November Video Game Report

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (11 hours):

There are many times that The Giant Bombcast or other video game podcasts have led me to discover games I wouldn’t have otherwise considered: Peggle, Saint’s Row the Third, Assassin’s Creed, and The Witcher. But there was one time they did me wrong: XCOM: Enemy Unknown. They made it sound like it was just an exercise in frustration in which you died at every turn and it since it was made by Firaxis, I thought it was just going to look like Civ. Nothing wrong with that, but I already had Civ. But Dan got an extra copy at some point and gifted me this one. It’s been a blast and I’ve loved playing it even as it has started to kick my butt as the difficulty ramps up. If I had more time, I’d be playing this game A LOT.

Super Mario World (2 hours):

Scarlett wanted me to play and fight Bowser more often than I could face him in Super Mario 64, so I figured she’d prefer 8 mini-Bowsers.

Civilization V (1 hour):

I continued to play Multi-player Civ.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (15 min):

Played a game with Scarlett and didn’t record it.

October Video Games

Team Fortress 2 (33 hours):

I’m a seasonal Team Fortress 2 player. Although I play it here and there at any time of year, I tend to really play a lot during October for the special Halloween missions. This year Valve was busy working on a new mode that was released earlier this week so they released a community-made Halloween mode: Invasion. It’s the first time I’ve spent any money since I spent $2.50 to get a bigger backpack a few years ago. Overall, the new modes were a lot of fun and I’m glad that Valve has gone from what should be the basic level of video game company support- supporting community mods- to allowing the best of the best to make money by sharing in the profits made during community events.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! (12 hours)

Here is a game that shows how interesting a video game can be in depicting work. Anyone who’s worked serving food to the public knows it’s a grueling job full of burns and ungrateful customers. Yet, here’s a game in which people gain enjoyment out of the stress of rush hour. My theory is that it’s fun because you can come and go as you please and your livelihood isn’t actually dependent upon it. (Similar to EuroTruck Simulator, Farming Simulator, and all those other European games) I also had one great Saturday session in which I was joined by someone claiming to be from Belgium. He or She helped me out with some tips on how to play and we had a fun conversation. I always love it when I have people join in on the chat.

Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~ (5 hours):

The first visual novel I played was Analog: A Hate Story, and readers of this blog will remember that I really liked the story and found it to be pretty emotional. I was hoping that this game would also touch me as other games and regular, written novels do. Instead there was clunky dialog that seemed most often to be written by the tourism board of Japan – containing lots of phrases that wouldn’t be used in normal conversation – like an old comic book. There were also pretty unnecessary anime-like nude-ish scenes. I’m no prude, but they seemed to serve no context, but to be anime-like. I’m more of a either make it count or don’t do it type of person. Like make some consequence of the scene. Or just go the other way and make it a rated R game. The tsundere and normal girl sister routine was also quite trope-y and didn’t add much. I did learn a bit and it’s probably still the closest I’ll get to visiting Japan, but it wasn’t my favorite game.

BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger (1 hour):

Speaking of anime, this was one heckuva anime-inspired fighting game. It’s not something I expected to want to play a ton of, so I made it the first game in my version of Dan Demos or Giant Bomb’s Quick Look. I don’t know if this is a new trend for fighting games, but it has much more of a story between matches than anything I remember from my youth. There are even choices to make in an RPG-like setting. I’m not opposed to checking this game out again, but it’ll probably be a bit before I play it as there are other games I really want to play right now.

Civ 5 (40 minutes):

Dan and Dave played a few more turns in our multiplayer games so I did likewise. Perhaps by next year at least one of them will be done.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (17 minutes):

Scarlett wanted to play a round of Sonic 3, so I fired it up.

Video Games Report March 2014

The Witcher (15 hours)

Assassin’s Creed was the first game series Vinnie of Giant Bomb convinced me to try by talking about it endlessly on the Bombcast. The Witcher is the second. (This is why I miss his voice on that podcast so much) It has turned out to be a lot more fun than I thought it would. It’s based on the Bioware engine of the time, so it plays a lot like Mass Effect 1. The story is good so far and full of nice little jokes. You can watch my progress (I’ve been recording it for Extra Life) on this Youtube playlist.

Civilization V (13 hours)

The third game I played for my Extra Life 2015 playthrough was Civ 5 as Attila the Hun. A fun chance to play a little differently than I usually do.

A Bird Story (1 hour) – this was a very interesting game. I enjoyed a lot of the concepts and the idea that memories are elastic. Another great work of art from Gao, although I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as To The Moon

Katamari Damacy (30 min)

Played as one of the earliest games during my Extra Life 2015 playthrough. Had fun sweeping up the humans.

 

Pac-Man Chapionship Edition DX (30 min)

The first game I played as part of Extra Life Playthroughs, I just love the satisfaction of eating ghosts in this game!

 

January Video Games Report

Civilization: Beyond Earth Sat View
Civilization: Beyond Earth Sat View

Civilization: Beyond Earth (7 hrs): This game was a great evolution on Civ V. I enjoyed that they continued with the same sense of humor. I also thought they did a good job evolving things so that it felt different enough. It’ll probably take a few games before I get the hang of all the government options.

Super Mario Galaxy
Super Mario Galaxy

Super Mario Galaxy (1 hr): Just wanted to get past the opening section on my emulator so I could not have to repeat that silly story section again if I even want to play some SMG. Also wanted to test the USB sensor Dan got me for Christmas.

Civilization V (30 min): Still trying to get caught up to where I was before GMR lost our saves.

2014 Video Games Report and Game of the Year

This year I did not play as many new games as in previous years. I was deep in my graduate degree and most of my free time was during work travel. Since I don’t have a powerful laptop (and Steam on Linux was just taking off early on this year anyway), most of that time was spent reading. Still, I did play some great games and still managed to log in quite a few hours.

