Yes, video games can make you cry

It seems like years now that pundits and bloggers have batted around the video-game cocktail party question, “Can video games make you cry?”. Meant as a measure of maturity for the medium, the question considers whether gamers can become as emotionally invested in their characters as other mediums like books and movies.

Tonight, I found out that, yes, video games can certainly make you cry. Before you fear that I’m going to cop to a Mike Schmidt moment here (or a Brett Favre moment, for those of you young enough to have missed Schmidt going to pieces announcing his retirement), it wasn’t me. I didn’t get all emotional finishing off an end-game raid boss, or finally winning a roll for a purple drop. It was my daughter.

She plays My Sims on her DS Lite, and today animals started showing up in town. Deer, dogs, a bunny and two cats. She fell in love with one of the cats and was trying to convince it to become her pet. She spent a lot of time running back and forth, trying to discover a way to make friends with it. Alas, it was not to be. It wasn’t the cat that rejected her, it was the DS. I was on the phone with my father when the trouble started. She gave me a look like someone had just killed her real life cat. But no, it wasn’t anything like that. The DS locked up, and all her progress for the evening was lost. When she had to reset the DS to get it playing again, she was restored back to a point before the wildlife had appeared in her town.

It wasn’t pretty. We all take our games seriously. I’ve lost entire evenings of Civilization to computer crashes, when I’ve been so engrossed that I forgot to save. I’m sure y’all have some horror stories about crashes, glitches, corrupted saved games, and the like. At eight years old, though, it’s pretty traumatic. I told her that all she lost was time, but that’s not really correct. In her world, she lost the magic of the moment, and that’s a lot more important than time. Sure, you can go back and replay the game to the point the animals show up again, but an evening of gaming was ruined. Ahh, lost innocence stinks. Hopefully the animals will show up again soon. I’m not going to let her stay up late playing the DS under her covers to find out, though; she’ll have to wait until tomorrow πŸ™‚

Off to read! It’s time for bedtime stories.


Best $5 ever

So I’ve been playing Prey all weekend after buying it on Steam for $4.95. If Valve keeps offering deals like this, I’m going to be one seriously happy customer.

I’ve been out of the FPS loop for years now. The only FPS I’ve played, I think, is HL2 and some of the expansions. Prey is no Half-Life, but I don’t think that’s an insult. Prey has some cool ideas, like portals, and messing with gravity to make some environmental puzzles, and there’s lots of things exploding, and aliens. Who doesn’t like explosions and aliens? I don’t want to do a review of a game that’s a year and a half old, but I will say that for $4.95, it’s a great value.

There are plenty of games on Steam for under $20.00, and enjoying Prey this much means I’ll be looking for more bargains. I like that Steam links the metascore for each title from Metacritc; it helps me figure out what titles are worth checking out. The Prey metascore was 83 (7.6 from user voting), and the comments for the games I’ve checked out seem fairly balanced.

It’s totally possible I’m preaching to the choir here. I apologize if the rest of y’all knew all along that Steam has come a long way since launch. It just took a little while for me to realize that between my growing annoyance with retail chains, and my appreciation for what Valve has done,I’ve reached a tipping point. I’ll probably be looking to download software first, and purchase it in a brick-and-mortar chain store second.

That makes me sad, in a way. I spent many hours of my life wandering through video game stores, reliving old game memories and dreaming about new ones. I was down in South Philly the other day getting my taxes done, and I got a cup of coffee at a shop next to a Gamestop. Out of habit, I walked up to the door of the store, but I saw the PS3 ads, the Xbox ads, the used game advertisements, and I realized it’s not a store for me any more. I turned around at the door, plugged in my mp3 player, fired up the GFW podcast and headed for home. Steam’s my new girlfriend.

Prey: $4.95 weekend-only deal on Steam

I rarely talk about FPS games here, but they were a long addiction for me in the mid 90’s; Doom, Quake, Quake 2, Half-Life and various mods all got a lot of play time in our offices.

I’ve been meaning to write a post about Steam and how much I love it (after hating it along with most of the rest of the planet when it released). I’ve gotten a couple great casual games from it, for bargain prices (Peggle and Audiosurf), there’s a long list of game that I want to play in the Steam library, and they’re adding more things all the time.

There was an update in the Steam news tonight saying Prey is on sale for $4.95 for the weekend. How can you pass that up? I bought it and started the download when I went to read to my daughter before she went to bed, and now I’m back with the game waiting for me, ready to play. Who needs Gamestop? And that’s another rant for the future, maybe along with the Steam post: I friggin’ hate Gamestop.

