Friday, February 29, 2008

Top 10 signs you play Lego Star Wars too much

Okay, I'm bummed. At work a lot of the big name "gaming" sites are blocked. Now they've blocked some of the other smaller sites and forums that I liked to hang out in on my breaks. So how do I get my gaming fix in while at work? I make up stupid lists like this:


#10 You see the glowing lights from a neon sign and try to use the Force to move it.

#9 You refuse to take the stairs. Instead you try to use your grappling gun.

#8 When you go to the zoo you jump into the elephant's compound so you can ride a bantha.

#7 You find yourself throwing things at shiny metal objects hoping they stick . . . and blow it up.

#6 When you're sick you start attacking someone in the hopes that they'll drop a red heart so you can pick it up and feel better.

#5 Instead of just looking under the couch cushions for loose change you destroy the thing because you'll get more studs out of it . . . preferably blue ones.

#4 You go to the local bar and start a brawl just for the fun of it.

#3 You try to change yourself into an astromech droid so you can push the elevator button.

#2 You think if your car doesn't work you can just smash it up, put it back together again and it will work perfectly.

#1 If someone makes you mad you howl like a Wookie and try to rip their arms off.

Okay, how bad was that? Let me know, or maybe not. What other games do you want a "Top 10" list for?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Great online games should never die

Don't you just love it when you find a really great game? A game that sucks you in the minute you start playing. And one that will do that all over again even if you haven't played it in months.

I've wanted to play Gears of War again for a long time but I've been having too much fun (even though I suck) playing Call of Duty 4 with my friends. Last night a couple of them were playing Gears so I put the disk in. It took awhile for me to get use to the controlls again. But after I figured out that I needed to hold A down to run instead of the left stick all the old memories came back and it felt good.

There was something comforting about shooting locus hordes and watching their bodies contort themselves in death that just felt good. I remember coming from large teams in Star Wars Battlefront to having only 4 people on a side and thinking that was ridiculous. Last night it seemed right. Four people were plenty enough for me, thank you very much. Matches were short and sweet (or should I say bloody). And it just felt right.

But before I jumped into the match with my friends I did a search for ranked and player matches. I was disappointed in how many matches were available. Only 2 ranked matches showed on my list. And only about 8 player matches. I'd like to think that was because there were already hundreds of other matches being played that were full. But considering how long this game has been out I doubt that. And that makes me sad.

For games that have great online multiplayer game play there should always be lots of matches to choose from. We shouldn't let those games die or be transported to online purgatory. You know, the place where someone hosts a match but nobody joins them. Something needs to be done to save these games and their online lives from becoming extinct. Games like Star Wars Battlefront I and II, Gears of War, Halo 2, Counter Strike, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Burnout Revenge, Chromehounds, Call of Duty 2 & 3, G.R.A.W 1 & 2, Lost Planet, Rainbow 6: Vegas, I could on for awhile, but I think you get the picture.

Every time a new game comes out we set aside the old game and don't play it. Most people probably sell it back in order to afford the new game. But "newest and latest" doesn't always mean better. And even if it did, that doesn't lessen the enjoyment you got out of that "old" game or that you still can't enjoy it again if you played it. It's the game play that matters, not "realistic graphics" or "seamless scene loadings" or "largest weapon selections than any other game out there". If we don't enjoy playing a game, we won't. Funny how that works, isn't it?

So don't give up on older games. You liked them for their game play once so you can still play them for that reason again no matter how "old" and "dated" they may look or feel. If you did sell back your copy of those games you can always pick it back up used. Video games should be played and enjoyed for many years, not just the few months they're the latest thing out there before the next new game come out. And it is okay to buy the latest great game like Rainbow 6: Vegas 2 that's coming out next month, but don't forget to show some lovin' to the older games as well. No one likes to be stuck in purgatory trying to find a match.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Back in the game

I got my profile back.

Can everyone say Hallelujah!

After discussing the matter with my brother he pointed out that no company likes to take the blame when something goes wrong. And Microsoft is no different. He said it wasn't my internet connection that was timing out but the Xbox Live servers. With all the people playing games on Sunday resources needed to be diverted to those people. And for the rest of us that are doing "minor" things like recovering our gamer profiles there wasn't enough resources to keep the servers processing our requests.

