Thursday, September 17, 2009

Gamer's Diary - 2009-09-15

Other things have been taking up my time in the last four months, so I haven't played games that much. I'll just mention a few highlights.

I gave Civilization another chance, in the form of Civilization Revolution for the Xbox 360. Ruthless dictatorship does have its rewards, and I'll be applying that strategy again on this one or on Civilization IV.

Shadow Complex on Xbox Live Arcade is so awesome. I'm not a completionist, yet this game is so fun I'm playing through it a second time to get every item and visit every location.

Sins of a Solar Empire is fun, but hard. I lost my first game played on normal difficulty with a small map, but it was still a treat to watch two fleets engaging in a massive space battle.

I prefer my RPGs to have a battle system that is either pure turn-based or pure real-time, none of this silly ATB hybrid stuff. Tales of Vesperia is notable for its all-action combat system that more closely resemblers a fighting game like Street Fighter or Soul Calibur. It's a refreshing change of pace.

Gamer's Diary - 2009-05-28

I really haven't had any time for games per se since my last entry, save for a demo (Space Invaders Extreme) and to use a game to test new video drivers and hardware (Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, GUN, Peggle Extreme, Half-Life, Half-Life 2) . I spent little more than five minutes with each.

Space Invaders Extreme was more than the same old game with jazzed-up graphics; actually it changes a lot about the way the game plays. It's more of a re-imagining than a remake. This one goes on my buy-later list.

An update to Linux broke both the proprietary and open 3D drivers for my two-year-old ATI graphics card. ATI is no longer updating the proprietary driver, and no fix would be coming any time soon for the open one, so I was stuck with a 2D driver. And the prospect of playing my games in the Windows partition for some undetermined number of months or years until the open driver was fixed and enough functions added to it to match the proprietary one.

Not acceptable.

So I said goodbye to ATI and replaced the card with an upper-middle performance NVidia one. The result? Easy driver installation, easy configuration, performance improvement, and glitch-free graphics. By contrast ATI driver installation and update was a nightmare, configuration was confusing and inconsistent, performance was poor, and there were always graphics glitches, problems and failures.

So why is ATI lauded by Linux advocates and NVidia castigated? Because the ATI hardware specs are open, making possible the (mostly useless) open-source driver.

A man walks into a butcher shop and asks for a pound of hamburger. The butcher wraps it up and says, "That'll be two dollars." The man says, "That's outrageous! The shop down the street has it for one dollar a pound." "So why not buy it from him, then?" asks the butcher. "He's out," comes the reply. "Well," says the butcher, "When I'm out mine is fifty cents a pound."

Gamer's Diary - 2009-05-09

On the recommendation of Rebel FM's Game Club, and because console versions were hard to find, I picked up GUN on Steam. It wasn't the cheapest option, but it was still inexpensive and by far the most convenient.

Although I succeeded in getting it to run on Linux via Crossover Games, the hassle of glitches and poor frame rates drove me to run it in my Windows XP partition instead. There it ran just right with one notable exception.

It crashes from time to time.

What's worse is that it has no autosave. Even knowing that, I managed to get bit by it when the game crashed and I lost all my progress. I need to get back into the habit of saving every minute or so. Thankfully it does have save-anywhere.

I'm not sure whether it's my chemo-numbed fingers, the game having been originally designed for consoles, or my growing comfort with playing first-person shooters on console controllers, but I found GUN much easier to play using an Xbox 360 controller than with mouse-and-keyboard.

I've enjoyed what I've played of it - it comes across like a Western movie, recycling clichés from the genre without feeling clichéd itself. It's quite fun, and I'll be playing more of it in the future.

Gamer's Diary - 2009-05-08

Some critics have talked about Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars as if it's a return to the days before GTA3, when the perspective was top-down, the gameplay was simpler, and the games were supposedly more light-hearted and fun.

They're right. The perspective is top-down. But with the exception of that, and of the absence of voice acting, this is a modern GTA title. Everything looks and moves like the latest games, and the plot, mission structure and gameplay system works the same way. Even the post-GTA3 mix of serious themes treated seriously, satire and over-the-top lunacy is there.

I suspect the reason for the top-down view is technical. The more objects a game has to draw, the more system resources it consumes. With the normal GTA view, the game has to draw stuff all the way to the horizon, or until it runs out of memory. With a top-down view, the farthest thing that has to be drawn is the ground.

The game's pretty fun, in its modern GTA way. I'll be playing it again.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gamer's Diary 2009-05-07

A reference to Portal in a recent videogame podcast got me thinking about it. I wanted to hear Still Alive again, so I bought the soundtrack to The Orange Box on iTunes and downloaded it to my iPod. And set Still Alive as my phone's ringtone. And last night played through the game again so I could hear it in context.

I had meant to load a save from the end of the game so that I could go straight to the credits, but I'd never made one there. So, I decided to play all the way through again and re-experience the awesomeness that is Portal.

I planned to play a half-hour and save the rest for another night, as I had four games that had just arrived in the mail - I hadn't even opened them yet. I started a new game of Portal and began playing.

Four hours later, I was watching the end credits. Yeah, it's that good.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Gamer's Diary - 2009-05-06

Dancing, sleeping.

Gamer's Diary - 2009-05-05

Dancing and working late, no games.

Gamer's Diary - 2009-05-04

No games yesterday - too busy dancing and catching up on my sleep.

Gamer's Diary - 2009-05-03

The Gamers with Jobs website had an article recommending the short, free platformer Meat Boy, so I downloaded it. It runs fine under Crossover Games, so that's how I played it.

It's pretty fun. Well worth trying if you like 2D platformers at all.

Gamer's Diary - 2009-05-02

Yesterday I installed and played three free games I'd heard about through blogs and forums.

Progress Quest is, quite literally, a joke. It's an RPG that plays itself, a satire on the grind one finds in every game in the genre. No player input is required or accepted once it starts running. It kills enemies automatically, picks up loot drops automatically, sells loot automatically when encumbered, and upgrades equipment automatically.

