Friday, November 25, 2011

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 26

Before we get to the next moment on the  list (the last one of the bottom half of the top 50!), a confession...

I don't really care for the Half Life games. They do everything they're supposed to do. Both of them were gorgeous for their time (Half Life 2 still holds up remarkably well), the guns are awesome (the gravity gun might be my favorite power up - which is a list I'm quite certain I'll get to after the 50 lists are complete), the fights are fun, and the series has two entries in my top 50 moments list (my favorite game will make only one appearance in that list). Yet, when it comes down to it, I'm just not feeling it.

When I came up with the concept of these lists, I knew that I was going to be playing some awesome games while I was counting them down. I didn't want to get to the end of the list, only to immediately say "oh, well... while I was listing these, game x moved into the top 10" - it would sort of invalidate the list, so I committed a list-maker's sin.......I gave myself wiggle room. I started with a list of 45 entries for each list, knowing that I'd be able to backfill later. I've already filled in almost all of both of them, and I've still got a couple months left before the lists are completed, so the plan was a success. I had sort of figured that Half Life 2 would be a shoo-in for the games list, but after beating it and episode one, I'm just not feeling it. The game is SO point A to point B, and I don't feel any investment in the story. It would certainly make the list if I expanded it to 100, but I didn't have as much fun playing it as I did when I played Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, and I never even strongly considered that game for the Top 50. Ah well, the perils of high expectations, I guess. (Don't cry too hard for Valve, though... I'm pretty sure that a certain property of theirs will high rankings in both lists)

All that aside, I really do like this particular moment, as well as the one coming a little later in the list. This one is from both games, but I'm talking about the first game in particular. I barely got halfway into Half Life, so rest assured that it's not an end of game spoiler.

Top 50 Video Games: Number 26

Stats of Import

Platform: PC
Absurdly Specific Genre: Risk® with Giant Robots
Difficulty: Probably a 4 once you got the hang of it. The AI got a little dumb in spots.
Beaten: I've finished the campaign a number of times.

This one is relatively obscure, I certainly don't remember it making very much of a splash when it first came out in 1992. The basics of the game were similar to Risk: capture land to gain money, use money to buy armies, use armies to capture new land and defend land that you already have. Of course, Risk used die rolls (or random number generators) to determine victors, where Cyber Empires (or Steel Empire, as it was known on the Amiga) gave you giant robot fights.

Advantage: Cyber Empires
There were two distinct sections to the game. The first was the world map. All of the administration was done from this segment. There were different styles of land that required different strategies. Volcanic land had open spaces, but also had lava pools that would overheat your mechs. Cities featured urban warfare and gave large monitary bonuses, and were impossible to fortify. Different mechs would be better suited to different areas, and had a variety of different weapons. From here you decided which countries to attack, where to place fortifications, and which which mechs to build.

The second were the actual battle screens, where you were told how to go about the attack (there were different situations where you'd want to go after the enemy mechs, or perhaps run a suicide attack to destroy the fortifications, or maybe just damage enough of an enemy city to where their monitary gains from it would be drastically reduced).

Yeah, you're going to die, but think of what this'll do to their economy!
The AI was... 'eh'. On one hand, it was generally pretty good at the administration portion of things (God help you if a CPU set to 'brilliant' got its hands on one of the goldmine cities to start out the game), but it often flubbed in the battles, always preferring straight lines to attack your mechs, never initiallizing any sort of guerilla warfare. It was just good enough to keep things interesting, without ever feeling like a proper challenge (which actually knocks this game quite a ways down the list, it probably could've hit top 20 otherwise). Multiplayer was fun at first, but unless all the players were just as into it as you were, it got Monopoly-itis (everyone loves playing a 5 hour game for the first hour and a half).

Considering everything, though, it all added up to one of the deeper and richer strategy game experiences I've seen, especially for a game released nearly 20 years ago (granted, most strategy games seem to go the RTS route, ala Starcraft and Command and Conquer, these days). I'd love to see this one redone with new graphics and decent AI. Until then, I've still got the original, and that'll hold me over for a while longer.

