WAYPTW: April 29

In this week’s edition of What Are You Playing This Weekend, I find I don’t have a solid answer.

1.  I gave up on Tiger Woods 12.  I kinda feel stupid and sheepish about admitting it – it’s just a game, it’s not a big deal, I don’t know why I’m taking it so personally that (a) I gave up on it and (b) I hated it so much.  But, I mean, look – I’m a grown man.  I don’t have to play anything I don’t want to play, and if the putting game feels less of a reflection of my actual skill and more like a rubber-band AI cheat, and it’s going to cause me to throw my controller through a window, then I have every right to send the game back to Gamefly and not think about it ever again.  It’s just a shame because the rest of it was really quite enjoyable, and I was kinda looking forward to spending some more quality time with it.  Truth be told, I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself renting it again.  I’m so goddamned weak.

2.  I had been looking forward to the impending release of Duke Nukem Forever – Amazon still had my pre-order listed as arriving on Tuesday, May 3rd.  Alas, I’d forgotten that Gearbox had delayed it until June.  In any event, I still might play a bit more Duke 3D on XBLA.

3.  I’m also going to try and get the one last single-player achievement in Portal 2 that I haven’t gotten yet – Smash TV.

4.  Maybe Steam has something on sale?  I bought Metro 2033 last weekend and played the first 10 minutes or so.  Very atmospheric; very Russian.  I’m kinda itching to try Fallout New Vegas on the PC, also; I can’t explain where that particular itch is coming from.

5.  I’ve got a TON of new-ish iPhone games to play:  Sword & Sworcery, Gears, Zenonia 3.

And so:  what are you playing this weekend?

Putts

I guess there is nothing that will get your mind off everything like golf will. I have never been depressed enough to take up the game, but they say you can get so sore at yourself that you forget to hate your enemies.
– Will Rogers

I am trying to enjoy Tiger Woods ’12, but the putting game is making me angry.  Like, literally angry, like I want to throw my controller through the TV angry, like rage-quitting-and-going-to-bed-angry angry.

The more I practice, the luckier I get.
– unknown

I appreciate that in real life, putting is difficult.  I appreciate that in real life, golf in general is difficult, and there are lots of pithy witticisms about golf being a “good walk spoiled” and all that.  But this is not real life.  This is a videogame.  And so when I correctly line up my putt, and pull back on my swing at the correct strength, and when the putt is three goddamned feet away, I expect to make that shot.  And the only reason why it doesn’t go in is because of some arbitrary algorithm that says that my golfer’s putting skills aren’t high enough to make gimme putts.  It doesn’t matter that I’ve been playing Tiger games for 8 years now; it only matters that this year’s edition of Jervo McNervo has weak putting skills.

The least thing upsets him on the links. He missed short putts because of the uproar of butterflies in the adjoining meadows.
– P.G. Wodehouse

Putting business aside, the rest of the game is actually pretty good.  The omnipresent caddy can get annoying, but you can always ignore him.  The career mode is the nicest surprise – it actually makes sense.  You start by trying to get onto the Amateur Tour, and eventually you’ll make your way to the Masters.  You earn XP based on your actual performance in an event, and then you spend that XP on the skills you want to improve.  For what it’s worth, though, I’ve put the vast majority of my XP into making my putting better, and it’s actually gotten worse.

Hopefully this is the last of my Tiger ranting.

————–

Sony finally offered up an explanation of sorts yesterday, none of which made me feel any better about the state of things over there.  What a goddamned mess.  The Twitter-verse made me feel a lot better, though, and this Tumblr post cracked me up:

Tiger Woods 12: the first 10 minutes

Before I get started on Tiger ’12, I want to add my voice to the growing chorus that is (a) disappointed by the PSN outage and (b) utterly perplexed by Sony’s total lack of transparency and disclosure regarding the outage.

Couple things:

Not to keep bringing the console wars into this, but seriously:  you get what you pay for.   If Xbox Live is down even for an hour, Major Nelson and the rest of the Xbox crew are on top of it, tweeting and blogging and keeping the community as well-informed about what’s going on as possible.  Sure, people are going to bitch and moan, but those people are going to bitch and moan about everything.  The rest of us understand that shit happens; it’s just nice to know what’s going on.  It is a service that a lot of us pay for, and as such it’s nice to know that Microsoft is at least appearing to be concerned on our behalf.