I’m off to blow things up!

Why I don’t think I’ll play Age of Conan

When Everquest was released in March of 1999, I was just 10 months away from the birth of my daughter. She’s grown up with me playing mmorpg’s, and she’s always been involved. Whether it was just sitting on my lap and watching me play DAoC (and maybe hitting the space bar during long horse rides and dismounting me in the middle of frickin’ nowhere) or creating her own characters in WoW and learning how to play a litle, she and I have enjoyed gaming together.

As much as I’m curious about Conan, and given that I usually at least TRY most of the major mmorpg’s released, I think Conan is going to get skipped. Here’s why. I don’t play games with excessive blood when she’s around. Sure, there’s violence in the other mmorpg’s, but I avoided that part of the game when she was younger. Now that she’s older, and a thoughtful and sensitive kid, it’s a good opportunity to talk about violence in the world, competition, human history, etc.

Maybe it’s just a prudish side that I didn’t realize I had, but I feel like I can explain sanitized violence in a way that helps her understanding of the world, while excessive blood and gore crosses a line for me. It’s probably contradictory, but there ya go. Maybe it’s a decision everyone has to make for their own family, but I don’t feel like Conan would be a game that I’d want to be playing in my house, and have to say to her “Sorry, but I can’t let you watch”. I like the fact that we game together, and we can talk about it. I don’t want to shut her out of that.

Plus there’s the whole topless thing πŸ™‚

Does anyone else with a child find themselves considering this aspect of AoC? Or am I either

a) the only one too prudish to expose my kid to blood and gore, or
b) crazy for even letting her see me kill orcs in WoW, anyway?

Still loving LOTRO

A month or so into Lord of the Rings Online, and I’m still enjoying myself, much more than I expected. I have a hobbit minstrel who’s level 23, and a Man captain at level 13. I had to make an alt because I needed bank space and someone to boil my hides for my hobbit tailor πŸ™‚

(Side note: The human race is called Man, and it cracks me up when I see a human female denoted as Man. Is there something I should know? Is it drag night at the Forsaken Inn?)

Part of my enjoyment comes from stumbling into a good guild…err, kinship. I’m not a terribly social person in-game, and I think I was lucky to find a group of players who have created a good community. Also, I’m playing a healing class as my main for the first time in my gaming career, and I suppose that helps greatly when it comes to finding groups.

Groups have been easy to come by, even when kinship folk aren’t available. There’s plenty of incentive for people to run a quest they’ve finished if they’re in the area, because it helps complete deeds killing mobs. Grouping makes the game much more enjoyable. I can make progress solo, but Turbine has done a good job making groups desirable and viable. Plus, the major instances and storyline quests are a lot of fun.

I’m excited about saving for a house, even more than saving for a horse. It’s been a long time since I had a place I could call my own in a game…back in the SWG and DAoC games, pretty much. Crafting has been fun and useful (I’m a tailor, cook, and farmer, and I’m making food that certainly helps keep my regen up).Β  I’ve even made a bit of cash in the Auction House, although I’m pretty much at a loss as to what things are worth. I’m sure I’m handing out some deals to people who are wiser about the market than I, but as long as I’m making money too, I’m not too concerned.

Some of the higher level people in my kinship are into Monster Play (the LOTRO PvP option, where you can play as an NPC monster against players in an instanced PvP zone), and it seems like they’re having a lot of fun. Some of the kinship plays as monsters, while others play as their own characters, so you can square off against your guildmates…err, your kin, I guess. I still can’t get used to the guild/kinship and group/fellowship shorthand. It’s pretty clear I’m new when I start talking about my group or my guild. So, I’ve got lots of PvE stories ahead of me, and PvP when I get to higher levels (I could start now, but I want to get to 50), and then the Mines of Moria next fall…who knows, this might keep me interested for much longer than I thought it would.

I look forward to logging in each day. It’s been quite a while since I could say that about a mmorpg.

No WAR for you, six months!

Mark Jacobs talks about the Warhammer Online delay until Fall ’08 over at the Warhammer Alliance message boards (the first post, by mbj, is Mark).

I’m in the WAR beta, and I’m glad they’re holding back. I won’t talk about the details of the beta and why I’m glad, other than to say it didn’t feel like a “world” to me yet. In fact, I ended up logging into LOTRO a lot of nights, instead of feeling excited about going to test WAR. And I’m a huge Mythic fan, and loved DAoC.

