Friday, July 17, 2009

That Guy's Impressions of Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen


Let me preface this rant by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the first Transformers film despite having no appreciation for Michael Bay as a director. I thought it was a fun, action-packed popcorn flick that was perfectly appropriate for a source material as widely respected but as narrowly studied as Transformers.

So I went into Revenge of the Fallen with a positive outlook on the franchise and a little bit of nerdy anticipation. And it would appear that the filmmakers did everything in their power to stifle that anticipation almost from the first frame.

The film had all the same high-flying, military-fu sequences I appreciated from the first film, but they were bogged down in a cesspool of immature jokes and pointless profanity.

I often found myself wondering what the target audience for this film was. The first Transformers film was original enough to give non-Transformer fans a fresh experience that didn't require any back story while still giving the fanboys enough pop-culture service to satiate them, for the most part. Of course, fanboys will always have something to bitch about, but it seemed to be mostly limited to Optimus Prime's flames.

Of course, the first film wasn't nitpick proof, but it is water-tight compared to the newest installment. Characters magically transport locations shot to shot regularly, the actual technology behind the transformers themselves is brought into question numerous times that brought me to one conclusion: whatever it is the tech is supposed to do will work if Michael Bay says it can, regardless of actual logic.

SPOILER ALERT:
When the fuck did decepticons get the ability to turn into people? Didn't they turn into cars and planes because they could only transform into simple looking metal objects?

And one more thing, wasn't Megatron fucking huge? What happened?!?
END SPOILER


Okay, so the canon-humping logic holes alienate the fanboys and needless, over the top profanity alienates children of responsible parents, so who's left? I'm left with the impression that this film was designed to be watched by an older movie-going populace with too much money to burn and not enough self-respect to appreciate quality cinema.

It was obvious that Michael Bay and his cronies decided to put all their money into the action sequences in hopes of scoring a quick cash-in. The writers should feel ashamed of themselves unless their production staff somehow hamstrung their abilities to tell a good story. Bay took what could have been a good narrative and used it as a vehicle for poorly-paced explosion orgies and slow-mo shots of long hair blowing in the wind.

There was actually one point when I expected one of the characters to break the fourth wall and say, "If you believe in Optimus Prime, just clap your hands."

And sadly, the movie probably would have been better if they had. At least then it would have acknowledged how corn-ball the whole affair was.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

An Eye-Opening Dungeons and Dragons Session


Throughout my juvenile career as a dungeon master, I have had very few instances when I've prepared adventures for my players. Usually I'll have a vague idea about where I want them to go and maybe what kind of adversity they'll have along the way and I make it up as we go.

Usually I don't have to come up with much since my players like to roleplay a lot in safe areas before setting off on any quests or missions they'd find. It's not uncommon for us to play for an hour before I even introduce an objective for them to work towards. The characters are all so interesting on their own, we don't necessarily have to be in combat for it to be entertaining.

I ran a session last night, however, that I wanted to be different. I actually prepared a full host of potential enemies and presented my players with a mission almost immediately.

The mission was designed to make use of some of the more plunder-hungry characters in the party because it was (hopefully) a stealth mission with at least one piece of really bitchin' loot. Sadly, only one of three money-centric characters actually played it appropriately and he nearly died as a result.

The task was simple, they had to procure naval travel to a small farming island to the west and steal an arcane artifact of indeterminable function and return it to their paycheck NPC.

They ended up jumping on the first boat that passed through that could be persuaded with coin, despite the fact that it was going the opposite direction, had a full cargo hold to unload within a specified deadline and they were in a port town that sees trade vessels come through all the time.

Needless to say, passage on that barge was expensive as hell.

After two random encounters in transit, the group landed at the farming village to find it basically a clueless hippie commune that didn't fish as most coastal towns did, and grew corn and soy beans in what is otherwise a tropical region.

To give you any idea as to the understanding of my players, one of the group's two rogues actually asked "Does it look like a place where there would be traps?" To which, I repeated my description of the town and moved on.

Ironically enough, there actually was a trap but I couldn't exactly tell them flat out.

The group found out that the device was kept in a longhouse at the north side of town and decided to wait until nightfall to attack. Rather then go straight for the longhouse, our bloodthirsty ranger (who is surprisingly influential with the players) talked the other party members into attacking the various wooden huts around the town for fun, rather then actually going for the longhouse and completing the objective.

Needless to say, they found themselves beset by about 8 commoners armed with various farming implements and the dice did everything they could to kill the player characters. A surprisingly epic battle ensued in the town square and in various huts throughout town while the longhouse lay silent.

In all the commotion it was obvious that many of the players completely forgot what the mission was and were just enjoying a macabre sandbox filled with unarmored peasants.

After finally killing what appeared to be all the able-bodied fighting men in town, all the characters beset against the various women and children in the huts while one money-grubbing character (a swashbuckler) actually decided to try accomplishing the mission.

He pressed against the longhouse's front wall and smacked his fist against the front door in a manner that would make Solid Snake proud, in hopes of getting someone from the inside to open it and maybe step out.

He found himself engulfed in flames and unconscious.

The two rogues finally arrived at the longhouse to attempt finding and disabling the trap. Neither succeeded in finding the device or picking the lock and they actually set the trap off two more times before someone finally decided to find another point of entry.

They ended up busting through the roof, killing the final guards and getting the device. At this point, everyone was wounded, both rogues had proven that they're lousy at being rogues outside of combat and the dexterous swashbuckler was nearly dead.

Oh, and did I mention that the group has no healer? In fact, it was nothing but dexterous fighters: two rogues, a melee ranger, a swashbuckler and a swordsage.

I found out that "standard adventures" with traps, environmental pitfalls and critical thinking just don't work well with a group that has the balance of a breakfast made up exclusively of Hershey products and characters who pleasure themselves in chaos more than story progression.

I'm left with the impression that I could just draw out different towns and fill them with random NPCs for my players to kill and most of them would be happy with that.

It's a little sad actually because I had planned on telling a story.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Musings on the Compression of Time


As I mentioned in passing in a previous entry, I've been in charge of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign with my friend Kato and a number of other local twenty-somethings who are living in the same hometown as their parents for the summer (many of whom aren't moving out once the fall rolls around, but that's another story).

Since this is my first foray into Dungeon Mastery, I have been reading up on a lot of the basic rules and concepts that underlay the game's own mechanics; not so that I can run a campaign to make Wizards of the Coast proud, but rather so that I can shatter them while still keeping the game world logical. Sadly, I did find one massive problem with my plans and that was with the pacing of my encounters.

In D&D, multiple weeks are supposed to pass in game time between each encounter. This allows the world to continue ticking while the players aren't actually at the table. This would also explain why you're able to loot ancient ruins and fight epic evils every single time you sit around the table. If the characters actually had to face such monumental challenges every day, they would be a little tense and stressed out to say the very least.

In a virtuous campaign, it's easy for a group of adventurers to hang out in a friendly keep or inn for a month, get a quest from the proprietor once in a while and then return once you've safely completed the mission. During the down time, fighters would be training and sparring while arcane spell casters would be studying lore in the libraries in an attempt to hone their skills. This allows level progression to take a reasonable amount of time in-game even if your players are burning through levels on a weekly basis.

Sadly, the pacing of my campaign doesn't allow for this kind of down time in the slightest, not to mention the fact that my players have decided to actually role play the majority of their downtime. If I were to use the standard XP model, it would take three months out of game time to get from level one to two, and therefore I would have a lot of angry players on my hands. But the flip side is that the characters are learning new techniques and skills that are making them exponentially more powerful within the course of a couple of days.

It's a conundrum really.

The fact is though, that the best moments in this game (at least when I'm DMing) take place when the players step up and act out their character's motivations. I'm really fortunate to have a group of players who have adopted their characters so thoroughly and they're all too interesting to not let them speak to each other. We have a barbaric elven ranger who loathes humans, an evil swashbuckling accountant, a crack-addicted rogue who suffers from immense paranoia and an autophobic human druid who likes to believe he's an elf, just to name a few.

