Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Highs and Lows of Finishing a Game

I know I've been working on my favorite games for each system and I promise I'll get back to those lists. I have notes and all the games for the remaining systems but I've been thinking about others things. Maybe I'll do a second post today with a list.

One of the other things I've been thinking about is finishing games. Since that's what started this whole blog I think it's only natural that this topic comes up every now and then. Unfortunately neither my brother or I have finished the agreed upon games. I even had to restart Final Fantasy VII because I accidentally sold a materia that you can only get from one place . . . and I've lost access to that place. And since those Mega Materia (or whatever they're called) are only good if you've mastered all types of the same materia I had to start the game over so I could get . . . and keep . . . that missing materia. So although I haven't finish the designated games I have finished other ones.

Both of the games I've finished have been Xbox Live Arcade games. The first one was Jewel Quest. When I started playing I thought it was a fun game that I would return to every now and then. I certainly wasn't setting out to finish it, come hell or high water. But after playing one particular level and losing about 10 times I was damned if I was going to let a stupid game get the better of me. It became a mission to finish the game. Every time I got stuck on a level and burned through all my lives I screamed as my score was reset to zero. Each achievement unlocked was a thrilling victory for me over the computer. But the payout in the end wasn't as exciting as I would have liked.

About 2 levels from the last one I was burning through lives like crazy. I knew I was close to the end but I couldn't seem to get past this one level. When I finally made it past I figured the last two level would be even harder. The next level only took 2 attempts to get through and then I was faced with the final level. Only one grid stood between me and a finished game. Less than 2 minutes later I was done. I got through the last level on the first attempt and apparently triggered a cascading domino effect that almost cleared the whole board in a single move. Yes, I finished the game and after all my hard work on previous level it seemed a little anticlimactic.

The second game I finished was Hardwood Backgammon. Some of the achievements I unlocked without even knowing what they were. Some I unlocked through the normal course of playing the game and some I had to really work for. The hardest being the "win 10 games in a row." I tried doing this against humans but that was a complete mistake. So I set the AI to easy and tried grinding it out in single player. The problem I had was the longer I played the more careless I got. After winning 7 in a row I'd lose a game and have to start the streak all over again. I finally limited myself to playing only 2 games a night. It took awhile but eventually I got the 10 game and 25 game winning streak achievements.

And while it's great to finish a game, what about those games I won't be able to finish (or at least get all the achievements)? I don't have a vision camera so I can't get the face mapping achievement in Rainbow 6: Vegas. With all the boosting going on in Chromehounds I'll never get any of the Gold medals. And don't remind me that I missed a golden, and tiny, window of opportunity when Sal Kar's Secret Weapon came out. When will I get that chance again? Then there's achievements like "play this game online with someone who has 'the mingler' (or another special designation)" Hell, if I were a person who had it I'd never play that game online again. It's a rare achievement to get so why would I want to pass that along?

It's great finishing a game, but then I'm always reminded of all the ones I haven't finish and some I may never finish. I guess I have to take the highs with the lows when it comes to finishing games.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Should I be insulted?

I can take "constructive criticism" from my mother but when total strangers offer it it's another story.

I was playing Chromehounds with my squad Saturday night when my squad leader says into his mic "I don't want her to go out, she's on my squad." Now if he hadn't mentioned the word squad I would have thought he was talking about someone at his place. His girlfriend . . . or a dog perhaps. But since I was the only "her" that was also a part of the "squad" I figured that he was talking about me with someone. So I asked.

My squad leader's mother was over at his place working on her computer while we were playing games. She asked him if "Pengwenn" was a girl. He said yes. She responded by saying it's Saturday night and "Pengwenn should be out on a date". Now I don't know why this mattered to her or why she felt that this was the right thing for me to be doing at that moment because this woman doesn't know me. We've never met. We've never chatted. We've never crossed paths until this moment.

All I can think of is that she's worried that her son spends too much time with "another woman" and that I'm getting in between him and his girlfriend. For all she knows I could be married and have kids running around the place. But then my squad leader knows I'm single so maybe his mother knows too. I harmlessly flirt every now and then with a lot of guys, but I'm not out to find a man through Xbox Live.

