A thoughtful and personal exploration of games

Posts tagged “Civilization

Too Old? Never!

Today I was talking to someone at work about how they’re redesigning Batgirl and she’s looking really great (and practically dressed which is a plus with me). Another person mentioned that they thought I was too old for comics and I said something to the effect of “I’m a Toys R Us kid! I’m never growing up!”

Obviously, such a statement, “you’re too old for that,” is thrown around by people who aren’t aware of the breadth and depth of mediums such as comics and even video games. As this is a gaming blog, I’m going to tackle the game portion.

First, let’s look at the games themselves. Do they have an age ceiling? Nope. Do they have a minimum age? Some do. So, some can’t (well, SHOULDN’T) be played too young, but they’re available to anyone over that age up to the limit of our natural lives. Cool.

Although, I’m sure she’s not referring to LEGALLY aging out of them though. How about maturing past the content?

Sure, there are some games that I’m way too old for and I’m definitely not the target market any more. I grew up playing Number Munchers, Mixed-Up Mother Goose Rhymes, Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego? and several others that were obviously designed with children in mind. I don’t really have a desire to play them today and they’re all far too easy for me now. No real challenges there (except maybe Carmen Sandiego). How about the other games I grew up with? Well, Starflight, Civilization, Sim City, X-Wing, and X-COM were all marketed to adults. Starflight was such a massive game, my Dad took a very methodical approach to it, mapping out every wormhole, each special artifact, and more on the map that came with the game. If you ever come across the map we have, you could probably beat the game with it. Civilization and Sim City are powerhouse franchises today, made by and played by people of every age group, but back then they had rather steep learning curves and it took some serious dedication (that children usually don’t come pre-built with) to master. X-Wing was one of several flight sims from the age when you were either in the Star Wars camp or the Wing Commander camp (I didn’t play Wing Commander until WC3 came out and I finally played the first two when I got to college) and there was no guarantee you could get your computer to play them without a potential video or sound card upgrade (which typically required being an adult). X-COM scared the crap out of me as a kid (those damn Chryssalids and their creepy grins) and still spooks me today, but I played that for almost 20 years, and even then, I’m playing the remake which will probably keep me playing another 20 or more years.

I think this issue with being too old for something is more a misperception of the medium in question. Comics have been viewed in the past as only a thing for children, but now the stories are more mature and tackle a wide variety of issues. In fact, they’ve been extremely mature for decades now.  Someone saying that you can be too old for comics hasn’t educated themselves enough regarding the material and thus, probably should either be given an opportunity to educate themselves or, failing that, should be left alone in their old-fashioned beliefs. No longer is it just Garfield bemoaning Mondays or Snoopy stealing Linus’ blanket. It’s a young woman being paralyzed by a murderous villain but surviving and becoming a source of inspiration to many. It’s a group of uniquely talented people coming together in adverse conditions to address a threat to society and life as we know it, overcoming their own personal foibles in an effort to do good. It’s a being from another world, or even just someone who’s different somehow, just trying to fit in.

So too it is with video games. They have never been solely a child’s plaything, they have given us incredible mental challenges to overcome, they’ve taxed our resolve, they’ve allowed us to step away from our daily grind and into a fantasy realm that was once only the purview of movies, music, books, and art. While some games attract children for the bright colors and flashy graphics, other games attract older folk for deeper, more nuanced reasons and can be appreciated in a much wider way. I can say with certainty that I have been as equally drawn into a good game as into a good book, a good movie, a good song, a good comic book. There’s that feeling upon finishing such a thing that is nearly indescribable. You know you’ve experienced a significant thing and you’re simultaneously breathless and sad and happy and lost and you don’t know whether or not to restart and try to recapture the experience or to step away and digest.

If growing up means being too old for comics and games, then I’ll never grow up. Of course, it helps I’m a Toys R Us kid.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. This feels appropriate.

 

 


PAX East 2014 – Rundown

I just returned this afternoon from PAX East 2014 in Boston and wow, what a weekend!

On Friday I got in line for the Expo Hall early and, after doing what I think is my annual ritual of buying a shirt from the Rooster Teeth booth, I caught the tail end of Storytime with Alex Rigopulos (CEO of Harmonix). He discussed the upcoming Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved and Chroma games (both look exceptional and I’m interested in seeing how they do). I stuck around for the Rooster Teeth panel and thoroughly enjoyed an upcoming episode of Immersion and the new intro for RWBY.

After Rooster Teeth, I joined a friend for the “Land My Job! Inside Advice on Getting into the Game Industry” panel. Long story short, it doesn’t matter what you do now or did back in the day. If you want in on the games industry, just do what you want to do and things should fall in place (there’s some fine print there but the panel was quite good and explained how people from all walks of life can find themselves in the games industry).

At this point I spent a lot of time on the Expo floor, browsing the things being shown off. The Indie MegaBooth was incredible. I felt like a kid in a candy store. Speaking of indie devs, I ran into one at the Dunkin Donuts on the way in that morning and made sure to drop by every day of the convention at the Indie MiniBooth to see how he was doing. Check out Willy Chyr. His first-person environmental puzzle game, Relativity, has an unmistakable Portal-esque feel to it while using color to emphasize interactivity in an Escher-inspired world. It was an incredible demo and I can’t wait to see the finished product. As an added bonus, I didn’t suffer simulator sickness while I tried it out.

I rounded out the evening checking by attending “The Art of the Table: GMing Beyond the Basics” and  “How Can We Stay Positive in the Games Industry?”. All told a lovely evening.

Saturday started with a bang. Namely the Firaxis Games Mega Panel. I attended last year and I already expected to attend this year even before Jake Solomon mentioned there was a special announcement to be made at the panel. Right after sitting down, someone from 2K came up and asked, “Who’s the biggest Firaxis fan here?” and I said, “I can’t guarantee I’m the biggest fan, but I’m pretty much a big fan.” She pulled me and three other guys from the audience out into the hall for a quick interview performed by Chloe Dykstra and Michele Morrow, the purpose of which was to ascertain if we had a decent idea of what the announcement could possibly be. There’s video somewhere, but right now it’s not online. Suffice to say, one guy guessed Alpha Centauri, another said Civ 6, I said Master of Orion (corporate espionage for the win), and I don’t remember the fourth one. We were then released to get back into the panel where they announced Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth and I’m so excited.