During the fiasco after more than a half hour the process would stop half way and error out. When I tried the same thing again at 10pm it took 15 minutes and it was all done. That's all. I can game again.

So I'm thinking. If Xbox Live can't handle the volume of users over a regular weekend, what are they going to do once school is out for the summer? Or even closer yet, spring break. We all know what happened over the Christmas holidays, and the MLK holiday, oh and don't forget President's day weekend. More people are off work or out of school so they play more video games (naturally). The servers can't handle the load and lagging becomes an issue. Not to mention losing internet connect, getting dropped and all other kinds of wacky connection issues.

For a company that is built around computers you would think they would have the resources and/or capacity to handle and/or plan for these surges in use. So why don't they? And what are they doing to ease the load before the final bell rings in shcool? I hope they do something otherwise it's going to be a very slow, laggy summer. By then I might have to dust off my single player games or decide to invest in a PS3 now that Blu-Ray has won the HD war.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Your profile is everything

So a friend of mine was thinking about deleting all his Call of Duty 4 stuff and starting over now that he knows what to do. This way he thinks he'll rank up faster and finish challenges quicker. As much as that sounds like a good idea we had to remind him that when you log in to Xbox Live to play a multiplayer map it downloads your profile/game settings. You can delete all you want but Xbox Live still knows what you've done. So your profile is everything.

And right now I've got nothing.

I was having problems playing some arcade games that I previously downloaded on my original console but haven't played yet. Before I made the connection in my head about the licensing agreements tied to the console you downloaded the games on I had a brilliant idea. Or, at the time I thought it was a brilliant idea. I decided to delete my profile and recover it thinking that might help.

Boy was I wrong. Why? Because I kept getting an error message about half way through the recovery. And after spending 2 hours on the phone with Xbox Support the only thing they can figure out (besides the licensing agreement problems which I had already figured out) is that my internet connection is timing out and that's why it can't complete the process. Great.

What's their solution? Take my system to someone else's place (preferably with a different internet provider) and try recovering it there. Until I can make arrangements to do that I'm screwed. I don't have access to any of my arcade games and I'm not sure if I can play a disk game. And even if I did, anything I do that would count towards earning an achievement wouldn't count since I'm not logged into my profile.

Like I said, I'm screwed. Hopefully I can take care of things tomorrow since I already have the day off work. I was hoping to spend the whole day gaming and not recovering my profile. As it stands now I can't really do anything. So remember kids, your profile is everything. Oh, and don't do what I did. 'Cause if you do then you'll be like me. And I've got nothing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

New Poll - Is it wrong to play Avatar: Burning Earth for quick achievement points?

So my brother and I are locked into a gamer score battle. With no end in sight. You see we're both competitive people and neither one of use can stand that the other one might have a higher gamer score than the other. His score currently stands at 5,010 and I'm at 4,967. Now if I could just stop playing Call of Duty 4 online I'm sure I could make up the difference.

We have a lot of the same friends in common and now they're starting to get in on the competition. They help us out when we're stuck trying to get an achievement. They've offered to "distract" the other one into playing something (that won't get them achievements) so one of us can work on achievements in peace. I've even had one of my friends offer to play a game for me to earn the points while I could play something else. And then there's the suggestion, from just about everyone, to play Avatar: The Burning Earth.

The game only has five achievements and if you watch the YouTube video you'll see that it only takes about 10 minutes to get all those achievements. Instant 1,000 points. As appealing and tempting as this is there's a downside to having those 1,000 points in your gamer score. It doesn't matter what game forum you go to but everyone looks down on those that have played the game for the points. You're scum. You're slim. You're an achievement whore.

That may be, but it’s 1,000 points! That would mean I would be 5,967 and my brother would still be 5,010. I'd be ahead of him by a large margin. Of course there's nothing to stop him from renting the game and getting those 1,000 points himself. Which would mean he be ahead of me again.

