All posts by brian

Vidya games

I’m not really using this thing for anything and I can’t explain why. I’ve been playing a lot of games though, and no one on Facebook cares about that and Twitter isn’t exactly the platform for verbose opinions so here’s what I’ve been playing.

Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30. It’s an older World War 2 FPS by Gearbox, who made Borderlands and are working on Duke Nukem Forever. I got it as part of pack of all 3 games in the series and this is the first one. I finished it this weekend and it was pretty good but it was short (just shy of 7 hours total) and a lot of my time was spent re-playing some particularly frustrating sections. In the game you’re given some limited control of up to two squads. You’re supposed to use one squad to pin down the Nazis and then flank them with the other.

The problem is that the friendly AI isn’t exactly brilliant and often stands around to be shot to pieces. I put a lot of effort early on to ensure that everyone in my squads survived until I determined that whether or not they live didn’t affect the next mission. Squad members who died in the previous mission are miraculously resurrected in the next. The only deaths that seemed to stick were scripted. But as far as World War 2 shooters go, it was pretty fun.

I immediately wanted to get started on the sequel but the games are not numbered and I ended up downloading the third game rather than the second. Once that was sorted I out I was disappointed to find that the second, Earned in Blood, is almost exactly the same as Road to Hill 30. The same type of gameplay, the same graphics, even the same characters. I’m really not in the mood to play the same game over again, so I’ve moved on.

I also played through and beat Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-slick Precipice of Darkness – Episode 1. That’s a mouthful! Anyway, it was a fun, short RPG. The battle system has been pretty accurately compared to Chrono Trigger, except Precipice feels a lot faster, which made it appear rather difficult from the start. Once I got the timing of it down, the game got considerably easier. I got through it in just over 5 hours, and I’ve downloaded the next episode but, like Brothers in Arms, I know it’s the exact same type of game so I’m going to give it a little time.

So I decided it was time to get back into Borderlands to play through Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution. Surprise, it’s more Borderlands! But I love Borderlands, and this is more quests and new areas and enemies that have been Claptrap-ified. I just started this last night, so I’m still working on it.

Today I started Hydrophobia on XBLA. It’s a 3rd person action game that involves a lot of (surprise!) water. It not-to-recently received a huge update that changed a lot of the game since it was released, to include improved controls. I have to say, after spending a good couple hours with it, if these controls are improved, I’d hate to have seen them before. It’s totally playable but the movement feels really loose. When I’m trying to pick up small collectibles, I find myself having to slide around back and forth because I can’t get the character in the right position to pick it up. But I love a good 3rd person action game and this one is pretty interesting so I’ll stick with it.

And Dead Rising. This fucking game. Katie’s playing Dead Rising 2 and we get on private chat through xbox live while she’s playing it and all her talk about it made me put the first game back in. I haven’t touched it in three years. Tonight I was reminded why I haven’t touched in three years. This game is so goddamned frustrating. Every weapon is made out of stiff cardboard, aiming is AWFUL, and the save structure is conducive only to frustration. IT’S NOT FUN. Fuck this game.

I told myself last Friday that I was going to finish Silent Hill: Shattered Memories but I guess I got sidetracked. That’s a spooky fucking game. Jesus. I’ll get through it. Eventually.

I’ve also spent a little bit of time playing Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, Monday Night Combat, and Neverwinter Nights 2: Platinum. They’re all pretty enjoyable in their own way but I’ll come back to them later. And I played some of The Polynomial, which is ultra-bizarro but beautiful.

Video games.

Reach vs. ODST

SPOILER WARNING: The plot of ODST and some of Reach will be discussed in this post!

When ODST was released, I was totally hyped. It was a Halo game with a protagonist that did not have the gravitas or plot strings of Master Chief. No shields, no dual wield, a weaker melee, shorter jump, a darker setting, and more tactical options. The protagonist would explore the city of New Mombasa after the Covenant have wrecked it and would determine the details of his squads demise by examining the wreckage they’d left behind.