No seriously. SO EXCITED. Text is inadequate for expressing my excitement for this new game. It’s coming out later this year and I promise I’ll be playing. I guess I’m more than just a “big fan” of Firaxis now, huh?

After the panel, we got posters promoting the game. As I stood outside checking my phone, I was grabbed by the same camera crew and interviewed again about my reaction to the announcement. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I remember being told that I did really well in front of the camera at which point I said it was probably because, “I dabble in YouTube”. Michele Morrow laughed and said she needed that on a t-shirt (someone hook her up with one please?). I then found myself invited to the 2K Community Party later that night.

I hoofed it to the FedEx by the main entrance and wound up walking with one of the developers of Beyond Earth. I was able to express my appreciation for the new title as well as my enthusiasm on the way (I love doing that in person to the people who are actually responsible for what I’m gushing on).

I caught the tail end of the Mass Effect Cosplay Initiative (Thane’s voice actor is a witty fellow), and then I wandered the Expo Hall some more until about 6, at which time I found a nice spot to sit and wound up sitting next to The Doubleclicks (I kept my cool, but only barely). A short while after that, I made my way offsite to the 2K Community Party and had a lovely time talking gaming with some exceptional people from 2K, Firaxis, and Gearbox (as well as fellow PAX attendees).

Sunday started with another roughly equivalent bang to Saturday’s. I attended the Inside Gearbox Software panel and it was packed. So much concentrated awesome resulted in us getting to see some small details on upcoming games such as Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands, the Homeworld Remastered Edition, and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Even more than just those things, everyone in the audience (me included) got a voucher code for a free copy of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Yup, I’ll be playing it up one side and down the other.

My buddy and I followed that amazing experience up with attending the signing by Gearbox and friends down in the Queue room. I netted a Borderlands 2 golden key code (already used it, sorry), and a copy of Official XBOX Magazine that won’t be on stands for another two weeks.

I wrapped up my convention attendance by some more wandering of the Expo Hall and attending the “Fragging Gamer Stereotypes” panel.

All in all, quite the amazing weekend. I’m blown away by how wonderful everyone was and now I’m seriously contemplating going again next year.

As an aside, I’m quite tired of writing behind a pen-name or callsign or handle or nom de plume or whatever. I’m going to be signing my posts here with my actual name from here on and you’ll all see my name on my Twitter (but everything else is going to be pretty much the same). It’s time to put a face to the words, proverbially speaking.

Until next time!

– Thomas

P.S. You all really need to see the official trailer for Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth. It’s something truly fantastic.


Discussion – The Older Things

Last night I caught The Comedy Awards and was struck by something when David Letterman got on stage to accept the Johnny Carson award: there are people who don’t know who Johnny Carson IS.

Allow me to explain the relevance. I have a young cousin who I love to talk to. She’s really smart and generally awesome. She knows nothing of X-COM, Civilization, Babylon 5, Star Trek, Star Wars, I mean, seriously an empty education. She MIGHT know Firefly, but she only knew of Assassin’s Creed because I told her. She’s grown up never knowing who Princess Leia is or even Queen Amidala. She doesn’t know of Captain Picard or that William Shatner is the original Captain Kirk.

It falls to us, the players of old games and purveyors of older cultural THINGS to pass them on to the younger generations so that they can see the joy inherent in what we love. We need to share our passions with our friends and our children (and our friends children) so that these things will flourish.

I’ve taken it upon myself to start sharing Star Wars with my cousin (among other things) and I’m struggling to do my part. I’m making progress, surely. A friend of mine has started his daughter on Star Wars at the ripe old age of something-under-2.

I think that the real impact that we could have here is that the old is never truly forgotten (unless it really really sucks).

Until next time, spread the good word!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Culture would seem … first and foremost, to be the knowledge of what makes man something other than an accident of the universe be it by deepening his harmony with the world, or by the lucid consciousness of his revolt from it. … Culture is the sum of all the forms of art, of love and of thought, which, in the course of centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved.” – André Malraux

P.P.S. Oh, yes, also… TAGS!


Discussion: When is a game completed?

A recent project of mine has been to list all of the games that I’ve played in my lifetime. No, not board games or card games, but computer and video games. When I started this project a few days ago, I began by listing the name of the game, the platform I played it on, and whether or not I finished the game or left it incomplete. Later I added the genre of the game in another column. Earlier today, I was asked if I had a count of how many of the games I had listed had actually been completed and also, what constituted a completed game? There are some games that just never have a solid ending (city-building games like SimCity or online games like World of Warcraft) and other games that have more fluid endings (like Civilization). When do I declare a game finished?

For the purposes of city-building games (SimCity, SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4, Afterlife, Caesar, etc.) I declare the game to be “finished” when I have finally hit upon a self-sufficient city design and I’m happy with it. In the first three SimCity games I managed to achieve that. Self-sufficient is defined for my purposes as, well, I could technically walk away from the keyboard for a few minutes and not worry that the city will blow up in my absence. It’s got a positive revenue, I’ve built up my planned design, and there’s not much more improving I can do… yeah.

For the purposes of games like Civilization, Sins of a Solar Empire, Master of Orion, and similar strategy games with no tangible storyline, they are “finished” when I have completed a beginning to end playthrough once. That’s all it takes. When it comes to these games though, sometimes it takes several days. It could also be on the easiest difficulty, like in my case, I happen to enjoy playing Civilization IV on the easiest setting, but occasionally I crank up the difficulty a step or two. I never leave a game like this alone after beating it once.

For the purposes of online games (Dungeons & Dragons Online, Star Trek Online, Star Wars Galaxies, World of Warcraft, etc.) I say they are “finished” when I have taken at least one character to the maximum level available in the game. Therefore, Star Trek Online and Star Wars Galaxies are classified as finished whereas Dungeons & Dragons Online and World of Warcraft isn’t. Further, there’s nothing to say I can’t keep playing a game once I’ve classified it as “finished” on my list, it’s just a barometer for how far I’ve taken a particular game (especially MMOs). This is regardless of the storyline in the game.

