This can’t possibly be a full review of the game, because at this point I’ve only played it through once, and if you are familiar with the original, you know that means that I failed. I messed up a case, let survivors die and then eventually got stupidly overwhelmed by zombies. However, death isn’t the end in a Dead Rising game. Death just means I get to start over, while keeping my levels and skills and whatnot. Oh, and clothes. One of the silliest bits in the DR games is that when you start over your character will have on the clothes he was wearing when he died. In the original, that meant that if you died after the abduction, you could wind up watching the opening cinematics in your skivvies. In my case, I’m wearing footy pajamas, a fedora and a Groucho Marx disguise.
I digress… The simple fact is that DR2 is the kind of sequel you love to get. It understands what was great about the original and makes it better, and also understands what was tedious and fixes that too. My biggest issue with the original was that the survivors all sucked. No matter what weapons you gave them, they didn’t seem to be able to fight. In DR2, I actually plan my routes so that I’ll have 2 or 3 or more survivors, armed with guns, when I get to a psycho or run certain parts of the game. The survivors actually, you know, help! But don’t just take my word for it, read this review as well.
Anyway. I’m totally loving this game, and think that everyone should play it (and the original too, and Case 0 if they are on the 360, and Case West on the 360 when it comes out, and Dead Rising 3 when they inevitably make it). I still haven’t played around with the co-op or multiplayer, but I’ll be doing that this weekend.
The fourth book in David Wellington’s vampire series, 23 Hours, continues the story of Laura Caxton and her pursuit of the blood drinking monsters. This time, due to the events of the last book, Caxton is in prison and the world’s last vampire comes to play.
I’m a huge fan of Wellington’s work, read and loved them all. So it is no surprise that I liked this one too. After seeing so many books using vampires as romantic objects, it is nice to return to this world where they are more like sharks, mouths full of teeth, death on two legs. Anyway, I hope I’m not spoiling too much when I say I’ll be eagerly awaiting book five.
I really enjoyed this film… when I saw it nearly three years ago. Perhaps I might watch it on Netflix someday, but film remakes done so close to the original that aren’t from foreign language originals do not get my box office dollars. The original was just so brilliant that I don’t see this one improving on that.
This movie, however, will earn my money. From the first trailer I’ve been wanting to see this, and I tried very hard to get myself in to a free screening so I could review it for release (and then probably go see it again), but I didn’t. Still, normal folks trying to be superheroes just sounds awesome. Can’t wait.
Getting a limited release this week (around 190 screens) is a film about materialism. Since I managed to see a screening of this film (thanks Film Metro!) I can tell you that the trailer is one of those “not quite true” trailers. The Joneses is about a company that does self-marketing by putting a team in a neighborhood and then having them show off products and increase sales in the area. They aren’t exactly salesmen, they aren’t selling specific goods, but they market a lifestyle and drop comments about how they like certain things and work that jealousy angle that gets people to go buy stuff they don’t need. Demi Moore plays the lead of this sales team, and David Duchovny is the new member. The basic story is that Duchovny at first doesn’t get how it works, then he proves he’s the best at it, and finally he feels bad about what they are doing. Along the way there are a number of funny moments, as well as a few dramatic ones, and a few tragic ones. Overall, I really enjoyed the film. It might not be for everyone, but as someone who is pretty much beyond his “keeping up with the Joneses” phase and is working on recovering from the damage, it hit home. I only wish they’d made this movie about fifteen years ago.
For me, a “role playing” game, despite being short hand for a genre of games, has always meant a game where you, the player, get involved, care for the character and can influence the outcome. One of the largest aspects of role playing is the danger of losing. In MMOs this is often referred to as the “death penalty”.
Gordon wrote about it a couple of weeks ago, and Darren a few days ago. I’ve written about it too. And if you search around the Internet on the gaming blogs you’ll probably find hundreds of posts.
In my experience the best role playing games have at least a modest death penalty. More than just a few coins spent on repairs, or being set back a few seconds, but real almost tangible loss that you want to avoid.