After all, General Deathdealer is still plotting my destruction.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 27

Today's video game moment comes to us from Super Mario Brothers 3. It's toward the end of the game, but there aren't really any spoilers in NES-era Mario platform games, so read on, anyway.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Spookymilk Survivor X: Bantam Bulwyr

In 1830, Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel Paul Clifford began with a line so incredibly overwrought and hamfisted that it essentially broke written language. At Spookymilk Survivor, contestants are tasked with honoring that glorious line by trying to top it.

The concept is to write an opening line to a book - a sentence so horrible that anyone who read it would immediately close the book, throw it in the garbage and picket the author's house. I've never done very well with this particular challenge, but here's what I came up with.
Ayo, peep this. Back in the day (and I mean way, way back in the day), this crazy powerful cat, God, said the word and ‘bam’, everything came outta nuthin’ – the sun, the world, even the hood… everything.
Here's the judges' input:

K: This is a tough one. Yes, it’s gross and ham-fisted. Does it teeter on the brink of intentional comedy? Yeah, I think it does, but in the end it sounds more desperate to be cool than anything, like an after-school special written by 45-year-old white guys. 4

DK: I’m not sure I’d want to read Genesis, or the Bible, in this style (I’m not sure I’d want to read Genesis all the way anyway), but it feels a little too much like trying to be bad. 1

So... yeah. My first one of the season and a 2.5 overall. There was some discussion on the actual site about the nature of the challenge itself and the extremely subjective nature of what is "bad" and what is just trying too hard. Both judges seemed to think mine was trying too hard to be bad. Spooky was able to fight through it, DK wasn't. Fair enough. In retrospect, I do hate the "bam" that I put in there. If I had to write it over again, I'd leave that out.
I would take a little bit of an exception to DK's comment about "trying to be bad" for a couple reasons. First off, that is, of course, the point of the challenge. I could understand if mine felt forced, but that actually leads me into my second point.
We live in a world where this dude makes albums and sells them to lots of people (a recurring set of skits from one of his albums, which were actually the inspiration for my entry, were titled "The World's Greatest MC", where KJ opined about Jesus' status as "world's greatest MC"). More power to him if he's able to do that, I guess, but the point is that my paragraph (which is obviously meant to be Genesis 1:1, as taken verbatim from the "Thug Life" bible) is actually right about in line with the overly-thick desperation to be cool and relevant that exists in some segments of Christianity. These people were all around in church when I was growing up, the 'Thug Life Bible' might not exist, but the mindset certainly does. I suppose Poe's Law could come into play, as it often does in these matters, but I've seen too much sincerity from certain corners of this niche to make me think that it's as simple as "trying to be bad".

Either way, the rest of my team bailed me out, so we keep on marching. Well played, vogons, I get to keep using one of my favorite categories, and we keep thinning out the herd.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Top 50 Video Games: Number 27

Stats of Import

Platform: Xbox 360
Absurdly Specific Genre: Shapes and Colors Fighting Each Other
Difficulty: I'll go with 7.
Beaten: I've beaten most of the various challenges and gotten decent scores in the modes, but there's no real way to 'beat' it.

I've always loved twin stick shooters. From the early days where I spent about 15 dollars worth of my parents' quarters trying to get past the first boss of Smash TV in a truck stop when I was 9, everything about the twin stick shooter appeals to me. Therefore, the first Geometry Wars was right up my alley. It was fast paced, it had excellent graphics, and a bunch of cool enemies (not to mention a really great theme song). It didn't have varied gameplay, but really, it had just about everything I'd ask for from a twin stick.

Not pictured: boredom
...and then the second game came out and made the first one completely obsolete.