Other games are definitely done if I feel I played the hell out of them like I did Super Smash Bros. Melee or Super Mario Kart. Or if I finished the storyline like in Final Fantasy VIII or IX (I remember finally finishing those in the same weekend after not playing them for 6-8 months or something like that… VIII on a Saturday and IX on a Sunday, bam, done). The Sims? Right, I labeled that one as finished because I got one Sim all the way up to the Chief of Police in my game once upon a time (way back in fall 2002) and since then that file has vanished into the ether between electrons. I do distinctly remember such a thing happening, which is why I classified it as “finished”.

Mind, this is my personal measurement of completion. I have a friend who believes that Diablo II: Lord of Destruction will not be truly beaten until he’s beaten it on the hardest difficulty setting. I called it a win when I got through Nightmare. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

Now, a fair portion of my list is classified as incomplete. This could refer to any number of reasons:

1) I didn’t like the game after trying it

2) I didn’t own the game and played it at a friends house

3) I no longer own the game

4) I can’t remember ever finishing it

5) Any permutation of the above

Oh, also, I’ve played some games on multiple platforms. Chrono Trigger hasn’t changed much (if at all) from its SNES roots to the Playstation port to the current DS version, so I marked that I’d finished the game (which I have, several times over) but that the platform is DS. Maybe later I’ll expand the platform box to allow for all the versions I’ve played of a single game, but I’ve only marked it once. For the record, I haven’t beaten Chrono Trigger on the DS yet, but I beat the Playstation version and I beat the SNES version on ZSNES (emulation) several times.

For Lunar, I played and beat it on SEGA CD at a friend’s house a long time ago, I got it for the Playstation and beat it (and subsequently lost my copy or loaned it to someone), and according to my GameSpot listing I have a copy of Lunar Legend somewhere (which I recall beating, but I can’t find it anywhere) and now I have the Lunar Harmony version for the PSP. The differences between Lunar: The Silver Star and Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete were incredible (harp to ocarina anyone?) so I counted them separately on my list. The differences between Lunar: SSSC and Lunar Legend were less so, but there was a drastic graphical change, so I marked that one too as a separate game. Lastly, there was also a huge change between the GBA Lunar Legend and the PSP Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, so that one was counted separately too. So… on my list of games played in my life, I’ve counted Chrono Trigger once (even though I’ve played it on four different platforms) and Lunar four times (because of the differences between the remakes). If any of that made any sense, I owe you a cookie or something.

I have this bad habit of playing a game almost all the way to the end, realizing that I missed something WAYYYYY back near the beginning, starting again and then getting a decent way in and stopping playing for about 6 months to a year. With Final Fantasy VIII, IX, XII, I eventually went back and beat them, but with games like Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Legend of Dragoon, and Harbinger, I might never go back because they’re too old or something equally silly. I haven’t touched Legend of Dragoon in so long and I remember being so close to the ending, but because I don’t remember how to play, if I do pick it up again I’ll have to start a new game. Also, some games tempt me to pick them up again. I’ve been having this urge to play Chrono Cross again and, lately, Star Ocean: Till the End of Time.

I included some expansions as separate entries. In the case of Starcraft, Brood War was practically its own game. Likewise with the expansions to Wing Commander 2, and a few other games. Sometimes the contributions of an expansion weren’t ever significant enough to me, so I didn’t count it (Empire Earth, Age of Empires II, and a few others).

Oh, here’s my key for the genres of the games. This is mostly just for my own purposes, but I’d like to get the key put down somewhere.

AADV – Action Adventure (includes combination games that display elements of both Action and Adventure games) 22

ACT – Action (includes scrolling shooters, light gun games, third-person shooters and any sports games) (yes sports because I don’t really play any so they don’t get their own category) 49

ADV – Adventure (includes graphical adventures, text adventures, point-and-click games) 64

ARPG – Action Role-Playing Game (for hack-and-slash games) (any Diablo game or clone thereof and games similar to Marvel Ultimate Alliance) 28

EDU – Educational (mostly games I played as a kid) (Super Solvers Midnight Rescue! got a humorous response out of a friend last night) 6

FGT – Fighting (Mortal Kombat and similar games) 16

FPS – First-Person Shooter (Duh.) 19

FSIM – Flight Simulation (I played a lot of these growing up) 29

MMO – Massively Multiplayer Online (These too) 30

PLT – Platform (games where you jump from platform to platform) (I’m not especially good at these, but I haven’t quite learned my lessons yet) 20

PUZ – Puzzle (Yup.) 13

RACE – Racing (I’ve played a couple) 7

RPG – Role-Playing Game (My first real experience here can be summed up in one word: Starflight) 82

RTS – Real-Time Strategy (Remember when you didn’t know what this was? I do.) 30

SIM – Simulation (includes any city building simulation) 29

TBS – Turn-Based Strategy (this includes computer board games like Star Wars Monopoly) 47

TDS – Tower Defense Strategy (Addictive little games) 2

If there’s a combination of things, like in X-COM Apocalypse where you can pick real-time or turn-based, I’ve labeled it as TB/RTS or similarly for the other categories as needed to accurately define it for myself. For those, the breakdown goes like this: ACT/FPS 1, ACT/PLT 2, ACT/SIM 1, ADV/PLT 1, ADV/RPG 2, PLT/PUZ 2, PLT/SIM 1, PUZ/RPG 1, RTS/RPG 1, TB/RTS 3. 15

Mostly, this is to get things straight in my head. As of this writing, the list contains 508 separate entries detailing my experiences with PC (288), MAC (2), SEGA CD (2), Dreamcast (2), NES (8), SNES (7), ZSNES (22), GameCube (13), Wii (26), SEGA (4), SEGA Game Gear (2), Commodore 64 (1), Arcades (6), XBox (5), XBox 360 (22), Playstation (14), Playstation 2 (26), PSP (15), GameBoy Advance (17), DS (22), Atari 2600 (2) and the Nintendo 64 (2). This list includes 261 “finished” and 247 “incomplete” games. Mind, these aren’t hard and fast necessarily as I focus on my memories and remember which games were on one of the three desktops or three laptops I’ve owned in my life or if they were on the “not-long-for-our-home” Commodore 64. In fact, as I write this, I think I only ever played Might and Magic II on the C64. Guess I’ll change that later… PC -1, C64 +1.