Civilization V - against Dave - Founding Shanghai - 2440 BC
Civilization V – against Dave – Founding Shanghai – 2440 BC

Civilization 5 (95 hr): The year started off strong with the fun online games I was playing with Dan and Dave. Then Dave moved and we didn’t play for a while. Then GMR lost a month or two worth of turns. We have the turns on our computers, but we haven’t gotten the system back up yet. I hope we recover the games, I was having a lot of fun. Shoot, I almost spent 100 hrs on this game this year.

Poker Night 2
Poker Night 2

Poker Night 2 (13 hrs 30 min): I played here and there when I just wanted to play a quick game. Also sat by Danielle while she played to see how she thinks about Poker strategy. Still haven’t gotten more than one player’s token.

Hate Plus - Mute sees The Death of Mute
Hate Plus – Mute sees The Death of Mute

Hate Plus (8  hrs): Sure, it’s a visual novel and somewhat (par for the genre) a dating sim. But that’s way too reductionist. This is a powerful reminder that video games are no less valid a medium for talking about important issues than books, movies, and TV shows. Comics have been fighting the same fight, but are further along with more people considering them art than with video games. This is old hat for readers of this blog, I’ve been declaring various games as examples of art for a while now. However this sequel/prequel to Analogue: A Hate Story is a cautionary tale of how just a few unchecked changes here and there lead to a world that’s worse of for all except those in power. Games like this remind you that Rome didn’t go from Republic to Empire overnight.

Analogue: A Hate Story - The Pale Bride's Diaries
Analogue: A Hate Story – The Pale Bride’s Diaries

Analogue: A Hate Story ( 4 hrs): It seems as though there’s at least one game each year that really pushes and pulls at my emotions. I found myself caring deeply about the fictional characters in this game, especially the main character. Her deep inability to understand how profoundly the world has changed and for the world to understand her was just so sad.

Poker Night at the Inventory
Poker Night at the Inventory

Poker Night at the Inventory (2 hrs) – Played to get all the items.

Xenogears - "Sometimes I wish I were a man"
Xenogears – “Sometimes I wish I were a man”

Xenogears (1 hr) – Just started this. Looks like it has a lot of potential, but I’m not sure how much patience I still have for the Square style. We’ll see.

Team Fortress 2 - Halloween 2014 - Bumper Cars
Team Fortress 2 – Halloween 2014 – Bumper Cars

Team Fortress (1 hr 30 min): This year mostly only logged in for holiday play.

Mario Kart Wii - I won the whole cup
Mario Kart Wii – I won the whole cup

Mario Kart Wii (1 hr 15 min): The Dolphin emulator revives my interest in my Wii games and I bring the discs up to the computer room. Now that Nintendo has turned off the servers, the emulator may be the only way to play online.

Guitar Solo

Beatles Rock Band (1 hr): Since Scarlett seemed to get a lot out of a concert film of I Fight Dragons, I figured she might enjoy the game. She did and asked me to play a few times. I figure she’ll really enjoy it when she’s older. Too bad the plastic instrument genre died. Maybe it’ll be back one day.

Cities in Motion 2
Cities in Motion 2

Cities in Motion 2 (45 min): Never did play it again in 2014 after that one time. Maybe 2015? I doubt it, I have so many games to play. Maybe 2016.

 

Super Meat Boy (30 min): I got this in a Humble Bundle after seeing the Indie Game movie. It was neat, but too intnse for me.

Guacamelee Bilingual Bonus! (If you speak spanish you will get a bit more out of the game)
Guacamelee Bilingual Bonus! (If you speak spanish you will get a bit more out of the game)

Guacamelee (30 min) – I’ll very likely play this some more. Just need that time. 2015’s going to be an extremely busy year (at least for the first half) so  we’ll see.

Oil Rush
Oil Rush

Oil Rush (30 min): For the moment I’m mostly over RTSes so I don’t see myself playing this again.

To the Moon Holiday DLC (30 min): The sequel was on sale for the Steam Sale. Maybe I’ll get it this summer.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (30 min): We’ll see if the bug bites me again and I play some more.

Game of the Year

This year my game of the year is Analogue: A Hate Story. Christine Love creates this amazing and compelling world full of alliances and betrayals; Secrets kept from spouses. The generation ship gone awry is such a great science fiction trope and Love uses it to its fullest. As I mentioned above, this game was able to mess with my emotions and get me to care. That’s always the mark of great storytelling. If you can get over any biases you may have with the manga art style and the bad rap that visual novels have, you can experience a world unlike any other you’ll experience this year while at the same time being familiar enough to be anchored in emotional reality.

Analogue: A Hate Story - Hyun-ae begins to explain her genocide
Analogue: A Hate Story – Hyun-ae begins to explain her genocide

Dec 2013 Video Games Report

Civilization 5 (5 hours): Still haven’t caught up on the blog posts. Still entirely consists of games with Dan and Dave. Dan gifted me the latest expansion pack during the Winter Steam Sale, so I may fire up a solo game. Time will tell – I still have a ton of indie games from Humble Bundles and even games Dan gave me for my birthday last year like LA Noire.

Little Inferno
Little Inferno

Little Inferno (2 hours): I got this game as part of a Humble Indie Bundle. I was looking to play some games for which I had the soundtracks from the Humble Bundle sales. I prefer to play the games before listening to the soundtracks to keep from having the game spoiled by track titles and also to experience music the first time as it was meant to be experienced – as part of the game. I don’t remember which game I actually wanted from the bundle, but it wasn’t this one. However, this one quickly found itself becoming a contender for best game I played in 2013.

