Monday, May 31, 2010

What I Learned By Writing Every Day

Writing every day is hard work.  Seriously.  Today is the last day of the Wordcount 2010 Blogathon.  Participants were asked to write at least one post every day for the entire month of May.  I made the rash decision to sign up and somehow I've survived.  This is my last post in that series.

I have learned that writing every day is difficult to accomplish on top of working 40 hour weeks and having a life.  Getting married during May certainly made it more interesting.

Despite the difficulty - or maybe because of it - I feel a huge sense of accomplishment today.  It was a lot of work and some days I really didn't feel like writing but I did it anyway.  Don't get me wrong though, I'm still enjoying writing a lot.  If I could make a living as a full time writer I'd be extremely happy.  I wouldn't have a problem writing each day if it was my only job.

My writing is flowing easier than it was when I started posting a few months ago.  I guarantee it's because practice is the best way to improve skills.  I'm so glad I decided to start this blog and I plan to keep it going indefinitely.

That said, I won't keep up the pace that I have this last month.  Some days I need a break or I'm just too tired to write well.  I only want to put high quality posts in front of you - my readers - instead of feeling like I half-assed a post.  Before May I was writing about 5 posts each week.  Expect to see a return to that pace.  Having a couple days free helps recharge my creativity and I seem to have an easier time thinking of topics without a daily deadline looming.

Ok, I'm done writing for the day... and maybe tomorrow too.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Reading: Hasty Links Edition

Here's a quick version of Sunday reading without my standard commentary.
As usual I don't agree with everything that authors write but all of the articles have some interesting food for thought.  Expand your mind with some reading and enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The State of Beta Testing

 Beta Testing Frustration

Beta testing isn't what it used to be.  A beta test used to be the second formal round of testing (after the alpha) and it was used to test all the ins and outs of the game.  Players find thousands of ways to break a game that developers would never think of.  Bugs pop up when your testing base goes from a few hundred to thousands.  Betas were used to solve these problems.

Some companies still use betas this way, but more often than not beta tests are glorified demos that are released to the public for a limited time.  Look at the giant media push for the Halo Reach beta.  They were trying to give everyone a small taste of the game in the hope of getting them to buy it in the fall.  They aren't the only culprit.

MMOs are among the worst offenders.  "It's still in beta" isn't an excuse that MMO beta testers accept anymore.  They expect the game to be content complete with all the features in place.  Testers just want to try out the game to see if it's worth buying when it comes out for real.

When did this happen?  I'm just as at fault as anyone else.  If a beta is buggy I end up thinking less of the game.  I know I didn't always think this way.  I really don't know when I mentally shifted over, but I treat betas as demos more than I like to admit.

Maybe we all need to give developers more slack during their rounds of beta testing.  We expect way too much and don't help the developers as much as we should.  "It's still in beta" should, once again, be a valid excuse.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Bite Size Raiding

 Mmmmm... Bite Size

This is what I envision:

I boot up my computer, run my MMO of choice, and start the raid finder which pairs me automatically with a group of 9 other people.  This happens within five minutes of starting my computer.

Then I am transported to a random dungeon with my group.  The dungeon has one to three bosses and the entire thing can be run in 30 minutes or less.

The bosses would be randomized so that I never encounter the same boss twice.  With random bosses I would be able to create strategy instead of simply memorizing pre-set patterns.  Also, there would be no trash mobs to clear out since they only serve to lengthen the amount of time the raid takes but pose no real challenge.

These bite size raids would have no lock outs of any kind.  There would be no need to wait out a timer when I want to participate in a raid.  Anytime I feel like raiding I would be able to start up the raid finder and be grouped up in a matter of minutes.

As of right now this type of raiding doesn't exist anywhere.  Why not?  I know I would play it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Creating New Genres

StarCraft 2 not only has single player and multiplayer games, it also allows custom games to be built.

Blizzard gives everyone who owns StarCraft 2 access to a very powerful map editor which can be used to design many different styles of games.  Most tend to be RTS type games but I've even seen things like Tetris recreated using falling supply depots.  The map editor can be used to create a diversity of games.

Sometimes these custom games become entirely new genres.  DoTA was created in the WarCraft 3 map editor and has since gone on to spawn League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, and other games in the "battle arena" genre.  In battle arena games you use an RTS control scheme but only control one hero unit.  You are put on a team and face off against an opposing team of heroes.  Both sides get minor AI controlled allies to fight along side them.  If you liked DoTA I would highly recommend looking into League of Legends.  It is my favorite battle arena game.

 League of Legends is based off a Custom Game from WarCraft 3

Have you ever played a tower defense game?  Guess where those were started.  That's right, custom games within a Blizzard map editor.  The "tower defense" genre is one of my personal favorites.  In it you build towers to attack enemies.  The overall goal is to stop them from moving from point A to point B.  The enemies get stronger and you have to upgrade your towers to hold them back.  In some versions you can use towers to create a maze that the enemies have to find their way through to reach the objective.  Tower defense games are everywhere now.  Go look at any flash game site and I promise you'll see at least one.