I checked the math on each of my three metrics, they all add up to 508. Anyways, maybe sometime soon I’ll figure out a way to share this list. In the meantime, I need to get to bed.

Until next time, every game is an experience that you can count on!

– Elorfin

P.S. Experience is not a matter of having actually swum the Hellespont, or danced with the dervishes, or slept in a doss-house. It is a matter of sensibility and intuition, of seeing and hearing the significant things, of paying attention at the right moments, of understanding and coordinating. Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him. – Aldous Huxley

P.P.S. Every experience is a paradox in that it means to be absolute, and yet is relative; in that it somehow always goes beyond itself and yet never escapes itself. – T.S. Eliot


Discussion: Video Game Remakes and Re-releases

I was listening to some video game music on YouTube this morning and I happened to glance down at the comments. There were a couple of people saying how awesome it would be if there was to be a remake of the game to which the music belonged. A few commented that any remake would not be as faithful as we would hope. Mind, that’s just my interpretation of YouTube comments… they’re typically not so verbose or well worded (not to mention improper spelling and grammar).

I’ve been around almost as long as the video game industry. I’ve been playing games for most of my life. Some of the games I grew up on have built up a rather impressive catalog (Civilization just hit its fifth iteration, X-COM is seeing a reboot as a first person shooter without the hyphen, Sim City spawned the incredibly successful Sims series, etc). For the purposes of this discussion, sequels aren’t remakes or reboots, they’re just the logical (sometimes illogical) evolution of a game.

There has been a clamor for remakes and re-releases these days by my generation. We want to see our old games brought back to the fore and given the attention they deserve now in this age of the internet where we can discuss them openly instead of getting a bunch of blank stares from gamers half our age. I’ll get into the age issue later, but for now, let’s take a look at some remakes and re-releases.

In my opinion (and since this is my little site, everything here is my opinion), one of the best remakes/ports has to be the continuing of Lunar: The Silver Star since 1992. I wrote about it earlier here, so I won’t go into too much detail. The original game came out in 1992 on Sega CD (well, the Japanese version; the North American version was 1993), the first remake was Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete for the Sega Saturn in 1996-7, and later released on the Playstation in 1998-9. Further, there was a Game Boy Advance remake in 2002 called Lunar Legend and lastly the Playstation Portable remake in 2009-10 named Lunar: Silver Star Harmony. Each of these remakes showed improvements in the graphics and/or voice acting (especially in the PSP release) and introduced new or different gameplay elements (or in one case, changing the main character’s hobby from playing a harp to playing an ocarina and rewriting the game to reflect that).

In the case of other games (this whole paragraph is now off the top of my head), I own a copy of Final Fantasy III for the Nintendo DS which is a graphical update from the original. I’m not sure about the gameplay or anything else (except to reflect the touch screen and dual screen nature of the console, which I consider an assumed update). Also, there was a release of Final Fantasy I and II for the PSP, Final Fantasy VI for the GBA, Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI on the Playstation, Chrono Trigger for the Playstation (that added animated cutscenes) and later the Nintendo DS (that has additional gameplay). Even more modern games like Disgaea has been rereleased on the PSP and the DS with appropriate gameplay adjustments and the whole Ace Attorney series originally came out on the GBA and was re-released on the DS. Final Fantasy Tactics got an amazing revisit when it was remade for the PSP 10 years after its original Playstation release and it added cell-shaded cutscenes, voice acting, a rewrite of the script to eliminate some of the mistranslated speech, and multiplayer gameplay.

Also, there has been a resurgence of re-releases courtesy of digital download services like Steam and Impulse. I’ve got full access to X-COM UFO Defense on Steam (which experienced a re-release or two) and Master of Orion II on Impulse. These are both mid-1990’s games that I spent a lot of time playing (and if you look at my Steam profile for X-COM, I still do). With access to old games, I’ve noticed something about myself… I’m BETTER at them now than I used to be. Not just through repetition of gameplay (because I stopped playing them when Windows decided to not let me run them ordinarily), but through the fact that I’m a much more experienced gamer today. I was playing Master of Orion II recently and discovered that the easy difficulty setting was too easy, which was odd because it used to be fine for me. I cranked up the difficulty to average and it was STILL too easy. I think I’m going to kick it up to hard next and see what happens.

For someone like me who grew up with these older games, a remake is a mixed bag. Part of the experience of these older games was dealing with the copy protection and the low resolution, DOS command lines and the early generations of sound cards that could only generate 8-bit music (eventually better). However, I would love to see my old games revisited and updated… better graphics, better music, glitches fixed, gameplay streamlined, but I don’t want any significant changes. Often when there’s a remake, the fear is that the developer will change the fundamental aspects of the game. This is partly unfounded as I’ve never seen a remake that drastically changed the way the game played, but I have seen sequels that are nothing like the original (Master of Orion 3 was a disaster).

This leads me to my perspective: I want to see faithful remakes of the games I grew up playing. I want to see graphical, musical, effects upgrades across the board, but I want the gameplay to essentially remain the same. Sure, some of the fan-made projects for X-COM has made playing the game more interesting and convenient (like a map randomizer to mix things up a bit or a mechanism for the game to remember what equipment was on which team members). I feel that these re-releases on Steam and Impulse could be the beginning of something incredible if companies would tackle such things. Admittedly, most companies are more interested in making new or derivative games instead of revisiting older ones for overhauls. Plus, in the case of some games like X-COM Interceptor, the source code has apparently vanished and any fixes or remakes are just not in the cards. Honestly, remakes/re-releases of games like Lunar, Final Fantasy, and Chrono Trigger are thrilling for me and I jump on them when I can. I love having a portable copy of Chrono Trigger and Lunar and Final Fantasy Tactics. I’d love to see a PSP version of X-COM UFO Defense one day, but seeing as they’ve already started pulling away from the UMD hardware (from what I’ve noticed), I doubt I’m going to get my wish.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. There’s something in it that makes us look upon the things we treasured way back when through our rose colored lenses and value the old over the new. Remakes are a kind of compromise and even today, remakes are often derided as worse than the original. A prime example of this is a forum thread I was reading last night regarding Lunar: Silver Star Harmony on the PSP. In it, some posters commented that it was easier than the original, that it was somehow less than the original. This kind of thinking is dangerous for those of us who would love to see our old favorites revisited in the future. I wonder if these people ever considered that because they played the original, they were somehow better at later versions of the same game. I’ve played Lunar in nearly every iteration and to me, it’s the same game every time. Of course, I don’t have the luxury of being able to play the original Sega CD version next to the newer PSP version. This issue occurs with movies too (anyone notice the whole “I hate the new Star Wars trilogy” thing mostly coming from those people who grew up with the original?). The older we get and the more advanced we become with regards to education and technology, the more critical and demanding we become of our forms of entertainment. Why can’t it be like the good old days? Because those days are long gone, but if you open your mind just a bit, you might find that your favorite story has inspired a slew of others just like it… Master of Orion was the original game that inspired the coining of the term 4X (Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate) with regards to video game genres and has since inspired games like Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations and many more. Wolfenstein 3D inspired every first person shooter we have today, from Unreal Tournament to Medal of Honor. It’s good to go back to the beginning to see where it all started and awesome if you experienced it as it happened, but take a look outside every now and again and try something new. I promise, you won’t be disappointed (unless you want to be, in which case, that’s your problem).