Little Inferno - World of Goo-like visuals
Little Inferno – World of Goo-like visuals

Visually, it became almost immediately apparent that this game was developed by someone connected to World of Goo. (Another indie favorite of mine) As I learned more about the world of this game, it became apparent that it had similar themes to explore. Both World of Goo and Little Inferno are big on slowly unfolding an understanding of the world that the protagonists just haven’t put together before. The Goo Balls didn’t know what was happening to them and both the player and his/her neighbor in Little Inferno are in the dark, ironically. Both games are also commentaries on the excesses of Corporations. Little Inferno expands this to include the ridiculous terms of service and other walls put up by corporations to protect themselves – even if they are creating an inherently dangerous product. Less subtle is the commentary on rampant consumerism and disposable items because you buy items simply to burn them in your furnace. (eg asking people to buy a new iPhone every year and throw the old one away) It also comments a bit on Global Climate Change with a bit of corporate-induced naivete of how the Little Inferno is contributing, if not the precipitating event. Oh, and there’s also commentary on the Free to Play gaming model as you have to wait for items to be delivered and you can “pay” with stamps to get them to arrive sooner. All this from a game in which you’re burning stuff in a furnace.

Little Inferno - one of the catalogs of things to burn
Little Inferno – one of the catalogs of things to burn

However, my favorite part of the game was the fact that it asks you to make combos by burning more than one thing at once and you have to suss out what to burn based on puns. Here are a few screenshots illustrating the puns:

Little Inferno - Dino Mite Combo
Little Inferno – Dino Mite Combo
Little Inferno - LOL Kitty Combo
Little Inferno – LOL Kitty Combo

 

Little Inferno - Online Piracy Combo
Little Inferno – Online Piracy Combo

I finished the game the following day, in January. The game has a pretty interesting ending – an epilogue that took me by surprise and is completely different than the game that proceeded it. I can’t imagine this game costs more than $10 full price. I think it’s worth it, especially if you can get it at any kind of a discount. Even at full price you’re getting twice as much entertainment as the average movie for the price of a movie ticket.

Poker Night at the Inventory
Poker Night at the Inventory

Poker Night at the Inventory (1 hour): I never would have bought this game on its own because I know nothing about poker. But I bought a Telltale games Humble Indie Bundle and so there it was when I needed to kill some time while waiting for my Linux computer to upgrade to the latest version of Fedora. I wanted to play something new, but something that wasn’t narrative-based so I went with this game. In an unprecedented move for me, I ended up with 7 achievement s on the first playthrough. I also won Strongbad and Heavy’s non-money bets – weird glasses and Heavy’s gun. I’d seen my brother, Dan, play the sequel, so I had an idea how the game was going to go. Maybe it’s my setting – middle chattiness setting – but I felt like the sequel was both chattier and less likely to repeat. I only play for an hour the first night, but I was already hearing repeats of bits. Also interesting, (and, again, it may be my settings) for the most part they only spoke between hands, not while playing; unless I took too long to make a move. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like the bits. I especially liked Heavy calling Strongbad “Little Heavy”. I was sad, however, that there was no Patrick Warburton. He is my favorite modern voice actor and he’s in the sequel.

Poker Night at the Inventory - Time to go all in
Poker Night at the Inventory – Time to go all in

On the plus side, I did learn how to play Texas Hold ‘Em. It’s actually a pretty interesting variant since everyone gets to use the center pot to make their hands. What I don’t yet know (but I’m sure the Internet could help with in a jiffy) are the different types of winning hands. It’s been described to me a bunch of times with regular poker, but it’s one of those things that never sticks in my head. So I mostly played based on making pairs and triples (which I don’t even think is a thing). Since you start out with only two cards of your hand (rather than the entire hand in regular poker, as I understand it), so far my strategy has involved staying in if I had a high card and folding if I only have low cards. There are some modifications like if no one raises before we see the first bunch of cards then I usually stay in to see what happens. So far it worked well enough. On my first night of playing I was the last guy standing in 2/2 rounds in Normal difficulty setting.

English Country Tune (4 minutes): Again, looking at games I had Humble Bundle sountracks to. The part of the game I played was essentially Sokoban and I suck at Sokoban, so I quit the game pretty quickly.

October Video Games Report (includes LIMBO review part 2)

Back to the Future: The Video Game - The Pseudonym Fun of the series continues
Back to the Future: The Video Game – The Pseudonym Fun of the series continues

Back to the Future: The Video Games (5 hrs) – As is the usual situation with these types of games, I figured out I had to get to the 1920s about 2 hours before I had triggered the right series of events that would allow me to get there. Got to see the sense of humor of the writers as I ended up meeting the high school principle’s sister who’s just as crotchety as he is. Apparently Doc is in trouble for starting a fire. Other than that I don’t know much as I wasn’t able to play very much of the game beyond the first 1920s scene with the principle’s sister.

Civilization V (4 hrs) – The games with Dan and Dave continue. I haven’t had the time to blog about the games, but hopefully will have more time once this semester ends.

Katamari Damacy - How Long Dad Can Believe in Me
Katamari Damacy – How Long Dad Can Believe in Me

Katamari Damacy (2 hrs) – got into a bit of an emulation kick and decided to play some Katamari Damacy again. One of the benefits over playing it on my physical PS2 is that I get screenshots and videos without some crazy device. If you haven’t come across this game before, it’s an addictive little game where you have a little ball that’s got it’s own gravity field. As you run over things that are small enough to be attracted to the gravity field, they become stuck to your ball. That, in turn, increases the gravity of your ball. Eventually you go from attracting dominoes to attracting dogs to cows to humans and eventually buildings. You’re doing this because your dad, The King of the Cosmos, got drunk and destroyed all the stars in the sky. Your balls become new stars. Here’s a video of a bonus level where you have to get crabs to recreate cancer:

I’d definitely like to find the time to beat this game again. Playing it reminded me of how much fun I had beating it the first time. Even the frustrations of not beating a level just made me want to beat it even more.

