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Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

An Evening Gone

 

Sometimes no work needs to be done.

Sometimes no work needs to be done.

My entire evening lost to Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

Sometimes it happens.

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Now it is most definitely winter.

Now it is most definitely winter.

Yesterday I fell upon a link to a MacHeist software giveaway. And I love free software.

By signing up you get free copies of Synergy and Enigmo 2. Synergy is an iTunes extender program that I did not really care about, Enigmo though is a casual puzzle games and I thought I would try it out.

First I downloaded and installed Synergy. Since it normally cost money I figured that there must be some inherent value to it, it also downloaded faster then Enigmo 2 so I had some time to kill. 

Turns out to be a useful little program. It is active as a preference pane and a background process (4% CPU (G4) when used and 20MB memory). When a song in iTunes changes a transparent display pops up listing the new song, artist and album artwork. The size, transparency, duration and location can all be changed. It also automatically sets some iTunes hotkeys. While these can be set through the normal preference panes (Keyboard -> Keyboard Shortcuts) I never thought about doing it before. It also adds three buttons in the menu bar for previous, next and play/pause. So far a simple and handy program.

Enigmo 2 is a 3D puzzle game with the goal of getting dripping beads, lasers or plasmas to their respective location through the use of drums, mirrors and other tools. It feels slightly reminiscent of Lemmings. While an entertaining game with moderate difficulty there is some major problems with it. It could be that I am using a trackpad but the camera controls are really bad. I may be spoiled from using the control schemes of programs like 3D Studio Max and Wings3D but I cannot get the hang of the controls. The second problem is the minimal preference settings. There are little options to change the camera controls and no settings to adjust music and sound (if you wanted to play your own music in the background). The last one is that if you want to play in a window it is limited to the default window size (about 800 x 600 I think).

Getting past these problems the game is fun, especially for the price of free. 

As the second part of the giveaway there are two more free programs that will be available Christmas day plus two more if you refer two friends. So on Christmas there can be a total of four more free programs.

I like this Christmas spirit.

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Super Smash Bros. VS Record. Time totals 21 solid days.

Super Smash Bros. VS Record. Time totals 21 solid days.

 

My favorite aspect and multiplayer console games are the multiplayer modes that are made up during play instead of those meant to be a part of the game. The best games to create new modes of play are those that are not as complex such as Goldeneye and Mario Kart 64.

The first new mode that my friends and I came up with, maybe not the only ones to do so, is Goldeneye Jousting. The only in game mode that is needed is one shot kills. The set up work best is Facility with three or more players. The two jousting rink is the corridor between the two chemical tank rooms, each player starts behind the doors on opposite sides of the corridors. They crouch down, put away all guns and the doors open. They charge at each other, slappers slapping, making passes until one lies dead or both have taken the other out. The extra players are needed so that there are witnesses in the game, preferably with guns to enforce the rules.

Another Goldeneye favorite involved mines. Mainly remote and proximity mines. This is a king of the hill type game, except that the hill is actually the center room of Complex and it is turned into more of a fortress. Essentially one player resides in that particular room with no weapon other then proximity mines and tries his best to protect his base. The other three players have a loose alliance to take him out and usurp his position. A usable tactic in these situations, if there are actual teams, is to place remote mines on one player and have him run in to deliver the explosives. If friendly fire is off he should live or at least respawn soon enough to take out his friend who walked over the detonation site to reach to fortress.

A game mode I have not tried for fear of my health takes place in Mario Kart 64. This mode works best at night, in a dark room, with no lights on. The victor is not necessarily the one who wins the most victories but the one to survive the longest. It is a Rainbow Road Marathon. Four players continuously play Rainbow Road either the last person playing after his fellow players have lost eyesight for the week or the person with the most wins after everyone agrees they cannot take any more, wins. It may work with modern versions of Mario Kart, but I feel that simplistic, crude, flashing nature of the N64 Rainbow Road would be harsher on the eyes then the modern ones with softer graphics. Bonus points for knocking someone off the track.

With a lot of games going online I have felt that the camaraderie of console or LAN multiplayer is lost. Sure you can use headsets for voice chat but that does not make up for the dread that can be infused in seeing a friends malicious grin illuminated by the glow of his computer monitor, followed by a swift return to the starting point.

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The mines of this Rhine castle held no monsters.

The mines of this Rhine castle held no monsters.

 

“You walk into a tavern”

“Ow!”

“No you walk into a tavern”

“Ouch.”

“Fine, you go through the door.”

“I can go trough walls?”

“Alright, you are in a tavern.”

“I can teleport?!”

My friends and I were never able to become fully immersed in Dungeon and Dragons. We enjoyed playing video games together, both console and online, we also loved the card game Magic: The Gathering. Somehow D&D never worked for us. Maybe if our dungeon master had a weapon with which to threaten us, a baseball bat comes to mind.