Progress Quest distills an RPG down to what its author sees as the essentials - the grind - and then automates that. It says, "RPGs are so mindless and stupid, and offer so little actual choice, that a robot could play them and win. Here's one that does."

The Linear RPG is a similar kind of satire, though this one gives the player some choice. The player can move left, move right, or stand still. One's health goes down as one moves left or right (from automatically resolved random enemy encounters), and experience points go up. Death at zero health points subtracts some XP and resets health to match, while reaching the end of a segment restores health (an "inn" or "save point"). Each segment further to the right has more damaging enemies.

So here the author sees the essence of RPGs as the cycle of fighting, resting, and grinding levels by going back and fighting weaker enemies. It takes about ten minutes, it's mildly amusing, and there's an associated text story that scrolls up and down as one moves right and left along the path.

FreeRealms wouldn't install or run in either of Crossover Games or VMware with Windows XP, so I had to put it on my Windows XP partition. It ran fine there.

This game is Sony Online Entertainment's first try at bringing a Korean-style micro-transaction-based MMORPG to a Western audience. The player plays for free, but pays for conveniences and for gameplay-neutral customizations (such as costumes).

I spent a few minutes with it, and will probably return at some point. It was easy enough to play, and seems squarely aimed at the casual player who may only want to solo and play a couple of hours a week. It also seems almost aggressively family-friendly, as if it were a Disney MMO for kids. I'll have to see later if I can find a dark side in it.

Gamer's Diary 2009-05-01

No games yesterday. Fell asleep in my chair instead.

Gamer's Diary 2009-04-30

My latest cheap deal, Syberia II, arrived in the mail yesterday. This is an original Xbox game that is backward compatible on the Xbox 360, but I played it on my original Xbox.

It's a point-and-click adventure game, and I like those kind of games. I've enjoyed what I've played of this one so far. I find the story concept appealing, the artwork pleasant, and the voice performances competent though no more than that.

To me, the game has a distinctly European flavor. I can't quite put my finger on what makes it so. It's probably a combination of a lot of little things, like the protagonist's hair style and dress, the prominence of a train as the main method of transportation, and the interactions between the characters.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gamer's Diary 2009-04-29

No games yesterday; besides the time I spent dancing, the rest of the time was spent reconstructing an approximation of my games database from entries posted here. A glitch on the 27th deleted my database (among other files) from my PDA's SD card, and the last backup I had was from February.

Moral of the story: Back up your files, kiddies.

Gamer's Diary 2009-04-28

This was another day of great deals I found through Cheap Ass Gamer arriving in the mail.

Syphon Filter Logan's Shadow has a great way to implement a shooter on the single-analog-stick PSP. Let the player get into cover, then peek around it to aim, and finally snap off a shot but getting back into cover immediately after. I found this much more enjoyable than the run-and-gun other PSP shooters attempt, which just doesn't work with a single analog stick.

Speed Racer is a mildly enjoyable racing game (with tricks) on the PS2. There's nothing really exceptional about it, but if you like the franchise it performs as a competent racing game. It's certainly no wipEout or Gran Turismo, but what it does it does pretty well.

What I played of Brothers in Arms Hell's Highway told me that it was just more of the same thing that you get from other entries in the series: great physical acting and voicework, a serious tone and mature approach to the subject matter, enjoyable single-player and squad shooter game systems, and that's pretty much it. Those who were looking for more innovation or major innovations in the narrative structure will be disappointed, but those who would enoy a continuation of the story in Road to Hill 30 and Earned in Blood without a lot of extra new foofaraw (like me) will be satisfied.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Gamer's Diary 2009-04-27

I got word from the 'net that Best Buy was marking some games down to a clearance price of $10 USD. I picked three games from the list, and waited for Best Buy to open yesterday. My local store only had two of the three titles, but that's okay; I'm not a big fighting game fan, so missing Soul Calibur IV was no big loss. I did find Devil May Cry 4 and Infinite Undiscovery, and made an impulse buy of Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core.

Devil May Cry 4 is much like its PS2 siblings, only prettier, and with the new character Nero instead of Dante. What struck me about it is how much the character Kyrie resembles Aerith from Final Fantasy VII.

Infinite Undiscovery seems like a pretty standard JRPG, with action-oriented combat mechanics.

Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core is in familiar FF7 territory, but has a stronger emphasis on the technological aspects of the world. It also has a very action-oriented combat system.

Gamer's Diary 2009-04-26

More deals, mostly from Cheap Ass Gamer.

Broken Sword is an old fashioned LucasArts-style adventure game on the Nintendo DS, originally on PC. It is well adapted to the DS, and I'm enjoying it quite a bit so far. Unlike most of the LucasArts games it resembles, this game isn't particularly funny. The player takes on the role of a journalist, originally invited to meet a French dignitary but then finding herself investigating his murder. Descriptions of the game suggest that the investigation will lead her to ancient global conspiracies involving the Knights Templar, but I haven't gotten that far yet. All I have so far are hints, a cloth with a cross on it, and a cylinder with writing on it suggesting a connection to a Catholic graveyard. I'm looking forward to digging deeper into the mystery.

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles for PSP is essentially Rondo of Blood with an unlockable Symphony of the Night, with some minor updates to the localization. I played through a bit of the main game, and boy is it tough. I will be coming back to it - when I want a serious, old-school challenge.

I played some more Elite Beat Agents. It's hard to put this one down. It's definitely got that "just one more time and I'll get it" vibe.

I hadn't realized it, but Final Fantasy Tactics War of the Lions is a port (with minor updates and improvements) of Final Fantasy Tactics for the PS1 - which I already have. Given that, I'm happy enough with it, but I probably wouldn't have bought it if I'd known.

More Rez HD. Flow it has.

Medieval II Total War and Medieval II Total War Kingdoms took a very long time to install. I only played the basic campaign (England), but I don't expect the Kingdoms content to be much different - different skins, and maybe some differences in weapons and balance, but mostly the same. Fun stuff. Just like Rome: Total War, I'm enjoying the back-and-forth between Risk-style strategic empire management and tactical level real-time combat.

Gamer's Diary 2009-04-25

I recently discovered and have been using the site to find sweet deals. They even have a site feature which will send you an email when a game's price falls below a threshold you set.