But who is she to give advice as to what I should or shouldn't be doing with my time on a Saturday night? My mother can comment all she wants about my social life. I understand why she does it. She wants more grandbabies. But a gamer's mother who I've never met? Should I be insulted?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I'm dying on the "River"

Texas Hold 'Em. A poker game you either love or hate. Right now for me it's both. I love seeing the Flop and the Turn but when it comes to the River card I just want to scream.

I played in a tournament game last night on Xbox Live. I folded the first couple of hands until those "all in" fools get knocked out with their tiny 7 - 2 off suited cards. Who are they kidding anyway? Once the table gets down to 4 or 5 players I'll turn the heat on and see who I can force to play a hand they wouldn't otherwise play.

I'm not much of the "all in" type. When someone does that I've found they usually don't have squat but are trying to bluff you out and steal the blinds. At $4 and $5 blinds why would you do that? If you happen to call them (and have the chips to cover them) they're just hoping to get lucky on the Flop. It's pretty easy to beat those types but I'll let someone else knock them out. I only play the hands I know I can win with. That is until I see the River card.

Last night in head to head action I could have knocked the other guy out and won the tournament. I was forcing him into playing hands that any sane person would . . . and should . . . have folded a long time ago. He usually folded at the River. But one time he decided to play his hand through. I had him completely beat with the Flop. The Turn card helped him slightly but I was still the overwhelming favorite to win. There were only 2 numbers that would beat me. A total of 8 cards out of 52 that he could pull out a win if it was played. And guess what? The River card was played . . . and he won. He doubled up, but I was still the chips leader. For once he got lucky.

A couple of hands later (and a lot more chips on my side) he was down to needing a very limited River card to win the hand. This time all he needed was a 7. Any 7 would do. So that would be 4 possible cards out of 52. I wanted to beat this guy from the moment the game started. He was trash talking before we even figured out who would get the dealer's button to start the game. Imagine his surprise when he would find out he lost to a girl? I couldn't wait for the River card.

I had a smile on my face. I was feeling confident and a little cocky. Waiting for that moment when I'd turn my mike on and say "good game". Then the River card was played. A 7. Once is being lucky. Twice a coincidence. Would there be a third time?

I was a little bit mad at how things were turning out. The guy was still talking trash. My mike was still muted. And I was folding good hands because I was too steamed to play. After a little while I thought I was ready to play a few hands and give this guy the loss that I felt he deserved. I bet aggressively but conservatively and before I knew it the chips were split 50-50 (he had a slight $20 lead). What had gone wrong? I'm a better player than this but I guess those 2 big losses were really effecting me.

I struggled to get myself under control when the next hand came up. It was good. A pair of Kings. I slow played him to an "all in" bet after the Flop. There was a King in the flop so I was sitting on 3 of a kind. He had a possible straight. All he needed was a 3. I was a little nervous that lightening would strike for the third time but I liked my odds holding a set of Kings. The Turn card was played. It was a King. I was sitting on four of a kind. I knew I had won this hand. I flipped open my mike, ready to say those two little words when the I took another look at the board.

Yes, he was working on a straight but if he got the 3 of diamonds he would have a straight flush. I had about half a second to rack my brain trying to remember if a straight flush beat a four of a kind when the River card was played. You guessed it. It was the 3 of diamonds. I remember him laughing a lot and that awful message that says you placed 2nd in the tournament. Yes, I won some money but I lost? To this guy? A guy I should have knocked out on two other occasions. I picked my jaw off the floor, muttered a "good game" into the mic and shut the game down.

I love playing Texas Hold 'Em I just don't like losing on the River.

Monday, August 13, 2007

My Favorite Games - Playstation 2

One thing I love about the Playstation 2 was that when it came out it was backwards combatable. There was no need for system updates, or downloading files in order to get your old Playstation games on a new system. It just worked. I’m sure that’s one reason why Sony led the video game industry for so long. I don’t even think Nintendo even heard of the words “backwards combatable.” At least when it comes to their consoles. Here’s my list of favorite games for the Playstation 2:

#1 Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2
I played. I cried. Then I played some more. The story for this installment of the Final Fantasy series is wide in scope and breadth but intimate and tender at the same time. It’s been said that die hard fan boys cried in Final Fantasy VII when Aeries died but I wouldn’t blame them if they did the same sometime during this game. And who can forget Blitzball. If this sport could actually happen I’d love to go and watch it. I wish I could play, but I can’t hold my breath long enough.

