Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kindle Acquired

Only a few days after writing about how I want to buy a Kindle soon my uncle sends me this!

He doesn't read my blog, but his timing was perfect.  I had just talked to him the other week about how much I read on my ipod touch Kindle application and he was telling me all about the updated Kindle he had just ordered.  Turns out he got the new Kindle and decided to send his old one to me, for free!  I love my family.

I've been reading The Black Prism, which just came out, on my new (used) Kindle and I'm really liking it.  On the ipod touch I inverted the colors so that text was white and the background was black.  It helped with eye strain a bunch, but it doesn't even come close to how nice the digital ink is in the actual Kindle.  It really does feel like reading from a piece of paper.

By the way, The Black Prism is a fantastic book by Brent Weeks and you should check it out if you need new reading material.  For a hardcover copy it costs $25 but if you snag the digital copy - like I did - it's only about $13.  Just another reason to love electronic books.

Another cool thing I didn't realize about the Kindle is that it gives me random images every time I power it down since it doesn't draw power when actually displaying an image.  Sometimes it's random authors and other times it's interesting images.  It's just a nice little feature that I hadn't even thought about.

 Like this!

My main two complaints about the Kindle are the joystick and the Kindle store browsing.  Browsing seems really slow and I often would double or triple hit a button because the Kindle hadn't registered my input yet.  The joystick is really sensitive and sometimes I'll try to click it in (which is like the enter button) but it will move first and then click.  It's a minor annoyance, but it's still my main complaint.

I think both of the problems I mentioned above have been fixed in the new Kindle which just came out.  It also looks like it's lighter, faster, and has smaller next page buttons.  Maybe I'll get one in the future, but for now this Kindle is amazing and I can't wait to read more books on it!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Reading: Geeks Are Sexy

 I found an awesome blog this week called Geeks are Sexy.  It's worth checking out if you haven't ever heard of it.  The site is all about technology news and other random things geeks can appreciate.  My brother also pointed me toward an interesting article about game length.
 The video this week is for those of you who appreciate the Konami code.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sex in MMOs

Sex sells.  There's no denying that fact.  Be that as it may, there's a certain point where sexualizing things becomes absurd. Just look at this recent footage from TERA, an upcoming MMO.  Every time the female character runs forward the player looks up her skirt.  Skip to around the 30 second mark and you'll see what I'm talking about.

I can't believe the actually included that in the game.  It's just so blatant.  I have nothing against sex in the proper context, whether it's in real life, books, movies, television, or videogames.  This goes above and beyond what we've seen in games before.  I think this is going to appeal to immature gamers and because of that I'm probably not even going to give TERA a try.  If their core audience responds to upskirts, I don't really want to be a part of their online community.

I never expect sex in games to go away.  Sometimes it even works really well, like the relationships in the Mass Effect series.  I just wish that developers would put sex into a context that makes sense instead of blatantly shoving ass and tits in our faces.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

PSA: Civ IV Complete for Cheap!

Civilization IV is an amazing game where you start from nothing and build a society near other societies around the world.  Eventually you can "win" by being the first to reach the end of the tech tree, have your society gain enough culture, or - of course - dominate the entire planet.  The game has been out for awhile but if you've never given it a shot now is a great time.  The complete edition is currently the deal of the week over at Microsoft for only $9.99.  Go take a look if 4X or strategy games are your thing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Digital Book Love/Hate

I've seen a lot of discussion about digital books - also called e-books - around the internet lately.  I'm an avid reader and I think it's really interesting to watch as the form of literature consumption evolves.  Most of the posts I've seen prefer either books or digital books.  But I, on the other hand, love both!  Why not?
Why does everything have to turn into this or that?  Why can't both forms continue?

The convenience of digital books is awesome.  I can get into a good book series and the moment I finish a book I can start downloading the next book in the series and be reading it within a minute.  Not to mention that most digital copies of books are cheaper than psychical copies.  Digital books can all be contained within one device and I carry around my ipod touch almost everywhere anyway so now I have a multitude of books at my fingertips.  The ipod touch has backlighting too, which means I can read in the dark.  The kindle app syncs up with a regular kindle as well, so I know it's only a matter of time until I buy one, especially with the latest price drop.

But, then again, there's nothing quite like holding a paperback in my hands as I read.  Seeing the layout, font design, and physical paper pages can't be replicated on an e-reader.  Sharing digital books is annoying, but all I need to do with a regular book is hand it to a friend and off they go.  Another one of my joys is looking at the library of books on my bookshelf, which can only be done with conventional copies of books.  Conventional books don't require a power source to read either.  I've had my ipod touch die on me in the middle of reading a book and it was extremely frustrating (I was at a really good part).  I also have a secret fear that if the world comes to an end and I have all my books in only electronic form I won't have anything to read once the batteries die.  Yeah, I'm not worried about the nukes falling, I'm worried about what to read afterward... my priorities are weird.

