Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Civilization Evolution

It took me a while to get into the Civilization series. I missed out on Civ 1 and Civ 2, even though those games came out when I was well into my nacent computer gaming years. Perhaps they weren't flashy enough, but when I stumbled across Civilization III I was hooked. Civilization IV was more of the same, though with interesting refinements; the expansion packs broadened some of the diplomatic and strategic options such as using spies and conducting sabotage, but its core game mechanics didn't feel like they had changed much since Civilization III.

Civilization V, on the other hand, keeps the core elements of Civ but alters the balance of some core mechanics significantly. Fundamentally, Civ V streamlines the game and makes it easier to approach and play, but this doesn't detract from either replayability nor the fun of the game itself. In fact, I felt like the game proceeded more logically and I enjoyed myself as much or more than I did in previous Civilization titles. If you've never experienced the series before, this is an excellent time to join the party; if you're an experienced Civilization addict, then you'll still love this game, but you'll have to play a game or two in order to digest the changes.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Planescaping With The VGC

I thought I'd interrupt our brief "editor-is-in-the-middle-of-moving" break to say how excited I am to join the Vintage Game Club's playthrough of Planescape: Torment. It's gonna be sweet!

The VGC is a web forum hosted at The Brainy Gamer - each month or two, they do group playthrough of an older title. So yeah, it's pretty much a bookclub, except for vintage videogames. I've wanted to join in for a while now, and since I just started PS:T a few weeks ago the timing seems perfect. What's more, I've finally got the game running on my Mac (which took some doing - see a bit more about the specific setup I recommend here), so I'm all set.

So if you, like I, are a GOG-er who is playing the game for the first time, you should join us! Think of it - for the next month or so, a whole bunch of Nameless Ones are going to be simultaneously walking a whole bunch of planes, weaving their unique stories, separate and yet connected via the magic of the world wide web. It'll be epic.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Unboxing The Astro USB Mixamp

The Box
Touch The Box
The Box is smooth
Ready to open The Box

Friday, October 8, 2010

Question of the Week: Pride Goeth...

These past few weeks, we've all been wondering the same thing: Is this fall going to be a barren wasteland dotted with uninspiring sequels and franchise cash-ins? Or are there some unexpected gems waiting around the corner? Or maybe a barren wasteland dotted with unexpected gems? Or maybe the gem will involve a wasteland, ifyaknowwotImean? Only time will tell. In the meantime: Question! Of the week!

If you could only play one new game this fall, what would it be?

David: Epic Mickey. The last game I played with The Mouse as its hero was The Castle of Illusion and this was back in the Sega Genesis days. The first time I saw images from Epic Mickey, I thought it was a prank of some kind. Why the Disney Corporation would hand over the Mickey license to someone like Warren Spector is beyond me. Thank you, Disney! I love the idea of a dark and twisted take on the Disney universe and wow, I can't wait to see what Spector does with it. Time to dust off my Wii.

Sam: Mass Effect 3. In seriousness, I'm enjoying Civ V, but I want to try out Dead Rising 2 as well. I'm kind of in a funk because I was deluged with games I wanted to play, an am now slowly working through them; I'm not even sure what's next on the list for this fall.

Annie: There's a lot of stuff coming out later this year or early 2011 that looks really cool, but honestly I find myself most excited about Journey, which is being released by thatgamecompany sometime in Spring of next year. Maybe it's just because I've been logging a lot of quality time with Flower and Fl0w while I've been conducting fiendish experiments on gamers and non-gamers alike (more on this later), but of all the stuff that's slated for release, this is the most mysterious, which is a very intriguing quality for me, gamewise. Jenova Chen seems to be a big fan of taking the whole "dynamic game balancing" concept to extremes, and it is rumored that Journey will utilize this principle in new and interesting ways, which is exciting for gamers who also happen to be huge anthro/sociology nerds. There will also be co-op, and gameplay supposedly becomes completely different depending on how the players interact. Plus from the screen grabs, the protagonist appears to be a Jawa on stilts, which can only be a good thing.

Dan: Just this morning I was driving in to work, and I noticed a little Fallout-guy bobblehead in the rear windshield of another car. Hard to say what it was, but it got me totally excited for Fallout: New Vegas, a game for which my enthusiasm had admittedly flagged by the time I'd gotten a little bit of hands-on experience at PAX.  Something about autumn itself seemed to dovetail so beautifully with the nuclear winter of Fallout 3, and if there's a way to capture even just a little bit of that feeling again this year, I honestly can't wait.

