I should mention that Dr. Helmig will be changing it's schedule to once Fridays from now on. Never cared for Thursdays myself anyway. It's a cruel reminder that the weekend is just out of reach.
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January 2009 Archives
Fallout 3 is not a first person shooter. Fallout 3 is a first person RPG, a FPRPG if you will. In a recent interview with MTV Multiplayer, Executive Producer Todd Howard confirmed that Fallout 3 is at best mediocre when you judge it as a first person shooter. Why, then, did Bethesda feel the need to create the largely FPS-focused Operation Anchorage DLC? This add-on creates a new side quest in the ruins of DC, and puts you into a simulation of one of the great battles of the big war constantly referenced in Fallout lore. The issue is that Operation Anchorage strips out what makes Fallout 3 exceptional. It removes all of that pesky moral choice and becomes an exercise in "go from point A to point B."
Maybe the way I play Fallout is different. I am not especially interested in the combat aspects of the game. I like exploring the various environments and scrounging whatever is lying around. See, I'm a crafter. In MMOs it's the same way. I enjoy deviating from the main quests and crafting items to prepare for the journey ahead. Operation Anchorage strips you of your items and gives you a whole set of new objectives. You can no longer scour your environment for items to collect, you can only interact with whatever is blinky and orange. Here's a BIG FLASHING BRIEFCASE, maybe you should pick it up! The objectives here are akin to a series of quick time events. Effortless and ultimately unrewarding. The levels are designed to be linear and come off feeling like a level from the N64 classic Goldeneye. Unfortunately, Goldeneye was made to be a first person shooter. Fallout 3 just plain fails at it. That is not to say that Fallout 3 is a bad game. As a matter of fact, it's my favorite game in recent memory. It's just that this DLC focuses on the wrong elements and becomes an exercise in un-fun.
You know how Dreamworks animated movies tend to rip off Pixar movies? They take what they think makes Pixar movies work: madcap characters, semi-adult humor and state of the art graphics and animation. What they don't steal is what actually makes Pixar movies work: engaging, classic stories and themes, memorable and endearing characters and stunning artistic composition. Operation Anchorage is Dreamworks to the boxed content Fallout 3's Pixar. It's just taking the wrong elements. It is literally giving you a different game to play.
Remember the snowboard mini game in Final Fantasy VII? Imagine if that was stripped out of FF7 and offered to players later, as DLC. In a magical world where Playstation 1 DLC existed. Imagining the crapfest? That's Operation Anchorage.
Why? Why was this a good idea?
Now usually I'd say "Hey! More Fallout is more Fallout, right?" Being that I am so engrossed in Fallout lore at this point I obsessively read every dialog option and every single menu in computer terminals while looking at the Fallout wiki to piece every bit of lore together. Operation Anchorage's lore consists primarily of throwaway techno-babble, and after completing Operation Anchorage you really don't feel like the story has been expanded in any way. Add this to the fact that the end sequence is so glitchy once you exit the simulation chamber that I had absolutely no idea what was going on. There was some sort of mutiny and no one told me about it until it was over.
The ending does allow you to obtain a few choice items, however. The Chinese Stealth Suit is exceptionally useful, allowing you to have a bit of Metal Gear or Bioshock-esque active camouflage when crouching. The gauss rifle has a nice bit of knockback, and the Winterized Power Armor certainly is... winterized.
This should have been free DLC. The first DLC pack for Crackdown was more fun and added more to the game than this did, and it was offered gratis. Operation Anchorage is more Fallout, yes. But is it fun? No. No it is not. For completionists I highly recommend setting the difficulty down to "very easy" and ripping through it, nabbing the extra achievement points, the fancy new armor and continuing with your obsessive exploration of every nook and cranny of the DC ruins. Hopefully the final DLC offers more, as it raises the level cap and all... but I have my reservations about the DLC to come before that. If it's anything like Operation Anchorage... no thanks.
It's been a while since I settled in to the turn based reality of a proper JRPG. This is very likely due to my last experience being both sexually charged yet tragically marred by a girlfriend's decision to walk out with my entire system after bearing witness to some sweet moves in Final Fantasy VII. My heated relationship with Cloud simply wasn't meant to be and I never got him, or my PS, back.
