Saturday, August 8, 2009

A gaming post!

Hi there! It's a beautiful, sunny late Saturday morning/early afternoon here in Berkeley, California, so what better time to be behind my computer inside my house with the blinds closed.

I've been playing lots of games lately, but haven't yammered about them much, so I figured it was time I did so here. If you visit this blog for reasons other than gaming, you may want to check out now, as this will be a geekapalooza. For all the rest of you: Welcome!

First, let me just say that the pile of games that I have now started and not finished grows ever longer. As much a I'd like to be, in theory, A Guy Who Finishes Games, the sad reality is that I am not. It might be my years as a gaming journalist, in which I was always jumping from one thing to another, to keep current, and only finishing games I was actually reviewing, but even without that excuse any more, I can't stay focused long enough to finish anything. Unless the game happens to be relatively short, like Trine, in which case I do get to bask in that feeling of accomplishment. It's for this reason that I have really come to like shorter games; just a totally selfish desire to finish. Because when faced with epic monstrosities like Fallout 3---which I love dearly, I should say--I just know there's no way in hell I'm ever gonna get through it. I can't even fathom that folks are on to the DLC packs for that game. I'm maybe, I dunno, halfway through the main quest, and it's taken me months to get there, just because I keep getting distracted by other games.

Currently, for example, I am in love with King's Bounty: The Legend, which I downloaded off Steam, and which, within 5 minutes of starting, I knew was going to hook me deeply. The original game and subsequent series off which it was based--the Heroes of Might and Magic series--are some of my favorite strategy games of all time, combining exploration and turn-based combat with a hearty dose of fantasy wankery and droll humor...an irresistible meal for Count Dorkula here. The scary thing is that games like this can take forever , and while it is an awesome forever, it does tend to push everything else to the background--kinda like WoW did for me for a good couple years there. (And let's not even talk about WoW; I still miss it and my PC still won't play it. It's just an open sore I'm trying to ignore.)

The fantasy strategy/RPG itch is also getting satisfied via Chrono Trigger on the Nintendo DS. As a PC gaming dork for most of my life, I largely missed out on the JRPG thang--with the exception of Final Fantasy 4 and 7--and I knew that Chrono Trigger was one of the big ones that I'd get to eventually. Playing the new DS version has been a blast so far, though I'm really not that far in. I'm just past the trial, but that itself was so clever--with all the "evidence" weighed against me being made up of actions I had taken earlier in the game up to then--that I knew I was in good hands. That's the kind of smart and creative design decision that you really rarely ever see, especially these days, when developers and publishers seem to go out of their way, more so every year, not to hold everyone's hand and baby our way through these games. The trial comes as a complete surprise, and there's nothing you can do at that point to undo the actions that led you to it, or that lead to the verdict. The game judges you by what you did, and then responds accordingly. It's just a small little set piece in the game, but it's brilliant.

The DSi, by the way, is fast becoming, well, not quite my "platform of choice," but often the one that I default to, if for no other reason that I can play while lying in bed or on the couch. Because, as mentioned above, I can't ever focus on just one game, I'm also simultaneously making me way through Professor Layton (maddening at times but super entertaining and fun to share with others in the room) and Rhythm Heaven, which is also entertaining, and hilarious at times, but also way harder than I was anticipating. And my sense of rhythm really isn't bad for an old white guy--years of bass playing helped overcome the genetic disposition to not stay on the beat.

And then there's GTA Chinatown Wars , a game I enthusiastically bought because of all the rave reviews, and which I too played the hell out of for awhile, but ultimately put down out of frustration--the driving, to me, was just too hard to manage with the D-pad, and I found myself losing missions repeatedly simply because I was battling the controls, rather than the game. It is impressive what Rockstar managed to cram into this game. And I even liked all the stylus-based minigames. So they get a ton of credit for reimagining this series for this platform as well as they did. Ultimately, it's more about me than the game: I just suck at action games on the DS. Nor do I want to feel that stressed out while paying on that contraption, since I'm usually horizontal while doing so.

Other games? I powered through episode one of the new Tales of Monkey Island from Telltale, and loved it. I'm also replaying the new version of Secret of Monkey Island, but, fortunately or unfortunately, I still remember most of the puzzles--surprisingly hardwired into my brain--so it's less about discovery than it is nostalgia. Still, we're talking about one of the funniest games ever made--by far--and like a classic comedy film, it totally holds up and provides the same laughs, all over again. I miss games like this, frankly. It feels like a bit of a lost art. So here's hoping that Tim Schafer and the gang really bring it back with Brutal Legend. It seems like it simply has to be a Day 1 purchase for me. I want to believe.