On the other hand, Sony’s been pretty much totally quiet.  All they’ve said is that they suffered an “external intrusion,” which sounds downright naughty, but still it’s pretty goddamned vague.  Then there are other theories involving Anonymous, or, Steam, or some sort of custom firmware hack, or maybe the hamster wheel powering the network went offline.  There’s been some concern that PSN users’ credit card information may have been stolen; Sony hasn’t said a word about that.  They haven’t really said anything, and it’s now been almost a week.

(I’ll tell you what – I was going to buy Portal 2 on the Xbox360 anyway, but I’m really glad I did because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to play online co-op with anybody.  And if I’d bought Mortal Kombat, or SOCOM 4, I’d be totally screwed.)

I’m not quite ready to be outraged, but that’s probably because I do most of my gaming on the 360, which also has Netflix and all the other online stuff I’d be using.  I’m not a Plus member, so I’m not missing out on whatever I’d be missing out on.  Still, though:  this is embarrassing.

——————–

OK, back to Tiger.

Looking over my previous Tiger Woods posts, it appears that ’09 was my favorite (at least in terms of the current generation – I’m still awfully fond of the original Xbox games in the ’03-’04 era, which were full of crazy courses and had a much more arcade-y sensibility).  ’10 pissed me off right from the very start, and I can’t honestly remember if I played ’11.

In any event, ’12’s biggest change (aside from being slathered in MASTERS-ness, which is apparently a big deal to golf nerds) is the caddy feature, which more or less takes all the challenge out of setting up a shot.  The caddy gives you several shot options to choose from, and then you either pick one of them or set up your own.  I tend to like picking my own, and the problem I’m having is that for the most part, all I want to do is take one of the caddy’s suggestions and move it over a few feet, but if I even so much as gently nudge the thumbstick, I’m suddenly 20 yards away from where I want to be – the “custom” shot defaults to the max yardage for each club, which is a pain in the ass.

I will admit to liking the new caddy putting assist, which removes pretty much all of the challenge of reading the green – not that I don’t want some challenge when I putt, but it’s just that in previous Tiger games the putting game was dreadfully inconsistent in terms of sensitivity and control.  I’ve still muffed a few putts even with this new assist, but I can’t blame the game – one of the putts was messed up because one of my dogs jumped on my stomach during my wind-up and I ended up overshooting a 6-foot gimme by about 20 yards.

Anyway – I’ve played the introductory 9-hole course and went -2, and I’m generally liking the feel of the game so far.  I expect that this will tide me over for the next few weeks, right in time for L.A. Noire.

more Portal 2 ramblings

My official Examiner review of Portal 2 can be found here.  I literally just received an email from them saying that “it does not meet [their] criteria for local coverage.”  I’m not entirely sure what that means, or if it’s been removed from the site.  I’m not entirely sure that I care, either, but whatever.

I spent the weekend wrapped up in Portal 2.   I hunted down pretty much every single-player Achievement I could get (besides one), and I played co-op with a bunch of different people.  I ultimately finished the co-op campaign with my wife last night, which was a wonderful experience on a variety of levels but mostly because it’s fun playing games with my wife, and she legitimately appeared to have a good time.  I didn’t get the 360 achievement for it, though, and I guess that’s because I’d been playing it on both PC and 360 and lost track of which system I’d finished a given level on.*

The co-op campaign is brilliant.  The puzzles in the single-player are pretty complex already, but the co-op campaign takes that complexity and quadruples it.  But the euphoria of figuring out one of these puzzles is all the more intoxicating, because it really does require teamwork and cooperation and execution, and it’s absolutely thrilling to get it right.

I’ve been obsessing with post-release interviews with Erik Wolpaw and Chet and the rest of the team.  You can tell that Erik really likes talking about the Stephen Merchant recording sessions; Erik is one of the funniest guys on the planet and it sounds to me like it must have been tremendously gratifying for him to have someone with Stephen Merchant’s comedic skill translating those words into a one-of-a-kind performance.

