>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?

>Weekend Recap: pre-Xmas 2008 edition

>Kudos to me for not buying Spore this weekend. I was clearly concerned that my lack of willpower would result in a drunk download and I just don’t have the time or the money (but especially the time) (and also the money) to get into something like Spore, which ended up not being the greatest game ever made.

My weekend was actually pretty busy, gaming-wise; made a brief bit of progress in Fallout 3, played more Rock Band 2 with the wife (who has gotten quite good at guitar and is even doing ok on the drums), got a bit further in Chrono Trigger, went back and rounded up some hidden objects in Little Big Planet, and started to get seriously sucked into Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts.

Where do I begin with Banjo? I was curious about it until I tried the demo, where I found myself in way over my head. But then Amazon lowered the already-low price by another $10 or so, and I felt compelled to give it another go.

Having the full game is quite a different experience than what the demo offers; all I remember about the demo was that the game was certainly gorgeous, but I didn’t know how to build anything and didn’t have the patience to learn. What’s nice about the full game, then, is that you don’t actually have to build anything, at least not right away; if you fully explore the environments that you have available to you, not only can you procure a number of parts on your own but you can scrounge up enough coin to buy blueprints and parts, thus giving you an advantage in the early competitions. And what’s nice about this – especially for someone like me, who was never mechanically inclined and who never strayed from the cover photos on Lego boxes – is that eventually you will hit a wall and will have to start building, but at least you can start from an already well-designed vehicle and then make tweaks as you see fit.

Case in point: this one particular event is basically a giant ski jump, and I have to get my vechicle to fly/glide to a certain distance in order to get a Jiggy. The catch is that I can’t just use a plane; once I launch from the jump, my engines cut out. At this point in the game I’ve either found or bought around 40 different blueprints, but none of them get me anywhere close to the Jiggy threshold. [Jiggy Threshold – great band name?] And so now I have to start experimenting. Putting wings on a heavy vehicle seems like an obvious solution, except the wings cause my vehicle to start sailing well before the end of the ramp and I end up having zero momentum by the time I really need it. Ultimately I end up putting 5 balloons on a moderately heavy pre-made vehicle and manually inflating them shortly before the jump to create lift, and I’m able to glide into the Jiggy Zone, although I’m still well below Trophy Level. Still, though, I learned several concepts about vehicle design, and I was able to invent a working solution, which felt very satisfying.

I have a feeling, though, that I won’t be smart enough to beat the game at higher levels of difficulty. But that’s why they invented YouTube, so I can look at other people’s blueprints.

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