18 November, 2012

Undying (not the old Clive Barker game)

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 18 November, 2012

It's been a while. It felt like the blog had perhaps ran its course, like perhaps gaming had run its course for me. But here I am, back again. Enjoying what I love / in the throes of recidivism, retreating from reality. You make the call.


Charmont will continue, but not really. I was ready to really get into it up front. I was working on a back story for my character. Why didn't he still live in the forest, if he cared so much about the tribes? Why did he live as a craftsman in the city without any connections there? I wanted answers to these questions that would add a little depth to our collective experience. But then it took over a month to get our second session together, and our third session was cancelled earlier today. I will show up to Charmont.

Blood Bowl

The same pretty much goes for Blood Bowl. We've had three weeks in the season, and I've always had to be the person who initiates contact, and every time through multiple channels, to get the game underway.

Foosball and Street Fighter

I now only play these games for fun. After some accusations and rules mongering silliness, I decided I don't give a care about the bragging rights and a t-shirt that winning represents. I took myself off of both ladders. I still get asked to play foosball every other day and Street Fighter once or twice a week. That's probably a healthy amount.

Also I watched Thomas and Ki mess around with some random characters on Saturday. It was fun. Abel's ability to combo an opponent halfway across the field was amazing and Hakan's oil covered antics were hilarious.

Borderlands 2

I finished a playthrough of Borderlands 2. I don't think it will have the endurance that Borderlands 1 did for me. That's partly because I'm not made of free time anymore, but also because the difficulty for playthrough two ramps up fast enough that it's not really fun anymore. Plus the game adds a bunch of new enemy types with different elemental properties, so I have to carry way more guns and spend way more time in menus swapping between them. It's less fun the second time around.

Otherwise, it's a slightly better version of the original game. As with the General Knox DLC, they do a better job of characterizing the villain. They set the stakes higher by letting some named characters from the first game die (and revisiting the one friendly character who died in the first game). Mechanically it seemed like the random number generators behind the loot system were doing a better job of giving me interesting choices.


Given the amount of games I'm playing that I'm not really enthusiastic about, I would understand if you viewed this as recidivism. But in all those cases, it's the people surrounding the games and the circumstances of their lives that cause the trouble. The games are fine. They teach patterns, they teach math, they broaden experience, they entertain. Okay, they maybe do the first three (and sometimes even the fourth) less than they should, but that's the same in every medium, especially when budgets are big.

14 October, 2012

Not Dead

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 14 October, 2012

But I have been sick. :P

Torchlight 2

As I get further along and commit to certain skill paths and weapon setups, the amount of interesting decisions I make get further between. I may use it for digital knitting when I listen to podcasts, or I may just leave it alone until it's time for co-op.


Some of the folks from work are starting a weekend Pathfinder game. Pathfinder is basically the traditionalists version of D&D as D&D keeps getting reinvented / mainstreamed. If there are no objections I'll probably start writing up our adventures and maybe some backstory for my character here.

Blood Bowl

There's also a Blood Bowl league being started by folks at work. I picked up the game and played through the tutorial (which is colorful but a bit of a slog) and one beginner game to get an idea of play. I was a quarter of the way through the game before I realized players could stand up after getting knocked down. :P

Street Fighter IV

The foosball table at work is having problems. The silver paint is cracking off the rods. The table surface has warped. One of the sets of ball bearings keeps losing its cover. So what does the boss do? He goes out and buys a 360, some fancy fight sticks, and Street Fighter IV. I lead a strange life where most of my gaming is work related.

03 October, 2012

Torchlight 2 and Operation Raccoon City

written by Blain Newport on Wednesday, 3 October, 2012

Sorry for the delay, but at least I've been playing something. Matthew discussed changing one of his co-op Tuesdays to a Torchlight 2 night. I still can't believe we played through Titan Quest and the expansion from beginning to end. To get acquainted with Torchlight 2 I rolled a berserker and played through level 17.

It's fun to run around and stab things, but I wonder if I'm doing it wrong by mostly buying passive abilities. I don't even use my right click special attack, much less any other special abilities. I just gave my bulldog a fireball scroll so one of us can finally do some magic.

Here we are messing up some jerks.

Operation Raccoon City ran like a slide show, which is disappointing as Capcom PC ports have been pretty solid for a good while now. The game itself didn't much for me, but from what I've heard, Resident Evil 6 is pretty underwhelming, so hoping for much from this collection of side stories wouldn't have been realistic.

23 September, 2012

I Almost Played A Game

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 23 September, 2012

True to their word, Gearbox sent me a copy of Borderlands 2, which I hastily installed. Unfortunately this PC, which was fine for the original, crashes before I can get past the menus. Sometimes it's a graphics driver initialization error. Sometimes it's an out of memory error which has caused some speculation that the game doesn't play well with 32 bit operating systems. I saw some flickering black triangles which were reminiscent of the problems I had with Bulletstorm and Saints Row The Third. Regardless, I did not play much this week.

Because I am sick of having nothing to write in this space, I will recommend a couple items from Netflix. {goes to look through recently watched} Nope. I can't even do that much. I saw Capote, a dramatized version of the process by which Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood. The subject matter is unpleasant, but it's honest and very well made. The only other thing I gave four stars to was Robocop, but there's too much nostalgia involved for me to consider that a solid endorsement.

I fail at fun. :(

16 September, 2012


written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 15 September, 2012

I played twenty minutes more of Republic Commando. It's still good.

I tried to pick up where I left off on Legend of Grimrock. I think I'm done. A lot of the game seems to be moving backwards in circles to stab enemies so they can't stab me back. It's like Serious Sam with a super clunky interface and knives instead of guns. :P

I tried to play the newly free first person co-op online game Love. But the learning curve is really steep, and what people were doing didn't look more interesting than MineCraft.

Mostly I've been playing Netflix. After the disappointments of the Star Wars prequels, Matrix sequels, and Superman Returns I stopped watching movies for years. I have a lot to catch up on.

09 September, 2012


written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 9 September, 2012

I tried a few indie games, some that were highly recommended (Thirty Flights of Loving, Soul Jelly, 1916). Nothing grabbed me.

My copy of Borderlands 2 for attending the Gearbox panel at PAX 2011 should be coming, so some workmanlike dude shooting is on the horizon.

I find myself wandering through my Steam catalog trying to find anything to get excited about. I'd like to finish my They Hunger LP, but I've played a bit of the start of Act 2, and it's not better than Act 1.

I played a little Republic Commando. It's still good, but I've played it enough.

I dinked around with the SEGA Genesis collection. I was half tempted to get the Shining Force Irregulars back together. But I've played that enough, too. I had fun hitting up the music tests to listen to the soundtracks.

"Now it's over. I'm dead, and I haven't done anything I want. Or I'm still alive, and there's nothing I want to do." - They Might Be Giants

02 September, 2012

The Darkness 2

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 2 September, 2012

First off, I'm not at PAX, but since nothing solid came out of my body between Thursday morning and Saturday night, that's probably for the best.

Second off, I played the Alan Wake DLC, American Nightmare. The combat is a little better, but the production values are worse. It's okay.

The Darkness 2

I've heard The Darkness is strange and good. I own a copy and look forward to someday having a 360 to play it on.