My first real role playing game was, of course, Dungeons & Dragons. Because the game is so unstructured, being just a set of rules which your gaming is built upon, I’ve found that lots of people have lots of different experiences. If your Dungeon Master never actually reduced your player’s constitution when he got resurrected, then I don’t think you’ve ever really role played Dungeons & Dragons. If you never had a character die (and I mean really die, as in you might as well tear up the character sheet because that guy is not coming back, ever), then I don’t think you’ve ever really role played Dungeons & Dragons. If your character went from 1 to Demi-god without ever being in danger of being permanently hurt or sent to the circular file, then I don’t think you’ve ever really role played Dungeons & Dragons. That’s just me, but if you played without penalties, I don’t know if I would consider what you were doing to be role playing. You were just gaming. You were rolling dice while the DM told you a story.
Playing EverQuest, you put together a group (or joined someone else’s) and you went somewhere to complete a goal or just grind out some experience. If you died, you had to watch the exp bar retreat, possibly hours worth of advancement vanishing along with the pixels. You could recover the majority of that loss with a resurrection from a cleric (or later, other classes), but a bit of it was gone. Just gone. So, because of that reality, if you invited a player into your group who wouldn’t stop drawing aggro or sucked as a healer or in any number of ways exposed your group to death and loss, you kicked them out. And because of that reality, combined with that fact that most classes benefited greatly from being in groups, people tended not to be aggro drawing crappy healing death magnets for very long.
Many people will tell you that EQ didn’t have any role playing because people talked out of character or min/maxed numbers or whatever, but to me it will always be a role playing game because your character mattered. Your reputation, your wins and losses, it all effected how you were able to play the game. Within the confines of the defined computer controlled rules of gaming, you had to play a role in order to play the game. I remember a number of weeks I spent in Karnor’s Castle in EQ and there was this bard shouting for a group, and most of us who’d been around wouldn’t group with him. Every time he’d get into a group, he’d go AFK a lot. Sure, he’d leave on mana song or something, but he wasn’t doing crowd control, and his songs often pulled aggro off the tank on the pull, and when running was needed he wasn’t there, would have to be left behind, then he’d complain about the group getting him killed. So he spent most of his time looking for a group instead of being a group. Sure, his actions would eventually earn him the same level of ignoring in newer games that he got in EQ, but given the design of EQ, the fear of death, the shared spawns and grinding exp, he was very quickly rooted out, not because of how he played but because of how his play affected the play of others. Meanwhile, players who worked well with others and had a healthy respect for the loss of experience grouped well. Lasting friendships and guilds spawned from avoiding the penalties together.
Of course, not all MMOs need to be RPGs, but I believe what I have discovered over the past couple of years and what I am realizing now is that in the genre of MMOs I prefer the MMORPG. Many of the most recent MMOs don’t have much RPG in them (remember, I’m using RPG to actually mean role playing and not as shorthand for a genre of gaming features). Too many of them are too soloable, with too little penalty, with inevitable victories no matter how much I suck. Many of these MMOs are more like sports leagues for kids that don’t keep score, where everyone gets a trophy because everyone wins simply by showing up.
As always, I’m rambling, and I’m not even sure where I was going with this other than to empty onto the Internet another reason why I think I’m not being drawn into many MMOs anymore…
About two months ago, a friend sent me a link to Elements. I played around with it for a few days to see if it would be something I was interested in, and it was. So I backed away from it and then came at it fresh for 30 days.
If you’ve ever played and enjoyed collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering, then this is probably right up your alley. When you begin you pick an element from Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Light, Darkness, Entropy, Gravity, Time, Aether, Life and Death. Don’t worry about picking wrong, you can change later if you like, or just make a new account. You’ll be given a starter deck and your first Quest: to defeat a Level 0 foe. This first quest works like a tutorial, explaining how to play the game. A coin is flipped to see who goes first, on your turn, if you aren’t first you draw a card, then you can play any resource cards you have and any cards you have the resources to play, and then you end your turn where any monsters you have will attack, any effects you have will process, and you’ll collect a round of resources. The goal is to reduce your opponent to zero hit points before he does the same to you.
There are too many cards to spend any time talking about there here, but you can go to the bazaar and see them all. You’ll earn money from winning duels, and sometimes even win cards in bonus spins after a win which you can use or sell, and you buy cards to continue constructing your deck. If you are worried about spending money on the wrong cards, go play in the trainer that lets you have unlimited money but you can’t save your deck.
