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Maroon 5 Pack 02

Good sight-reads (includes one track that was released in the first pack but I hadn’t cleared in RB3 yet). :) Chord-heavy, but generally fun to play and some decent challenge in there with the patterns.

Maroon 5 is one of those bands I enjoy listening to for reasons that aren’t quite clear even to me. I was happy to see some more tracks in the Music Store.

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Games

Baseball for People Who Don’t Know Anything about Baseball

For lots of Americans, the game of baseball is something that has deep cultural and family connections. For people like myself, my father, and my children, we have grown up listening to and watching baseball, both in person and through various media. Because of this, lots of Americans have an ingrained understanding of the game, the rules, and the various complexities behind it.

Baseball is, as a game, very interesting and rich in strategy and statistical depth. You can watch it and follow it on many different levels.

But what if you haven’t been steeped in this American tradition? What if you come from lands distant, or if you had never seen a baseball game? Are you going to a game for the first time? Are you interested in learning about another sport, one with a storied history and tradition? Are you marrying someone who is a baseball super-fan but you don’t know the first thing about a foul ball, a bunt, or an infield fly?

The following posts are for you. In them, I’ll try to explain the basics of baseball, then moving into more complex aspects of the game, using “real” language and images whenever possible to highlight specific things about the game. It can be difficult to get a handle on the game at first, as many of the rules and concepts are inter-related. It’s hard to know where to start.

If, as you read, and as I write these posts, you have questions or you feel confused, please feel free to add a comment and ask your question or suggest an additional post. I will do what I can to build on this guide based on the needs of its readers.

I’ve added a link in the navigation for this site for these posts; I’ll also try to update this lead post with a table of contents of sorts to try and keep things organized.

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Games

Frozen Synapse

I don’t play too many games at my desk anymore; I generally prefer to keep to the console stuff and leave my computer for work and such. But when two places I tend to trust (Penny Arcade and my fellows over at Quarter to Three) recommended the same game at almost the same time, I took notice and decided to bite on a copy.

So here’s my short review of Frozen Synapse:

Take the planning part of the original Rainbow Six—you know, the part that was the best thing about it until they removed it from the game series—and make a game out of that. It’s that awesome.

In the default gametype, you are given four soldiers, of varying types, and your opponent is given the same. You start on opposite ends of a map with rooms, short walls to shoot over and cover behind, and doorways, and you give pathway commands to your dudes. You can have them aim in a certain direction, ignore or focus on enemies, go to different areas, and change tactics all by planning their routes and how you want them to go about their way.

Each player submits their commands and then the game proceeds for five seconds as you watch your respective orders fire at the same time. A game lasts as long as eight turns, so all the action happens in 40 seconds or less. When a match is concluded, the whole thing looks like this:

Of course, it takes a bit longer to compose your orders, as you get to change them between each turn, and you can run simulations based on what you think your opponent will do to help you figure out the best plan of attack. The game can even be played asynchronously, where you each submit your respective turns and then the game emails you to let you know you need to come back.

For $20, you get a copy for yourself and a copy for a friend. It’s a pretty good deal, and you support indie game development by buying it. Find out more here.

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Games

“Love Is a Battlefield” (And a Pleasant Rock Band Surprise)

A couple of weeks ago I picked up the Pat Benatar pack for Rock Band, mostly out of curiosity. Last night I played “Love Is a Battlefield” for the first time and found it to be a lot more fun than I was expecting. I suppose I hadn’t listened to what the guitar was doing in the background before.

I did 95% on sightread, which was good enough for 1,496th on the leaderboard.

It’s not the best Benatar on Rock Band, though; that honor goes to “Heartbreaker.”

My Rock Band activity page is here, by the way. I really wish Harmonix provided RSS feeds or another way to ingest this information elsewhere. I turned on the Facebook integration today, but I prefer to bring this stuff into my own site where I can control it.

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Games

Dead Space 2: First Impressions

Well, I wasn’t able to clear Bully in time, so I’m on my scheduled break from the backlog now to take in Dead Space 2, which I’ve been eagerly anticipating for some time.

The first game was a well-crafted piece of survival horror. It wasn’t anything new or groundbreaking, but it was a refinement of a lot of concepts in games that had come before. I found that it relied on cheap scares a bit too much, and near the end they designed just decided to toss a bunch of enemies at you just to slow down the pace of the game, but the story was enough to keep me interested and I thought the universe was well-planned and thought-out.