The Darkness 2 doesn't seem strange. I'd say it's pretty straightforward, by video game standards. The player is a mafia boss who's inherited a demonic power that wants to control him and made him watch his girlfriend's brutal murder. At some level, it's just an excuse to have crazy powers that make the game not just another FPS.

As an FPS with crazy powers, it's kinda cool.

I mean, look at that picture. That poor schlub is being pulled from cover by my darkling companion and between the two guns, slashing tentacle, and finishing tentacle, can really only hope for a quick death. It feels like too many tools to do the same job sometimes. Plus the finishing animations get old very quickly.

Luckily, the game isn't all combat. They mix things up with dream sequences and sequences where you can go talk to the colorful characters who make up your mafia family. Devotees of the comics these games are based on probably get more out of those encounters than I do, but they were still good. I think I preferred Alan Wake's quirky mountain town people to the mafia stereotypes here, but I preferred the action of The Darkness 2, so it evens out. They're all okay games.

26 August, 2012

Alan Wake

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 26 August, 2012

I finished Binary Domain. For the most part, last week's opinion stands. It's a big dumb action game with some gimmicks that kinda sorta work.

I ended up resenting the trust system because getting the best ending would have meant so much pointless praising and gaming the system that it would have detracted from the experience. And the ending made no sense. But it was a fun ride for $10.

Alan Wake

You are looking at the major strong point of Alan Wake. It has very nice environments and a quaint mountain town with some likeable characters.

Unfortunately you see less and less of them as the game goes on, and the "serious" parts of Alan Wake aren't nearly as interesting. The combat is mediocre, suffering from little variety, a flaky feeling dodge mechanic, camera issues, and unavoidable deaths due to chaining stuns. The plot obviously isn't going anywhere and is just a pretext for scares and psychobabble, neither of which add up to much.

Still, it was a good PC port, and I enjoyed the production values, the atmosphere, and the short time spent with AI companions. I should probably just watch Twin Peaks.

Northern California Pre-PAX meetup

I was too slow to get passes for PAX this year (The three day passes sold out in six hours.), but I still got to visit with the Nor Cal folks who'll be headed up there next weekend. It was good times, and I was assured they'd have some extra fun on my behalf. :)

19 August, 2012

Binary Domain

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 19 August, 2012

Binary Domain was Sega's attempt at a Gears of War style game, released in February this year, less than a month before Mass Effect 3. It pretty much went nowhere sales-wise. But for ten bucks on a Steam sale, I was still willing to see just how bad of a train wreck it was. (It should be noted that I did skim the Steam forum for the game first to make sure there weren't major technical issues. Between From Dust and Toy Soldiers I've been burned enough lately.)

It turns out it's not much of a train wreck at all, just a big dumb action game with a few gimmicks that kinda sorta work.

Let's start with the big dumb action game stuff.

Big Dumb Action Game Checklist

Silly body armor? Check.

Multinational team of stereotypical bad asses? Check.

Gears of War camera and mechanics? Check.

Traumatic childhood memories likely leading to an endgame revelation / catharsis? Check.

"Extreme" Quick Time Events? Check.

Late title card? Check.

Initial meet-up in E. Honda's stage from Street Fighter?

Check? (Of course for all I know, half the bath houses in Japan have cloudy Mount Fuji murals.)

Regardless, it definitely qualifies as a big dumb action game.

Additional Gimmicks That Kinda Sorta Work

You Fight Robots - That's not a new thing, but it's well done. Shoot off limbs to cripple them. Shoot off heads to make them turn on their allies. It works.

You Have Companions - While they may be stereotypes, the companions still feel like a net positive on the experience to me. They're not in the same league as Delta Squad in Republic Commando or Alyx Vance in the Half-Life 2 episodes, but they do have one advantage over both.

You Can Talk To Them - It's janky as heck, but the game has a voice input system. After I learned a few phrases that actually worked it was cool to be able to compliment an ally on a nice shot, apologize for friendly fire, call out tactics, and respond to simple questions from the team. There is definitely some convoluted irony around the jankiness of the voice system forcing the player to talk like a robot to be understood by his or her computerized companions as they fight against robots.

They Might Matter - Every companion has a trust meter. If the player does well in combat and gets along with them, it will rise. Since the player gets multiple opportunities to pick which team members they'll be working with, this makes for some interesting choices. "I like so-and-so, and so-and-so's combat specialty might be useful for what's coming up. But so-and-so's trust meter is maxed, so it might be wiser to take someone else." Not having finished the game, I can't say whether this will ultimately be rewarding or a waste of time...

Good Bad Theatrics - While it's definitely a big dumb action game, it's pretty good at it. The pacing and variety are the keys. Shoot some robots. Slide down a long tunnel. Shoot some robots. Meet up with some allies and chat. Shoot a boss robot in the glowy bits. Jump in a vehicle for a turret sequence. Enter a new setting. Meet some new characters. Shoot some robots.

So far I'm liking it. We'll see if I manage to finish it by next Sunday.

12 August, 2012

No Post

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 11 August, 2012

I didn't play much this week and there was a death in a friends family.

05 August, 2012

Splinter Cell: Convition Spoilers

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 4 August, 2012


Sam's daughter lives. Sam gets three-eyed goggles.


Stealth games are really hard to do well. If the opponents are too easy to sneak up on, it's busy work. If they're too hard to sneak up on it feels unfair. Waiting for patrols can be super dull. There are a lot of pitfalls.

Conviction gets around most of them. There's fair warning when Sam's close to being spotted, so there's less trial and error. There are often multiple viable ways to get through a section, so it didn't feel too constrained or monotonous. The way enemies peek from cover gives the player a nice window to sneak from hiding spot to hiding spot and flank them. It's stealth I don't hate, which is an accomplishment.

The always online DRM disrupted my game twice, which is probably also an accomplishment, but still lousy.

UPDATE: Not only is it the DRM lousy, but I just started reading the gaming news for the week and apparently the browser plugin Ubisoft installs with all their games has a vulnerability that opens your PC to scripting attacks.

29 July, 2012

Death for Children

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 29 July, 2011

This is the beginning of Splinter Cell: Conviction. You're Sam Fisher, super secret spy guy. In the tutorial, you protect your home from criminals by murdering them. I forget whether your daughter sees you kill them or just sees the bodies, but the game treats the violence so lightly (as most games do) that none of it has any dramatic weight.

The story then jumps forward many years. Sam's daughter has died in a car accident. He's quit the spy game because he has nothing left to spy for. I don't think it takes three minutes before someone is telling you your daughter isn't really dead and you're back to shooting mans in the name of patriotism.

I often say that the stories in games aren't worth talking about. This is the type of thing I mean. It's so ham handed that I'm actually glad the execution is lackluster. It's what half-hearted, manipulative writing deserves.

22 July, 2012


written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 21 July, 2012

Technically it's Fear 3, but they wrote it F.3.A.R. on the cover, so I sometimes call it Fuh-Threar.

I didn't bother taking any pictures on my trip through Fear 3, so here's a picture from the original Fear I've had stashed away.

Apparently I was having a good day with the spike gun to get so many head shots.

So, yeah. Fear 3.

It's totally a game. There's shooting... with guns.

