In Between Posts, April 29, 2012

The spring semester of school is coming to an end and that means a flood of work. I was getting stressed out a week or two ago, but now that I’ve finished some time-consuming projects, I’m feeling much better. I still have two large projects to finish as well as piddly assignments and finals for two of my other classes, but I’ll be able to cope. Another large weight that I got off my shoulder last week was paying off my spring semester, filing for graduation in the fall, and enrolling in summer and fall classes. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do when I graduate, but I’m glad most everything I need to do in advance is taken care of.

I liked playing and writing about The Adventures of Batman & Robin last week. I’d been meaning to return to it for a long time after checking it out with a friend. I only intended to attempt the first mission because when we played it, it seemed brutally tough. Instead, I practically beat it, with the use of some level skip cheats… I’m thinking about going through my Sega CD collection one game at a time and playing it for a short period and then write it up. Of course, just being spontaneous and playing an older, shorter game at random is a fun procedure.

The Adventures of Batman & Robin (Sega CD) – Review

Variations of this game were also released for the Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Game Gear.

Imagine that you’re watching the nineties cartoon show The Adventures of Batman & Robin, also known as Batman: The Animated Series. Instead of being treated to the admired artwork, you’re instead greeted by grainy, low-quality video. Now imagine that after every few minutes, you’re forced to drive the Batmobile through endlessly crowded environments such as the city streets of Gotham or a devious race track of the Joker’s. This sounds familiar? Well then, you must’ve played the Sega CD version of The Adventures of Batman & Robin.

I bet that when you began playing, you didn’t expect the game to consist solely of driving, with the exception of the finale where you got to pilot the Batwing. Now I only bring this up because I remember how you complained during the first mission. You got frustrated very quickly when you kept getting killed when fighting the bosses of the mission. You had to dodge a plethora of hard-to-miss attacks all while trying to take out the baddies. It upset you so much because it took you many tries to get to this point at all. The driving portion consisted of congested city streets that required pinpoint timing; otherwise you wouldn’t be able to get to your destination before time ran out.

Sure, it took you a long time to get your groove, but when you did you were able to blow through much of the game on your first try. Then again, the game really only tested your reflexes. I do remember you enjoying the later missions; the ones that took place on a casino-style game board of the Riddler’s, a circus-style race track of the Joker’s, and the high-flying Batwing level through bridges. Well, never mind, you only liked the last one because it was slightly different. Speaking of differences, the animation and story was unique to this game, being referred to as “the lost episode”. It featured the aforementioned villains as well as Robin, Poison Ivy, and Rupert Thorne and you liked that part of the game, besides the low-quality video.

The heads-up display was awfully busy. Important information was hard to pinpoint and understand.

So you said you grew up on the classic cartoon show, what did you think of the Sega CD game? Oh, well, that’s about right. I mean, I’ve pretty much discussed the game in detail and I wasn’t super positive, so that makes sense. I wouldn’t play the game again, or recommend it to others either. It’s a shame Clockwork Tortoise and Sega couldn’t put out a more polished game.

Who Is Commander Shepherd?

He's come a long way from Mass Effect, or has he?

Who is Commander Shepherd? Is he simply an avatar for players, or is he a distinct character who evolves over the Mass Effect series? Since beginning Mass Effect 3, I began pondering this question. In the most recent game, BioWare and EA made this game more open to new players by introducing a mode where decisions are taken out of the player’s hands, in essence creating a Shepherd with a personality, morals, own thoughts, et cetera. Not only that, but Shepherd has dreams in Mass Effect 3, implying further that he is his own person.

I believe Commander Shepherd is a blank slate. Through the decisions the player makes, he gets filled in. As the three-game story arc progressed, Shepherd grew, maybe. As the player, we can make any of the available decisions we want willy nilly. I assume that most players are role-playing their Shepherd as either a paragon (good) or renegade (bad). However, we can ultimately make nearly any decision we want, whether it fits in line with our Shepherd’s alignment or not. So long as we’re role-playing Shepherd with an eventual goal in mind, he does grow as a character. Otherwise, he’s just a mishmash of what we’re feeling at the moment.

I argue that Commander Shepherd is an avatar for the player so they can build an emotional connection to fully enjoy the depth of the games. The positions Commander Shepherd takes are entirely representative of us. My Shepherd had distinct characteristics that are also found in me. I imagine this is the same for anyone who describes Shepherd as “their” Shepherd. The only reason we would ask ourselves what Shepherd would do in a specific situation is because we have already crafted what Shepherd would do because he is a version of ourselves. Shepherd isn’t a distinct character that has his own viewpoint, his viewpoint is ours.