And the players will seriously talk with one another for hours on end. As a DM, I love this kind of interaction and it makes the game an absolute blast, but according to the official D&D model, I shouldn't give them experience for it. I do anyway, simply because I'd like to reward them for playing well, but then we end up with a logic-shattering situation in which we have characters becoming physically more powerful simply by sitting around a tavern and talking about the weather.

Oh well, at least we're all still having fun, which I suppose is more important then the world functioning logically. Come to think of it, people can throw fire from their hands in this world, so maybe logic isn't necessary at all.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On a Particularly Addicting Game


Okay, it's been a while since I've updated this blog and I have a number of reasons for that. I've been working on getting out of my parents house, have been looking for a job, I just started DMing a summer D&D campaign (more on that later), and most of all I found PopCap Games' Plants vs. Zombies on Steam for $9.99.

Oddly enough, PopCap's official site has Plants vs. Zombies listed at $19.95. I could understand the price difference if Steam was a subscription based service, but it's a free download. I guess it pays to shop around whether you're shopping online or in person.

This damn game has decided to steal away more of my time then I thought I had. Last night at about 2AM I stared into my laptop screen with a kind of hypnosis that had previously been experienced only with EverQuest and World of Warcraft. As the small hand-rendered peas flicked across the screen into the pasty faces of my undead assailants I realized I had a problem.

While protecting one's brain from the undead is a noble pursuit in its own right, time would be better spent scoping out my new apartment for potential escape routes and choke points should I be living there when the zombie apocalypse goes down. Or at the very least, play more Left 4 Dead which is far and away a better zombie simulator as sunflowers and pea pods are probably an unsatisfactory defense.

At least that would be potentially productive. In a paranoid, dorky kind of way.

So I guess the point of all this is to recommend Plants vs. Zombies as an entertaining way to spend an evening as long as you already have your World War Z plan prepared; just make sure to get it on Steam rather than from PopCap.com.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Oh Look, a Fallout MMO!



JK bitches... except not really.

Let's be honest, post-apocalyptic scenarios are fantastic and enjoyable, but when you "borrow" an entire aesthetic feel and art style from something as popular as Fallout, you'd better be ready for people to draw the comparisons.

All that aside, I want to send a quick message to every game developer alive who wants to build their own MMO from the ground up:

The setting and story doesn't matter.

This is a common misconception since MMOs started out as a means by which players, who weren't fully content in their vanilla terran life, could explore strange new places and adventure with hordes of friends and be part of a world-shaping experience.

Over the years, that's changed. Just as non-digital games like Magic: The Gathering or D&D are more about manipulating the turn structure and mapping out deck/character builds to maximize damage output or survivability, MMOs are all about grinding and making sure the numbers associated with your character are a little bit bigger than your friends'.

This is why World of Warcraft is so damn popular, it provides end game content for hardcore loot junkies who want to own the biggest, most pimped-out orc in town. Hell, Diablo 2 is still bringing in plenty of revenue for Blizzard almost ten years after it was first released because of people's desire to own overpowered gear and max out their stats.

Look at Tabula Rasa. I must confess, I never played the game so feel free to shoot down this paragraph as unfounded, but it was hyped as being a reinventing of the MMO genre in hopes of making a deeper experience and giving players the feeling of being in the game's universe. And we all know how well that turned out.

I love that MMO developers are trying new things and putting their efforts into worlds that haven't had MMOs before, but the theme is not, and never will be, the point to a successful MMO.

Fallen Earth claims to have a complex character creation system, which is a huge concern for MMO players. Some Western RPGs like Oblivion and Fallout 3 already employ a complex and fully customizable character creation system within the single player realm and they are epic successes, but when customization is put into the multiplayer space, it often causes more trouble than it's worth.

Games like Guild Wars and Diablo 2 allow for an epic amount of customization through character stats and chosen abilities, but these systems don't inherently offer creativity. Within a month of Guild Wars' release, people were filling forums with character builds and the landscape was overrun by cookie-cutter characters of various hair styles and heights.

Thankfully in Guild Wars, you can refund your skill points and learned abilities whenever you're in a town so you aren't punished for experimenting. Unlike games like Diablo 2, where if you put three points into Iron Golem, you'll never get them back.

Customizable character classes offer a venue for creativity to a degree, but there comes a point when the most mathematically efficient classes sprout up and deviating from these established norms becomes a way of crippling your own character to an experience of always being a step and a half behind the players around you.

Balancing out the abilities to allow a plethora of these prime classes is the only way to still have a fun world to interact in a year after the game's launch. Fallen Earth is in closed beta right now so the developers are probably getting a pretty good look at what they need to tweak, and lets hope there aren't too many balance errors by launch.

I guess my point of all my ramblings, is that, after watching this video, I was given the impression that the developers of Fallen Earth had story on the brain and I really wanted to say that I think it's a flawed vision. If you have a great story, people will probably appreciate it more in a single-player experience.

That's not to say you can't have a story in an MMO, but you'd better be putting the lion's share of your efforts into content because most players will never read your quest dialog or back stories.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Quest to Finally Kill Diablo


Being a child of the nineties, I can't help but have fond memories of Starcraft, Everquest, the original Rainbow Six and, of course, Diablo. My older brother and I used to play the original Diablo a ton, we'd each gone through the main single-player and had figured out how to get online in BattleNet's infancy when you had to make sure no one was on the phone when you tried to connect.

This was before the days of server administrators, so griefing and hacking were commonplace and my brother and I were no exceptions. We had our hack programs and could dupe with the best of them. In my Godly Plate of the Whale I had killed Diablo plenty of times, even if I was running a sorcerer.

But by the time Diablo II came out, I had moved on from the franchise. My brother bought it and it was around our family computer room so I decided to take it for a whirl. I got my necromancer through act one and had enjoyed the fan service I found in saving Deckard Cain from Tristram, but I quickly grew bored with the game about hour ten when I was still running through the desert trying to find another arcane bauble for the horadric staff. I think that was about the same time I invested a few skill points into Iron Golem as well, which would be enough to turn anyone off of that game forever.

A few years and a PC upgrade later, I decided to give the game another shot. I dusted off my brother's old discs and set about installing the game. Given its massive hard drive requirement, for the time, it took me a while to finally free up enough space and then even longer to finally get it all installed. But after finally completing that herculean test of patience, I booted up the game to find my family PC's graphics card was incompatible.

Years later, when I moved off to college and finally got my own PC, I took the discs with me and gave it another go. This time I was successful in playing for a few minutes at a time before the color calibration would freak out, leaving me staring at a screen of yellow and purple dots that vaguely resembled my character.

Frustrated with Diablo II, I basically decided that no game could possibly be worth this amount of hassle. I still remembered the horrified glee I felt when I watched the closing cinematic of the first game, being shocked and dumbfounded as Diablo's glowing soulstone embedded itself into my hero's head as he reeled back in terror.

It almost felt a shame to let that story end there, with my hero deep beneath Tristram waring with the devil himself, even when I knew full well it continued. I also kicked myself for giving up on the game back when it was right in front of me so many years ago.

Damn you Interstate '76 for being so damn irresistible to my pre-teen mind!

I'm sorry Interstate '76, you know I love you.

Anyway, about a month ago my buddy Kato decided to show me some trailers for Diablo III, which I had been staunchly avoiding as the idea of playing Diablo III without having completed Diablo II seemed like watching Return of the Jedi without ever finishing Empire Strikes Back, and that's just wrong.

The moment I started watching though, I knew I had to right my canonical sins. A few days, and a shameful trip to Wal-Mart later, I loaded up Diablo II. This time forgoing my brothers old crappy discs for a new set off the shelf, complete with the expansion Lord of Destruction, which I had never previously owned.

