Monday, February 28, 2011

Rift: "You have tunnelled into a new area"

I love Dungeon Keeper quotes. There's one for every ocasion.

So, after trying Rift out this weekend I have to say: it's not bad. Which is not to say it's not good. I enjoy the time I spend there, sure. The questing isn't bad, it's along the same lines as any questing - speak, kill/collect, return, reward - and I've explored a bit of the PvP content and one dungeon.

The sky, it has a rift.
With Rift I seem to have the same issues I have with every other game. I never have any bag space, for once. I tend to seek a healing function, no matter the class. Also, in trying to find the path of least resistance to a location I pick up every possible mob and end up spending twice the time I would if only I stuck to the road.

One thing I do love, though, is a small graphical bug I sometimes get. My Rift character is a tiny human (Matthosian) Cleric with a pure healing role and a sole PvEing role more focused on insta-gibbing stuff. She looks a bit bland, with her Planar outfit flapping between her legs. But sometimes (usually after I die) all the colours on her clothes turn black and shades of gray. The outfit loses none of its textures and it's only visible to me. Still looks awesome.

WAR has made me into a PvP addict, I discovered and, more often than not, I'll be trying to get down a road only to have constant Warfront pops. It took me only a few tries to get used to a new healing perspective, mainly the fact that AoE heals are centered around a target and not myself. One crucial difference that has hampered my success is the lack of both an offensive and defensive target. WAR had this wonderful idea and, according to what I was told, it was quite novel and unique. I would have loved it if they had kept this concept in Rift but you can't expect a new game to be a copy of an old favourite. Still, I often find myself trying to heal a Rogue and end up healing myself. Not so cool. Still topped the healing charts a few times, though.

At some point, Defiants invaded our lands or so I hear. I was offline at the time. This, however caused a response on our side which is told to have been quite epic and impressive. It was also described as sloppy and only a tentative  incursion to explore the open-field PvP facet of the game. Wish I'd been there. My biggest wish is to discover that Rift can provide those epic camp fights, with 200 people on each side, everyone sweating their balls off trying to subdue their opponents. Now that's a feeling.

Now all I have to find is the folder the game saves screenshots to.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why Silent Hill Almost Ruined Men For Me

I've always had this doubt. Are men and women really all that different?

There are the obvious answers: women are more prone to having boobies and warming up toilet seats, men are more likely to wake up with an erection.

But there was one game that showed me that men and women aren't really all that different. That game was Silent Hill.
Why, thank you.
For me, Silent Hill was and still is the king of all survival horror games. It was beatutiful without being pretentious. And it scared you shitless without even trying. You could just be standing there and you got scared because nothing was happening. The less there was, the more frightened you got. The feeling of complete loneliness and helplessness was overwhelming at times. Most of the time.

My boyfriend at the time had acquired it (legally even) and explained to me what it was about. He didn't have to though, the cover of the box was self-explanatory. According to Wikipedia:

"Played from a third-person perspective, Silent Hill uses real-time 3D environments and, as a result, the developers incorporated fog and darkness in the game as a method of hiding the limitations of the hardware."
What this means, in practice, is that you could, at any given time, see fuck all. You got out of that car and you could see probably two steps in front of you. It was terrifying. The first thing we all knew we had to do was get a pipe/crowbar. We call this "The Law of Pipe" and Silent Hill loved this law. If you wanted to get through the game, you had to rely on that trusty, rusty pipe. "No matter how big the weapon, it will run out of ammo. The pipe will not. No matter how big the enemy, the pipe will eventually down it" is the definition of this law that Mike imparted on me just now. It gets the point across.