Using them I found a great deal on Elite Beat Agents and Project Gotham Racing 4, and picked up both.

I didn't expect to like Elite Beat Agents that much, as my last experience with a rhythm action game (excluding Guitar Hero) was the PS2 port of Space Channel 5. That game had a poor system for player input and feedback, and its difficulty was unforgiving, to put it mildly.

So I put the game in my DS, and played it a while. I discovered that I was right. I don't like Elite Beat Agents.

I love it.

The controls are just right, the music is upbeat, and the stories are funny. I found myself repeating the same mission again and again, even after I'd finished it, in order to get a perfect run where I'd hit every beat. When I succeeded, I'd get that sense of flow that I crave.

Project Gotham Racing 4 seems to me much like Project Gotham Racing 3, with motorcycles. There are some changes to the interface and mission structure, but the change that stands out is the bikes. I can't say yet whether I like how it handles bikes. On the one hand, the forgiving nature of driving the bikes makes it far more accessible than something like Superbike or Moto GP. On the other, the way the view tilts - and rather abruptly - when turning a bike can be disconcerting, almost to the point of vertigo.

Other than the bike jerky tilty thingy, it's a lot of fun. I haven't played enough of it yet to know whether it requires one to focus on Kudos challenges, which I despise almost as much as the Gran Turismo series' license tests. I'll find out when I play it some more.

My ex-girlfriends's son sent me a message on Xbox Live and invited me to play some Halo 3 with him and his girlfriend. So I did. And had fun, though I sucked at it. I think you'd have to play an awful lot of this in order to get really good at it.

Rez HD continues to delight. I managed to hundred-percent the first area, and got an awesome sensation of flow doing it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Apology and Explanation

I apologize for the massive info dump here, after two months of silence.

I write blog posts on my PDA whenever I have a spare minute, and often forget to post them when I'm at home.

Gamer's Diary 2009-04-17

Between finishing taxes and working overtime, didn't have time to game much until last night.

Amazon recently had Mirror's Edge for $20 USD as its Video Game Deal of the Day, so I picked it up. Sadly, they'd already sold out of the Xbox 360 version, so I ended up with a PC copy.

I also picked up Bully: Scholarship Edition for the 360 at the same time, as it was also $20 USD and the folks at Rebel FM Game Club recommended it.

The package from Amazon arrived yesterday, and while I waited for Mirror's Edge to finish installing, I put Bully in the 360 and started it up.

Rockstar is known for mining pop culture, especially movies, for its games. Grand Theft Auto and The Warriors are good examples of this. With Bully they appear to be tapping into any number of movies, television series, and books about teens and high school. The developers have mentioned movies like Sixteen Candles and books like The Catcher in the Rye.

The player will find all the usual cliques here: the jocks, the nerds, the preppies, and so on. Rockstar establishes the player's character in the first scene: an angry, alienated teen kicked out of other private schools being sent to the bottom-of-the-barrel Bulworth Academy by his divorced mother and her smarmy new fiancée. I'm only an hour or so in, but he's already gotten into fights with the rough crowd.

I'm expecting a lot from this one.

Mirror's Edge required only minor video adjustments to run well on my PC, and it looks great. I was playing it within five minutes of completing the installation.

For some reason, I find the actual game far easier to play than I did the demo. And once I get going on the free-running, I get a sense of 'flow' similar to the one I get when performing at the limits of my abilities in a sport or when dancing in the groove. Excellent!

Much has been made of the awkwardness of the combat system, but I haven't encountered it yet. Perhaps that's because I escape and evade whenever possible, only fighting when it's unavoidable. Or perhaps it's because I haven't needed to fight much yet.

Anyway, I think that after I finish the game and the time trial DLC, I'll probably go back and replay them. Not because I'm a perfectionist, I'm not, but because by becoming skilled enough to move through an entire level without stopping, I should get that feeling of flow for minutes at a time.

Love the art style. The predominance of blues and greys, of concrete and hard, shiny surfaces gives it the kind of totalitarian futuristic vibe one gets from the Citadel in Half-Life 2, and the architecture in movies like Conquest of the Planet of the Apes or Equilibrium.

Gamer's Diary 2009-04-14


More The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay on the Xbox 360. I'm not sure why. Riddick is not a particularly sympathetic character, and the universe he inhabits is grim, violent and ugly.

Perhaps it's a matter of fascination. Perhaps it's like Blue Velvet, Schindler's List, or Sling Blade - uncomfortable to watch, but packing a powerful emotional punch.

Gamer's Diary 2009-04-12

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts is, as one would expect, a collect-a-thon. But I am finding enough humor, interesting environments and fan gameplay activities to keep my interest. I'll be playing more of this one - after some other games that I'm currently more interested in.

Puzzle Quest: Galactrix on Xbox Live Arcade seems pretty much like Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, replacing the fantasy theme with a sci-fi one. I'm enjoying it more than the reviews say I ought to.

Reviewers have complained about the DS version's loading delays, the hexagonal puzzle board, and the overly frequent need to hack jumpgates. The XBLA version has no loading screens, the hex grid doesn't bother me at all, and jumpgate hacking hasn't annoyed me...yet.

Alien Hominid on Xbox Live Arcade is pretty much the same game it is in Flash or on the PS2. But somehow it doesn't seem as punishingly difficult here as on the other two platforms. Perhaps it's not. In any case, that's where I'll be playing it in future.

I am liking Condemned 2: Bloodshot better than I did Condemned: Criminal Origins. The combat is significantly more varied (almost to overcomplication) while still being visceral. The sets and lighting convey a much darker and creepier atmosphere than the first game. And the protagonist's character, portrayed in the cutscenes as a disillusioned, cynical, angry, violent drunk, is entirely congruent with the brutal acts that the player must make him perform in order to progress. This at once makes the character's dramatic consistency far better than, say, Niko's in Grand Theft Auto IV, and harder for the player to identify with. I think though that identification may be overrated as a dramatic virtue.

I'll be playing it again...after I finish the first one, to find out how the rest of the story unfolds.