LIMBO - breaking barriers
LIMBO – breaking barriers

LIMBO(<1 hr) – I finished Limbo and I have to say this is another one of those games that really did not go where I thought it was going to go for the ending. When I was done I went hunting for the meaning online. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but given the darkness I mentioned last time, I’m not surprised at where it ended up. While I am often a bit frustrated at narrative works (books, movies, video games, etc) where the ending is unclear (I’m looking at you, Inception), I do think they have their place. Part of the fun is debating what happened and how what you saw in the ending says something about you.

I still think it was neat of them to use death as a teaching tool, but I definitely think that near the end it was next to impossible to figure out what to do without a walkthrough. Is that good or bad? I think it depends a lot on whether, like Miyamoto, you think all players deserve to reach the ending or whether you think it needs to be earned.

December 2012 Games Report

Saint's Row The Third: The Ho Boat
Saint’s Row The Third: The Ho Boat

Saint’s Row the Third (14 hrs):  I got a lot of video games for my birthday and Christmas (mostly on Steam).  So I wanted to finish up the last narrative game I had started before playing those games.  I played a few missions in Saint’s Row The Third.  As I had surmised before, the loose narrative based mostly on archetypes and stereotypes made it extremely easy to jump in.  It wasn’t like in Mass Effect or Final Fantasy 10 where I couldn’t remember why I should be caring about these characters.  The missions with the VTOL planes (STAG missions) were pretty hard.

Saint's Row the Third: STAG VTOL mission
Saint’s Row the Third: STAG VTOL mission

One of them took me an hour to get.  I’d probably be enjoying this game a lot more if I didn’t have a deadline to finish it in the next couple weeks before the new semester starts.  Most of the fun of this game is in doing random stuff throughout the city and I’m just trying to power through the narrative.

Civilization V (7 hrs):  Enjoyed finishing up my game with the Gods and Kings expansion pack.  Not much more to be said about Civilization V that I haven’t already said.  It continues to be a great game and I’ll continue to play it in between narrative-based games.

To the Moon (4 hrs):

When I heard about this game I couldn’t wait for it to come out on Steam.  Unfortunately, that took two years.  But since the game has been out for two years i’m going to speak opening about spoilers for this game.  So if you haven’t played it let me say that this game does an incredible job of demonstrating how well video games can tell stories (on par with books, comics, and movies) if the writers are willing to take advantage of the particulars that make storytelling unique in the video game medium.  I can’t recommend this game enough and I think you should buy it – it’s relatively cheap for four hours of entertainment!

To The Moon is evocative of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind mixed with a bit of the Pixar movie Up and a bit of Memento thrown in for good measure.  I’ve never seen Eternal Sunshine, but based on what I’ve heard of it it seems to match; plus agreement from tvtropes all but confirms it.  The plot revolves around a future (though not too far into the future) where you can have memories of the life you always dreamed of implanted into your head (so there’s a bit of Total Recall in there) and it’ll be the last thing you remember before you die.  In other words, instead of your real life flashing before your eyes it’s this new life you requested that flashes before your eyes.

The technicians for the company that replaces the memory are the player’s representatives and also the comic relief.  The game uses the interface and engine in the style of a 16-bit jRPG.  And the these two characters are funny in the style of Biggs and Wedge from Final Fantasy.  It’s corny, but (at least for me) it was so corny it was funny.  The opening scene when they arrive in a car crash is the perfect example of the type of humor I’m speaking of.  I also loved the music.  It was original while being evocative of games from this era.  Gao does a great job with the soundtrack.  It’s worth buying together with the game.

OK, we’re heading into spoiler territory within the next paragraph.  For narrative reasons the memory implantation process requires the technicians to go backwards in time through John’s memories.  This allows the game to do as Memento did and allow the context of each scene change as you learn more.  When exploring the house you find a “creepy room” filled with white origami rabbits.  At first you are led to believe that John is just a really eccentric guy.  But then you go into the first memory and discover this was a pretty eccentric couple that lived in this house.  Especially the story that unfolds with his wife, River, and how she dies in order for their money to be used to preserve a lighthouse.

Then you learn that River made the rabbits.  And there’s something a little off about River.  You also learn that the song the kids are playing is a song that John wrote for River.  What makes the first chunk of the game so fun is the way the writers mess with your head.  Eventually you learn that River is autistic, although I don’t think it’s ever said outright – only implied and a book you see at some point is a real-world seminal book written on autism.  So that seems to explain the strange behavior with the rabbits and the obsession with the lighthouse.  But then you find out they had their wedding at the lighthouse – so maybe that’s why she’s so fond of it – why they end up building a house near it.  Then you find out that ”Ever since the incident she’s been making strange rabbits out of paper”.  And you’re wondering what the incident is when you find out that River was upset that a rabbit was killed on their wedding day.

To The Moon: At the lighthouse
To The Moon: At the lighthouse

And so it goes as you see how they met in high school and so on.  And the story is a little sad in the same way that Up is.  John has outlived his wife and they had an epic-ly awesome relationship.  The only weird thing is that John doesn’t know why he tells the technicians that he wants to go To the Moon.  It’s just something he has inside him and can’t figure out where that desire came from.  Part of the reason we have to go through all his memories, unless I misunderstood something, is to find the point at which he wanted to go to the moon so they could use that point from which to build the new memories.