Pylon Head, Pyramid Head's poor cousin
I once experienced a Silent Hill-like fog in real life. Mike and I were walking down from my mother's house and a thick fog had settled in earlier in the cold afternoon. It was a bit late and there was no one else outside but us. Not even cars or buses dared roam that wide street that wound down from a zone of derelict buildings and a private school. A bit further down the road we could see the lights of what we knew was a butcher shop. As we got closer we started to discern a shape inside the shop. I held onto his arm tighter and he did the same. Soon we could tell it had a humanoid shape, a fat man holding something above his hand. The yellow light behind him wouldn't let us see his face or what he was holding. A few steps later we realised what it was. It was a knife. I'm pretty sure I yelped as I felt him stiffen up. We both almost bolted. Instead, we froze. Upon closer inspection (and I don't know how we mustered the courage) we realized what we were looking at. It was the dummy they kept outside during the day that held the sign for the day's specials. They just moved it inside to stand near the window when they closed the shop. Oh, how we laughed.

But getting back to my first impression of the game. Boyfriend at the time liked to play games and have me watch. It sounds more kinky than it really was. So to set the mood I decided to close the shutters of his window and turn off the lights. He warned me not to do that but I didn't care. I was old enough not to be scared by horror movies or games. I could handle whatever Silent Hill had to throw at me. I was wrong.

Not anymore...
I started off apprehensive, cowering on his bed against the wall. He braved the fog, he picked up a pipe, he bashed the dogs, he even went past the fucking wheelchair. Something always goes bad in Silent Hill when you see a wheelchair. This is fact. But when he reached the locker cat he put down the controller, turned off the Playstation, turned to me and said "I can't play this anymore today". I couldn't blame him. I was hugging his pillow for dear life at this point.

Silent Hill had turned him into a big girl. But he wasn't the only one. A movie adaptation was eventually made of the game. I know of people that can't watch it withouth being completely wrapped up in something comforting like a blanket or their own shirt. I, myself, still cringe when my playlist throws anything from Akira Yamaoka at me when I'm in the subway.

Speaking of which, the soundtrack was one of the strongest points of this game. So good, in fact, that Yamaoka (composer) went on to become the producer for Silent Hill 3, the direct sequel for the first one, and the movie. It's moving when it needs to be and it's nothing more than pipe banging when you need to GTFO.

Don't worry, boys.
In the end, everything will be ok.

Silent Hill was what made me realize that men, behind all their gung-hoing and testosterone sweating, are as squeamish as women when faced with impossible odds against things with big knives. I could tell you stories of how they flee with broom in hand from cockroaches riding Batman bikes or how they squeal in horror at the sight of a grasshopper. But society demands they be the stronger sex, the gallant knights, the saviors of the day. So they put on a straight face and brave through the muck. This game let me see their softer side, their sweaty fingers fumbling with the controllers and their frowns at faceless nurses.

It could've ruined men for me but it only made me appreciate them more.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Rift: Launch?

Or not really?

I could sum this whole thing up by just saying:
The character selection screen is AWESOME... not.
It was all I got to see of the game, though.

I had completely forgotten to uninstall the beta client and install the new one so, when I got home, at around 7 pm (GMT+0) that's what I did. It took me about an hour, hour and a half to download the 8 gigs. But by this time an eerie feeling had crept in. I was hearing a lot of moaning and complaining on vent and some numbers floating around: "2300" said one vent voice, "1500" said another, "just under 600" went a third. What was this? Some sort of queue? Surely not!

Should've taken the hint
Now, I know every launch has its hiccups and setbacks. I was expecting that. But I was expecting something more on the lines of server instability, mobs just not being enough, unbearable amounts of lag. I would have welcomed that. Anything was better than 3 hours staring at the character selection screen, watching those numbers slowly climb down. Hell, I would have even put up with the russians.

Every server was full (except a few french and german ones) so we decided to stick it out and wait to get in our guild's server. I'm fairly competent at staying completely still for long periods of time. Mike will often nudge me when I'm watching a movie yelling "YOU ASLEEP?" in my ear when I'm not. But this was boring as shit.

So, after climbing from queue position 2880 to 600 I decided I deserved a little treat. I alt-tabbed to play a little spider solitaire. Yes, the most interesting thing I dared to do without exhausting my computer's resources which I was saving for a night of intense gaming. I tabbed back a few times (read "about 50") to move my mouse around. I'd been fairly lucky all night, only having had 2 disconnects and getting right back to my position same as I was before. Others had not been so lucky.

