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Cora: New Vegas – Episode I

August 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Note: this is the first in what will probably become a series. I recently picked up Fallout: New Vegas and found myself thoroughly enjoying the post-nuclear Western vibe. Acting upon the overwhelming impulse, I created a character resembling my vision of Cora Oglesby in such a world. What follows is a chronicle of her adventures through New Vegas. Yes, I am writing my own crossover fan fiction.

I ain’t got no clear memory of what happened. Best I can figure, some feller gave me a right smart smack when I wasn’t looking. Woke up feeling fit to split like a melon that’s been left in the sun too long. Pudding-headed though I was, I thought I heard voices coming from somewhere close, so I looked around a bit. Sure enough, some city feller and a pair of roughnecks was looking me over like I was a second place hog at the county fair. Before I could so much as open my mouth, the feller in the suit made his business clear.

Them city boys can get to the point when they want.

Way I see it, that should’ve been my ticket to the hereafter, but it wasn’t. Somehow, I held on long enough for some other folk to pull me right back out of my grave. Came to for the second time with a different feller looking at me. This one said he was the doctor who’d patched me up. Even gave me some sort of fancy mirror to make sure everything was where it should be. Never been much of a looker, mind you, but the doc patched me up so’s a body couldn’t even tell I’d taken a bullet between my teeth.

Doc asked me a few questions to make sure my brains wasn’t scrambled or nothing. Turns out my thinker wasn’t no worse for the trip to the boneyard, so he gave me back my gun and a funny-looking outfit besides. Ain’t never been much for looking fancy, but can’t say I was fit for a ball in that getup, neither.

Ben would’ve laughed himself sick.

Having done what he could, Doc sent me on my way. Said he didn’t have no idea who that fancy feller was who shot me, but told me to ask around town. Maybe some of the other locals had a notion, he said. Didn’t have no idea where Ben was, neither. Guess I was alone when they found me. Still, he had a point, so I made for the nearest saloon. Happened to be the only saloon in town, meaning it was where all the locals wet their whistles. I had me a powerful thirst of my own that needed tending to. Seems dying does that to a body.

I wasn’t inside more than two ticks when this big old bear of a dog jumped up and started making himself known. My hand was already on my gun before some young sprout grabbed the mutt by the scruff and yelled at it to simmer down. Introduced herself as Sunny Smiles. Right funny name if you ask me. Still, she had herself a fine-looking rifle across her back and seemed to know her way around that dog of hers, so I reckoned she couldn’t have been all bad. Sure enough, I introduced myself and we got along just fine. Turns out little miss Sunny needed some help with local critters, salamanders or some such. I told her I was a fair shot with a rifle, so off we went into the desert for a spot of game hunting.

Bagged me my fair share of them things, too.

We shot up enough lizards to make the rest tuck tail and get. Sunny Smiles got this big old smile on her face then, saying that the town’s water supply was safe again. We both helped ourselves to a few sips before heading back into town. Sunny didn’t say much on the way, which left me to wondering where that damn fool husband of mine had got himself to. Nowhere good was my guess. Couldn’t rightly make up my mind on what I ought to do first, find his sorry behind or get on the trail of them as tried to kill me.

Before I could puzzle it out, we was back at the saloon. A drop or two of rotgut would set my thinking straight, I reckoned. Could almost taste that fire in the back of my throat. Problem was, when I made my way over to the bar, the lady bartender had herself a whole other mess of trouble that had nothing to do with a thirsty customer.

Lucky for her, I had me some experience with her sort of trouble.

 

To be continued…

 

Categories: Games, Short Fiction, Writing

A Strange Craving

August 3, 2012 Leave a comment

Lately, I’ve found myself at the behest of some rather odd desires.

Google image search for “odd desire”: this and a chess set made of dicks.