I’ll say this:  I’m no longer obsessing with Portal 3 speculation.  I am well sated at the moment, to be honest; I’ve put in over 20 hours in both campaigns on all 3 systems I own it for, and I will eat up the DLC (which sounds like it’s coming very soon, actually) and will enjoy it and savor it, and I would eventually like to get all the Achievements on at least one system.  But thinking about P3 feels like wasted energy.  Valve is already saying some strange things about the future of single-player campaigns, so who knows if they’ll even go there.  The one thing I’ve come away with from my time with Portal 2 is that Valve is made up of a bunch of people that are 1000 times smarter than I’ll ever be, and it is highly unlikely that I’ll come up with something on my own that will be more impressive than what they’ll come up with.

* I know that sentence is grammatically fucked, and I’m too tired to figure out the right way to say it.

some ramblings about Portal 2

(I’m kinda working on a Portal 2 review, but in the meantime I’m just rambling.  There will be spoilers at the bottom, mostly consisting of guesses about Portal 3.  You’ll be warned.)

Portal 2 is a big deal.  That it has become a big deal is kind of awesome, when you think about it; Portal began as a student project (Narbacular Drop), and now it is the first full-length, single-player first-person game Valve has released since Half Life 2.  It also features no blood, (almost) no violence, and no other living characters.  You don’t have an inventory – indeed, you don’t even have a voice.  You have a gun, but you don’t kill anything with it – at least not directly, and the things you indirectly kill are robotic turrets.  Indeed, for the most part you aren’t killing anything – you’re solving puzzles.

Even more fascinating – at least to me – is that while it’s true that you can only really “solve” the puzzles once (and thus only generate that genuine, exhilarating “a-ha!” moment once as well), the game never stops being entertaining upon multiple playthroughs.  I’ve played the original Portal maybe a dozen times, and I’ve already beaten Portal 2 twice after only owning the game for 3 days.  Some of the puzzle solutions are just awesome.  They are fulfilling to solve, absolutely, but they’re also incredibly fulfilling just in the pure act of execution, and as you get better at the game you find more efficient ways of solving each puzzle, which is also fulfilling.

For example, there’s a puzzle in Portal 2 (I believe it’s the first puzzle in Chapter 3, the one that begins with repeated aerial faith plate malfunctions) that I solved without much difficultly on my first run, although I’d found it somewhat tedious to keep walking back and forth between portal openings.  On my second playthrough, I suddenly realized that I could simply jump into one of the portals I’d just created, thus making everything move a lot quicker.  So it’s not just the thrill of the initial solution to a problem; it’s the subsequent discovery of more efficient solutions that’s just as thrilling.

I think for me, though, the main reasons why I keep coming back to Portal and Portal 2 are:

      • The world.  Every game that’s out these days is either set in some post-apocalyptic wasteland or some variation on the standard platformer themes – forest, desert, lava, ice.  The original Portal had a very simple and very distinctive look to it, and it was all the more thrilling when the curtain was pulled back in the final act.  Portal 2’s environments are even more varied and diverse, as well as still being incredibly unique, and the fact that so much of it takes place “behind the scenes” makes it all the more special.  Portal already has somewhat of a “meta” vibe in the first place but this notion of being off the beaten path is thrilling, especially when the settings are so epic in scope.
    • The attention to detail.  It’s easy to fly past a lot of the little things in Portal 2, and for the most part it’s not at all necessary to stop and inspect every single piece of litter you come across.  And yet there’s actual writing on each coffee can and fuse box; it goes an incredibly long way towards making the world believable, even while you’re doing unbelievable things.  Everything is in its right place, even when it’s out of place.  The best games generally get this – Bioshock, GTA4 and Red Dead Redemption certainly get it.
    • The quality of the storytelling.   They’re paced incredibly well, and Portal 2’s pace is among the best of all time.  Puzzle concepts are introduced gradually, and eventually you’ll be doing some completely insane things in order to solve them, and as a reward there’ll be an exhilarating chase sequence or an extended, slow exploration sequence when you get to a new area.  And it’s not just the Portal games are hilarious – it’s also that they’re smart enough to both tell you what’s happening, and also let you infer what’s happening indirectly.  (And there’s quite a lot happening, and we’ll get to that in a bit. )
  • The love.  I know that’s a ridiculous thing to say.  But you can tell when a development team genuinely cares about the game they make, and it’s very, very clear that Valve cares.  The original Portal is a game that people adore, and as such the expectations for a sequel were astronomically high – even though it would be impossible to guess just what, if anything, the sequel would look like.  There’s not a single bum note in either of the two games, and that’s not because of luck – that’s because an enormous amount of time went into polishing everything, from the graphics to the dialogue to the puzzles themselves.  In a recent interview with Gamespot, writer Erik Wolpaw (one of my personal heroes) said that it doesn’t matter to him whether games can exist as art – games need to be entertaining, first and foremost, or else what’s the point?