It had better graphics, faster pace, and even more cool enemies. It also had several additional game modes. Sequence is the one that I keep going back to (trying to beat each stage in ever more-efficient ways), but Pacifism, King of the Hill, and Wave are all a lot of fun, too. Bizarre took the already great formula and made it truly awesome.

I understand Bizarre's reluctance to return to the Geometry Wars franchise. Truthfully, I think it's a wise move. I can't think of how they'd beat this one.

Other Notable Games in the Series: The first Geometry Wars (Retro Evolved) would made the list in the high 40's. It was awesome, but the second game up the ante in every conceivable way. There was a DS game that I played once that seemed pretty fun, but I was only able to play it for about 15 minutes at the time, and never ended up buying it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Top 50 Video Games: Number 28

Stats of Import

Platform: PC
Absurdly Specific Genre: Real-time Zerg Rush
Difficulty: Playing the campaign? Something like a 5. Playing against my college buddies? 9
Beaten: I got most of the way through the campaign before my hard drive died. I've gotten most of the way through the zerg campaign on my current rig, but there are a lot of games out there. ("no" would be the short answer).

Ah, Starcraft. So many nights spent on Big Game Hunters in my buddy's dorm during LAN parties. So much jubilation as your perfectly coordinated attack left your opponent's defenses in ruins. So much frustration as your opponent marched through your base practically unopposed because of one tiny chink in your armor. So many good times.

Gah! So many carrier spawn!
That's, of course, to say nothing of the excellent single player campaign, which featured some pretty damned "good for its time" voice acting and some good plot (I still remember being a little floored by the first act twist wherein the rebels end up being just as bad as the regime they're usurping - it's a little cut and dried, but  it took some risks with the story that paid off quite handsomely). The game required you to step in the shoes of every major race in the conflict, each with its own unique quirks and characteristics.

Pictured: The riveting and award-winning "Contruct Pylons" portion of the game, also known as the Protoss Campaign
Most impressive of all was the balance that the game achieved. The zerg rush was famous in its cheapness, but it was just about the only way to really rack up a cheap victory, and if you were playing with people that weren't the lamest gamers of all time, it was a good chance you didn't see it. Every strategy had a counter, and the key to winning wasn't just the standard "stockpile the biggest thing until you have a swarm to bludgeon your opponent with".

I haven't played the second game (my PC ran the demo pretty poorly, so I'm in need of a hardware upgrade before I really give it a go), but even if the series had ended with the first, it would've been quite an achievement. Very few games perfect a genre the way that Starcraft did.

Zerling rush excepted, of course.

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 28

We reignite the list at number 28, with one of the most enjoyably badass moments I've had the pleasure of playing. It comes from Gears of War 2, and is located near the end of the game.

Heroes of Music 2011: Purple Swag Girl

Look at that face. Girl means business. She's got gold in her mouth, and more than likely a good amount of purple drank in her system, and she is intent on being the most "video girl" video girl she can possibly be.

Luckily for her, us, and especially A$AP Rocky, she succeeds. Dude made quite a bit of money from this video (and Peso, I suppose, but that video doesn't have crazy, crunk bling girl in it). The least he could do is give her a matching set for the chompers on the upper half.

Congratulations, crazy Purple Swag bling girl, you made watching that video about 50 times more enjoyable, you are truly a Hero of Music.

Spookymilk Survivor X: What Was That You Asked?

Vogons be killin' it.

The old standby where you're given a response, and asked to sculpt a question around it. We got 20 of the 38 possible points. Well done, team.

These were my contributions.

It’s no surprise they melted, then.

-Man, I sure goofed on the kids’ birthday present – instead of the Playskool Noah’s Ark, I got them the Ark of the Covenant.

I wasn't actually sure how this one would go over. I knew I wanted an Ark of the Covenant joke, but didn't know how to phrase it. This is the first draft. I'm glad I didn't work it down any more. Both judges picked it.

You could get the same result by banging a bunch of pots and pans together.

-My third grader’s band is going to be in the school’s talent show, do you want to watch?