Eventually you get to his earliest accessible memory and activate the sequence.  But it won’t take hold for some reason.  What follows is one of the funniest moments in video game history as the technicians jump from memory to memory trying to get John to want to join NASA and go to the moon.  It gets to the point of them going to a high school assembly and mentioning that NASA would love for kids named John to apply.  With John quickly approaching death and not wanting to fail, they try to explore the world a bit more to find out why they can’t get him to want to go to the moon.

Finally one of the technicians finds out that at a young age he was given a high dose of beta blockers; a dose high enough that it could have been used to block out a traumatic memory.  Finally you’re able to go back to that memory and it turns out that John had a twin brother who his mother accidentally ran over when backing out of the driveway.  In order to keep him from getting traumatized, they gave him an overdose of beta blockers to get rid of the memory.  Right away you realize that there was some pretty messed up stuff going on with the mom in some of the memories you saw earlier.  She was left pretty traumatized and it seems she didn’t always have the lucidity to realize that John was the twin left alive.  And that twist alone would have propelled this game’s storytelling to the top in my eyes, but after that you were able to go back one more memory.

That’s when you find out that John actually met Rain at the fair.  He gave her a platypus that had played a huge part as an important memory item throughout the game.  They also stared at the moon together and promised to meet up there if they were ever separated (the seed for his desire to go to the moon) and you even find out why the lighthouse was so important to Rain.  She told John that she thought the stars in the sky were lighthouses.

Suddenly everything in the game made sense.  Why she wanted to use her medical money to save the lighthouse.  Why she was constantly making origami rabbits (they said the moon looked like a rabbit’s stomach).  Why she was so upset when he told her about what he remembered as the first time they met.  He was drawn to her because of his interactions with her in youth, but those memories were gone.  And that broke my heart because he clearly loved her as you saw with all his actions – including building the house for her near the lighthouse that was so important to them even though it would stretch their budget.

It’s a bit unfair to my brother to say that the only reason he didn’t like it as much as me is where he is in life.  After all, while we like a lot of same stuff we also disagree a lot about what is enjoyable (Weird Al, for example).  However, I do think that a large reason why this game resonated so much for me is because of where I am in my life.  While people who know how old I am would laugh to hear me say this – I am quickly approaching mid-life.  I’ve done a lot of reflecting and thinking about what it would be like to outlive Danielle or have her outlive me.  I’m just in the perfect place to perfectly appreciate this game.  I don’t think a 17 year old would get nearly as much out of it as I did.  That said, it is a pretty great story.  And by making it into a video game rather than a movie, it allows me to explore it at my own pace and truly embody the technicians.  And, unlike a book, I tend to feel a lot more like I’m immersed in the world when I’m controlling a video game character.  And, of course, the choice to remove all but the most basic game aspects made it truly a story vehicle. Unlike, say, Saint’s Row, there is nothing to enjoy in this game outside of the story itself.  It’s a unique thing (or fairly unique) to do with the video game medium.  I would love to see more video game writers explore telling stories in games where there is no real game to it.  There are so many games (like Uncharted) where my abilities (or lack thereof) take me out of the narrative and keep Danielle from watching me play that have stories she would otherwise really enjoy.  While I’m skeptical the next game in this series will affect me as profoundly – I’d already be looking for a locked memory twist or something – I’m hoping it’s not too long until it comes out so I can check it out.

June 2012 Video Game Report

Civ V (11 Hrs) – talk of the expansion pack made me want to play some more Civ.  I played a scenario and then I played a regular game.  I had a blast and I can’t wait to buy the expansion pack.

Peggle Deluxe (5 hrs) – Worked on some of the challenge puzzles

Team Fortress 2 – (3 hrs) – played when the Pyro pack came out.  Really enjoyed the new mode.

Solitaire (1 hr) – something to kill a few minutes before feeding Scarlett

Worms Reloaded (<1 hr) – just took advantage of a free weekend

Chess Titans (<1 hr) – played and lost a game

2011 in Video Games (and my 2011 Game of the Year)

Team Fortress 2
Team Fortress 2

Civilization V (75 hrs) – What can I say about this game that I haven’t said already?  This is the series that made “One More More Turn…” famous and it still works today.  If I were to start a game tonight, I would not go to bed at a reasonable time.

Team Fortress 2 (70 hrs 45 min) – This game is almost as addictive as Civ 5.  I never thought I’d end up saying that about a first person shooter.  But I’ve played nearly all of my 85 hrs logged for this game in 2011 and in 2012 it might even surpass Civ 5!

Final Fantasy X (57 hrs) – I finally got around to this game.  I wrote about what I thought of it.  Overall, I think I’ve somewhat outgrown Final Fantasy games.  It’s too bad I didn’t have access to these games earlier.

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (28 hrs 30 min) – Known through various parts of the internet as Assassin’s Creed 2-2 or Ass:Bro, this game was a ton of fun.  It really added a lot to the Ezio story and the ability to have a bunch of assassins at your beck and call was awesome!

Assassin’s Creed II (27 hrs 30 min) – This was the game that took everything I liked about the first one and went and improved it.  Everything from the stories to the combat was refined.

Mass Effect
Mass Effect

Mass Effect (16 hrs) – I finished the first Mass Effect.  I have to admit that I enjoyed this game, one of my first American RPGs a lot more than I thought I would.  I think it helped that the game had a solid fictional universe that you almost felt was real.

Greed Corp (15 hours) – One of many games I checked out based on the soundtrack, this was an extremely fun indie game that actually involves more strategy than it seems at first.  It’s kinda like a very fast-paced Risk.  Definitely check it out.

Portal 2
Portal 2

Portal 2 (14 hrs) – This game was AMAZING.  The voice acting was terrific.  The puzzles were fun.  Cave Johnson!  This is about as close to perfect a sequel as Portal could have had.  Portal, like The Matrix or Men in Black was partially awesome because of the novelty of the situation.  With those movies, the sequels never captured the magic of the original.  With Portal 2 they just about did it and they deserve kudos for that.