Kirk: Ya know, at least as far as October is concerned, I'm surprised to find myself more excited about Fable III than I am about Fallout: New Vegas. I know, right? I didn't see that coming either, especially when I take this into consideration. But actually, if I could only play one new game this fall it'd be Costume Quest. Something about that game, maybe it's the Schafer connection, or the fact that it'd continue the hot streak that downloadable games seem to be on right now, or the great-looking art by Tasha Harris... I dunno. Something about kids magically transforming into their Halloween costumes to do battle in fantastical JRPG-ish settings just totally rings my bell. Like a mix between that one episode of South Park where they become ninjas and the Buffy Halloween episode where Ethan Rayne comes to Sunnydale and black-magically turns everyone into their costume? You remember that one, right? It's the one where Willow's a ghost and Xander first gets his military training. ...anyway.... uh, yeah, Costume Quest.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Misty Antialiased Mem'ries

When I was in college, there was this brief period during which I smoked cigarettes. It was senior year and I was a burnt-out cliché of a music student, spiritually exhausted after four years of super-competitive jazz in the Miami heat. I was also a bit depressed, and as anyone who's smoked can tell you, cigarettes are awesome when you're depressed. The moment I graduated I was outta there - I packed my car an headed off to San Francisco without looking back. I also stopped smoking immediately and never lit up again.

A few years later, comfortable in my new life on the West Coast, I found myself thinking back to school. I thought about the friends I'd made and how I missed the times we had; I thought about all the great ensembles I got to play in, about our senior-year house and our obsession with Fuzion Frenzy... and then I was overcome with this memory of sitting in my car on Bird Road, waiting in traffic with the window down, smoking a cigarette in the scorching heat. It wasn't what you'd call a "fond" memory, but damn was it potent.

Memory is weird like that. It's not always the pleasant things to which our brains ascribe nostalgia; in fact, often times the opposite is true. I was reminded of this last week when, after a long hiatus, I started to play PC games again.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Regarding Laser Pointers

This past weekend I saw The Flaming Lips in Oakland. It was utterly spectacular - the best show I've seen in ages. The picture above pretty much says it all. A huge love-in, this massive explosion of positive energy with confetti, balloons, rock 'n roll and lasers.

So I wanted to talk for a second about that last thing - the lasers. The Lips seem dedicated to doing whatever they can to bring their audience into the show with them, to give us a sense of agency around what is happening onstage. Hence the confetti, the balloons, lead singer Wayne Coyne rolling over the crowd in a giant inflatable plastic ball... but of all of the tricks that the band used to draw us in, the laser pointers were the most ingenious.

As the soundcheck drew to a close, I started noticing little red dots cropping up all around the stage. "Great," I thought, "some jagoffs brought their laser pointers." But soon three dots became ten became fifty, and when a staffer with a giant box walked by I realized... the band is handing out laser pointers. Pretty soon everyone in the house had one - there were dots flying all over the stage, tiny red fireflies dancing from amp to drum to video screen to chandelier.

As I got my own and started pointing away, I grinned and realized that this was going to be brilliant. The tiny thrill of finding my own dot up on the wall amidst the others, moving it just so that I could tell it was mine, going over to another stationary dot and dancing around it, possibly grabbing the attention of another person, a stranger in the sold-out crowd. I felt somehow enhanced, as though I had the freedom to touch anything I could see.

The laser-dot represented my own agency; my tiny bit of will, a small way in which I was making the show my own. No matter the magnitude of the events onstage, I had a bit of input.

It was a brilliant bit of show-design, and it capitalized on something that I have come to enjoy so much about gaming - interaction, a bit of a say over even the largest of aesthetic experiences. When I play through a game, my effect on the experience may be fairly minimal (Half-Life 2) or it may be so thorough as to render my experience unique (Minecraft). Either way, the fact that I had an effect fundamentally changes the nature of my experience, the relationship between creator and audience.

Midway through the show, the screen behind the band lit up with a giant message: "Ready your laser pointers!" We complied, and a countdown began. "10... 9... 8..." red dots danced about, frantically zigging about the walls and props, "4... 3... 2... 1... AIM AT WAYNE!"

The lights went out, and just as a thousand points of light struck him, Wayne held up a mirror. Our combined laser-pointing efforts bathed the stage in red, our beams reflecting scattershot through the fog of the smoke machine.

The music became subdued, and Coyne held up a balloon lit in jagged, frenetic red. As he tossed the balloon out over the crowd, it was almost as if the energy from our pointers kept it afloat.

"That's beautiful," he remarked. And it really was.