Friday, May 28, 2010

Project Side Effects

I've just had my first blog related cooking incident. I used the nervous energy I'd pent up playing God of War III and watching this terrible Orlando Magic game by whipping up a batch of banana bread. While writing my first GoW3 post I didn't hear the timer go off and, although not ruined, my bread could have been WAY better. Instead of blaming myself or even the blog, I think I'll blame the Celtics. They deserve it more.

God of War III for PS3: First Try

Afterburner Climax,my first game assignment, had gone so well that I felt confident and ready to move on to game number two. Then I heard that the next game would be God of War III and I deflated a bit. A game title with the words God and War in the title frightened me. And when I turned the game on my fear turned to outright terror. The voices of an angry-sounding choir accompanied by screeching violin tremelo warns me that this game is no joke. The title screen graphic is a close-up of a scary face streaked with red warpaint his eyebrows deeply furrowed in an expression that I realized must have matched my own. I'm worried, but I play.

Game 2

Opening credits bleed across the screen; fiery red gods meld into sword-wielding killer gods, then into fire-bearded gods stabbing and thrusting wide, jagged blades, that become scenes of gods with lightning and chains, tornados and whips. This is a bad, bad place and I don't want to go there. Mr. Scary Face appears again; his eyeballs angrily roll in their sockets, then stop and stare right at me. My heart starts pounding the same way it used to at slumber parties when a friend would suggest watching a horror movie. What was Ben thinking with this game? Was it revenge for making him watch My Best Friend's Wedding?

Just then a video scene begins and I have to focus. I want to try and follow the story. I have never paid any attention to a story in a video game which is something I want to address with this project. I don't know if the narrator was speaking too quickly or what, but I didn't really catch the details. From what I can gather, some God (I think?) named Kratos (spelling?) is avenging something or other. Whatever happened, he's seriously pissed. I think some bad monsters moved into town and started a rival God-monster mountain across the street from Mount Olympus. Zeus and the gang are not pleased. Us good gods have to get rid of these gigantic mountain beasts before they take us out. Just as I'm getting into the story and seeing the first glimpses of the sort of corny looking, but at least familiar Greek gods, I feel my chair rumble and I remember that this is not a movie. I'm going to have to do something with that buzzing controller now. And before I can even pick up the controller, a MOB of creepy skeleton creatures appear and surround me zombie-movie style. I quickly gather that I am this red god guy (I didn't catch his name) and I have a fiery whip to use against them. To my surprise, I manage to wipe out that first skeleton mob pretty handily with some crazed, nervous button mashing.

Then I discover my next obstacle. I don't know where to go. I'm in a clearing surrounded by logs and trees and stuff. I see that I have wings, but I can't seem to use them. I've seen Ben handle this situation. There's always some way out. I just need to stay calm so I can figure it out. Circling the perimeter, I notice that an R1 sign pops up near a certain log so I go up to the log and my red guy tries to lift it. I notice a new flashing O which means the circle button needs to be pulsed. I pulsed about fifty times and he still couldn't lift that toppled tree. Finally, out of frustration and kind of as a joke, I put the controller in my lap and mashed the circle button with satirical zeal. Of course, the character then lifted the tree. That's what it takes, game? They are going to make me work for it. Geesh!

The camera pulls back and I see that my guy is walking on a tree-mountain monster's shoulder. A large blue horse beast emerges from the tree-mountain monster's bicep and begins bludgeoning me with his spike and drill legs. I find myself hanging precariously from, I can only assume, the tree-mountain monster's armpit. I swing my fire whip like no fire whip has ever been swung before, but this horse beast remains unphased. As the camera sweeps around I get a better glimpse of this monster. He is actually a tarantula-horse made of water with spiky drill legs that spews water out of its giant toothy mouth. I whip the thing in the face a bunch and stab him in one of his spiky legs, but it is not enough. I die. Although the spider-horse fighting is tiring and a bit tedious, I figure I'd better try again. I do a little bit better the second try, but the horse beast prevails again. I decide to surrender to my little pony and the game, at least for today. Forty-two minutes of game play and I can't get past even one monster. If this is Spartan difficulty, I hate to see what Chaos is like. I need help. I need Ben. I need a nap.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Afterburner Climax for the XBox360: Final Review

I have bad knees, bad hand-eye coordination, and bad depth perception, which made Elementary P.E. really fun for me. I quickly learned, as a kid, to skulk in the far back corner of the recess field orbiting a tether ball around its pole in an effort to look busy. During forced kickball or flag football games I used similar avoidance tactics. Stay alert in order to avoid contact, move around a lot, stand as far outfield as possible where the ball is least likely to come near me. I found that those same tactics (and same embarrassments) also came into play in Afterburner Climax for the Xbox360 on Xbox Live.