So I guess it comes down to whether I want to beat my brother's gamer score (yes) and look like scum on game forums (like I care what they think anyway) or play and EARN achievements for games that I actually like (yes, yes, and oh . . . yes). Vote in the poll and tell me what you think.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Poll Results - Number of Xbox Live Arcade games

So the poll is closed and the voting ended like this:

1-15 = 4 votes
15-30 = 1 vote
30-45 = 1 vote
45-60 = no votes
60-75 = no votes
75+ = 1 vote

And just for the record my votes was the 75+, but I'll get to that in a bit.

Why only 1-15 Arcade games? That doesn't seem like enough. Just think about it. Unless you have the narrowest taste in games (or a very limited budget) you're bound to pick up more than 15. For starters Aegis Wings, Hexic HD and Yaris are free. No money involved there. If you're a card player you'll probably pick up Uno, Hearts and Spades as well as Solitaire (and all the expansion packs). You might even pick up Backgammon even though it's not a card game. So you're already up to 8 games and we haven't gotten into other interests you might have.

If you are an old "going to the arcade" gamer you've probably unlocked Asteroids, Tempest, Centipede, Galaga, Gauntlet, Joust and Tron. If you're going to unlock Pac Man you might as well unlock Ms. Pac Man and Pac Man CE while you’re at it. You see how easy it is to accumulate a bunch of games?

If you were a home gamer in your youth (back in the old Atari days) you probably bought Frogger, Track & Field, Smash TV, Paperboy, Root Beer Tapper and Missile Command. Those games will let you relive old childhood memories. And for the sports/bar fanatic Pinball FX, Bankshot Billiards 2, 3D Ultra Mini Golf and Texas Hold 'Em.

But even if you didn't have a set taste in games there are several that are similar to each other that if you liked one you'll probably get the other. I’m talking about Zuma and Luxor 2, Hexic HD and Hexic 2, Crystal Quest and Robotron 2084, Bejeweled 2 and Jewel Quest, Space Giraffe and Every Extend Extra Extreme, Aegis Wings and Scramble. There's something for everyone and something very similar to it that only costs about 800 points more.

Yes, I know money is something some people have to consider when it comes to their electronic entertainment. Buying all the latest games (through the Arcade or otherwise) can really add up, including all the add on features that come out. That's way when you don't have the money it's nice to download the demo and get your fix that way.

I counted up my games and I've got 95 total Arcade games. About 10-12 of those are demos that I wanted to try out based on recommendations from friends. Yes, I know that's a lot of games, but I like them. There's a game to suit my every mood (and I'm a girl so I've got lots of moods). If I can't find the right game for my mood then there isn't a game out there made for what I'm feeling at that time.

Some times I get obsessed with playing a game either for the achievements or for the highest score. I got that way with Jewel Quest and Backgammon. I just had to finish those games. I played a little bit every night to keep myself fresh and within in a couple of weeks I made it to the end and earned every achievement. I'm currently obsessed with Catan but unfortunately my internet connection (and the crappy online support that game has) prevents me from picking up the last achievements I need. For some reason I don't have connection issues with any other game on my 360 except this one.

I even have full versions of games that I haven't played yet. I've unlocked Golden Axe, Outpost Kaloski X, Prince of Persia Classic, Time Pilot and Double Dragon but I haven't played them. Why? Because I usually do all my downloading after I'm done playing for the night. I jump out of whatever game I'm playing, download the new content then go to bed. By the time I get back to playing again I've started playing something else. I will eventually play those games. And all the demos I've downloaded but haven't tried.

I even tallied up my gamer points from my Arcade games vs. my disk games. I think I have more points through the Arcade. The numbers were very close and things might have swung back in favor of the disks as I picked up some achievements in Conan and Bioshock after I added things up.

Even though I have a lot of Arcade games already I still check the New Arrivals every Wednesday. And I can't wait until Ikaruga comes out. I have this game for the Game Cube but I can't wait to play it and earn achievements for my 360. So if for some reason the game developers go on strike and stop making new games I think I'm set for awhile. I've got enough games to last me for a couple of years at least. Hopefully those with 1-15 Arcade games won't regret not getting more.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Your winning streaks are being manipulated

A friend of mine came up with a theory of people's winning streaks in Call of Duty 4. He thinks they’re rigged. After playing and seeing what he told me to look for I believe him.