#2 SSX Tricky
“I am King of the mountain!” Who hasn’t wanted to shout this just before gliding down the mountain turning Uber Tricks left and right? Nailing all those different Uber Tricks in one run can be tedious or a riot of laughter. Who wouldn’t want the laws of physics that govern this game to apply at the next Winter Olympics? I still haven’t mastered every mountain and every type of run but they’re all unlocked and they’ve given me many hours or elation and despair. That's why I keep coming back for more.

#3 TimeSplitters (all of them)
This was my first adventure into the shooting genre of game play. I was hooked right away . . . and dead. I can still remember when I finally started to get the upper hand in matches with my brother. I was no longer the perpetual respawner because of all the times he killed me. Now I could roam around and pop him off a time or two before having to spawn again. The characters are hilarious to look at and their behavior in the selection screen under the spotlight is just another chance to laugh before getting into the game. Just remember the zombies only die if you shoot their heads off.

#4 Dark Cloud
Who knew that being the only member of the Village Planning Committee could be so demanding? You fight through a dungeon in order to save a part of your village and when you go to restore that person you’re met with thanks and then a request to make their life better . . . and subsequently yours. Pretty soon you have a laundry list of things the villagers want and getting all the pieces in the right place takes a lot of trial and error. Is it worth it? Yes. And fun too. You’ll find yourself going back to past dungeons over and over again in order to get more treasured jewels to attach to your weapon to make it stronger. And have I mentioned you have to figure out how to keep fish from rotting so you can do more things in the game? Ice, ice, baby.

#5 Lego Star Wars I & II
So that’s what it looks like when a Wookie rips the arms off of someone . . . if you’re a block constructed action figure. Use the power of the Force to move something or your blaster to blow it away. It’s action packed and demands replay just so you can go back to areas that you couldn’t access before. But be prepared to laugh. Try walking down the hallways in Bespin City when Lando keeps grabbing Leia’s hand to kiss it. “The Force will be with you . . . always.”

#6 Racer Revenge (Star Wars)
Finally, a game that shows the true power and speed of pod racing. And just how making repairs mid-race really affects things. The landscape will zip by you when all you want to do is stop and admire the scenery. But don’t do it. Sebula will win and you’ll be labeled Bantha Poodoo. You don’t want to happen now do you. The only down side is it only supports 2 players in multiplayer game play. I would love to see this game support 12-16 humans players in a real race.

Honorable Mentions:
Balder’s Gate: Dark Alliance 1 & 2, Champions of Norrath 1 & 2, Ever Grace, Jak & Daxter/Ratchet and Clank, Maximo: Ghost to Glory, Super Bust a Move, Xenosaga I, Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits, and Muppets Part Cruise

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

My Favorite Games - Playstation

I've been thinking about making up a favorite list for a while now but that's something that's usually done at the first of the year. You know, "Favorite Games of 2006" or "Best RPG for non-RPG fans" or "The 10 Best Games You Never Heard of". But I'm not that patient. If I get an idea that I like I don't want to sit on it because I just might forget about it. Even if I write it down I'm bound and determined to lose whatever scrap of paper I wrote it on. So I started to make my list and I realized I had a problem.

How could I do a Top 10 lists of all my games? Is Gears of War better than Legend of Dragoon just 'cause it's newer and looks more real? Would those things influence what makes the list and what doesn't? And how could I narrow it down to just 10?

I have an inventory list of all the games I own, what system they're on, if I have the strategy guide, what genre it is, if I've finished it or not and whether or not my brother has the game as well. This list is separated by system so it's easy to pull out the list in the store and when I'm standing in front of the Game Cube section and only have to look to see what GC games I already have. It's much easier looking through 1 or 2 pages than 9 or 10. I started glancing through the lists and jotting down the names of games I really liked. But I was still hung up on which should be ranked higher Gears or Dragoon.

Then it hit me. Why not do a list for each system? My 10 favorite games for Playstation, Super Nintendo, etc. Brilliant idea. I wouldn't have to decide between Gears and Dragoon; I could have them both. And more columns. And I have to admit that some of them I still haven't finished yet, but that doesn't mean I don't still love the experience . . . I just have too many other games and not enough time to play them all.