I like this one better than the obvious Nickeback joke. They are to music what Two and a Half Men is to television. Not very good, either way. I would've picked the 2004 election one over both of them.

That’s an unlikely use of your theater degree.

-It’s time to make some money, bitches!

My last minute contribution. Picked by both.

I wanted to go because they have the hottest chicks.

-Why did you vacation at Death Valley Hatcheries?

Weirdly, everyone went with the "warm baby chickens" route. Mine got picked by both judges.

A couple extra notes.

* We're lucky that we didn't go with mine for the "going so well until he slipped" one, because both other teams went the circumcision route.

* I still like my question for "A slide rule, an apple and a piece of the Blarneystone", which was, of course, "I give up, what would an Irish Isaac Newton carry on him at all times?"

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It's Happening (Again)

Life has been crazy, and The Lists have fallen behind - and that's awful.

Starting Monday, that ends. I'm not going to make up for lost time, so the presumed end date is going to change to... I dunno, sometime in February, I think? However, we're going back to an entry from each list on both Monday and Friday.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled nailbiting while we wait for SPooky and DK to judge this week's challenge,

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Spookymilk Survivor X: Half the Conversation

Last any of us had heard, the Vogons were killin' it. I mean killin' it. Not to spoil everything, but that's still the case.

On the other hand, how did I do? The team still has my name weirdly attached to it, after all. I have to keep up the high standards associated with the "Nibbish and His Vogons" name. Read on for the answer.

This week's challenge was "Half the Conversation". Spooky provided us with half a conversation, and tasked us with filling in the holes (thereby providing the other half of the conversation). Here's what I came up with...

The phone rings at 5pm. It wasn’t supposed to ring until 7pm. There is no way that this call has any kind of good news. I pick up the phone.

Coleen’s voice comes to life on the other end of the line. “You missed a call.”
That doesn’t sound right at all. She knows I’d never ignore a call – not with the project nearing completion.

“Sorry about that. Bert must be furious. Should I stop by the office later to patch things up?”

“Yeah. There’s no reason not to.” comes the even-voiced reply.
Something’s up. Bert is an untrustworthy rat – one whom Coleen despises. Someone’s listening – someone that she’s afraid of. I need got to know what I’m dealing with.

“Did Charlotte ever pick up those test results yesterday?”

“No. She never did. Neither did I, for that matter.”
Shit. That means I have a stop to make en route to the safehouse. It also means that this is probably the last conversation Coleen and I will ever have, and I have to fill half of it with code words to try to shake down the poor woman for information.

“I’ll pick them up on the way to the office. By the way, are we still on for Sunday?”

“At the Fall Festival?”
Things get worse. Coleen’s doomed, and unless I get moving, I’m next. The line is tapped, and the spooks must be with her. No need to keep up appearances.

“Can you imagine if they’d gotten anything out of that poor bastard from the survey team?”

“Yeah, that would have been a disaster.”
It already is. There’s nothing left to do but say goodbye and make my preparations.

“Tell those bastards that we haven’t forgotten Franconia. No matter how many they brain-fry in those machines, it won’t stop us.”

“It wasn’t personal. They don’t see things the same way you do.”
That gets a bitter chuckle from me. Even in the face of the mind-raping she’s about to receive, she’s still got that glorious black sense of humor.

“I’m sorry for dragging you into this.”

“You’re not the only one.”

“You don’t blame me?

“Absolutely not.”

“It isn’t right, what’s about to happen to you.”

“So what are you going to do about it?”

“Same thing you’d do… I’m going to run. Goodbye, Coleen.”
With that, I hang up the phone and press the little black button underneath the second shelf in the kitchen twice. The next person through the front door gets immolated, and when the time is right, the rest of Coleen’s killers will wish they’d gotten off that easily.

