>getting it back

>So it’s been quiet here at SFTC, and for that I apologize.  Things have been pretty quiet on the gaming front since my last post.  There wasn’t anything new to play, and I wasn’t necessarily doing all that much on the backlog, Steam sales be damned. 

But then Little Big Planet 2 came out, and then Dead Space 2 came out, and now the 3DS and the PSP2/NGP have been formally announced/dated, and I find that I’ve got some things to say.

LBP2:  I finished the single-player campaign earlier this week, and started to dabble with some of the community-made levels.  The game is as charming as ever, and the single-player campaign certainly did its best to illustrate what the game is capable of.  And it should be noted that the game’s website, lbp.me, is perhaps the best game-related website ever made – the ability to look at community-made levels on the web, add them to a queue, and then have the game automatically have your queue waiting for you the next time you log in – it’s so elegant and well-made that it seems downright bizarre that it hasn’t been done before.  If I have a problem with the game, then, it’s that I don’t think I’ll ever have the time/patience/imagination to make my own levels, which makes me feel like my experience with the game will be artificially cut in half. 

Dead Space 2Finally got this via Gamefly yesterday, and I’m about an hour in.  I never finished the first game, though not for lack of trying, and so my first playthrough of DS2 is being done on the easiest mode, because I’d really like to make it all the way through and see where the story goes.  As the game is apparently very friendly in terms of incorporating previous playthroughs into new ones, I can see myself giving it another go on a higher difficulty level.  I’ll say this – I’m loving the hell out of it.  I do scare pretty easily, when it comes to movies, but games don’t really scare me – sure I’ll get startled (like when the dogs jump through the window in RE2), but there’s a big difference between being startled and actually being creeped out and scared.  So, then, no, I’ve not been scared.  And I wasn’t scared in the first one, either – I never finished it because there were sections that were just too hard, or I didn’t have enough ammunition, and I got frustrated and gave up.  The first hour of DS2 has been thrilling, however, and certainly startling, and there’s been a few times where I’ve said things out loud that I normally wouldn’t say.  I’m very much looking forward to diving back in.

As for the new handhelds…

I’m certainly intrigued by the 3DS, there’s no doubt about it.  But I’m not really all that excited about the games that have been announced, and ultimately that’s the most important factor.  Hell, right now I play my DS maybe once or twice a year, if a good puzzle game comes out, and I can’t justify spending $250 on a snazzy piece of tech that I’m never going to use, especially since I’ll be getting a Verizon iPhone 5 later this year.  And I really don’t want to spend $250 just to play up-rezzed ports of N64 games, no matter how snazzy the ports are. 

Similarly, I’m very intrigued by the new PSP – very snazzy tech, and a more hard-core lineup of titles (I’m especially interested in that new Uncharted title) – but I don’t know that there’s any one must-have title out there that can help me justify the purchase.  And I’m already wary of Sony’s ability to sustain a handheld – I was excited to buy a PSP, sure, but I got bored with it and sold it back within 8 months, and I haven’t missed it at all.  And if the plan is simply to port over 360 and PS3 titles, well, that’s not necessarily what I want out of my handheld experience.

I generally play handheld games either on the subway or in bed.  I never have the sound on, and I’m not really all that interested in narrative.  I want something to do for a few minutes here and there while I’m unable to do anything else.  My iPod Touch has been excellent at filling that void, and the $1 – $6 price point is very appealing.  So, again, it’s hard for me to justify $300 + $50-60 per game, when the games they’re offering are games I’d rather play on my HDTV. 

I still think I’ll end up with a 3DS, eventually.  I think I can wait for the inevitable redesign and price drop, though.  The PSP2, on the other hand… I don’t know.  The PSP2 is the machine I’d rather have, frankly, but I need to know that Sony can maintain a healthy game library for more than 6 months.  Otherwise, I’m just going to stick with the iPhone.