Disappointingly, these desires have very little to do with any sort of experimentation. No additional fruit will be purchased at the store this weekend. These desires would seem much more ordinary were I a 14-year-old girl, I think. Since I am not, I am forced to conceal them from colleagues and passersby alike (the desires, not the 14-year-old girls). Were I to voice them, I would surely become the victim of sidelong glances, queries into my well-being, and swirlies. Thus, the only avenue of expression left to me is the one place nobody ever sees anything: the Internet.

I really want to play Harvest Moon.

“lol fag”

Okay, so maybe not Harvest Moon specifically, but I’ve really wanted to play some sort of production-themed game. I’ve had my eye on the new(ish) Rune Factory title for awhile, but I’ve become almost exclusively a PC gamer these days. As such, I was thinking about picking up Sim City 4. User reviews insist that the game has a steep learning curve, though, and financial frustration isn’t exactly the escapism venue I’m hoping for. Even if I were able to triumph over the economic hardships of the Simverse, I’m not sure SC4 would scratch this particular itch. I’ve even toyed with the idea of becoming a manufacturer in EVE, but my lack of supporting skills, a private station, nine years of training, and twelve hours of free time per day put me at a disadvantage in that particular market.

What is perhaps even more perplexing is where this desire originated: fuck if I know. I’m usually content with my RPG/MMO/TBS/Steam sale cocktail, so I have no idea why I suddenly have a craving for a particular type of game. Hell, even having a game craving is rather rare for me. The urge to play a specific game will occasionally hit (almost exclusively when I don’t own said game), but I usually pick the evening’s entertainment on the fly. Why, then, do I have a powerful urge to grow crap on a pretend farm? Perhaps my electronic conscience is demanding nonviolent entertainment for once. Perhaps I am looking for even more non-stressful ways to relax. Perhaps I am feeling the need to create something again and am desperately hoping to stave it off with pointless games before it becomes another book.

This counts as literature, right?

Oh well, time to go play more Civ. If anyone has any recommendations for Harvest Moon-esque games for PC, I’m open to suggestions.

Categories: Games

A Brief Reflection on My Time in Kingsmouth

I’ve spent much of the past week in the charming New England town of Kingsmouth. It’s one of those places that seems trapped in time. Unlike the quiet hamlets in central Iowa that typically merit such descriptions, however, Kingsmouth is not of the belief that Eisenhower is president and horn-rimmed glasses are fashionable. No, Kingsmouth is perpetually celebrating that most fantastic of holidays: Halloween.

It’s serious business there.

As the first exotic destination in the newly-released MMO The Secret World, this quaint town is not without its problems. For example, I thought I would spend my first evening enjoying a quiet drink on one of the many piers along Fletcher Bay. Not only was the place I chose somewhat rundown, but the service was terrible and the wait staff lacked charisma.

I only tipped ten percent.

Once I was done taking in the local charm, I set to work exterminating all manner of evil things. Zombie, draug, wendigo, and hippie alike fell before my sword and my axe (yes, my in-game persona is as awesome as Aragorn and Gimli combined). It only took me about a week to play through most of the Kingsmouth quests at a fairly casual pace of 2-4 hours per night. My storyline now calls me toward the Savage Coast, but I have temporarily delayed my progress so I might serve as Tori’s guide through the lovely port town.

Things I Liked

-Horror-themed MMO. Let me say it again: HORROR-THEMED MMO. After spending years frolicking about lesser copies of Middle-Earth, MMO players now have the chance to crawl down the twisted paths of dark mythologies ancient and modern. No more elves with floppy ears and orcs with horrible dental hygiene. Now we can explore modern cities, crushing the un-life out of Lovecraftian spawnlings and ancient Egyptian deities. Even better, Funcom gives the player NPCs with personalities and dialogue that is fun to listen to.

-The ability wheel lets you take your character in any and all directions you choose. Equipping seven active and seven passive abilities gives you a “deck” of skills, much like a Magic: the Gathering player’s deck. As you can see from the screen shots, my character favors swords and hammers/axes, but I’ve also started exploring the mysteries of chaos magic. I’m intending to craft a solid tanking deck for running dungeons before branching out into heavier damage-dealing powers. The powerful system for selecting and equipping powers means I don’t have to roll and level different toons to play various roles. There are no tank, healer, or DPS classes, just different builds.

