Star Wars gaming past and present

Originally posted at GameSpot on June 27, 2008

I recently wrote about some of my Metal Gear thoughts after watching an expertly done retrospective series on Gametrailers.com, and now I’m going to do the same with Star Wars.

Up to five already in the series, the trip down memory lane has been fun. Each retrospective usually centers on a certain group of games in the Star Wars lore, be it the Super Star Wars series or the X-wing/Tie Fighter games.

Stars Wars is a franchise that has me hooked – and when something like that happens, I can get sucked into buying/playing a bad game (no matter how bad), just because it has a lightsaber in it. This has definitely been the case with a few games, including (but not limited to) Force Commander,Rebel Assault, and Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

Still, I’m glad I’ve taken those hits – because for every lackluster game Lucasarts has put out, another infinity better game has stepped up to the plate. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight saga, X-Wing/Tie Fighter games, and the Battlefront series.

And things continue to look up – with The Force Unleashed and Star Wars The Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels both set to break new ground, it’s a good time to be in a galaxy far, far away.

Summing up – with the help of the retrospectives it’s been a fun look back at my Star Wars gaming past, and I’m looking forward to its future. True – I don’t have the necessary hardware to enjoy the coming games right this second. . .but when I do it will be a good time.

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VR training takes up real time

Originally posted at GameSpot on March 20, 2008

This is the second entry into a series about great moments from my gaming past. These wrinkles in time refuse to go away in my conscience, and I want to get them down before all the details are lost. The events are not in chronological order.

I owe a lot to the Metal Gear series. As someone who enjoys the storytelling aspects of video games, the adventures of Snake and crew never disappointed (Okay, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty wasn’t as good, but I wouldn’t say disappointing). High drama, great characters, and with more cut scenes then you could shake a stick at, I had no trouble getting sucked into the games.

If I enjoy a series, I want to get all I can out of it – and this brings me to Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions. A good friend from my first year of college had a Playstation, and I rented the game. Essentially a puzzle game with a gun, VR missions was fun and challenging to play. Playing through the game gives you a percentage of how much you have completed, and I figured I would just get as far as I could before taking it back.

But my friend had watched me play and got caught up – it became an obsession for both of us as we played along into the night for a few nights straight to try to complete the game at 100%. I’m sure courses were missed, and I know sleep was lost, but we just keep going. Many times we looked at the time limit running out, frantically trying to reach or complete the goal on time. Each stage became our personal enemy, keeping us from our goal and laughing at our mistakes.

If I remember correctly, we ended up completing over 99% of the game. I believe there were only two stages left that we just couldn’t beat, no matter how hard (or how many times) we tried. I’m sure if we owned the game we would have made it to 100%, but it was due back – money is very precious to a college student.

This moment sticks in my mind because of how the game just took us over – me, who liked the source material, and my friend, who had never even heard of it. We both dropped whatever we had going and focused all of our energy on destroying every floating geometric shape that got in our way. I don’t know if Konami had that exact goal in mind when they developed the game, but if so – mission accomplished.

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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 like 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.

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