Ben knows that my talents do not lie in the areas of sport, arithmetic, or video games, and took it somewhat easy on me this first game by choosing something accessible enough to pick up and immediately start flying, but obscure enough to not wound my pride. He could have picked Nintendogs, after all. At first,I was surprised at his choice. I'd never heard him discuss this game and it had a strange name. What the heck is an Afterburner Climax, anyway? But I dutifully picked up that controller and faced the imminent humiliation, tentative but determined, like the chubby kid I used to be, waiting in line to kick the kickball...poorly....and publicly.

Unlike with kickball, I felt driven to succeed at this game – at least to succeed long enough to write something about it. So I flew. I flew over the game's glimmering gray-blue oceans, through the Sega-blue skies Ben has always spoken of so fondly, and into the actually breathtaking volcanic islands with their fiery-glinted skies, their orange and black smoke billows. It took me three sessions with the game before I could avert my eyes from my jet long enough to enjoy these landscapes, but I improved enough that I could, and it was worth it. After my first 15 minute gaming session, my score was somewhere around 60,000. Three sessions later, my final score in the game was 378,690 and I had completed all stages in both Arcade and Scoring modes (I'm so proud that I was even able to figure out that there were two modes, though I couldn't tell what was different about them. They seriously seemed identical).

Gamer Wife Project: Afterburner Climax

Gamer Wife Project: Afterburner Climax

What initially upset me the most about playing this game was that I didn't think it would ever be possible for me to tell when my bullets and missiles were actually hitting something. In my first review I spoke of the button-mashing technique that I thought would be the secret to success. By the third session, though, I'd realized that technique was actually ineffective. It was like hurling a basketball at a basket willy-nilly and blind-folded. I could throw all day and not actually make a single basket. Although I was constantly shooting my gun and my missiles, I wasn't actually hitting anything!

So, again, I reverted to my fifth-grade self and used avoidance tactics. By avoidance tactics, I mean I started rolling. I rolled the hell out of that jet (which, to the credit of the graphics, gave me a bit of vertigo!) Miraculously,when I rolled around and around in circles, missiles didn't hit me! I tricked those sucker missiles! And when I was forced through the tiny mountain valleys or that dreadful, impossible tunnel and rolling wouldn't work, I just winced, held my breath and restarted my way through it. Eventually, I learned to get pretty good at avoiding the hurtling objects which ultimately gave me a little time to focus on targeting and shooting.

Although I've never once competed in team sports, I have recently discovered that I enjoy watching them, especially basketball. And what amazes me most about basketball players is their ability to pay attention to the million little movements going on on the court so that they can almost instinctively act and react with perfect timing so that the ball goes where it's supposed to go when it's supposed to go there. I think that ability would be helpful in Afterburner Climax, too. If I could just manage to keep an eye on my armor graph, my climax bar, and my life count while also avoiding the yellow missile streaks, the red bullet streams, the helicopters, planes and jets and those damn mountains and STILL remember to hit that climax button at the right time, then maybe I could get pretty good at this game. As it was, I almost completely forgot to ever hit the climax button and, when I did, it was often by accident when my left pointer finger slipped and hit it...not the first time a girl climaxed because of an accidental, but well-timed finger slip. (Too far? I can't seem to stop myself with the climax double entendre!)

Gamer Wife Project: Afterburner Climax

You know how I asked in my first impressions whether or not there were any good planes? Well, I got my answer about halfway through the game when the green-fonted “friendlies” appeared. When the "friendlies" first appeared it brought me back, yet again, to P.E. when I realized that not only would my poor playing affect me with public embarrassment and physical discomfort, but it would affect my teammates hoping for a win. I didn't need this extra pressure, game! It's hard enough to avoid slamming into the ground (seriously...the GROUND) much less worry about killing my friends. However, my greatest sense of accomplishment while playing this game came when I managed to purposefully target an enemy instead of one of my “friendlies”. I got that bad plane in my sights, hit the target missile button twice (I think I need to hit it twice to target and fire, but am not actually certain as I usually just repeatedly mashed that button), and shot down the bad plane instead of the good plane. Success! It was like an expert pass across the court resulting in the game-winning two-point jump shot. I was proud.

A few stages later I saw end credits appear. End credits?? I was reminded of George W. Bush in front of that plane in 2003 pronouncing “Mission Accomplished.” Was I being lied to? Was this a trick? This mission couldn't possibly be accomplished! But, no! I saw the map and I had played through all of the stages! Not only did I beat the game, but I even received two medals, one for “missed with 300 missiles in one game” (whatever that means) and one for “cleared the game.” I unlocked four achievements, too!