-Combat is a good blend of traditional hotbar with the flexibility of free movement. Spells and other channeled abilities don’t require nailing your boots to the ground, and most mobs have some sort of AoE power (advertised by white lines on the ground) that one would do well to dodge roll away from. While still not up to par with true hack-and-slash titles, it’s still a cut above standard MMO offerings.

The mesquite beans are also quite tasty.

Things I Didn’t Like

-As with most MMO launches, there are quite a few bugs. Quests glitching out, rough animations, server dumps, etc. Teething problems happen to all games, and Funcom has actually weeded a surprising number of them prior to launch (I was in <1.0 beta builds). It’s certainly no buggier than Skyrim was at launch, but that doesn’t mean the bugs are any less annoying.

-I rolled my character on the RP server Arcadia hoping to find two things: a strong roleplaying community and a lesser chance of moronic toon names. I haven’t joined up with any serious RP guilds yet, but the vapid chatter and rampant spoilers in every chat channel I’ve joined (local, global faction, and help) are absurdly effective immersion-breakers. Similarly, the server rules (if there are any) regarding character names are not enforced to any degree I’ve seen. I’m not one to go around reporting violators, but the sheer amount of idiocy people display in their name choices never ceases to amaze.

In a perfect game, I would be able to set any poorly-named player alight with my mind.

Verdict: I’ve been anticipating this game for four years now, so it’s frivolous to restate my opinion here. I own it, I play it, I love it. Furthermore, I seriously recommend it to those questioning the future of the MMO. After the disappointment that was SW:TOR, you may be mistrustful of the genre as a whole. While not perfect, The Secret World builds on tried-and-true delivery methods while innovating in all the right areas.

Categories: Game Reviews, Games

Discussion: Tomb Raider, Video Games, and the Portrayal of Women Therein

June 12, 2012 2 comments

As the risk of alienating what little readership this blog possesses, I am going to weigh in on the recent Internet outrage regarding the new Tomb Raider title and the larger issue of how the video game industry portrays women. This is by no means an exhaustive post, and despite my intense passion for the medium, finite time and funding limit my knowledge of current gaming trends rather severely. Still, I will attempt to engage in what is meant to be thoughtful dialogue, and anyone stopping by is welcome to chime in.

Chuck Wendig’s post on the Tomb Raider reboot prompted a brief foray through other thoughts on the subject of violence against women in gaming culture. As a life-long gamer, the absurd level of female objectivization found in many games is nothing new to me. I’ve played games by Team Ninja and Capcom; I’ve chuckled at the ludicrous “real-life breast physics” of Dead or Alive 3; I’ve felt manly and heroic for rescuing Princess Zelda from Ganondorf’s clutches; I’ve run over hookers in Grand Theft Auto. Somewhat ironically, I’ve never played a Tomb Raider title precisely because marketing for those titles convinced me that Lara Croft was scarcely more than a vapid action hero with plus-sized assets. As a general rule, I eschew what Tori and I refer to as bro titles–games which promise little content beyond satisfying the violent and/or sexual fantasies of a stereotypical adolescent male. This inclination (which existed prior to my relationship for the cynical among you) doesn’t put me in the best position to comment on the hyper-sexualization of women in games, past or present. I’ve never bothered with XBL or PSN, either, and my forays into organized raiding guilds have always been with (more or less) mature individuals. Thus, I have insulated myself from the prevalent women-bashing attitudes of more vociferous, interactive gamers. The dregs of the industry and I are unpleasant acquaintances, and I acknowledge their existence only with crusty looks whenever our paths cross.

I’m looking at you, Duke Nukem.