I’m about three hours in to Dead Space 2 and in game terms have just started Chapter 6, which means I’m past the first “what a twist” moment and also past the first truly irritating gameplay moment I’ve seen so far. Thankfully, the game is pretty amazing out of the gate. The images and sound are exactly right and create just enough tension to keep you going, and the pacing is just as masterful as the original. It’s 30 seconds of frenetic “save yourself” action followed by a minute or two of calm and relative safety.

The atmosphere so far has had plenty of the morbid and creepifying, especially reminiscent of the near-final areas of the first game. That’s an unnerving way to start out the sequel because it reminds you so much of the constant action towards the end of its predecessor. In some contrast to the earlier game, this one has wasted no time getting weapons into my hands, and the quick start was both fun and exciting.

The story so far has raised nothing but questions that I hope will be resolved by the end of the game. Truth be told, I had a hard time stopping to get some sleep, let alone type out my reactions, so this should tell you how interested I am. Dead Space had me leaning forward in my seat, palms slick from anxiety over the shadow on the wall or the sound coming from behind me. So far, this one’s got its hooks in me just as well.

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Games

Bully: First Impressions

As a result of the first round of voting for the Year of the Backlog, I’ve since started on Bully, which is a game that was first released on the PlayStation 2 in 2006, and later re-released as the “Scholarship Edition” for the Xbox 360 in 2008. It’s a Rockstar game, which generally tells you most of what you need to know (at the very least, that Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption have been two of my favorite games of this generation).

So far, the game tells me that I’m 4.14% complete after a couple of days, and I’m still clearing the first bits of tutorial from the game. So far, it has a pretty similar structure to most Rockstar Games, in that it slowly introduces you to a rather large cast of characters, and then forces you to do a bunch of things for them, sometimes for little apparent reason.

It’s also a bit different from other Rockstar games I’ve played in that the missions aren’t being given by any specific characters, but instead you’re sometimes given a choice of which mission to take on based on the title of the mission only. The dialogue is well-written, which is normal for Rockstar, but after GTAIV I reserve judgment on the story until I’ve completed more of it.

I’m mostly enjoying it so far, but it’s showing its vintage in a few ways:

  • The graphics are really rough. It definitely feels like an upscaled PS2 port.
  • There are loading screens everywhere.
  • You can fail missions without knowing what you’ve done, and there are no mid-mission checkpoints.
  • You have to go to specific locations to save.

It has some promising characters, a decent setup in this idea of a boarding school, with all of the built-in ecosystem that a school contains, and the promise of a wider world to open up later in the form of the surrounding town.

While I continue to work on Bully, and prior to next weeks’ arrival and interruption of the backlog process with Dead Space 2, I’ll get the voting for round two going. I’ll include the two write-ins from the previous vote, and let you choose the next game on my plate. Here it is:

I’ll leave the poll in the sidebar from now until the next game gets started.

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Games

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

It’s general wisdom that you shouldn’t mess with a known classic, usually for one of the following reasons:

  • The game is so good that any attempts to improve upon it will merely fail.
  • The game is so bad that it was merely tolerated, even if people have fond memories of it. Don’t mess with nostalgia.

Thankfully, Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (or PMCEDX for short—if you can call it short) isn’t a retread of old game mechanics, and it’s not the old Pac-Man game shoehorned into flashier graphics. It’s not even the previously-released and also-awesome Pac-Man Championship Edition in a new package.

PMCEDX is a whole new game, I love it, and you should too.

You can boil the basic gameplay of Pac-Man down to a few simple concepts:

  • Eat dots to clear the board.
  • Get chased by ghosts who try to reach your position at all times.
  • Eat power pellets to change ghosts and eat them to huge points.

What PMCEDX does, is take these gameplay concepts and crank them up using a little Geometry Wars-style sound and flashiness. As in Pac-Man Championship Edition, you are eating dots on each half of the board to clear it. When you clear one half of the board, a fruit appears in the other half. Eat the fruit, and the maze on the cleared side regenerates, with a new maze layout and refreshed dots and power pellets.

Easy enough, right?

In the basic Championship Mode, there are also “sleeping” ghosts (you can see them as green in the shot above). When you pass them, they wake up and then begin to follow you in a line that trails behind you and constantly tracks you. When you finally do grab a power pellet, you can turn around and immediately begin tearing into the ghosts behind you, creating very long chains of point values, up to 3200 points for each ghost you eat.

What makes it challenging is trying to find just the right path to take to maximize the ghost eating and improve your score. In the base game, you have only five minutes to score as many points as possible and end up on the leaderboards. You’re given lives, but the score you rack up will take care of that problem—and that’s if you get touched by a ghost when you play. You’re also given bombs that will get you out of a tight spot, like when a ghost has you cornered (because the four normal ghosts are out in addition to the conga line behind you). They’ll bounce the ghosts away, but the downside is that they will bounce the ghosts away, which stops your chain and makes you waste precious seconds not building the chain behind you or destroying the ghosts by turning the tables.

