Ice crystals cause a gasp!

Originally posted at GameSpot on February 14, 2008

Tuesday, February 12, 2008 – We were sent home from work early because the weather was so bad, and I took advantage of the opportunity to get some gaming in. It was almost a year to the day (Valentine’s Day of last year) that work was cancelled because of the snow, and it still felt just as good as it did then.

Quick hits:

Got some good time in with Super Mario World and Star Fox Command. I feel like I should give the latter its own entry, but that might come later.

Super Mario World is getting better, and that’s due directly to the fact that I’m actually progressing in the game now. Figuring out the puzzles or hitting a jump right goes a long way in keeping me playing. Just got out of the Forrest of Illusion and it’s on to the Chocolate Island. I get a little tired of the constant Ghost Houses, but I think that’s just because they’re tougher.

Star Fox Command has really impressed me. Any flight sim I’ve played has been on the PC, and while the game isn’t a simulation per say, I’ve never seen flight combat represented so well on any other platform. The DS control handles very well once you get used to it, and pulling out of a drive or making a sharp turn feel like you’re actually doing something.

The difficulty is just right, bordering on easy sometimes – but then a tough boss or missile shows up to even things out. I do enjoy the missile mechanic of the game more than I thought – it ratchets up the tension, knowing that you could have beat the rest of the level but missing one beacon means it was all for nothing.

The story is nothing too special, although the dialogue gets pretty good when the characters have extended interaction. Lines like, “Outta bed and full of beans,” tend to make you smile every time. I do enjoy the story surprises, though – you finish an area and all of the sudden BAM! Team Wolf pops out of nowhere!

– In both games, I’m found something I didn’t know I missed – the gasp! By the “gasp!“, I mean literally sucking in a lot of air – loudly – whenever something happens. In Super Mario World, this is usually when I die on the same jump for the tenth time in a row, or when I actually squeak by a difficult level. On Star Fox Command, it’s when I’m hitting that last beacon to destroy a mother ship or frantically trying to finish a level before time runs out. During these moments, it’s not unusual to hear a gasp! – or several of them.

I think the gasp! has been missing (or at least in the consistency of when I’m now experiencing them) due to the fact that I haven’t really progressed through a game in a long time. I’ve been racing with the new wheel, or just playing through games I’ve already beat when I have time like Star Wars: Battlefront II. But now I’m playing through levels, advancing unknown stories, and playing the DS in short bursts instead of sitting in front of my Xbox for an extended amount of time.

One isn’t better than the other, but I do enjoy this change of pace – and I’m excited about the potential gasps! to follow.

– Three great lines have come from my wife during this week, all related to Puzzle Quest:

“I’ve done this more today than I’ve knitted.”

She has really been getting into the game, and rightly so – it’s a great game! I showed it to her the night I got it, she said it looked cool, and then I left for work the next morning.

Since then she’s picked it up, and can’t put it down! I’m excited that she enjoys it, and so far she’s played it more than me – for the record, she’s on level 17 and I’m at 5.

“This is my kind of Fable

My wife “played” Fable with me on Xbox, and now she has a version of her own. With the knights, orcs, swords, and other Fable-ish items found in the game, it reminds her a lot of the world of Albion. Seeing her enjoying the puzzle aspect of the game and having her first taste of some RPG elements feels really satisfying – she told me she understands now why I get excited when I level up a character (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), or want to expand my kingdom as much as possible (Shogun: Total War). Ah, music to my ears! Now she knows why I get excited over the things that I do

“I used yours since my battery died.”

Just as she was about to topple her foe, the DS’s battery died – but instead of quitting and waiting for her battery to re-charge, she finished the game on mine. I think that speaks for itself.

Post tenebras lux

Of Gladius and guilt

Originally posted at GameSpot on October 29, 2007

Guilty? Me? Does this even make sense? I find it amazing that even after nearly three years, I still have something that can best be described as guilt over returning Gladius to the store.

Where does this come from? Why would I even have these feelings after a decent amount of time has passed? I have a few theories:

-I want to know how it ends! I enjoy a good story – and games are no exception. This explains how I can have as much fun watching a game as well as playing (Metal Gear Solid), or how I can keep playing a game devoid of fun but from good source material (Star Trek: Klingon Academy).Gladius had a great story; slow-building but definitely there.

– I feel likeĀ I wimped out on the game. I started Gladius, and I should finish it. It’s that simple. I can’t stand starting a book or movie and not finishing it, and the same thing applies here.

– When a game garners high critical praise, it seems like I should have enjoyed the experience more. I use GameSpot a lot to help decide what purchases I should make. Gladius received a very respectable score (8.4), and that was important in my decision to pick the game up. I’m not blaming the high score at all, I just feel like I missed out on something.

So there you have it – the reasons for my “guilt.” Are they good enough reasons? I mean, do I deserve to feel like I messed up somehow by not sticking with the game? In the end, I think the answer is no. And here’s why:

First, you have to establish context. The main reason I didn’t stick with the game is being recently married, spending hours a day on a RPG that your wife finds incredibly boring tends to lead to some disagreement. If I want video games to be a part of my life now that I actually do have more important things going on, I need her on board if I’m going to play something for any length of time. Gladius didn’t make her cut, so that’s one huge strike against it.