I've been playing online with my buddies since and I've got to say it feels damn good.

After a few short weeks of clicking my way through dungeons, arid deserts and jungles I finally confronted the grand unresolved conclusion that had haunted me for so many years. As I double-swung wildly into the beast's pixelated body I knew I was correcting a grand injustice. Lightning and fire spewed forth from his hate filled maw and threatened to melt us where we stood, but my hero stood firm.

As the mighty beast howled its last, I knew victory was finally mine. After so many years, this painful, neglected memory was finally laid to rest.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Co-Authoring A Hoppin' Night


This past weekend saw a genesis in my gaming career that caught me completely by surprise. I’ve been playing video games consistently since I began remembering my life thanks to my family’s Atari 2600 which later gave way to the Super Nintendo. I’ve been playing table-top battle games since middle school when I picked up Warhammer and eventually fell in love with the lower-maintenance Magic: The Gathering. And, as my three loyal readers know, I’ve been playing table top role playing games for the past few months special thanks to a local Dungeons and Dragons group I shoe-horned myself into.

While so far, this is a pretty standard nerd resume for someone my age, but this past weekend introduced me to another form of gaming, specifically roleplaying, that really tickled my fancy.

Not that you perverts.

A friend of mine (in fact, the same friend of mine I referred to last week as our Dungeon Master who will hereby be referred to as “Kato”) was planning on writing a murder mystery themed party for his parents. You’ve probably heard of these kinds of games before, a ton of middle-aged people dress up in costumes and put themselves at a dinner party (or other large social gathering, depending on the setting) and try to work out a Nero Wolfe style mystery that their alter-egos are somehow a part of.

Most of the time these parties are entirely planned out, complete with suggested dialogue and key points that are designed to be triggered as events happen. While this allows dramatic action to unfold in front of the party guests, it is entirely controlled. And therefore boring.

Well, Kato and I decided that would be no fun from our standpoint so we decided to spice things up a bit. We wrote out cards for each of the guests with three to five points on them. These points could be anything from a character quirk that was completely irrelevant to a crucial clue that was a cornerstone of solving the crime. And that was it, each character had their story, their goal and their bullet points and we basically said “go.”

Kato and I were both at the party in character and all the guests knew we were two of the creative minds behind the project so it wasn’t uncommon for a guest to bring their cards over and ask a question or make mention of a cool moment that had transpired. For instance, the detail of the murder said that three 9mm bullets were removed from the body and only one character sheet specified that the character carried a 9mm (and he wasn’t even the murderer). As it turns out, one of the other mobster characters had brought an air-soft gun as a prop and it was designed after a common 9mm pistol, so when guests asked him if he carried a 9mm he answered with an affirmative and even showed them the gun. It worked out perfectly.

As the evening wore on, and the pony keg grew lighter, some of the guests expressed frustration in how difficult to puzzle was to solve and it was fun to have a stake in the narrative because Kato and I were able to interject facts and details while staying in character in order to progress the story. There were a couple of times when we sat by the bar and had an overly loud conversation while other players were within earshot as we projected potentially valuable clues in character. Nothing terribly obvious, but it was enough help people draw some conclusions.

I now know what it’s like to play a babysitter character in D&D and, to be honest, it’s kind of fun.

It was a blast to play a game with a group of inter-generational strangers and let this world unfold with all of their help. I was surprised at how eagerly each of the guests adopted their characters and played their parts. They also added a lot of depth by improvising details into their backstories that helped improve their character’s relationships with the characters played by their close real-life friends. Some of the dynamics that sprouted up on the fly were remarkable.

This was gaming at its finest. Even though I highly doubt any of the guests would even consider it as such.

Kato and I have decided to edit the game a little bit and post it online in the coming weeks (or months) and then, depending on the response, maybe even write some more for kicks. I’ll keep you posted.

-That Guy

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons in the Presence of the Public


As I've mentioned before, I started playing Dungeons and Dragons a few months ago and have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game. I have no problem talking about D&D in circles of like-minded individuals or even blogging about it if there is a story amidst the saving throws, but I've been handling my table-top gaming a lot like my masturbatory habits in that I'll admit to them, but I don't want anyone to see me in action.

Well, that all changed this past week. A member of our Friday night gaming sessions decided to start up his own campaign that met on Wednesday nights which I had wanted to attend for weeks but was unable due to Boulder Faith rehearsals. Well, with the show's run in the past, I was finally able to roll up a half-orc barbarian and join in the fun.

Before I continue I should probably fill you in on the composition of my D&D group: I'm 22 years old with an English degree from my local state university, and the entire Friday night group is made up of students from said university, the DM being an old friend of mine from high school. I don't mind being the lone alum in that group as the game is played on an artificially long table in the DM's apartment which isn't even on campus.

Well, it turns out that the Wednesday night group is comprised of mostly underclassmen (making me feel even older) with only two members of the Friday night group in attendance. So, I was the token old man in a group of people I didn't even know, but even beyond that, the group met in the middle of the university's student union.

As I walked into the union with the player's handbook and monster manual under my arm, I popped the collar of my leather jacket to cover my face and looked around to make sure no one recognized me. I tried to find the group with hopes that they'd be set up at a table in the corner so I could sit with my back to the student body and hope that I wasn't easily identified from behind.

My jaw nearly hit the floor when I saw the V table formation sitting atop a well lit stage that was smack-dab in the center of dining tables and walkways. I looked about in hopes of spotting a quick escape route only to see the throng of young adult humanity on all sides. I did my best to calm my nerves and step up onto the stage. From my new found lofty perch tables stretched as far as the eye could see with students cramming down the products of their various meal plans, none of whom paid the stage any mind.

Having come so far, I decided I might as well pop a squat and introduce myself to the group of seemingly fresh faces.

The moment the game is underway, all my previous inhibitions flew out the window. In fact, after I landed two confirmed critical hits on a hill giant and nearly earning the D&D equivalent of Left 4 Dead's "Man vs. Tank" achievement (at level 2) I actually stood up and whooped for all the union to see. My previous fear replaced with a kind of voyeuristic thrill.

I now realize just how foolish it is to be worried to let people see you for who you really are. Play your games for all to see. Just try not to suck.

-That Guy

Monday, March 23, 2009

That Thespian Guy


I would like to apologize to my two loyal followers for not updating my blog in the past two weeks, but I've been really busy with an endeavor that doesn't really fall under my online persona of "That Guy." You see, I was acting in a community theater play and tech week and performance weekend have a nasty way of draining time and energy. But after the curtain closed and the set was struck, I just felt too moved by the whole experience not to write about it. And since this blog is my one corner of the internet I get all to myself I decided to make the most of it.

About a year ago, two ministers from my area decided to pen a musical about the life of the apostle Simon Peter ("The Rock"). They already had the music from a previous project and thought it would fit into a musical. After a few readings and iterations, the play Boulder Faith was born (click the link for the detailed origin story).

I had participated in a staged reading in which I played the apostle James and was told a number of times that I should come out and audition for the show when it was put on for real. At the time I dismissed most of these comments as idle lip service and smiled and thanked the people giving them.

But about two months ago, auditions rolled around and I couldn't keep myself away. After a few jokes with the directors, a little ditty I sang along to with my guitar, and an abridged dramatic performance of Raphael Casal's First Week of a Breakup I got a callback and ended up playing the roll of Simon Peter's younger brother Andrew.

Rehearsals were absolutely no fun at first. As we all struggled with lines and harmonies, patience wore thin and I, for one, wondered what I had gotten myself into. Especially because the scenes with all the apostles involved a lot of fast paced lines overlapping themselves so the tempo of a scene was SUPER dependent on no one missing even a single cue.

Well, we never got to a point where we never missed any cues, but we did get to a point where we were all comfortable enough with the various scenes so if(when) we did flub a line we could just keep moving. We all became artisans of the stage mistake and it served us very, very well.

