On DRM...

As a recent convert to PC gaming, I haven't had a lot experience with DRM. I've purchased most of my games through Steam, and those that I didn't have yet to give me DRM-related issues. Like Spore... I'm mad that I spent money on that game for reasons entirely unrelated to its online verification and limited installs. To be honest, I thought that most of those who hate DRM were probably pirates. My mistake. Seems that the digital certificate for Gears of War PC expired yesterday. So everybody who actually purchased the game is unable to play until Microsoft or Epic gets the issue "resolved".

Compare this to Valve's recent comments on the topic. Obviously (as the ars technica article points out) is easy for Gabe to call DRM "dumb" when Steam basically acts as a piracy deterrent. But it fits in to Valve's larger philosophy - engender respect and loyalty from gamers by providing quality software and supporting it for the long run by listening (truly) to feedback from customers. It also helps that their games are really fun.

Listening to:

The Valley Arena - Sesso Vita


A Life Well Wasted

is the new podcast from Robert Ashely (Dr. Bobito "Max" Chill. He did a cool episode of GFW Radio a while back with Shawn Elliot in which they posed as game marketers doing market research for some real shitty sounding games. Those familiar with the episode will have some idea of what to expect here. Rather than just the run-of-the-mill "four nerds sitting in a room (or on Skype) and talking about games" format, Bobito delivers an Ira Glass-esque audio magazine. Great production quality and a fantastic topic to start the new series with: The inaugural episode discuss the death of EGM with magazine alumni like Greg Ford, Crispin Boyer, and Andrew Pfister. Check it out!

A Life Well Wasted


I miss working at a record store sometimes

but each one I worked at shut down or went bankrupt. I wouldn't want to curse the few that are left. Plus the pay sucked. But talking about music, films and games all day was awesome.



THE QUAKER OATS GUY (the guy on the box, not Wilford Brimley) IS A LIAR! ALSO HIS NAME IS NOT BEN!

I guess I was confusing him with Uncle Ben of Uncle Ben's Rice fame or Benjamin Franklin. Turns out that it's William Penn. Whatever, fucker said that I'd be getting two packs of Strawberries n' Cream flavor Quaker Oats brand oatmeal in my variety pack. When I open the box, do I see a brown wrapper with pink writing? NO!

Peaches n' Cream it is.

Once every few months counts as consistently...

Right? Oh well.

In my defense, I was working 60-70 hour weeks for a while there. I've been testing games at Activision for about 8 months now, and I don't hate it nearly as much as I was told I would. And it hasn't burnt me out on games either. Rather, it has only increased my desire to work in this industry. I've become more interested and engrossed by games, and have been gaming more than ever. The first thing I want to do after playing games for 8 hours at work is play more. Which could be construed as sad, but fuck you. I'm definitely interested in more than just the escapism of it, not that there is anything wrong with that, and I'm starting to gain some insight into the design process.

I built a PC over the summer (well, I bought the pieces and my friend Ron built it for me, but I was in the room, so yeah) and now I'm almost ashamed that I was never a PC guy until now. Honestly, it was the guys on the 1up podcasts that really made me interested in PC gaming. Well, listening to the GFW radio podcast made me want to subscribe to the magazine (R.I.P.), which helped me make the jump. That and Valve. A bunch of the people at work play PC games, mostly World of Warcraft though. WOW's not really my cup of tea; I tried if for a while and couldn't really connect with it (not in a literal sense, the game is technically amazing). I can understand why people love it, and perhaps there will be an MMO that gets me the way WOW gets them, but I don't think it's out yet. But not being addicted to Warcraft has given me the opportunity to play other games.

Fallout 3 was pretty amazing. I didn't actually like Oblivion very much, or rather, I didn't get consumed by it like others did. I played about 20 hours, did some random shit, barely touched the main quest and put it down. I'm not sure why I didn't like it, although I did play it on 360. Some would say that's why, I imagine. I'm not entirely sure. I mean, it seems like the same main flaws exist in both games. Flaws may be the wrong word though. Really, they're just trappings of the genre. When you create a giant world like that, and try to have so many of it's parts interconnected, there's almost an unwritten agreement between the designer(s) and player. That "living, breathing" quality that is so overused in reviews, is artificial. There will always be somewhere that will expose that artificiality. I'm not trying to discount the things that could be improved, but I just think Bethesda crafted an amazingly rich world.

