All posts in Video Games

XBox Lives

On the morning of August 30th I noticed that my IM client was having trouble logging in to Windows Messenger. Seems the login credentials were wrong. So I went to the Windows Live site and tried to log in there. Hmmm. Maybe I had forgotten the password. So I reset it. When I checked my email for the confirmation message, I noticed a ton of receipts from XBox Live. Either I had sleepwalked and ordered up about $260 worth of Microsoft Points or somehow my account had been compromised.

I felt some panic at first, mostly for my XBox Live account. Was someone out there pretending to be me and hassling my online friends? Maybe they were dressing my avatar in sports clothes! I couldn’t log in to my account via my XBox. So I called up tech support and explained the situation. The guy immediately went into triage mode, calm but urgent. The patient had a few bullet holes, but this was nothing he hadn’t seen before.

It took about 15-20 minutes to give all the details. Fortunately the idiot hacker had left his email address behind. Even so, the guy told me that there was a backlog of investigations and it could be a month before I heard anything. During that time I couldn’t use my Xbox Live gamertag or my Windows Live ID. Fine. I had enough to keep me occupied on other consoles.

A month goes by and I don’t hear a word. Not even an automated email telling me that I had a case open with Microsoft. So I call them back up to see what is going on. Turns out my case was “not escalated properly” and nothing had been done at all. My case had just sat in a file, ignored. The tech told me we’d have to start over from the beginning. I tried not to completely lose my shit on this guy, which I managed to do. Although I did make it clear that I was disappointed with their performance. The tech told me he would add a note to fast track my case as it had been neglected for so long.

Fortunately, that worked. About a week later I received a call that I would receive an email within a week detailing the results of the investigation. Another week later I received a series of emails explaining how to get back online with my XBox Live Gamertag. I was also notified that I would receive a full refund for the charges made on my account. Additionally, Microsoft was giving me two free months of XBox Live. I was able to get back online with my original gamertag and found nothing amiss other than all my friends were gone. I’ll have to add them all back again.

So, other than the massive delay in processing the case, Microsoft set things right in a professional manner and I am pleased with the results.

Boldly Go

For this month’s Symposium, we had Reed and Isaac from their band World Racketeering Squad share some music with us. It was very “VH1 Behind the Music” as they shared their writing process as well as the inspiration for several of their songs. Isaac was able to describe some of the more technical aspects of songwriting in a way that I, the average non-musical person, could understand. They also treated us to two new songs still in beta. Their homage to Bowie’s “Space Oddity” was well received indeed. After that, Reed and Isaac blew my mind by creating songs on the fly, based on audience input, improv style. It was like a friend suddenly revealing a mutant power.

For the amusement portion of the evening, we returned to the bridge of the Artemis for a few hours of space exploration. This time around, we set up a network of laptops in the office. The laptops were then paired wirelessly with iPads which controlled the laptops remotely. That way we could all stand on the bridge with nothing but a slick Star Trekky-looking slate and play the game.

We had all six stations in play: Captain, Helm, Engineering, Comms, Science and Weapons. It was great to see how quickly everyone fell into using the bridge communication patter we’ve all been trained to use by Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek. Even though the Artemis was destroyed more often than not, everyone seemed to have a really good time.

I’m amazed that Artemis is not more widely known. Thom Robertson could be the next Markus Persson, bathing in money. Artemis is the Rock Band of sci-fi games, hours of fun. If you have a couple of Windows computers, a large screen, $40, and some buddies, I definitely recommend you check it out.

An Embarrassment of Riches

I may have mentioned this before, but there are too many things. And by “things” I mean books, video games, movies, TV shows, board games, songs, apps, and any other media one might experience. Right now, today, there are probably more things that I’d like to have a look at than I have time remaining in my life to do so. And tomorrow, someone will add even more.

I don’t like to leave things unfinished, no loose ends. But now I have this frayed blanket of partially read books, half-watched shows, unfinished video games, barely messed with apps, and board games still in shrink wrap. At one point these things were rare and hard won. As a child I created an impromptu garage sale to fund the purchase of the BattleTech board game, shutting the sale down the moment I could afford to buy. And then I played BattleTech for ages. Now everything is so easy to obtain, effortlessly plucked from the ether. But I feel like it takes a greater force of will to slow down and appreciate a single thing, knowing there are thousands more awaiting my attention. It is like touring the Louvre in a formula one race car.

I’ve decided I need to shift my perception of all this media, or at least to try. I’m trying to see it as another planetary ecosystem, something vast and ever present. In the same way that I do not need to play with every breed of dog on the planet, I do not need to play every game. If I see one I like, I will pet it and enjoy that moment. I’m really happy just knowing that all those things are out there and that sometimes my path will intersect with some of them.

Lost Boys

I’ve discovered a new niche of video games which I shall call “Art Games Featuring Lost Boys Which Make Me Cry.” The past few years have each yielded quite a few passion projects, independent games which come in from the edge of the map without a blockbuster agenda. Call them hoity toity or highbrow, but I love when anyone produces something unexpected, thoughtful and unapologetic. Long after I tire of space marines blowing up aliens, I will still be engrossed in the journey of a young boy across a fantastical landscape.

Braid, Limbo and Bastion all come from a place of perfection in terms of art design, story and game mechanics. I have nothing ill to say about any of these games. Each one drew me in with its own particular style. But what I really want to talk about is the emotional payload of each. I’m going to spoil the ending of each game, so stop reading if you care about what happens.