In the end, we hit most of our cues, found our light and nailed our harmonies. The show had a one weekend run and all three nights we received standing ovations. And at one point I was even accosted by the local choir director for not singing in high school.

But even beyond the glorious reception, I am grateful for the experience to share a stage and grow close to so many brilliantly talented people. The cast feels like a second family, and I wouldn't trade this experience for the world.

Thank God.

-That Guy

PS: Yep, That Guy believes in God. Deal with it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Perfect Game


No, I’m not talking about bowling, although scoring a 300 is a remarkable feat that should be remembered in the annals of alley walls-of-fame forever. No, I’m talking about the game that is completely without flaw. Now, it’s completely impossible to craft a game that everyone likes seeing as personal opinion and preferences are so drastically varied from one individual to the next, so my definition of perfect is a game that has no visible, universally agreed-upon flaws. And yes, such a game does exist.

In fact, there are a couple of games out there that are arguably perfect. For instance, Tetris is often considered the perfect video game. Its simplicity is a great vehicle for a game that is well balanced and accessible to both hardcore arcade junkies and casual anti-gamers. Beyond that, the game starts off easily and ramps up at a curve that ensures that almost no one is left with a poor session of Tetris, depending on their expectations. Add in the fact that the most releases of Tetris don’t have any graphical glitches or annoying performance quirks and you’ve got the perfect video game.

But there is one game that has an even greater impact and is even (impossibly) more perfect than Tetris:

Chess.

Chess was originally designed as a 6th century game in India and even in its earliest forms involved multiple types of pieces each with varying abilities, just like the chess we know today. While a couple of alterations have been made in the game since its first inception, such as changing the names of the pieces as the game was translated into new languages, modern chess is very similar to the original game.

The fact that it has survived 1,500 years is a marvel in itself, but the arguments for perfection go even deeper.

For instance, chess is entirely multiplayer so the difficulty is dependant on your opponent and since each piece has its own movement style, there are a near infinite number of possible ways a game could pan out. Which can’t be said about other simple tabletop games like checkers or tic-tac-toe.

This allows each game to be its own unique experience and facilitates quick thinking and variable play styles to reach success.

While plenty of people don’t care for chess, it is simply a matter of personal preference. A flaw that one person might see in the game could be another’s strength, while imperfect games have problems that offend everyone universally, like long load times or texture pop.

If you think my assertion is incorrect in any way, feel free to verbally assault me in the comments below. It’s okay, I’m used to it.

-That Guy

PS: The one reason I actually like Vista over XP is Chess Titans.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Halo 3 is Possibly the Greatest Time-Sink in History


Bungie.net reported that this past Saturday, Halo 3 has facilitated one billion online matches. In our current times of trillion-dollar budgets, it's easy to get desensitized to how big numbers ending in 'illion' are so here's a fun little stat:

A human being won't live to see a billion seconds until after their 31st birthday.

And yet, a game that came out in late 2007 has already accrued one billion matches. That's not even counting play time.

Thankfully, the good folks at Bungie figured we'd want to see that too, so they dove into their archives to fish out that stat too. This stat might be a little misleading because it's a mass stat of each individual's play time rather than a total time that matchmaking has been active. Keep that in mind; if a match had five participants then the match's time will be multiplied by five before being added to this total.

As of the Bungie report, Halo 3 players have spent 2,023,153,340,764 seconds in matchmaking.

Yep, 2 TRILLION seconds. Now let's look at that in terms of crazy stats:

Human beings as we know them didn't even exist a trillion seconds ago. Neanderthals were still the most evolved species on Earth and even the concept of civilization was in its infancy.

We all love games, but 2 trillion seconds on just a single game in a year and a half? Holy shit! Imagine what we could do if it was physically possible to devote this kind of time to focused scientific research. We'd probably have cancer cured by now.

And on that note, I'm going to go play some Halo 3,
-That Guy

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sometimes, a Tease is Oddly Satisfying


Okay, I love Mass Effect. The game is a western RPG at their finest, even though the majority of the game's free-roaming exploration was pointless filler. I played through the game twice and kind of wish I hadn't loaned my copy to a friend so I could play through it again after watching the newest teaser for Mass Effect 2.

It's no secret that Mass Effect 2 has been in development, Casey Hudson and the Bioware team have been talking about it for as long as they've been talking about the first game, but given the massive dev time and ambitious nature of Mass Effect 2, it's awfully surprising to see teaser trailers already.

But I'll shut up, if you haven't seen it yet, here it is:

(Spoiler Warning: There is a very small spoiler to the end of the first game contained in this teaser. It won't tell you exactly how it ends, but it's certainly a clue.)



I KNOW RIGHT!!!!

Sorry, fangasm.

-That Guy

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My Dwarven Druid

As you may remember, I recently joined a friend's Dungeons and Dragon's campaign and it turns out that he is a huge junkie for back stories. Well, he recently challenged all the players to come up with back stories for our characters and I gladly took him up on it. While he was probably only expecting a brief description of where we came from and our general motivation, I decided to really dive into the story and make it a narrative. Anyway, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out so I decided to share it.




“David!” King Relhan called towards his keep as he saddled up his horse.

A young human page came running out of the barracks carrying his weight in hunting gear.

“Yes my lord.”

“Any news of the woods?”

David began to strap the gear to the king’s saddle as he spoke, “Well, Pippin and Isaac…”

“Please,” The King interrupted, “don’t call them that.”

“I’m sorry your highness.” David stammered for a second, “The falcons have returned my lord, and it would appear that the deer are running.”

“Excellent.”

Not only was David King Relhan’s personal page, but he was also the keep’s falconer and handler of the hunting dogs. It was a widely held rumor about the town that David was even able to commune with the animals, the rumor began when David began calling each of the animals by name.

“My lord,” David said, “I don’t think we should ride out today.”

The king leveled his brow at the page, “And why is that?”

Realizing that the king would never believe his reasoning, David resigned himself to silently strapping the spears and arrows to the king’s saddle.

The king rode out with his hunting party as the sun was still approaching its zenith. David rode behind the king, but before the small squad of guards and a cluster of hunting dogs jogged at his horse’s feet.

As they approached the nearest wood, one of the dogs ran out ahead of the party and into the woods. Relhan’s kingdom was renowned for its well disciplined animals. Where most kings would only take a single hunting dog, for fear of the animal’s natural pack mentality taking over, Relhan was able to bring up to three or four on any one hunting voyage without worry.

Relhan pulled back an arrow and waited for the dog to flush out its quarry. David fiddled with his reigns anxiously, nervous for the coming strike.

A doe came bursting out of the woods no more than fifty yards away from them. The king loosed his arrow and it struck true into the creature’s flank. As the arrow hit, David clenched his jaw and ducked his head as if to resist yelping in pain himself. Relhan and the guards paid him no mind, as they watched the doe bolt back into the cover of the trees, leaving a trail of blood that the dogs quickly ran to follow.

“That’s how it’s done boys!” Relhan bellowed back to his guards.

The party spurred their horses to a gallop into the woods, following the trail of barking.

They raced between the trees, their horses moving with the casual grace of creatures familiar with their surroundings. Given Relhan’s appreciation for the hunt, these woods were a kind of their second home.

The barking stopped ahead of them, making way for an eerie silence. The men continued in the direction, too drunk with the excitement of a fresh kill to notice.

They found the body of the doe lying in a beam of light cast from an opening in the canopy above. The arrow rested on the ground, the tips still coated in blood, and a short, cloaked figure was kneeling over the doe with its back to the party. The dogs had all stopped around the scene and were intently watching, they didn’t appear startled in any way.

The men stared on in frightened puzzlement for a moment as the figure moved its hands above the flank of the infirm animal and before the men’s eyes, the doe stood up and trotted off into the wilderness. The cloaked figure watched as the doe disappeared into the woods.

“Excuse me.” Said the king, trying to sound as regal as possible despite being a bit surprised at the situation, “But who exactly do you think you are.”

