Mar 062013
 

Like a lot of people, I purchased SimCity last night. And like a lot of people, I couldn’t play it much because the game servers buckled under the overwhelming demand. I understand that publishers want to prevent piracy, but requiring a constant Internet connection for what is essentially a single-player game is silly and annoying. I shouldn’t have to worry about about a game’s server load when I want to play. I’m sure companies will get better at prepping for big on-line launches, but right now I’m pining for the days when all that stood between you and the latest game was some fiddling with the config.sys and autoexec.bat files.

I’ll post some thoughts on the game once I actually get to play it.

Dec 212012
 

While browsing at a bookstore earlier today, I noticed a large display of board games. My brother and I were avid board game players as kids and we had some truly epic fights over a Monopoly or Stratego board. But the games on display weren’t the inexpensive titles of my youth. These were big, heavy boxes full of ornate game tokens and lavishly illustrated playing cards. Most of them had a heavy emphasis on strategy with a dash of fantasy or horror. I counted at least a half dozen variations of Settlers of Catan. Board games seem to have become much geekier since my brother and I were hunched over the kitchen table. And more expensive. The games I looked at retailed between $60 and $80.

I still prefer gaming on my PC, but it might be fun to have an occasional board game night with friends.

Dec 122012
 

I remember installing Diablo on my computer way back in 1996 and being delighted that I could play the game with only the mouse. It was the first action-based title that I could control without any assistance. Countless denizens of Hell could be slain with a simple point-and-click. When Blizzard announced Diablo III, I hoped that my return visit to Tristram would be just as accessible as my initial foray. After completing the game on Normal difficulty settling, I’m happy to report that the basic mechanics remain the same. Diablo III incorporates a few new aspects like crafting weapons and jewels, but the core task is the same: click on the monsters until they are dead. Some might find this repetitive; I find it deeply satisfying.

The art and sound design are up to Blizzard’s usual high standards. Each chapter has a distinct atmosphere that ranges from Gothic foreboding to hellish landscapes. The story is a bit thin, but games like Diablo aren’t played for the narrative. My Demon Hunter, Tiffany, and I are now embarking on a second playthrough on Nightmare difficulty. I may even summon the nerve to roll a Hardcore character who cannot be resurrected after dying.

I’m sure I’ll tire of the game eventually, but probably not until the inevitable expansion.

Oct 242012
 

FTL (Faster Than Light) is one of the first Kickstarter-funded games to earn heaps of critical praise; praise that it is well-deserved. FTL puts players in command of a starship whose mission is to escape the invading Rebel Fleet. As you flee across a randomly generated universe, you must carefully manage your ship’s resources and crew to survive. The agents of your destruction are legion: rebel ships, pirates, asteroid fields, and more. FTL is also a game of decisions and consequences. Do you stop to protect a merchant ships from attacking aliens or do you ignore their pleas for help and keep going? Do you try to destroy that heavily armed rebel drone or do you try to escape before your shields fail? Each playthrough acquires its own narrative, but they all provide the tension of a particularly action-packed Star Trek episode.

FTL is often referred to as a roguelike because of its randomly generated content and because death is permanent–no loading a saved game after your ship is destroyed. And the game is unforgiving. I’ve played a couple dozen games and I have yet to survive to even the halfway point of my journey. Some might find the minimalist graphics off-putting, but I find the interface to be clean and elegant. This is one of the most compelling (not to mention affordable) games of the year.

Oct 082012
 

Should I ever attempt to run for office, my opponent will have plenty of ammunition to use against me. This blog alone is probably a goldmine for oppo researchers, what with my frequent mentions of fishnets and the like. But I never considered that my enthusiasm for gaming might be used to paint me as a social misfit. The Maine Republican Party recently attacked a woman running for the state legislature because she plays World of Warcraft, even going so far as to create a website that describes WoW with the same ominous yet clueless overtones that might have once been used to warn of the dangers of rock’n’roll.

More damning are the candidate’s poorly considered posts on Daily Kos, which are also featured on the website. But the fact that a major political party is, in 2012, willing to attack a candidate for playing an on-line game makes me yearn for the day when the mores of today’s boomers and senior citizens don’t have a deathgrip on our political culture.

Perhaps I should run for office just to see if conservatives start foaming at the mouth because of my rather comely Elementalist alter ego in Guild Wars 2 (a great game, by the way).

Oct 022012
 

Ars Technica has a nice in-depth piece on Includification, a set of best practices for making games more accessible to people with disabilities. The AbleGamers Foundation is working to persuade developers to adopt these best practices with varying levels of success. Some developers are hesitant to implement accessibility options because of concerns regarding cost or “dumbing down” the final product, while others simply haven’t given the matter much thought.

The “Includification” moniker is a little clumsy, but I’m glad to see someone taking the time to remind these companies that people with disabilities are consumers, too. Perhaps they can have a chat with BioWare, whose recent update to Star Wars: The Old Republic made the game completely unplayable for those of us who use on-screen keyboards.

 

Sep 182012
 

I’ve written previously about my affection for old-school role-playing games like Planescape and Baldur’s Gate; a genre that seemed to fall out of favor about ten years ago. Obsidian, a game developer whose founders worked on some of those classic games, recently launched a Kickstarter for a new RPG that would be in the same vein. And it raised over a million dollars in a couple days with nearly a month left to go. Which means we should be getting a Kickstarter for a Zork sequel any day now.

Aug 162012
 

I can barely keep up with the video games that I already own, but I’m eager to try out the remake of X-Com. The original 1994 version X-Com was a turn-based strategy game where you, the player, would command an elite squad of soldiers against invading aliens in missions around the world. I sucked magnificently at the game and my poor soldiers would typically die horrible deaths before killing a single extraterrestrial, but the concept was compelling. The updated version has a more cinematic look and a cleaner interface. I may still suck at it, but X-Com will likely be my timesink for this fall.

Jul 102012
 

I seem to be more easily amused in my old age. My sister dropped by over the weekend and we sampled a few games on my iPad, including the weirdly compelling Fruit Ninja. I’m not sure why I find slicing digital produce to be so satisfying, but I kept bugging my sister to play another round. And then I discovered a more accessible version on Facebook. This could be a problem.

May 152012
 

Science fiction writer John Scalzi recently posted a great blog entry framing white male privilege in gaming terms. He asks the reader to think of life as one long role-playing game with “Straight White Male” being the lowest difficulty setting. It’s still entirely possible to lose badly on this setting, but you start the game with much better odds of success than someone playing on the “Gay Woman of Color” setting.

And no, I don’t think I’m playing at a much higher difficulty setting. My disability certainly makes the game more challenging, but I started out with the same advantages as most other straight white men. The fact that I’m living a comfortable middle-class life simply demonstrates how powerful those advantages are.