I bet she overwrote my game right away, saving in the same slot over, and over, and over. A scar formed and I became damaged goods, keeping cautiously distant lest a new RPG come along only to be quickly snatched away.
Naturally there has been some progression in the genre since but the original formula still sings in Lost Odyssey which I picked up - beyond all irony - at the recommendation of the same soulless harpy that stole Cloud from me all those years ago.
I try not to dwell on that as the hours with this newer, flashier experience fly by.
Despite a sprawling disconnect with anything recent to the genre the first hour found me at home, entrenched in a womb of familiar battle casting and rich story. Lost Odyssey remains vastly formulaic and really only deviates in two areas which in turn lend to its appeal. The primary protagonist, Kaim, uncovers forgotten memories that span his thousand years spent as an Immortal. These "dreams" are presented as animated text, a lot of text, but offer a surprisingly profound back story I welcomed despite the break (see: hours) from gameplay. The other involves a timing aspect to battle scenes in the form of rings (think materia) whose benefits are unlocked with precise timing.
The rest of the game sports glimmering polish on the rest of its many facets; cut scenes are plentiful as they are beautiful (across 4 dual layer disks), musical score sufficiently reminiscent, voice acting surprisingly tolerable, and menu system instantly usable to a player that hasn't touched a JPRG in a decade. Though not everything was perfect. Some of the navigation involved either stealth movement or obstacle avoidance, low points in the game, but these are brief. Battles are random, a boon to the grinders and a curse to explorers.
As I continue through the fourth disk the experience finds me comfortably satisfied in this world, a feeling of intimacy well established with all the members in my party I find strikingly different compared to any of the characters in either Fallout 3 or Fable 2 despite heavy time spent in both. Thus far I've truly enjoyed my time spent in this technological magic revolution and find myself welcoming boss fights and back story alike. The ring system has managed to keep combat refreshingly kinetic as I pass the 40 hour mark.
So consider Lost Odyssey if you like a good JRPG but keep it close, affection properly digitized and spread over as many mediums as possible. Save game made safe lest some game-playing nymphet appear to tear Cloud, or Kaim, out of your life forever.
Learn from my mistake.
Imagine one day Shigeru Miyamoto, exhausted from years of creating standing simulators and games that aren't games decided to enlist the help of someone such as pixel god Paul Robertson to create a brand-new Zelda title to reinvigorate the franchise -- taking classic Zelda tropes and translating them into elements of an engaging arcade platformer. You'd have The Legend of Princess, seen above and created by someone named Konjak. The amount of detail and love that went into this short game (PC download only at the moment) is stunning. The sprites are instantly recognizable both as elements of Zelda games and as Konjak's unique art style. A difficult thing to pull off with such precision. Every frame of animation is optimized to provide you with the utmost satisfaction in viewing it.
It goes to show that the Legend of Zelda formula can be translated into different genres quite well. Legend of Princess has all the essentials: secret treasure chests, rupee collecting, lamp-lighting to open doors... just distilled into pure arcade-style short attention span joy. It's unfortunate that the majority of Zelda games that break the mold do so poorly at retail. I'd love a stab at something like Legend of Princess on a console.
[link via Offworld]
This week's podcast sees the intense Gamerscore competition between Jinny and Ryan finally coming to a head with Jinny sporting a five point lead. How long will this last?! Join Ross and I as we taunt the contestants, stirring them into a blood frenzy! It marks Jinny's first time completing Bioshock, and we look back at how influential that game has been in the short time since it's been released. A mailbag question then spurs a conversation about quirks and how people who tend to be geeky also tend to be... weird. A magazine we've never heard of gets sold on eBay, and then the robots finally take over. I for one welcome... you to download this week's podcast! Haha! *cough*
This past weekend found me in an unlikely place. I was contacted to provide technical support in a venue familiar but previously separated by vast physical distance and, more importantly, years of mental repression. While not an active participant in my formative years this place was a backdrop I'd never expected to revisit, a locale whose interior could transport through time with but a smell.
I'd be returning to my former grade school.
I've lost track of the venues supported in my years as an IT Goon, each one providing a minimal chance for exploration once my equipment was in place. Exclusive clubs, fancy restaurants, and sprawling convention centers all quickly blending together in a blur of bad carpet and fake plants. This was one venue I was actually looking forward to wandering, especially in its vacant and slumbering weekend state.
