further adventures in multitasking

Firstly – apologies for the weird takedown of the site the other day; WordPress apparently let some feral hamsters inside their servers and shut both of my blogs down for some alleged (and non-existent) violation of their Terms of Service.  They fixed it, apologized, and so here we are, no harm, no foul.  #OccupyWordpress

There’s a lot to talk about, and little time to do it, so here goes.

1.  Gamespot is reporting that Microsoft is going to release its new Xbox next year, during the holiday season.  This is maybe a little on the early side – I wasn’t expecting anything until an announcement in 2013 of a console release in 2014 – but in a way it makes sense.  Judging from the amount of sequels we got this year, I’m thinking that developers are a bit reluctant to launch any new IP so close to the end of the Xbox360’s life cycle.  I’ll have more to say about the next round of consoles in a later post – I’m already starting to ramble (in my head) and I haven’t even gotten started yet.

2.  I’ve started working on my favorite annual post to write – the 2011 Game of the Year.  Problem is, I feel like I can’t really get into the nitty-gritty until I finish Skyrim, Saints Row 3, and Assassin’s Creed Revelations, and meanwhile I’m still plugging away in Modern Warfare 3 and I haven’t even touched Rayman Origins yet.  I don’t think there’s any chance that I’ll be done with Skyrim until next spring, frankly, but I do want to at least put in a good dent – and yet I’m trying to stay away from it until Bethesda releases the patch that will let me install it on my HDD – my 360 (the newest model) tends to get very hot when it spins a disc, and this would be the absolute worst possible time to have a meltdown.

3.  Regarding Modern Warfare 3… I didn’t think I’d get around to playing it, but here I am.  I’m a few missions into Act 3; I have no idea how much farther I have to go before I’m done.  I have no idea what the hell is going on, either; I show up in a strange place and I kill hundreds of enemy soldiers and I press “X” a lot and then a lot of shit blows up.  It occurred to me last night that the Call of Duty games are kind of amazing in that they really don’t allow for any player creativity whatsoever.  You’re almost never alone, for one thing; you’re always part of a group, and you’re being led from place to place by someone else, and if you fail to follow their instructions (i.e., if you move out of stealth or shoot too early), you invariably die and the mission ends.  There aren’t any puzzles; every obstacle is handled by the X button, whether it’s setting a C4 charge, or opening a door, or helping a dying soldier by pressing on a wound.    It’s impossible to get lost; even if you run around looking for “hidden intel”, there’s only so many places you can look – the path is incredibly narrow.  Everything is scripted to within an inch of its life.  If I were the cynical sort – and I am – I’d say that one of the reasons why so much crazy shit happens in Call of Duty campaigns is because it helps distract the player from realizing that they’re not really contributing anything to the experience.   And yet… I’m kinda having fun.  I hate admitting it, and I don’t know why I hate admitting it.

4.  I’ve read in reviews that Assassin’s Creed: Revelations gets off to a slow start, and BOY THEY AREN’T KIDDING AROUND.  It’s funny; I kept being worried about the annualization of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and yet they’d kept making each successive game better than the last one.  So I had no reason to doubt that this year’s edition would be just as good.  Problem is, it’s coming out at the worst possible time – and not just because so many other great games are fighting for my attention.  It’s that the free-running and building climbing is much better in Uncharted 3, and that the hand to hand combat is much better in Batman Arkham City.  Those two games are still very fresh in my mind, and while I can’t necessarily hold AssRev accountable for other people’s work, nevertheless, I am nonplussed.  The other thing is that the controls are ridiculous.  I’ve played every game in the franchise for many many hours and yet the controls here are still finicky and overly sensitive and contextualized to death, which means that I end up jumping off a cliff instead of climbing a wall, or that I attempt to embrace an enemy instead of killing him with a sword that the game won’t let me pick up.  Being that I’m inundated with other games, I’ve decided that I’ll get to it when I get to it, which at this rate might be July.