I started the game with a Death deck, built mostly on poisons and infections and boneyards (that produce skeletons when monsters die). If you can survive long enough with this deck, you can kill just about anyone… its the surviving that is the trick. After a while, I switched to playing Darkness, which I enjoyed more as it was definitely more active. Basing the deck around Drains (a card that sucks life out of the opponent and gives it to you) I started regularly ending matches with 100 health and earning double the winnings. I really ended up liking this slim deadly deck, but I felt I should also try out some others. I played in the trainer and eventually I decided to build a deck based entirely on quantum pillars/towers (random 3 resources instead of 1 specific) and drawn resources (1 of each resource), and even went so far as to look up the ultimate god killing deck which was similar to but much better constructed than my rainbow deck. Now I take turns playing my god killer for cash and my darkness for fun.
To be honest, this would never be a game that I played “seriously”, as in “for hours straight a day”. But it is a very nice throwaway game to keep running in the background while you work (if your work doesn’t mind you playing games and they don’t block the site). As a programmer, I know I occasionally need a momentary distraction from work in order to let my brain wander away from a problem so I can approach it from a new angle later, and Elements is perfect for that. The only negative I would say exists in the game is that it is very grindy in that it takes quite a lot of time to be able to upgrade cards and build a better deck unless you play a certain way (Google “elements god killing deck”). One “would be nice” thing is I would love to be able to build multiple decks and switch them out easily instead of having to rebuild them every time.
Overall, the game is very well constructed, it doesn’t appear to have any game breaking balance issues, and since it is free to play there is no harm in giving it a shot. And if you enjoy playing it, feel free to throw a few dollars at the developers via their PayPal donation link.
I still haven’t seen the first Rob Zombie Halloween remake, so I’m not itching to see the sequel. Perhaps one day I’ll catch up.
The Final Destination:
There is a fairly long tradition of horror movies utilizing 3D, but the old 3D kinda sucked. RealD, however, works great. It also helps that The Final Destination didn’t waste much time doing “stupid” 3D tricks like people waving things at the screen… they didn’t need to, because in a movie about people getting killed in insanely intricate traps there are plenty of body parts and death machines to fling at the audience. Overall, this movie was probably, from a plot standpoint, the worst of the Final Destination series, but the 3D makes the whole film stand out (see what I did there). The death scenes are just incredibly over the top, and fun to watch unfold. Well, unless you didn’t like the previous three films. It is sort of gross, and not for the squeamish. I’m not sure if the movie is worth $10 ($12 in most places since they charge you extra for the glasses), but seeing this in 3D is really the only worthwhile way to see it, and when it comes to DVD/Blu-Ray it won’t be in RealD 3D but regular 3D which just isn’t as good. So, yeah, if this sort of movie is something you’d enjoy, go see it at the theater.
One of the things that bothered me a lot while playing World of Warcraft is that most people really just didn’t care. If you got too many monsters in the same fight, or an elite was just too strong, many people just gave up, took the death and came back. The penalty for losing was so soft that no one minded, and in fact many relied on it to test the waters. ”Hey, let’s try this! What’s the worst that can happen? Lose a couple minutes and a little money on repairs?” It added an element of fearlessness to the game, which had its own merit, but in the long run as you come to count on that losing doesn’t hurt, winning doesn’t feel as awesome. Winning is just something that happens. Winning, in World of Warcraft, is inevitable.
Meanwhile, back in the dark ages of 3D MMORPGs, death could easily cost you a couple of days worth of experience points if you couldn’t get a cleric to resurrect you. In some ways, this was bad because people were less likely to try things unless they were pretty sure they had a good shot at winning. However, a charismatic enough leader could convince just about any group to try anything once. ”I know we don’t have a cleric, but I’ve grouped with this druid before, and we have an enchanter to slow, we’ll be fine!” That was the basis of some of my most memorable moments in the game. Five monks and a druid as a group in Old Sebilis, ranger tank in the Plane of Storms, and so on. But the greatest effect of a stiff death penalty was the will to survive. If a pull went bad, or a wandering monster joined in your already iffy fight, not one person ever said, “Hey, let’s just die and come back in a couple minutes.” Instead, the chat window would immediately be filled with chatter about who was tanking what, or what mob was going to get pulled away and rooted, or which mob to focus on as various forms of crowd control were tried. My memories of EverQuest are filled with moments of healers being out of mana while the group is surrounded by five monsters all mesmerized and the enchanter ensuring us they could hold it while I yelled at the group, “No one touch ANYTHING until the cleric says he’s ready!” and people making sacrifices, “I’ll off tank this, but I can’t last more than a minute or two, if you don’t finish by then, I’ll be dead but I wish you luck with the add.” I fought many fights where bad agro killed the cleric and the rest of the group fought tooth and nail to stay standing as long as they could. Failure hurt, but snatching victory from the jaws of defeat felt incredible.