Other games? Having a blast so far in my limited experience with Battlefield 1943. My biggest problem is still the old console controller vs. keyboard/mouse thing--the cross to bear for all PC gamers. Fights that I'd easily win on the PC just have embarrassing results with the controller, a problem for me going all the way back to Halo 1. But I've always really dug this series, especially because the ability to garner points via methods other than shooting--like flag-capturing--always ensures I can do well on any given server. I blabbed about this on the last Out of the Game podcast, but it constantly amazes me, and this goes all the way back to the first Battlefield--how many players seem to miss the fundamental goal of the game and get caught up in battles that are totally meaningless. Meanwhile, I can rack up points and contribute to the team's bottom line in my own rogue, solo way, and then do my little superior dance when my name shows up near the top of the leaderboard. Err, when I'm not getting endlessly picked off by snipers, that is.

Finally, this summer has led to a resurgence in boardgaming, thanks to both family members and some of my pals at EA, which in turn has led me to zombie out on XBLA with both Catan and Carcassone, which provide able AI opponents. Actually, let me amend that. At least for Catan. Because they may be "able," but as far as I'm concerned, it fuckin' cheats. There. I said it. Because, without fail, once I establish a lead in that game, it seems that every new die roll is a freakin' miracle. Suddenly the 2s and 12s start pouring out--as long as it benefits the other opponents--as well as the 7s, which invariably lead to me losing all my cards, over and over. Okay, so maybe I'm just a paranoid crybaby. But I definitely get the sense, once I start winning, that the AI stops being three separate opponents with their own agendas, and instead one vengeful computer, like HAL in 2001, doing everything it can to prevent my victory, including spinning the die whichever way it helps it best. However, lest it appear I am insulting the designers, who I have nothing but love for (really!), let me offer an alternative, but equally probable, explanation for what I am experiencing: I just suck at Catan.

The list of unfinished games (Dead Space, Mirror's Edge) grows ever higher, as does the list of games just barely even started (Persona 3), and the chances of me ever finishing them all decreases as the days pass, my hair gets grayer, and my life gets busier. For decades now, I've always imagined this theoretical future when I am going to have nothing but time on my hands, and I will finally get around to all of this wonderful gaming, but, ya know. Sure. Still, it's a nice fantasy to cling to, and helps quell the feeling that I'm in way over my head here with all of this. Such a rough problem to have in life, isn't it? Too many games to play and not enough time. Cry me a freakin' river, I know. But such is the burden of the 21st Century Gamer.

Woe is us.

34 comments:

Andy Breeding said...

Even for us younger folk, it seems as though there are too many good games to play and not enough time in our daily lives to finish them all.

The quick games are always fun and satisfying but I long for the days of playing a game for 40 to 80 hours like Xenogears or Final Fantasy 7.

Maybe we need to set aside vacation time just to video game. Take some of those days and use it to veg out in front of the TV and play all day long. We owe it to ourselves as gamers that much at least.

Creeper said...

My nigga.

Nick said...

Jeff - so what is your take on Trine? I enjoyed the demo, is it worth paying $30 for the full game?

Stephen said...

Woe is us indeed.

as50193 said...

It's really weird that you mentioned Persona 3 because I just finished that up like 10 minutes right before this post. It's easily one of my favorite JRPGs of all time: the story was really touching and sad, especially in the S. Links, and the battle system was really easy to use and strategically fun. I felt like it still has many flaws that Persona 4 thankfully doesn't have, but that hasn't diminished my opinion of the game. The only really scary part is that I finished it clocking in 95 hours. Yeah, that is long but overall well spent on a great game.

Sean said...

If you play a Persona game, play Persona 4 instead of 3. It's far more accessible, and actually has a likable cast and story.

Ken in Irvine said...

I have recently been plowing through the pile of unplayed games that I had accumulated.

The secret: getting laid-off.

:)

However, I start my new job in two weeks, so I have to hurry up and get through the whole pile.

Ryan said...

I just bought Chrono Trigger for the first time and I am loving it so far. Im in it deeper than you are and I love everything from the music to the gameplay. The difficulty starting to turn up on me though.

Jailem said...

There is no shame in not finishing a game. If it can't hold your interest, that's the games fault not yours. If it's that important you can alway get back to it. For intance, I hadn't played Mass Effect in over a year, and in the last week I started it again. I also stopped playing Fallout 3 due to some game bugs that seem to have been worked out. But I've decided not to start it again until I get a copy of broken steel because I don't want to be killing stuff and not getting any experience for it.
Of course there are always things that sit on your hard drive for years, and you just don't get back to them. Balders Gate anyone?

mackproject said...

Let's see. Right now, I'm playing World of Goo, Spore Creature Creator, and Fallout 3, and I just finished Braid. Yeah, I know.