When you get online in COD4 look at your friends leaderboards for wins. Under "winning streak" how many wins do your friends have? 10? 5? 3? Based on Evil's theory they will probably only have a win streak of 2. Why? Because if you win 2 games in a row most likely you'll lose the third.

I looked at all my friends and sure enough the longest winning streak anyone had was at 2. And I have players on my list who play this game religiously. And they're good. And one of them has finished prestige. So why aren't they winning more in a row.

The thing with this theory is that it only applies if you stay in the same room with mostly the same group of people for three rounds. If you swap out a few players between matches it won't effect things very much. If you leave the game lobby after two rounds things start all over again when you enter your next lobby.

For three or four nights I watched this, keeping track of wins and loses and how long we've been in a room. Sure enough if we won 2 matches in a row the next match we would lose (even if we totally dominated the other team in the previous matches). For some reason we couldn't seem to aim and shoot anyone. Our targeting seemed to be off. Their grenades seem to have a wider explosion radius. We'd have to knife someone two times. They could shot us once in the knee caps and we'd die. It's all very subtle unless you know what to look for. And the reverse of this theory works too. If you've lost 2 matches in a row against the same group of people you'll win the next one.

We got into a match when a full team (all with the same Clan Tag) jumped in. We knew we were playing against a cohesive clan and that we'd probably get our butts kicked. We did. The first two matches were a blowout. And humiliating. Why we stayed in I don't know, but we did. And sure enough we won the next map. We weren't doing anything different and I don't think the map is one we favored. We just seemed to get "lucky" . . . a lot. Playing the third time was easy. It made us wonder why we had so many problems before. But that didn't last. The next map they were back to owning us.

Now part of me can understand why a developer would like to even the playing field and make sure one group of people can't consistently dominate another. But another part of me wants to win fair and square by my own efforts (and that of my teammates because I'm a terrible player) without getting some "special help" behind the scenes. It cheapens the whole experience when you finally beat a good team if you know the developers, in some way, helped you along.

Yes, people glitch and cheat in games. It comes with the territory that some people want the glory without the effort. I wish it wasn't that way, but there's very little I can do about it besides booting and reporting players that cheat. But when game developers cheat and rig the system, even if it's to help someone, that's uncalled for. So what if I lose 10 games in a row. Let me enjoy the game and if I do I won't mind losing because I'M HAVING FUN. Rigging the game to manipulate players winning and losing streaks and suddenly I'M NOT HAVING FUN ANYMORE. And if I'm not having fun why should I still play your game?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Breathing new life into tired game play

My friends and I found a way to breathe new life into some tired game play. Step 1: Put in Call of Duty 4. Step 2: Get a lot of friends together in a party (we had 15 people). Step 3: Set up a private Free-For-All match on "Old school". Step 4: Set the map to Shipment. Step 5: Kill everyone and laugh your head off.

I guess step 5 should read "try to kill everyone" when you have the map set to Shipment. On that map you'll be lucky if you can take 3 steps without being killed, especially with 14 other people all gunning for you.

I have some friends that can get . . . well, extremely rowdy, vocal and lewd. Playing "old school" with just your friends to kill had a different effect on them. They didn't talk as much smack and they spent most of their time laughing instead of cussing people out in the most (porno)graphically way possible. And as an added benefit (for the rest of us at least) we could kill them over and over and over again. That part I especially liked.

It was a riot and I had fun. Unfortunately in a private party you don't acquire points to rank up. And anything you do that would qualify for a challenge doesn't count. Oh well. But just listening to them complain as they have to start off with the Scorpion (a gun they all hate, but I love) is worth it. It almost feels like an even playing field.

I think the general consensus is that we should all play "old school" more often. I don't know if we'll ever have that many people online all playing the same game again, but I wouldn't be surprised if a smaller group didn't jump into a match every now and then. Especially after we all ended the "old school" fun and went back to regular online play. After 2 maps of lagers, glitchers, spawn killers, campers and idiots anything that can breathe new life into what's becoming very frustrating game play is worth a second look.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Standing in a wall (the evolutionary process of online game play)

After a very frustrating night of trying to play a good game of Call of Duty 4 I realized something. There's an evolution in how people play games online. Now that I know what to look for I can remember going through the same thing while playing Gears of War and even all the way back to Star Wars Battlefront.

