Tunnels of Doom

Navigating the twisty maze of games

Archive for May, 2009

Khaaaan! Edition

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

Invisible Death Metal KaraokeMy wife, gentle saint that she is, practically had to force me to go to KublaCon this weekend. I recognize the incongruousness of that but the explanation is pretty straightforward: Cons are expensive. We’ve been pinching pennies quite a bit (understand that I’ve played all the games I’ve played this year to date based on Goozex trades excepting the purchase of Fallout 3 and the rental of Resident Evil 5) so my only resource to attend Kubla this year was a tax refund check. When it came time to decide whether or not to pre-register, I balked because I kept thinking about all the things that smallish amount of cash could buy for the baby. Nik eventually coaxed me to commit to one full day at the con so I would at least have the chance to go considering I missed DunDraCon for similar reasons.

Then she realized that she had finals coming up the week following Memorial Day and decided she wanted me as far out of her hair as she could get me so she more or less demanded that I attend a second day. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go, but I wouldn’t have a room, I’d have to pay full price for the weekend pass, drive back and forth across a bridge and I just felt like it wasn’t a “pure” con experience. I grumbled and fussed but she was pretty adamant that due to her schedule and the fact that the arrival of our child would probably preclude any con trips for at least a while, this was likely my last chance to experience one for a bit and it should be taken advantage of, even if it wasn’t some version of ideal.

I’m sure the irony is not particularly thick to note that it was one of my better con experiences.

I love the full-weekend cons with two night hotel stays and supposed game-all-night sessions but to be honest a lot of times those shared vacations end up being exercises in scheduling. It’s less “Gamer Paradise” and more “Executive Administrative Assistant Boot Camp.” You’ve got between four and nine people usually, all who have different eating, playing and shopping schedules and you’re trying to coordinate what games you can get in with who needs to be where by when and at what point you can squeeze in sufficient meals for everyone. It’s pretty exhausting and in the end I think a lot of the gaming sputters and putters along excepting maybe one big—usually pre-planned—event.

This weekend however we simply arrived each day sometime in the morning, sat down and played until people began drifting away. Each session was adjusted for how many people were available and interested and those who were engaged in other activities were welcome to stop by for a short while and join us or simply chat until their next game. As a result I got in more gaming than any con I can recall and it was all great, great fun.

I thought the one disappointment was going to be that with the inclusion of my restricted budget I wouldn’t have much in the way of funds for the dealer’s room. That turned out to only be partially true since the real setback was that I went in wanting to find a fun Zombie-themed game to buy and the ones I found were low rated and badly reviewed on BoardGameGeek.com. The game that was recommended, Last Night on Earth, was nowhere to be found in any booth. However, I did manage to get an incredible dealer’s room score as I found unlicensed Blood Bowl blocking dice at the Chessex booth and managed to find the last matched set (black on green). So for less than $10 I walked away with what I felt was a huge DR coup. There was really no way to count it as anything but a huge success.

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Follow-Up Edition

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Oh! Hey! Heeeey! Over here! Hi! Hi guys! It's me!My expectations are peculiar beasts. Take, for instance, the odd contrast in gaming to conventional knowledge regarding in the cinema world: Sequels are always inferior. I’ve so long held this to be true that in many cases that “knowledge” spills over into other media and I start reviling follow-ups without having any firsthand knowledge of their content. In truth, many video game sequels are actually better than their forebears. This actually makes a certain sense because many first efforts in games are technological and mechanical experiments such that sequels can be and often are more refinements than anything else. Many games don’t have the same onus as films or books to “recapture” some nebulous attribute of the original (in many cases a sense of surprise and freshness that, by definition, cannot be recaptured).

Logically, I know this and yet I find I regularly stumble when presented with an announced sequel as my first thought is often, “Here’s where they ruin it.” Some games don’t carry this burden and I think it has something to do with my appetite for more of some particular title or my sense that there is yet more to be done with the systems or stories presented. Dead Space, for one recent example, feels like a game they could easily do more of and I would welcome it due to the broad reach of the setting yet unexplored. On the other hand I have nothing but skepticism for the upcoming BioShock 2 because I can’t help but feel that the original’s story and progression were complete in that package, a tidy bow put on top. Could they have improved BioShock 1? Sure. Should they try to find a way to shoehorn those improvements into some narratively-questionable rehash? I’m not so positive.

The good thing about my expectations though is that I’m willing to allow them to be tested. This is how I end up playing Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Fable II which both seemed upon initial evaluation to be better than I had reasonably hoped they would be. It’s how I end up loving something like Portal or Mirror’s Edge. Of course, it’s also how I end up suffering through Haze and Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, but you get some bad with the good.

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Filing Edition

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Jane? Get me... the RED FILEClassification is a tricky business although one I know humans in general have a difficult time resisting. Causing stumbling awkwardness the whole time is the regular occurrence of things which either defy classification or force the labels to grow ever more specific. It’s like trying to assign genre labels to your iTunes library: Is Primus “Comedy Music” or “Rock”? It seems a bit pedantic to create a genre called “Funk-Influenced Alternative Psychadelic Rock with Comic Lyrical Themes.” It depends also what your intended purpose is: If your efforts are focused on grouping you may find that while Johnny Cash is often stuck in “Country” music, you may find (as I do) that lumping him with Faith Hill and Garth Brooks feels like an affront to the man in black.