Gamer's Diary 2009-04-09

I haven't been playing a lot of games in the last two weeks, at least until last night.

I did give Desktop Tower Defense a try during that dry spell. I beat it on easy, and it was amusing. I did bookmark it afterward (it can't be played offline), but I doubt I'll be playing it again. I've seen everything in the game, and beating it on a harder level just doesn't appeal to me. If I want a mindless distraction, I'll play Klondike or Bejeweled 2 in Endless mode.

Also, twice when I had fifteen minutes to play, I fired up Rez and played through the first level. This is a game I keep coming back to, especially when I don't have a lot of time.

Then came yesterday. I bought two games that were Day One purchases for me: The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena and the Xbox Live Arcade version of Puzzle Quest: Galactrix. While at Target, I also made two bargain impulse buys: Dead Space ($30 USD) and Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts ($20 USD). I only had time to play two of them last night, but I really enjoyed both.

Of the four, the only one I still have reservations about is Banjo Kazooie. Banjo games are for completists, and I'm primarily a tourist with only mild completist tendencies. But I enjoyed the gameplay in the demo, so there may be enough to see in the game to make it worth my while. And at $20 USD, it met my price point for a game on the bubble.

I still have The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay for the original Xbox, but I bought Dark Athena because I wanted the new content and HD upgrade. So I put it in and started playing, and before I knew it I'd played to - and past - the same point I'd gotten to in the original game.

What a great game this is. I had to tear myself away from it to play my other pick for the night. I'll mention one thing that stood out for me, then leave you to find and read other reviews of it on the 'net. Riddick knows what Doom3 forgot: in a shooter with dark environments, guns come with integrated flashlights.

Dead Space was a lot better than I had expected, after the mixed reviews and the ridiculously hard demo. In the demo I died in my first room full of zombies, every time. Not fun. But with the full game, I started on the easiest difficulty setting and have enjoyed every minute of it.

The most important thing about a horror game is whether it's scary. Reviewers have claimed that Dead Space is not particularly scary. Well, they're right if your definition of scary is monster closets. But really, haven't we had enough of that from Doom3, Resident Evil and the like? What this game does, and does fairly well, is to create an atmosphere of dread, much like the Silent Hill series.

I wouldn't say that it reaches the level of creepiness of, say, Silent Hill 2 - it especially lacks some of the more disturbing aspects - but it is pretty frightening in its own right. Much of this is due to the excellent sound, set and lighting design.

The use of sound in particular is well-crafted. There is little more unsettling than to hear the muffled cries of terror from one of the few remaining survivors as they're torn apart on the other side of a bulkhead, or the nearby skittering sounds of one of the zombie monsters moving through the ventilation system. Even the nearby sound of a malfunctioning door repeatedly opening and closing contributes to the pervasive unease.

But enough reviewerish (yes I know that's not a word) details. Suffice it to say that Dead Space will scratch your Tourist itch, especially if you like creepy horror games like Silent Hill 2 and movies like The Shining.

Gamer's Diary 2009-03-26

I got further in the ship portion of Call of Cthulhu: Dark corners of the Earth, but that's all I've had time for.

Gamer's Diary 2009-03-21

I continued playing Call of Cthulhu: Dark corners of the Earth on my original Xbox. I got back to where I'd been on the 360, but with severely diminished health; the slightest damage from anything killed me. Tomorrow I'll start from an earlier save and see if I can't get back to that spot with fewer injuries.

Gamer's Diary 2009-03-22

I continued playing Call of Cthulhu: Dark corners of the Earth and got to the ship portion. The Creatures from the Black Lagoon killed me pretty severely, though. Next time I'll have to close and bolt the door.

Gamer's Diary 2009-03-20

In order to find out whether the autosave problem I was seeing was an emulation bug, and to avoid the game-breaking emulation bugs I'd heard about, I started replaying Call of Cthulhu: Dark corners of the Earth on my original Xbox. Somehow it looks better that way than in emulation. I got pretty far, but I keep getting killed at the cannery.

Gamer's Diary 2009-03-19

I finished Peggle Extreme and played through the Xbox 360 demo for Peggle Nights last night. And that was enough. I won't be buying any Peggle games any time soon.

I played some more Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. What really irritates me with this game is that the autosaves don't work very well. If I die and choose resume, most of the time it just loads the save in the first save slot. When I start the game after turning on the console and choose resume, it always loads from the first save slot. Perhaps it's a problem with the Xbox 360's emulation. I'll find out when I replay it on my original Xbox.

Gamer's Diary 2009-03-18

Last night, after hearing so many gaming podcasters wax enthusiastic about it, I installed Peggle Extreme in Crossover Games. It ran perfectly, and I played through five of the ten levels (essentially a demo).

I don't know what they're on about. It just didn't grab me. I'll play the rest of the levels and then I'll be done with it. No need to buy Peggle Deluxe or Peggle Nights.

I also made some progress in Call of Cthulhu. The final Game Club podcast on this is already out, so I will simply have to not listen to it until I finish.

Gamer's Diary 2009-03-17

Over the weekend I tested and tweaked quite a few games with my newly upgraded PC software. The ones that continued to work without any trouble, or work better, were (entries in bold I played a bit):

  • Alien Hominid
  • Armagetron Advanced
  • Beneath a Steel Sky
  • flOw
  • FreeCiv
  • Frozen Bubble
  • Frederik Pohl's Gateway
  • Gateway II Homeworld
  • Half-Life
  • Half-Life Blue Shift
  • Half-Life Opposing Force
  • Half-Life 2
  • Half-Life 2: Lost Coast
  • Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne
  • Mona The Assassin
  • X-COM: Enforcer
  • X-COM: Apocalypse
  • X-COM: Interceptor
  • X-COM: Terror from the Deep
  • X-COM: UFO Defense

One game started working that wouldn't before: Team Fortress 2. This means I can join the Gamers with Jobs play sessions without having to reboot to Windows.

The games that needed tweaking to work in the new environment were Darwinia and Blood Frontier.

The ones that still didn't work in Crossover Games and had to be run in Windows XP, either in the Windows partition or in VMWare, were Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Age of Empires 2, and Empire Earth.