The first evolutionary stage a game goes through I'll call the "Advent" stage. The game is just released and all the hardcore fans swarm the stores to pick up their pre-ordered copies. There's a thrill and excitement when they put the disk into their system and start to play. The game is new and everyone is new to the game so everyone is on equal ground.

A lot of the time spent in the "advent" stage is spent just looking around and figuring out how everything works. You try different weapons, play different maps and work out different strategies. If you find a great vantage point to snipe from you're excited . . . and hope to remember where it is and how to get there if you should die. Kill to death ratios are brushed aside because what really matters is just playing the game and enjoying what you've waiting so long for.

The second evolutionary stage of a game's release is the "second skin" phase. In this phase you're starting to learn all the nuisances of the maps. Where the best ambush sites are, where the best sniping sites are, and where best to lay low if your mother calls you on the phone while playing. You've learned what weapons work for you and what ones don't. You've learned short cuts and how to control spawn points. You might not always be successful at it but you feel like you know this game and your characters fits like a second skin.

This is the phase that people start to look at their kill to death ratios. You start to get serious about the game play. You've seen it all and you like it (or you wouldn't still be playing) so now it's time to get down to business. You admire good shots that take you out. You watch and learn from other players. You ask for and give advice about anything that will raise you up in the standings. And you start to smack talk the other teams. Get them off their game so they're easier to kill.

The third evolutionary stage (and the one that I think Call of Duty 4 is in right now) is the "glitcher's" stage. You find yourself getting into matches where it seems everyone is glitching. They've found ways to exploit the code in the game to stand in walls and still fire at you but you're unable to shot them. They've learned that you can throw a grenade through some walls instead of trying to find a window or doorway. They know how to make special jumps to get to places the developer's probably didn't have in mind when the made the game. And in some games they can find a way to go "outside" the map in one area and re-enter back in another all while being out of the field of play so they won't risk getting killed.

This is where all the jerks come out of the woodwork. They brag and talk smack before the game and once the game starts they find the closest place to glitch and take full advantage of the situation. They don't care about playing a clean game. They want the kills but not the deaths. They want the status and prestige or being on top without having to be at risk to get there. To them game play is a joke. Instead of saying "I'm such a pathetic loser that the only way I can kill you is to stand inside of a wall so you can't get me" they say "Ha ha I killed you from inside a wall."

When this happened in Battlefront everyone would beg the host to boot the person from the game. Unfortunately if you were playing on a dedicated account there was no host to boot players. Because of that a lot of players wouldn't play on a dedicated account because they didn't want to get stuck with glitchers. In Gears of War we did the same thing. We even went so far as to close the room down in the middle of a match if we thought more than one person was glitching.

Call of Duty 4 has been out since the first part of November. Plenty of time for gamers to move through the "advent" and "second skin" phase of the evolutionary process. Now after three months we're finding ourselves in the "glitcher's" phase. And if history is any indication we're going to be in this phase for some time. At least until the next two or three big shooters come out. Why?

Because the last phase of evolution is the "true fan" phase. This is where everyone else has moved on to play other games except for the true fans of a game. Battlefront has released in September 2004 yet there are people still playing that game on a weekly basis. Why, especially with all the awesome looking games out there? They play it because they're fans of the game. They're the gamers that really get into the game. They love everything about it and tolerated the glitchers while they played. The excitement they had when the game first came out is the same excitement they have every time they play. Unfortunately in order to get to this phase of the game you have to play through all the glitchers.

I have some friends who are starting to talk about putting up Call of Duty 4 because all the glitchers have come out to play. They love the game but the frustration of playing with glitchers is more then the love of the game. If they stop playing the disk will probably become of coaster for their beer or a Frisbee for their kids. Either way they're missing out on playing a good game in the future.

And for some reasons I think each evolutionary phase is getting shorter with each new game released. With the advent of gamerscores and achievement points players are more concerned with kills/deaths from the moment they put the disk in the tray. And the glitchers are finding things to exploit from day one instead of learning how to play the game the right way.

