The long awaited return…

Posted: May 16, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Uncategorized

Unfortunately, you’re going to have to wait just a bit longer, and I’m very very sorry. In case you feel like hunting me down and harming me, allow me to attempt to disuade you with sympathy. The last couple of weeks have been jam packed with happenings. My fourth and final year at college wrapped up with a melodramatic bang. I moved an entire apartment full of crap over 400 miles. My aunt Elizabeth passed away (we all miss her greatly). I’m planning a wedding for the end of the summer. I’m trying very hard to find a job that doesn’t involve a deep fryer. I don’t have either of my consoles set up to the internet yet, and my PC is still in a box. So… I haven’t been gaming, and let me just tell you; as much as you might be missing my posts, I’m equally missing writing them.

I can tell you that my next post will be about long distance gaming, and quite possibly about Section 8, since I’ve been requested to “get it and write about it.”

Happy Gaming,

Ms. Pacman (I forgot that I was going to sign off my posts this way…)

Importing Intellectual Property: The Great

Posted: May 11, 2011 by Raparth in Uncategorized

This week I’d like to talk about the practice of Importing Intellectual Property into gaming. My use of “intellectual property” within this post will be the vague notion of a setting or universe, rather than the more legalistic notions I’ve seen elsewhere. The intellectual property I will specifically be discussing here is the Warhammer 40,000 IP. This will be my example of a “Great” use of an IP and I hope to have a good example of a “Terrible” use of an IP for next week (and comments on your thoughts on particularly great or terribly IPs is both appreciated and encouraged for discussion)

Warhammer 40,000 is a wargame from Games Workshop. A wargame, for those of you who don’t know, is a game played with miniatures representing opposing armies. It is turn based and has many rules about how far a given unit can move, shoot, etc. It is, to put it lightly, an immense, comprehensive, and overall amazing piece of Intellectual Property. The number of things it has influenced are difficult to explain.

The first example is the least “true” to the source material, but is probably the best known (especially among those who don’t know anything about WH40k). It is…. Starcraft. Starcraft is certainly not advertized as a piece of the WH40k IP, but once you consider it’s psychically-powerful space “elves” (Just read the way Protoss developed without true industrialization.), utilitarian human space marines, and a giant dinosaur/insectasoid swarm of DNA-assimilators controlled by a Hive Mind… Well, you’ve just described WH40k (if only a small part of it).

The second example of imported IP is the always-increasing number of video and computer games released directly under the Warhammer 40,000 title.
Fire Warrior was, I’ve heard, a very fun FPS.
Dawn of War and its expansions were great RTSes set in the WH40k universe, while
Dawn of War II and its expansions are a great import of specifically-WH40k-wargame mechanics and general feel into an RTS context.
What I mean by this distinction between Dawn of War and Dawn of War II is that:
– Dawn of War is a game where you establish a base, accumulate resources, build units, and use them to destroy the enemy base. This is what RTSes are for the most part.
– Dawn of War II is a game where you have up to 4 squads of units, each capping out at 1-4 members (depending on the squad). You can replace members of the squads, but you never have more than 4 squads. There are no resources; you are merely trying to use these few units to achieve a goal on the map. This is just like WH40k the wargame, except for… it’s an RTS!
– Special note: I love both of these games and both play-styles.
– Holy shit, there’s a Warhammer 40,000 movie? I’m going to have to watch it!
Dark Millennium is the most exciting… It’s the attempt at a WH40k MMORPG, to come out in 2012. This will be extremely difficult to pull off, let alone pull of well enough to be liked by both WH40k fans and by MMORPG fans, but… if they do it, it will be amazing.
– There are quite a few others, really, but these are the ones I can offer genuine comment on.

There are also quite a few board games and card games that are associated with WH40k.