Second, in keeping with context, I had only just begun to enter the world of RPGs. Some might not consider Knights of the Old Republic a true RPG, but it was the closest thing I had come to the genre so far. Going from the quick pace of that game to the slow walk of Gladius made it easier to let it go.

Third, the game’s high score does not have to reflect my own personal taste. This may seem an obvious fact – but I do put stock in what people in the industry say about a game, and I concede that their experienced opinion holds more weight than mine. That being said, I still don’t have to agree with it. With any game, it comes down to what I like – not what someone else tells me I should like. (I give you Panzar Dragoon Orta – I hated that game!)

To sum it all up, Gladius was a great game. It had a great world map and soundtrack. It had great cut scenes with dramatic flair. It had good combat system, interesting storyline, and fun characters. But, it wasn’t a great game for me. I think it is possible to label a game as great without personally liking it as the same time.

Post tenebras lux

The End of the Exile’s Journey

Originally posted at GamSpot on July 17, 2005

The Fourth of July, 2005. A time of family, food, and fireworks. But this year, that morning held another memorable moment – Knights of the Old Republic II is history!

So on to my thoughts. First, this Knights was everything I could have hoped for after playing the first one. Great battles, interesting characters, and (above all) an amazing story. Suiting up in the Ebon Hawk for the second time never felt so good.

There were a few weak points. On Malchor V, when Hanharr come back to fight Mira, I had to roll my eyes a little. How did that all happen? Did Kira bring him? Why was Mira just wondering around the planet? And then, after the fight, I just let him walk away (light side)? Lame.

Another weak story point also had to do with the final planet. You see your ship fall to its death down the cracks of Malchor V. As a matter of fact, the cut scene is called, “The Death of the Ebon Hawk.” Yet, when my character needs to leave the planet, the ship just floats up and takes him away. And what about the other characters? Darth Traya (Kira) tells you what happens to everyone, but then you fly away from the planet without dropping anyone off. Where did they go? How did they get to the future that Kira saw for them?

I guess I had problems with the story because, to me, that was the best part of the game. And with that said, that still was the best part of the game. When you went back to Dantoonie to meet the three Jedi Masters who you spend the entire game up to that point searching for and they simply try to sever your connection with the force again, I couldn’t believe it. I really thought, based on the dialog from at least two of the Masters, that they had learned from the mistakes that they admitted they made when judging me before. Yet, as I stood there, they told me what a danger I was and how I had to be stopped.

And then Kira comes in and kills them! That blew me away! I thought she has just used the force to simply to hurt them, but when I walked up to their bodies they were dead! Now what? Ah, onto Malachor V. The whole sequence of going through the ancient temple, fighting Darth Sion, and finally facing Kira (Darth Traya) was fantastic. (Facing the other Sith Lord was also sweet. Landing on the Ravager, placing the bombs, then the long walk up to his bridge to finally face him. . . very dramatic – loved it.) So she was a Sith – even though she didn’t want power. She wanted the death of the Force – and sacrificed herself for my character to try and accomplish it. The connection with Revan and my character, that he left to fight the true Sith in their empire and that I might also have a similar destiny, gave the two games a nice continuity.

The final scene of the Ebon Hawk sailing out into open space after the destruction of Malchor V was nothing short of cinematic. The music added the final touch to truly send off a great game.

One of the greatest compliments you can give a game is to want more, and I can’t wait for Knights of the Old Republic III.

Post tenebras lux

The Last of the Sith Lords

Originally posted at GameSpot on June 12, 2005

I’m nearing the end of Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords – just landed on the last planet of Onderon. (Probably not the last last planet – I’m sure there’s some twist still yet to come. Regardless, I think I’ve got about ten hours left. Is Kriea really evil? Will I have to fight her for sure, or choose to let her live? We shall see…)

I’m enjoying this one as well as the original Knights, although that game was really my first true experience playing a RPG so it will always hold a special place. I’ll have to write about that event later – definitely a great moment in gaming…

I love the sense of accomplishment in the game. I’m sure it’s true of most RPGs, but to go back and visit a planet I had been to before was a great experience. Walking down the corridors of Telos nearly thirty-five hours later in the game was like old home week. “Oh, there’s the plastic cylinder I opened last time,” or “here’s the shuttle bay where I fought what’s-his-name.”

Except this time I, along with my character, felt much more powerful and very much in control of the situation. Now with a light saber, and thirty-five more hours in the game, it was as if I was feeling the game world in a more complete way.

Does that even make sense? That’s the only way I can think of to describe it. Maybe the best way to put it is that spending a long time with something makes you feel more a part of it, and that goes for games as well.

That being said, I hate that the game is coming to a close! Much like a good movie, I want to watch the first part over and over again – because then the story never ends.

These are my random thoughts on KotOR II. And while I don’t want the game to be over, I still can’t wait to see the ending!

Post tenebras lux