Three that formerly worked in Crossover Games and didn't in the new setup were Fallout, Fallout 2, and Sacrifice. The Fallout games I could install in VMWare Windows XP, but Sacrifice had to be run in the Windows partition because it uses 3D acceleration.

I also tried installing Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel in Linux, but it worked neither in Crossover Games nor VMWare Windows XP, so I'll have to install it in the Windows partition.

I also spent some time catching up with Rebel FM's Game Club by playing through some more of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.

Gamer's Diary 2009-03-13

I played an online round of Halo Wars, partly to try it out, but mostly to get entered into Microsoft's Play and Win sweepstakes. My opponent was beating me handily when he resigned. He must have also been playing just to enter.

There was some Halo: Combat Evolved and Rez HD for comfort gaming, and some Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth in an attempt to catch up with Rebel FM's Game Club.

After listening to Anthony Gallegos on Rebel FM telling tales of how he destroyed A.I. civilizations in Civilization IV, I became interested in those kinds of games again. Anthony's tales showed me that the reason I've not enjoyed playing 4x and similar strategy games is not the lack of feedback, nor the lack of narrative, but rather that I've been playing like a wuss.

I role-played myself in those games, and tried to build a civilization that would reflect my libertarian political ideals: non-aggressive, maximum freedom for the citizens, wealthy and technologically advanced, seeking out other nations only for trade, and only fighting when attacked. In other words:


So I've decided to give the 4x and 4x-ish games another chance. But this time I'm going to play like a complete bastard. I won't trade with my neighbors; I'll conquer them. My citizens are not there to live their lives and make themselves happy and wealthy; they're there to make me wealthy and produce what my army needs so it can attack other countries. Dissent or rebellion I will violently suppress. Attila the Hun will look like Gandhi compared to me.

So I took Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Age of Empires II, and Empire Earth out of my giveaway bin, and downloaded FreeCiv, an open-source freeware clone of Civilization and Civilization II. Alpha Centauri and Age of Empires II I installed in Windows XP under VMWare Server, Empire Earth I installed in my Windows XP partition, and FreeCiv is a Linux program.

That same weekend I picked up Lost Planet; Extreme Condition in a Steam sale for $5 USD. After installing it in the Windows XP partition and some tweaking of settings I played it a little. I'm still not thrilled by the idea of bugs that live in a cold environment, but for a fin I'll certainly give it a chance.

During the week new DLC for two of my games went up on Xbox Live Marketplace, so I downloaded and sampled them. Prince of Persia: Epilogue continues the story of The Prince and Elika, while Tomb Raider: Lara's Shadow gives Lara Croft's doppelganger something to do. I'll be playing more of both of them later.

Also during the week I successfully backed up the Linux partition on my PC, and that gave me the confidence to upgrade Ubuntu Linux, my ATI video drivers, and Crossover Games. There were some kinks to work out, and that left no time to test games with the new setup.

Gamer's Diary 2009-03-06

I played a little PS2 Half-Life earlier this week, and discovered that my console was sending a very loud sixty-cycle buzz through the component A/V cable. I eliminated all the potential sources of the problem except the system unit - or so I thought. After I bought a new PS2 and got it home, I discovered that the real source of the problem was the aftermarket LCD screen I had attached. Once I removed that, the problem disappeared. So now I have a backup PS2.

To test my replacement PS2, I played Half-Life and Burnout 3: Takedown. I was quite surprised to find that EA's servers for this game are still up! Given their previous behavior in shutting down servers after the multiplayer population drops off a bit or the next game in the series comes out (Madden), it's a shock to see that despite very few players visiting the servers, and two sequels being out, I can still play Burnout 3 online. Kudos, EA!

After that, I got Alien Hominid and flOw working in Linux, and played a little of Duke Nukem 3D, Killzone, and Halo Wars.

There have been complaints from the gaming enthusiast press and hardcore RTS players that Halo Wars is "dumbed down" for the console, that it's overly simplistic. Maybe. Maybe. But it's fun.

Gamer's Diary 2009-03-04

Due to overtime at work, I haven't had time to play games as such (had to miss the LAN party too), but while waiting for compiles and such did put in a few minutes to get some games running on Linux, and to sample some Xbox 360 content I downloaded.

The games now working in Linux, either through Crossover Games, DosBox, or Scummvm are: Sacrifice, Lure of the Temptress, X-COM: Apocalypse, X-COM: Interceptor, X-COM: Enforcer, and Half-Life 2. Team Fortress 2 still won't run, and I've run out of things to try. The others I'll put more time into when I have free time again in my schedule.

Xbox Live content I sampled includes Exit 2, Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage, Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and The Damned, Tomb Raider Underworld: Beneath the Ashes, and Groov. I'll be spending more time with these when I have more time to spend.

Gamer's Diary 2009-02-24

A little more Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. That's all I had time for.

Gamer's Diary 2009-02-25

No gaming. Too busy dancing.

Gamer's Diary 2009-02-23

Last night, prompted by a desire to keep up with the Rebel FM Game Club podcast, I started to once again play Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Long ago I had by arcane means transferred my Xbox game saves to the 360, but something had happened since then to render those saves corrupt. So I either had to attempt to transfer them again, a rite involving strange instruments of adaptation and supplications to dark PC gods, or just replay the game from the beginning.

I nearly reached the point I'd been at before, but the late hour forced me to stop while still in the sewers. I did get to that part faster than ever, as I played for speed rather than savoring the experience. Knowing what to do and where to go helped as well.

Despite the speedrunning I was reminded both of how much I like this game and how frustrating it can be. The Attack of the Fishmen aroused the same feelings of panic as before, while the tricky jump near the end inspired the same controller-hurling levels of rage.

The podcasters opined that the opening cutscene, which shows the main character trying to hang himself in an insane asylum, is set somewhere in the ten years between the prologue and the game proper. I disagree. Lovecraft's stories frequently end with the protagonist dying, going insane, or becoming something unhuman. The Shadow over Innsmouth, which appears to be the inspiration for this game, has such an ending. And the stories sometimes begin with the end, the rest being told as a flasback. I think this game will have a similar structure.