This is a premise that has promise that the game did not exactly fulfill. It is true that there’s no shields, but there’s stamina, which is like shields. No dual wield, two new weapons which were kind of useful. The silenced submachine gun wasn’t all that useful but the silenced pistol was. But the melee attack was still really lethal, and no one would ever notice if someone compared the jumping and running speeds of the Rookie and Master Chief unless they were demonstrated side by side. But to me, the most disappointing aspect of ODST was the story: everyone gets out alive! A little banged up, a little dirtier but breathing! These were humans, not super-soldiers, dropped from low orbit into a wrecked, Covenant occupied city, separated from each other, facing the same kind of enemies and odds as Master Chief and getting out of it alive.

Throughout all of the Halo series up to ODST, Master Chief fights alongside regular marines and ODST troopers whom the Covenant cut through like wet paper bags. Master Chief survives and turns the tides because he is more than human. Bungie, in ODST, had the opportunity to tell a story that can connect to regular humans through loss and struggle, and everything ends up hunky dory.

When Halo: Reach was announced, I wasn’t excited. I knew Reach was glassed by the Covenant and it was a major loss for the UNSC, but after ODST I didn’t feel confident that Bungie would make use of that dramatic of a setting to do anything but give us another Master Chief Lite story. It wasn’t until the game was released, when other people were describing it as the best Halo story yet, that I actually got interested in playing it.

Thus far, it has delivered. Reach is taking a beating and the outlook is pretty hopeless. Jorge died blowing up a Covenant cap ship, just before a whole lot more pop into orbit. Kat takes a needle in the brain out of nowhere. Characters, heroes, potential Master Chiefs are dying.

Which is how things should be. Master Chief is so important and instrumental in the survival of the human race because he’s the last of the SPARTAN-II project. He’s the last super-soldier. If the rest of Noble team were to make it off of Reach alive, the question becomes “Where the hell were they during the first 3 Halo games?” In order to maintain that Master Chief mythology, no one can get out of Reach alive except him.

I’m on mission 9 out of 10. There are four more members of Noble team left. I’m sincerely looking forward to some grade-A heroics and an ending that preserves the legend of Master Chief.

The Google Laptop

I signed up to test Google’s Chrome OS as soon as I got a notification that it was open on my Chrome start page. I wasn’t expecting much to come out of it. I mean, why would Google send me a laptop? But I came back from an early class this morning to find a UPS truck blocking my driveway and then when I got inside I saw that he had dropped off a package for me! I was truly shocked to find it was a laptop! And even though it’s a test product, it didn’t come with a pile of paperwork and instructions. It came with one two-sided sheet. One side is for getting connected to the internet, the other side is some suggestions of things to try and simple usage instructions. But enough words, here are a bunch of poorly lit, blurry photos!

The Cr-48 in all it's glory! Note the huge touchpad.

The Cr-48 in all it’s glory! Note the huge touchpad.

A super-blurry photo of the search button, and you can see some of the browser buttons at the top!

A super-blurry photo of the search button, and you can see some of the browser buttons at the top!   

The log-on screen! That's an awful picture I took while I was getting changed this morning. The laptop has a built-in webcam and microphone!

The log-on screen! That’s an awful picture I took while I was getting changed this morning. The laptop has a built-in webcam and microphone!  

This is the start page. Unless you already had some pages open when you last shut it down, this is what it goes to after login! There is literally nowhere else to go, everything is contained within the browser.

This is the start page. Unless you already had some pages open when you last shut it down, this is what it goes to after login! There is literally nowhere else to go, everything is contained within the browser.

The only things in the system tray are a clock, your connection status icon, and a battery power indicator.

The only things in the system tray are a clock, your connection status icon, and a battery power indicator.  

The settings page is only slightly different from the settings page on the standalone browser but it's really just to accommodate a few essential system settings.