Tetris (PSN) (9 hours plus?) – It’s Tetris as perfect as you can get it in this console generation

Mass Effect 2 (6 hrs) – I’m just started to get to the point where the story is getting interesting, but this game has the promise to be just as good as, if not better than, the original.

Plants vs Zombies (5 hrs) – This game is not as addictive as Tetris, Civilization, or Team Fortress 2, but it’s pretty close.  I launched it up to get some trophies and then kept on playing all night.

Monkey Island 2: Special Edition
Monkey Island 2: Special Edition

Monkey Island 2: Special Edition (6 hrs 30 min) – This is a point-and-click adventure game.  That means good things like absurdist humor and bad things like puzzles that there’s no way you could solve without a strategy guide or a walkthrough.  I’m glad I played it, though.

The Secret of Monkey Island  (4 hrs 30 min) – I’m going to say that this essentially deserves the same description as above.

Bastion (4hrs) – This game is amazing.  See my review in a couple days.

Batman: Arkham City (3 hrs) – I’m just not feeling this game as much as the previous one.  Unlike Portal 2, this team seems unable to make lightning strike twice.  If there’s a third, I definitely don’t want it.

Portal (2 hr 10 min) – I played just enough to finish the game and see the ending in time for Portal 2.

Cities XL
Cities XL

Cities XL (2 hrs) – See what I wrote about it here.  It’s a pretty great city sim and I hope to get some more time into it.

Mario Party 8 (2 hrs) – It’s a great party game.

Mario Kart Wii (1 hr) – You know this game.

Dungeon Defenders Demo (30 min) – See the end of this article.

 

My 2011 Game of the Year

If I’d beaten Bastion by the end of the year, it would definitely have been that game.  But of the game I completed in 2011, it’s a very tough call.  I played a LOT of great games.  I think runners up are Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Team Fortress 2.  But my favorite game of 2011 was Portal 2.  That game had everything to make it a great time to play.  I was truly sad when it was over.

Portal 2: My 2011 Game of the Year!
Portal 2: My 2011 Game of the Year!

Civilization V: The First Week

To finish up talking about the game I left off in my last post, I won my first civ 5 game via conquest – a new one for me.  I usually turtle and do a culture victory or science victory.  It was only near the end of my time playing Civ IV that I started to become comfortable with domination victories.  I ended up with a score of 2679, a score I have yet to best.  The way the ending is now structured makes it easy to miss the old charts and graphs they’d always make you click through.  So on that first game I missed out on finding out what historical leader I compared with.  And, there doesn’t seem to be a way to access that.  Other thoughts from this first game include that the construction pace feels a bit slower (like less buildings units built in a game) and Dan concurred once he played his own games.  Great people now make their buildings outisde the city.  This makes using them to make their special building more of a strategic process than in Civ IV.  Great artists make monuments and those could end up obliterating a farm or some other tile modification.  A final fun bit of art imitating life: in this game the Americans had taken over middle east.

I played my second game as Napoleon of France.  In this game, unlike the previous one, I had lots of research pacts; probably because I wasn’t making enemies with everyone.  I went for a cultural victory.  Even though I won in fewer turns than my previous game, I got a much lower score – 1651.  In general, the game seems to give a lot less points for a cultural victory.

Civilization V - my game as the Roman Civilization
My starting position as the Romans

My third game was with Augustus Caesar of Rome.  I was going for a science victory.  Unfortunately, I forgot culture helps me get advantages via the policies – such as increasing the science rate.  I neglected culture and I think it partially cost me the game.  I ran out of turns and lost while still working on the Apollo Project.

Civilization V - Rome and Science buildings
Even with these great scientist buildings (and about five or six others), I couldn't get the science victory in time

My fourth game, as Ganhi of India, was a cultureal victory.  I went for the Bollywood achievement, so I beat the game with only three cities.  Various other civs would come simply to taunt me for having “forgotten to expand”.  I only got a score of 895, which I thought was pretty small considering how early I finished it.  Perhaps that doesn’t play as big a role as it did in Civ IV.

For my fifth game I played as Alexander of Greece to try and get his achievement for winning before 350 BC.  I played 100 turns and JUST BARELY made it.  Obviously I went for a domination victory on  duel map.  That also netted me the “one to rule them all” achievement.  660 points.

Finally, my sixth game as  Darius I of Persia on a  small map and went for the space race again.  I chose Darius I after consultation with Dan about which ruler would be best for a science victory.  Darius has extra long Golden Ages.  So I focused on making my people as happy as possible.  This gave me lots of golden ages (over 5) in which I was accumulating tons of science.  Towards the end I started just using every great person to start golden ages and stack them all up so that I could hurry to space tech.  (Except great scientists, I’d use them for free techs)

Civilization V - Darius I of the Persians and advanced ships
You can see my great ship and the city-state I took over. Notice it's an Earth map.

In this game you have to get your spaceship parts to the capital city.  I thought the units looked pretty neat.

Civilization V - Darius I of the Persians and spaceship part 1
Once of my spaceship parts goes to the capital
Civilization V - Darius I of the Persians and spaceship part 1
Another spaceship part travels to the capital

Once I had won, I wanted to get the nuke achievement.  I knew I’d never detonate one during a game, so after my game ended I kept playing and launched one.  Nukes look awesome!  This screenshot doesn’t do it justice.

Civilization V - Darius I of the Persians nukes his opponent
I can has nukes!

