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.