I'm sure that there will be many tower defense and battle arena maps created using the StarCraft 2 map editor.  It's been done before and people will want to refine and recreate their favorites.  I'll play them and probably have a great time.  But what I'm more interested in is the possibility of seeing another new genre emerge from the custom games in StarCraft 2.  Something new and exciting that we've never seen before.

The map editor and ability to play custom games online through StarCraft 2 is a great tool for innovation.  I'm excited to see what comes from it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What Are You Playing?

After a long two weeks of work I'm taking today to just play games.  I try to remember to play games and not just read and write about them.

I'm spending most of my gaming time in Blur, Trine, and the StarCraft 2 Beta.

So, dear reader, what games have you been playing lately?  Anything I should check out?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

This makes the game look way more exciting than it actually is.

The Forgotten Sands is a lesson in being underwhelmed.  I wanted to love it, I really truly did.  I loved The Sands of Time, The Two Thrones, and the re-imagined "Prince of Persia" but I just couldn't make myself enjoy Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands.

It's all been done before by other games in the Prince of Persia series.  The Forgotten Sands has the same old platforming without any new or interesting mechanics.  I got the same feeling I did when comparing Bayonetta to the Devil May Cry series.  It's the same gameplay mechanics with a new coat of paint.

The combat feels extremely out of place.  It amounts to a generic hack and slash.  Most of the time the combat flow goes like this: hold x for 2 seconds, release, hold x for 2 seconds, release.  It got in the way of the platforming and probably should have been left out altogether.

The platforming isn't anything new.  At least the last two entries in the Prince of Persia franchise tried new gameplay elements.  The Two Thrones had me switching between the good prince and the evil one.  The Prince of Persia reboot had me taking care of a partner while collecting magic that gave me more platforming abilities.  The Forgotten Sands doesn't ask me to do anything new.

Something else felt off but it took me a while to put my finger on it.  This game lacks color.  The color palette primarily contains browns and grays.  Everything is desaturated.  Nothing feels vibrant, invigorating, or alive.  I loved the way color was used in the Prince of Persia reboot but I found none of that in The Forgotten Sands.

Innovation trumps graphics and The Forgotten Sands is severely missing in the innovation department.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Modern Technology and Staying In Touch


Today I was going to write about some of the new games I've been playing, but then my cell phone broke.  It doesn't work.  It's caught in an endless loop of rebooting.  This brought up a thought beyond the pain of having to find a new phone, sign a new 2 year contract, and figure out all of my contacts' phone numbers again.

We are all very connected.  Through texting, calling, facebook, twitter, email, snail mail, skype, ventrilo, instant messaging, blogs, comments, and overall being spoiled by having access to each other.  Think about all the means you use to communicate in just one day.  Really, just take a moment to think about every piece of technology you have touched today that can be used to communicate with another human being.

I don't know how people got along before all of this technology.  Intellectually I understand, but I'm only 23 and I've never had to live an unplugged life.  My generation is the first one where everyone has had cell phones since we were teenagers.  I will never own a home phone or an answering machine.  It's simply a fact of people my age.  I don't have cable television but I would go crazy after a day without my high speed internet.  Times have changed.

My cell phone has been dead for about 18 hours now.  Not being able to call or text is annoying but it isn't my real problem at the moment.  My problem is that I feel disconnected.  What if someone called?  What if an employee needs to get a hold of me?  What if my wife needs me to pick something up from the store on the way home?  What if my mom wants to text while she is bored out of her mind in a meeting?  What if I need help in an emergency?

The what ifs are killing me today.  I can go days without talking on the phone or texting but to lose the ability to do those things feels like a vital part of me is missing.  It makes me wonder if that speaks badly of me - personally - or if it's the way of my entire generation.

My generation is the first to be easily connected with each other 24-7.  We remember when we were little kids and had to use the home phone or check the answering machine, but ever since communicating with others started mattering to us - in our teens - we have had cell phones and the internet.  Access to one another is something we take for granted.

So, honestly, how did you get by before modern technology?  I can't imagine living the adult life that I do now without having the technology I use daily.  Better yet, do you think you could ever go back to the way things were?  I think I would go a little bit crazy.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Reading: MMO Addiction

Tobold discusses the new quest system for Guild Wars 2.  The quest system has me more excited than anything else I've heard about the game.

Tobold started an interesting series this week about his perfect MMO.  The post on raiding is particularly interesting.

Beej has an frustrated post about the effect of gearscore on grouping in WoW.  The post has an ongoing discussion in the comment section, feel free to join the fray.

Sunday Viewing this week is a MMO in its purest form:

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Free Indie Games

I love to support indie games.  Indie developers aren't afraid to take a new idea and run with it.  Most of the time I find cheap indie games on steam or my ipod touch to try out.  There are all sorts of free demos on both services and a full copy of an indie game is almost always under twenty dollars.  Many are priced around a buck.