Aw, who am I kidding. I'd like to care about the story in the game, but none of the characters are interesting or sympathetic, so it doesn't matter if they get what they want. The art's pretty good (although the combination of depth of field blurriness and environments the same color as the enemies was a problem for gameplay). There's some nice music. And if you like cat scares (minus any actual cats), say no more.

Still, I'm glad I only paid five dollars.

The Steam summer sale is just about over. It seems like the voting deals and flash deals were just upcoming daily deals, which makes them fairly pointless. I picked up a few games so that I'd never have to dig up the CDs again. I added a few games that won't run on my system for whenever I finally upgrade. And there are a couple other games I'll actually play and write about (L.A. Noire and Legend of Grimrock).

It wasn't terribly exciting, but I'm old and jaded, so that's to be expected. The bar to get me excited is so high the FAA requires flashing lights on it.

15 July, 2012

Steam Summer Sale and From Dust

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 14 July, 2012

The Steam Summer Sale is on. To make sure people don't miss the daily sales, each sale runs 36 hours, which means there are two lists of daily deals. Plus there are "flash sales" that last for 12 hours and occur at somewhat irregular intervals. Plus there is a community choice deal where users vote on one of three deals that will last for eight hours. It's more than I want to keep track of.

It's partly the structure of the sale. It's partly that I've played so much that I've become jaded. And it's partly that I'm working ten hour days and don't have much time for games or gaming. I don't care how cheap Skyrim gets. I'm never going to have the time.

The one thing I've snagged out of the summer sale is From Dust. I knew it was probably a mistake, but Eric Chahi made some strange and cool games, so I figured $3.74 was just a small tip for previous works.

It's fairly pretty. You can use lava to build bridges in water, or water to put out fires or make plants grow in arid soil. It's intuitive.

And when your villagers are thriving they turn your islands into tribal used car lots, which is amusing.

But the game chugs at a painfully slow frame rate which makes wielding amazing godlike power feel like doing chores. And the mechanics the game has added thus far have only added busywork, not entertainment. If I remember, I'll give the game another try when I buy my next computer. But it's more likely that I just threw a little money away.

I could have had a pupusa!

08 July, 2012

Legendary and Gaikai Sold

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 7 July, 2012

Legendary's okay. It gives you fantasy elements like castles and flocks of griffons.

By contrast, it also gives you subway stations full of dead people.

I do not recommend it. But for for an investment of $1.69 and five hours, I got to shoot some monsters.

Seriously, though. It's July. Where's the Steam summer sale?

[goes to Google]

Ah. The bundles that will be in the sale apparently leaked to the internet at large Friday night. regular / indie

Cloud gaming isn't great for me. I like action games and they're laggy on cloud services. That could improve significantly if developers started targeting the cloud specifically, but even with the lag there are many games that work fine on the cloud. And the fact that users can instantly start playing without messing with a disc or waiting for a download is very convenient and increases impulse buys.

To my knowledge, OnLive and Gaikai were the only serious contenders in this space, and Sony just bought Gaikai. If someone else buys OnLive, there may be enough patents between them to keep cloud gaming locked up for twenty years.

Regardless, Sony develops and publishes a broad range of content and can distribute it digitally to every place users could want it. Theoretically this puts them in a strong position moving forward, but I don't know enough about Sony's internals to predict whether they'll be able to capitalize.

Of course with many ISPs and countries having individual data caps that make prolonged HD streaming infeasible, it may be that Sony's at the starting line a day before the race.

We live in interesting times.

03 July, 2012

Uh, Foosball?

written by Blain Newport on Monday, 2 July, 2012

Outside of Matthew's Tuesday night game of TF2, I didn't play any video games. They have a Foosball table at work. I stink at it, but it's kind of a game, right?

Nah. I just don't have time for games now. I have a new job with lots of stuff to learn.

I don't even have time to read much about games. I think I killed over half the feeds in my RSS reader, and I just skim the remainder. I don't even have time for podcasts, which I can listen to while I have dinner.

At some point I will buy a 360 and will likely derive a lot of enjoyment from Bayonetta. It feels like the last great game I haven't played.

I'll still make some videos, try things when they go on sale, game a bit socially, and think about games from time to time. But compared to the last four years...

"All I have to worry about are the Klingons, the Dominion, and the Maquis. I feel like I'm on vacation." -Benjamin Sisko

24 June, 2012

Ghosts of San Francisco

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 24 June, 2012

I picked up Driver: San Francisco because I'd heard good things and it was on sale. It's a driving game with a weird premise. You're a cop chasing a crook when your car gets hit. Your character gets put into a coma, but now your spirit can fly around and possess other drivers.

My physical body has been loaded inside the ambulance. I have possessed the driver and now have to drive my body to the hospital before I die.

Even if you can follow what's going on, it doesn't really make sense. Ambulance drivers know how to drive fast, and they know the route to the hospital much better than the player.

But that's the least of the nonsense in this game. Even though you and your partner got t-boned by a semi, there's still a car with the two of you on the road. Not only that, but when you float around the city to find a mission, then come back to the ghost car with you and your partner, your partner is talking to you like you've been with him in the car the whole time, not saying anything. There's even more weirdness, but there's no point in talking about it.

Coming right off of Far Cry 2, I was hoping that Ubisoft's PC port for Driver SF would be just as good. But it's got frame rate issues which make the driving feel lousy, so its madness will have to wait for my next PC. Given my buying habits, that should be early 2017.

17 June, 2012


written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 16 June, 2012

I played Far Cry 2 a while back and felt sort of okay about it. It came up super cheap on a Steam sale, so I paid the "never have to find my disc again" tax and spent some time with it.

The thing I really like about that game is it's engine and the sense of place it creates. When I drive under a tree the shadows of the branches and leaves just flow over my avatar and my vehicle in a way that lets me believe. And the level of detail system keeps the frame rate high, which keeps that feeling unbroken. I start thinking about how hot it must be, how humid; how it must smell. It's also fun to drive through bushes and watch them fly apart. And it's nice to see African animals running around. It's the game part that wrecks it.

I'm not saying the combat is bad. Enemies try to flank, so you have to be vigilant. Stuff gets set on fire, cutting off avenues of attack / escape. Opponents attack from a couple different ranges. Ubisoft Montreal didn't just plop out another generic FPS.

But every time I look at my map and see enemy checkpoints between me and my destination, it makes me sad.

It makes me appreciate other open world games a lot more. The option to just enjoy the environment is very valuable. Maybe I'll go run around a bit in Prototype.

Or maybe I should get back to that They Hunger video series. :P

There's still a lot of E3 chatter in the enthusiast press as people firm up their opinions. I didn't notice any valuable epiphanies, but here's a public service message.

Asynchronous multiplayer allows people to play a game together, but not at the same time.

Asymmetrical multiplayer allows people to play a game together, but with different game abilities and / or information.

A multiplayer game can feature neither, one, or both.

(Multiple enthusiast press folks got those terms confused.)

10 June, 2012

E3 Wrap Up

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 9 June, 2012

Wii U

Reaction to the Wii U and the software shown for it was tepid. The enthusiast press were underwhelmed, but then many of them were also underwhelmed by the DS and the Wii, which sold great.


There were a fair amount of games people were excited about (Halo 4, The Last of Us, Dishonored, Star Wars 1313; Watch Dogs). A few of them will release this year. A few others were not given release dates and looked too good to work on current consoles, lending credence to rumors that MS and Sony will release new hardware next year. And trapped in between are the many, many games aiming to release in early 2013. It'll be a rough first quarter, methinks.


