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.