If you aren't afraid of wading through some bad games the other option is to play flash games online.  The amount of free games online is amazing but finding high quality games can be a challenge.

This is where Kongregate comes into play.  It's the best  flash game site that I've ever found.

Kongregate has a rating system to help filter through all the junk games.  The community rates games and the site lets me sort by top rated and most played.  Every gaming distributor needs to be able to sort by rating and being able to sort by number of plays is like icing on the cake.  This is one area in which the apple app store is severely deficient, but that's another discussion.

Kongregate even has an achievement system and tracks progress across every game on the site.  It requires the creation of a login/password but the system works really well.  It's like having the Xbox Live achievement system except that it's for flash games.

So what are you waiting for?  Go play free games!

Friday, May 21, 2010

My Top 6 Posts

I've written 100 posts after about 4 months of blogging and I'm fairly proud of myself.  I thought I would take this milestone and look back at what I've written so far.  So, here are my favorite posts out of my first 100.

  • StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide - I love this series of posts and hope to continue them in the future.  I actually get some traffic from Google for this set of posts.  I have a ton of fun analyzing the ins and outs of StarCraft 2.
  • Innovation Trumps Graphics - I truly believe that innovation is more important than graphics.  I hope to see new concepts breaking ground in the world of gaming more often.  It's time to shake things up because so many genre conventions have grown stale.  Indie games do new concepts very well.
  • Expansion Packs: Leveling the Playing Field - I've used this post as a basis for many conversations with friends.  I hate the way the gear treadmill is designed for the endgame of most MMOs today.  All of an individual's hard work counts for nothing as soon as the next expansion pack hits.
  • Features versus Content - An important distinction to make in the world of MMOs.  I wish developers would concentrate on adding more horizontal gameplay options instead of just adding more levels at the top end.
  • StarCraft 2 NDA - A brilliant marketing move by Blizzard.  Others should follow their example.
  • Marketing Fail - One of the few times I have turned a post into a rant, but my points are valid.

When picking out these posts I learned something.  My best posts are when I discuss concepts instead of reviewing games.  I'm still going to put in my two cents on current games but the posts I like to look back on are mostly higher concept pieces of writing.  I'll have to keep that in mind for the future.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

100th post


I never thought I would make it this far.  I started this blog as a writing exercise for myself.  I hoped the habit of writing would stick, but I didn't have a lot of faith.  I honestly can't believe that I made it 100 posts.

So, what now?

Well, I think I'll keep writing.  I'm having a great time and I feel like my writing is improving with practice.  I would really like to try writing fiction some day and I think this is a good way to refine my skills.

I may also branch out into some other topics.  I love writing about games, but there are some days that I just want to write about something else.  This post is a good example.  I have a passion for all things media and I want to explore that further with my writing.  I'd also like to discuss things happening in the real world if I feel that I can make a quality post about them.

I expect most of my content to still be game-centric but it's my blog and I'm leaving my options open.

I want to thank everyone who reads this blog.  I know there are a few of you out there.  I appreciate all my readers and I hope to get more comments from you guys in the future.  Thanks for all your support!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Osmos is a Game Full of Orbs

Osmos is a fun indie game that I found the other day.  It has an easy-going atmosphere that makes it an extremely chill game.  If you are looking for something relaxing to play, Osmos is your game.

In Osmos you control an orb.  Your orb can absorb other orbs that are smaller than you, but will be absorbed - and you will lose - by touching orbs larger than you.

The interesting gameplay mechanic is movement.  To move your orb you have to send out matter in the opposite direction.  This causes your orb to shrink.  The game becomes an exercise in judging how much matter to expend in order to reach another orb to absorb.  All of the matter you expend is left behind in the playing field and can be picked up again later.

I really enjoyed the gameplay mechanic because I hadn't seen it before.  I love that indie games bring something new to gaming.

And that is before all the levels open up.  Then orbs take on new properties.  Some becomes repulsors or attractors.  In another level the orbs all have AI and you have to compete to become the biggest without getting absorbed.  In yet another the game becomes like a puzzle that you have to solve by propelling larger orbs away with your propulsion.

There is currently a free demo of Osmos on Steam or on the hemisphere games website.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Current Games: Overwhelmed Edition

I've had a busy week.  Between getting married and starting my summer hours at work I haven't had much gaming time.  That's ok.  Real life always needs to take precedence over hobbies like videogames.

I thought I'd throw out an update on what I'm playing and what I intend to play since I'm feeling overwhelmed by my backlog of games at the moment.