The settings page is only slightly different from the settings page on the standalone browser but it’s really just to accommodate a few essential system settings.

This thing comes with 100MB/month of Verizon 3G data for 2 years. FOR FREE.

This thing comes with 100MB/month of Verizon 3G data for 2 years. FOR FREE.  

Look familiar? Nothing really different here.

Look familiar? Nothing really different here.

Pretty much the same as the browser, except the account stuff.

Pretty much the same as the browser, except the account stuff.

The same scary stuff that the browser has. I've left it all turned on because I am actually interested in testing this thing and if my browsing habits help, then Google can have them.

The same scary stuff that the browser has. I’ve left it all turned on because I am actually interested in testing this thing and if my browsing habits help, then Google can have them.

Some simple account management and login security.

Some simple account management and login security.

Some of the pictures that didn’t come out were the actual laptop itself. It’s flat black, with no markings. No serial numbers, no giant Google logo, no nothing! There’s a couple of vents on the sides for heat, a VGA port, 1 USB port, a headphone jack, an SD card slot, a power receptacle, and that’s it. No disc drives and this thing is absolutely silent when it’s on. The battery is enormous but it’s also completely flat. I don’t know the dimensions of it but I’d hazard a guess that it’s a 12 inch screen and no more than an inch and a half thick.

I plan on taking it to school tomorrow to see how well it plays with the campus wireless VPN. Overall, really excited to have a new toy to play with!

Bizarre Teenage Love Dream

I thought I was going to bed at a reasonable hour when I went to bed at 10pm tonight but now it’s 1:30am and I’m wide awake. I had some screwed up dream about teenage love and I can’t get it out of my head.

I’m living in a house that’s not a house I’ve lived in before. My room is a big open shared attic, with two queen sized beds in between of two staircases leading down, with desks on the opposite sides of each staircase. I’m sharing the room with my sister. A girl I like is there. She’s got a pretty face and light brown hair.

We’re fooling around and I feel like I really like her and we have some kind of connection. She’s straddling me on the bed and I feel like I’m about this close to putting my dick in her and my sister cockblocks me. She says mom needs me to come downstairs to do something. So I go downstairs and whatever mom wants is trivial or dumb. I get back upstairs and she’s talking to my sister and the moment is gone. She no longer seems interested in me at all.

I go back downstairs and watch TV with some unknown father figure. The girl never comes down to talk or see me.

Then I’m in a van at night. Father figure is driving, my sister is there, the girl is there and we’re giving her a ride home. Father figure asks her something along the lines of where she needs to be dropped off and she tells him he doesn’t need to drop her off anywhere and that she left already. She’s got that sweet smile on her face. I tell her that she couldn’t have left already, I didn’t see her come down the stairs. I know this because I was waiting for her. She sits there with that sweet smile on her face and lies to me and tells me that she must have slipped past because she already left.

Now I hate her. I hate her because I feel like my feelings were misled and now she’s lying to my face and she won’t stop smiling like I’m the one who’s insane or confused. Now I’m awake.

I am WAY late…

But Ubuntu 10.10 is being released in FOUR days! Countdown timer appropriately updated!

This will probably be the first time I’ve waited for the actual release rather than upgrading to a beta. I’m using my netbook daily, and using it to take notes in one class, so I can’t really afford to lose everything. Not that upgrading to the beta would cause me to lose everything but I typically wipe it for a new release. Not this time!

Star Trek: Voyager

Voyager is not many people’s favorite Star Trek, and after having watched all seven seasons, I can understand why. It’s not the outlandish premise. It’s not the acting. It’s the writing. Nearly every story is the result of the failings of the Voyager crew. The crew routinely makes colossal errors in judgement which often leads to putting Voyager or key personnel on a path to destruction. Then some ridiculous chain of events causes the obstacle in their path to be destroyed and Voyager strolls right on by, unharmed and unchanged.