Here's the judges' critiques:
K: Wow. This is a great dark tale, and it reads seamlessly, going from heavy narration to a quick back-and-forth and never losing steam. This was a lot of story in a small space, which is really all I ever ask. 5

DK: Nicely done. Great premise, lots of tension building up, and the conversation fits together well too. 4

The nice thing about working tons of overtime on overnight shift if that you get a lot of time to yourself to think (the down side, if you were wondering, is literally every other thing). When I first saw this challenge, it seemed intimidating, but because of my interesting work schedule, I had the time to come up with (and cruelly reject) well over a dozen different scenarios. Eventually, I decided to pay the story I had made for the create-a-challenge in season eight (the one with the three pictures that takes place in the dude's mind). The characters are all different, and only minor allusions exist (the original draft was a lot more explicit about the continuity, which I decided was stupid, since I wasn't exactly working with Star Wars canon, or anything. The protagonist alludes to "brain frying" machines, and "that poor bastard from the survey team" - not particularly direct (in fact, I'd be shocked if Spooky even realized it, since I wasn't really going for "sequel" so much as "basic story framework").

I sort of dislike writing in the present tense. It's hard to keep track of (I had to scan this one three times to make sure I didn't put any past tense narration. More importantly, it always feels put on and false when I write it. There were a couple of transitions that I initially felt didn't flow well with it, and I almost trashed the whole thing about halfway through. Eventually, I decided to just tough it out. I alternated wildly from "way too over-descriptive" (the first draft was 700 words) to "way too under-descriptive" (which resulted in a story about as bland as a story about kidnapping, mental torture, and murder could possibly be).

I wasn't sure how what I came up with would be received. I felt like I'd made something that at the very least wasn't embarrassing, but I was worried over whether or not the implied previous content locked people out of the story (and also whether or not I was being overly vague). I guess it worked, but I still feel like it could have flowed better.

In the end, the Vogons rolled to a third consecutive victorious week, and that's what matters.

On an only partially related note, I'd like to share my condolences with fellow contestant Jake Elliott, who lost his uncle in an accident over the week. Stay strong.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Top 50 Video Game Moments: Number 29

This one's another lame one. It comes to us from the absolutely brilliant game Tetris (specifically this version). It's more a personal bragging right, and it's not really all that impressive, but I was pretty damn impressed at the time, and this list is a lot more nostalgic than the other one.

Top 50 Video Games: Number 29

Stats of Import

Platform: Xbox 360
Absurdly Specific Genre: Fantasy Fulfillment Via Plastic Guitars
Difficulty: I was never incredibly good at any particular instrument, so we usually played at 'hard'.
Beaten: I only played enough to unlock all the songs. 

This is one of the best concepts in video game history. The idea of playing music is a nearly universal one, and party games that don't suck are few and far between. The "plastic guitar" genre is unique among video games (well... among good video games - we won't discuss fitness games) in that the usual scenario of the player causing the action on the screen is inverted. If I showed you a screenshot of the game, completely devoid of context, it certainly wouldn't look that impressive.

...but, if I showed you the video of a person playing that exact part, you'd see a happy wanna-be rocker, hitting that green button like his life depends on it. If you were to add a few friends into that action, you'd have a kickass night of fake rocking.

Then again, who says that it's really all that fake? If you miss a button, the music stops, playing flawlessly is the only way to make the song sound good, so you are tied into the music making, if only in a very secondary sense.

Really, though, none of that matters when you're playing any of the Rock Band/Guitar Hero games, though. It's just so much fun - who cares why it's fun. So spare me your "plastic instrument" comments. Spare me your "it's nothing like actual playing" comments. Pick up a guitar (the drumsticks are mine) and start rocking.

Other Notable Games in the Series: This entry is kind of a catchall for all the various rhythm games that involved holding a plastic instrument of some kind. Guitar Hero 1 and 2 were awesome, Guitar Hero 3 was good, but didn't have that same spark. Rock Band was great, but Rock Band 2 was just a little better. It's too hard to separate and differentiate (and since Rock Band 2 played most of the first game's tracks, I didn't have to).