OK: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

Portal 3 speculation:

    • We now know about Aperture’s origins, and somewhat about how GlaDOS came to be.  But what of Chell?  Where did she come from?  Was she someone’s daughter in “Bring Your Daughter To Work” day?  [EDIT:  Yes, she is.] Was she Cave Johnson’s illegitimate daughter with Caroline?  (Would that even make sense, time-line wise?  Is it ever specified when the first game take place?  Considering that Aperture was already messing around with pretty high-tech stuff in the 50s, the original Portal could conceivably take place in the 60s, right?  They do have some old computers and rotary phones in the original Portal.)  (Also – I never looked at the “Lab Rat” comic, and it’s possible this was explained there.  I should probably look at it first before speculating any more.)
    • OK, I’ve read the Lab Rat comic.  Notes:  Page 8 – Chell’s last name is redacted.  Page 9 – Chell refuses to answer if “anyone would file a police report if [she] went missing.”  Beyond that… the comic is somewhat vague.
    • At the end of the game, when Chell is standing in the field – does she have the Portal gun with her?  I don’t think so – you see both of her hands grabbing on to Wheatley after your final portal hits home.  By the same token, Chell didn’t have the Portal gun at the end  of the first one, either.  In any event – the Lab Rat comic’s final panel says that Chell has remarkable tenacity and stubbornness.  We don’t know why, though.  The point is:  at the end of P2, she is free.  The question remains:  would she go back?  And if so, why?
    • Wheatley has to return, doesn’t he?  You can’t make a character that wonderful and have it be lost forever, right?

An update of sorts

So, yeah.  I am now an official Examiner, and the idea is that I’ll be writing some small pieces over there a few times a week.  I’m still trying to figure out just what kind of stories I can write about over there, but I’m already starting to get the idea of what I can’t write about, and that stuff is more or less what I’d rather write about here.

In the meantime, I’ve actually not been playing very much lately.  I continue to trudge along in Yakuza 4, which I still like although it’s starting to feel a little clumsy and same-y.  I’m in the XBL beta program, so I’ve been sort-of testing the new disc format via Halo Reach, which I realized very quickly that I haven’t really missed since I traded it in.  (One of the things that Microsoft is asking me to do, though, is to play the new-disc Halo, and then play a bunch of other stuff.  I’ve been gladly playing a bunch of other stuff, including revisiting Red Dead Redemption, for no good reason other than that I’ve been thinking about it lately.)

And, also, I’ve been playing the HELL out of the iPhone.  As I mentioned in the initial post, my initial iPhone sync resulted in a ton of apps that I’d either totally forgotten about or just had to move off of my Touch for space reasons.  One thing that sucks about getting a new iDevice is that you lose all your save files; everything I’ve ever played has been set back to zero (even though my Gamecenter achievements still exist).  So I’d have to start all the Angry Birds over again, and Infinity Blade, etc.  I’ve been enjoying my revisit of Sword & Poker 2, though, which I’d forgotten how much I’d missed.

I’ve also bought a few more iPhone games, too, since I’ve got room for them now:  Dead Space, Real Racing 2, Lane Splitter, World of Goo.

I also caved last night and downloaded the Potato Sack Pack over Steam, for some reason.  Oh, that’s right, I’ve got Portal 2 fever like you wouldn’t fucking believe.  I’d very much like to review that for Examiner; I just need to make sure that someone else hasn’t already beaten me to it.  If I can’t review it there, however, you can rest assured I’ll be reviewing it here, and I’ll use as much profanity as I see fit.

iPhone’d

I finally bought an iPhone this weekend.