This happens over and over again. No threat to Voyager is not fully neutralized within 42 minutes, or 84 minutes if the episode is a two-parter. The first appearance of the Borg, a species that routinely annihilates Federation ships within the alpha quadrant, is their corpses floating in space because they’ve been defeated by Species 8472, who are crushed by Voyager within a two part episode. Every single race that threatens Voyager is neutered by the end of every episode.

The events that often lead to this are also beyond ridiculous. A two part episode involving the Year of Hell held enormous promise for changing Voyager permanently. They were passing through the territory of a race that clearly overpowered them. For a year they endured attacks, deaths, and a failing ship. Voyager was limping away, defeated, when they surmised the cause of that races’ power; a time traveling ship that was altering the past to give them more power. Once that ship was destroyed, everything popped back into it’s past condition and everyone’s lives continued as if nothing at all happened!

It comes down to this: for seven years, nothing changes. In every episode, Voyager gets a little closer to home, but nothing else changes. It makes watching the show pointless and uninteresting.


I am, for the most part, okay with downloadable content (DLC). They usually expand the game, and are typically cheap enough to more than warrant a purchase for their content. However, I do not like reminders that some DLC exists because it was carved out of the game so that it could be sold later.

Case in point: Dragon Age: Origins. I know DA:O is an enormous game. I know it. I know it is chock full of content. So I find it odd that when the game opens up (as in, once you’re past the tutorial stuff), a conversation with a random person in your camp ends in a dialog option for “download new content to begin this quest”.

At first I thought that maybe it was one of those pieces of DLC that is offered as an incentive to people who buy the game new (which I did), and thus free. But when I opted to download it, the game pulled up the DLC menu, attempted to purchase the addon, and found I had insufficient Bioware points. So it wasn’t free, and this guy is hanging out in my camp as some sort of living advertisement for this non-free content and probably won’t go away until I buy it.

(Entirely-too-long-sidenote: why does every company need their own form of moon money to sell their DLC? Seriously, why can I not exchange American dollars or Euros or Zimbabwe dollars, or some other real currency for it? I don’t understand why they insist that I convert my cash into their limited-purpose currency, except to coerce me into buying more of it than I can spend. If my American dollar converts to 80 moon dollars, I can guarantee that those moon dollars will only come in $12 blocks, and that the content will sell in nice, clean $5 increments, thus leaving me with 160 spare moon dollars that are completely fucking worthless. It is irritating.)

Is this necessary? When the game starts, there’s a Downloadable Content menu option right there next to Load Game and Options. If you read any video game news site regularly, you will be beaten over the head repeatedly every single time a piece of DLC comes out. And if you don’t have regular internet access, and you’re playing DA:O offline, you can’t download any DLC anyway!

What I’m getting at is that for an immersive, and well thought out game such as Dragon Age: Origins, being given a dialog option that says “Download New Content” is entirely unnecessary and detracts from game’s experience. It’s a reminder that I’m not playing the whole game, because this piece is missing; a piece so vital that I’ve being given an opportunity to fill it in at first stop, in exchange for more money than that I’ve already spent.

Horror in video games

I just finished Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and jumped back into Penumbra: Black Plague. Late in the Summer, I finished Penumbra: Overture. These are all first person, horror themed games made by a small team of developers called Frictional Games. Frictional clearly knows horror in games very well, because I just played Black Plague for no more than 10 minutes and not only am I still thinking about it, I had to quit because I was getting fucking terrified and I’m not sure I’ll pick it back up.

Frictional made the first Penumbra game as a tech demo for it’s impressive game engine. It’s good looking graphically, and really nails weight and physics of objects in the game. Overture was the first actual game to come out of it. It had lots of creepy atmosphere and a good sanity-ish mechanic in which if you stared at a monster while in hiding, the character would scream or make a noise and attract its attention, which was usually the opposite of what you wanted in the first place.