Gamer Wife Project: Afterburner Climax

I watched that final celebratory video clip with a great feeling of accomplishment as my pretty blue, red, and tan Super Hornet landed on the runway. I chuckled when I heard the last line of the game, “Enjoy some R & R. You've certainly earned it.” Unfortunately, I can do no such thing. I have game number two waiting for me. Seeing as how I just tried counting how many games Ben actually has in his collection and decided to quit counting at 500, I better keep on keeping on. As Afterburner Climax taught me, just keep rolling and shooting and laughing and you might just find yourself at the end credits or scoring those final game-winning points despite yourself.

Game two: God of War 3 for the PS3

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Afterburner Climax for the XBox360: Part One

Game One: Afterburner Climax for the Xbox360
First impressions written in bullet list format to memorialize the bullet streams into which I continuously flew my fighter jet.

Recap of my first six seconds of game play:

1.Selected jet (I can always get behind an attractive paint job. Chose the Hornet with blue and orange stripes. Choosing the color of the plane or car or elf's hair or shoes or hat will always be the most entertaining part of any game for me. I can pretty much guarantee you that).
2.Admired the pretty scenery and sky and mountains.
3.Swerved pretty new jet into side of one of those mountains.
4.Overcorrected and swerved into opposite and then adjacent mountains.
5.Pulled up and flew directly into red bullet stream.
6.Veered into giant missile.
7.Took a nosedive and burst into flames.
8.Jet disappeared in a haze of black smoke.
9.Controller-cum-vibrator (pun intended) informed me with its violent shake that my jet was beyond repair.

Times during my first fifteen minutes of game play when I wanted to just turn off the Xbox360:

1.At the Main Menu. I really don't appreciate all the choices afforded me in modern video games. I just want a "play" button. How am I supposed to decide which mode I want to play in when I don't even know what the game is about yet?
2.The fifth time I crashed my jet within 25 seconds of game play. I can't seem to distinguish between missiles, bullets, bad planes, and good planes(are there any good planes? Am I the only one? If so, why?)I think the game tried to explain my mission to me in the first 30 seconds, but I wasn't paying attention.
3.After reading and then rereading three more times what the Climax buttons do and still not really understanding because:
a. I don't really care that much. I figure using climax (the ability to slow down time in order to lock onto multiple targets at once)is the least of my worries considering I can't even seem to stop my jet's constant ricocheting between mountain ranges.
b. The explanation is written poorly.
C. I'm so caught up in the sexual innuendo I can't concentrate.
4.When I realize that I still can't tell, in my wild button-mashing frenzy, if I'm actually hitting anything. And, worse, when I realize I may never be able to tell.

How I got through my fifteen minutes of game play without quitting

1. Laughed at myself. No one can make it through that much crash-and-burn by getting frustrated. It really was comical. As Ben said, "you can't go over it you can't go under just went through it..."
2. Just kept mashing. I mashed those buttons and spun that joystick ad nauseam...literally...I wanted to puke.
3. Remembered the assignment. If nothing else I pride myself on being a good student. Just knowing that I'd have to write about my experience reminded me in my weak, loser moments that I needed to pay attention and keep going because, gosh darn it, I had a job to do!

The reason this project is good:

1.I played for 15 minutes and didn't quit despite the fact that I wanted to about every 30 seconds.
2.Yes, my husband said after watching those 15 minutes that I was “pretty much straight-up terrible” at playing video games. Still, I think he really enjoyed watching me try.
3.Even after 15 minutes I could tell I was improving and even managed to Climax a few times! And that's more than can be said for a lot of women.

(Final game review of Afterburner Climax to come in the next day or two. Stay tuned!)

**Project Note**

I debate whether I should write one long review encompassing my entire experience or if I should write several posts as I play with one final review at the end of my time with the game. Any opinions? I don't like too much time to pass between posts, but I do want the posts to act as reviews. I think I will start by writing one post about my initial experience playing a game and then write one final review. We'll see how that goes first. Also, I know someone had trouble getting a comment to show up on the blog. I may have fixed it, but am not sure. If you have trouble commenting, would you let me know?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Marriage the Game: Earning Points and Leveling Up