Braid’s opening scene sets up the classic video game tale: your girl has been captured by the villain and you must rescue her. As the game unfolds, you are presented with a series of interior monologues filled with longing for a girl, presumably a real person the designer was pursuing. They seem to have little to do with the game until the end. The main game mechanic in Braid is the ability to alter the flow of time, moving it backwards and forwards to solve the puzzles. So, at the very end, when you think you are about to rescue the princess, you are instead treated to a shocking revelation: The opening scene of the game was playing in reverse. Now it plays again, in the correct direction, and you see that the girl wasn’t captured by the villain. She is in fact running away from you into the arms of the knight who will protect her, the one she really wants to be with. You spend the entire game so self-assured and self-absorbed that you never consider that the princess doesn’t want you to rescue her. Masterfully done.

Limbo had a similar twist, although a more ambiguous one. In Limbo, you are trying to find your sister and perhaps rescue her. It is never really clear how the two of you came to be in Limbo. The game leaves a lot up to interpretation. You encounter your sister on two occasions. Each time she is sitting in a sun-dappled glade, blissful and in no apparent danger. On the final occasion, the last moment of the game, she hears you approach. She turns and gasps. That gasp was an ice dagger in my heart as I realized that she was probably never in Limbo and now she sees the ghostly apparition of her brother looming towards her.

I finished Bastion a several days ago and it still sticks with me. I want to hear that narrator all the time, telling the story of my daily life. And the music! I bought the soundtrack the day it was released so I could listen to those gorgeous songs again. There are two big decision points in the game. The first one just seems like a Voight-Kampff test to determine if you were human. You can either hold on to this devastatingly overpowered weapon that annihilates your enemies, or you could set it down and pick up the broken form of Zulf, your enemy (who had every right to want revenge), rescuing him. I picked up Zulf and moved, slowly, without any defense or means of fighting, out into a battlefield full of enemies. But they all stopped attacking and stood in silence as I carried Zulf past them and to the exit. It was such a moving scene. The second decision you have to make is to either reset the world so that the Calamity did not occur or to move the Bastion and fly into an unknown future. I chose to reset the world, and, of course, the Calamity happened again and I began back at the beginning.

I think I’m drawn to these games because there is romance in having a singular purpose driving you forward from the left side of the screen to right. And while having a goal is great, sometimes you realize in the end that your goal is not what you expected or wanted. And, of course, appreciate the journey instead of the destination. Once you reach the destination, it’s over.

Amanda’s Birthday

Today was my friend Amanda’s birthday and Nick had put together an awesome day for her and her friends. We had brunch at Chez Zee (Bed and Breakfast French Toast FTW) and then hung out at their place while Nick picked up the cake and Amanda got a massage. We played video games and party games and iphone games. And there was cake.

What a Great Day

Today I woke up early, showered and played a bit of Broken Sword on the iPhone. It’s a really well put together adventure game.

Then I went over to Nick and Amanda’s where I and their friend Ryan were meeting to go out hiking. We stopped and grabbed yummy kolaches first and then went to the park. I can’t remember the name of the park, but it was a great hiking trail.

Then we went to see Cop Out at the Alamo. Pretty silly movie. It could have been directed by anyone. As Kevin Smith didn’t write it, it didn’t seem to have anyone signature on the film.

After the film we went back to their place and watched Amanda play Heavy Rain for a few hours. Totally different game than what I experienced in the demo. I’m really looking forward to playing the game on my own. I can see what changes by making different decisions than Amanda.

I had to leave and go to Great Hall as I was playing in a Dominion Tournament. This was a slick operation. Everyone got personalized name badges to wear. We played three rounds, with three different load outs. They had these funky tournament rules where you played until 45 minutes were up or you ran out of *all* Victory cards. At first this sounded crazy, but it totally worked. You totaled your scores from each game and that was your tournament score. I ended up in 3rd place with 121 points. 1st was 125 and 2nd was 123, so it was close. Plus, the guy who got first place was taught by a guy that I had originally taught to play the game. Overall, it was a blast to play. It was like being in a geek poker tournament. Everyone was standing around, talking strategy, how each game had gone. Super fun.

Player Freedom vs. Narrative Cohesion

Having recently played the Heavy Rain demo, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Uncharted 2, I’ve been thinking about linearity in video games and the impact on game play and narrative. As I have already written a piece on the subject, this is more of an addendum.

I have come up with a Theory of Player Freedom vs. Narrative Cohesion (working title): The scope of a player’s freedom to explore a game world and choose courses of action is inversely proportional to the cohesiveness of any overarching narrative structure. Continue reading →

Achievement Unlocked

Sometimes I fall into that slough of self-examination where I feel as though I have accomplished nothing with my life. Or, when compared to Person X, I am found wanting. This often happens when I’m not currently working on a creative project, as they tend to define me and give me purpose.

So I think it might be helpful to recollect the things I have achieved. Not in a boastful, resting on my laurels sort of way. But to remind myself that I am the same person who did all of those things. Try it yourself when you are feeling somewhat less than. Continue reading →

Dying of the Light

The little red light on top of my projector came on. While not quite as alarming as the Xbox’s red ring of death, the light is indeed a dreadful harbinger. The lamp has surpassed 1800 hours of use and needs replacing. Of all the material objects I possess, my projector is one I actually have attachment to. Without it, there would be no movies, no video games. The projector makes everything go. Without it, my PS3 is just a wedge-shaped hunk of (questionable) modern art.

Every month it seems that there is some event, some newly awakened need, which siphons away whatever extra money I might have. This month it will be the projector lamp.

Disney Quest

Last night after Dave and I had recovered from our space shuttle adventure, we went back over to Downtown Disney where we checked out the magic store and the LEGO store and had lunch at Planet Hollywood. Later that night we popped into Disney Quest, the five story virtual reality and arcade complex. Continue reading →