It didn't take long for the differences to surface, the most striking of which is central to the above image. It was taken from a classroom for 5-year olds.
What private schools boast in "value" they almost always lack in funding, this one being no different with enrollment at an all time low. I know that computers are cheaper than ever but I was surprised to see several networked in a kindergarten environment. It makes sense that connectivity, even in a filtered state, should be deemed essential to the educational process.
Given that, for the first time in recent memory, I found myself temporarily lacking both access to WiFi and cell reception I was struck by this need. As someone that up until very recently had all data connectivity costs covered as an expense for work I decided to take a snapshot of just how potent my own requirements were in terms of dollars and cents over the course of a year.
As a self-classified technophile my list of "essentials" has several components.
But as part of the larger, and highly simplified in this particular chart, picture even the luxury of uninterrupted connectivity over the course of a year accounted for less than 5% of total expenditures.
While my data rates remain in the low end, and thus vastly cheaper than average, their coverage has been reliably exceeding my needs for both work and play - collective cost on par with any other utility. What was once a luxury (specifically a smartphone data plan) is now essential and, surprisingly, easy to justify as part of the big picture especially given the benefits of real-tim e-mail. I can't imagine these rates getting any lower as quality of service requirements rise and faster connections become not only available but necessities.
It's only fitting that early exposure to connectivity is embraced by even a financially struggling school, but is my own percentage normal? I'm curious if anyone out there justifies higher bandwidth or requires additional services for personal use. You'll notice that television subscriptions are lacking in my own chart, do they justifiably hold a place in yours?
Do you utilize any of the GPS related travel services for piece of mind?
Do you see children with cell phones and question the extravagance?
As always cheaper options will garner more users, functionality becoming normal even if previously superfluous. I'm pleasantly surprised that in this modern era the costs of omnipresent connectivity have reached a comfortable purchase point.
Instead of just forgoing the podcast this week because of lack of news, Jinny, Qais and I attempt to get Ross and Ryan on the air, but something went horribly wrong with our Internet connection. So instead of depressing news of video game industry layoffs, you get us discussing mailbag questions, Fallout 3's depth and Fable 2's sex-change potion. Remember to fill up our mailbag, and subscribe to the podcast if you haven't already!
I recently acquired a GPS navigation device as a gift, thereby scratching another notch in the pock-marked yet fickle Personal Tech ScoreCard that precludes day-to-day functionality. The iPhone/PDA, the cloud computing, and now the disembodied female voice purring directions based on low orbit satellites. When I finally break down and embrace Eye-Fi, or get my Wacom to produce anything half-decent, I shall embody the pinnacle of evangelical tech symbiosis; lithe, functional, fully jacked in and devoid of restraint.
This came up in a phone conversation with a buddy:
So I installed my GPS today and it's freakin' sweet, but before it was mounted I gave the thing a test run from my glove compartment. Worked great but the phantom voice was a bit unsettling.
I don't trust any machine that has a voice.
Right, but it got me thinking about how I've never really implemented this flavor of tech in to daily life. You've seen those ads for the GPS devices that will send you a text message should your teen run in to a tree right?
So what? You'll just know they're dead sooner.
No dude, you could totally save them. Like in Signs.
Exactly, but think about it. It's piece of mind. Puts them on the grid.
Yeah, but it's also controlling, micro managing, and ultimately you'll just know they're dead sooner.
A grim outlook to say the least, but this dialogue reminded of time spent back in the day being paid laughable sums of money to enable wireless communications and teaching, among other things, the basics of GPS navigation to a group of irascible users. The tech has certainly improved since but I can guarantee you those same guys are sporting grease penciled, self-laminated maps in hand's reach alongside the latest in GPS electronica.
Tech should support without being a crutch. As a hopeless soul lacking even the basest sense of direction the smallest of excursions require diligent foresight, hand drawn maps often supplementing sprawling print outs for use while driving. While thrilled with side-of-the-street precision in my new device I fear that this will be inline spell-check all over again, the trappings of which have crippled competence in any medium without.