Another way to show how great the WH40k IP has spread its wings is that Dark Heresy line of roleplaying games. Well, I should caveat that there are two other game lines (Rogue Trader and Deathwatch) that use the same system, but have different core rule books, but I’m really talking about all of these games together. They, from what I can tell (yes, I’m still trying to get myself into a game), excellent at both deeply and faithfully portraying the setting AND making the gameplay interesting and fun. The recent release of the Blood of the Martyrs supplement, which includes Ordo Hereticus Inquisitors and the Sisters of Battle, has only increased my desire to get in a RP setting like this. Since I’ve read the fluff (“fluff” is the term for the “roleplaying” and “descriptive” and “setting” and “talky” bits between purely-numerical mechanics in the wargame… Yes, I love fluff.) and especially since I’ve read associated novels (looking at you, Eisenhorn and Ravenor), I’ve been utterly convinced this setting demands to be roleplayed in.

That was talking about how well a setting can be translated into all aspects of gaming (and beyond!). Next week I hope to talk about an IP that is a great example of how this same attempt can go terribly, terribly wrong.

Suffer not the witch to live,
– Inquisitor Lord Yuriel Indoril of the Ordo Hereticus
~ Mr. Pacman

P.S. I apologize for no post last week, but I shamelessly confess it was the last finals week of my last semester of undergraduate education and, frankly, 35 pages in 3 days was impressive even for me.

Comic – 7

Posted: May 2, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Comic

Cynthia's pout is the very best pout.

Guest comic from Emily, who is awesome! : )

Games Games Games

Posted: May 1, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Uncategorized

Out of no other inspiration, here is a lot of my opinion about… what else? Games!

Very First Video Games

My first game was on the Atari system. I don’t recall the name but it was essentially Frogger with a chicken. The first game I was old enough to really remember with detail was the Mario Bros/Duck Hunt duo game. I LOVED duck hunt. I think it was probably the dog, and the fact that I got to aim and shoot a shotgun at my television set. I learned the trick to Duck Hunt really quickly; put the gun against the screen. I was, however, really bad at Mario for many years. Who am I kidding? I’m still pretty bad at it. I think it’s the limited tries aspect of it. Back then, there were no save points. If you couldn’t master an entire level in as many tries as you had lives, you had to start the whole game over. The whole game. I think that was my problem. It’s too easy to angrily give up when you’ve almost beaten the game and get Game Over for the hundredth time.

My first computer games were much more compelling. Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D, and Doom were the bees knees. 3D definitely used to mean something a little different then. I also enjoyed playing text based adventures in DOS, as well as Dragon’s Lair (oh Daphne…) and occasionally hacking my way passed the 21+ test of Leisure Suit Larry. I think that test prevented my parents from playing far more often than my sister and I.

Guilty Pleasure Games

It’s funny that my biggest guilty pleasure game isn’t so much embarrassing in normal society as it is in gamer culture. I really enjoy The Sims. I know, I’m insane. How could anyone want to play a game that’s purpose is to be as much like boring normal life as possible? I think the draw in for me is both the opportunity to do crazy things without consequences in real life (much like people’s draw to GTA) and the opportunity to creatively kill my characters in seemingly hundreds of ways.

Another guilty pleasure of mine is flash games. I love bejeweled and those sort of mind numbing puzzlers, as well as flash RPGs, particularly those with a well developed plot. I often search through google for new games to try.

Most Annoying Characters

Well, there are certainly a lot of these, but I think of all the games I’ve ever played (and I mean ever) no one will ever come close to the level of annoying that Donald reached in Kingdom Hearts. I’ve never yelled “Shut up!” at a character so much in my entire life. I loved the cross media aspect of both KH and KH2, and all of the movie themed levels were a lot of fun (ok, all except KH2’s version of The Little Mermaid. Do not waste my time in an RPG with a level that makes me feel like I’m playing a Learning Leapfrog game) but the Disney sidekick characters were not only unnecessary; they were out right unwelcome.