So far I've logged in about ~70 hours in Fallout, and it never ceases to amaze me. I've pretty much run out of quests, so I'm just trying to find all of the locations now. It's just great. What I'm really waiting for though is for all the DLC to come out on PS3.

Anonymous said...

On Friday night I finally got around to installing Civ 4 on my now five month old computer.

Let's face it, when you've just spent $2,500 on a brand new PC from Alienware, the last game you want to install is a turn-based, tile-based strategy game. Rather, the first thing you do install the game that you've been bad-mouthing for the past twelve months - chiefly, I suppose, because you couldn't run it on your old system - in this case, Crysis.

When I opened the CIv 4 box, the receipt fell out, and I was surprised to learn that in August of 2007 I had bought both Civ 4 Gold, which came bundled with Warlords, and its second expansion pack, Beyond The Sword.

It surprised me to learn that I've had Civ 4 for two blasted years now because in that entire blasted time I've never, ever, managed to complete a game.

What's truly amazing to me is that I've never even advanced far enough into the game to have seen any of the stuff that's in the Beyond The Sword expansion pack - in other words, I've never advanced beyond the sword! This leads me to wonder why I even bothered buying the expansion pack in the first place?

The twisted thing about this is that I consider myself to be a Civ fanatic.

Maybe this is the reason I loved Civilization Revolution (on the 360) so much last summer - I was actually able to complete a game. (I think I maybe finished two games in Revolution?)

Here's the funny thing though. On Monday of last week I bought Spore's first major expansion pack, Galactic Adventures. Spore was a day one purchase for me last September, and it charmed the pants off me - but so far, shockingly enough, I haven't been able to advance beyond the tribal phase.

In other words, even though I'm still on my first game, and haven't yet seen the civ phase or the space phase, here I am buying the blasted expansion pack! Yes, it's all installed now and ready to go, and yes I will be getting around to it sooner or later, maybe...

But honestly I still feel like I'm neglecting The Sims 3, which I also happen to love - and, really, that game should come first.

My second favorite game from last year was Far Cry 2, and - hooray! - I've just managed to unlock the second part of the world-map, Bowa-Seko, which means that I'm halfway through the game!

In GTA 4, which is a mind blowing game on the PC (so much better than the 360 version), I've just unlocked Algonquin Island, meaning I'm two-thirds of the way through.

In F.E.A.R. 2 I've just arrived at Wade Elementary, and a quick look at a walkthrough informs me that I'm only halfway through the game when I thought I was almost done... how can that be?

I bought Battlestations Pacific on the strength of the awesome demo, and have managed to complete the tutorial - which was an incredibly rewarding experience.

I've actually learned the controls for Quantum of Solace and for Prince of Persia - and I might even start to play those games one day.

I'm exactly halfway through Stalker, and Stalker Clear Sky, and also Rainbow Six Vegas, and Vegas 2.

I'm about a quarter of the way through COD 4 and COD 5.

Empire Total War is maybe one of the greatest games I've ever owned but haven't played - for the life of me, I can't get through more than 3 turns in this game. It's a damned amazing game though, and I'd have to say that its a showcase product for my new computer. Those battle sequences are to die for!

I'm also the biggest Neverwinter Nights 2 fan that you'll ever meet - and one day, I WILL finish the campaign.

The one game that I did managed to complete was Fallout 3, and it happened so quickly that I almost didn't even notice it. The main-quest in Fallout 3 is ridiculously short, and it boggles my mind how anybody couldn't complete it.

Fallout 3 is actually the only game I've completed in maybe 20 years - and man did I ever feel cheated by it. Too short!

Anyhow, I've made a promise to myself that this year, I will complete Dragon Age.

Dragon Age is the reason I bought my new computer to begin with, and I WILL complete it.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I think I'm starting to sound a bit like Andy Rooney?

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, Green, I forgot to write this: The Batman demo.

It's awesome.

Awesome.

I almost never use that word, but sometimes it's just appropriate.

It's really Batman. This is the caped crusader, the guy I practically grew up with. Finally, a decent Batman game!

Reed Brown said...

Did you secretly mean Persona 4 or are you really going that far back in the Backlog?

Brett said...

I feel your pain. I used to be in the same boat. In fact, I also devoted years of my life to WoW at the expense of all other games. I gave it up cold turkey right before the latest expansion and haven't looked back.

I then went out and bought a PS3 and started collecting a few games. After repeatedly getting controls mixed up between games and not being able to remember where I was in the story, I resigned to play each game to completion before starting a new game (unless I'm just not that into it or I get stuck).

Since starting this I've finished F.E.A.R., Resistance, Battlefield: Bad Company, Army of Two, and BioShock.

