Monday, July 21, 2008

The Orange Box

While considering the purchase of an XBox 360, I was thinking about what games to get for it right off the bat. Most of them, it seems, were releases from last fall. Ahead of all of them, though, on my list of most wanted games, was The Orange Box. Something inside told me that this package of three games - Half Life 2, Portal, and Team Fortress 2 - would have a huge amount of play time and thus "bang for the buck". I was right, and I'm sure glad and grateful that my co-workers who gave me this generous gift also included this game.

Portal I dove into right away. At first, I didn't get it. There was a chasm I had to cross and I couldn't make the jump. It took me awhile before I realized that, DUH, I cold make a portal opening over on the wall across the chasm. Another DUH moment came after I was chasing down what seemed to be another person in the test chamber with me, who was always one step ahead of me running into a portal of their own, when I realized that it was actually me.

The joy of Portal is one often universal to a good videogame. It's in learning the rules of the universe the game's designers have set up and applying them within the game. In Portal, it's a strange universe indeed, and figuring your way through the test chambers using the tools you're given is an absolute mind-exercising challenge of the highest degree. It was over too soon, but word from the recent E3 expo is that more Portal is on the way.

Team Fortress 2 is an online game that I've only dabbled with so far, but it's been fun. It seems more cartoony and thus more casual than most online games I've tried, but to be honest I haven't yet put the time I need to into this third of the Orange Box.

Half-Life 2 is just plain amazing. I feel comfortable giving away spoilers ahead because the PC version has been out for years, and this console version since last fall. At first, I thought the game was sort of drab. I had no idea of the plot, I was placed in a dystopian police-state city with a crowbar and told to suck it up.

It took awhile before the pace picked up and I got some better weapons, and got to some new environments. I even got a few hints of plot from the NPCs I encountered, making the game a little more interesting. As I progressed, I got to tool around in a swamp boat, got a really cool gravity gun, and fought all sorts of weirdness in the form of facehugger-controlled zombies and the like.

The best sequence so far in Half-Life 2 came yesterday when I got to ride up the coast in a dune buggy. It was a long road, stopping at remote houses to take out enemies and search for supplies. At several points in my journey I had to use the gravity gun to clear the road of wrecked cars, cackling gleefully as I sent them flying over the guardrail, off the cliff, and into the water below. Another stop along the way was at an enormous suspension bridge, where I had to climb along the girders on the underside of the bridge, and back again, to unlock passage of the top of it. The heights were dizzying.

At the end of yesterday's session of Half-Life 2, I had a new toy which allows me to tame and control a small squad of ant lion bugs and use them to take out enemies. It's been a long game so far, and the best part of it is that the Orange Box also contains Half-Life 2 Episode 1 and Half-Life 2 Episode 2 as well. I can't even imagine what kind of surprises are in store for me in those games.

The Orange Box was certainly the bargain I had hoped it would be - It may be months before I close that box and move on to something else, because the content within is absolutely fun and challenging.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Quarter Century of Personal Personal Computing

Last Friday, July 11, an important personal anniversary passed, and of course I didn't have time to blog about it then. I'm making the time now. On that date in 1983, I convinced my parents to buy me a computer. I was this close to talking them into a Commodore 64, but the high price point (at that time) scared them away, and I got a Commodore VIC 20 instead. It was still a win.

On that day twenty-five years ago, I entered a new gaming arena as well as a new place where computers were for far more than gaming. On the VIC, I did some minor BASIC programming, messed around with an art program, kept little journals of what I was doing, and just had fun.

Of course, there were some great games, too. Within a few months I was playing arcade games like Gorf and Omega Race, as well as complex games like Crush, Crumble, and Chomp (a movie-monster game). The VIC was approaching its waning days as its sibling, the Commodore 64, was growing in popularity and lowering its price. Two years later, I would have one.

Although I've come and gone again and again from computer gaming over the years, it's always been a great platform in every era. And those other applications that the VIC gave me a taste of have all blossomed into what we all know and take for granted with computers these days. In fact, it's impossible to imagine life without a computer hooked up in my home. And for me, it all started with the amazing little Commodore VIC 20 just over twenty five years ago.

I Should Be Doing A Lot More Blogging

I really should spend a little time to catch up on what I'm playing, but time is now the most precious commodity I have. Working two jobs, still dealing with post-wedding stuff - like the two days I spent taking apart and rebuilding our living room entertainment center and bedroom entertainment center to accomodate the new hi-def TV that Monique's brother got us as a wedding present - and just being awestruck by the XBox 360 and XBox Live service and all its glory, it's taking up every free minute I have.

I could go on about Bioshock, which a co-worker loaned me last weekend, and its amazing style and play mechanics, but I have no time. I still have stuff to say about Portal, Half Life 2, and Call of Duty 4. And the demo of Too Human I downloaded and played last night.

And E3 is taking place right now, too. Microsoft made a huge splash last night and is looking strong again this fall. Nintendo has, from what I could skim from today's headlines, nothing at all that interests me this fall. Is this the end of my interest in the Wii? I could write about that, too.

Maybe this Sunday, I'll find some time.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Best Day Of My Life

...was June 28, 2008. Over a week ago. I'm back, but still very busy with post-wedding stuff. More gaming articles later.