John Carmack likes to take a break between games to do research, often revisiting old ideas that weren't ready for prime time. Roughly 15 years ago he looked into VR headset technology and decided it wasn't practical. After Rage he decided to give it another look and believes he can make something awesome. It's still in the early stages, but within a year or two we may all look this cool.

Also, Unreal Engine 4 has a lot of snazzy features. Epic games has said that they're pushing the console manufacturers to make sure they provide hardware powerful enough to support all this new chrome.

05 June, 2012

Nintendo Press Conference

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, 5 June, 2012

Nintendo's press conference is hard for me to judge, as I'm not their target demographic. Sure, they showed some stuff for core gamers. And I guess you could say they did as well as Sony in that regard. They didn't have as many interesting games, but factor in the novelty of Wii U controls, and it's about equal.

They showed a zombie game from Ubisoft which could turn out gimmicky or delightful, depending on how much polish they can give it. (concept video)

I'll be curious to read the reviews of Batman: Arkham City for the Wii U. (concept video) Most of the "additions" look pretty dubious, but I'll reserve judgement.

Depending how these games turn out, I might eventually be interested in owning a Wii U.

But, again, I'm not the target. The question is if this new system will have the same mass market appeal as the Wii. I checked the New York Times, Reuters, the Associated Press, USA Today, and the LA Times (which didn't even have an article).

Nobody knows. The New York Times columnist (Seth Schiesel) gave a tentative thumbs up, but everyone else either had no guess or asked the opinions of enthusiast press people who are the wrong demographic.

Addendum (3:30pm): There's a well loved horror franchise called Fatal Frame where you have to survive in a haunted environment with only a camera to defend yourself. If there's no Wii U sequel / homage to Fatal Frame, the gaming industry as a whole has failed.

Sony Press Conference

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, 5 June, 2012

I'll be brief. Sony showed some games. Some of them looked good. They gave even less lip service to the Vita than I thought they would.

For me personally, it was slightly better than Microsoft's press conference because they weren't pushing MS Smart Glass.

04 June, 2012

Microsoft Press Conference

written by Blain Newport on Monday, 4 June, 2012

Better With Kinect

To demonstrate Kinect voice commands, a player speaks to make a character in an action game call in an air strike. Audibles are called in sports games. These are not bad things, but it only takes some simple math to prove they aren't worthwhile.

Publishers believe that the money Microsoft pays them to make voice commands for Kinect only is more than the extra copies they would sell (across all platforms) if they gave everyone with a headset access to this "amazing new feature".

Live Anywhere 2

Announcing MS Smart Glass! Yep, Microsoft's cross device initiative that died on the vine in 2006 is back and so withered it's hardly recognizable.

In 2006 Microsoft was talking about the future of games. Buy once, play on any device. Edit your race cars on your PC and phone, then race them on the Xbox. Play multiplayer games across all supported platforms. It was ambitious and cool.

If the 2012 edition succeeds in every way, it will be a dismal failure by 2006's standards. Microsoft's lead feature was being able to pick up watching a movie on your TV from where you left off watching it on your mobile device. They'll save you the two seconds it took to read and remember the time index and the three seconds it takes you to skip ahead on your TV.

The rest of the features (supplementary info during video viewing and gaming, using the tablet as a controller, web browsing) were also uninteresting.

Maybe they think a little tablet integration will make people ignore the Wii U, but that's wasted effort. The Wii U will sink or swim based on software designed for it's unique abilities.

As far as I'm concerned, Microsoft had nothing to show this year.

03 June, 2012

Best Humble Indie Bundle Ever

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 3 June, 2012

The E3 update was fun to research / write, but I would be remiss if I didn't point you towards the fifth Humble Indie Bundle.

It's Bastion (if you pay over the average) plus Psychonauts, Amnesia, Limbo, and Sword & Sworcery. You can download them all, DRM free. Plus you get the soundtracks. Plus you get Steam codes. Plus all games have Mac and Linux versions. Plus you are (at your discretion) supporting charity. Plus they tend to add a game or two later on to get a sales bump, and if you buy the bundle before then (paying over the average), you get any additional game(s) for free.

I almost never post deals here. In fact, I created the deals label just for this post. But this bundle is amazing. And the current average price is ~$8. It's insane.

It's E3 Time Again

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 2 June, 2012

The industry trade and press show known as E3 will be starting soon.


Their new console, the Wii U, was announced at E3 last year. It's roughly as powerful as a 360 or PS3, but in addition to supporting Wii motion controls, it has a dual stick controller with a large touch screen on it.

The performance bump is nice for developers because it becomes easier to create a game that will run on all three consoles. But the Wii U isn't going to succeed because it can play the same games as everyone else. Nintendo needs to show consumers and retailers the software that will distinguish the Wii U.


The number of of Sony's game announcements that were leaked ahead of their E3 2011 press conference became comical. Outside of Naughty Dog's latest (and the slim possibility of an appearance by The Last Guardian), there doesn't seem to be any game the press are universally hyped about. Hopefully this just means Sony improved their security.

Sony's trying to get traction with Vita, their new portable system. According to gamesindustry.biz Sony will be bringing PS1 and PS2 games to the PS3 and possibly Vita using the Gaikai cloud gaming platform. That could put a lot of good, cheap games on the Vita for people with reliable mobile internet connections who don't mind a bit of lag.


Microsoft claims to have a number of world exclusive game announcements at their press conference. I'm betting more than half of them are Kinect titles.

Microsoft will lie about how much they care about Windows gaming, as they always do when they roll out a new OS. Just remember that over the last two years (2010 and 2011) Microsoft published four games for the PC and sixteen games for the Xbox. (source)

And they will apparently be making another push for Live Anywhere, the cross device connectivity initiative that, to my knowledge, hasn't moved the needle since it was announced at E3 2006.

Also everyone will probably announce new / enhanced music, video, and social media features / partnerships. I said it before, and I'll say it again: this overpriced generation was about conquering the living room (except for Nintendo). The question at this point is whether Smart TVs (with OnLive and Netflix integration, for example) can eventually cut the consoles out of the equation.

You may recall that I predicted MS and Sony console announcements at E3 this year. Barring a miracle, I was wrong. Sony almost certainly isn't announcing anything, and according to Arthur Gies of Rebel FM, Microsoft was planning an early announcement to steal a bit of Nintendo's thunder but had to call it off for some reason. Hey, if it means Microsoft's new hardware won't require over a billion dollars of repair work, I say delay it two years. :P

27 May, 2012

Pretty Brainless

written by Blain Newport on Thursday, 24 May, 2012

Last week we had the simulated pretties with Assassin's Creed 2. This week we have imaginary pretties with Avatar.

Even on my older computer, the foliage looks pretty good. And if I was playing the game in 3D, that plant on the right would probably stick out and give the scene a lot of depth. But that's a double edged sword because while other games would make that tree transparent so that I could still see my character, enemies, etc. Avatar will let you block the camera with it, even if you're in 2D mode. :P

But there's more to Avatar than just pretty graphics. There's also weighty moral choice.

If you shoot the guy on the left, you're friends with the guy on the right, and vice versa. That's weighty, isn't it?