Right now I'm playing through Prince of Persia and have MGS 4 on deck and GTA 4 in the hole.

Kevin said...

So an entire post about all the games you've been playing recently, and the only two that are published by EA are the ones you claim you haven't played yet. I swear it's like you're trying to get fired!

Jeremy Steven Dreyer said...

Jeff, being a few years younger than you (just turned 40) means I have actually less time for gaming than more. I have a 6 year old and a 2 year old, and find at the end of the day there simply is no time. And weekend Steam deals mean I have 30 unplayed (undownloaded even) games that I'd love to lose myself in for the next year, had I the time. And even if I start these, there is no way I will be finishing any of them (Grid, Sword of the Stars, HOMM 5, Far Cry 2, Assassin's Creed, and on and on...)

I, too, have fallen in love with shorter, simpler games, if for no other reason that the learning curve means I can get in and have my hour of fun a few times a week w/o having to relearn everything each time. I'm currently playing The Space Game over at Casual Collective. It's a fine cross between tower defense and a turtle-style RTS. And it's free, which is no small thing in these times.

I just picked up the indy game 10 pack on Steam, as I enjoyed the Braid, Crayon Physics, and Blueberry Garden demos. Also, I expect them to be both fairly short and atypical, which fits into my lifestyle and mental state these days.

As always, thanks for sharing.

darvoid said...

Vegan Macaroni and cheese?
Seriously??
Eww.

trip1ex said...

You're so right about Battlefield and how few truly "get it."

Hapi said...

hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....

Russeru said...

I was planning on getting Chrono Trigger DS anyway, but now I definitely will. Well, once I get a replacement for my old DS Tank whose top half snapped clean off in an intense round of Advance Wars.

You've got sunshine in a bag, Jeff? You're too old to like the Gorillaz what with their rap influences and whatnot. Reminds me of my dad, "Hey that guy Weezer plays pretty good!"

Jeff Green said...

I'm too old for the Gorillaz? Damon Albarn is in his 40s, like me! And I was listening to rap when you were in your diapers, or middle school, or both!

Grandpa Jeff
:)

The Deviot said...

I've really been hooked on the PC version of Street Fighter IV lately myself. Also with my limited game time as of late it's something I can play in short bursts. I highly recommend it. It was fairly inexpensive compared to other new releases, Runs on something as old as a Pentium IV w a 6600, and looks phenomenal even on a lower midrange machine. (I'm using a X2 3800, 2GB ram, and a Geforce 8800gt) Not that I wanna make your backlog worse.

Anonymous said...

About your Twitter feeds regarding your internet fiasco with AT&T:

By the advanced age of 45, if one hasn't learned not to try to fix what isn't broke, then one deserves to get what's coming to one.

Of course you can't read this, can you, since you haven't got an internet connection.

I'm taking over the blog then.

Thank you.

Adam Sharp said...

Jeff,

What about the Witcher? You finish that one? I just picked it up recently (yeah, I'm late to the party)... your review on ye olde GFW podcast about the first boss being impossible scared me away for two (?) years--and it was indeed a very difficult fight to beat him.

I'm LOVING it though. The fact that the story really does change based on choices--and not just in the Bioware/Bethesda light/dark way--is awesome.

I'm enjoying both of your podcasts. Wish I could be there to hear the GFW Live reunion cast. Any chance you guys will record it and make it available for download?

Oh, and come fall you gotta discuss Lost regularly on Out of the Game. I miss that!

Here's to the ignored characters in the background,

Adam

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute - what?

I thought that the GFW reunion WAS going to be recorded?

Am I wrong about that?

Jeff Green said...

As far as I know, the GFW Reunion is being recorded, yeah. I'll post more here and on Twitter as it gets closer and I know for sure!

Adam Sharp said...

Nice. Looking forward to it.

Cliff said...

"Too many games to play and not enough time"

Jeff I remember that you have not even finished Baldur's Gate 2. You know I am in the same boat. I have not really finished any game. I still play Civ 2, Majesty and am trying to finish both Icewind Dale's. I can't finish anything.

Sometimes life is too short to finish a game. Sometimes you get all you need out of a certain game and then it's time to move on. You have a big side of beef and if you can't eat it all then that is ok, go to the next meal. All I can do is sample a little here and a little there.

In GFW one time you said that your daughter grew out of gaming at age 15. It almost seems as though that is happening to you also. You seem to like to travel. I am 51 and I am getting to feel the 'call of the wild' to travel and do other things. We are getting old Jeff. We can't game like we used to.

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Anonymous said...

This is for Out Of The Game.

http://nodozing.blogspot.com/

In particular the Rock Band Unplugged Review.

I came across this guy while looking at PAX news, and man these reviews are hideous!

Grades and Meta Grades!

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