  • StarCraft 2 Beta - Still loving it and working on Newbie Guide posts.
  • Bayonetta - Working my way through the crazy story.  I may not finish this game, but it is highly entertaining because of the ridiculousness of it all.
  • Halo 3 Reach Beta - Only a few days left.  I really like the arena and invasion playlists.
  • Trine - Indie game I own but haven't gotten around to trying out.
  • Osmos - Indie game that inspired me to buy an indie game pack on steam the other day.  I really like the gameplay.
  • Guild Wars - Giving it another chance.  It has interesting dynamics because characters can only have 8 skills equipped at one time.
  • And Yet It Moves - I don't know a lot about it, but I have heard good things
  • Splinter Cell Conviction - I wrote about this a couple of times, but I'm still playing deniable ops missions.
  • DDO - I intend to return.  It's my favorite free MMO on the market.
  • Angry Birds - I play a bit every night on my ipod touch.  I'll probably do a review to add to my 60 second games trend.  My wife likes to play this one too.
  • Fruit Ninja - Another 60 second game that gets playtime each night.
  • Split/Second - I want to try the mode where I get to dodge barrels falling from trucks.  It looks interesting.
  • Red Dead Redemption - A western game that might not completely suck. I have high hopes.
  • Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands - I love the series.  Platformers rock when I'm in the right mood.
That's just off the top of my head.  I'm going to take the rest of the day to chill and play some games.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Innovation Trumps Graphics

Most of the games that hit the market today are not new.  They may look new or sell themselves as new, but the majority of the time they use old gameplay mechanics.  Developers constantly take each other's ideas and recreate the same type of game.

Think of all the shovelware out there.  So many games aren't even worth five minutes of your time.  It is really sad.

Playing Bayonetta is like playing Devil May Cry 3, which is like playing Devil May Cry 2, which is like playing Devil May Cry.  That's really the spark that got me thinking about rehashing gameplay mechanics.  Bayonetta has a crazy story and different visuals, but it is essentially an old game with a new layer of paint.

When developers have really high production values they can get away with remaking the same game.  The Halo series comes to mind.  Between Halo, Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo: ODST not a lot has changed.  All the games basically play the same.  If you didn't like one of those four games it is safe to say you won't like the other three.

I know that sometimes incremental improvements are made.  Halo had no Xbox Live support and Halo 2 laid the groundwork for the Xbox Live that we have come to take for granted.  Regardless of this, the gameplay itself is essentially the same.

Worse than rehashing gameplay mechanics with high production values is trying to do it with low production values.  That's where all the shovelware on the store shelves comes from.

What we really need are new ideas.  I want to experience new gameplay mechanics.  The production values don't have to be high if the gameplay is new.  Innovation trumps graphics.

I find myself loving independent games more and more.  There are so many good ideas out there just waiting to be explored.  Indie games tend to be new ideas and they are usually fairly cheap to buy.  It's why I feature so many 60 second games.  It's why I've been spending so much of my gaming time on my ipod touch.  It's why I buy indie games on steam.

When all goes right with the world we get amazing games like Portal.  Portal was a project created by a group of students in gaming school.  Valve saw the potential in it and hired these novice game designers, gave them a bigger budget, and let them create what they wanted to.  The result was Portal.

Now that it's a proven success they have been given an even bigger budget and more time to work on Portal 2.  Portal was a sleeper hit that gained momentum over time.  Portal 2 is going to be a blockbuster hit on day one.

I love indie games and I think you will too.  I'll keep sharing the wealth with my 60 second game posts but next time you see an independent game maybe you should take a few minutes of your time and check it out.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Reading: Long Week Edition

This was an overwhelming week.  I got married and started my crazy summer work schedule.  I'm providing you with Sunday links anyway.

I'm trying to stay in the Wordcount Blogathon 2010 by posting every day in May.  Half way done.  I hope I hang in there.  I'm extremely tired and worn out right now.

Tobold has an epic EVE Online review made up entirely of comments people have posted on his blog.  A lot of EVE players got extremely worked up about Tobold's impressions, so he used what they had to say to prove his point.  It is remarkably well executed.

Syp posted on earning your wings instead of being handed everything on a silver platter.  It is one of those stale MMO conventions that needs to be spiced up.

Enjoy your Sunday and this Star Trek clip from jandrewedits.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide: Leagues and Divisions

Now you've learned your units, you're being aggressive, you've learned to scout, and you're watching replays to get better.  But how do you stack up against everyone else?

This is where leagues and divisions come into play.


There are currently 5 ranked leagues in StarCraft 2.  From least skilled to most skilled they are Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond.  There is also a practice league for - you guessed it - practice.  Last time I checked, the practice league has the game speed set slower than the ranked leagues.  This means you have more time to think through your actions and react to events that happen throughout each game.  It is meant as an on-ramp to the ranked leagues.

There's speculation - based on posts by Blizzard - that StarCraft 2 will also have a Pro league.

Original Organization of  the Leagues

Pro league would be invite only and reserved for the best of the best.  It hasn't been implemented yet, but don't be surprised to see it introduced in the retail release.

Placement Matches

To be placed in the correct league - according to your skill level - you are required to play a series of placement matches.  For every game type you play 5 placement matches and are then assigned to a league.