The time limit, the increasing speed of the game as you play, and the pumped house-style music all combine to create tension and provide pressure to do better each successive time you play the game.

There’s something really endearing about games where the only enemy is yourself. You know how the game plays, you know what a good score is thanks to the leaderboards, and you know each time you lose that if you’d shaved that one corner a little faster or you hadn’t had to juke out that one ghost, you could have scored just a bit higher.

And if you mess up, it’s no one’s fault but your own. Restart and try again.

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Games

Backlog Showdown: Round One

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood has been dispatched and moved out of the Pile of Shame—so now it’s time to make good on this little experiment and bring it up for a vote: what am I playing next? While I clean up Achievements in AC2 and AC:B (almost at 33k now), please to be voting on the next game I tackle out of the backlog, from these choices:

(You may feel free to write-in and organize your own write-in campaign in the comments. I surrender control of this process to you, the reader. Voting ends on Friday night.)

This is heavily action-oriented, but in future polls we’ll get to something meatier. I fully expect that there will be a role-playing game throwdown or two at some juncture of this process. I am keeping these options light because Dead Space 2 arrives at my doorstep on the 25th of this month, and based on the early reviews it is something not to be missed.

As to this, my anticipation knows few limits. The first game was about lifeforms that spring from and then reshape the corpses of the previous inhabitants of a cold and sparsely-lit gigantic spaceship. The idea and the execution I found quite morbid and creepy, peppered with those kinds of “jump” moments that make you turn around when you turn the lights out in the room. Now these things of nightmares have been given an entire city to roam about in. I believe I will be experiencing more than my usual dose of fight-or-flight at the end of this month, and I sincerely do not want to miss it.

(Yes, I am aware I missed a day in the post-a-day challenge. Everyone in my house—and I do mean everyone—is sick. Sorry about that.)

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Games

Assassin’s Creed

(Yes, I just finished this in December. Also, in case you wouldn’t know, spoilers abound ahead.)

Assassin’s Creed is a concept desperately in need of a game. It’s deeply flawed in some ways and totally engrossing in others—and in my opinion, the flaws weren’t immediately noticeable until I was about thirty minutes into the sequel, which I’m working on now and will definitely give thoughts on later.

Perhaps the best way to give you my overall feelings on the game is to first lay out what worked and what didn’t. I’m sure lots has been written on this since the game is quite old at this point, but it doesn’t hurt to give another opinion.

What Worked

  • The setting (both place and time) is unique and compelling.
  • The sci-fi undertones, despite my initial misgivings, totally work.
  • The concept—the idea of the main character—is awesome.

What Didn’t Work

  • Altaïr.
  • Free-running was at times very imprecise and frustrating.
  • Samey-ness permeated the game.

One of the most telling problems with it is that I really had to force myself to finish the game, mostly out of a sense of disillusionment. The early trailers and buzz had the amazing concept that you were to be an assassin, striking from the shadows and then escaping with both intelligence and speed to blend back into the crowds and disappear.

When fulfilling the main assassination objectives, I think this happened exactly once—on the first “boss,” or more appropriately, target. For almost the entire remainder of the game, I was constantly in combat with scores of guards, and once I figured out the rhythm and pattern to the combat, it was rote and quickly became boring.

That’s not to say that the game didn’t have moments of beauty contained within. It looked great, controlled well (for the most part), and had competent but not amazing sound design. The voice acting managed to not get in the way, which is high praise. There was also an enormous feeling of satisfaction when pulling off a plan successfully and finding just the right way to accomplish your task. Assassin’s Creed has one of the more unique settings in recent video gaming—the Holy Land during the Crusades. (This doesn’t touch on the “modern day” setting that frames the Altaïr story, though I actually thought it worked quite well and was very compelling.)

The problem is that the game has you performing the same several tasks over and over and over again. There’s very little variety in mission structure or design. For each target you take on, you have to perform at least two, and can perform as many as six, of the following types of tasks:

  • Follow someone and beat them up. (difficulty: tying my shoes)
  • Find someone, sit on a bench, and press a button to listen to them. (difficulty: walking down the street and then standing in place)
  • Find someone, press a button to listen to them, follow them and then pick their pocket. (difficulty: only frustrating when the game randomly causes you to fail)
  • Talk to an assassin, then kill his targets because he’s either lazy or a jackass within a time limit (difficulty: maddening, because you can’t be detected and there’s a time limit)
  • Talk to an assassin, then pick up random flags because he’s lazy (difficulty: only as bad as the free-running controls, meaning random)

That’s every mission in the game, summed up. The top ones in the list happen more frequently in the beginning, and the lower ones more often towards the end of the game (especially the assassination within a time limit stuff). You can also rescue citizens from being harassed by guards, which makes certain other things easier, but is just an excuse to make you (once again) fight a bunch of dudes.