We kept trying though. Eventually we discovered that our fighter preferred to be a renowned sword thrower, we eventually built a bridge out of our bard and we used our mage made a good fire retardant. We killed each other off faster then any monsters could.

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Crissy Field in San Francisco

Crissy Field in San Francisco

I previously posted a review of the video game rental service Gamefly. Last week I decided to cancel my membership since my summer is coming to a close. There have been some bad reviews of the Gamefly cancellation experience so I thought I would through my own into the mix.

First off I assumed that I could cancel by removing the automatic billing and just let the current month expire. Unfortunately you can’t do that. Instead your membership ends on the day you cancel with any remaining time being lost. So I decided to wait until the last day of the billing month before I cancelled. The day before I cancelled I bought one of the games I was currently renting (Tales of Vesperia) and the second game (I had a two game plan) was currently being mailed to me. Once I confirmed that the game case was also being shipped I started the cancellation process.

The cancellation button is easy to find in the member section and was not hidden in some obscure fine print. After I filled out the form stating why I was cancelling (going back to college in my case) the next page was a special promotion to give me a 30% discount if I decided to stay. I am not sure how often this comes up so I would not recommend attempting to cancel just to get this discount. Since when you do cancel you lose you Gamefly membership level, which after about six months starts giving percentage discount off of games. So I cancelled without a problem.

Except that I still technically had one of their games rented out. Even though I had not received it yet I had seven days for them to receive the game back else I would be charged the cost of the game. Deliver and return times were fairly consistent so I knew that I would have time to receive and then send it back. If I had known that I was going to cancel I would have emptied my game queue to prevent any games being shipped to me within the last three days or so. So they received it fine and as I do not have a gamefly membership charge on my credit card it looks like the cancellation went smoothly without problems.

One thing I would like to add about rental services like Gamefly and Netflix is that there seems to be an economic pressure to use the rental as soon as possible in order to return it for another. If a game or movie just sits next to the console without being played it can feel like the subscription is just not worth the money, even though a month is much cheaper then a single newish game. I guess the same feeling can apply to any subscription service be it World of Warcraft or Netflix.

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With some things you see nothing else.

With some things you see nothing else.

Over a summer of playing video games only a few of the games drew me in to the point when I lost hours of the day instantly. Growing up this happened more often then not, but as I grew older it stopped occurring as frequently. Up until the days of Super Nintendo I would wake up earlier to play Chrono Trigger or Earthbound and then stay up as let as I could to get just a little farther in Mario RPG. Of course when I heard that Chrono Trigger is going to rereleased this year for the DS I know what I will be doing come Christmas (and one day the other Earthbound games will make it over, one day).

Then the N64 came out and my time was lost again, this time to hours of multiplayer with my friends or my brother. The other day I hooked my N64 up to my laptop to test some hardware and used Super Smash Bros. to see how responsive it was, I looked at the VS Record to find that we had played over twenty one days of gametime. On one game alone. There was also Goldeneye and Mario Kart (though I really only started playing Mario Kart 64 this year). There were some other RPGs and of course Zelda but what I remember the most was the multiplayer.

Gamecube games had the same pull as SNES RPG’s. Zelda, Tales of Symphonia, Baten Kaitos and Resident Evil 4. But for some reason the multiplayer did not work as well as that on the N64. Instead of Goldeneye there was Timesplitters 2, Super Smash Bros. Melee improved on the first and I guess there was a Mario Kart game, I think I plated it once. We did not play them as much. Part of the problem was that at this time computer games started to take over as the main method of multiplayer.  

Finally the current generation of systems came out. I have only ever owned Nintendo consoles, I don’t know why, but early on I chose them as my console company of choice and I have stuck with it. Except that my brother bought himself an Xbox 360. Then my Dad needed a blu-ray player and bought a Playstation 3. This summer, with the help of Gamefly, I have been catching up on the games that I missed while studying abroad. And most were good games. Some I liked enough to buy, some I played through once and felt that was enough. There have not been many that made we lose all sense of time. Portal was one of these, I lost all sense of time for the three and half hours the game took me. Mass Effect and Bioshock both had parts that caused a loss of temporal awareness yet in both cases it never lasted long. Heavenly Sword (the only PS3 game I have liked) made me want to find out what happened next except I could not play it for long periods of time.

Then this week I found one of the first games to suck me in completely. Tales of Vesperia. Once I head that another Tales game was coming out (I loved the Gamecube Tales of Symphonia) I had to get it. Even better another it coming out for the Wii later this year. Since Tuesday I have been completely absorbed my Tales of Vesperia, I have to force myself to do things like stop the game to eat some food, drink something to prevent dehydration or take some vitamins to stave of scurvy. I am fully hooked into it. I know I should be doing other things related to graduate school and going back to Santa Barbara, this game just keeps calling me back. I have not had this type of enjoyable involvement in a console game in a while (not counting Mario Kart Rainbow Road Last Man Seeing contests). I am fully enjoying the game.