>Goodbye 2008

>Some random ramblings as I fill in the idle hours at work on the last day of the year:

Was listening to the Giant Bomb “Game of the Year” podcast on the way into work this morning, and it suddenly hit me – I played (and liked) every game they talked about. In years past, there would always be a few titles that would be totally alien to me, and I felt like I missing out; missing Super Mario Galaxy in 2007 would be a good example of that. But not this year – this year I was on top of everything.

I think I may have completed my Best Games of 2008 entry a bit prematurely – I’ve been playing the hell out of Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts over the last week or so, and I’m pretty sure I love it. It could be argued that 2008 was really the break-out year for user-generated content, what with Little Big Planet and Spore (oh, yeah, I downloaded Spore because Steam had that stupid holiday sale), but BK:N&B really does it right, in that it gives you some sort of focus and a specific task. Spore’s creature creator is certainly a fun toy to play with, but ultimately the design of your creature doesn’t necessarily have any practical, tangible result (at least not in my somewhat limited experience with it); and on the other hand, Little Big Planet lets you do so much that it’s a bit overwhelming – I’ve barely even touched the tutorials, because I have no idea what I’d want to create. Nuts & Bolts, on the other hand, does a fantastic job of giving you a specific goal, and giving you the tools to achieve it. Whether you build something totally from scratch or if you simply opt to tweak stuff you already have (which is my preferred method right now), it is immensely satisfying to complete a challenge entirely because of your own ingenuity.

Regarding Spore – yeah, I am a whore. Steam’s holiday sale was as good a reason as any to dip my toe into the Spore experience. I’ve only gotten a little bit into the 2nd evolutionary stage – the one where you emerge from the slime and start walking around – so there’s not a tremendous amount for me to discuss. My computer is getting a bit old, too, so I start to get some serious frame rate hitches every once in a while, which is a drag. It’s an interesting enough diversion, at any rate; I’ve yet to see if it really holds together as a game.

I played an awful lot of Fallout 3 over the break, as well; that game continues to astound and amaze. The stories in that game are top-notch, probably second only to GTA4 this year. My only real problem with that game is the engine; talking to NPCs is still just a little bit weird enough to pull me out of the experience, and it was the same thing in Oblivion. I’m about halfway to level 15 right now, though, and I think I might hold off for a bit until some of the DLC arrives and they lift the level cap.

Speaking of RPGs, I’ve also been playing Chrono Trigger before I go to bed lately. It’s a pretty solid game, and I can see why people love it. (I’m a little lost at the moment, though; I kinda rushed through the dialogue at the end of this one section and so now I’m not entirely sure where I’m supposed to be or what I’m supposed to be doing, and there’s no real way (short of a walkthrough) of solving that problem.) But I’m starting to have a problem with calling these sorts of games “role-playing games.” Fallout is a role-playing game; you inhabit your character and you can make choices and design your skillset and really play the way you want to play and have the experience you want to experience. However, in Chrono Trigger – and, indeed, in every JRPG I’ve ever played – all you do is level up and give your dude new and better gear. There’s no real choice involved; the story is linear and your little dude will play the same way at the end of the game as he will in the beginning. We need some new sort of nomenclature.

My wife and I hosted 2 parties this December – my birthday, and Christmas – and Rock Band 2 was featured prominently at both. Goddamn that game is fun. I love watching people figure out how to play the drums almost as much as I love actually playing them; at first they’re overwhelmed with all the information that’s hurtling towards them at breakneck speeds, but then they figure out how to translate all that arcane symbology into recongizable rhythm, and then the whole concept opens up for them like a flower. It’s really quite something to see.

Finally, I did the math, and barring some gaming tonight before the ball drops, I will have accumulated 12,060 Points in 2008. I will make no predictions about my point-whoring desires for 2009, other than I’d like to cross 50,000 in a cool way. I crossed 30K by playing Call of Duty 4 on a hard difficulty level, and I crossed 40K by playing the guitar on expert difficulty in Rock Band 2. Maybe I’ll cross 50K by doing something awesome in Brutal Legend?