I understand that I haven’t seen the complete WAR game world yet. Their focused testing is a good idea, for both balance reasons, and to keep us feeling like we haven’t played the whole game yet. Part of not feeling like I was part of a world, in the way I feel like I’m a “citizen” of LOTRO, or how I felt about DAoC or SWG, was the structure of the testing.

Given that focused testing in WAR, I can’t unequivocally state that the Warhammer universe feels too much like just a game, and not enough like a world.Maybe I’ll have a greater sense of a world, and a community, when the entire game is released, with all the races and classes available. Or maybe not. Hell, Mythic might be shooting directly for the “more of a game” concept. It IS all about war, after all. Not a lot of cuddly “decorate your house” evenings happenin’ while your lands are being invaded, right? Maybe they’re counting on the Warhammer IP to provide all the “world” players will need. And who knows? It might be enough, when I’ve picked a permanent server and I’m running around with friends, and I’m getting to know my enemies as well. That’s a big part of what I enjoyed about DAoC. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but I’m also hoping that Mythic has sensed at least part of what I’m feeling, and I’ll be pleasantly surprised next fall. In the mean time, I’ll happily keep running through Middle Earth, enjoying LOTRO far more than I expected to enjoy it.

If I’m still enjoying LOTRO next fall, I have to wonder if I’ll stay in Middle Earth for the Mines of Moria expansion, or if I’ll buy WAR. The WAR delay definitely gives LOTRO the chance to get some more hooks in me. I might have a tough decision.

More about LOTRO in another post, though.

What do you think? Did you play in the beta? Were you ready for it to be released? Are you happy they delayed it? If you played the beta, were you planning on purchasing Warhammer? I think I was going to purchase it, but enjoying LOTRO so much certainly was keeping me on the fence. I’m sure I’d crumble come release day for WAR, though πŸ™‚ I do love Mythic, and I hope they have a clear idea of where they want WAR to be in six months.

And now for something completely random

During my “I hate mmorpg’s” period of the last few months (I need a “Blue Period” label for it, make it sound disgruntled and artsy or something), I played through Half-Life 2 again, prepping for an Orange Box purchase (which I haven’t done yet, it’s on my list!).

Firing up HL2 necessitated installing Steam again. I haven’t had Steam installed since I first played through HL2 a long time ago, and the service was still in its infancy. That’s my polite way of saying “God, get this thing off my computer”. I was pleasantly surprised when I opened Steam again.

First, Peggle Extreme was $10 on Steam. It’s damn near impossible to get a better deal on casual gaming goodness. My whole family plays Peggle, even my wife, who’s absolutely not a gamer. Second, the Steam service has matured, and I can see myself making quite a few game purchases that way in the future. Fuck Gamestop and their “shove the PC games onto two shelves with all the titles sideways and never re-sorted alphabetically because the employees are too busy pushing used console game trade-ins” bullshit. Oops, sorry, that was a little bitchy. Anyway, I like the Steam interface.

Last week, Steam popped up an advertisement for something called Audiosurf. I gave it a quick glance, thought it was cool that the game lets you choose music from your own computer to build your maps/tracks, but didn’t really think about buying it. After hearing a couple references to it on the 1up and GFW podcasts, and realizing it was only $10, I went ahead and downloaded it last night.

Gotta say, it’s a blast. Casual gaming goodness. It reminds me a bit of Guitar Hero, trying to hit colored blocks as they stream by you, except it’s a three-lane track instead of a fretboard, and you’re driving over the blocks trying to group colors instead of hitting notes to finish a song. The software analyzes the music you choose and creates the track layout and block placement based on the tempo, beat, and pitch of your song.

I played for four hours last night. On my train ride to work this morning, listening to music, I could close my eyes and see the track in front of me as the music swelled in my ears, colored blocks swarming toward me, darting from lane to lane trying to bunch ’em into colors. Not unlike the old Tetris phenomenon, when you’d lie down in your bed at night, close your eyes, and see a rainfall of colored shapes on the inside of your eyelids.

Besides being able to use your own music library, the other hook is that you can compare your score on a certain song against other users who have played the same song. There are also Steam achievements available, like Xbox Live achievements.

A bonus is the inclusion of the entire Orange Box soundtrack, including the wonderful “Still Alive” from Portal, both the game version and the (spoiler link if you haven’t finished Portal) Jonathan Coulton version. If you’re looking for a break from mmorpg’s, Audiosurf is definitely a great way to spend an evening goofing off with your favorite songs.