Incidentally, The Attack of the Fishmen shows just how off-base Capcom is in claiming that restrictive controls are necessary to make games like Resident Evil 5 scary. CoC:DCotE has full-on first person shooter controls, yet the escape from the hotel is possibly the most terrifying sequence I've ever experienced in a video game.

Gamer's Diary 2009-02-17

On Sunday I spent my game time making sure I'd be ready for the lan party at the end of the month. Since it didn't (and still doesn't) look like I'd have all the party games running in Linux by then, I booted Windows and played each game briefly to make sure it was up-to-date with patches and properly configured. So I played Unreal Tournament 2004, Duke Nukem 3D (with a hi-res texture mod and lan play support), Prey, Flatout 2, Quake 3 Arena, Star Trek Elite Force II, Painkiller, Far Cry, Team Fortress 2, Half-Life 2 Deathmatch, Battlefield 1942, Tron 2.0, and Tribes Vengeance.

Yesterday I continued bringing Windows (and DOS) games over to Linux. In this round I installed through Steam X-Com: UFO Defense (again), X-Com: Terror from the Deep, X-Com: Apocalypse, X-Com: Interceptor, and X-Com: Enforcer. I played the first two, and Terror from the Deep plays very much like UFO Defense.

Also on Monday I played some Castle Crashers (fun!) and Beneath a Steel Sky (puzzling and humorous).

Gamer's Diary 2009-02-14

Friday, after hearing good things about it on the Gamers with Jobs podcast, I decided to give Castle Crashers a try. The art style, humor, and fun gameplay convinced me to buy it.

Meanwhile I kept trying to get Team Fortress 2 to run in Crossover Games Linux, but without success. I ran out of things to try, so I opened a support ticket with Codeweavers and sent them a debug log. I'm waiting to see how they respond.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Gamer's Diary 2009-02-13

Tuesday I started going through my Steam games in alphabetical order. I successfully got Half-Life, Half-Life: Blue Shift, and Half-Life 2: Lost Coast installed and running. To cap the evening off, I gave Fallout 2 a brief try (which I'd forgotten on Friday), and it ran beautifully.

Wednesday I installed and ran Darwinia (for which I found a native Linux executable), and Half-Life: Opposing Force.

Then on Thursday I tried to get Team Fortress 2 to install and run, but Steam refused to unpack the game files, instead giving me the all too familiar error message, "This game is currently unavailable. Please try again later." I had no luck getting past it, but I haven't run out of things to try yet.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Gamer's Diary 2009-02-10

Over the weekend I started a new gaming project: Get most of my PC games working in Linux, so I would only rarely have to reboot to Windows. Along the way I play-tested each game to see if it worked, so I played a lot of games.

Friday night I got the Good Old Games versions of Fallout and Fallout 2 installed in Crossover Linux Professional. I play-tested Fallout, and it ran great.

I also installed Frederik Pohl's Gateway and Gateway II: Homeworld, a couple of old DOS games that were made freeware by the publisher before it went under. These I installed in DosBox, a program for many platforms (including Linux and Windows) that emulates a PC running MS-DOS, and used DBGL to make them easily launchable. They ran very well in Linux.

I did not, however, play enough of any of the four games to form an impression of them. I'll write about them when I've played more of them.

Saturday I reinstalled Crossover Games, then installed Steam in it and started trying again to get my Steam games running in Linux. I had success in installing X-COM: UFO Defense and Half-Life and getting both to run properly, but Half-Life 2 was another story - and not a happy one.

It kept hanging after the initial loading screen. I tried many different combinations of command-line and in-game video options, to no avail. Finally I gave up and called it a night.

Sunday I tried varying my video driver - again without success - until I remembered that the way to deal with proprietary ATI video drivers in Linux is to use Envy. So I did, and noticed during the installation process that Envy relinked the driver to the Linux kernel. Aha! This was why I'd been experiencing issues with video for a while; I'd updated my kernel a couple of times since I last installed the video driver, and now they were out of sync.

After I updated the video driver, Half-Life 2 started working. Steam didn't work that well though; I started getting "server too busy" when trying to download a game, and "application unavailable" when trying to launch one. I managed to find workarounds for both problems, and command-line options that worked reasonably well for running the game, but eventually encountered settings that hung the game and prevented me from getting back to Linux. So I did a hard reset of my PC, and after that Crossover Games didn't work right. So I uninstalled it, reinstalled it, and started the painful downloading process once again.

Monday I tried Half-Life 2 again, without much luck, and decided instead to focus on getting two kinds of games to work: single player games I don't have on other platforms, and multiplayer games. So I gave up on Half-Life 2 and instead tried to run Half-Life 2 Deathmatch.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get it to work either. It simply refused to go past the menu screen and start a match. So I gave up on it too. When I'm at a lan party, I'll just have to boot Windows.

Gamer's Diary 2009-02-06

Last night I picked up four used games, and gave each a try:

God of War: Chains of Olympus for PSP scratches the same itch that its PS2 brethren do. It looks and plays just as good as them. After I finish God of War II, I'll be playing this one.

Sadly, it has one of my most-hated game features, quick-time events. It appears to be a staple of the God of War series. Fortunately, these games contain the least obnoxious use of it I've ever seen. Unfortunately, the success of this game series has led to other game designers imitating this feature, typically with annoying results.

Designers, don't make your cutscenes "interactive" by using QTEs; it's a cheap attempt to hide the fact that the player can't make the character do those actions through gameplay. It's more enjoyable to just watch.

Gears of War I gave away to a friend months ago, thinking I was done with it. But I recently started jonesing for it again, so I bought another copy and fired it up. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed this game.

I like the Command and Conquer series, so Command and Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath is something I've had on my radar since it was announced. I always meant to buy it when the price came down, and that time was last night. I played the tutorial and the first mission, the latter of which kicked my butt on easy. Next time I will turtle more. It seems to be much the same as C&C3, with some tweaks to the controls to improve them.

I like it. I find the hammy, badly-acted cutscenes with their cheap special effects especially enjoyable.