But, for some reason, I got distracted and that's when it happened. My third disconnect dropped me down to 1300. It was disheartening, to say the least. All I could muster was a "fuck it" and I logged out.

"They're probably all getting drunk at the launch party."
Yes. Yes, I believe they are.
Now, as I said before, I was expecting a few setbacks but, in the end, I'm a paying customer. I paid good money to be able to play the game on the headstart launch day. Or so I thought. Apparently, I paid good money to alt-tab between the character selection screen and spider solitaire. In the end, I don't care what the developer's hardships are/were/are going to be. Do I need to care? Should I? I'm paying them. Me and countless others lined their pockets with millions of their chosen currency. Millions. They knew how many of us there were. They just had to divide all the money they made by how much they were charging per copy. So I don't get this and, frankly, I don't care to get it. I care not to like it.

This really gets to me. I mean, reeeeeaaaaally gets to me. I mean, here we are, struggling to keep up a household with one and a half paycheks in the middle of a financial crisis and we buy 2 copies of the fucking thing thinking that "hey, maybe a little time playing with friends will help take our minds off important things for a bit". Fuck that, have a screen with a countdown, dream about all the other cool things you could be doing (like playing that sweet Dragon Age 2 demo) and sweat it out.

Things didn't go so well for people that actually got to play the game either, due to the lag and over-population issues (which were to be expected as the entire existing player base was currently in the starting area). "OMG even the mobs are getting queued".

But I would've liked having been able to make that remark. I would've liked to have reserved my two character names. Instead I got a bad after-taste in my mouth that has nothing to do with my over consumption of Red Bull and cigarettes.

Bah. I was a bit "meh" at the game before, I'm just numb at it now. I'm sure I'll forget all about this when I actually get to play it decently. If I live to play it after these first three months, I'm sure I'll even look back at this and tsk tsk tsk at myself for my current disbelief.

Here's hoping.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Meaning of "Arcade"

I had very little contact with arcades growing up but, from what little I did, I must say I don't much like the use of the word for these console "Arcade" games. The feel just isn't there.

Let me explain.
According to Wiktionary:
arcade (plural arcades)
  1. (architecture) A row of arches.
  2. (architecture) A covered passage, usually with shops on both sides.
  3. Establishment running coin-operated games.
But, to me, the meaning is simpler because to me there were ever only two arcades in the world, the one near my high school and that other one on the second floor of an inconspicuous building lost in the less walked streets of Tokyo. This will be a long one.

One is the loneliest number
 When I visited Japan a few years back I got to visit the afore mentioned salon(salon as in "a gathering of people for a social or intellectual meeting"). Me and my boyfriend at the time were touring the country with some japanese friends we'd made. Once we got to Tokyo we both immediately started pestering them to take us to an arcade, any arcade. Contrary to popular belief, or maybe just our own, not every japanese teenager is into that kind of thing. So they took us wandering about town for a while, trying to look like they knew where they were going. Eventually they found a gaming arcade running in the top floor of a small comercial building. They herded us inside and our eyes twinkled with excitement as they tried to explain that this wasn't really a good example of an arcade, this was just a small place to extort money from the neighbourhood kids. But we didn't care. To us, it was the holy grail.

They released us into the establishment, dividing their forces so they could have one of them translating (and more importantly, watching out) for each of us gaijins. No matter how awestruck we were, we still tried to keep a low profile because we were the foreign party here, me looking a bit more exotic than most. Pretty soon my boyfriend found a machine to play Guilty Gear on but I wasn't (and still am not) interested in that particular game. So I sat (yes sat; you wouldn't believe what a shock it was to actually sit down when playing something other than Daytona) next to him and, as fate would have it, it was a Soul Calibur 2 thingy. 
The proverbial "Kill you with a stick" move

Oh, I love Soul Calibur. I could have counted the ways but I chose not to. Pretty soon after I started dabbling with it lo and behold, a challenger appeared. I was pretty self-conscious already, being the only girl in there actually playing and not just escorting (in the most innocent sense of the word) and I was the only one of african descent. I gulped down hard but decided to pretend there was actually no one there. This is why japanese arcades were so alien for us. You could actually play a game against someone and not have to look at their face, not have to deal with the fact that they were a real person that you'd never met. So the embarrassement of losing or the cockiness of winning didn't ever have to be shared with this element so alien to your private life.