The cloak figure turned and pulled back his hood, revealing himself to be a tan-skinned dwarf with a short beard and jovial eyes, despite obviously being weary from years of travel in the wilderness.

“My name is Mitleanu. And I am merely a concerned wanderer.”

One of the guards spurned his horse forward with a new-found indignation, “Who are you to poach in the king’s forest!”

“Poach?” Mitleanu chuckled at the man, “I assure you I’m doing quite the opposite. That doe was pregnant. If anything, I am doing you a service.”

The guard stammered in confusion and retired back to the line of speechless grunts.

“Well Mitleanu,” Relhan said, “I am displeased at the spoiling of my hunt today, but I suppose your actions were in the best interest of my lands. Also, that is quite a gift you have for healing.”

“It is merely my way of thanking the earth for providing for me good sir.”

“To whom do you swear your allegiance?” Relhan asked.

“Merely to Obad-Hai and the wild.” Mitleanu replied. As he said this, he looked past the king to David and saw the visible excitement that had been painted on his face. “What is your name.”

The king was taken aback, but he pushed his horse aside to allow Mitleanu a clear line of site to David.

“David, good sir.” He lowered his head in reverence to the dwarf.

Mitleanu chuckled, “Now cut that out, I’m no more royalty than you.”

“I’m sorry sir.”

“My name is Mitleanu, I don’t know why you humans are always so formal, but please stop this ‘sir’ nonsense.” The dwarf wasn’t scolding the page, in fact, he was smiling as he said this, as if in response to a joke he was telling himself. “So, David, I can see how animals are so friendly to you. You can hear them too can’t you?”

At the mention of his talent, David stammered in suppressed joy. The king scowled slightly at the mention of his keep’s supernatural fears.

Mitleanu addressed Relhan, “You don’t understand this gift. His potential is far greater than you allow, I can tell merely by the way he rides, almost in shame.”

“Could you…” David started, but then sat back in his saddle, remembering his place.

“Go on.” Relhan said, reluctantly.

David started again, “Could you teach me?”

Mitleanu’s eyes smiled, “Of course I can, if your lord will allow it.”

Relhan assessed the dwarf up and down, “I will allow you to take David as your apprentice in whatever arts you work, but only if you will swear allegiance to me and join the ranks of my army’s healers.”

“I swear fealty to none but the earth itself my good king.” Mitleanu replied, “But for as long as David is in need of instruction, I will heal your men.”

“I suppose that will have to do.” Relhan replied.



Mitleanu stayed in Relhan’s fortress for many months, teaching David to tune his mind and spirit with the wild. Rumors abounded in the keep about this mysterious dwarf that kept taking the king’s page out to the forest for days at a time. Neither David nor Mitleanu even cared though, as David’s natural talents bloomed before Mitleanu’s eyes. David learned to properly enunciate the sylvan language he had been instinctively using to speak to animals, and Mitleanu also taught him the druidic tongue.

Given Mitleanu’s solitary lifestyle, he was grateful to have a student and, more importantly, a friend. In the nights that they both dined in the great hall, they sat by themselves lost in conversation slipping in and out of various languages without a second thought. They were truly inseparable.



One day, Mitleanu woke from his bunk to find his barracks completely empty. The army was amassing in the courtyard with King Relhan at the head, wearing his ornate plate armor. David was fastening the king’s weapons and shield to his saddle.

Mitleanu ran up to David and the king nodded in greeting at his approach.

“What is going on?” Mitleanu asked, both to David and the king.

“We got a message early this morning to muster our troops.” Relhan replied, “There is going to be an assault against the demon lord Graz’zt, led by a group of adventurers whom I hold in very high esteem.”

“Why was I not awoken with the rest of the troops?” Mitleanu asked.

“Because it will be at least another hour before the troops are ready to move, and you don’t have any gear to ready.” David said. “Besides, we tried at first but you sleep more soundly than a boulder.”

“Your services will be needed dwarf.” The king said, “The healers are going to form a unit of their own at the back of the column, near the supply carts.”



The army marched for a few days as fast as they could, but since they numbered over 10,000 the march was slow and tedious. After a few days they finally arrived at Glamsden keep, home of Barthwick Glamsden and countless heroic tales. The army made camp inside the outer walls of the bailey, and settled in for the night.

Mitleanu sat on a sidelong log outside the healers’ tent and warmed his hands by the small fire. He could hear the sound of boisterous laughter coming from the keep as the dwarven army drank away their nerves about the upcoming battle. David approached and sat next to him.

“I hear we are to attack tomorrow.” David said.

“I’m not surprised.” Mitleanu replied, “We were the last to arrive.”

“Mitleanu,” David asked, in a tone that betrayed his young age, “have you ever been to battle?”

“I have combated many things in my time. I have fought rot, plague, the machinations of hunters and those who wish to bend the wilds to their will.” He paused for a moment. “But I have never seen battle like we will tomorrow.”

“I never thought I’d see the day when I was more experienced than you.” David chuckled nervously.

“I suppose being a king’s page, you have ridden into a fair number of conflicts.”

“Well, I have.” David said, “But only skirmishes between feuding lords or the occasional bandit raid, nothing like this.”

“Be careful out there.” Mitleanu said through moist eyes. “Unlike me, you’ll be in the middle of harm’s way.”

“Master,” David said, “I know.”



Mitleanu and the other healers had set up an infirmary behind the amassed armies on the plains of Cem’Dal and found hours passing as the injured human, elf and dwarf soldiers seemed to steadily stream through the tent’s flaps.

Every time a human solider came through the door, Mitleanu held his breath until he could see their face to confirm that it wasn’t David. The entire day passed without any sign of him.

As the day was wearing thing, all of the healers were feeling exhausted and almost defeated when a messenger burst through the door shouting, “The army of Graz’zt is broken and fleeing! We have won the day!”

The human healers all cheered, but Mitleanu cared less about the army and more about his pupil. The human healers all seemed to have a new found spring in their step and were working with smiles on their faces where once they were somber. Mitleanu stepped out of the tent in hopes of finding some word on David.

Just as he did, King Relhan rode up to the infirmary tent. His armor was flecked with blood, both red and black, and he had a large cut that had severed his plate and bit into his side.

“Mitleanu!” He called, “We have won the day!”

“I heard,” Mitleanu replied as Relhan dismounted and allowed the dwarf to lay his hand on the wound, “any news of David?”

The king’s face grew long with newly realized grief. “I’m afraid he didn’t make it.”

Mitleanu was barely able to finish the healing as he was overcome with grief.

Relhan saw this and said, “You have done well in my service, but since you never swore fealty, you are free of your duties.”

Mitleanu was able to choke out the words, “Thank you” between tears and he retired from the battlefield.



Mitleanu wandered the forests aimlessly as he had done before, but in it he no longer felt the wild kinship as strongly as he had before. He spent many nights in meditation and prayer, often surrounded by the beasts he and David had come to admire together. During this time, he discovered the ability to change his very shape to that of the creatures around him. He found the shape of the bear to feel the most comfortable and natural. He often stayed in the shape for days at a time in hopes of finding the joy he had lost as a dwarf.

Many years passed in solitude. Mitleanu found that he missed some of the smaller comforts that Relhan’s keep had allowed him and he decided to build a home. He dug a small hut into a hill and fashioned a door and furniture from dead wood that had fallen from nearby trees. After many years in his hut, he found joy again in the wilderness around him and the sharp pain of David’s death blunted.

One day, as Mitleanu was lighting a fire and sitting back to meditate, he heard a knock on his door. He was taken off guard and was startled at first, but he rose and opened the door to find a world-weary rag tag group of travelers.

“Hail,” said a human ranger, “we are adventurers passing through and we saw the smoke from your chimney and were wondering if we may join you for a meal.”

“By all means.” Mitleanu replied, glad to see the company.