Many people will tell you that harsh death penalties are a thing of the past and that today’s players wouldn’t stand for it, and they are right. The people who would never play EQ who have flocked to WoW aren’t looking for that sort of risk, just a few odd minutes or hours of entertainment. But to me, that sort of investment in a game is what I’m looking for. I want a game worth fighting for.
This past weekend I spent my time in Free Realms grinding out some Brawler levels. I was only level 4 and had that stupid “Get level 5!” as my only brawl quest. Well, I had other quests for the brawler, but they all required that I fight things recommended for level 5 and over. So I went and found a few random encounters and got level 5, then set about questing again.
Back in the days of EverQuest, I played a monk. The reason I chose a monk was because the guy who introduced me to the game said it was hard to play and was the class least reliant on equipment. And it was true, in the beginning. My monk was about 80% effective when “naked”. Of course, as the game expanded, monks became just as reliant on gear as every other class. But the point is, I played a monk. One thing monks did in EQ was called “pulling”. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it means that my group would pick a safe spot to sit and I would run out and find monsters for us to fight, dragging them back to the group for the kill. The reason monks did this was because they got a skill called Feign Death which allowed them to escaped monsters if they happened to get too many chasing them. Play dead, monsters go away. As all monks did, I learned the observable mechanics of the game, how monsters would walk back to spawn points at different times, how some would “reset” their “hate list” upon reaching their spawn, and lots of other little things. Over time, as I observed more and became a better puller, I used Feign Death less and less. I learned how to pluck a single monster from a group just by standing in a particular place a particular distance away at a particular angle. Honestly, being a puller in EQ was probably what kept me playing for so long. One of the main reasons I quit was at the high end game during raiding your team only needed one or two monks for pulling, and any extra monks were just a part of the killing team. Auto-attack is boring, especially after a life roaming zones in search of danger.
The point of that little trip down memory lane is to preface the following: Monster pathing and aggro hasn’t changed much over at SOE.
I find myself going under equipped and lower level than I should into brawler fights and using my monk skills to splits monsters and fight them one at a time when they are clearly intended to be fought in pairs or threes. You can even run from most groups of monsters and watch your “radar” to see when most of them turn around and go home, leaving just one tenacious follower to combat. I’ve even gone so far as to defeat “events” that clearly shouldn’t be something I do alone. In one quest instance, you get to a certain point and it triggers waves of monsters to attack. If you stand and fight, you have to take them on 3 or 4 at a time, but instead you can run off to the side and hide, wait for all the waves to show up, and then use aggro and positioning to pluck them one at a time out of the mess. Sure, it takes longer, but seeing as how actually finding people to group is one of the most difficult things to do in Free Realms, taking the time and doing it on my own is preferable.
Anyway, I managed to get myself 4 levels doing Brawler quests, and then I headed back to Sanctuary to see if I could exhaust it like I did Seaside. I haven’t yet, but I’m getting close.
Being born in 1974 means that my impressionable youth is crammed with the television and movies of the late 70′s and early 80′s. Chief among my earlier memories are those of watching Fantasy Island on TV. I am dismayed that only season one has been released on DVD. I’ll likely purchase it someday, but I don’t have the heart to rush out and get it since no further seasons have been released.
Even more disheartening though was learning of the death of Ricardo Montalbán. He brought to life both Mr. Roarke of Fantasy Island as well as bringing us, arguably, the best villain of the Star Trek franchise in Khan Noonien Singh, from both the TV series and the epic Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.
Rest in peace, Señor Montalbán, in soft Corinthian leather.