At the same time I completed my Command and Conquer collection with Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3. What I said about Kane's Wrath applies in large part, except that the units are sillier and the cutscenes over-the-top, even when compared to the rest of this over-the-top series. Great fun!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Gamer's Diary - February 5, 2009

Last night R-Type Dimensions showed up on Xbox Live Arcade and I picked it up. It's a port of R-Type and R-Type II with the addition of 3-D views, an infinite lives mode and online co-op.

This game is hard-core. Casual gamers need not apply.

I finished it, but only because I played in infinite lives mode. Had I played in normal mode, my three lives would have evaporated within seconds.

I did notice one bug: From time to time, while playing in 3D view, the game will switch to 2D without user input (you can use the Y button to switch). Minor issue, but annoying.

Gamer's Diary - February 4, 2009

I played some more Silent Hill Homecoming and beat the first boss. I did consult a walkthrough to do it. I would never have guessed the monster's weakness otherwise. Ironically, the very next time I restarted the boss battle, the loading screen also revealed that weakness.

Sean "Elysium" Sands on the Gamers with Jobs podcast recommended Mona: The Assassin, a professionally produced mod for Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne. I'd already given away my PC copy of MP2, so I shut down Ubuntu, booted Windows, and downloaded it from Steam ($10 USD). I then downloaded and installed the mod, and played a half hour of it.

It has the same vibe as Max Payne 2, and all that good bullet-time shootdodging action. There are no plot-moving comic-book cutscenes, but that's understandable considering that this is a free mod. I'll be playing more of this in the future.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gamer's Diary - Catching Up

Note: My experiment with E-Prime is over. I can find less excruciating ways to avoid passive voice, when I wish to do so.

The week of Christmas I visited family in another state, so I only took portable games with me. The previous year I took my PS2, but decided not to this time as TSA employees have been known to steal valuables from checked baggage (One got cauight with something like 100 stolen items). I only played one game while on vacation: Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney. Replaying it puts me in mind of rereading a favorite book.

After I returned I resumed playing Ridge Racer 6 and finished the normal races. Shortly after that I realized that I'd grown tired of the game, and put it away. I'll tackle the special and advanced races some other time.

Then I bought as my first new game of the year Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness: Episode 2. I didn't do more than sample it, as I'd prefer to play it after I complete Episode 1. What little I tried of it suggests that it plays much the same as the first, and continues the story and humor.

I played some more Half-Life: Decay and found myself frustrated by it. The difficulty has increased to the point that I can no longer use it as comfort gaming. So, back into the random playlist it goes.

I don't mention this often (if at all), but I still play Bejeweled 2 in Endless mode on my Xbox 360 and iPaq. It fits perfectly into those moments when I'm waiting in line or on a download etc. and don't care to engage my brain at all. I won't mention it again as I have little to say about it.

For my second new game of the year I picked up Silent Hill Homecoming. I like this series, and Silent Hill 2 has the distinction of convincing me that I could enjoy games in the third person perspective. I much prefer getting creeped out to getting startled; these games have a Lovecraftian atmospheric creepiness as their stock in trade, and I found Homecoming's stockroom full.

This Penny Arcade article, which I came across while reading something else, convinced me that I should give Enchanted Arms a try. Gabe described it as an unabashed pure turn-based JRPG with an interesting story and good presentation, and when I play a JRPG I want exactly that. Also, the price of a used copy has dropped to $20 USD, which fits it nicely into my budget. So I did try the game for an evening, and Gabe totally called it. I'll play it some more after I finish the Silent Hill games I'm in the middle of, or when it comes up in random rotation.

Since then I haven't played much; I've concentrated instead on learning ballroom and swing dancing, cooking, and organizing tax paperwork. I did find time to try a couple of demos and pick up a new Xbox Live Arcade game.

The F.E.A.R. 2; Project Origin demo creeped me out and provided some fun FPS (and mech) action as well. If the rest is as good as the demo, I'm buying.

The Resident Evil 5 demo didn't grab me nearly as well. It didn't frighten me or creep me out, and when my character got killed by the first wave of zombies, I felt neither shock nor fear nor sadness, but rather frustration. I had no desire to restart from the last checkpoint or try the other included level.

I'll probably end up buying the damn thing eventually, because it is, after all, Resident Evil, but that certainly won't be on launch day nor at full price. I'll reveal one little detail as to why:

You can't move and shoot at the same time.

That's right. Aiming your weapon glues your Goddamn feet to the floor. You can still turn, but you can't go anywhere. It's like one of those dreams where you're paralyzed and can't run away, but this time what you want to run away from is the game designer.

I had heard and read good things about The Maw, so I downloaded the trial from Xbox Live Arcade and gave it a go. It's cute and funny and easy and you can't die, so when I reached the sample's end I immediately fed The Maw 800 MS points so it could keep eating. I'll be playing more of this one.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Gamer's Diary - Fallout 3, Ridge Racer 6, Phoenix Wright, Prince of Persia 2008, Persona 4, Ridge Racer V, Fable, Lost Odyssey

Fallout 3: Recently I finished it a second time, in this case completing all the side quests first (except the one that requires the player to enslave others; I played a virtuous character). That done, I decided to let my randomizer pick the next game I'd play, and it picked

Ridge Racer 6: It has simplicity in its structure and gameplay. Some might say it has too much, and that may account for some of the mediocre reviews. Gameplay consists of driving and drifting, and progress of unlocking new cars. It has little else besides multiplayer. But I think the main problem most people have with it lies in its lack of a feeling of speed. Ridge Racer 6 doesn't give the player anywhere near the face-melting sense of velocity that either Burnout 3 or Burnout Revenge does, and not even as much as its own cousin, Ridge Racer for the PSP.

But I enjoy it well enough, the sensation of speed grows as I progress through the car classes, and I am steadily nearing the game's single player finish.

Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: I had loaned my copy out and the borrower lost it, so I replaced it. Then I had to play it to make sure it worked. It sucked me in again, and now I play it from time to time in much the same way I reread favorite books. Knowing the answers doesn't lessen my enjoyment at all; instead it allows the story to flow more naturally.