Favorite Game Couple

I certainly think this is appropriate to our site. After careful consideration, I believe my favorite in game couple (as much as I wanted to make it Ariman and Namira :P) is Princess Zelda and Link. I say this because not only does Link never give up rescuing Zelda, no matter how many times she’s in peril, but Zelda herself proved she can truly hold her own against the evils in her Kingdom through the disguise of Sheik.

Saddest Game Scene

I’m going to make a joke of this, so don’t comment back about all the scenes that clearly beat this one. The Companion Cube level of Portal is the hardest most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever had to put an imaginary character through.

Best Gameplay

This is something I can never keep a consistent opinion on. Currently, I would say Portal/Portal2 because the concept is so simple and yet so ingenious and very fun to play. The concept of having a gun that can shoot portals from A to B could easily be drawn out, and eventually boring, but Valve is constently keeping us on our toes (and in our leg bracers) by adding more complexities to the game every level. On top of that, the AI systems they created to navigat you through the games are some of the most interesting and colorful robotic characters of any game I’ve played.

Gaming System of Choice.

I prefer to play things on console (particularly Xbox 360) but the games available for PC verses those available for consoles make it my number one choice. I can always just plug an Xbox 360 controller into my computer’s USB port (Thank you Microsoft!)

A Game Everyone Should Play

The Dig. If you have not played this PC game from 1995, you need to do so now. Back when story lines in video games weren’t as important as movie plots, LucasArts decided that they needed to break this bad habit. With a plot written by Steven Spielberg himself, many cleverly hidden (though arguably intentional) Star Wars references, and Myst-like game play, The Dig is, in my honest opinion, one of the 90’s best games. Steam recently re-released it, and you can download and play it for just $5.

Disappointing Sequels

Well, the biggest disappointment in sequel history (in my opinion) was the complete failure to ever release Kingdom Hearts 3. The second game in the series even has a trailer for the non-existent game when you beat it. I feel like I wasted a lifetime waiting on that game, and all we got was a crappy DS game. Overall though, video games don’t seem to have the same problem of sequel-flops that movies do.If I like a game, I typically enjoy the sequel.

Games with Great Art Style

Most of today’s games have incredible graphics, but for me, Irrational Games and Quantic Dream really stand out in the crowd. Irrational’s Bioshock games have well developed and intricate/detailed worlds that really give character and atmosphere to the games. Quantic Dream released Heavy Rain, which had gamers everywhere drooling the moment it was even announced.

There have also been games in the past, though, that (although they look ridiculous by today’s standard) were really unique and innovative in their time. The game that most comes to mind when thinking about that is Dragon’s Lair, a game released for laser disc of all things, in the 90’s. The art work for the game scenes were drawn by a Disney animator, and while most games were using sprites and really limited in any sort of artistic detail they could use, the guys at Cinematronix decided to lose a bit of character control in order to create a very movie-like game. A couple interesting trivia points about the game: The budget was so low that the “voice actors” were just the animators, and since they couldn’t hire models, Princess Daphne was drawn from inspiration gathered from Playboy magazines. Though, that probably helped sell the game, really, as she was the most scandalous and arguably “hot” female lead in any game at the time. Her center-fold-like poses in the ending scene are really hilarious when you know where they came from.

A Game I Thought I Wouldn’t Like, but Ended Up Loving

World of Warcraft gets a really bad rep, even in certain circles of gamer culture. As such, I vowed for a long time, to never start playing it, lest I become a mindless zombie of gold farming nerd rage. When William started playing, I have to admit, I was truly worried about our relationship. Really, I closed myself off from the game so much with out giving it a chance, that I barely knew anything about it. William let me play a bit on his account (because I decided that either I had to become a mindless zombie with him, or surrender him to the dark side and move on. It was all a really melodramatic episode in my mind) and I slowly let myself admit that I was enjoying it, and eventually, loving it. Am I a mindless zombie? no. Am I addicted? I could quit anytime 😉

This has all been really random, I know. Hopefully next week I’ll have something truly interesting to talk about.