However, for Shepherd to truly resonate with us and allow us to build an emotional connection, he does have to be a distinct character. He has a back-story and interacts with others more so than a silent protagonist. In reality, he’s akin to the silent protagonist of so many other video games. In a way though, Shepherd is the next step of the silent protagonist. He is a blank slate for players to utilize and choose their own choices thereby creating a character, but he does have a voice (figuratively and literally).

Writing down my thoughts about Commander Shepherd has made me think more about the avatars we play as in video games. There are many ways to get players involved in a video game and there are a lot of variables. Commander Shepherd can’t be pinned down as a silent protagonist or a distinct character because he’s a combination of these two alternatives. Truly though, I’d argue he’s closer to a silent protagonist because the decisions he makes are in the player’s hands and therefore, they’re really the stars of the game.

In Between Posts, April 22, 2012

To celebrate my girlfriend’s birthday, we spent the weekend with her family in Wichita, Kansas. I brought along my 3DS and laptop, but I didn’t spend much time playing games. I started playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D for the 3DS, but I’ve played it so many times I don’t know if I have it in me this particular time to see it through to completion. I could type out endless hyperbolic sentences about it, but it gets enough credit. I will say I’m impressed by the revamped graphics – it looks much better than it did on the N64. Anyways, have a good week!

Wasteland 2 – First Impressions

In the aftermath of Double Fine’s outrageous success on Kickstarter, the service has received a lot of attention from smaller developers and the press. Since their achievement, other companies have turned to Kickstarter as a means of funding their projects and Wasteland 2 is the latest success story.

The original Wasteland was a post-apocalyptic role-playing game released for computers in 1988. Prior to reading about the similarly stupendous success of the Wasteland 2 Kickstarter, I had never even heard of the game. In the related marketing for Wasteland 2, Wasteland is billed as the original post-apocalyptic RPG, a precursor to the Fallout series of games. In fact, Wasteland served as an inspiration for Fallout.

It’s not necessarily the success of Wasteland 2’s Kickstarter that prompted me to write; although how Kickstarter, direct funding from consumers, and video games can interplay (catch the reference?) piques my interest, especially considering I’m studying business. No, instead it’s the following image.

There are multiple things about this image that I find enthralling. I think the setting is the biggest facet of my adoration. The post-apocalypse is theoretically an ugly place, especially in the wake of an atomic holocaust if that’s the cause. What I see in this image though is the overgrowth of plants; being in a city setting makes it all the more unusual and appealing to me. When I begin to think about exploring this place, I can’t stop imagining what I’d find, and what the rest of this city, and world for that matter, are like.

The lush, plant-ridden settings is a key factor in why I love Final Fantasy XII so much, and a big reason why I’m enjoying my time with Xenoblade Chronicles. Those games featured very open environments inducing exploration, and I wonder if Wasteland 2 will be the same.

I really like the scorpion mech too. Styling it after a scorpion, gives it such a menacing look. I wouldn’t want to come upon it as an enemy, that’s for sure. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole thinking of the scorpion mech’s construction and what mechs are like in this time, and really, what the world is like too.

A colorful, vibrant, but not overly so, setting is something that immediately turns me onto a game and it’s why I might try Wasteland 2 simply upon seeing this image. I just wish I had helped fund it now.

Mass Effect 3 – N7 Collector’s Edition Review

In the Mass Effect fiction, N7 denotes a Systems Alliance military member of the utmost caliber.

I had a difficult time tracking down a copy of the Mass Effect 3 collector’s edition because I didn’t preorder it. It’s readily available at online retailers, but it’s pretty pricey – seventy dollars used. Still, it’s a collector’s edition that packs a punch.

Like most other collector’s editions worth their salt, or money as it were, Mass Effect 3 comes in a flashy tin case. On either side are images of the stock male and female Shepherd. Fleshing out more of the game’s art is the miniature art book the collector’s edition comes with. I’m usually opposed to these miniature art books (especially in Skyrim’s wake) but Mass Effect 3’s is okay thanks to its detailed descriptions. Then again, it’s actually excerpted from a larger (page count and size) art book that’s available for sale.

There’s also a short comic book starring the queen of Omega, Aria T’Loak. It’s interesting and accounts for her time between Mass Effect 2 and 3, but it seems more like an advertisement for the related graphic novel, sort of like the art book being a “taste” of the full-size art book. Also related to the art is a lithograph of the Normandy. It’s really just a postcard without the necessary information, but it’s a cool picture of Normandy nonetheless. Another inclusion is a code to download a digital version of the soundtrack. I’d really like to give it a listen, but I wasn’t able to redeem it because I accidently have more than one EA account. To redeem it, I need to know what my EA account is that I signed into Mass Effect 3 with, and I don’t know what it is.