Prince of Persia (2008): I originally felt pretty lukewarm towards this game. The series had gone downhill since The Sands of Time, and I expected more of the same from this next title, but with cel-shading and an artificially stupid companion. Then I read that the platforming and combat flowed naturally, and my interest began to perk up. Then I read that the characters and environments looked beautiful and animated smoothly, having the style not of a cel-shaded cartoon but rather of a painting come to life. Then I read that the developers had created an interesting and well-told story. Then I read that the voice actors had delivered solid performances. Then I read that the player controls the delivery of the story by (optionally) triggering each sentence of dialogue. Then I read that the game had virtually no camera issues, with it almost always placed to show the player what he needs to see. Then I read of the companion AI's elegance, with nary a pathing problem, no need to protect her, and that she never got in the way. I had become very interested. Then I read of hardcore gamer complaints that the game made things too easy for the player.

I bought it.

And all that I had read of it was true, from its art design to its story to its lack of difficulty. Well, not everything; it doesn't "play itself," and there are challenges to overcome, from tricky platforming sections to tough boss fights (well, tricky and tough for me, anyway).

I've enjoyed it immensely, and I consider it a contender for the best new release I've played in 2008.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4: I liked what I'd played of Persona 3 - a lot, and the reviews for Persona 4 glowed, so I picked it up on release day. I've liked what I've played of it so far, despite it lacking 3's gimmick of releasing one's Persona by shooting oneself in the head with a magic gun, or the 25th Dark Hour of universal unconsciousness and stopped clocks at 12:00 midnight. This one will be getting more play.

Ridge Racer V: I popped this into my PS2 to compare it to Ridge Racer 6 and see if I dislike it as much as I remember. And I do. I don't see how it ever managed to get a score of 80. The game runs on the PS2, but has graphics not much better than PS1 games. I have difficulty handling the cars, often crashing into a wall rather than drifting around the curve. I also have trouble keeping up with the degree of difficulty; I haven't been able to win even the first race, and coming in fourth (the minimum placement to progress to the second race) took all my skill.

So to have fun with Ridge Racer V, I recommend this:

  • Remove the game disk from the console.
  • Throw it like a Frisbee. Or,
  • See how many pieces you can break it into.

Fable: The Lost Chapters for Xbox: I'd looked for this one for a while, having had it on my wishlist ever since I found out that the Xbox had it as well as the PC. I found it in a newly opened GameStop near my home. I tried it first on my Xbox 360, as I found it entered on the backwards compatibility list. Sadly it had a framerate on the slow side and would occasionally freeze for a good fraction of a second. I then put it in my original Xbox and it played smooth as butter. I'll play it when it comes up in random rotation. And I expect I'll give away to a friend my PC copy of it, and my Xbox copy of Fable.

Lost Odyssey: I'd had this on my wishlist for some months also, and finally the price dropped to a level I could buy at. Pretty graphics, interesting story, turn-based combat - just my kind of JRPG. It turns out the combat does have a timing-based mini-game, but it doesn't bother me much, as it presents far fewer annoyances than, say, Final Fantasy X. I look forward to playing more of it when it comes up in random rotation.

Gamer's Diary - More Half-Life comfort gaming, X-COM, Fallout series, Fallout 3

Half-Life for PC, Half-Life Source, Half-Life Opposing Force, Half-Life Blue Shift, Half-Life 2 for PC: To make my Half-Life series comfort gaming possible, I set about redownloading and reinstalling these games from Steam. Of course I had to play them all as well to see if they worked, and as a result I spent an entire vacation day with them. I don't regret it though; I discovered that Half-Life Source does not look or play significantly better than the original Half-Life, and rediscovered just how pretty Half-Life 2 still looks, four years later. It doen't have the advanced bump-mapping and shadow-casting of Doom 3, but in every other way (and overall) its presentation looks superior.

X-COM: UFO Defense: I found out that all of the X-COM games have become available through Steam, so I fired it up and bought the entire collection. At $15 USD for five games, I thought it reasonable to check out all of them, despite some having less-than-stellar reviews.

I tried the first game, X-COM: UFO Defense, the one that everyone raves about. I left the others alone, for now. I found that the game has something in common with most games made before the late '90s: The player needs to read the manual before trying to play. The game has no tutorial, and the controls seem less than obvious. It definitely does not go into the "comfort gaming" category. So I put it in my randomized rotation, and will read the manual the next time I play it.

Crossover Games: I installed Ubuntu Linux earlier this year as a dual boot with Windows XP. Now, only when I play games do I boot the Windows partition. So I have an interest in getting my games to run on Linux. To that end, I picked up Codeweavers' Crossover Games on the day Codeweavers made it free. This product provides a compatibility layer for Linux so that Windows games can run.

I then set out to install Steam and all the Half-Life games, which Crossover Games specifically advertises that it works with. Sadly, it doesn't, at least on my system. Attempting to download the games through Steam's My Games interface always results in an error that claims Steam's servers appear too busy. I found a trick to get by that problem, but once Steam finishes downloading the game it won't launch it. It always puts up an error message claiming the game appears unavailable. I don't know what that means, beyond not allowing me to play the game.

Half-Life and Half-Life: Decay for PS2: Having given up on Crossover Games, I returned to the two Half-Life games on the PS2. I found Decay a bit less than restful because of its lack of save-anywhere, so after getting killed in it I played the original Half-Life rather than start the level over. Much more comfortable.

Fallout Tactics for PC and Fallout Brotherhood of Steel for Xbox: Knowing that I would purchase Fallout 3 when released, I decided to complete my collection of Fallout games. I picked up Tactics from Good Old Games, and Brotherhood of Steel from the bargain bin of a local Gamestop. I played the first just long enough to see that it works just like Fallout and Fallout 2, except for giving the player direct control over more than one party member. I played the second just long enough to verify that it plays exactly like Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and Dark Alliance 2 but with a Fallout 'skin'. And I deem that okay; I like the Dark Alliance games.

Fallout 3 for Xbox 360: I bought this in its release week, and played nothing else for a month. I have played through the main quest once, and since then I have played through all the side quests. Terrific game.