If we go through the evolutionary process faster with each new release, how much of an online life can some of these games have? Will everyone be burned out of Gears of War 2 within two months? Will Halo 4 (and you know there's going to be another Halo game) last more than a month? And what will late comers do when they pick up a game for the first time a couple of months after it's release only to find it doesn't have much of an online community left? Who knows?

Unless glitchers stop glitching it'll be very difficult for most gamers to get to the "true fan" phase of the evolutionary process. Games will lose large chunks of their long term fan base to cheaters. Games will be forgotten in months instead of years. And some people might no longer call themselves "gamers". And all because someone wanted to stand in a wall.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A benefit of playing games you've finished

Do you go back and play games you've already finished? You see the end credits roll but sometime later you've just got to put the game back in and play some more. I'm not talking about those "save+" games that let you keep all the stuff you've collected from the previous game so you have it available at the beginning of the new game for "a new experience". I'm talking about starting from scratch.

I've started Legend of Dragoon a couple of times. That's a great game. I've even started Final Fantasy Tactics Advance over (several times before I finished, but once since I've finished). And there's some Arcade games I've "finished" by getting all the achievements that I've gone back and played some more. But those games (Backgammon and Carcassonne) are games that don't really have credits that roll when the game's over. Jewel Quest on the other hand does . . . kind of.

My interest in Arcade games comes in fits. I become obsessive about a particular game and I have to play that game every day. Jewel Quest was one of those games. I made it to the end, got all my achievement points and I was done. I could have continued playing all the way back from the first level but I didn't think I would be playing that game again. Not because it's not a good game, but what else was there to see or do with it?

What I did learn while obsessively playing that game is that it's a very good decompressing game for me. When I get home from a very stressful day at work a level or two of that game and I'm more relaxed. And after an adrenaline filled night of shooting people playing that game kelps me calm down enough that when I do go to bed I'm not tossing and turning for hours before I fall asleep.

Some of my friends don't understand why I continue to play that game even after finishing it. And sometimes I don't understand myself. I just know that every now and then I just have to load it up and play a grid or two before moving on to something more serious. And since I don't have to worry about whether I’m going to make it to the next level or not, or what achievement points I need to pick up the game is very beneficial in many ways. My blood pressure goes down, my mood goes up and I don't have to feel like a loser because I came in last.

Friday, February 1, 2008

When Johnny comes marching home again

I've got some guys on my friend's list that have been connected with the military in the past and some currently in the army. One of them is named . . . well, since he's changed it a couple of times we'll just call him Johnny. It's close enough. I've know him from the old Star Wars Battlefront days. And no matter what name he goes by he's still a great guy.

We were in the middle of a Rainbow 6: Vegas binge when he had to report for duty because he was going to fight in Iraq. I think he played every minute he could before he left. When I noticed his name was no longer on my friend's list I got worried. I found out his account had expired while he was gone (and another reason why he had a slightly different name when he reactivated it).

Well, he's been home on leave since around Christmas and he's been playing Call of Duty 4 like crazy. Occasionally he goes back and plays Battlefront for old time's sake. Unfortunately his leave is almost up and I think he has to report back this Saturday. He's only got 6 months left of his tour and I don't know what he'll do afterwards, but I really hope he comes back alive. So for Johnny I'd like to dedicate the old civil war song "When Johnny comes marching home again".

When Johnny comes marching home again,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
We'll give him a hearty welcome then
Hurrah! Hurrah!
The men will cheer and the boys will shout
The ladies they will all turn out
And we'll all feel glad,
When Johnny comes marching home.

The old church bell will peal with joy
Hurrah! Hurrah!
To welcome home our darling boy
Hurrah! Hurrah!
The village lads and lassies say
With roses they will strew the way,
And we'll all feel glad
When Johnny comes marching home.

Get ready for the Jubilee,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
We'll give the hero three times three,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
The laurel wreath is ready now
To place upon his loyal brow
And we'll all feel glad
When Johnny comes marching home

I wish you luck, safety, and a quick trip home. Thank you for serving your country.