In a way, this predisposition is a quiet admission that there has always been a large, rank streak of full-blown misogyny in the industry. I don’t publicly rage about it, but neither do I support it with my time or money. Given that the hobby was once the near-exclusive territory of shell-shocked social lepers, many of whom grew bitter at their rejections (warranted or not) by the female gender, perhaps it isn’t so surprising that this is one of the industry’s larger root clusters. Now that the target market has expanded to include all kinds of assholes, developers big-ticket investors are realizing that there isn’t much of a difference between a Sports Illustrated swimsuit spread and a “fantasy femmes” wall calendar. Creating a means by which both demographics can act out their pent-up rage at the female gender is a proven money-maker. Should we be upset that this is yet another vehicle enabling the spread of a digital rape culture? Yes. Should we be surprised? Perhaps not.

However, reactions to such issues as the Hitman trailer (that of a burly male MC thrashing BDSM-clad nuns) must be carefully controlled if one hopes to preserve the medium one claims to love. Yes, the whole scene is stupid and offensive, but such things are not the sole gruel upon which the gamer may feed. Whether or not such misogyny is fringe or mainstream is up for debate, but the fact remains that many games do feature a strong, un-hyper-sexualized female lead and are similarly devoid of grotesque hyper-violence targeted specifically against women. To name just a few: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (quick, which character is the most sexualized?), Silent Hill 3, Xenoblade Chronicles, Half-Life 2, Final Fantasy XIII, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Xenosaga, Eternal Sonata, Rule of Rose, Kingdom Hearts, StarCraft, Portal… I could go on, but I believe my point stands. There are plenty of story-rich games that don’t subjugate and objectify women. Flying off the handle at those that do can easily backfire into creating a “I sure would like to think that game companies will one day put some actual grown-up thought into the handling of female characters, but for a variety of reasons, I am not exactly holding my breath over here (@cmpriest)” paradigm in the public’s mind. Such games do exist; if you love the medium, you’ll find them.

Sometimes where you least expect them.

Regarding the Tomb Raider issue, I see where the outrage comes from. Rape is a thing too terrible for words. It should not happen, and those who commit the act are scum. No one is arguing this. Unfortunately, the world has its share of scum, and it does happen. If I correctly understand the situation into which the newly-rebooted Lara Croft is placed, she falls in with a group of scum scavengers. Realism being a priority (as in most “gritty” reboots), the developers must then confront the likelihood that a young woman in such a situation would face the threat of rape. Does it really stretch the imagination to think that facing such a threat and overpowering her attackers would be a formative event for a young woman unused to the crueler realities of life? Granted, I’m not sure I agree with the choice to make it an interactive cut scene, but it doesn’t strike me as bad writing. Showing Lara Croft at a place of weakness, especially early in the story, gives her somewhere to go. Making her vulnerable gives the strength and cunning she later comes to possess even more powerful. I believe that making characters victim of circumstance and brutality is a way to humanize them so long as they are not left in that place. By overcoming victimhood and taking control of their destinies, characters become more real, regardless of gender. Yes, the idea that players “should want to protect her” is a poor one to have when attempting to create a strong female lead, but bear in mind that Rosenberg is speaking to the same core audience that played Tomb Raider for years because they liked watching Lara Croft’s boobs solve puzzles and shoot things. The series panders to the lowest common denominator, and now Crystal Dynamics is trying to elevate it beyond that demographic. Their attempt may be terrible, laughable, or just plain offensive, but at least they’re trying.

Furthermore, despite Rachel Fogg’s tirade that Lara’s development “seemingly ONLY include[s] ‘rape’ because fuck all, that’s how women get character ladies in gentlemen, she has to be raped or attempted raped etc…no way in holy FUCKING hell is she going to gain that development through any other FUCKING means from being shot at, punched, attacked, survive a plane crash, betrayal, set on fire…nope, rape. Perfect, that’s the ‘Go to’ for female development to make her ‘Harder and badass'”, it has been revealed that the attempted rape will not be the sole characterizing event for our new Ms. Croft.  Rick Kim lists a series of events revealed by Crystal Dynamics that all conspire to make Lara Croft the gravity-defying, gun-toting murderess we’re all familiar with. So, while the decision to include attempted rape may be insensitive, shocking, or dehumanizing, it is by no means the ONLY FUCKING way her character is developed.