I suppose this would make the game replayable at least once so that you could see the different outcomes. But the tasks in the game are so repetitive that even a single playthrough was more than I was interested in. Meh. It was pretty and as part of my expiring GameTap subscription I feel like I didn't pay anything for it, per se.

20 May, 2012

Brick Killed A Guy

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 19 May, 2012

I'd heard that Assassin's Creed 2 fixed many of the initial game's problems, so I gave it a whirl this week. For me the game was an improvement, but still felt very repetitive.

Maybe I'm just burned out, but the traversal and combat felt even duller than I remember them. I would let out a groan every time my next mission objective was halfway across the map because that meant another few minutes of my life wasted. Supposedly you need to stay on your toes so the guards don't attack you and so you can spot hidden treasure, but the guards are never a serious problem and I had over a quarter million excess florins by the end of the game.

The charms of the story were similarly lost on me. The characters felt lifeless enough that I didn't care what they were going through or want to piece together any of the silly sci-fi conspiracy surrounding them.

For me the star of the game was the setting. I was fortunate enough to get to visit some of the game's locations some years ago. Here are a couple comparison shots.

This is the Duomo of Florence, the city's largest cathedral. There's a tower next to the cathedral, which is where this picture was taken from.

Here's a similar picture from higher up inside the game's version of the tower. They didn't model the interior all the way down. The cathedral looks similar enough to give the right impression, I think.

Here's the game's ground level view of the tower and the cathedral. The bench the player is sitting on isn't actually there in real life. In fact, I think he'd be sitting in the middle of the street in real life.

As you can see, if the player is sitting basically in front of the tower, where he's sitting should be empty space. There are a lot of reasons you can't have that in a video game. For one thing, that much open space is uninteresting from a gameplay perspective. If the guards are chasing you, there's not much to do with a big open space except run. Also, big open spaces mean drawing a lot of buildings at once, which can be a performance problem.

That said, I missed the Baptistery, the smaller building that sits in front of the cathedral in real life. It predates the cathedral by two hundred years and has amazing bronze doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti that Michelangelo said were suitable to be the gates of paradise. I was told that Michelangelo wept when he saw them for the first time. I suppose the developers had their reasons for not including the Baptistery. But I remembered those doors from my trip and was looking forward to seeing them. I mean, they're pretty awesome.

13 May, 2012

A Tumbleweed Rolls By

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 13 May, 2012

Real Life has been taking precedence over gaming. I still game a bit socially. But that's hanging out with friends time, not thinking about games time. But even though I don't have first hand experiences to tell you about, I can point you towards an experience worth sharing.

Arma 2 is a military simulation more than a game. So when users modified it to make a zombie simulation, it became something strange and wonderful. I recommend checking out part two of this video series. The whole thing is pretty great, really. My favorite line is probably "He's Russian, but he's not that Russian." :D

07 May, 2012

Still With the Crickets Mostly

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 6 May, 2012

I played some Phantom Dust. It's still good. And replaying old missions lets me experiment with different decks and buy new cards at the same time.

I played through the entire first chapter of They Hunger. I recorded it. But it wasn't good, which is probably equal parts me and the mod. Neither of us have aged well. :)

They Hunger spends a lot of time forcing you to kill zombies with what is effectively the Half-Life 1 crowbar. It's tedious. But once you get a gun, it's mostly trivial. Then they add zombie police with pistols which are difficult to kill without taking damage unless you encounter them at range and have ammo for your sniper rifle, in which case they're trivial. There are a few decent set pieces, but nothing that leaves much of an impression. I have no idea how I'll make this not suck, but I can't put it off any longer.

29 April, 2012

All Quiet

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 29 April, 2012

I have played some games but nothing of consequence. And E3 is coming up pretty soon, so the gaming news scene is also very quiet. Publishers want to save up their big announcements for when the most eyes turn towards the gaming business. That's a double edged sword as everyone else is doing the same, but people like to delude themselves into thinking that their clever marketing plan win out over everyone else's clever marketing plans.

I will start my videos for They Hunger (a mod for Half-Life) soonish, probably next Monday. I keep putting it off because I'm not really fond of They Hunger and I have no idea how playing something I don't particularly enjoy will be entertaining. Other people get frustrated, which can be fun to watch. But I just get sad. :(

But I will start They Hunger because that's the only way to finish it, and I am eager to get started with Phantom Dust. That LP could be a giant mass of fail, but the mechanisms I'm building to support it are strange and possibly wonderful, and I want to see how it turns out.

It's good to want things.

23 April, 2012

D3 Beta and Phantom Dust

written by Blain Newport on Monday, 23 April, 2012

Diablo 3 had it's open beta last weekend.

Yep. You still hit guys until candy comes out.

Blizzard's done a great job of making me feel powerful. In Titan Quest, it takes a few hours before you can do enough damage to really throw skeletons and beast men around. In Diablo 3, almost every hit results in a pain animation and nearby bodies and debris flying about. The amount of physics involved means the frame rate sometimes takes a nosedive on my older hardware, but that's to be expected.

For the most part, the Battle.net integration worked fine. But every now and then I'd get snapped back because my input didn't make it to the server. Once I even manged to click on two enemies, wait a second, then watch them both take the hits and fall over. As long as I'm playing on normal difficulty, that's probably fine. But Diablo 3 has a hardcore mode where if your character dies it's erased on the server. I'd hate put days of play into a character then die due to an internet hiccup.

I tried all five classes and my favorite was the Barbarian (pictured above). The monk was cool but so powerful that I could just hold down the left mouse button and tear up everything on the screen most of the time. The other three classes were various flavors of pew pew and effective enough. But hitting things is just so much more satisfying. :)

I also played through an OXbox game called Phantom Dust again, in anticipation of doing a fairly ambitious Let's Play. Phantom Dust is a third person action game, but the player's abilities are dealt out like cards. I'm working on putting together a web application that will let viewers build decks for me to use.

I'm thinking I may run the LP on the Something Awful forums. They're probably the biggest LP community on the net, and I'm guessing maybe one in a hundred viewers will be into it enough to actually make decks. And since the game has roughly 100 missions, I'll need a lot of decks.

15 April, 2012

Keepalive: Meh.

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 15 April, 2012

My semi-hiatus continues. I even stopped logging on to Star Trek Online to keep my duty officers busy. At some point it just becomes Progress Quest, watching pretend numbers get bigger for no reason.

What I have been doing is spending some time with Devil May Cry 3 and 4, doing some comparisons. It's impossible to be fair in these types of judgements. Do I still like DMC 1 the best because of nostalgia? Do I like DMC 3 less than 4 because I have the original super hard edition?

For those who care, here's where my current feelings lie. I'll see the rest of you next week.

DMC 1 is still the best. Critical kills make you feel large and in charge. The atmosphere is the best in the series. And I may never get tired of fighting Nelo Angelo.

DMC 2 is not worth talking about.

DMC 3 is a victim of its own ambition. It adds a lot, but everything comes with a drawback.

DMC 4 has the horsepower to pull off more of what DMC 3 was trying to do, but falls down with less intense combat, a new, annoying protagonist, and a huge amount of backtracking.

08 April, 2012

Devil May Cry: A Medium Reading

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 8 April, 2012


I've never been big fan of "close readings". If you have something important to say, just say it. Communication is hard enough without hiding a message behind symbols. But that may be because I was forced to do close readings of works I had no love for in school.