>Back To The Apocalypse

>I find it hard to believe that it’s really December 19. The year was already moving pretty fast, and now I look up and see that Christmas is next fucking week. What the hell happened?

In any event, the release calendar madness has finally slowed down, and now I find myself with a bunch of titles that I finally have some time to enjoy.

First and foremost, I’m getting back into Fallout 3. I had put it down a few weeks ago for some reason, and when I heard about the forthcoming packages of DLC – one of which would raise the level cap and make the endgame a bit more productive – I felt like my time with the game would be better spent with all that stuff intact, instead of playing it now, finishing it, and then coming back later. (I had originally meant to talk about this very thing in relation to this particular article from MTV Multiplayer.) And I guess there’s a part of me that still does feel that way; I’d like to be able to seamlessly incorporate this new DLC into my Fallout experience. That said, last night I found myself with an empty apartment and a lot of options, and I found myself missing the Fallout experience.

Goddamn, that game is awesome. I believe I said in my 2008 wrap-up that I thought I might be a little intimidated by it; it’s such a huge world and there’s so much to do and I still haven’t totally figured out how good or evil I want to be, even though I’m level 10 and have put in a considerable amount of hours into it already. I put it in last night and it only took me about 30 seconds to remember how it worked and I was immediately hooked, again. I’m trying to stay away from the main quest, and as a result I’ve found a ton of other things to see and explore. I used to do this thing in Oblivion – if I was walking towards my targeted location, and another random, undiscovered location started to appear in my map, I’d always feel compelled to stray away just far enough to see what it was that I’d found, and I find myself doing the same thing here in Fallout. And it’s really incredible to see what Bethesda has crammed in there. I’m currently on a side mission that’s taken me to some pretty awesome locations, and the level of detail in every room is just staggering, and it boggles my mind to think that if I had only made a left turn in Rivet City instead of a right, I would never have seen any of it. And the thing of it is, I’m already well aware that there’s a ton of stuff that I’ve already missed because I went one way and not the other. Absolutely incredible.

Rock Band 2 continues to be a nightly source of amusement at my house; my wife has finally graduated to “Medium” difficulty on guitar, and we’re getting back into Tour mode again. I made a brief mention of this in the 2008 Year In Music post on my other blog; there’s 2 songs in particular that I found in the store that I’ve totally fallen in love with, and I ended up purchasing those songs in iTunes – Maximo Park’s “Girls Who Play Guitars” and Silversun Pickups’ “Lazy Eye.” They’re both fun as hell to play on drums, but they also just kick a lot of ass in general.

I made a special category in my 2008 Year in Games post so as to congratulate myself for not being a total whore and buying the Strongbad Games, even though I’m a big fan of the cartoon and an even bigger fan of point-and-click adventure games. Then, of course, it was announced just the other day that they were releasing all 5 adventures on Steam, and so OF COURSE I went and downloaded them immediately. Steam was acting a little weird last night, though, and I couldn’t actually open Episode 1. But I did check out the tutorial in Episode 5, just to make sure I knew what I was getting into, and of course I’m totally fucking hooked.

I finally beat the single-player campaign in Little Big Planet, and then I started dabbling in user-created levels, most of which are kinda shitty. (It does sound strange to use the phrase “single-player campaign” for a game like LBP, but to borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld, you use the nomenclature you have.) I’m not sure I’m ready to begin designing my own levels just yet; I may end up going back into the single-player to try and find all the stickers and objects that I didn’t get the first time. I gotta say – even though the controls are awfully floaty and the back-middle-front aspect of it can get terribly screwed up, that game’s charm is absolutely impossible to deny. I am fully on board the Sackboy bandwagon.

Finally, my DS is finally starting to come to life again. I’ve been getting into Chrono Trigger a little more, and I’ve also been enjoying the newest Castlevania game. I find it incredible that Konami has basically been making the same Castlevania game for a million years and yet it still ends up being pretty awesome every single time.

And so what are you playing this weekend?