Yet I imagine this reliance as nothing new, sea faring men of old relying on treasured sextants as much as a star-filled clear sky. Our propensity as tool makers is unavoidable, reliance predictable, and desire for implementation natural. Whatever instinctual sense once shared with migrating flocks has since been buried in a deluge of invisible frequency, sterilized from wavelength and rendered impotent by amplitude.
I shall embrace this new device with its far reach communique and throaty imperative. I will continue to sneak glances at my watch's digital compass whenever emerging from the subway, overpowering my geographic ignorance with a discreet confidence not only in tech but my nature as a tool-sporting human. Tell me where to go, invisible space lady, for I am listening.
This week's podcast reveals that Ross Rosenberg is, in fact, the final cylon. You read it here first, people. Join me, Jinny and Ryan in exposing him. In addition to the excitement leading up to the premiere of the new Battlestar Galactica season, we geek out about other shows coming back on the air. TV! Where did you go?! We talk Fable II DLC, briefly mention CES and wonder who gives a crap (maybe you give a crap?) and Fallout 3. We then clean out the mailbag, so be sure to send your questions to fill it back up again.
*This post but tip-toes around the idea of suggesting game content/plot, barely mentioning the games Fallout 3, Fable 2, Bioshock, and Portal. Purists beware.
The older I get the more my moral palette shifts, black and white merging to a solid gray which envelops subjects previously immune. Increased information breeds a complicating density that cuts facets in even the sheerest of topics, new dimensions compounding earlier standpoints and thereby rendering them obsolete.
One such arena is that of the Spoiler.
Having proudly sported the label of "Anti-Spoiler Purist" (which means zero external input) it was not quietly that I changed camps, only recently allowing concessions that previously contradicted my own personal dogma. There's a one-time magic to discovery in any medium, be it literature/movie/video game, and the preservation of such something I saw as not only critical but sacred to the designer's intended work. Anything diluting that singular experience was to be outright avoided, a task whose difficulty has only increased over the years regardless of medium.
The twist near the end of Bioshock, ending to Braid, or initial exposure to Portal's subversive scrawling are all worthy of such preservation, but with the advance of increasingly dynamic and less linear games there are often experiences that can be entirely absent from the experience unless a line is crossed in to Spoiler Territory.
Take Fallout 3 and to a lesser extent Fable 2. Both offer varied game play based on the player's choices to the point where consequences could be irreversible. While the differences in personal experience are certainly a strength, some of the side quests are not to be missed. Armed with the knowledge that completion of the main story in Fallout 3 would bar my continued exploration of the incredibly rich, sprawling wasteland my game play experience was substantially broadened. Conversely, my ignorance of the consequences of choosing "The Needs of the Many" at the end of Fable 2 has soured my potential enjoyment of the yet unreleased DLC.
It's a thin line and undoubtedly a dangerous one as a single blurb can separate the unacceptable from the enriching. As such I'd prefer to err on the side of caution, relying on carefully crafted hints from trusted gaming accomplices. In truth such suggestions do not Spoil, motivations instead pushing towards a richer appreciation. It is this shift in intent that changed my stance from Purist to Realist.
So where do you draw the line? Do you prowl GameFaqs for the hidden areas in Serious Sam? Rely on word of mouth? Or do you isolate the game entirely, prolonging anticipation at the risk of missing something awesome?
On this first podcast of the new year, Jinny, Ross, Ryan and I contemplate the existence of top of the year lists. Are they actually useful, or are they just masturbatory? We also talk about what we're looking forward to in 2009, and some new technologies we've adopted in 08 in order to make our lives better. There is also a lengthy discussion about headphones. You've been warned. Download it now or subscribe to the feed! Or both!
There is a unique quality to the coming year not unlike that of a natural disaster, a unifying sense of shared situation despite social standing or personal opinion. In the midst of a power outage or sudden snowfall community ties bloom, people unite, and, mostly, the best in us shines. "We're all in this together!" is echoed on a city bus full of sodden commuters or the brave that trudge hip deep, flashlight in hand. New Years is a similar force of nature in its power of group reflection and collective ambition for the year ahead.
For a few days, at least.
As such I have looked back on my 2008 ventures in tech hoping not only to ensure continued improvement but to reflect on several adoptions that will propel me boldly through 2009. Some were long overdue, others a chance encounter whose advantages are now taken for granted, but all have greatly changed how I functioned daily through the last year.
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