I had been hoping to wait until the iPhone 5’s inevitable launch this summer, but I couldn’t; my Droid, already on its last legs, started acting up to an even more unusual degree towards the end of last week, and so my want of the iPhone turned into a sincerely genuine need for a working phone.

I’d already been rocking an iPod Touch for the last 6 months, thought, so I already knew what I was getting into, more or less – hell, I’d accumulated over 10 gigs of apps and the Touch itself was only an 8 gig machine.  As you can well imagine, the Touch was on a steady rotation of apps and music, and so when I plugged my iPhone up to my Mac yesterday, it was a nice surprise to see all these apps that I’d forgotten about (or just put to the side).

In any event, the iPhone 4 is, as everyone already knows, a remarkable device, and it’s something of a relief for me to finally be reduced to just one gadget for walking around – my phone, my music, my camera and my games are all in one pocket.

And I should also say that having an iPhone has pretty much killed any and all curiosity that I might have had for the 3DS, my last post’s skepticism notwithstanding.

A quick word or two about the 3DS

I don’t have a lot of friends at my day job.  I’m not complaining, that’s just the way it is.  And it’s partly by design, I suppose, because the job was never meant to be something I actually took seriously, and so I never bothered to socialize.

In any event, I’ve become friendly with one of the mail guys; he’d noticed I was a gamer from all the Gamefly envelopes in my outbox, and recognized me as a kindred spirit, and so whenever there’s a dull moment, we talk games.

Tonight, he asked me what I thought about the 3DS.

I haven’t really given the 3DS all that much thought, to be honest.  Or, rather, I have, and it’s just that I already know that there’s no reason at all for me to get it any time soon.  If at all.  I have not bought into the 3D hype, to be honest – “Avatar” was the only movie that’s ever really gotten the 3D right, but I kept having to move my head around in order for the glasses to work properly, and let’s face it – it was a crap movie.  I’m a self-professed graphics whore, but even I know that it takes a lot more than just snazzy graphics to make a game (or movie) actually good.  (Exhibit A:  Crysis 2.)

But it’s more than just the 3D, is the thing.  For one thing, there’s nothing I want to play on it.  The e-shop doesn’t launch until May, but even then, Nintendo doesn’t really have the greatest track record when it comes to downloadable games.  (Exhibit B:  Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann has a long-running feature devoted to just how terrible Nintendo’s downloadable content is.)

Furthermore, if the original DS is any indication, Nintendo’s probably going to release a newer, smaller, better 3DS in a year anyway, and maybe by that point there might even be something worth playing on it.

There’s a larger issue, though, and that’s simply that Nintendo apparently doesn’t care about me.  I don’t fit into their target demographic.  I bought a Wii simply to experience Super Mario Galaxy, and while it was an amazing experience, it was also the only experience that wasn’t a complete waste of time.  I ended up giving my Wii to my mother-in-law, and I haven’t thought about it ever since – indeed, I hadn’t thought about it for months except that it was taking up space on my table.

Likewise, I own a DS, but there hasn’t been anything released in at least 6 months that looked even remotely interesting to me.  And it’s not that I’m some sort of snob or something – I mean, I am a snob, sure – but I just can’t get excited about Pokemon or any of the My Little Pony crap that keeps getting shoveled out every other week.  To be honest, there aren’t really any decent puzzle games getting released for it anymore, and those are the kinds of games that I end up spending most of my DS time with in the first place.

Right now, my handheld of choice is my iPod Touch.  It’s got a huge library of quality titles, most of which are under $5, PLUS I can listen to my own music and email and Twitter and Facebook and RSS feeds and all the rest of it.  It’s a much more complete and robust experience, and it clearly has the capability for better graphics, if stuff like Rage HD and Infinity Blade are any indication.

In any event, I told my friend to relax and wait a bit.  The new iPhones will be out in June; the new PSP will be detailed at E3, one would assume; and then it’s just a hop, skip and jump away from next spring, when the inevitable 3DS redesign will be announced, and we can go through this whole sordid business again.