My point in all this? The video game medium has a myriad of problems. Sexism, hyper-sexuality, and misogyny are high up on that list for many, many titles. The online culture that has grown up around gaming is ridiculously, pointlessly hostile toward women. However, for the sake of the good developers, the mature writers, and the legions of egalitarian-minded players, don’t slight the whole for the wrongs of some. When ranting about the titles that offend, please mention ones that don’t. Pulling out the weeds is only half the battle; one must also plant flowers if one is to have a pleasant garden.

“Pleasant” is a relative term.

And for the love of God, stop treating the new Tomb Raider likes it’s the second coming of Custer’s Revenge.

Categories: Games

Bethesda Announces “Elder Scrolls” MMO

“And all throughout the land,

There was the sound

Of stirring macaroni.”

Everyone Got Laid, The Billy Nayer Show

Such were my initial thoughts upon hearing the big announcement yesterday. Despite the hundreds of hours I’ve put into Skyrim (many of which occurred during the months I was “working” on my book), I am not at all excited at the prospect of an Elder Scrolls MMO. When the announcement first popped up on my Twitter feed, the most dominant emotion it provoked was exasperation. No gushing, no flushing, not even the ghost of a “I’ll check it out at some point.” Just pure, unadulterated “Ugh.” Imagining the look on my face makes me feel dirty, like I should go put four-inch gauges in my ears on the way to pick up some lime-green sunglasses.

Seriously. I am a dick.

This is odd on several levels. First, as previously mentioned, I have played the shit out of Skyrim, and I haven’t even finished the main quest line on any of my toons yet. My mods are scarce, my unexplored locations scarcer, and–as promised earlier on this very blog–every peasant girl has a horse to ride because I am as wealthy as I am lawful good (on one toon, anyway). It’s exceedingly rare for me to put this much time into a single-player game, but Skyrim just so goddamned big. Whatever the quality of their storylines, Bethesda knows how to make worlds that are a hell of a lot of fun to explore.

Second, I love me some MMO’s. Had my father’s economic philosophies been switched at birth, I would no doubt be the embodiment of the basement-dwelling loser, forever glued to my tricked-out, parent-purchased PC, hoarding achievements like candy and out-earning Chinese gold farmers. I’m not entirely sure where the sense of overwhelming satisfaction I get from such activities comes from, but I know I’m very susceptible to it given the right circumstances. I’ve spent scores of hours farming mats to craft a weapon for one of Tori’s toons when I run out of shit to do on mine. Were I free of the need for employment, I would surely be one of those mad multi-boxing fools that most players pity in a slightly jealous manner.

My alt fleet would overwhelm most alliances.

Why, then, am I not tripping over furniture that foolishly placed itself in the path of my excited frolicking? Because we don’t need another high-fantasy MMO. The genre, while worthy in its own right, is so completely played out that developers heralded for their innovations in the wider MMO field still can’t break away from it. Both Guild Wars 2 and Tera are bringing exciting new things to the table, but their vehicle of delivery still involves two-handed swords and iron-clad mammaries. When it comes to setting, even JRPG developers–whose reception among fans is usually in direct proportion to how classic a game feels– have shown more forward thinking than MMO developers in the past six years.

This is all the more puzzling given that Bethesda owns the rights to Fallout. Yes, Skyrim was more of an immediate commercial success than anything they’ve produced to date, but I have a rather strong suspicion that many of Skyrim‘s fans have no interest in an MMO. When they realize that it won’t have Skyrim-caliber graphics combined with a multiplayer style reminiscent of Fable, they will lose interest. A Fallout MMO, while still suffering from sloppy combat and life-threatening concentrations of the color brown, would have at least given fans of the genre a different setting to explore between bong hits.

“Dude, your fuckin’ tongue is, like, fuckin’ huge. Man, now I want some fuckin’ sausage. But fuckin’ not in a gay way.”