“My name is Talyn,” the human said, “this is Dim, Flash, Irus, Werdal, and Rhena. May we ask how to address you sir.”

It had been so long since Mitleanu had even given his own name much thought, and at hearing the word ‘sir’ he was reminded of his old pupil with distinct clarity.

“You may call me David.” He said.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Of Art and Games


Okay, we've all heard the arguments saying that games can or can't be art for a myriad of reasons. The arguments all seem to stem from people's personal definitions of the word "art" and "game". Personally, I don't see what all the fuss is about since it's all an argument over pointless semantics.

No matter what your thoughts on the games as art argument, there is a title out there that is being advertised as both and for damn good reason. I'm talking about The Graveyard, a title by Tale of Tales that puts you in the shoes of a nearly expressionless old woman as she ventures through (you guessed it) a graveyard.

The gameplay itself is borderline non-existent, but what play there is is simply brilliant. You walk the woman down a long pathway surrounded by gravestones, each with its own distinct look and shape, and you are first confronted with a basic feature of her movement. She is obviously frail and incapable of moving quickly, beyond that, if you move in a straight line too long (three or four steps) she will develop a visibly uncomfortable hitch in her walk. Guiding this old woman down the path feels very much like walking with a grandparent or elderly friend in their last few months.

And in that long trek, you will feel a range of emotions. First, frustration at how slowly you are forced to travel, but that will give way to a kind of quiet pity. It is easy to recognize the truth behind this fictional character.

At the end of the path she sits on a bench and the player sees a close-up of her face for the first time as a song begins to play in the background. The song sounds like an old-world tune that is no doubt reminiscent of the songs this woman heard in her youth. As the song unfolds, you are treated to various pictures of the graveyard intermixed with the opaque image of the woman's face.

As the song finishes, you then have to pick the woman up and walk out of the graveyard. You are presented with the long walk again, but this time she is facing you directly. Again you are faced with her obviously painful gait and it is an entirely different experience.

As you walk out the graveyard gates, the screen fades to black and you get a kind of 'game over' screen. I only played the trial version, but the full title introduces a chance that the woman will actually die before your eyes.

Whether you call The Graveyard a game or not, you can't deny that it is, in fact, art. And like all good pieces of art, it is provocative and thought provoking.

-That Guy

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dwelling in the Myst


When I was growing up, both my parents spent a ton of time at their respective jobs. My mother ran a day care center out of our home which offered her the chance to take care of me and my siblings while still earning some much needed income. My father, on the other hand, had a soul-destroying rat race job that had him flying all over the world on business trips throughout the vast majority of my childhood.

I loved my father. I still do, he's a great guy who was willing to do whatever it took to keep his family in a comfortable home so that his children could grow up in a safe, loving environment. I have a lot of respect for what my parents went through during those years, but it didn't change the fact that I barely knew my father.

I don't remember if it was a present for some gift-giving occasion, or an educated impulse buy, but during one of his elusive months home, my father purchased a copy of Myst. He and I installed it in our relatively new family PC and spent the whole night just walking about the main island and drinking in the (then) unparalleled visuals.

After attempting to solve a few basic puzzles, it became apparent that we were going to need pencils and a notepad before continuing. Within a few days it became a tradition, one of us would man the helm and steer our voiceless, faceless avatar through the intricate D'Ni landscapes while the other would steer the pencil over the yellow legal pad, recording every pin and valve of each puzzle.

Given my dad's stressful job, he enjoyed going for long runs or throwing the baseball around in the back yard to relieve stress. Well, my younger self was more content savoring the moments when our second-hand television was free so I could play Primal Rage or Super Mario World. So my father and brother got to bond over a baseball, but by the glow of a monitor, my dad and I found our common ground.

One of the most memorable nights was when we set about exploring the tunnels beneath the mechanical age. In a small mini-sub that ran on tracks, my father and I cruised about a submerged ruin and listened to sonar beeping and static crackling over the submersible's on-board radio.

We moved between track intersections with the casual mouse clicks that defined the game, each intersection produced a different tone as we engaged our on-board radio. I proposed that we should probably follow the sound, if it grew weaker from one point to the next, we should back track and take a different route. My dad seemed to nod at the possibility, but insisted that we navigate each and every tunnel. We went back to the beginning, turned the legal pad to a fresh page, and began drawing a map.

Our radio crackled as we moved further and further away from the exit and each new chamber and intersection we came to looked almost exactly like those we had seen before. But we had a purpose and a direction; and with each new line on our legal pad we could avoid completing our goal for another few minutes.

We didn't discover any epic treasures along the way, we didn't find any shortcuts or magic potions, but after a delightfully long evening we did end up with a full map of the tunnels.

And while it turned out that the loudest, most pure sound in our radio was indeed at the exit and my hypothesis had been correct, my dad's method meant that I got to spend a night exploring a submerged underground labyrinth with my dad.

And let's be honest, what eight year old kid wouldn't want that?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

About the Game


I watched it, you watched it and even your mom watched it. Trust me on that last one, I was with her.

I'm talking, of course, about The Super Bowl. While I wouldn't usually blog about an American football game, seeing as I primarily talk about nerd topics, this one was just too damn good not to.

As a Minnesota Vikings fan, I really couldn't care less about the two teams involved, although one of my best friends is a Steelers fan, so I found myself rooting for them but only in a half hearted kind of way. I have to say, American football is best watched when you don't have an emotional connection to either team because you're able to appreciate good play regardless of who benefits without having your heart broken.

But even though I ultimately was rooting for Pittsburg, I have to admit, after Larry Fitzgerald's massive touchdown catch that put the Cards ahead by three with 2:30 remaining in the game, I couldn't help but do my Benadict Arnold impression and switch sides. When you see an underdog team pull off a comeback that remarkable, you can't help but have their back.

Ultimately, I'm not mad that Big Ben and the Steelers have immortalized themselves as the greatest team in NFL history. I'm actually really happy for them, although I do kind of feel bad for Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner. Well, Fitzgerald mostly 'cause Warner has enough hardware already.

So, to the hard-fighting underdog Arizona Cardinals I dedicate this terrible visual pun:



Best of luck next year, and I hope you get as far as the NFC Championship game where you are beaten by a slim margin by the Minnesota Vikings.

-That Guy

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What is "Good Writing?"


The Chicago Tribune recently ran a feature discussing the narrative power of Grand Theft Auto IV (via Kotaku). The article itself is a thorough look at what GTA IV is (after all, the Tribune is meant for non-gamers) and it does a good job of pointing out that the literature of the future could easily be video games. I love this concept and I also think that GTA IV is a great example of quality writing in games.

So I was taken aback to read some of the user backlash over at Kotaku to this story and a ton of people were saying that rather than GTA IV, it should have been Metal Gear Solid IV that was considered for such a mention. Well, I could go on to give personal reasons why I think this is a fallacy, but Kotaku user ray89 took care of that for me:


I think MGS4 had some great writing..GTA4..nothing memorable.

One of the best moments, for me that is, is when Snake and Raiden are speaking, and I think it goes like this..

Raiden: I'm unlucky, it rained on my birthday.
Snake: Your were the lightning in that rain, you still shine in the darkness.

I thought that was a great bit. I don't think GTA had anything like that for me.


I will grant you this, ray89, that visual metaphor is solid. There is a massive problem in how it is presented though. You could easily talk about a rainy birthday and lightning in poetry all day and it would be perfectly fine, but this does not make believable dialogue; especially when the character delivering the line is a quip-spewing war veteran.

The problem with MGS IV's writing isn't that it's bad, it's simply that the dialogue is over the top and forced. What makes GTA IV's writing so good (and San Andres I would say) is that all the dialogue fits with the characters and gives them believable voices. There are a lot of critics out there who complain about the writing when, in fact, they simply don't like the world and the characters. There's a huge difference.