Anyway, I really enjoyed the six games I’ve played so far and I will keep playing and exploring the different leaders.  There are some things I miss like setting the tax rate, but overall, I think they have the perfect balance and it’s good they got rid of most of those micromanagement things.

When Achievements are a Good Thing

At first I ridiculed achievements/trophies.  The idea that grown men and women (and, heck anyone over 12 years old) would care about getting these achievements enough to continue playing through their games until they earned them all seemed ludicrous.  Then, I acknowledged it was a fun way to compete with friends in games that are otherwise single player experiences.  In time I came to understand the idea behind achievements, both for compulsive people and regular folks.  From my non-scientific observations, it appears that people who play video games tend to be more likely to be compulsive people.  The video game companies figured this out and then realized that if they created trophies for all kinds of situations in a game, that most people would keep playing until they got all of them.  Perhaps this would keep them from trading in a game long enough that it would kill the market for used games.

I classify achievements into four groups.  The first group of achievements I could do without – achievements for turning on a game, reading the instructions, stomping a goomba.  They just seem patronizing.  There’s some room for them in absurdist games that have a Monty Python sense of humor (eg Space Quest, LucasArts games, etc).  But they don’t belong in regular video games.  Trophies should be acquired for achieving something worth rewarding.  The second group of achievements are the OCD achievements.  These can be fun, but I feel they’re exploitative of the people I mentioned at the end of the first paragraph and for people like me, I’ll usually get them by accident rather than actually trying to find all the blue orbs in the entire game world.  Sometimes they can end up encouraging ridiculous forms of gameplay.  Just as Tim Rogers said he likes to move around the game world as silly as possible (perhaps using the dive button instead of walking), an achievement to stomp 800 goombas could lead to some really interesting gameplay.  The third group is a simple one that’s hard to argue with.  These are achievements for being awesome at the game, but without requiring the strangeness of group two.  For example, an achievement on beating the game at the highest difficulty setting or on completing a level quickly.  Or an achievement for not taking any damage at all.  These are all fitting the true purpose of a trophy.

But my favorite group of achievements, and the ones that inspired this post are achievements that encourage exploring different aspects of the game.  Three games I’ve recently played that incorporate this are Plants vs Zombies, Fat Princess, and Civilization V.  (Of course, all of these also have some of the less desirable ones – Civ V’s achievement for building your second city, for example)  Plants vs Zombies has trophies for beating all of the mini games as well as some trophies for getting a certain streak.  With 99.9% of games I get, I just play through the main game and glance at the mini-games.  But once I had about half of the mini-games completed, this trophy spurred me on to get good enough to defeat all the games.  The same goes with the streak trophies.  I simply wouldn’t have kept trying those levels if I hadn’t gotten so close to the streak amount for the trophy.

Fat Princess kicks things up a notch from PvZ.  The minigame trophy, after all, is not too far off from one of those OCD trophies.  Fat Princess, on the other hand, was the first game which I have praised for the use of achievements and it was teh first time I considered the fact that they might be a positive aspect.  Fat Princess has a bunch of trophies for a certain number of kills as a certain job class.  Without the incentive of those trophies, I wouldn’t have strayed beyond the swordsman.  I briefly played with the others and didn’t find them as fun.  But once I decided to try for the trophies, I had to spend extended amounts of time as each of the different job classes and ended up actually finding the fire magic to be my favorite hat to wear.  Without the achievements I wouldn’t have given it enough of a chance.

Civilization V is in a similar vein as Fat Princess.  It has trophies for winning as each of the leaders and in each of the victory conditions.  In the past, I’ve stuck to just playing as one civilization.  For Civ 2 and Civ 3 that was the Japanese and for Civ 4 it was the Chinese.  Every once in a while, I’d envy Dan for being able to win with any civ and I’d try another, but I think I only played a very small fraction of the many leaders available in Civ 4 and its expansion packs.  And, I almost never went for the domination victory.  I tried it a couple times to prove to myself that I could do it.  I’m usually the turtle while Dan’s the aggressive one.  Usually I went for a cultural victory or a space race victory.  Occasionally I’d go for diplomatic victory or simply having the highest score at the end.  Now I’m actively trying out each of the different victory conditions, leaders, map types, and difficulty levels.

When achievements and trophies add so positively to the experience, it makes it easier to forgive the lazy companies that make the bad types of trophies.

Civilization V First Thoughts Part 2

Civ 5 tells me I need to set some city production
Civ 5 tells me I need to set some city production

Interestingly, the game appears not to pop up and tell you to choose city production, you have to notice that in the bottom right, same for science and so on…..At least it doesn’t let you skip a turn before you worry about that.  So I actually like it better.  It was far too easy to say you’d deal with something later and then forget.  And all the messages queue up there for you to read.  I used ALWAYS lose track of those in civ 4.  Especially since they used to appear when I was busy on something else and disappear before I could act on them.  And here’s what it looks like when you decide to what to build.

Civ 5 Choosing what to build in my first city
Civ 5 Choosing what to build in my first city

I choose a scout first and that turns out to be a good thing as I’ll reveal later.  Then it’s time to choose where to go scientifically.

Civ 5 selecting technology to research
Civ 5 selecting technology to research

Since i’m right next to a mountain, I go for mining first.  Then I send my warrior out to explore this continent.

Civ 5 exploring
Civ 5 exploring

I like how the advisors are grouped together rather than spread out.  Before it was so tedious to visit them all.

Civ 5 Advisors
Civ 5 Advisors

Ruins take the place of huts and that makes a bit more sense in Civ while huts make more sense in Colonization.

Civ 5 Finding Ruins
Civ 5 Finding Ruins

And here’s some info about ruins.

Civ 5 Some info on ruins
Civ 5 Some info on ruins

Looks like you can’t use space to end turn, but I guess that’s because of the interface changes to let you know to move units and build in your cities.  Units can still be told to chill with space and r still builds roads.