Wouldn't you know it? I won; Kilik never disappoints. I let out an excited girly giggle because that's what I do and I saw a face looking down at me from above the bench/machine thing. He was clearly amazed but he was japanese enough to not say anything even though he assumed I wouldn't get it if he did.
One other thing I found fascinating about it was a job I had never known existed. There was this young man, his back already hunched by the weight of his lot in life that was going around just emptying ashtrays and wiping down an arcade machine immediately after it was done being used. This was beyond everything I know and soon you'll get why.

My only other term for comparison was MC (wittingly spelled Émecê because that's how you actually say it), an arcade near the school I went to and, strangely, even closer to the maternity hospital where I was born. To a layman, MC was just a small hole in a wall that led straight down to a dark hole in the ground. It's a place that gets all its business from word of mouth but, if I'm not mistaken, its still open for business.

It was a dark place with little lighting and no windows which, in retrospect, isn't surprising because it was underground. At the bottom of the stairs the space opened up to a be a low-ceilinged jobbie with 3 pool tables and 2 table football ones to one side, watched closely by the dubious owner behind his counter where he supplied dubious candy and smokes. To the other side, behind the stairs, sat the dusty arcades with games that weren't upgraded in years. These were scarred by cigarette burns and the buttons had faded after countless years of mashing by grimy fingers. The centre piece of the establishment was, at least for us, the Daytona USA machine. Sporting two pseudo racing car seats and big yet-untarnished screens, it was where we the girls (all two of us) retreated to eat our dubious candy when the boys went to massacre the foosball. It must be noted that our foosball tables are made of sturdy wood, the dummies of solid iron and the rods are covered in an eye-sorish black grease. It's a manly game where boys become men and we would rather stay clear of it.
We would pop in a few coins from time to time, always resorting to the same cars and the same track. To this day she still nags me about that one time when she was winning and, at the last minute, I rammed her into the pit stop and came in first.

"Let's go away!"

This was a magic place. The smoke-filled cave to where we retreated when going to class was simply out of the question and we had no joints to smoke. We would lose ourselves there, hours we would never get back but would never regret because magical things happened there. Impossible shots in the pool table where you hadn't enough space to even place the queue and had to sit up on the green and worn cloth; bouncing, murderous balls from the feet of the iron foosball players. One of these magical events involved a hole in the far wall near a derelict pool table.

Me and a friend of mine were chasing a rogue ball and, once we found it and straightened our backs, we noticed a hole in the wall right at eye level. He looked at me and I looked at him. I'm squeamish about strange holes that may contain strange bugs so he went ahead and looked inside. He smiled back at me and placed his hand inside the wall. When it came back out he was holding a pack of cigarettes. It was full. For the longest time we were lost in debate about whether or not to smoke them. We were active smokers, quite professional at it and the prospect of free smokes was tempting. But what if they were spiked with something? Well, I was never one to believe people would waste drugs on random objects they would then deploy into the world without any certaitny where they would end up or sticking around to find out. What would be the point? Someone must've just stashed them there to smoke them later.

So that's the story of how I ended up smoking the most suspicious carton of smokes I ever came across.

