Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hail To The King Baby!

Duke Nukem 3D came to the XBox 360 Live Arcade today, and hell yes I downloaded it, in case you were curious. The classic first-person shooter has been ported perfectly with all its charm and plays great. It's still a triumph of character and level design and still offers a vast inventory of items and weapons that were revolutionary at the time it was released.

Back in the day (the long-lost era referred to by historians as the 1990s), I didn't have a PC until 1998, so I got to play Duke Nukem 64, an altogether watered down version on the Nintendo 64. It was fun and kept the gameplay intact, but sadly left the strippers out.

Now I get to get achievement points (whoopity dooo!) for tipping the strippers, and enjoy the cool new features which have been added to this version. The most interesting of which is the ability to rewind the game after death back to any previous point in the level and pick up the playing from there.

There are online and multiplayer modes, and the ability to record, save, and send clips of the game play, too. I look forward to trying all of it out. This game, and all the other treats available on the XBox Live service, more than justify the monthly subscription fee and small additional fees (800 points for Duke 3D) for XBox Live Gold. Keep it coming, Micorsoft. Let's see Redneck Rampage next, please.

Monday, September 22, 2008

More Thoughts on Grand Theft Auto IV

Of course, I love this game. Almost everyone does, and those who wrote about its greatness did so back in April when it came out. As usual, I'm behind the curve, but I do have some thoughts to share about life in Liberty City.

Everything I was hoping for is here - it's just a massive heap of content and things to do, and I can do them at my own pace, pushing the story forward when I feel like it, and messing with the breathtakingly detailed virtual world they've created when I don't feel like going on a mission or playing darts with Roman for the tenth time.

The missions have gotten more challenging without adding any real frustration to the game. If I fail one mission repeatedly, I can put it aside and do something else, and then come back to it in a few days and usually succeed. New weapons like the sniper rifle and new items like the cell phone camera have kept the missions fresh enough to avoid repetition, although a lot of them involve long chases through the streets of the city.

What has me pleasantly surprised about GTA IV is the story and the characters that have all unfolded along the way. Like those Phoenix Wright games, good characters can make a great game a masterpiece, and the writers behind this game have done an excellent job of making me care about a bunch of morally bankrupt sociopaths and their lives.

Nico's in it for the money, but he often shows a bizarre sense of honor along the way that's humorous and interesting. The decisions that the player makes along with Nico really build sympathy for the character, even as he's blasting a shotgun at the police or getting some back-alley fun from a prostitute. I guess I was expecting thuggish sleazery just for the shock value, but the game's creators really have a lot more going on here.

I expect to be playing GTA IV for the rest of the year, at least, and with more content coming for the game via XBox Live, perhaps beyond that. With the impressive schedule of fall videogame releases ahead, though, my time in Liberty City may be limited, but that's okay. I know Nico and the rest will be there waiting for me with more stuff to do than I have time for.

Milestones : Mattel's Dungeons and Dragons Handheld

After playing Adventure on the Atari, I was hooked on games with a set quest and an ending, which were scarce in the Golden Age of Arcades where almost everything was a shooter or a maze chase. I was also at the time, and still am, a fan of portable gaming, but most of those were the same old song and dance - LED sports games or pared down versions of arcade games.

Imagine my delight, then, when Mattel put out a tiny LCD game version of Dungeons and Dragons. I saw it in either a game magazine or the JC Penney Christmas Catalog and knew I had to have it. I didn't know too much about it then, but had hoped for the best. On that Christmas morning in 1982, I hit the jackpot with the first fully contained portable adventure game.

It had much more depth than I had hoped for - three difficulty levels, randomly generated mazes, several items and obstacles, great audio effects used to enhance gameplay, and challenging exploration. Players carefully work their way through a 10 x 10 grid maze littered with pits, searching for first a magic arrow, and second, the dragon to shoot it at. In a possible unintended homage to Atari's Adventure, an annoying bat sometimes picks up the player and deposits him in a random room - sometimes right into a pit, ending the game if the player doesn't have a magic rope.

The elegance of the design of the credit-card sized game, no thicker than a magazine and controlled with three simple buttons, is awesome for its time. It runs on 2 A76 watch batteries, which they still manufacture to this day and sell everywhere. It has a demonstration mode that saves battery life, which is necessary since there is no off switch. Once the batteries are installed the game is powered and running.

Probably my favorite non-programmable handheld of all time, Mattel's Dungeons and Dragons is a technological masterpiece from 1982 that gave me my first taste of portable adventuring, and did it right in every way. I still break it out of its original box and go for a quick adventure in that dungeon every so often, and it's still quite challenging and fun.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lifetime Achievement Points

So I'm on XBox Live these days, as one can tell by the little thing on the sidebar of this blog which tracks what I'm playing as well as my "gamerscore", an accumulation of "achievement points" from every game I play (successfully) on the XBox 360. It's a way for gamers to compare just how much of thier lives they are throwing away on gaming, and has been described accurately elsewhere on the internet as "e-penis length".

What turns me off from the whole system is that it's just XBox exclusive. How can a young, adolescent, and "leet" Halo 3 player be a more "achieved" gamer than me, who has invested over thirty years in this hobby? It's ludicrous, and Microsoft should award points for past gaming experiences.

Here's a sampling of achievements that I have earned over the years but have yet to be added to my gamerscore by closed-minded Microsoft:

Beating my sister at Pong on Christmas Day so many times that she never played me again - 10G

Spending an entire week's lunch money after school on Monday playing Galaxian at my local bowling alley - 20G

Finding the "safe spot" on level three of K.C. Munchkin for the Odyssey 2 - 10G

Finding the hidden room and the designer's name in Adventure for the Atari VCS - 10G

Reaching the top of all four builings in the arcade game Crazy Climber - 25G

Sending in Kool - Aid points saved up over the summer to get a free copy of Kool-Aid Man for the Atari VCS - 50G

Actually playing through an entire game of The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt on the Odyssey 2 with another human being - 25G

Getting a tip published in the "Tips From The Experts" section of Odyssey Adventure Magazine - 100G

Beating "Escape From The Mindmaster" on the Supercharged Atari VCS - 20G

Beating four of the five Scott Adams text adventures on the Commodore VIC 20 (including The Count) - 40G

Getting to the hidden area in Protector for the Commodore VIC 20 - 25G

Creating a working videogame for the Apple 2 computer as my final project in my high school computer class - 100G

Getting the Babel Fish in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy for the Commodore 64 - 42G

Beating Julian in a duel of swords in Nine Princes In Amber for the Commodore 64 (a text adventure sword fight!) - 25G

Mapping out The Bard's Tale for the Commodore 64 - 50G

Mapping out Sword of Kadash for the Commodore 64 - 100G

Beating Forbidden Forest for the Commodore 64 - 25G

Beating Military Madness for the Turbografx 16 - 50G

Mapping out the great tree in Faxanadu for the NES - 25G

Beating Super Star Wars : The Empire Strikes Back for the Super Nintendo - 100G

Mapping out Alien Vs. Predator for the Atari Jaguar - 100G

Finding and reporting to Nintendo a game-stopping dead end situation in The Legend of Zelda : Link's Awakening for the GameBoy - 1000G

Playerkilling over 100 landlubbers with my pirate character in Ultima Online - 25G

Discovering the Room Under the Lake in Ultima Online - 500G

Beta-testing Ultima Online : Third Dawn - 20G

Having an in-game item (The Admiral's Hearty Rum) named after my character in Ultima Online - 1000G

All the other games I've beaten over the years - 25000G

OK, Microsoft, you can add these to my gamerscore whenever you want. Thanks!