In my first playthrough I could be nothing but good. I just couldn't bring myself to it. Whenever I was presented with the choice I went for the good Karma every time. Not that I was doing it for the tangible rewards (quest chains, special dialogue options, bonus items), but really, I just couldn't bring myself to it. That world that Bethesda made was so fabulously pieced together, that I chose not to break that unwritten agreement. I wouldn't poke and prod too far, trying to break the world, or find holes in dialogue (and they're there). I just went with it. Sometimes I wished that it was better, that the character's reactions, speech, or animations were even more in tune with the world. But part of that is because it was already being done so well, that better would be... well, better. And the other part is the same trappings I was talking about earlier, that the more immersive the world is, the more jarring it will be when something disrupts that. The videogame version of the Uncanny Valley. But I bought the ticket, so fuck it, let's go for a ride.

Crysis (the first one, not Warhead) was interesting. Particularly in comparison to Fallout. Cry-Tek also did a good job creating a seamless world, at least in the first half (three quarters?) of the game. And here the trappings of the genre expose the artificiality: your only real interaction with the world is shooting. And hitting. And throwing grenades. And punching people with chickens. That part is pretty awesome. But you're limited. It's not bad; we don't really expect more. It's just how it is. And it's pretty fun.

The last part of Crysis is some other bullshit game that somehow spliced onto the disc in some bizarre pressing plant mix-up, so just turn it off when shit gets fucked. You'll know when.

I think I like Mirror's Edge. I haven't gone back to it since my first 4 or so hours with it, so maybe that says more than "I think I like Mirror's Edge". Or not. Same for Dead Space. Really, this just says more about how much I liked Fallout.

Old games that I finally played:

Company Of Heroes - Man, I suck at RTSs. This game is pretty great though. I really enjoy it's pace, and the strategy actually makes sense. The tech trees are pretty logical, and not overwhelmingly deep at all. And it's not a turtle-and-build-up sort of RTS, which is what I, in my limited experiences, always equated the genre to. I don't dare venture online, but the game is fun nonetheless.

Audiosurf - BUY THIS. If you like music and/or games and/or have $10 that you are going to spend on something stupid, buy this instead. Further proof that indie games are rad. That is, some, not all. Like music or film, some of it is great, some is self-indulgent wankery, and some of it is just garbage. This the first one. Simply put, it's a visualizer that you play. The game takes any song (any mp3 really, so you could play along to This American Life if you wanted to) and creates essentially a track on which you control the left/right movement of a vehicle. You're always in constant forward motion toward the end of the track (both meanings), and depending on the game mode you may be trying to collect or dodge blocks that are on the highway. There are some pretty difficult modes if you want an intense game experience and simpler ones - and a freeride option - if you just want to just lean back.

And, my biggest timesink, Team Fortress 2: the illness that won't go away. I just hit 72 hours with one class and 48 with another. There's just something about this game that makes me unable to put it down. Heck, I was even a fan of the 360 version. The Orange Box was my must-buy of 2007. I loved Portal and had never played HL2, so that in itself made the game worth it, TF2 was just icing. Too bad no one plays it on consoles. Since building my PC and getting to experience the Payload game type (which is an fantastic addition) and all of the custom maps, I've fallen even harder for this game. Superbly balanced class-based gameplay with Valve's loving hands guiding it along with regular updates and patches equals best multiplayer shooter out there, in my opinion. I never want to stop playing. And thanks to how Valve is, I may never have to.

Other shit....

The Netflix thing on the new (ugly) Xbox Experience (kudos for Microsoft for not trying to get away with "Xbox Xperience", obvious as it was). I watched like ten episodes of Quantum Leap and some random documentaries (Helvetica is queued up next).

I still think Heroes is good, so shoot me.

Murder By Death is an awesome band that is totally not metal or hardcore, which I did not know until recently. I'm stupid.