What I've started to do is to buy books through my kindle application first and read them on my ipod touch.  It takes up almost no space, it's cheaper, and I can read at night in the dark without keeping my wife awake with a light.  Then, if the book was awesome, I go buy the physical book so that I have a copy to share and keep in my library.

This has encouraged me to read more books from authors that I wouldn't have read if they cost full price.  I can try them out for cheap before I commit to buying full-priced physical copies.  A lot of authors have the first book in each series discounted to 99 cents in an attempt to lure in potential readers like me.

What I really wish would happen is that publishers would start including a digital copy of the book with every physical copy that is purchased.  That would be an amazing move, but I'm sure they would end up losing revenue because of it.

Anyway, if you haven't tried an e-reader you really should.  They are awesome pieces of technology.  My favorite is the ipod touch/iphone kindle application, but the kindle itself is sweet too.  Just don't count out conventional books, they're going to be around for a long time to come.  And as a friend of mine said, don't the words inside the book matter more than the way it's delivered?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Setting Versus Gameplay

I've been slowly playing through Red Dead Redemption lately and having a great time.  It's essentially Grand Theft Auto in the wild west.  The funny thing is I haven't enjoyed GTA since Vice City was released in 2002.  Each new iteration is basically the same as the last.  They haven't been breaking new ground at all.  Red Dead Redemption doesn't offer all that much more, but it's setting is in the wild west instead of a modern day city and that's making all the difference.

It's strange that the gameplay can be so similar but a change of setting completely shifts my perspective on the game.  I've been on a huge StarCraft 2 kick lately, but in all honesty how different is it from WarCraft 3?  I know there are some differences, but they're both Blizzard RTS games that play in the same fashion.  Apparently setting makes a lot of difference because while I always liked the WarCraft series I absolutely love the StarCraft series.

It really makes me wonder how successful Blizzard would be if they cloned the gameplay from World of WarCraft and put it into the StarCraft universe.  I'm willing to bet that World of StarCraft would be a resounding success, but I still hope that it doesn't see the light of day as a copy/paste of WoW.

I love seeing videogames innovate instead of constantly being derivative of the games that have come before.  Despite how much I think gameplay is more important than graphics I still find that the setting of a game matters.  The industry can only do the same few settings for so long before people grow tired of them.  It's time to break away from the norm and embrace buildings worlds and universes from scratch.  As gamers we want amazing places unlike anything we've seen before, we're just waiting for developers to step up and deliver.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide: Embrace Losing

 Sometimes the end is inevitable.

Learning to lose with grace in StarCraft 2 has it's benefits.  There comes a certain point in each game where you know - without a doubt - that you will eventually lose.  Your opponent may have a huge army that will crush yours in a heartbeat or they may have 7 bases when you still only have one.  No matter what the situation, when you know that you have no hope of coming back it's time to surrender.

New players might not know this, but you don't have to completely finish out a game by waiting until all of your structures are destroyed.  If you hit F10 (or click the menu button) one of the options within the menu is surrender.  Usually when you're ready to throw in the towel it's good manners to say good game - typically abbreviated gg - to your opponent and then surrender.

 That button, right there.

By surrendering instead of prolonging a game it lets both you and your opponent move on to the next game faster.  Why hold on in a losing game?  Instead, you can graciously bow out and start a new game with a blank slate where you might actually win.  You'll get more games under your belt in a shorter amount of time and you won't draw out that crisis feeling that happens when playing a losing match.

Once you're not afraid to surrender losing loses some of it's sting.  It frees you up to try new builds, random ideas, and creative tactics.  It's much better to experiment and not fear a loss than it is to constantly do the same thing every single game and grow bored or frustrated.  There is no "right" way to play StarCraft 2 and sometimes the most unorthodox strategies work wonderfully.  Trust me when I say that creative strategies come from players that aren't scared of losing.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Reading: Hot Summer Edition

A couple quick links for you on this lovely Sunday.

Also, the Guild Wars 2 Manifesto video was pretty interesting this week.  Take a look at the manifesto and in-game footage via Joystiq.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

MMOs That Do it Differently

 MMOs Need to Think Outside the Box

Despite what I wrote the other day, some MMOs do try to change up the formula.  Not every single game on the market is a World of Warcraft clone.  I applaud the developers that are trying different things and breaking the mold.  I don't necessarily enjoy all of these games, but I love the idea that they aren't derivative of the EQ/WoW model.

EVE Online
EVE is an MMO in space where the player controls ships.  Buying and outfitting different ships is a big part of the game and there is a ton of customization available.  Players gain skills in real time even when not online and the server structure is set up so that every person playing EVE is in one giant galaxy.  No need to worry about which server to play on or if you can play with your friends, everyone plays in the same world.

A Tale in the Desert
This is an MMO without combat. A Tale in the Desert is all about crafting, building, and collaboration.  Players can even elect Pharaohs and create lasting changes in the world.  The game completely resets after a pre-determined amount of time.  As of right now the 5th "telling" of A Tale in the Desert just started, so it's a great time to check out the game while everyone is starting from scratch.