I want to point something out: If you have an emotional opinion about a character, chances are they are well written. For instance, I think Steve Stiffler from the American Pie trilogy is an absolute asshole. I hate that guy (I laugh at his jokes, sure, but the decisions that character makes are deplorable) but that doesn't mean he's poorly written. In fact, that is exactly the character the writers were going for and they conveyed him extremely well.

Personally, I think Rockstar did a kick ass job of making all the characters real. They're not reciting iambic pentameter or coloring the winds of Liberty City with colorful pros; they say "fuck" and crack inside jokes, they chat with friends and associates that have nothing to do with your story. They are organic and real.

That is good writing.

-That Guy

That Guy at GotGame

What is up my fellow nerds?

I just wanted to mention that this past week saw the launch of a full featured column written by yours truly over at GotGame's news portal:

http://news.gotgame.com/news/columns/dont-be-that-guy/

It's a lot of the same type of rantings that you'll find here, but they'll look a little more professional because they actually have a web design that wasn't a check box on a list of templates.

Shine on you crazy diamonds,

-That Guy

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Free Advertising!


If you've been on Xbox LIVE in the past week, you've probably seen an ad banner for a free title called Doritos Dash of Destruction. Well, the game is pretty straightforward LIVE arcade game with a remarkably simple concept: you play as either a T-Rex who is trying to catch and eat a Doritos delivery truck or you play as said truck trying to make deliveries while a T-Rex is trying to eat you.

Now, I know this game is supposed to be pure product placement for Doritos, but to imply that they wouldn't give their drivers the day off if a T-Rex was trying to eat their truck doesn't reflect well on the company.

Corporate ethic issues aside, the game itself is surprisingly not bad. It can be blown through in about 45 minutes and you can easily pick up the 200 gamer points it offers with fairly little effort. Each level is made up of various numbers of trucks, T-Rexs and fully destructable buildings. Also, the upgraded components that you recieve after each mission are well balanced and simply entertaining.

Even after the final level you're given a vestigial upgrade that you can't even use. The in-game avatar of the game's lead designer Mike Borland even points out how useless they are.

I haven't gotten a chance to play multiplayer yet since it doesn't support online play over LIVE for whatever reason but I'm sure they play very much like the single player modes since each level is a self-contained arcade-style experience.

Now here's the good news: It's free! I can safely say that I wouldn't be happy with this game at all if I had to spend money on it, not for lack of polish or enjoyment, but for how short it is and the lack of depth. For a freebie Xbox LIVE download though, it's not bad as long as you can stomach all the shameless Doritos advertising.

Also, the game was a result of a contest held by Doritos to give young game developers a chance to build a title for LIVE Arcade. Full video coverage of Mike Borland's rise through the ranks of humble contest participant to amateur game designer is available at http://www.unlockxbox.com/documentaries/ViewDocumentaries.aspx.

-That Guy

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Fantasy Draft


Here we are in the aftermath of the holiday gaming glut with countless great releases bristled storefronts and online markets at every turn. Not to mention all the great titles that released just prior to the holiday rush, many of which I missed out on, that are now all dropping in price.

So why the hell do I keep coming back to Madden '08?

Okay, we have the Superbowl coming up so football is in the air, and I never bothered to actually buy Madden '09 so it's not as crazy as it could be, but still.

I have a copy of Fallout 3 sitting right next to my Xbox, I've only seen maybe a third of the game's content and I bypass it in favor of an outdated, repetitive sports game I've played constantly for the past two years.

Well, the key to Madden '08's replay value is in a game mode I just recently invested in: the fantasy draft franchise mode. Basically, when you start a franchise, you click "enable fantasy draft" and then all the players in the league are put into free agency and you build your team from scratch. This works so well because the entire league has rosters that you have never seen before so the dynamic of the game is drastically changed.

Also, since draft years and scouting agencies are worthless in the fantasy draft, teams are much more balanced which keeps things interesting.

The fantasy draft should be a standard in all professional sports games. It gives the game an extra element of customization that is otherwise lacking. Sure, you can create a team, stadium and jersey, but the fantasy draft allows you to drastically alter the entire league.

Perhaps I'm terrible at being a gamer nerd, or perhaps I have a Madden addiction and should seek help, or maybe I just really want to pretend that the Minnesota Vikings made it to the Superbowl. Either way, sometimes those outdated games are just as fun as the new sexier titles.

-That Guy

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The New Skate 2 Demo


Okay, I'm a big fan of the first skate. It gave players the kinetic feel of skateboarding without giving them the massive concussions that come with wiping out. So naturally, I jumped all over the Skate 2 demo that was recently released on Xbox LIVE Arcade. Well, it wasn't disappointing and you shouldn't be either.

It would appear that EA, along with basically every other developer these days, has adopted the notion that "if it's not broken, don't fix it" and decided that the sequel should be an improvement on the first rather than a whole new game. The 'flick it' controls come back and are as sexy as always and the artistic direction is nearly identical with locations and characters aspiring to look real rather than the cartoonish aesthetic of the Tony Hawk franchise.

The biggest change that got me genuinely excited was the ability to step off of your board. Never before in the illustrious single-installment history of the Skate franchise has a playable character been able to walk; a fact that the in-game tutorials blatantly point out.

"While you were gone, we learned how to walk!"

Between the ability to walk and tighter grind/lip trick controls this looks like a title that any former Skate fan should probably have on their new-release radar. The only issues were that the running controls were pretty awkward and the wheel-level camera is still there. I don't know what camera angle would have been better to compliment the feel of the controls, but I can't help but think there's an alternative that would let us see a little more of our surroundings.

If you haven't already checked out the demo, give it a run. It contains the full character editor and even some multiplayer games, which makes it one of the most comprehensive demos I've played in a long time; or maybe ever.

Skate 2 launches on January 21st, and I'm going to rent the hell out of that game :-P

-That Guy

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My First Encounter as a Stoned Dwarf


As I mentioned in a previous entry, I was recently introduced to a little tabletop game named "Dungeons & Dragons." Maybe you've heard of it.

And yes, the headline says "stoned" and it's not a typo. I got to adopt an abandoned character named David the Dream Dwarf Druid (he likes Ds evidently) and one of his vices is a conch shell that he fills with a special herbal substance which causes the other party members to hallucinate. Thankfully dwarven druids are only mellowed out by it, 'cause David was affected for the first hour and a half or so of the campaign.

Well, when most people relay their experiences with D&D they go straight into character and alienate anyone who's never played the game before. Okay, I hate it when people do that, but I have to for one moment because it was so bad ass. If you'd rather not read the literary ejaculant of my nerdgasm skip the italics.

The ashen skinned dwarf had just lived through the worst twelve seconds of his life. He had been shot straight through the jaw, straight through the gut and then was also coated in a ball of acid. He faced off against the accursed snow elf that caused so much of his greif. All he had to show for his vengeful efforts was a sizeable kink in the leather that adorned the snow elf's chest. As he pulled his hammer back again to swing again the elf seemed to dissapear from site and just like that, he felt the elf's short sword peirce through his back and come clean through his chest. The elf pulled the sword up through the dwarf's chest and as the two halves of the dwarf fell, the elf's sword came back down splitting the dwarf's helm in half. As a final exclamation point to the elf's daring feat, he kicked the remaining bits of the dwarf's head off into the distance.

Sorry, I had to get that out of my system.

Aside from the in-character nerdery, the night was certainly an eye opener. I don't know that I've ever played a game before that has a list of rules and characters that are completely dependant on one person's interpretation of them. Also, I completely understand the joy of a natural 20 after rolling one on a spot check. By the way, to the guys that were there Friday, you're welcome for telling you the details about that gate patrol.

The part about the night that blew me away the most was that D&D was nothing like he nerd gatherings that comedians and television shows portray it as. No one was dressed as their characters, and while we were chatting about fighting dwarves and flinging fireballs, it was over a dirty thirty of Icehouse with a lit hookah. Basically, D&D was just an excuse and a vehicle with which to host a party, and it was actually a bitchin' time.