Each game type is ranked independently of one another.  You will need to play a set of placement matches for your 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, and 4v4 games.  20 placement matches total.

You are also assigned a different placement for each pre-made team of players you play with.  For example: You and Friend X play all your placement matches and are put in gold league.  When you and Friend Y play for the first time you will have to do 5 more placement matches and may end up in Bronze league.

Keep in mind that every game type and set of friends you play with are ranked independently of each other.  You can be ranked in Bronze league for 1v1 games, Gold for random 2v2, and Platinum for 2v2 games with a friend. 


Divisions exist to easily see how you rank against a set group of players within your league.  The Division number does not matter.  Your place within the division does matter.  You are randomly assigned to a group of 100 people representing a range of skill within your league.

The other thing that does matter is your rating number.  It starts around 1000 and changes depending on your wins and losses.  This number determines where you are in the division and the league.

How to Move Up

The short version: Win games.

As you win games your rating number goes up.  If you lose games your rating number will go down.

If your rating number is high enough the matchmaking system will start putting you into games against opponents in the league above you.  But it won't let you know that it's pairing you up with a different league. It's like a stealth trial of your skill.

If you win enough games against opponents in the league above you then you will advance into that league.


Tournaments are going to be implemented in a later build.

Not a lot of information is available yet, but the thought is that everyone above a certain rating in each division will be eligible to play in tournaments in their own league.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bayonetta is Crazy

Bayonetta is not a great game, but I can't seem to stop playing it.  It isn't a bad game by any stretch.  It's almost a re-imagining of Devil May Cry with a female protagonist.  The gameplay feels like Devil May Cry; slash and hack with some dodging thrown in.

The story is where Bayonetta goes absolutely nuts.  One cutscene had gratuitous ass/crotch close ups, headstones falling like dominoes, a random black guy with one-liners, losing all of the main chick's clothes, making new clothes out of hair, and a dragon.  It's like a train crash.  It's so bad that I just can't look away.

One gameplay sequence had me fight on top of a falling clock tower which proceeded to explode three separate times while being attacked by a giant dragon.

By the way, Bayonetta has guns in her hands and on her feet.  If you thought duel wielding was intense just wait until you see quad wielding.

She also has the habit of using all of her hair to finish her attack combos.  It often forms a giant fist or foot to pulverize her enemies.  Her hair is also what makes up her clothing... so when she does strong attacks she becomes almost naked.

These are just a few of the crazy things I can think of off the top of my head.  If you want an insane story where everything is over the top, play Bayonetta.

It may not be a great game but it's entertaining.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gamefly Turn Around Time

The one thing I hate about Gamefly is the amount of time it takes to send a game back and receive another.  I know the reason it bugs me so much is that I'm spoiled by Netflix, but if they can do it Gamefly should be able to accomplish the same thing.

When I send back a Netflix DVD it takes one day for Netflix to receive and scan in the DVD.  One day to process a new movie and send it out.  One day for the postal service to transport and deliver the DVD to me.  3 days total.  Sometimes it takes slightly longer if I drop off a DVD during a holiday or on a Sunday, but it is almost always 3 days.

When I send back a Gamefly game it takes about 3-4 days for them to even receive my return and acknowledge it.  My Netflix go there and back again in the time it takes my Gamefly to go one way.  The total turn around time on my Gamefly games is usually a week or more.

I know part of it is that Netflix has distribution centers all over the country and Gamefly only has 4.  I know part of it is that Netflix gets high priority service with the USPS.  I know these things, but it still sucks that it takes so long to turn around a Gamefly game.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Top 5 Blogs

As a group activity for the 2010 Wordcount Blogathon bloggers were encouraged to write about blogs they can't live without.  I missed the May 10th date when we were supposed to write on the subject because I was out of town.  I think it's a great idea so I'm going to do it anyway.

Here we go, my top 5 blogs:

  1. Professor Beej - Extremely intelligent writing about all things media.  He covers a wide breadth of knowledge about books, movies, television, technology, gaming, and the internet.  Variety is the spice of life when it comes to the topics Beej covers.
  2. Bio Break - Syp is a MMO gamer who likes to share his thoughts.  Half of his posts are random thoughts throughout his day, but they are always interesting and worth reading.
  3. Tobold - One of the most well known MMO bloggers currently.  He always gets a ton of comments and is great at generating discussion.  Read the posts and the comments when you visit Tobold's site.
  4. Copyblogger - As I try to improve my writing I find Copyblogger more and more useful.  It's great resource for writers.  Especially bloggers.
  5. Whatever - John Scalzi is one of my favorite authors, even though I just discovered him in the last few months.  Read the Old Man's War series if you haven't.  This is his blog.

These two aren't personal blogs, but I read them every day.  For gaming news you can't beat Joystiq and Massively.  They are two of the best sources for up to date videogame news on the internet.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Air Traffic is Fun With Flight Control

Flight control is a great game for the ipod touch and iphone.  It is one of the best that I have played on the system and could not be done as well without the touch screen interface.  Flight Control has really found a home on the ipod touch.