Mono is an awesome Japanese guitar-driven spacey instrumental band that is awesome. So awesome that I had to say awesome twice in that sentence. I think it's pronounced MOE-no, not MAH-no, but I also don't want to be the guy that points that out, so I'm in a bit of a pickle.

Next Walking Dead trade comes out in January allegedly. Can't wait. It sucks that I got into it late; I can't bring myself to start buying the issues, since it'll totally fuck up how they look on my shelf. Oh hey, speaking of zombies, Left 4 Dead is the shit, if a bit overpriced. But again, it's Valve and they will surely be supporting the hell out of it. It's probably safe to assume that they'll do even more for it, considering the game costs two and a half times TF2's price.

My cat is insane and wants to fight everything. He's the best.

I'm tired.



I knew it. No updates.


I got a new job. I play videogames all day. It's close.

Now if I could only get paid to write about them; at least, in a way that isn't just methodically detailing bugs.


N+ review

A few years back Metanet Software released a free flash game called N. The platformer's simple mechanics (move left, move right, and jump), easily defined goals (get to the exit without dying), and interesting physics (crank the inertia to 11) quickly allowed N to become the darling of the indie games scene, winning awards at both the IGF and Slamdance.

Last month, the game - which so obviously belonged on consoles - finally made it to XBLA (DS and PSP versions are forthcoming). With obligatory graphical and gameplay tweaks and the triumvirate of the finest XBLA features - leaderboards, on- and off-line co-op, and user-created content - N+ is one of the best examples of the console download space's potential to deliver absolutely fantastic games from small developers.

Over the course of the game's 250 levels (and 25 tutorial levels) you control a small, simply-designed ninja. Using your ninja reflexes, you have ninety seconds to make it through a group of five levels (called an episode). Each level has a simple goal: open the exit door by hitting a switch somewhere on the level, then get to that exit. Unfortunately your path is blocked by bombs, missiles, lasers, turrets, trapdoors and a half-dozon more obstacles each deadlier than the last.

The levels are also littered with pieces of gold that each add two seconds to the constantly depleting bar at the top of the screen, and upon completion of each episode your remaining time is uploaded to the leaderboards. Obviously, the more gold you pick up and the more quickly you advance through each level, the better your ranking.

The makers of the game have already announced future DLC for the title, with the hopes that at least one of the packs going out for free. The rest of the levels will be available for 1 Microsoft point per level, available only in packs of 200.

The game does a great job of easing you in to the more advanced concepts like wall-jumping and using your momentum to propel your ninja to ridiculous heights. The difficulty cranks up eventually, but the curve is fair. That's not to say you wont die a lot... you will. The games not-so-secret Achievement of dying 1000 times will be unlocked much quicker than you think.

And as off-putting as all this may sound to a casual gamer, it's never really frustrating and the game is incredibly accessible. I've seen first-hand the affect it has on those who haven't picked up a controller in a decade, and it's basically the same as mine:

"Just one more try. Wait, one more... OK. One more. Let me just finish this episode. Wait. I know I can do this one. One more."

All of a sudden, my very adult, non-gamer guests had turned into a mirror image of myself at age ten. Intensely focused on the task at hand, vacillating from bouts of extreme frustration, to intense elation. No matter how hard a new challenge seems though, I always seemed to find myself thinking "Well, I figured out the last one... this can't be much harder."

And it usually never is, which got me thinking that this game could be trying to teach us a couple of things:

* Life is full of an insane number of obstacles, each more treacherous than the last, and just when you've completed one of life's "objectives" prepare to be immediately confronted with a entirely new set of problems.

* At their core each of these problems are essentially the same, as long as you're familiar with the world around you and the limits of your own ability, nothing is insurmountable. Also, quick reflexes help.

Then I realized I should stop being such a pretentious asshole, and just enjoy the game for what it is: a lot of fun.

+ Hundreds of levels; Plenty more coming as DLC packs, one slated to be free; Decent level-editor
- User-created levels can only be traded between friends, no online repository for levels; Hope you like dying

800 MS Points/10 American Dollars
Metanet Software/Slick Entertainment

Verdict: Definitely worth picking up, particularly if you have any affinity toward old-school platforming.