Where this mechanic faltered is that they gave you small melee weapons, like a hammer and a pick axe, and the only real monsters in the game were small spiders and dogs. Both of these were easily dispatched with the weapons they gave you and, once gone, never returned. The fear of detection, and the hiding from monsters, and luring them into traps was totally negated when you could just stand on a crate and beat them to death with a hammer.

I played just a little bit of Black Plague before my vacation and then Amnesia came out. Amnesia is Frictional’s fourth game, and unrelated to the Penumbra series. It’s a lot like Eternal Darkness on Gamecube, except Amnesia is completely devoid of weapons. If you encounter an enemy (and they are rare), you can either hide or run. This leads to a lot of cat and mouse type of gameplay, but definitely more effective at scares than beating them to death with small objects. Amnesia also featured a more unsettling atmosphere, with tension building throughout the whole game.

After I finished Amnesia, I decided to get back into Black Plague. I had barely started it, so there wasn’t much to catch up on. Black Plague is Frictional’s second full game, but to me it is by far their most effective at delivering scares.

Like the other two games, you hear your enemy before you see them. In Overture and Amnesia, the enemies make unnatural,¬†guttural¬†sounds, or breathe wetly, or just have loud footsteps. The enemies I’ve encountered in Black Plague speak to you. They’re former humans. They’ve been infected with something.

The first encounter in Black Plague is after you pillage a storage room. Before you can set foot out of it, you can hear a door open. The monster said something that I can’t recall and I could see the beam of a flashlight coming towards my door. I shut it, stacked a couple boxes in front of it, and hid in a corner. The monster, the thing, however, either through script or AI, decided to investigate anyway. It bashed down the door. When I could see that the flashlight was not pointed in my direction, I peered around the corner of my hiding spot amongst some boxes. This thing was human shaped with the proportions just slightly off, with gray-white skin, and black eyes.

Crouched in the dark, with the creatures back to me, I decided to make a break for it. I ran out the door. The monster had heard me running, and was chasing me down the hall. I could hear it behind me but didn’t dare look back. I made it to a door that transitioned to another area. After the loading screen, I took a breather because I thought I was safe. Then came the sound of the door being bashed against. I hurried through some item combinations to get through the next, more secure door. I was finally safe.

Later, I was exploring a different section of the game and it went straight to Silent Hill, rust and blood world. More weird noises and whispered sounds. The game pulled one of those sudden shock kind of scares and it worked because I damn near jumped out of my seat.

Later still I had been cut loose to try to get into another locked room. I hadn’t encountered anymore monsters like the first one, so I knew I was in for another run-in sooner or later. Sure enough, right after cleaning out the armory only to find a rusty saw, I heard the sound of footsteps and muttered words. The door was already shut, so I just slid into a hiding spot and waited. No bashing on the door, and soon the sounds stopped.

All three of these games have the same controls and give you the ability to peer around corners. Presumably, this lets you see your pursuer without being spotted. Also, most doors in these games are not open/shut, but physics driven, which give you control over how wide you open it and how fast.

I crept up to the door of the armory and cracked the door open but a couple of inches. The monster heard me. “Something’s not right” it said, as I quickly ran back to my hiding spot. I crouch down and wait, and then I hear the door bashed open. I peer out to see the monster standing there, some weapon in its hand. I tuck back into my corner and wait a little longer. I peer out and see that the coast is clear.

At this point I have decided that it’s time to face my fears and walk straight into death. Get a good look at the monster so I can quit trying to make out its features from my hiding spots and maybe I’ll feel a little bit more adventurous. I run out of the armory and look left.

It’s standing right there under fluorescent lights. White gray skin. Bulbous head, with two black eyes that are too big. Red, wet mouth. Totally naked.

I panic and run in the other direction. I can hear it chasing me. I’m running in circles, and I turn around. It’s right on top of me and smacks me with what looked like a crowbar. I run some more and turn around again. Again, it’s right there. I give in. It beats me to death with a crowbar as I struggle not to look away from its hideous form. After I die, I immediately quit the game.