In Flight Control you are put in the role of an air traffic controller.  Planes and helicopters fly onto the screen and you need to give them a path to their correct runway or helipad.  It is done by simply touching the plane and drawing a flight path - with your finger - to the runway entrance.

There are different maps to play on with varying numbers of runways and different types of aircraft.  High scores are tracked for each map.

That's really all there is to it, but the game quickly ramps up the speed and number of aircraft on the screen as time goes on.  It gets frantic but it's extremely fun.

This is an easy to understand game that can be digested in small sessions - you know how I love 60 second games - with lots of replay value.  I can't recommend Flight Control enough as an essential app for your iphone or ipod touch.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Splinter Cell Conviction Single Player Review

I already posted my co-op review for Splinter Cell Conviction, but I sat down the other day and played through the single player game as well.  Overall, I liked it and I would recommend it to stealth fans.  It is a good game and consistently fun, but I still prefer the co-op campaign.

If someone were to ask me to recommend the best stealth game I had ever played I would tell them to check out Batman Arkham Asylum but Splinter Cell Conviction is a close second.  If they asked me to recommend the best stealth co-op game I would most definitely tell them to play Splinter Cell Conviction. But, today I'm talking about the single player campaign.

The first thing I noticed - and loved - was the persistent experience across game modes.  All of my experience, weapons, gadgets, and completed challenges from the co-op campaign carried over into my single player campaign automatically.  It was seamless and awesome.  All games with co-op and single player campaigns should do this.  I was especially glad the P.E.C Challenges carried over because I had a fun time trying to complete them for experience points.

There is more of an emphasis on storytelling in the single player campaign.  It follows Sam Fisher and his attempt to find out who killed his daughter.  I haven't played previous Splinter Cell games, but I enjoyed some of the storytelling techniques even though I didn't care that much about the actual story.

The two storytelling techniques that grabbed my attention were the projections and the interrogations.  I was never forced into a menu to discover my objectives or gain information.  Instead, it is projected onto the environment.  Things like "Infiltrate the Mansion" were projected on the mansion I needed to infiltrate.  I haven't seen it done before, but it blended seamlessly into the gameplay and kept me immersed in the world.

The interrogations are exactly what they sound like.  Sam has to interrogate people to make them talk.  When in an interrogation Sam is confined to a small area.  The interesting part is finding objects within that area to interact with.  My favorite interrogation scene involved television equiptment.  I won't ruin it for you, but some of the interactions made me simultaneously cringe and think, "Wow, that was awesome."

The mark and execute system is still the gameplay feature which shines the brightest.  By doing melee kills Sam gains the ability to mark up to four targets - depending on his weapon - and then with the tap of a button execute them all.  It basically turns the game into a murder puzzle, which is as fun as it sounds.

A few minor gripes.  The controls were difficult to pick up.  I play a lot of first and third person shooters, but the controls for Splinter Cell Conviction are not set up in a similar way.  I was really fighting with the controls for the first few hours I played the game.  The other thing I didn't like were the flashbacks.  They were entirely pointless for the most part.  This is especially true for the flashback that turns into an entire level in Iraq.  I hated that level with a passion.  It turned the game into a shooter when every other level is about stealth.  It was stupid.  I wish they had made that level a 3 minute cutscene instead.  I would have been much happier.

Overall, Splinter Cell Conviction gets my stamp of approval.  If you like stealth games then you owe it to yourself to at least rent the game and give it a shot.  If you have a friend who likes stealth games make sure to play it together for an awesome experience.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday Reading: Blogathon

Blogathon 2010 is going on.  I learned this from Professor Beej's post on the subject.  I love reading his blog because he covers the intersection of all things media.  It isn't always gaming, but if you have an interest in TV, movies, books, games, and emerging media you couldn't find a better site to read.

Wordcount Blogathon 2010 is about writing a post for your blog every day of the month.  So far I tend to write about 5 times each week, but I'll try to make it 7 times per week this month.  Let's see if I can make it.  I think pre-scheduling posts is about to become my new best friend.

Last week I forgot to direct your attention to a great post by Spinks on the slow but inevitable death of 25 man raiding.  She has some really good points about the way World of Warcraft raiding is heading in Cataclysm.  Her point about it being less friendly for casual players really hit home with me because I am never a hardcore raider.

With so much coverage of the new Guild Wars 2 information released in the past week you might want to go read their manifesto for yourself instead of just reading interpretations of it.  As I read more about the game I get more excited.  It seems like they are actually doing something different with their MMO which is a nice change of pace in the current market.

Tobold summed up most of my problems with EVE Online in one post last week.  His conclusions are why I've quit every time I've tried to play EVE.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

ipod Touch Kindle App

I have the Kindle app for reading on my ipod touch and I absolutely love it.  I hate the default settings, but I love the app.  It's the app that I use the most on my ipod touch, which is saying something.  I have all sorts of games and entertainment on my ipod touch and yet most of my time is spent reading on it.