Actually, it being such a good time is the reason it took me until Monday to get this post up. Hangovers are a bitch.

I think I'm going to take David the dwarven druid (and artisan of alliteration) out for another spin this upcomming Friday and hopefully he'll hit third level, who knows, there might be another nerd-splooge moment then too.

-That Guy

Thursday, January 8, 2009

AFK


If you're reading this then I'm going to go ahead and assume you know the basics of modern-day text chat like the acronyms lol and brb. If not, this post isn't for you, and to be honest, this blog probably isn't for you.

So why are you still here?

Seriously, the back button is up there, shoo.

For the rest of you, if you're like me and pride yourself on being the one kid in your neighborhood who knew how to set up an IPX connection back in '95 you probably know a little acronym that goes by AFK. It's recently come to my attention that kids these days have no idea what the hell this means anymore.

I spend a lot of my time on Facebook, because where else is stalking not only socially acceptable, but encouraged? And I find myself chatting with my college friends a lot in that lousy little flash app on the bottom of the page. Well, when I need to excuse myself from the conversation to go clog my toilet, I often type AFK out of habit and thing nothing of it. After the half-hour of plunging I come back to something like this:

ThatGuy: AFK
RandomFriend##: AFK?
RandomFriend##: Dude, where'd you go?
RandomFriend##: Dude?
RandomFriend##: Alright, fuck you man.

RandomFriend## is offline.

I guess this is just my way of being the crotchety old man who doesn't want to accept change, but to all you text-crazy punks who speak in letters rather than whole words:

AFK means AWAY FROM KEYBOARD.

The only reason I point this out is because AFK is a standard in text-chat for games, so if you're not a gamer but have gamer friends who use it, that's what they mean. Remember, text shorthand was around long before your phone had text messaging.

-That Guy

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Electronic Gaming Monthly, We Hardly Knew You or How UGO Pissed on Our Parade


Big news in gaming today. No, 3D Realms hasn't released Duke Nukem Forever yet, but we do get to watch as some of the finest words within the industry get sucked up by a "publishing platform" that is nothing more than a poor man's IGN. Okay, 1Up and UGO isn't actually a bad pairing on paper. 1Up focuses on producing great content with a unique voice that is both entertaining and informative while UGO focuses on cramming a bunch of content into an environment that's friendly for advertisers.

1Up and UGO together are fine, whatever. What really gets me frayed around the edges is the fact that this buyout will result in the cancelation of Electronic Gaming Monthly. EGM was the last bastion of unbiased gamer news that existed in the print medium. GameInformer and GamePro are great in their own right, but they write in a language that needs to be decoded.

These days, a gaming journalist can't say that a game isn't good. When you read a review in GameInformer or GamePro, you have to ask yourself, "Does the publisher of this game have any ads in this magazine?" If the answer to that question is yes, you probably have to take the review with a grain of salt and be overly sensative to negative criticism. One of my favorite examples is Andrew Reiner's review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men over at GameInformer. Meaning absolutely no disrespect to Mr. Reiner (since his job could easily be on the line if he didn't do this) he cites a ton of game-breaking flaws and mentions one positive moment and ultimately gives the game a 7. If you actually take the time to read the review, the game sounds closer to a 5 or even a 3, yet it got a 7.

EGM never had that issue, if they believed a game was bad they didn't sugar-coat it, and their scores accurately reflected their opinion even if that article ran right before a two-page splash for that exact game. Their brutal honesty was a high point in gaming journalism that you just don't see that often anymore in mainstream publications. Sure, you can find blogs all over that give you the bitter truth, but EGM was on the news rack! This was worthwhile writing from fellow concerned gamers that you could pick up alongside your copy of Newsweek or the Weekly World News, if that's what you're into.

As a kid who grew up on these kinds of print magazines, it hurts to see you go EGM. You will be missed.

-That Guy

Monday, January 5, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons


I've been a huge fan of Western RPGs ever since my first session of Morrowind despite the fact that I had to buy a new monitor because of the streaks I left on my old one from that fateful day. Between my love of interactive storytelling, my overactive imagination and all my failed attempts at tabletop gaming in my youth it's really surprising that I've never truly been introduced to D&D before.

Well, last night I got to play my first few turns in a rather unorthodox D&D campaign. A friend of mine is hosting a campaign with his younger brother and a couple of kids from his neighborhood. I guess their regulars didn't come out last night so I was called to sit in on the game. I arrived late into the evening because I thought it important to watch my beloved Minnesota Vikings get dismantled by the Phillidelphia Eagles which took longer than I had hoped. In the end, I only played a couple of turns, but those couple of turns really opened up my eyes.

When I say this game was unorthodox, that's an understatement. Instead of swords, sorcery, and the aforementioned dungeons and dragons, this campaign was designed around the American south west after the zombie apocolypse. So instead of dungeon crawling or hiking through enchanted forests, we were clearing zombies out of a drug lord's mansion in southern California.

In most game worlds, rules are the key to maintain order, but D&D is run purely by the imagination. This is a concept that everyone knows, but it doesn't really dawn on you until you have this interaction:

DM: "It's your turn."

Me: "What can I do?"

DM: "Well, what do you want to do?"

Me: "I want to kick that zombie in the face."

DM: "Roll to hit."

I think I could grow to like this game.

Another thing that I just need to throw out there: Why is it that D&D players are believed to have no friends when the game is designed to be played in groups? Just a thought.

-That Guy

Friday, January 2, 2009

Getting Back into PC Gaming?


I've all but sworn off PC gaming forever. Well, not really. I always liked the notion of gaming on my PC, but since I haven't had any money in the past four years I figured the notion of having a PC powerful enough to play anything more demanding than Solitaire was out of the question.

I have a history of PC gaming, most notably a two year Everquest addiction that left me in a pasty vampiric state and I had been so isolated that my friends had actually forgot who I was. I spent a similar stint on WoW, but since it was so recent my sponsor says I shouldn't talk about it.

A few years ago I invested in an Xbox 360 with the little expendable income I had. After all, most of the games I felt like I was missing on the PC (The Orange Box) were cross-platform and I'd have to sell a kidney to get a PS3, and if I was going that far I would have just upgraded my tower.

As the years went on and I spent more and more time on Xbox LIVE, I found my social skills waning. My brow extended, I started growing hair in odd places and I found myself calling random objects "fags" right before teabagging them. I had willingly degenerated into a console fanboy, which I still am to this day, but last night I saw a revelation.

For Christmas this year I received a new laptop. My folks basically took pity on me since my old one was so bad its frame rate actually dropped when using Microsoft Word. So I decided to put this new, sexy machine to the test and I logged on to EA's Crysis homepage to see if my machine could handle what is easily the benchmark in punishing system requirements.

After running a quick diagnostic, the laptop actually passed! I took the hour and a half to download and install the demo and was quickly whisked away to a tropical island in a really bad ass suit of power armor. Okay, I know this game is old news at this point, but from the perspective of a console-tard, I was blown away.

Well, not at first. I was impressed by the visuals but I hated the controls. What PC gamers boast as "precision" felt (to me) like a clumsy system. Well, it turns out that those were just my growing pains. After all, when you've been crawling for so many years you have to relearn to walk.

After about an hour of getting shot up and failing miserably, I finally found my stride and realized that Crysis was best played if you ignored the Halo-style Rambo instinct and actually thought out situations before barrelling in balls first. I had completely forgotten that tactics actually existed in first person shooters special thanks to my limited outings in shooters comprised entirely of Left 4 Dead and Halo 3.

I'm probably going to go out and pick up the full version of this game at some point. And I'll probably grab a few real time strategy titles while I'm at it, just to see how much of my young PC gaming self still lies dormant within me.

In the mean time, I need to go spread the word to all my gaming friends that I have a computer that can run Crysis. After all, I am "that guy."