Once you’ve completed enough of those tasks, you’re given your target and told to off him. There are benefits, to remaining undetected until you perform the deed, but in most cases it doesn’t matter—the target will either run, in which case you can usually catch them, or will turn to fight you, in which case he’s insane. It should be noted that running a dude down who’s on to you is also rather satisfying when it happens the right way.

So you do the above nine times in a row. That is the entire game. Three targets are in each city, and the cities are tied together with an “overworld” that is notable only because every other character in the overworld wants to kill you—and there’s no point to it unless you want to do a collect-a-thon for flags that earns you nothing but an Achievement. Once you’ve been to each city once, you can fast travel there instead of using the hub world—and that’s how you will get around after 1/3 of the game is done.

Which brings us to our next point and the main problem with the game—the main character, or lack thereof.

ALTAÏR IS BORING. Like, Squall Leonhart boring. Maybe even more so.

The character you play in the present time section of the game, Desmond, is infinitely more interesting than Altaïr, and you play as him for maybe an hour, probably more like forty minutes.

Altaïr’s problem is that he has absolutely no motivations or characterizations of any kind. When you are introduced to him, it’s much like a Metroid game: you begin with all kinds of neat abilities that are then magically stripped from you for the sole purpose of making you play the game to regain them. You get back an ability or a weapon with each target you eliminate, which makes you strong enough that you have a better chance of not dying when you take on the next one.

His supposed motivation is that he failed his boss when sent to accomplish a task, so his death is faked and then he is assigned to kill the nine guys in order to regain his status as an Assassin—so the main character goes around killing dudes basically because the ranking old guy on scene tells him to. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out before too long that there’s something deeper behind the killings (because video games can’t ever be simple), but Altaïr just kind of blindly keeps going. He doesn’t have any friends, doesn’t have any personal motivations, no relationships: there’s nothing that makes him relatable in any way.

I suppose the theory is that he’s just supposed to be this awesome mad dog killer type who doesn’t need anyone. It is therefore impossible to relate to him, and consequently to form any kind of emotional attachment to your avatar.

(Now, if you want to talk characters with motivations, we’ll get into a conversation about Ezio (from Assassin’s Creed II) pretty soon, and there you’ll have your main character with motivations. But that is for another time and another post.)

Even with all that said, I’m happy I played it, if only to get a feel for the criticism of the game and to gain an appreciation for the improvements made to the formula in the sequels, which are many and varied. I don’t think I’ll go back to play through it again.

Like I said: it’s a concept in search of a game. It comes close, but doesn’t quite find it, scraping only the surface concepts of what a good sandbox-style game can be like. Fortunately, the second one is the game that they were looking to make, much more realized, detailed, and possessing scope and weight. I’ll be talking about it and Brotherhood soon.

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Games

2011: The Year of the Backlog

Happy New Year!

As you can see from my current game library, I have a rather large backlog of games that I really need to get to at some point in my life. So, combined with the whole “New Year’s resolution” thing, and with the new project we’re running here at WordPress.com for posting to your WordPress.com site on a daily basis, I’ve decided that in 2011 I will make a serious effort to not only complete new games I purchase, but also to clear games that have been piling up without resolution.

The “Pile of Shame,” if you will.

As I like the idea of WordPress.com as a collaborative medium, I want to make this somewhat interactive. So, here are the “rules,” which are of course completely subject to change:

  • I get to finish the game currently on my plate first, which is Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.
  • I will interrupt the backlog occasionally for new releases of note, the first being Dead Space 2 at the end of this month.
  • As the credits roll in one game, I’ll put a poll up here to decide the next one in the list. I’ll choose the games in the poll based on my inclinations at the time and maybe some random selection.
  • If you purchase me a game from my Amazon wishlist, I will immediately bump it to the front of the queue.
  • I will not always write about games on this site, as occasionally I need to take a day away from my thumb exercises. In that case, I’ll write about whatever I want.

Don’t always expect professional-quality writing; sometimes getting a post per day in means that you can’t take a ton of time to edit or to come up with the right words. You can expect prolific writing and honest opinions, though.

As always, comments and pingbacks on anything I write are appreciated as I go along. Help me get through my backlog and I’ll pay you back with some opinions, some reactions, and some reviews of the games in my collection throughout 2011.