I suppose my new point is this: don’t rely on the remakes and re-releases, but if they do come along, vote with your money and let the companies know that their effort in revisiting their older games is a welcome diversion. In the mean time, let developers pay tribute to older games by making new ones and vote with your money on those too. Feel free to compare the old and the new, but understand that if that old game were made today, it would be completely different due to the reduced limitations on technology. Apparently Silent Hill was much scarier back when there was a ton of fog (which was implemented since the hardware was limited in what it could show) and now today you can see all the way to the horizon and things aren’t so scary any more. Be understanding.

Until next time, keep on playing the classics you love and give the descendants a chance to become new classics!

– Elorfin

P.S. “Nostalgia, as always, had wiped away bad memories and magnified the good ones.” from Living to Tell the Tale, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

P.P.S. Yes, I want a remake/re-release of Terranigma. I think out of the three Quintet/Enix titles (Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma) the last one is the best and deserves a DS release at the very least.


Hunting the Muse

I’ve been building up the steam necessary to start writing again, but I keep getting side tracked. Lately, it’s been a variety of games and such that have kept me busy.

Star Trek Online: This game is ridiculously awesome and I wish I had the impetus to write a larger piece on it. Here’s the real issues with this game: the game feels small and empty a lot of the time. I could cross the entire universe involved in the game in a few minutes. Further, they have this automatic grouping mechanic for convenience, but no one has to say anything to anyone. There’s no built in voice chat and there’s no intention of including such software since, apparently, the developers believe that there’s enough third party voice chat software out there. Those are really my only gripes.

D&D Online: I’ve been playing this game nearly a year now and I’ve come to a conclusion about it… I know why this game is so much work compared to something like LOTRO or STO. Basically, in DDO, you don’t get experience per kill. You get experience for achieving certain things like finishing quests or reaching 200 kills in an adventure area, but you don’t get a handful of experience per kill. In Star Trek and Lord of the Rings, you get experience per kill. There’s a sense of progress, however small, in those games that is lacking in DDO. Now, I understand why it isn’t there in DDO… they’d have to change the entire balance of the game in order to adapt to such a mechanic. Regular D&D rewards you either after a fight or once you’ve rested (or in some situations, after the Dungeon Master believes you’ve gone far enough). I don’t know, I guess that’s part of why the game has lost some of its luster.

Lord of the Rings Online: This game recently went free-to-play. I haven’t really noticed a massive difference between the beta and the live version, but I played the first portion of the game so many times that I’m kind of bored of it. We’ll see what happens down the road when I get a second wind or something.

Master of Orion II: Impulse recently provided this for sale with the original game all for six bucks. Sweet deal. Anyways, MoO 2 is an amazing game that fits with X-COM and Civilization as some of the best gaming ever. Love the 14 year old gameplay. My first game of this (recently) was beat in the same day… yes, that’s MoO 2 for you, you CAN start and beat a game in the same day. If you know what you’re doing, of course.

Mass Effect 2 DLC: I recently downloaded the Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker expansions for Mass Effect 2 and I really enjoyed them. Shadow Broker was fascinating and it encouraged me to start a new game in an effort to see how playing through this particular DLC would effect the rest of the game experience. I still need to look into it more.

In other news, I’ve been catching up on The West Wing since it’s been off the air for a few years and I’ve always thought it was a good show. This is mostly in an effort to buy me some time away from the computer for my mental and ocular health. Anyways, like the title implies, I’m still looking for that muse of mine to come back so I can be my usual verbose self in more detailed articles for your reading pleasure. In the meantime, I’ve got plenty of material that’s bouncing around in my head.

Until next time,

– Elorfin

P.S. “I invented something called The Oxford Muse. The Muses were women in mythology. They did not teach or require to be worshipped, but they were a source of inspiration. They taught you how to cultivate your emotions through the different arts in order to reach a higher plane. What is lacking now, I believe, is somewhere you can get that stimulation (not information, but stimulation) where you can meet just that person, or find just that situation, which will give you the idea of invention, of carrying out some project which interests you, and show how it can become a project of interest to other people.” – Theodore Zeldin

P.P.S. I use the word “recently” way too much.


What makes a great game? – Part 7: Effect

We all want to feel like we make a difference in the world. Some of us more than others. A great game allows the player to feel like they’ve had an impact or effect on the game world. Decisions that change the world around you slightly and almost imperceptibly happen every day without realization. In games, these decisions are a bit more pronounced, but no less important to the game world.

Older games were static. You shot Badguy A in Room 1 and Badguy B in Room 2 had no idea. As games became more complex, the Badguys would assist each other if they were in close proximity. Just like in the Splinter Cell series or some of the more modern First Person Shooters.

Games like The Sims, Sim City, Civilization, and Black & White are all god games where you’re this overseer in the heavens and the world you play in lives or dies at your whim (in the case of The Sims series, they do rely on you very heavily for survival). That’s not what we’re talking about here. What we’re talking about is games like Wing Commander where if you win or lose a mission, it changes the story and the experience. I remember dreading getting chewed out by Captain Eisen for accidentally letting a couple of Kilrathi escape in Wing Commander III when my fighter got beat up. We’re also talking about games like Fallout where your decision to hire a water convoy from the Hub can cause the Mutants to discover where your Vault is earlier but can extend the amount of time before the water in the Vault runs out.