Sitting at the dining room table in the house I share with my husband, Ben, and my nearly two-year-old son, Jhonen, I have within view two flat screen plasma televisions, both hooked up to DVR recorders. Next to one TV is a PS3 and a PS2 (the slim, black version...we have an original PS2 and a bubblegum pink Japanese version, too), and an Xbox360 all of which can be played in surround sound. The other TV connects to two computers, one is a PC my husband uses as his primary programming computer and the other serves as an arcade hard drive holding archived games. A giant arcade stick with customized buttons sits next to another Xbox360 and a piano keyboard my husband uses to compose music on his computer. Then there are the shelves. Shelves and shelves and shelves that are burdened with Ben's game collection that ranges from Ace Attorney to Pikmin to Zelda. Shelves of old consoles with names like planets from a kid's science fiction story: Saturn, Genesis, Dreamcast, Super Famicom. Then there's the elephant in the (dining) room: the giant blue plastic bin that bursts with those consoles' cables, controllers, and other gaming device paraphernalia. Bongo drums. DDR mats. Virtual On Twin Sticks. Each portable gaming device iteration and their corresponding cases and lights and chargers. Ugh!

Look around my house and it's immediately evident that I am a gamer wife.

When we met, Ben claimed that he didn't play games much. He also told me he doesn't cuss and he definitely “fucking” lied about that one, too. I figured it out quickly, though, and forgave him when he could mysteriously afford to buy Grand Theft Auto, but not lunch. The reason I could overlook it was that he had a passion for video games, a philosophy about video games, if you will, that attracted me. I correlated my passion for books and writing to his passion for video games and video game developing. Video games weren't just a mindless way to pass the time for Ben. Video games were works of art. They were entertainment as well as a creative outlet. His outlook helped me overlook the fact that I considered video games to be a general waste of time and a distraction from the things in Ben's life that I thought should be a higher priority, namely, me!

Here we are ten years, five wedding anniversaries, and one child later, and he still collects, plays, and makes video games. This element of our lives doesn't appear to be going anywhere. I hear Ben say he's going to hang out with Jhonen so I can have some time to myself. Then I hear the TV remote clicks and Mario's “woohoo” and I cringe wondering why Ben couldn't read Jho a book or play outside or build a tower with blocks instead (not that he doesn't ever do those's just not always his first inclination). I'm not the sort of gamer wife who has “lost” her husband to World of Warcraft or that year's Madden or anything like that. He honestly doesn't even get the time to play games with much frequency these days. Instead, the video game industry is sort of like another member of our family. We talk about its ups and downs, its history, its future. The video game industry is like the husband's-obnoxious-best-friend-character in a comedy movie who I may not have to like, but I do need to learn to live with.

I am a gamer wife who sort of hates video games, but who loves my husband.

Now that Ben and I are parents, I see that I need to come to terms with Ben's passion for video games before the difference between his love of them and my, well, tolerance (and sometimes lack of tolerance) for them, becomes a problem. Don't get me wrong, I spent my fair share of time playing games as a kid. My Dad bought me an Atari and bag of Atari games at a neighbor's garage sale when I was eight and I loved to play Frogger so much that I learned to play left-handed after I broke my right arm in a bicycle accident. I remember playing one of the Super Mario games sitting on a beanbag chair at my best friend Sara's house in fifth grade. (The ice level was my favorite.) My Mom would yell at me to look out the window at the beautiful mountain scenery and “quit playing that stupid Gameboy already” on family road trips to North Carolina. And in those memories I can see the appeal video games must have had for Ben where the world of Final Fantasy was probably a lot more interesting than the world of Deltona, Florida, where video games could be an escape from family arguments or something to do with friends that didn't include being outside in the Florida heat. Still, I hear President Obama tell American parents to take away those video games and get kids outside or reading books and I find myself torn because I agree with the president, but I live with Ben.

Looking for a project to get me writing again, Ben said, joking, “You should play, then review all of my video games.” Laughing, I waved him off with, “I can barely turn on the PS3, much less make it more than 15 minutes into any of your games.” And although that's true, I couldn't keep from giggling to myself every time I considered the project idea. Something about it amused me and I couldn't get it out of my head. Maybe playing through and reviewing Ben's games would help me like video games more, or at least help me see what he sees in them. It would certainly give us a lot to talk about. Knowing that video games will probably be a part of my son's life, I might as well learn how to play them a bit. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? It might even be fun, and funny, for people to read about my casual encounters with hardcore games.

After discussing the logistics with Ben, we've decided that at least 52 games, averaging one per week would make sense since I am pretty busy and I do want to give a game a decent amount of time so I can give a proper review, though I'm telling you right now that I can't imagine wanting to play some of these games long enough to even get through the tutorials. He picks which games I play and in what order. He is already concocting the list of games in his head. I think he might enjoy coming up with my assignments even more than he enjoys watching me attempt to play them.I will review my impressions of each game and my experience playing each game. In return, he will owe me a trip to an art museum of my choice and a couple romantic comedies (though he doesn't know about that yet).

So here we go! First game: Afterburner Climax for the Xbox360.