Dungeons & Dragons Online
DDO brought Free to Play gaming to the mainstream.  Before DDO went F2P all the major full-featured MMOs were subscription based and most of those cost $15 per month.  DDO's success has encouraged more MMOs to make the switch to a F2P model.  On top of this, DDO is structured around hand crafted dungeons where exploration actually matters.  The game also forgoes standard auto-attack combat in favor of click to attack.  It sounds like a minor change but it makes a world of difference.

I'm sure there are more niche MMOs out there that have avoided making a WoW clone, but these are the main 3 that come to mind when I think of MMOs that are outside the box.  Do you know of any other MMOs avoiding mainstream trends?  Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

MMO Boredom

I'm sick of every MMO on the market feeling the same.  Where's the innovation?  Almost every new MMO on the market is a fantasy setting with auto-attack and hotbar combat.  There are some deviations from the model, but not many.

Why does everyone keep trying to recreate World of Warcraft?  It isn't going to work, ever.  WoW has such market dominance that no fantasy hotbar combat game is ever going to catch it.  The only way to beat WoW is with innovation.

There are a few games that do things differently, but there should be more.  The MMO releases this year were a weak offering.  I'm hoping that next year with the release of Star Wars the Old Republic and Guild Wars 2 we might see some more innovation in the industry but even those both have the tried and true hotbar combat.  They might not differ all that much but hopefully it's a step in the right direction.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Summer Slumping

The summer slump is still in full swing if you aren't a StarCraft 2 fan.  Most big releases don't start coming out until late September.  All the game companies want their game to become the "must have" game of the holiday season.  This sucks for us gamers because it means we barely have any new releases at the moment and a bunch of decent games will fall through the cracks during the holidays.

If game companies would pick slow times of the year to release their games they would get a lot more attention from the community.  Just look at how much press StarCraft 2 is getting right now because it's the only big game release in months.  There's usually another quiet period right after New Year's that would be a great time to generate tons of press attention.

Anyway, if you're looking to fight the summer slump you can look at a bunch of the flash games I've featured lately.  I'd also like to point you towards another tower defense (I can't get enough of that genre) that I came across in the past week.  The game is Gemcraft chapter 0 and it's surprisingly challenging.  If you're looking for a tower defense game where managing your resources is key then check out Gemcraft.

Don't forget to get out and enjoy the outdoors while the weather is nice.  Soon enough it'll be winter.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

How Do You Play Games?

I realized that I don't strictly "play" games, a lot of the time I'm just testing them.  That's why I can rent a game from gamefly, play it for 5 minutes, and be done with it for good.  I have enough experience with gaming that I can predict how much fun I'll have with the game - in total - after only a few minutes.

I've been going through games in this way for quite a while but I only realized it a few days ago while I was catching up on watching the first season of Penny-Arcade TV.  They post a show every Friday which range from about 7 to 10 minutes.  Each episode is based around a topic or event.  If you like Penny-Arcade at all it's worth watching.  It's probably the best "reality" TV show that I've ever seen.  Anyway, their episode on videogames is what started making me think about how fast I can wade through new software, because the PA guys do the same thing.

I try almost every game I can get my hands on, but only a few actually get purchased and played through completely.  The latest, for me, is StarCraft 2.  I bought it on launch day and I can tell that this is a game I'll be playing for years.  The other main game that I've gotten more than my money's worth out of is Team Fortress 2.  It's been out since 2007 and I still play it on a regular basis.

I don't know when I started consuming games this way.  When I was a kid I would treasure every game I came across and play it to completion multiple times.  I know that I used to have games memorized from start to finish but I would still play them and love the time I spent with them.

So now I'm wondering how everyone else consumes games.  Do you pick and choose what you play carefully?  Do you buy every new release that looks promising?  Do you flit between demos and take everything for a test drive?  Do you cherish every single game that you get your hands on?  How do you play games?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Update to StarCraft 2 Scouting Guide

I still intend to write a review of the StarCraft 2 single player campaign.  I've finished it and I loved it, but there were a couple of nit-picky things I didn't like within it.  Anyway, that's for another day.  The last couple of days I've just been chilling and enjoying StarCraft 2 because I've had a little bit of time off of work.  I don't feel like doing an in-depth analysis quite yet.

However, I did take the time to update another post in my StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide.  I went back and rewrote a few parts of my scouting guide as well as adding new images and updating some minor mis-information.  I like the post a lot because scouting is a key part of playing StarCraft 2 well.  It's an interesting concept that involves knowing your opponent's mindset.

I've been a little StarCraft 2 heavy with my content lately, but I have a few other topics I want to cover this week.  We'll see if I find time to write or if I get distracted by the awesomeness that is StarCraft 2.

Also, take some time to check out this post about air units in StarCraft 2.  It discusses the way air units are implemented in the game compared to the way air units are in other games.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sunday Reading: On Reading

A quick link version of Sunday Reading:

In honor of the StarCraft 2 release here's a cool lego stop-animation video.