As melodramatic and poorly translated as it is, I do love Devil May Cry. And while I was playing it for my latest video series, I started noticing elements of structure and symbolism that I hadn't seen before.

I'm not claiming these elements give the game artistic merit, or somehow "make up" for the shoddy bits. But there was thought and planning and work that I'd never noticed before. That work deserves to be recognized.

I believe Devil May Cry is a game about balance. There is a demon world and a human world. Dante, who is himself half demon, is not seeking to destroy the demon world. He's just trying to maintain the balance. The main villain in the game is Mundus, mostly represented as a three eyed statue with angel wings. I suspect that the three eyes and angelic affectations represent Mundus' pride. He believes he can transcend balance and rule all.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the game's history puts Mundus' birth within a year of Christ's. I'm not saying DMC is intended to be particularly Christian or anti-Christian. But it does seem to reference it, almost mirror it, in its construction. In Christian belief, an angel rebelled against God and corrupted humanity. In Devil May Cry, a demon rebelled against Mundus and saved the human world.

But Devil May Cry has no heaven or ultimate victory. It seems to believe in eternal, cyclical coexistence and conflict. It's a very natural belief system for a fighting game's world. :)

The idea of coexistence even extends to Dante not killing his major opponents. Trish sacrifices herself. Phantom gets carried away and falls through a window. Griffon is killed by Mundus. Vergil overloads on his own power. Even Mundus himself, the target of Dante's vendetta, is only forced back into the Underworld, with Dante asking Mundus to pass on his regards to his son in another thousand years. The only major opponent Dante destroys is Nightmare, which appears to be a magical construct and displays no sentience.

I could go on, but I'll wrap up by saying that pairings are also a very important motif in DMC. Male and female, parent and child, siblings, and possibly even race relations (as represented by Dante's twin pistols Ebony and Ivory) are referenced. There are mirrors, reflections, and representations (paintings) that can physically be traversed. In Devil May Cry connectedness is the driving force.

24 March, 2012

Full of Sound and Fury

written by Blain Newport on Friday, 23 March, 2012

The Mass Effect 3 ending furor continues. And the furor about the furor continues as well. It's mystifying to hear people on podcasts go on for twenty or thirty minutes about how upset they are about other people being upset, apparently completely unaware of the irony.

What I don't hear is dialog between reasonable people of differing perspectives. What I don't hear is the one thing that might be illuminating, possibly even useful.

As an additional note about Mass Effect 3, I'm also not playing it because there's a bug that doesn't allow you to import your character's appearance. With a series that puts so much emphasis on an epic continuity, that's inexcusable.

Gaming-wise, nothing's going on. I check in with the crew of the U.S.S. Moogie 5 a few times a day to make sure they're keeping busy. I play Devil May Cry for my videos. I look at the occasional indie game, but none of them leave enough of an impression to write about.

18 March, 2012

That One Word

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 18 March, 2012

What is the most common word in the titles of my blog entries? I don't know. But I'm betting ennui ranks pretty highly. That's where I am with gaming right now.

Mass Effect 3 came out, and while I'm sure it's decent enough, there are so many little ugly bits surrounding it that I'm just not interested. EA refuses to sell it on my digital distribution platform of choice. They were selling so many DLC codes with comic books, action figures, and collectors' editions that if you wanted everything, it would run you over eight hundred dollars. And less than a week after the game came out gamers donated over forty thousand dollars to charity as an expression of how much they hated the ending. (Don't ask me. I don't get it either.)

Additionally, the game has scanning missions ripped directly from ME2, only worse. And if you don't want to do them, you have to grind in multiplayer to get the "good" ending which much of the internet apparently doesn't like.

I imagined great things for ME3. And right now I'd rather keep those fantasies than tarnish them with the reality I've been hearing about.

Star Trek Online is amazing, as time sinks go. The ship combat is all right, but the one time I tried hard difficulty I just died immediately, with no feedback about what I was supposed to do differently. Like most MMOs, you either turn it into a part time job, or go to the internet and read strategies from people who turned it into a full time job. It's not rewarding.

What I've mostly been doing is traveling the galaxy, sending my duty officers on missions, occasionally playing the game to kill time while I wait for them to get done. My pretend crew's exploits are more important than mine. It's multiple levels of sad.

Devil May Cry is still cool. I'm having some issues with the targeting, though. I finally learned how to kill the lizard men with style. But Dante insists on changing targets at the last instant, killing only my buzz. :P

That said, after recording Saturday's installment, I found myself playing and playing and playing, until I finished the game. It was an experience, and I worry that breaking it up over weeks will lessen the impact for my viewers. But it's a little late to change to a livestream format now. :P

06 March, 2012

Keepalive: Nothing To Report

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, 6 March, 2012

I missed my normal Sunday posting date. There just isn't anything exciting to write about. I've been playing a bit more Star Trek Online, studiously avoiding ground combat missions.

That's it.

Oh, and I started the Devil May Cry video talkthrough (YouTube / MediaFire). The combat is still great. And I'm actually beginning to see more symbolism and meaning than I realized was there. I don't know why it's there. So much of the game is just ridiculous that I don't see why they'd put this much effort into the trappings. Perhaps that's how game developers keep themselves interested.

26 February, 2012

Slow Week

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 25 February, 2012

Star Trek Online ground combat sucks past level ten. Apparently you have to have a particular party configuration or it just becomes unplayable. Every Klingon ground party I encounter has a freaking Dahar Master in it. Dahar Masters are legendary Klingon warriors. The Star Trek wiki lists three names.

I could continue venting, but it's pointless. I might go back to the ship combat, but I might just delete it.

It is also worth noting that at some level, the premise behind STO is that the quadrant has gone to heck in a handbasket. Everybody is fighting all the time. I understand why they did it, but Star Trek had higher hopes for our future than endless war.

Other than that, I played a little more Wolfenstein and did some pre-production work for my next set of videos, which I hope to start Monday. It wasn't a gamey week.

19 February, 2012

Pleasant Surprises

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 19 February, 2012

Call of Duty games rarely go on sale. But Amazon is trying to gain traction with their digital download service, so they're selling Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (which registers on Steam) for $5.

WARNING: There is a major spoiler in the picture below.

FURTHER WARNING: If you care about the plot of this game, you're a silly goose.

I figured a game version of a Michael Bay movie would be fine for five dollars. And it was. It was especially fine when I turned off Depth of Field and could see the enemies again. I swear the only two words out of my mouth during the first two hours of playing the game were "FROM WHERE!?" with the "did I just get shot" implied. Turning off Depth of Field also drastically increased the frame rate, which made lining up shots much easier.

As for the game itself, it's good. People talk about the endless streams of bad guys and how heavily scripted the CoD games are, but I just played through FEAR and Half-Life, and I respect Infinity Ward for not making their enemies bullet sponges just to show off their fancy AI. If you shoot them fast, good! You'll be fighting enough of them that you'll still see the fancy AI sooner or later. My favorite behavior was seeing enemy soldiers taking two steps out of cover, getting shot at, and falling back instead of making a suicidal run for the next piece of cover.