There’s a ton of digital content included too; namely, the From Ashes downloadable mission, character, and so on. It’d be great if used copies had unredeemed codes for this, but they probably don’t so it’s not much of a bonus for most. The rest of the digital content isn’t worth the extra money, and like From Ashes, they’re probably not available in used copies. Still, there are plenty of weapons, extra outfits, and other digital gear.

At twenty dollars over the standard edition, I think the extra content is worth it. Especially considering that From Ashes alone costs ten dollars itself. Oh! The collector’s edition also comes with an N7 patch, so yeah… There’s no dearth of content in the collector’s edition. Plus, Mass Effect 3 is a pretty darned good game.

Mass Effect 3 – Review

The game is "better with Kinect" although I didn't play it with one.

Mass Effect 3, what a game! BioWare and Electronic Arts have closed out the trilogy amid much controversy. The increased amount of related downloadable content and the botched ending have irked many people. Still, the proof is in the pudding and Mass Effect 3 retains the high pedigree associated with the previous two games.

As was the case with Mass Effect 2, Mass Effect 3 plays more fluidly than its predecessor. Commander Shepherd has a newfound agility that allows him to weave around a battlefield much better than he’s ever been able to. Still there are some annoyances that make Shepherd’s movement feel very rigid. Turning while running was a process I had to become accustomed to and getting into cover was oftentimes finicky. For instance, when I’d run into a wall at an angle, Shepherd wouldn’t get into cover; to get into cover, I’d have to hit it head on. These are a few minor annoyances but overall, Shepherd’s agility is net gain in my book. As far as other elements of the gameplay getting improved, any enhancements were either very subtle or not worth mentioning. The game plays better than ever.

Whether it's Cerberus troops or Reaper abominations, enemies are bigger and badder than they've ever been.

I’ve played as a soldier in each of the Mass Effect games and compared to the other classes, it’s a relatively boring one. Thankfully, the big addition to the series – multiplayer – allowed me to play as the other classes and experience their specialties easily. It’s a much lower barrier of entry then just creating a new character for the single player.

In the multiplayer, teams of four battle through about ten waves of enemies. Most of the time, survival is the only focus although every few waves, teams are tasked with uploading important data, guarding an important terminal, or taking out specific enemies in a timely fashion. I thought the multiplayer was okay, but feeling like I had to do it dragged down my feelings of it.

Mass Effect 3 integrates the multiplayer into the single player and represents the conflicts as actual battles that the good guys are fighting. Each multiplayer arena resides in a galaxy and each galaxy has a readiness rating. Each galaxy begins at 50% and for me, it was necessary to get the average up to about 70% to get the “perfect” ending. And since I was getting it that high, I figured I might as well get the overall number up to 100% to get the achievement for doing so. This was additional time to me because it forced me to halt my single player game and focus on the multiplayer for about ten hours, instead of enjoying it after “the main attraction” concluded.

The Illusive Man still figures into the plot heavily.

“The main attraction” in my book is the story and with this I was fulfilled. It was inevitable that the trilogy would end with this, the third game, but as the first few hours of Mass Effect 3 make clear, there was still much work ahead of Shepherd. Constructing a force large enough to deal with the Reapers required Shepherd to put to rest events that have affected the galaxy for hundreds of years. Dealing with the genophage and the Quarian/Geth problem are two of the subplots that stick out largest in my mind.

Still, I can think of other, very memorable moments that may not have had a major impact on the universe as a whole, but affected me greatly. Whether it was losing close allies or making gut decisions on the fly, Mass Effect 3 had some memorable moments. Plus, seeing people I spared in the previous games reappear and discovering how past decisions reverberated was neat too. All the while, these decisions played into Shepherd’s war assets. In combination with the aforementioned readiness levels obtained through multiplayer, the war assets dictated what endings would be available. It’s weird to have every decision I’ve ever made to be distilled into a quick number, but it’s great for comparison to other players!

When everything is said and done, Shepherd once and for all deals with the Reapers. There’s been so much fuss over the ending that forming an opinion is a tough task when there’s so many others floating around on the internet. I had multiple options available to deal with the Reapers, and they were pretty diverse. While I got the “perfect” ending, everything didn’t turn out perfectly. I believe a lot of anger has been directed at the vague resolution of what key characters do after the events of the game, and that’s fair. I also think it’s fair that if players have spent over one hundred hours in this universe, they have enough to go on to form their opinions of what everyone did. Still, recent revelations over the “true ending” downloadable content give me a sourer outlook of the ending.