These decisions are small versions of the effect I’m getting at. I wish I could cite Dragon’s Age for effects on the game world, but I’ve never played it (my laptop would probably slap me silly if I tried). Games allow us to act out events that have a lasting effect on the world we’re in. If it’s just moving the story along or if it’s actually making a decision that has complex ramifications for the other people near by, it’s meaningful to the players and allows us to become attached to the world we play in. I know that in Chrono Trigger, I became attached to the world and the characters in my party because of the trials we all went through, the decisions we made, and the events we experienced. In so doing, we changed the world forever… at least until the New Game +.

It’s almost similar in a good book or movie. You sit there and become involved in the world put before you and you almost feel like you’re there participating. In the case of games, you’re the catalyst for change. Is it change for good or for evil? That’s up to you. Personally, I’d like to hope it’s for the better.

We all want to cause meaningful change to the world around us. In games, we can do that easily, quickly, and with drastic and dramatic results (which are frequently entertaining). As a small aside, I know that when I play games with a choice network (Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, etc) I take note of the good decisions and wonder what makes them so good. Further, I attempt to comprehend the motives behind what I’m doing. Maybe I’m reading too much into the game, but it helps me identify with the main character more and so I become more immersed in the game and more interested in creating good effects. When passing someone getting a shake down from some thugs in the streets of upper Taris, I’m more likely to intervene and save a life than I am to just walk by. I try to take that lesson from the game into the real world and become a better person for it. Hey, no one said you can’t pick up a thing or two from the games you play, right?

Until next time, choose wisely.

– Elorfin

P.S. “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

P.P.S. “I have gained this by philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law.” – Aristotle


What makes a great game? – Part 4: Context

In part four of my little series here, I’m going to touch on the thing that really brings us to games: context. It’s the purpose behind the game, the message, the point, the topic, the issues at hand. It’s a major piece in why people play games (especially me).

When I pick up a game, a lot of things go through my mind. What’s it about? What’s the style of play? What’s it look like? Will this be fun? Wait, let’s go back to that first question: What’s it about? Yeah, pretty much every time I look at a game or book or movie or what-have-you, the primary question is something along the lines of “what’s the point of this?” and “what’s it about?”

Why (in part) does a Star Wars game sell so well? Because it’s about Star Wars. Well, maybe that’s a superficial explanation of it, but it serves pretty well. Let’s try a different approach with some of the games I’ve talked about here recently.

X-COM: What’s it about? It’s about defending Earth from invading aliens. The primary goal is to beat the aliens so that they leave us alone. A secondary goal is to justify your continued funding by the governments of the world so you can achieve the primary goal.

Civilization: What’s it about? It’s about building a civilization up from nothing to a world power. The primary goal is to be the best civilization with a secondary goal of achieving milestones (like researching technologies and constructing wonders of the world) before any other civilization does.

Lunar: Silver Star Harmony: What’s it about? It’s about the coming of age of Alex and his discoveries of the world as he attempts to become the next Dragonmaster (you could argue that it’s about Luna, but I’d have to explain why and it’s a massive spoiler, however old the game may be). The primary goal is to win the game with secondary goals being to achieve certain points in the storyline that progress it in chunks.

Take a look at games like Solitaire and Bejeweled and similar browser/casual games and you’ll note that they’re all about just winning the game. There’s never a point where you miss the fact that you’re just playing a game. A truly great game contributes to a sense of immersion via their context. Sure, powerful music, acts of heroism, and a sense of making progress contribute to having a good time, but without a context behind them, it’s just a game as opposed to an EXPERIENCE.

The difference between a game like Solitaire and a game like Mass Effect is really the experience. Solitaire is all about the cards and beating your last high score (I swear I’ll never beat a 735), but Mass Effect is all about taking charge of a bad situation, figuring out what’s going on, stepping up and dealing with it. Is it a game? Yeah. Does it feel like a game when you’re playing it? Sometimes. Would you rather play Solitaire or feel like you made a difference in the futuristic world of Mass Effect? I’d say yes. Swap out the latter game if you say no (for those of you who don’t like Mass Effect for whatever reasons) until you say yes.

To conclude this bit on context, I offer this: I believe the reason the context of a game is so important is because we need to feel like we’re spending our time wisely. Games are an investment in a wide world of entertainment. We are bombarded with a wide variety of choices and I know that I need to feel like I’m doing the right thing by picking one form of entertainment over another (even when none of the answers are more right than any other). Personally, I hate how much time I’ve spent on Solitaire and other context-less games, especially when I have so many games WITH context around.

Ask yourself if you feel like you’re spending your entertainment time wisely during the next game you play. I do it pretty frequently. I believe I might write more on this with something of a breakdown on what gives games context next time.

Until next time, keep on… um… contextualizing? *laughs*

– Elorfin


What makes a great game? – Part 1: Music

Hi everyone! This is part one of my 435 part series, Better Know a… wait… wrong! This is the first part of some kind of series that will be however many parts I feel it will be until I’ve nailed down my perspective a bit.

I want to tackle what makes games great for me (specifically) and to touch on what makes them great for everyone else (generally). Obviously, my perspective is limited to what I like and that’s what this little project is all about so, well, deal with it. For context, I’ve provided links to some of the references I make.

Anyways, I was watching some clips on YouTube that contained some orchestrated video game music and I was wondering why I want to see my game music presented in such a fashion and why I enjoy it when it hits the big music halls. I think I might have an answer to that: I want my favorite moments to be presented in a format that is obviously and without question HIGH CLASS. Orchestrated music is always high class to me. The performers take it very seriously and the audience treats whatever they perform as a serious thing. This probably stems from the classical pieces they typically play which are by definition today culturally serious and historically important. Orchestrated music is the highest form of presentation that any music can achieve to be (my opinion, so nyah). The pure music just washing over you, letting it fill the room and flow in and around you, yeah, the orchestra is the best medium for this.

When I experience an event and it has music associated, I find it easier to recall said event. Music is a very powerful device that conveys emotion and thought and when associated with events that are powerful and poignant on their own, well, it’s a complete presentation.