Reflections on Portal 2

Posted: April 29, 2011 by Raparth in Uncategorized

Well, here we are again…
It’s always such a pleasure…

I must initially apologize for this being a a couple days late.  I got 4.5 hours of sleep and seemingly 30 hours of studying/writing done in the 36 hours from Wednesday to Thursday.  It was exhausting, to say the least, but I can now discuss at a fair length exactly how fun the philosophy of William of Ockham is.  But more on that… maybe never.  Then I also had the final submission of my Senior Thesis due today, so that certainly took up a lot of time the last few days.  Anyway, getting to the reason you’re here…

This is neither going to be a numerical review attempting to gauge some objective standard of excellence nor a particularly systematic examination of the game, either of the plot or the technical aspects.  Instead, I will focus on some key aspects of Portal 2 that make it both fun, engaging, and distinctly different from its predecessor. [b]Very light spoilers, alluding to but not detailing aspects of the game, may well follow. You have been warned.[/b]

There are certain that the puzzles present themselves. Portal 2 is more a game of observation and planning, where you spend a lot of time looking around at the level and visualizing certain strategies. This is a much different mood than Portal 1’s spirit of free experimentation. Much of the facility is in ruins, removing most of the portal-friendly surfaces from the areas. The player must, thus, be very careful to notice where there [i]are[/i] portal-friendly surfaces, and then see how they interrelate. This makes the game much more mental, rather than “physical” (i.e. trying things out), which while somewhat inherently limiting, also keeps you from trying out 20 things that will never, ever work. I obviously can’t say how many puzzles have alternative solutions, but having played the coop campaign through 1.5 times and seen the single player done the same number (I watched a good chunk of Cynthia’s trials from across the room, while I obviously did them all myself), I found only one puzzle that had two very different solutions (it was in the coop campaign).

The most interesting thing about Portal 2 is how much better the storytelling is that the first game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very different story, requiring very different modes of transmission, but, overall, it was much more engaging that Portal 1. Wheatley, that little blue eyeball, was, from the very first scene, a great way to learn about the change in time from Portal 1 to Portal 2 and was a nice little reminder of the eccentric science done by Aperture Science Laboratories. He serves as a great source of that information, while (unintentionally from his perspective) being a very good filter for what exactly we might learn. He thinks some things are less important and others super important, utterly regardless to what a sensible human being would decide. (After all, he [i]might die[/i] if he tries this new thing.)

The portion of the game I am most impressed by is the point at which you start at the bottom of the facility, working your way up and (via the ruins) through time. Hearing the voice recordings progress from (I believe it was) the 50s all the way to the 80s is a lesson in visual and aural storytelling. We find out how Aperture began, seemingly so fitting for the reckless spirit of its time (if more reckless than the rest), progressing through the years less than gracefully (I particularly loved all the 2nd place trophies, no doubt losing to Black Mesa.) and seemingly becoming more and more sinister. No, that’s not right: more and more desperate, desperate to do that limitless science that Aperture loves. (As a brief aside, referencing White Wolf’s [i]Mage: the Ascension[/i], I hope I was not the only one to see Aperture Science as the reckless and spirited Sons of Ether, while Black Mesa is conversely portrayed as more dour Technocrats.) Still, there always seems to be the sliver of hope, still grasping onto this love of Science. Needless to say, the potato serves as a wonderful plot device that really turns around our expectations.

The story works so well, right to the end, but has me wondering where we are in relation to Half-Life 2: Episode 3… Where is that damned game, anyway? It was great until the end, and then we got another great song. I can’t help, though, loving coop more than single player, just because Portal works so [i]damned[/i] well in a group. How did we used to get by with only 2 portals? 4 works so much better. Plus, shooting your friends around the map, their little mechanical lives in your hands… Well, Science Collaboration Points are so funny. GLaDOS’s ability to try to turn two robots against each other sent me into laughter nearly every time.