The Kindle app links to your account which allows for easy purchasing of digital books.  Most of the books are cheaper in digital form than they are in paperback.  I found one of my favorite trilogies for $9.99 which is the cost of one of them in paperback.  Not only that, but I've found that a lot of authors have free digital copies of the first book in a series in an attempt to get new readers.

Any book available in the Amazon Kindle store can be tried for free.  There is a buy button and a sample button.  The sample will download the first portion of the book to the application for free.  It's like browsing new books in the bookstore.

The Kindle app allows bookmarks, font size adjustments, font color adjustments, jumping to any point in a book, and Whispersync.  Whispersync is really cool.  It keeps track of where I am in every book I read so that when I access my digital books on another device - like a computer, blackberry, or Kindle - I am at the same spot in the book.

My two favorite things about the Kindle app are that I can read in the dark and I can read on the go without hauling a book along.  Paperbacks aren't that big, but an ipod touch or iphone is smaller and can contain an entire library of books.  I use my ipod touch to read in the dark almost every night.  If the Kindle itself was backlit I might buy one, but until then I'll keep using my ipod touch because of its backlight.

Now for the default settings I mentioned, it's time to change them!  Go into a book. Tilt your ipod on its side to make the app go into landscape display mode then tap the bottom right corner of the screen to lock it that way.  Now it won't move around when you shift or change positions.  Next, tap the middle of the screen to bring up the options menu.  Tap the little aA icon - for font - and change the text color to white (which shifts the background to black).  It may look strange at first, but I just saved you from headaches and eye strain.  I regularly read in the dark with my ipod touch since it's backlit, but I wouldn't be able to if my font color was set to black.  I tried the first week I had it and got some massive headaches.  Keep your font color on white, it works great!

I can't recommend this app enough!  If you have an iphone or ipod touch and have a love of reading you really need to get the Kindle app.

Friday, May 7, 2010

StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide: Compendium is Live

I've started collecting my StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide posts in one spot for your convenience.  I'll update the list as I write more posts, so for all your StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide needs make sure to bookmark this page.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide: Scouting

Scouting is an essential part of playing StarCraft 2 effectively.  Last time in the Newbie Guide we discussed the need to learn about your units.  You need to know how to make them and how to use them correctly.

Armed with this knowledge, scouting becomes a powerful tool.  If you can discover what units your opponent is making and you know all the unit counters in your head, then you have the ability to win the game.  This is the basic idea behind scouting the enemy.

Keep in mind that your opponent will constantly be scouting you as well.  For example, if you discover he is making Siege Tanks you start building Immortals to counter.  Your opponent may see your Immortals and counter them by making air units.  Scouting is a constant game of back and forth.  Once you understand your units, scouting is the number one thing that will help you win games.

So, how should you scout?  Well, I'm glad you asked.  Do it early, do it often.

Scout Early

Your first scouting unit will be a resource gatherer.  No matter what your race you should be scouting before you have your first offensive unit.  A lot of high level players send a resource harvester - Probe, SCV, Drone - to scout as soon as they begin construction on their first supply building.

This doesn't always work for newbies because it's hard to tell what your opponent is up to that early in the game until you understand StarCraft 2 better.  I would recommend sending a resource gatherer as a scout when you begin construction on your first offensive building.  That would be a Gateway, Barracks, or Spawning Pool.  Keep in mind it will take your unit some time to cross to the enemy position.  If you send a scout too late you run the risk of walking into their first offensive unit and never getting a chance to see inside their base.

With this first scout you are mainly looking for anything really weird with their build order.  A prime example of this is if they don't have any buildings besides their starting structure.  This means they are up to something tricky and want to win the game in the first 5-10 minutes.  If this happens you need to figure out where they put their structures ASAP, because they may be sitting right outside your base.

If your harvester gets into their base and their build order looks about even with yours, you shouldn't be as concerned.

The other thing you want to look for at this stage is if they have any vespene geysers being harvested.  If they are harvesting both gas geysers this early in the game it means they want to shoot up the tech tree as fast as they can.  This can result in them rolling right over your units about 10 minutes down the line.  The flip side of this coin is that they won't have as many units as you until they reach that point.  If their harvesters are busy collecting vespene then there aren't as many collecting minerals.  If you see the geysers being harvested early then you want to attack as soon as you possibly can.  Be aggressive with your units.  You should have more units than them because they are using their resources for buildings instead of units.

Scout Often

The resource gatherer is merely your first scout.  You need to constantly be scouting throughout the entire game.  If they scout you and figure out what units you are creating, they can counter it.  But, if you scout them back and see how they are countering you, you can tech switch and counter their counter.  It's a game of back and forth.

There are many tools at your disposal for scouting, but the two main ways you will find out information about your enemy are with your attack forces and with invisible units.