In my past, I’ve played a great number of games. The games that I feel have incredible soundtracks weren’t the games I started on: Sim City, Civilization, F-19 Stealth Fighter, Starflight, Star Fleet, Empire, or any of a dozen other games. The earliest memory of a game with a fantastic soundtrack that still impacts me today comes from (well, there’s two) Final Fantasy VI (it was III back then) and Chrono Trigger, both on the Super Nintendo. When playing those games, I immediately feel the joy inherent in living through something that I experienced positively back then. When listening to the soundtracks, I remember every event that happened. When I want to relive the games without playing them, I listen to the music.

Off the top of my head, if I listen to the Phantom Forest track from Final Fantasy VI, I remember finding my way to the Ghost Train that carries the deceased away from our world to the next and Cyan watching his wife and son leave. If I listen to the Bombing Mission track from Final Fantasy VII, I remember riding on the train at the beginning of the game, wondering who the hell this spiky haired guy was and further wondering what this mission had in store for me (and what in the world was I getting into?). When listening to Frog’s Theme from Chrono Trigger, I see in my mind the mountain opening before Frog as he wields the Masamune and vows to defeat Magus. Music in video games is a powerful device…

…but it’s not restricted to video games. In Star Wars, when I hear the Binary Sunset track, I can envision a young Luke Skywalker standing and watching the suns of Tatoo I and Tatoo II set, wondering where his future is going. In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the Concerning Hobbits piece makes me think of the Hobbits going about their business in preparation of Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday. So, when I want to experience a movie without watching the movie, I listen to the soundtrack.

It’s also not just memories of scenes. It’s the emotional connections that those scenes have for me. When hearing the Battle with Magus Theme from Chrono Trigger, I remember fighting him and feeling like the fight could go either way at any time as I struggled to keep my trio alive through the onslaught of spells Magus frequently dropped. When hearing the piece from Final Fantasy XIII called Blinded by Light, I feel excitement regarding the battle that MUST be going on right now. Every time I hear Chrono Cross’ Scars of Time (aka Time Scar), I remember the investment I made in that game and all the incredible experiences that went along with it as well as the successful strategies and terrible defeats I suffered while playing. For the record, the final boss fight in Chronopolis was a real pain. *shakes fist* Curse you, Miguel!

Growing up, PC games typically didn’t have great soundtracks. X-COM had a decent one that kept me excited or scared depending on what was going on. Wing Commander III was one of my earliest quality PC soundtrack experiences that sticks in my head. I didn’t experience the awesomeness that was The Secret of Monkey Island until later on (but chronologically, that’s years before WCIII), but that soundtrack is awesome and the theme for the game is nearly iconic for adventure games. So, yeah, they were there, but decent PC soundtracks didn’t come along until later (with Warcraft II and such and yes, I acknowledge that my game timeline might be a little off).

I suppose part of my want to hear orchestrated soundtracks of my games stems from a desire to hear my passions and pastimes validated in a public forum where a large number of people voluntarily pay to experience what I once experienced on a much more emotionally invested level. I want people to look at this music and wonder where such notes came from and then to seek out the original source with the curiosity borne of a desire to experience the emotions that the music provokes. When I hear music, it takes me places that I’ve been before. When I hear the Imperial March, I was there with Vader as he condemned the Rebellion. When I hear Forth Eorlingas, I was there as the Rohirrim rode to the rescue. When I hear Clash on the Big Bridge, I was there to fight Gilgamesh! Um, for that last one, yes in Final Fantasy V and later again in Final Fantasy XII when Gilgamesh is an optional hunt (they remixed the original song for the latter one).

I want to go there. I want to be there. Music is my vehicle that takes me where I want to go and helps me feel the emotions tied to those places and doing those things. For the record, Lost Odyssey has an awesome soundtrack, but it’s very sad (especially A Sign of Hope and Parting Forever). The thing is… well, orchestrated music speaks to me WAYYYYY more than the regular stuff we hear on the radio. Songs with words touch me, but not like A Sign of Hope does. The Indiana Jones theme speaks more of adventure to me than any song with lyrics that was in [insert recent action movie here].

A moving and powerful soundtrack is a must for a good game. The longer I play games, the more I find that I love a good soundtrack. When Final Fantasy XIII was still on its way out here in the U.S., I pre-ordered the soundtrack for myself. It’s awesome and the more I play the game, the more the soundtrack gains relevance and power with me. If the music is good, I suppose I’m more tolerant of the shortcomings of the game.

A great piece sends a tingle up my spine. It makes me go “wow” and compels me to listen to it all the way through. It makes me feel like I’m in the presence of something important or powerful or incredible or whatever. When I hear Frog’s Theme (look above for the link) performed amazingly well, it literally sends chills down my spine. THAT is powerful music. I have a theory that it’s the trumpets and/or the entire brass section, but I’m also a fan of the strings… so yeah, I think I’ll just claim it’s the orchestral nature and leave it at that.

Oh, the clips that spawned this link-heavy presentation of mine were of a Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross medley done this past September in Germany. Here’s part one and here’s part two.

Until next time, let the music move you!

– Elorfin

P.S. Because I played the PC version of FFVII, I must admit that I heard/saw the intro far more than the rest of the game while I tried different sound card settings. Eventually I got it right, after experiencing the same intro cutscene at least six times.

P.P.S. A quick timeline of the release dates of the discussed objects in this particular post (this doesn’t mean I saw Star Wars in 1977 since I wasn’t born until several years later):

  • Star Wars – 1977
  • Star Wars Imperial March – 1980
  • Indiana Jones – 1981
  • Star Fleet I: The War Begins – 1985 (DOS)
  • Starflight – 1986 (DOS)
  • Empire: Wargame of the Century – 1987 (DOS)
  • F-19 Stealth Fighter – 1988 (DOS)
  • Sim City – 1989 (DOS)
  • The Secret of Monkey Island – 1990 (DOS)
  • Civilization – 1991 (DOS)
  • Final Fantasy V – 1992 (Japan Only)
  • Final Fantasy VI – 1994 (SNES)
  • Wing Commander III – 1994 (PC)
  • Chrono Trigger – 1995 (SNES)
  • Warcraft II – 1995 (PC)
  • Final Fantasy VII – 1998 (PC)
  • Chrono Cross – 2000 (US Release)
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – 2002
  • Final Fantasy XII – 2006 (US Release)
  • Lost Odyssey – 2008 (US Release)
  • Final Fantasy XIII – 2010 (XBOX 360)

P.P.P.S. I forgot to mention Lunar! Gah! I fail!