Situations get awfully hairy when fighting Reapers.

Overall, I’m pleased as punch with Mass Effect 3. It’s the best playing game in the series and thanks to the multiplayer I have a better understanding of every character class. Leveling up characters in it is pretty fun to boot, as long as I’m not “forced” to do it; most importantly though, I’m pleased with the conclusion of the trilogy. The bevy of events throughout the game was entertaining and I know that if I slightly changed my decisions, they could’ve ended up entirely different. Ultimately though, Commander Shepherd did what he set out to do from day one: deal with the Reapers.

In Between Posts, April 15, 2012

I completed Mass Effect 3 last week! I know the internet went into a fury over the ending, but I don’t think it’s the worst thing ever. More on that sometime, as well as a review and an article discussing Shepherd’s role as a character and as the player’s avatar.

If I play any games in the following days, it’ll only be casually. I have a major project coming due Tuesday and there’s still much that needs to be completed. The focus of the class is on an enormous accounting software package: SAP ERP (Systems, Applications, and Products in Data Processing Enterprise Resource Planning). It can track ANYTHING that happens in the company and lets users view it from a multitude of dimensions. Unfortunately, it’s nigh impenetrable. Rather than allowing users to track everything (because that’d be infinitely too much) individuals are assigned a specific task, accounts receivable or asset depreciation for instance. Therefore users handle very specific tasks and don’t understand how everything SAP tracks comes together. The people who understand SAP get paid well – six digit income – but according to my teacher, there’s little understanding of the software. It’s very complicated and I’m stressing over this project, but man will I be so relieved Tuesday.

Lost Planet: Extreme Condition – Collector’s Edition Review

Wayne Holden ain't no Lou Ferrigno.

The collector’s edition of Lost Planet: Extreme Condition is pretty lame. Luckily it’s easy to find and inexpensive.

It comes with a paltry artbook, snug inside the nice SteelBook game case alongside the manual. The art booklet contains renderings of characters in various stages of completion, plus some background information, but it isn’t very large.

Another bonus to the collector’s edition is the media CD it comes with. Besides containing the soundtrack, it has various media such as videos and wallpapers for a PC. The soundtrack was composed by Jamie Christopherson, an unknown name to me although he has been making the rounds in the video game industry for a while now. That said, the soundtrack wasn’t my cup of tea – it chimed in at the right moments during the game, but the orchestral arrangement sounded generic to me outside of the game.

Lastly the collector’s edition comes with a code for an exclusive downloadable multiplayer map that probably isn’t in any used copies of the game. Plus, the map is available for free on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Plus plus, it doesn’t seem like there’s a large multiplayer community anymore so that bonus is so whatevs.

This all comes inside an awfully nice SteelBook case too. It’s easily my favorite aspect of the collector’s edition. I really like the heft and solidness of the case when it’s chock full of its multiple discs and booklets. I wouldn’t recommend purchasing it… if it wasn’t so cheap and readily available. Still, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition is just okay.

In Between Posts, April 8, 2012

A Japanese role-playing game for the Nintendo Wii? How did this even get a release in the USA?

I’m at the end of Mass Effect 3! However, before I dive into the last set of missions, I’m going to blast through the multiplayer to make sure I get the best ending. Playing the multiplayer is necessary because of the way they’ve tied it into the fiction. Playing it isn’t necessary to complete the game, but to get the best ending, I believe it’s required.

Besides that, my friend and I finished Lost Planet: Extreme Condition and moved on to Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean. Besides having a ridiculous name, Baten Kaitos was known for being one of the few role-playing games on the Nintendo GameCube. We’re only an hour or so into it but I really like the battle system. It revolves around decks of cards, which usually get a bad rap, but the battles are fast-paced thus far and integrate a clever combo system.

Once I’m done with Mass Effect 3, I’ll move onto Xenoblade Chronicles. It’s another RPG, coincidentally developed by the same studio behind behind Baten Kaitos: Monolith Soft. It just came out for the Wii in the USA Friday, and we’re lucky it even came out here. It’s all thanks to Operation Rainfall, and GameStop. I played the first twenty minutes or so and it’s very British. Rather than localizing it for the American market, Nintendo of America simply brought over the European version of the game, complete with voice acting and differences in spelling. It seems like camera control might be a problem and the graphics aren’t outstanding, but the battle system seems interesting and I’m just glad to show support for what has become a niche genre.