Also on special for $5 (though this time from Steam) was Raven's 2009 version of Wolfenstein. I've already talked about enjoying Singularity (Raven, 2010), and Wolfenstein is unsurprisingly similar. But the hub areas of Wolfenstein make it feel like the more mature game. Though the geometry is constant, the different encounters you have make it feel like a changing place, as Nazi dominion and resistance determination increase.

The soldiers in Modern Warfare 2 are more interesting to fight. But Wolfenstein adds classic pulp elements (the occult and Nazi super science) to spice things up.

The one thing I would change about Wolfenstein is to add a New Game+ mode where you can go through the game again with all the upgrades you got in your first playthrough. There were a lot of weapons and upgrades I barely used and probably would have enjoyed, especially if I had enough extra money that I could blow it on the more exotic types of ammo without feeling irresponsible. Also, the whole mechanic of encouraging the player to scour the levels for Nazi gold hurts the pacing of the game and the feeling of being a freewheeling pulp action hero. New Game+ could have fixed that. Oh well.

UPDATE (2012 Feb. 25): I saw a pop-up after the credits that said you could start a new game with cheats enabled, but when I started a new game, there were no cheats. I finally noticed that when you select the difficulty for said new game, there's a small cheat option in the bottom right corner that defaults to disabled. So while it may be poorly implemented, the option to give yourself all the weapons, powers, upgrades, and money does exist. Also, you can turn people's heads into giant, featureless pumpkins for some reason, perhaps a reference to the ancient joke about id calling their follow up to DooM "Smashing Pumpkins Into Small Piles Of Putrid Debris".

I tried Star Trek Online and have had some good fun with it. I am Lieutenant Fiza, captain of the U.S.S. Moogie. (Regardless of rank, the person in charge of a ship is called captain by the crew.)

Being a female Ferengi Starfleet ship captain tickles my crazy bone. It's too bad I can't visit Ferenginar in the game. :(

Sillyness aside, I'm actually enjoying both the ship combat and away missions so far. The ship combat is the stronger of the two. Maneuvering to keep your weapons on the enemy while keeping up the fire and adjusting shield strength is enough to keep me occupied. And when I fired a last phaser blast to knock down an enemy's shield just before launching the decisive photon, I felt like I was having a classic Trek combat moment.

The away missions are more fighty than any Star Trek outside of the Dominion War, but so far I've enjoyed that. I've been using the squad controls to set up crossfires (since attacks from the flank actually do more damage) and beaming in mines to soften up patrolling enemies.

12 February, 2012


written by Blain Newport on Monday, 6 February, 2012

For no apparent reason, I've been on a shooter binge. Half-Life 2 and the episodes, Crysis 2, Fear 1 and it's two expansions, Fear 2, and even Half-Life 1 since I figured if I was doing a comparative study, I should head back to the first shooter with well regarded enemy AI.

Overall, I'm not a fan of "good" AI. The AI itself isn't the problem, it's that developers feel the need to make enemies super durable so that they live long enough to show off their behaviors. When point blank head shots can't down a foe, the power fantasy is suddenly less powerful than real life.

Crysis and Fear have stealth clauses where if you shoot an unaware opponent in the head they die immediately, but that mostly serves to highlight how bizarre it is that they don't die from the same bullet in the same head on other occasions.

Games did used to be harder, but that wasn't a good thing. Half-Life 1 was far and away the hardest game I played. And Fear will kill you in a flash on normal difficulty. It's good that this mostly went away. The fun in these situations is adjusting on the fly, making new choices. Dying only gives you the choice of repeating everything since your last save or quitting. Neither of those is interesting or fun.

Once you turn it down to easy, Fear and it's expansions can provide some pretty great firefights. Moving from cover to cover, tracking enemies to avoid getting surrounded, and matching all of it to the rhythm of shooting, reloading, and switching weapons is pretty great.

The expansions also added in the ability to bash open doors, and the feeling of barreling through everything in your path, being unflankable because you're bashing and shooting and jumping and running so fast you can't be caught is ridiculously great.

The second expansion (Perseus Mandate) also added in monsters that pull you into the ground. Fear has tons of blood puddles and pitch black shadows, but these monsters made them scary.

The expansions had their problems, but there were good additions that I miss when I go back to the stock game.

05 February, 2012

Co-opting Cheating

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 4 February, 2012

On a recent co-op night, Chris and I decided we had played enough Minecraft, and it was time to shoot some mans. We tried Battlefield: Bad Company 2. But the cheating in that game is hideous. And it's easy to tell who's cheating. They're the ones who are instantly popping their aim from one target to the next without ever looking around like a normal human. Plus Battlefield keeps historical data, so it's painfully obvious when someone's skill level suddenly jumps through the roof.

It's so easy to tell who's cheating that it appears EA, DICE, and Punk Buster aren't really trying to stop them. This may be because they've simply stopped bothering with Bad Company 2 now that Battlefield 3 is out. You never really buy an EA multiplayer game, anyway. You only rent it until they shut down matchmaking.

But if you can't beat them, why not join them?

If you can't be bothered supporting the game, turn off all the anti-cheat stuff and let people go nuts. The only reason cheating is appealing is because it gives you an unfair advantage. Once the playing field is level, the good players are still going to mop up because they know how to use cover, prioritize threats, and decide which weapons to use in which situation.

The gameplay will certainly devolve, but watching how the game devolves could be informative. Why ever carry an SMG if a sniper rifle can get you one hit kills at any range? What classes aren't useful anymore when the rules change?

In fact, I'd love to see a game designed like this from the ground up. Build something that's all cheating all the time and see what that experience teaches.

04 February, 2012

Used Games

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 4 February, 2012

Microsoft recently floated a rumor that the next Xbox won't allow for used games, probably to see if the threats Gamestop made to them would be ugly enough to make it a bad idea. Well, maybe Microsoft didn't float it. The internet is pretty good at making up its own rumors. But the result was the same, a lot of pontificating about the nature of used games, most of which was a waste of time.

For one thing, digital distribution doesn't allow for used games, so the point will be moot in a decade or two. For another, and I don't think I've heard nearly enough discussion about this, we've had used books, music, and movies since the things were invented, and all of those industries have done fine, at least until they ran up against the aforementioned digital distribution.

Long story short, as markets move to digital, the shrinking amount of retail dollars will be fought over more and more viciously, more and more wastefully. In the meantime, I'll be playing games (Crysis 2, for example) that I bought for $5 online.

31 January, 2012

Keepalive: Demos and Such

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, 31 January, 2012

It's pretty quiet on the gaming front.

I tried the demo for The Darkness 2. I own the original game for the 360, but haven't bought the 360 to play it on yet. The games are about a gangster who shares his body with an evil entity that is not entirely under his control. It's an interesting combination of melee and gunplay. You can flip an enemy into the air with a tentacle, then shoot him with a shotgun. It's not entirely novel, but it's not old hat, either. For now I'll just say that the sequel runs well on PC and I look forward to playing it someday after I have a 360 and have played the first installment.

I also tried the demo for Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning. There's way too much travel time in the game, and the combat isn't enough to carry it. I'm not saying it's a bad game, but I'm old and have run through enough fantasy forests already. It takes something more for me to part with my time now. Plus all the characters speak in the same "dramatic narrator" tones, which kills the potential for personality and gets monotonous very quickly.