But, my friends,
Now I Only Want You Gone…
~Mr. Pacman

P.S. Back to WoW more dedicatedly, soon. I can’t want to fight the Zandalari. Warcraft Trolls just work so well, for me. Lately, between papers and finals, I’ve been trying out Supreme Commander 2 and Dawn of War 2, both are a couple years old but very fun.

Playing a game that’s only new for one person

Posted: April 25, 2011 by Cynthia 心雅 in Uncategorized

As you are probably aware, Protal 2 came out last week, and William got it immediately, and played through it both in single player and co-op. I played through the single player on his account, but didn’t have anyone to play co-op with (his account can only run one game at a time, so it doesn’t support playing co-op within it, and he played with his father) unless I got my own copy.

So, yesterday I got the game and we started playing together, and it inspired me to write this blog.

Sometimes you play a game for the first time with someone who’s played before, and sometimes you play a familiar game with someone who hasn’t played before. For some games, this is a non-issue because the game doesn’t have much of a story-line (e.g. RockBand and similar games.) Other times, it’s a big issue of making sure both players are enjoying the game.

Portal 2 is of the second batch of games. We’ve just started playing through it, and already we’ve been faced with three obvious issues.

The New Player Feels Like the Veteran Player is Giving too much Away.
-When you know the end of a story, and you’re playing through it for the second time, it’s hard to not openly notices points of foreshadowing, and “you wouldn’t get this if you didn’t already know,” references. What’s worse, though, is that it’s hard as a new player to not worry that ~everything~ the other person is saying is potentially a “spoiler.”

The New Player Feels Like the Veteran Player is “Helping” too much, or Rushing through Things.
-In a game like Portal 2, which is at it’s core a puzzle-solving game, once you’ve completed the game, you’ve solved all of the puzzles. They don’t change from one play to the next. Level 2 room 4 is the same no matter how many times you play. As such, the new player is fully aware that the veteran player knows the solution, so collaboration on solving it is sort of out of the question, because anything the veteran player says or does, is said or done with knowledge of the eventual solution. It certainly puts a strain on the “team-work” aspect of the game.

The Veteran Player Feels Limited on What They Can Do and Say.
-The previous two issues lead to a final issue on the veteran player. How do you play a game with someone, with the above problems without just mindlessly doing what they say, and letting them decide everything, regardless of whether you know that the decision is wrong and will only waste time, when you could just tell them the consequence of said decision, because you have previously made the same mistake. It’s hard to enjoy a game in which you feel very limited by what you can do without upsetting the other person.

We have yet to find a real solution to these issues, so I can so far offer you none. However, if we figure it out, I’ll certainly update here 😀

The Gravity of RIFT

Posted: April 20, 2011 by Raparth in Uncategorized

This week I would like to briefly comment on what I’ve been playing most lately: RIFT.    If you’ve played a MMO, and particularly if you’ve played one like World of Warcraft, it is instantly comfortable to play.  This is perhaps the best observation I can make about the game:  RIFT has very little, if any, true innovation, but seems to do everything so well.  In many ways, it looks (game-play-wise) just like Guild Wars, or World of Warcraft, or Champions Online, or a number of other MMOs (I list those 3 because I’ve personally played each one).  There are the core rolls of “healer,” “dps,” and “tank.”  There are multiple classes, specifically the four core archetypes of fantasy: Warrior, Cleric, Mage, and Rogue.  Each class has very skill trees, specializations, or (as they are known in RIFT) “souls.”