5.  I’ve put in an hour or two into Saints Row the Third.  It is, in a word, bananas.  I can’t really offer anything more substantial at this point, since I’ve done maybe 1% of the crazy shit that the game apparently allows me to do.  That said, it looks great, and the combat works and feels responsive and fun, and the driving is a little stiff but I’ll get used to it.  Good times all around.

the calm before the storm

So this is just a quick check-in before I am utterly consumed by Skyrim, Saints Row 3, and Assassins Creed Revelations.  And also Modern Warfare 3 and Rayman Origins and even perhaps the Metal Gear HD Collection and Need For Speed: The Run.

1.  I’m kinda scared of Skyrim, to be honest.  Was listening to yesterday’s Bombcast this morning and Brad mentioned that he’d put in 50 hours and had “barely touched the side stuff.”  Now, I’ve got no problem sinking tons of hours into a game – I sunk at least 100 in Oblivion and I’ve approached similar numbers in many Rockstar titles.  But it should be noted that I’ve been binge-gaming of late – I’ve been sick a lot lately and so I’ve been spending more time at home than usual, and as such I’ve been engaged in marathon gaming sessions.  (I blasted through Uncharted 3 in two sittings, and Lord of the Rings: War In the North in one, and LOTR wasn’t very good, either.)  Point being, I’m already predisposed to hunker down with a game for long stretches of time, and if Skyrim is even half as good as Oblivion was, I may not leave the house until the spring.

2.  This has happened a few times recently, I think in both Uncharted 3 and LOTR, where I’ve been in a seemingly endless battle with hordes of enemies, and then more enemies have swarmed the scene, and my player character quips something to the effect of – “Again with this?”  or “Don’t these guys ever quit?”  I think it’s supposed to be funny, or at least some sort of nod from the designers that maybe this is what you, the player, are thinking as well; but it isn’t funny, and if you as the designer decide to mock the player’s frustration with your tedious bullshit by giving them even more tedious bullshit, then that’s basically just you being a dick.

3.  I wasn’t planning on playing Modern Warfare 3, but here it is in my hands.  (Thanks, Amazon, for your goddamned pack-in deals.)  My antipathy towards the franchise is probably a little bit unfair considering that I’ve played most of the campaigns in the franchise, dating back to COD2, and while I don’t particularly care for multiplayer shooters in general, I can’t deny that it’s generally pretty fun, and certainly many millions of people love it.  I think my antipathy is more directed at Activision’s merciless whoring of the franchise, which (to me) appears somehow even more greed-induced than even EA’s relentless shilling of Madden.  I get that this is a business, and the Modern Warfare franchise is among the biggest in that business, and there’s nothing wrong with making money (especially in this economy).  But I’d be lying if I didn’t cop to feeling a tremendous amount of shooter fatigue these days.  I’m playing it mostly just so that I can be part of the larger conversation about it, and yet I suspect that there probably won’t be very much to talk about.

4.  I’ve been thinking a little bit lately about the question of Games being Art.  It’s a question that seemed pretty loud back when “arty” games were coming out (i.e., Braid, Flower, Bioshock), and it’s more or less died down these days (since, well, there’s almost nothing super-popular this year that qualifies).  And I guess I arrived at the conclusion that it’s a totally irrelevant question.  Most games are not striving to be art (as is the case with most popular films and TV and even music).  They are striving to be fun, certainly, and they are striving to be entertaining, obviously, but they are mostly striving to be purchased.  This realization is not particularly profound, I know, but I was somewhat taken aback by the realization that I kinda don’t care.  If a game comes along that truly knocks me on my ass in a deep, profound, metaphysical way, I’ll be all for it.  I’ll appreciate the effort.   But I’m not sure that I’m looking for an artistic experience when I fire up my 360.  Most of the time, I’m looking to escape into the game’s story – or, since most game stories suck, I’m looking to get lost in the moment-to-moment thrill of the game itself.

5.  I know the audience of this blog is small, so this probably won’t make that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, but I must recommend Tom Bissell’s excellent book Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter.  For one thing, I’ve played pretty much every game he talks about, so I understood where he was coming from.  But he’s also probably my favorite writer in today’s videogame space; his pieces for Grantland (especially this L.A. Noire essay) are incredibly insightful and knowledgeable and just plain readable, frankly.  I am hoping to emulate his quality here in the future.

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