like community. This is one of those strengths that are weaknesses deals.

They say: The game is the most complete experience available

The game is polished for sure. That’s what Blizzard does best. And leveling is easy, whether you want it to be or not (you might enjoy the low-level game, but you’ll need to repeat it with other characters, be overpowered for it, or actually consciously disable your experience gain to play it). And the classes are all well-defined and have their own flavor and niches… all which boil down to tank, healer, dps. The dungeon finder works by putting a tank, a healer and 3 dps characters together. And when you use it, forget about actually seeing the dungeon. Go go go! If you stop and smell the roses, you’ll find yourself booted out of the group. In the end though, I can’t disagree with this final point. WoW is the most complete experience available. It is filled with tons of good and tons of bad. You can enjoy it, and it’ll break your heart. It is fun and boring. It is everything you want, and everything you want to avoid, all at the same time, mostly because Blizzard wants to cater to everyone, despite everyone wanting something different, some in direct opposition to each other.

In the end, you should decide for yourself if World of Warcraft is worth playing, and I say this even to the people who are playing it right now. It is easy to play, almost, one might say, addicting. But ask yourself, “Is this really how I want to spend my time?” If it is, that’s fantastic! Do it, no judgments, as long as you’ve made that decision consciously and with forethought. But if it isn’t, do yourself a favor and step away, cancel (actually cancel, don’t just “not log in” while still paying for it), try some other games or some other activities. Make sure that if you are playing WoW it is because you want to play WoW, and not just because you haven’t taken the time to think of something you’d enjoy doing more.

There. I’m done preaching.

Where is Gaming Headed?

There are plenty of people out there itching for the announcement of Microsoft and Sony’s next generation consoles.  Personally, I’m not.  The graphics of the current generation are quite good, awesome in fact, and I’m not really in need of “better” graphics.  I could try to speculate on where I think things are going, but instead, I’m going to just list out what I would love to see as the next step.  Seeing as my preferred console is the Xbox, I’m going to talk in their terms…

The great thing about technology is that it keeps getting faster and smaller.  I’d love to see the next Xbox be just another revision of the 360.  I’d want it to be a stand alone hand held system, a portable 360.  However, I’d want it to also be a traditional console.  When totally unplugged of all it’s cables, it’ll be a hand held, with a screen and controls, just like current hand helds.  But when you plug in an HDMI cable and flip the switch, it transforms into a traditional console.  Suddenly it’s playing on your TV and through your surround sound system, and those 360 controllers you have sync up with it just like they do today.

Other peripherals, like Rock Band instruments, would also sync up, and things like the Kinect would continue to be a USB addon to the device.  There would have to be a new disc drive addon since you’d have to lose the internal one to make it portable, and you might need to have external HD addons since drive space might be limited in a smaller unit, mostly because the portable has to make room for a battery.

To make things even better, games, all games, should be able to be purchased through the marketplace and re-downloaded at will, as needed, anywhere you are connected to the Internet.

In either mode, the console should support adhoc multiplayer against other consoles in range.

Give me a ping, Vasili.

Over at the Ancient Gaming Noob, Wilhelm discusses briefly his need for a flight sim MMO and then posts about World of Warplanes.  He asks in the title and at the end, “What else do we need?

I’ll tell you what we need: World of Submarines.

688 Attack Sub

Give me a 30 degree down bubble, engines at one-quarter, heading... somewhere over there where you heard the pinging.

The best part of this idea is that it wouldn’t need a high-end gaming system because I wouldn’t want to have a vehicle shooter where you drive around in your sub, strafing as you launch torpedoes at other players.  No, I’m talking about 688 Attack Sub type play, sticking closer to reality.  The player gets the deck of his sub, from which he can get status readouts of his hull and other systems, sonar screens, maps.  The only time “real” graphics would come into play would be through the periscope and if the game is restricted almost entirely to submerged play then all the periscope would get you is a view of other periscopes.  In fact, you could even remove it altogether and include “periscope depth” as just a place to go to get communications and other elements.

Taken a step further, without a new for huge graphic worlds, you might be able to have multiplayer subs, with people connecting together to run various stations.  Sure, you can run a boat on your own, but wouldn’t it be more efficient to have a sonar tech giving you the readings, a driver taking your directions and someone else loading and firing your torpedoes?  Damn right it would!

Someone, somewhere needs to get on this immediately!