Which is all why the discussion of what qualifies someone as a “gamer” or “hardcore” has felt sort of forced or irrelevant to me. People seem to have a hard time classifying even themselves, and yet they take umbrage to the notion of those they deem unworthy encroaching on their preferred labels. I do find it fascinating to watch people struggle to accept the truth of their perceptions when presented with hard evidence that subverts it; more often I find humor when aggro youths demand credentials for someone’s self-proclamations. They’re like tiny gamer hall monitors, patrolling hallowed halls without pondering the footfalls of their predecessors, mired in the present as if it were the only thing of relevance.

Even in those cases I try to avoid the obvious scorn. It speaks no better of me to challenge them with qualifications that extend beyond their chronology permits. After all, no one expects that anyone born in the 1970s would have seen as many black and white films as one born thirty years prior. The only catch is you want to be cautious speaking with authority on cinema if you don’t have at least a passing knowledge of pertinent historical films. And in any case a touch of humility—an endangered quality on these here Inter-connected Nets—is appropriate: There is always someone with experience and context of greater breadth and depth than your own, you can lay a bet on that.

You quickly reach a point trying to compare similar enthusiasts where you’re forced to fabricate ludicrous sounding faux-words like “hardcasual” which have neither meaning nor legitimate applicability to any known human. The factor most of the classification-obsessed ‘net denizen overlooks is that classifying humans is trying to draw bead on a moving target, especially when you’re discussing leisure. Assuming an activity is preferable to some other activity, you can be relatively confident that a person will engage in it when presented with the opportunity. Given heaps of delicious, creamy chance, they will dive in and lather themselves with it as long as possible. Restrict that access and they will pine for it, wish that they could devote more time to its pursuit but likely won’t forsake it. You can say that someone who finds work commitments too taxing to engage in, say, regular golf games is not a “golfer” based on some arbitrary equation measuring games played divided by time. I have to question whether the distinction holds value; self-identifaction in this case feels like the test and the answer sheet stapled together.

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Mix-Up Edition

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Scratch the needle on it like the record had an itchThe plan was to write about Fable II in this Edition. After finishing Gears 2 last week I went onto Goozex and pulled a couple of games from my Hold queue into my Request queue so I could pick up something new to play. I got matched fairly quickly with a seller for Fable II and anticipated getting the game probably toward the end of the week but at least with enough time to get a decent start on it over the weekend.

Unfortunately the game didn’t arrive until fairly late on Saturday (after my typical Saturday morning game session, essentially) but I was pretty enthusiastic about it when I finally found it in the mailbox. As a mild digression, I picked up the original Fable thinking it was going to be just so-so and ended up really enjoying it. It certainly had its issues and the magazine article I read that had informed me of its existence was based on an interview with Peter Molyneux, whose pie-in-the-sky descriptions of Fable were… hopeful. The final product ended up being less ambitious than those descriptions but still a game well worth playing. Curiously, the announcement of Fable II didn’t really grab me the way a sequel announcement for a game I enjoyed typically might; it wasn’t until the prospect of actually trying it was sort of real and present that I felt and sense of anticipation worth mentioning.

In any case, when you tear open a package you expect will contain an epic swords and sorcery role-playing adventure and instead you find Skate-It for Wii (a system you don’t even own), anticipation quickly dissolves, like an ice cube frozen around a hard lump of disappointment dropped into boiling sulfur. To be fair, the heavy use of Goozex creates a situation in which this sort of mistake can be made fairly readily: You ship games to people who are basically strangers, sometimes even mostly masked by the anonymity of an online handle. These mysterious entities are a faraway address and an abbreviated name, mostly you think of them in terms of the game you’re shipping out. If several of these requests come in at once, confusing the packaging in a scramble to coordinate postage with game with shipping address across three or four shipments is understandable: Structured organizations devote entire departments of workers to managing this sort of endeavor and they certainly don’t operate at a 100% success rate.

It wasn’t the fact that I received the wrong game that turned my mood sour, it was more the notion that I was relying on a successful transaction to provide me with fresh gaming material for this week. Coupled with an appointment that precludes Monday Board Game Night, pickings were bound to be fairly slim to begin with. The hassle represented by the mistake wasn’t malicious, it was just poorly timed.

I attempted to remedy the situation by stepping outside the comfort zone I’ve lived in for a couple of months now and actually spent the money to rent a game. I went with Resident Evil 5 rather than Fable II even though at this point there is no certainty that I’ll end up with Fable in the near future; however it shakes out Fable II will end up being sent by this seller or another at some juncture. Instead I went with RE5 because a) Zombies and b) I can either wait for the game to drop from it’s lofty trade points price or slam through it in a week and save myself a trade for something that didn’t disappoint me by its mere premise.

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