The most fun I've had this week has been Nations at War single player. I've been messing around with the jets and the helicopters some more. Also, since it's just me and I don't have to be concerned with crashing the server I've been playing maps we can't play at the LAN party.

I had forgotten Wake Island. That was a rough map back in Battlefield 1942. And it's still a bugger in Nations at War. Destroying enemy armor convoys with a Comanche helicopter while contending with enemy helos and jets is a very different experience, but the basic dynamic is still intact. I wish the editor worked so I could fix / recreate some of these maps.

Also, possibly because there's been some clamoring for a sequel recently, I replayed Half-Life 2 and episodes. I found myself waiting for people to open doors a lot. Yeah, yeah. You have a lot to say. Finish and let me out of here. It's symptomatic of me not really caring about the struggle or the characters in the game. It's not really a world worth saving. Part of me wishes I'd never played episode two a second time.

23 January, 2012

Keepalive: Immigrants and Aliens

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 22 January, 2012

The main games for the week were Tropico 4 and Aliens vs. Predator, with a little Prototype because it's awesome.


I enjoyed Tropico, mostly. The challenge of the game escalated in ways that made me explore different parts of the game for a while. But by the time we got to level sixteen out of twenty, I felt like they had run out of ideas and were throwing constant natural disasters and artificial restrictions at me because "games should get harder".

Also, as the game gets harder, you're forced to spend more and more time micromanaging and poring over the various data screens to figure out your next move. Basically you have to spend more and more time with the least interesting parts of the game. Plus the closer you look, the more broken bits you find.

I had an island with a large enough population to keep two grade schools completely full. But I had no students going to high school or college. Maybe that was my own fault for keeping enough low level jobs open to keep people employed, but there's no part of the interface that will tell you that. And that would basically indicate that my charges have so little ambition that they'd rather work on a banana plantation then spend four years in high school to make half again as much money and not have to toil outside. Meh. I've probably given it too much thought already.

Aliens vs. Predator

I watched Alien the other night and felt like being a sneaky, wall walking monster. Aliens vs. Predator 2 is probably the better game, but I didn't feel like digging around in my old box full of CDs. The new AvP is fun. But, like Tropico, it gets less so as you go along. By the end you're fighting combat androids with built in motion trackers. As an alien you can do a ridiculous move where you use a light attack to put them off balance then whip around behind for the "stealth" kill. But that's pretty cheesy, and probably wouldn't even work with a game pad. And as a predator, you're not even fast enough to do that, so you pretty much have to throw spears, which is very easy and very very boring.

Still, I remember loving the atmosphere when the multiplayer demo for the game came out. Plus it strikes a nice balance between the ridiculous twitchiness of AvP 2000 and the somewhat plodding multiplayer of AvP2. Basically, I wish they would make AvP cheap enough that we could play it for one LAN party. :)

Nations @ War

Speaking of the LAN party, I tried downloading some editing utilities in the hopes of being able to fix / create some Nations @ War maps. I'm not sure the resources to do that are available anymore, though. There are files that the editor needs to know what's what, and I can find those files for other BF2 mods. But the BF2 Nations @ War forums appear to be gone at this point. Since that means I can't place vehicles (even the default BF2 ones), I think I'm stymied at this point.

This stinks because Nations @ War is basically the only game of its kind. It's arcade combined arms fighting with bots. Arma's too realistic. BF3 and Bad Company have no bots. Ghost Recon is all infantry. :(

15 January, 2012

More Holiday Leftovers

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 15 January, 2012


Sequence is to DDR as Puzzle Quest is to Bejewelled. Basically it's an RPG, but instead of making matches to fight your opponent, you're completing DDR step sequences (Get it? Huh? Huh?) using your keyboard. Since I like DDR better than Bejewelled, I found it much more engaging than Puzzle Quest. The writing is also a lot better. I also enjoyed the credit sequence where all the voice actors got to say thanks for playing.

A big part of my enjoyment also came from being able to rebind my controls. I changed them so that my right hand was using J, K, L, and semicolon to input arrows. And my left hand was selecting which note track with D and F and selecting spells around the spell wheel with W, S, X, Z, A, and Q. Using "JKL;" felt a lot more natural than trying to remember that the third column is the up arrow and the second column is the down arrow.

Hard Reset

Hard Reset is a game where you shoot robots a lot. It's pretty repetitive, and the main gimmick, transformable guns, is cool to watch but doesn't really add much. Also this picture is of me shooting a metal robot with a shotgun, which isn't very smart but works fine for some reason.

Tropico 4

Ah, Tropico 4, the the game about ruling a banana republic. No wait. That picture's from Tropico 3. Let's look at Tropico 4.

See how different?

Tropico 4 is basically the same game, which is fine if you just want to mess around. But I can't imagine trying to really dig into the gameplay side of Tropico. The interface does a terrible job of highlighting important information and has probably needed a major overhaul for half a decade now. I generally just play the first few missions until I start failing without knowing why and call it a day.

I wouldn't have bothered with Tropico 4 at all, but it's free with my GameTap subscription. Technically it's my defunct GameTap subscription, but I was paying by the year, so I'll still have access to GameTap until sometime in the fall.


GameTap was one of the first services that you could pay money to in order to legally play old arcade games. The companies that owned the rights were happy to pretend those games simply didn't exist, and I didn't feel right about just downloading them off the internet. So GameTap made it legal. But they laid off most of their staff and sold the business to another company and stopped updating their software to work with any browser besides IE, so it was well past time for me to give them the boot.

I'm still a little sorry to see it go. I tried some games I wouldn't even know about because of GameTap.

Magicka DLC


07 January, 2012

Steam Backlog

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 7 January, 2012

I rarely have a backlog, but a ton of games I was curious about hit sub ten dollar prices during the Steam sale.

Prototype (4 of 5)

(ridiculous violence not pictured)

Prototype is great fun. It's not Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. You can't catch missiles and throw them back. You can't hammer toss tanks. You can't smash a bus flat and surf on it. You can't rip a car in a half and wear the halves on your fists like gauntlets. But there are still piles of awesome things you can do, and it looks better. And second best to Ultimate Destruction is still more fun than most other games.

And playing on New Game+ with all the powers unlocked is extra great. The game almost feels like Magicka, where the speed of your brain is the main limit on your power.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2 of 5)

I think this is a high tech military installation near the end of the game, but it could be Detroit, China, or pretty much anywhere in Human Revolution because the vents are the same wherever you go. Even on normal difficulty, you die super fast and there are large bonuses for going through segments unseen. But I dislike stealth in most games, and Human Revolution's is no exception. Late in the game I would see a new area, with enemies patrolling and cameras all over, and make the sigh of the damned.

Hunted: The Demon's Forge (3 of 5)

Hunted is basically trying to be Gears of War meets Lord of the Rings. It's okay. Your AI companion often gets in your way. Aiming isn't so great. The color palette is so dark and samey that you can't even see the giant gargoyle statue in the above picture. But shooting orcs with arrows is still pretty fun.

Alice: Madness Returns (4 of 5)

My computer wouldn't load any save games of Alice, so I had to play through it all in one twelve hour sitting. So while a lot of the segments (especially the China one) went on way too long for the way I was playing, Alice has more variety than all the other games on this list put together. So while the story felt contrived and the collecting elements seemed a huge waste of time, it was still an experience I was glad to have had.