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Wiimote and Gamefly Sleeve

Wiimote and Gamefly Sleeve

 

At the beginning of this summer I was faced with a dilemma. I had been away from all forms of new console games while in Edinburgh and before that I had only two months to fully appreciate my then new Wii. I drafted a list of the games I would want to play over the summer, I had access to three systems: Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS and an Xbox 360 (my brothers). My list only had six titles: Bioshock, Mass Effect, Portal, Oblivion and Okami. I was not sure that I wanted to actually own any of them so I started doing the math of how much they would cost. I compared new prices, used prices and for fun I threw in the cost of renting them from the Netflix-esque video game rental service Gamefly. To my surprise it turned out to be cheaper to get a three month subscription of Gamefly and to buy them used from Gamefly. I started with the free fourteen day subscription with two discs out at a time. 
And how does this system work? I started by adding the five games I wanted into my Game Queue plus five others I found looked interesting or at least something I would enjoy playing. Once the games are in the queue they can be rearranged by dragging and dropping to give the desired order you want the games to come in. Of course this order is merely a suggestions and from what I can tell has only a slight resemblance to the order they are sent. When a game is shipped out so is an e-mail informing that the game has shipped. This is where the service is more lackluster. The closest major shipping center is roughly 400 miles south of me in Los Angeles. It takes about three full days for the game to arrive. Well thats okay since it is expected that a game is kept longer then a few days, thats why I chose to take two out at the same time, right?
The game arrives is an orange envelope, also the return envelope. So far I have only had one game that could not be played upon arrival: Metroid Prime 3. For this I went to the website help center and found a easy tab for reporting damaged or broken games. I expected to have to return the game, wait for it to be processed then having a new game sent (I could choose for a replacement or the next game in my queue). Instead they shipped the replacement that day and just told me to send the damaged one as soon as I could. So out of eleven games one needed to be returned.
To send a game back I just put it into the paper sleeve, the paper sleeve into the cardboard sleeve and the cardboard sleeve into the orange envelope. Then I send it off. It takes three days for them to receive the game. Usually they process the incoming game and send a new one off the same day, so if I send a game off Monday I get a new one Friday. This five day turnaround time is compared to Netlfix’s three day turnaround time.
When games are in the Queue they are rated in availability on four levels: low, medium, high, available now. If a game is available now and all the others are high or lower, the one available now will be shipped.
The service has a strong game selection for Xbox 360, Wii and DS. The Playstation 3 (my family got one as a blu-ray player a month after I started Gamefly) selection seems lackluster. This could just be a Playstation 3 thing and not a Gamefly thing. One of the games I really wanted was Civilization Revolution DS, it was not out yet but I left it at the top of my Queue for the week or two before release. On the day before release it was shipped to me so I got a brand new copy the day after release.
This brings me to the buying feature of Gamefly. There are two ways to buy games, the simplest is through their online store of used games. The second, and one I have used, is to use their “Keep it” feature. This let me buy the games I currently had rented out, this way I could see what condition the used game (new in the case if Civ Revolution) is in before purchasing it. Once I bought a game they then shipped the case and instruction manual within a day or so of buying it. There are also Gamefly Rewards which are usually five dollar coupons that can be used to buying games, I received these from simply being a member for a month, filling out a survey and for being a member two months (I think). With their relatively low prices and the coupons I was able to buy several games for under twenty dollars when they sold for around thirty on sites like Gamestop and Amazon. The only thing is some games cannot be bought. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney cannot be purchased, likely due to a shortage. Other games like Assassin’s Creed had a large sale going (fourteen dollars for it). Also used prices sometimes changed within a day or two, probably to reflect inventory.
Of course if I just wanted to play a specific set of games Gamefly would not be the best way to do it. What I have liked about Gamefly is that it has let me play games I would not want to buy or pay three to four dollars to rent. The games I would not have otherwise played: Beutiful Katamari (never played the original), Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Ninja Gaiden DS, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, Portal and Burnout Paradise. Some of them I played for a day then returned, others I kept for about a week and a half to finish.
Overall I have been satisfied with the service. The website is intuitive and works well, the games have been in good condition and the prices for buying games have been low. My only complaint about the service is the somewhat slow turnaround time, this might be because of limited inventory or they are still small compared to larger rental services like Netflix.
There is one new feature on Gamefly I have not tried. They let you trade in your old games for Gamefly Reward credits. I suppose this would be a good way to sell or trade out old games. Except I am the type of person who has my original NES console and games in my closet, I never know when might challenge me to a race in Excitebike. 

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