So here's my favorite games for the Sony Playstation and why I like them:

#1 Legend of Dragoon - This was the first game I finished, but that's not enough to earn it the top spot. It was the first story I've cared about. The characters, the world, the outcome. I lost many hours playing this game trying to find every Star Dust and getting every piece of equipment. And that's not counting mastering all the combat moves. For a while there I didn't think I'd ever master some of Haschel's combat attacks. I remember feeling a great sense of accomplishment each time I got to a point in the story when I had to put a new disk in the playstation. I even started it all over again to see how much of everything I could find without using a strategy guide for help.

#2 Final Fantasy IX - I love Vivi!!! And even though it took me a while to understand how to play the game Tetra Master once I understood it I loved it. I could spend hours just playing that game alone. Steiner is hilarious and you can't help but love a mini-game where you need to capture frogs (even if you spend most of your time cursing while doing it). And your main character is a lovable thief . . . with a tail. You gotta love that.

#3 Chrono Cross - I can't tell you how many times I've restarted this game just to see which characters I could enlist in my party and how they interact with each other. If I had just stuck with my original save I would have been long done with it by now but I'm still tinkering around with "how" I want to play the game. I love the field effect that comes into play during the battles. It's very frustrating planning your moves to get the fields all green only to have the enemy launch a red attack before your last player gets a turn. Or even worse have your enemy take advantage of the field colors and do more damage to your characters than you're prepared for. It's never the same old turn based battle system of other RPGs where the field effect is concerned. And you have to use just as much, if not more, thought and consideration to the magic that you bring into the battle as much as how you use it during battle.

#4 Legend of Legaia - The first time I played this I got lost. I left the village and had no idea where to go. I wandered around a lot, leveled up a lot, before I finally realized I needed a little help. Once I figure that out I deleted my save and started all over again. Why? Because I felt like I had cheated because I didn't pay enough attention to the clues people were giving me. Legaia is another game that added a wrinkle to the combat system outside the normal turn based we had all come to love. There were hidden combinations you could use to do more damage. You had to play around with the directional pad to figure out what those were. You were never sure you had learned them all so each new discovery was a thrill of excitement.

#5 Abe's Oddysee/Abe's Exodus - Okay I'm listing 2 games here, but can you really tell the difference? Besides, who knew farting and belching could have such a significance in completing a game. The Oddworld games are all hilarious and I wish more people would play them so the developers would make more.

Now for some Honorable Mentions:
Ape Escape, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy I, Frogger, Pipe Dreams 3D, and Pong

These are MY favorites, but I curious. What do you think about my list? What games would be on your list? Stay tuned for lists for the other systems that I own.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Where have all my friends gone?

So where have all my friends gone?

Up until a couple of days ago it was normal to have 20+ friends online at any given time. But for some reason, I've been lucky to see that number higher than 9. What are they doing? Why aren't they playing? Or are they hiding?

When my brother lost his job he spent a lot of time during the day playing video games. He didn't want me to find out so he changed his online status to show offline so I wouldn't see him playing. (He didn't know that when you do that and you are actually playing a game all your achievements and gamerscore are blanked out. If you are truly offline then other people can still view your achievements.) But once I told him I knew he switched his profile back to show his status. I have another friend who switched to "offline" to avoid the constant badgering of someone on his friends list. Hell, I've been known to show "offline" at time to avoid someone. Some people just can't take a hint. But the latest craze seems to be showing "away" when you really playing a game. Why?

I don't know why this is any better . . . and it might be even worse. If you show "offline" than people won't think you're on playing. If you show "away" then they know you've logged in so they'll send you a message, game invite or chat invite knowing that when you "get back" you jump in and join them in what ever you're doing. Last night I had 9 friends online but 5 of them "away". The funny thing is that the games they were playing while "away" were always changing.

And then there was the guy in the Texas Hold 'Em tournament. His status in the game said "away" but didn't say that on the dashboard. He folded every hand right away and it got down to just me and him. I hadn't paid attention too much to this pattern so I folded a few hands before catching on. Once I realized what he was doing all I had to do was call while I was in the small blinds and I won every hand. Of course at $2/4 and $5/10 dollar blinds it took awhile for him to relieve him of his chips. I won but it didn't really feel like a victory.

Play the game or get out is what I say. I just wish I had some more friends online to play with.