That was almost forty minutes ago, and I’m still feeling anxious about it. I thought writing it out would help, but I think it’s just kind of made things worse.

Two Worlds: What is up with this game?

This game is kind of blowing my mind.

+ Every line is voiced. All of them.

– The voice acting is god awful.

– The dialog is plagued with “medieval” words like “forsooth” and “verily”.

+ Huge open world, no load screens unless you teleport or enter a dungeon.

– Everything is kind of glued to the roads so there’s not much point in wandering around.

+ Tons of quests

– Quests come in three varieties; collect things, kill someone, item delivery

+ Some really neat effects such as light coming through tree tops and fog.

– Monster animation is super awkward.

I’ve put 4 hours into it. It’s still boggling me.

Gunplay in Metro 2033

I recently reinstalled Metro 2033 in preparation for the upcoming release of new content. I fired it up to futz around a little, and decided to start cleaning up some achievements.

I loaded up the level “Outpost”. It’s an outdoor level, and it’s crawling with Nazis. Nazis everywhere. I check out my inventory and I’ve got a silenced, scoped revolver, a scoped AK-47, and a double-barrel shotgun. I know the shotgun isn’t going to be very effective, so I opt for the revolver while the Nazis don’t know I’m about.

I poorly line up a shot and hit one in the chest. It doesn’t kill him, and it attracts the attention of his buddies. They’re shooting at me from three different directions, so I quickly swap the revolver for the AK, and blast the closest ones. They drop with a couple quick bursts. After I’ve cleared the floor of the decrepit building I was in, I check my ammo.

Metro 2033 has two kinds of ammo: military grade, and low quality. Military grade is accurate, and does a lot of damage. Low quality is less accurate, and does less damage. There is a noticeable difference between the two and there is a reason why military grade ammo can be used as currency in the game. With how quickly I dispatched the Nazis in what was basically a botched encounter, I was convinced I was shooting my money away.

But I wasn’t. It was cheap ammo the whole time. The rest of that level consisted of some small scale encounters, primarily two or three Nazis at a time. This really gave me an opportunity to examine the gunplay that nearly every single review for Metro 2033 complained about.

It is entirely false that weapons in the game are wholly inaccurate. Each weapon has varying degrees of accuracy, and the ammo you use has an effect on accuracy, but if you’re using an accurate weapon (like a scoped, silenced revolver), and you aim down the sights, and you pull the trigger when it is pointed at the Bad Guy’s face, they die with one shot. This works with the revolver, with the AK, and pretty much every weapon in the game.

I am no sniper. I’m awful at it. Sometimes I get lucky, and catch some Bad Guy’s off-guard, and I get the time I need to line up those headshots that make life so much easier. Usually, however, I’m relying on putting enough bullets in things to kill them.

Enemies in Metro 2033 react to being shot in a manner in which you would expect them to. When you shoot human enemies without killing them, they go through a pain animation. Obviously, when they’re writhing in pain for one or two seconds, you have the advantage of being able to dump more bullets into them without them shooting back. You can’t really use this to “juggle” multiple enemies because the pain animation simply isn’t that long, but it is a significant advantage and rewards you for focusing on killing one enemy at a time.

Most of the monsters in this game, more animal than man, react how you would expect an angry animal to react if shot; they charge at you as if they don’t feel pain! Yep, it’s going to take a few more bullets to kill a charging beast, and you’re going to have to do it a little more recklessly than if it were a man, but just because most monsters don’t react to being shot doesn’t mean your weapons are ineffective against them.

There is really no point for me to write all of this, except that it is my hope that it convinces one person that Metro 2033 is worth playing. I got a bad vibe from most of the reviews I read that kept me away from it for several months, but I absolutely must say that the reviews are wrong. 4A made a fantastic FPS that will probably not get the attention it deserves. And that’s a damned shame.