Sins of a Solar Empire and Civilization IV – Impression

This week I’ve been playing a lot of Sins of a Solar Empire and Civilization IV. More specifically, I’ve been giving the expansion Diplomacy (for Sins) a spin and I’ve been playing around with everything that came in my purchase of Civilization IV Complete (Beyond the Sword, Warlords, and Colonization). I got both of these on Monday (April 5th), so that’s pretty much where a fair chunk of my time has been disappearing and why I never got around to writing anything before now.

First, Sins of a Solar Empire. This game is a very pretty and versatile real-time strategy game where you choose to play as the Advent, the Vasari, or TEC. I prefer to play the TEC, but that’s how I roll (plus, I name all my capital ships after Wing Commander vessels). Anyways, there’s been two expansions to date that provide fundamental changes to the gameplay. Basic gameplay is rather simple: start with your planet, scout out other planets, colonize them, research new technology, build up an infrastructure, defend against pirates, and build a fleet or three to wipe everyone else out. The first expansion “Entrenchment” (which I frequently call Entrapment when I misspeak) introduced new technology and allowed the construction of powerful starbases that have the potential to wipe out entire fleets unaided. The latest expansion of “Diplomacy” added a new method of winning the game, more technology, and more options when relating with the other races/players in the game. For some reason though, the pirates are insanely difficult to beat now. Sometimes I just turn them off unless I have a good bottleneck… which leads me into the mechanics of this particular game that appeal to me.

Sins provides a very powerful method of feeding my desire to play with spaceships and blow stuff up. Seriously, the setting is amazing. Further, the game is very receptive to modifications by players (which I don’t make a habit of using, but I like having the option). Further still, the technology in the game noticeably improves the materials you use… for example, you can watch as your metal harvesting skyrockets when you research improvements in mining and your ships become obviously more durable when you improve their shields and armor. The real mechanic that I appreciate here is simply the function of the bottleneck. What I mean by this is a way of limiting the enemy’s approach to a narrow corridor so that I know exactly where they’re going and I can prepare for them. Essentially, it doesn’t make sense to turn every single planet you own into a fortress world because you’d run out of money trying to do that AND research AND colonize AND play the diplomacy game AND fend off pirates/other players. So, what you do is pay attention to the phase lanes and choose a point where you draw a line in the sand. I like to look for the one world where the enemy MUST hit in order to get to my backwaters. Unfortunately, not all playthroughs of Sins are created equal and in the last few days I’ve quit in disgust as my “fortress worlds” were either wiped out or ignored completely by issues with bottlenecking. There’s been a severe shortage of decent bottlenecks for me this week in Sins and the one time I got a great one going, the other side of the bottleneck was two systems: one with a pirate base and the other with another player. I was stuck behind the bottleneck with nowhere to go, but I was thinking this was cool… until the player got aggressive and punched through a part of my bottleneck. Long story short, I was winning the diplomatic way, when the game crashed and I got a minidump message in the background. Stardock, a few bugs left to work out, but I’ve got hope for you yet.

Civilization IV, on the other hand, is like my solitaire. It’s relaxing, it’s predictable, and I know where all the bottlenecks are in Europe. Further, this game is turn-based, so I rarely have to sweat out a fight, knowing my fleet will never arrive in time because in Civ IV, I can actually manage to get out of fights I might lose or get into fights I will most probably win. I’ve been playing Civ IV for the last 5 years or so (since I got it) and it’s been a lot of fun. Part of Civ IV Complete is the expansion Beyond the Sword. In this, there’s a scenario/mod/whatever called Final Frontier where the map is in space and you colonize solar systems and so forth. It’s really pretty awesome, but there was something nagging at me the entire time… NO BOTTLENECKS. I mean, seriously, pirates will come at you from EVERY direction, the other computer players will just wander around your cities doing whatever they want to (up to and including the building of star bases in my own backyard) and generally frustrating me. It’s hard to rely on the cultural spread of your cities to block out the enemies when they’ll just take the long way around and keep going. In regular Civ IV, at least there was, you know, WATER that got in the way of ground troops landing on Africa. Further, I gave Warlords a shot and there’s this neat scenario where you’re a team that lands on a planet and you’re trying to achieve some objectives. It really hinges on the whole Promotion system Civ IV has to keep your guys alive long enough to beat the scenario. It was pretty cool, but I lost after several hours of gameplay thanks to the number of enemies just getting absurd near the end. Oh, and for the record, Colonization is just crap to me. No offense to those who like it, but it’s nowhere near as colorful and expressive as regular Civilization IV. After a fashion, all this realism gets in the way of my entertainment.

So, yeah, bottlenecks are a must have in any good strategy game, be it real-time or turn-based. Further, I LIKE bright colors in my games because they make it easier to see things. Hey, that’s mostly why I didn’t like Sim City 4… too drab for my tastes in contrast to Sim City 3000’s bright color palette.

Well, there you go, a quick two-fer this week. I highly recommend both Sins of a Solar Empire and Civilization IV. They’re both LAN and Internet compatible (hell, Civ IV can be played hotseat or over email) and are way more fun with friends than without. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fun on their own, but honestly it’s nice to have someone to talk to and share little victories with (or to gloat at when you whip their butt). Both games are also very graphically pleasing and take a serious time investment (there’s nothing “quick” about strategy games).

Until next time, keep on keeping on.

– Elorfin

P.S. A little context for you all: I’ve been playing Civilization in one form or another for most of my life, I grew up with the original computer game, moved onto Civ II, then CivNet, Civ III, and now Civ IV is my favorite. Civ V is supposedly coming out soon, and I’m interested in it, but honestly, I’ve really enjoyed Leonard Nimoy telling me when I finish researching Literature that “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Looking that up, the quote actually continues with, “that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” Ah, Sir Francis Bacon… you’re so verbose.