Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Eaten by Grue

You are in an open field west of a big white house with a boarded front door.

There is a small, neglected blog here.

update blog_

Okay, so I wasn't really eaten by a grue (although that might not be all bad -- always wanted to know what they look like). That's a more convenient excuse for not having updated in a week than the real reasons, namely being busy and being lazy. Usually in an alternating pattern, those are pretty much mutually exclusive activities.

Last week was a good week for podcasts. In addition to the IGN GameSages 'cast on Monday, Garnett Lee and the gang over at 1up Yours had me on their show on Thursday. I'm a big fan of 1up Yours and listen to it every week, so it was extra gratifying (and slightly intimidating) to actually get in the mix with Garnett, Shane, and Shawn. I got a little insecure about my contribution to the show; it's hard to jump right into a new roomful of dudes and mesh instantly, but hopefully I done 'em proud.

This afternoon I also got to go outside the protective embrace of my house to check out my first game-that-isn't-out-yet in a while, which I'll be writing up for Shacknews, another site I spend too much time on. This will be my first freelance writing assignment, so it's fitting I'm doing it for a site I've been active on in some way or another since it was called sCary's Quakeholio back in like, geez, '96? Anyway, the game is Fallout 3, the impressions are positive, the embargo is Thursday.

Call of Duty 4 and its variety map pack are dominating my game time right now, to the exclusion of entirely new games that go yet untouched. Playing last night, it occurred to me how long it's been since pure deathmatch was a compelling game type in an online shooter -- but team DM is indeed what I play in COD4 the most. (Looking at some quick stats, it seems to be far and away the most popular mode in general.) That testifies to just how damn good the basic run-'n-gun in that game is. The pacing, the feel of the weapons, the hit response animations -- everything it takes to make up basic first-person shooter gameplay -- are all so perfect. I don't think I could ever get tired of it.

If anyone is still reading this blog, what are you playing these days? I feel like I need to branch out a little. Suggest something!

Lastly, if you happened to get a nostalgic jones to play a little Zork just now, here's a good free option for doing that.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Nobody's Fool

In defiance of the calendar, today's post will be 100 percent earnest and truthful. Sorry! I'm not a very funny guy (not intentionally, at least), and it's good to know your limits.

I wondered how the fine folks at Doofy Crap would handle today's occasion (their first, to my reckoning). They deal in the droll on a daily basis, after all. When your MO is tomfoolery, what do you do on the day when everyone else gets stupid? Do they cancel each other out, like a double negative? I wasn't disappointed in the Doofy response.

On a more serious and work-related note, Jeremy Dunham over at IGN was kind enough to invite me onto their GameSages podcast yesterday, along with Official Xbox Magazine senior editor Dan Amrich, and current TeamXbox contributing editor and games press elder statesman Andy Eddy. (I was a big fan of Andy's first magazine Video Games & Computer Entertainment -- one of the first intelligent console-game magazines, and one of the first game magazines I avidly read -- so it was a real gas to get to share a podcast table with him.) The topic was the games press: the ins and outs of writing about games, how to break into the industry, misconceptions about the job, the standards of games criticism, that sort of thing. Haven't heard the final product yet, but I think we had a really good discussion, and we managed to exceed GarageBand's maximum track length before we finished. Give it a listen, and feel free to bitch about my boring monotone; it wouldn't be a podcast without it.

Finally started playing some games again last night by jumping into a Company of Heroes skirmish match against AI with my buddy Mark from the east coast. And then another, and then another... By the time we quit I'd missed dinner and he'd stayed up late enough to (presumably) raise his wife's ire. Can't remember the last time I've been so enthralled by a strategy game (probably Starcraft), nor so humbled by a strat game's AI opponents. Still learning the tech tree and abilities, in my defense, but we only won one out of at least four matches against two AI players at the 'normal' level, which behaved in surprisingly dynamic and competitive ways. We got worked, basically.

I love the way COH handles resource nodes: they're small, strategically valuable points spread diffusely all over the map that you capture the same way you'd capture a control point in a Battlefield game. It makes your defense absolutely crucial; you have to figure out the right kind of defenses for the terrain and buildings surrounding every point, not to mention choke points all over the map where the enemy will be sending armor and infantry through. It was very tempting to play the game like Starcraft at first -- you know, build up a giant goddamn army and assign the whole thing to the 1 key, then roam around the map obliterating the other guy's expansions. But you so can't play COH that way. It's all about splitting up your troops into specialized teams, using the map features to your advantage, flanking the enemy position. It feels more like real warfare than most RTS games I've played; by way of analogy, COH is to RTS as the original Ghost Recon games were to Quake (but unlike Ghost Recon, COH doesn't make me want to punch myself repeatedly in the temples).

Company of Heroes and its standalone expansion Opposing Fronts are both on Steam as a combo pack for $40, and so far I can say it's worth every damn penny. I was waiting for Starcraft II to revitalize my interest in real-time strategy games (and still I can't wait to play it, especially now), but COH has really beaten it to the punch.