The Classes are something I fundamentally prefer to more traditional ways of having them.  There are only 4 classes (compare to WoW’s 10), but each class has 8 souls (compare to WoW’s 3 specs per class).  This is a whopping total of 36 talent trees; WoW has 30.  The difference, however, is that in World of Warcraft, every mage has the same three trees active all the time.  In RIFT, a given mage has 3 of their 8 trees active.  This creates a great deal more variation in play-style without requiring players to level 10 different characters (something I hate about WoW et al.).  I’m leveling my cleric, for instance, as Inquisitor/Purifier/Cabalist.  This seems to be a great soloing build (I can handle multiple mobs, but I’m better at single targets).  Instead of a “dual-spec” (i.e. 2 ways you can have your talents picked out, that you can switch between when out of combat), RIFT has up to 4 (or 5, I don’t quite recall) sets of souls.  I bought a second “spec” (called roles in RIFT) for my cleric, though I haven’t played it yet.  It’s Purifier/Warden/Sentinel (meaning I’m a healer, with particular emphasis on single-target spells, but with a fair bit of flexibility).

The Rifts are, frankly, even cooler that I’d anticipated.  At any time, a portal to one of the six elemental planes (Life, Death, Earth, Air, Fire, Water) can open up on top of me, or an outpost.  These rifts will expand, send out groups to attack nearby bases (both of PCs, NPCs, and even other elemental types) which they can destroy and take control over, giving them a foothold to launch further attacks.  It is a dynamic landscape that keeps questing even more fun and gives a true sense of urgency to the meta-plot of RIFT (i.e. that the planet, Telara, is under increasing stress and attacks from invading elemental forces, endangering the survival of the planet as a whole).  It gives a great reason (particularly to me as a roleplayer) to fight different wander groups of monsters, because, well, they’re probably on their way to lay waste to some town/village/outpost of friends of mine.  If the Quest NPCs aren’t there (since they were driven out or slain by the invaders), you aren’t doing the quests, after all.  To seal a rift you fight different waves of monster, and the better you do (as an individual and as  a group) the better rewards you get.

The game itself has so many great little features that I can’t truly list them all.  Individually, each is something so small that it isn’t a serious decider, but these little influences pile up every hour I play.  There’s a reason player characters can resurrect (when resurrection spells being used so often would totally change how life was lived by a society)!  If you die, you can “soul walk” (cooldown 1 hour) which gives you 15 seconds to run around before you resurrect.  This saves you from the vast majority of running back to your corpse.  Characters who cast spells actually use their equipment, something that’s a super nice change from games like WoW where a weapon just sits on my character and never gets used.  “Public transit” (done by giant portals) is instantaneous, instead of the long wait taking a gryphon(or equivalent) taxi in another MMO.  There’s a chat channel specifically for every 10-level range (e.g. 10-19, 20-29) which is great for finding other people to quest with.  You can get a mount from the very beginning (I didn’t have the money {or collector’s edition} get mine until level 17, but I enjoyed running around for a while), instead of having to run for soooo  maaaany leeeveeels.

The main drawback I’ve found is that, well, I don’t know anyone else who plays.  So far, my server (Faeblight, Defiant side) seems to have a great population of nice people willing to answer newbish questions without trolling.  Added to that, I haven’t really yet been looking for a guild/group to play with.  Still, with WoW being the heavyweight in terms of total population and in terms of people who I know who play… The social aspect (as I’ve told many people many times, the only reason I play WoW is this fact) always leans towards WoW.  Still, I’m really enjoying RIFT, particularly since I seem fairly burnt out on WoW (don’t get me wrong , raiding is still hella-fun, but daily quests, leveling, professions, even daily dungeons… they bore me to death already…).

If anyone plans on trying out RIFT, try out Faeblight and we should quest together.  I’d love to have people to chat with online and talk about the game.  If you already play, drop me a line (in the comment section or send me an email) letting  me know what server you play on (if you are already pretty established).  The more people who play RIFT, the more likely I am to play it.

Next week (or, maybe, before next Wednesday), I’ll write about Portal 2.  I’ve already completed both the single and cooperative campaigns, and thoroughly enjoyed both.  I’ll give more detailed feedback some time I’m not feeling so vaguely ill.

This is the part where he kills you,

~Mr. Pacman