Civ 5 - I love the banner on top that tells you the year
Civ 5 - I love the banner on top that tells you the year

First improvement I build is a farm…rather than irrigation?  In fact, it looks like irrigation is gone now.  I find a second set of ruins.  Then I find some enemy units in a fortification (barbarians).

Civ 5 - Barbarians!
Civ 5 - Barbarians!

War looks awesome.  Not killing a unit doesn’t mean you die.  In other words, you can have combat where you lose hit points but don’t die.  It’s not as final as in civ 4.  It’s more like everyone has the withdraw upgrade from civ 4.  (Imperfect analogy)

Civ 5 - my workers finish up with the farm and glow with potential?
Civ 5 - my workers finish up with the farm and glow with potential?

It costs culture to change civics – now called policies so you need to know which to pick.  They provide much more targeted bonuses now.  It’s pretty awesome.  Wheels needs to be discovered for roads.

Civ 5 - awesome new city screen
Civ 5 - awesome new city screen

Met my first city state.  Unfortunately, it’s militaristic!  Actually, at least at the easiest difficulty level, this turns out to be a good thing.  It means he gifts me military units.  At first, keeping them happy sucks.  It takes so much money.  But later they ask me to get rid of those barbarians I found above and then they’re essentially my friends forever because now it’s easy to just shunt a payment off to them every once in a while to keep the friendship and keep the free units coming.

Civ 5 - first city-state I meet
Civ 5 - first city-state I meet

Tip:  you have to click “show queue” to queue up city production.  Oh, so now there are natural wonders and you get benefits for building near them.  I found Mt Fuji.

Civ 5 - finding Mt Fuji
Civ 5 - finding Mt Fuji
Civ 5 - Most well-fed civs
Civ 5 - Most well-fed civs

Found the Germans.  it’s so cool that he speak German when I meet Bismarck.

Civ 5 - Germans!
Civ 5 - Germans!

Then I met the second city state, Dublin.  Also militaristic!  Third city state – copenhagen.  They’re at least maritime.  Finally found Berlin  Got my fist golden age!  Apparently this comes from happiness now!

My second city – Shanghai – gives me my first wonder, The Colossus.

Civ 5 - The Colossus under construction
Civ 5 - The Colossus under construction

I reach the midieval era by turn 88.  Turns out I’m rich!

Civ 5 - People who like Shiny Things
Civ 5 - People who like Shiny Things

Turns out only a certain number of horses are available to  use.

Civ 5 - Limited horses!
Civ 5 - Limited horses!
Civ 5 - fear the mighty army of the Chinese!
Civ 5 - fear the mighty army of the Chinese!

Eventually I get my first trireme!

Civ 5 - first trireme!
Civ 5 - first trireme!

Then I get two great scientists.  Bismarck gets a bit testy about that army I showed you above.  I like that the AI is playing more realistically, even on Cheiftan level!

Civ 5 - Bismarck is unhappy
Civ 5 - Bismarck is unhappy

Dublin attacks germany so I take my chances that he’ll be distracted and decide to go to war with him since he made a city where I’d wanted to make one before.

Civ 5 - ranged attack!
Civ 5 - ranged attack!
Civ 5 - I have you surrounded!
Civ 5 - I have you surrounded!

I take a city and have puppet, annex, and raze as options.  I annex it.

Civ 5 - Hamburg is mine!
Civ 5 - Hamburg is mine!

Bismark sues for peace and gives me 6 gold per turn, access to iron, access to horses,  329 gold, and his second city.  I raze this city because it’s too far.

Civ 5 - Bismarck Sues for Peace
Civ 5 - Bismarck Sues for Peace

Last thoughts?  The fact that you cannot stack units means you need to have more strategy because units can’t pass each other as easily.   In other words, the unit has to have enough movement points to make it past the other unit.  This is the first civ game wehere it makes sense to have your units on the edges of your civ, which is neat because it’s more realistic.  Finally, I get a great artist and a great work of art now called a culture bomb!  (Which is what it always was!)  I leave you with a view of my empire.

Civ 5 - My empire 1
Civ 5 - My empire 2
Civ 5 - My empire 2
Civ 5 - My empire 3
Civ 5 - My empire 3

Civilization V First Thoughts Part 1

Civilization 5 choosing the game to play
Civilization 5 choosing the game to play

The opening movie is AWESOME.  Most of the visuals were from the trailers, but the frame story was great.  Best intro thus far.  I decided not to play the tutorial first since it appeared to be for those new to the Civ franchise.  I chose Wu Zetian of China since I’ve been playing the Chinese almost my entire time with Civ IV.  She has the “Art of War” which makes Great Generals spawn more often.  Also the Cho-Ku-Nu unit (like Civ 4) and Paper Maker.  I did a small continents map.  And I made myself Settler, marked “for learning the game” so I figure it’ll be tutorial enough.  And a standard game pace.  I REALLY like the new menu system.  It’s very well done.  Sounds like Leonard Nimoy is still the narrator.  I love how it describes my ruler and China in history.  Pretty awesome.  I let the wonderful narration read out before I “begin my journey”.  I take a while to look for the screenshots and it comes up with hints.  Pretty awesome.  The Chinese music is great.  Here are some screenshots.  Another post later.  Right now I want to play and the game gets annoying (freezes cpu) if I alt-tab out of it to get the screenshots.

Default view of my new civilization
Default view of my new civilization
Up close view of my civilization in Civilization 5
Up close view of my civilization in Civilization 5
The advisor in Civilization 5 negate the need for a tutorial if you've played before, I think
The advisor in Civilization 5 negate the need for a tutorial if you've played before, I think