But no. Instead, Bethesda is playing it safe and going the route of the chainmail bikini. Unless they manage to top both Tera and Guild Wars 2 in terms of hype and innovation, their star in the MMO sky promises to flash for a moment before vanishing forever.

Categories: Games

Xenoblade Chronicles: More Impressions

April 27, 2012 Leave a comment

My unexplained, unexpected, and certainly unforgivable hiatus from posting last week was unequivocally due to an unexpected head cold that left me unable to properly let my thoughts undulate, resulting in an uninspiring lack of topics to discuss.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I have elected to continue my coverage of Xenoblade Chronicles. In my defense, I should probably say that my utter lack of other topics is only a portion of my reason for posting this. It’s rare that I have the chance to cover a new release, and the game is far too large to squeeze into a single link of the great sausage chain that is my blog. Tori’s already put well over 30 hours into it, and her ragtag group of impossibly pretty adventurers has yet to make it to the enemy country (located on the other god’s corpse for those who aren’t familiar). I assume the second half of the game takes place within the steely loins and supple curves of the Mechonis, so it seems the marketing guys weren’t lying when they said 60+ hours for the main story alone.

As far as that main story is concerned, I’m pretty impressed with it thus far. Although slow in getting started, it’s seeded with enough mystery and quality worldbuilding to make me honestly interested in seeing how everything fits together. Everything from (what appears to be) soul-swapping main characters with villains to one-line mentions of genetic designs implemented centuries before is designed to make an invested player cock their head and say, “Huh?”

"Baroo?" is also commonly used.

These moments are all the more important because this game can go from amazing magical land of wonderment to curse-inducing vortex of frustration in a matter of seconds. This is due to the self-same combat system that I praised so highly in my last post. While the combat itself is still fun, Xenoblade‘s designers also decided to import another, less entertaining aspect of MMO combat: the add swarm. In certain areas of the game, mobs can become fairly concentrated due to the landscape. Floating coral reefs, for example, force the monsters to group up, which can devastate even a same-level party if you’re not cautious. Complicating matters further is the rare spawn feature, which is far more common than the name implies. These mobs are elite, wielding status ailments and bone-shattering melee attacks from within the safety of their own HP fortresses. They also love to hang out in groups of regular mobs, presumably pushing them around and stealing their girlfriends. Pulling one such group can wipe your party off the face of Bionis, and not even the game’s “pull” feature can eliminate this difficulty altogether. Thus, one can quickly find oneself cockblocked from proceeding further in the story not by a boss, but by the unfortunate placement of a rare mob.

Fortunately, I still have my train to zone macro hotkeyed.

The other main difficulty I have with this game isn’t one of gameplay or design. It’s a simple matter, really, and one to which I can give a partial pass because of cultural differences. Still, it crops up in the most unfortunate of places, screaming its presence, distracting me from what was surely meant to be a powerful moment. It bounces through cutscenes, always present, rarely silent, reminding you that you are indeed playing a game designed by people whose native tongue includes the word kawaii.

Sigh.

This fanged horror with the X-Box logo on its abdomen is Riki, the only non-humanoid member of the party. He joins up as a means of clearing his debt to his tribe of…things (said in the voice of Detention Block AA23’s overseer) and acts like a 15-year-old girl on Facebook from then on. Speaking of Star Wars, the Japanese apparently never got the memo that everybody fucking hates Jar-Jar Binks because they decided to shrink him to hobbit size, trade his ears for floppy wing-scarves, and stick him in this game. Yes, Riki is overzealously cute, but much like your seventh-grade crush, the adorability stops when he opens his mouth. The crude pidgin English that pours forth from his lungs (again, think seventh-grade crush) completely ruins any serious tone the game may be setting during a cutscene. Some of the banter between Riki and Reyn can be entertaining, but watching a crown princess weigh the decision to go to war with an animate beach ball shouting “HOM HOM FRIENDS HELP MELLIE!” behind her sort of kills the mood.

Categories: Game Reviews
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