And that, my friends, is why I take offense on all these variants of "arcade" games. Where's the japanese man wiping my controller when I'm done using it? Where's the hole in the wall with a pack of cigarettes? There's little arcade in them, except for the fact that you waste money on something not very deep. Which is not to say I don't like these types of games. But that's a story for another day.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Gaming Monster: Story of Girl Gamer #1138

I've decided to keep this one (blog) general, not really directed at anyone or focusing on any one thing. If anyone happens to stumble upon it that's great. But, mostly, I'm blogging this one for myself, to keep track of my feelings on games and the act of gaming as it evolves for me and as I evolve for it. To try and figure out why is it that people look at me sideways when they discover my interest in games goes beyond shooting bubbles at other bubbles in stupid Facebook games. As it were.

So, without further ado, here's the impact gaming has had on me growing up.

Curse these damn lizard fingers!
I've always been a gamer. Even when I was little I would get so upset because my mother frowned at buying me videogames, not because they were violent or lacked educational value but because they were expensive and she didn't see the point. I remember really begging for Diablo when it came out and what I got was something called Lands of Lore: Guardians of Destiny.

I never could play more than 10 minutes of the thing as my proficiency with the English language was, at the time, somewhat lacking and I could not, for the life of me, understand why I was suddenly turned into a lizard and bashed to death by.. whatever it was that did the bashing. Why was the game doing this to me? My meager language skills could propel me only so far and, all of a sudden, it would rob me of whatever knowledge I had gathered and bounce me into a completely different set of rules. I do remember the image on the manual and box, the face of a man perpetually locked in uncontrolable terror by the power he wielded. I dreamed of the day when I would find out what exactly lay beyond that lizard-turning cave. But I never did. Bottom line is, I have no idea what that game was about, whether it was good or utter shit but it was a milestone. It was my first complete noob experience.

Later I played Dungeon Keeper, Theme Hospital (I miss Bullfrog...), Constructor and Age of Empires. I had never realised until recently how all those games fall under the same genre. I also played a lot of Command&Conquer: Red Alert (Westwood again) and I remember how I perched on the edge of my seat as I placed my Tesla Coils and my eyes lit up when my dogs mauled enemies to pieces. Until this day I still have a very particular way of saying "acknowledged" and often I'll blurt out, for no reason at all, "ready and waiting" or "on hold... cancelled."
"Warning! Incoming patients with Bloaty Head."
But later, as I got older and my role as a female in modern society was made clear to me, I realized I was the only girl in my class who knew of the latest releases, who knew a few gaming company names, who shared the boys' enthusiasm when a new console came out. It was a bit lonely, especially when you come to that age when boys and girls aren't platonic friends anymore. I was the weird one. I wasn't much into shopping or gossiping or makeup or high heels or being the first one to get to wear a bra. I took part of those conversations as a neutral observer, the wise-ass joke-cracker. I'm pretty sure that it was this tage of my life that made me grow up to be the objective bystander I am today.

It wasn't until I discovered the internet that I found somewhere I belonged. I don't know exactly what drove me to do it or how it happened but I remember going through the motions of setting up an ISP account by myself without realizing that what I was doing would have serious repercussions in our phone bill. My mother and I would have epic bouts of yelling and we would end up hiding the modem cable from each other. A few years ago I confessed to her that my hiding place was inside my Lego box. Oh, how we laughed.

Online I found a world of information about my second favorite hobby and, most importantly, I found a community where I felt like I belonged, a community where I was, in fact, considered a good catch. I can safely say that the bulk of my current pool of friends stemmed from that first interaction with the virtual world.

When I turned 15 though, my gaming was down to Maxis (The Sims and the god-like Sim City 3). Although it entertained me to no end and influenced my taste in music greatly, I still felt like there was something missing. A boyfriend introduced me to the world of pirated Playstation games and, man, those were the days.

You must realize that, at the time, some very good games (namely some j-rpgs) were not released in Europe and, even if they were, they never reached the western most corner. His room was crowded with spindles filled with copies of both NTSC and PAL copies of games, some in English, some in Japanese, most of them good but not all, of course. Suddenly my room was crowded with empty cases and unmarked recordable CDs, battered by neglect and the forces of the elements, now left forgotten inside boxes in my mother's house.
It was only much later, though, that I finally delved into MMOs.

But that's a story for another day.