When you attack an opponent pay attention to what units you are fighting.  Simply by observing what units you fight you can tell what needs to be countered.  This is especially true if you are able to attack all the way into the enemy base, since you can see what buildings from the tech tree your opponent has.

What if your opponent has map control and you can't push to their base?  That's when invisible units come in handy.

With Protoss use either Observers from the Robotics Facility or tech up to Dark Templars and build them from Gateways.  Observers have better mobility - they are an air unit - and can be reached faster in the tech tree.  Dark Templars are fun because, although they are ground only, they can one-hit-kill resource gatherers.  Do a quick base scout with Dark Templars and then put them next to the mineral line to start devastating your opponent's economy.

Terran have a couple different options too.  Terran Banshees and Ghosts can both cloak while their energy lasts.  If you manage to get a ghost in an enemy base - and have the right tech - you can nuke your opponent, which is always amusing.  Terran Command Centers also have to ability to upgrade to an Orbital Command.  With an Orbital Command you can scan anywhere on the entire map as long as you have the energy to do so.  This is usually the best scouting option as a Terran.

With Zerg you will need to rely on your attacking forces to do your scouting.  In the early game you can use Overlords to scout expansion locations, but if they get killed you will lose some of your supply.  Zerg also have the ability to burrow.  If you have the units to spare, burrow one on each potential expansion spot.  This will let you see if your opponent expands and - if you place your unit correctly - can prevent them from expanding at all.  If you manage to sneak some zerglings into their mineral line you can always burrow and lie in wait to harass their resource gatherers at a later time.

Xel'Naga watchtowers are a new edition to StarCraft 2.  They're race neutral, all you need to do is park a unit next to a watchtower and you gain a large circle of sight.  There are usually a few different Xel'Naga watchtowers on each map.  They are represented by white squares on the mini-map.  Expending one unit to each tower is usually a sound investment because they grant such a huge circle of sight.

As with most things in StarCraft 2, the best way to get better at scouting is to practice.  While you practice your scouting remember to scout early and scout often to stay ahead of your opponent.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pocket Legends is a MMO on the Go

The thing that makes Pocket Legends impressive is the fact that it's a 3D MMO on the iphone and ipod touch.  It is literally a MMO that will fit in your pocket.  The game design may be simplistic, but it is still a first of its kind.

Pocket Legends has all the trappings of a normal MMO.  There is grouping, character progression, leveling, gearing up, and killing monsters.

For being a MMO that can fit in your pocket it is pretty impressive.  I don't know how much time I could kill playing this game and it's definitely not something you need to run out and buy, but I would recommend taking a look if you are a fan of the genre.  Spend a few minutes and see the precursor to many pocket MMOs of the future.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

PSA: StarCraft 2 Release Date

StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty now has an official release date from Blizzard!  They never release a game "until it's ready" so StarCraft 2 must be close to done since its scheduled to release on July 27th.

If you haven't pre-ordered yet, now is a great time to do it.  I would recommend reserving at Gamestop because they give out a free beta key with each pre-order.  It is how I got my own key and stopped mooching off a friend.

I am loving the StarCraft 2 beta and can't wait for the release!  July can't come soon enough!

Halo Reach Beta Initial Impressions

Sadly, I am underwhelmed.  I was expecting an entire new experience with all the changes Bungie has been touting, but it is not so.  This is still the same old Halo you either love or hate.  As for me, I'm pretty apathetic towards it.

Players now select loadouts at the beginning of each game.  This is fairly standard now in most FPS games, so it isn't surprising to see it in Halo.  Each loadout contains different armor abilities to help change up the way your character plays.  Sprint, Jetpack, Stealth, and Guard all lead to some new gameplay options but the game still plays like Halo.

There are new weapons and game types which are always welcome.  The weapons are interesting and I think they all have a place in the game.  I really like headhunter and stockpile - two of the new game types.

In headhunter you don't get points for your kills until you deposit the skulls of your victims in a designated spot.  Opponents drop all collected skulls when they die, so areas can end up covered in skulls after a huge battle.  There is a balancing act between killing, collecting, and delivering.  It works well.

In stockpile each team is given a base which counts down from 60.  A bunch of neutral flags spawn all over the map and any flags in your base at the end of the 60 seconds count as points for your team.  This repeats until one team reaches the point goal.  Again, there is an interesting balance in this game type between collecting and delivering.

Unfortunately, the thing I loathe the most about Halo is back; playlists.  Instead of being able to select the game type I actually want to play I have to select a "playlist" where that game type is one of many.  I hate it.  I want to only play the new game types.  I think they are fun.  I don't enjoy any of the older modes at the moment.  Why can't I just pick my game type?  I've always hated this about the Halo series, but it looks like it's sticking around for another game.

They did fix the veto system.  It needed work.  Now players vote on a map before it is loaded.  Simple majority wins.  It works a lot better than vetoing a game but not knowing what the other option will be.  Bravo Bungie.

The thing I was most looking forward to isn't yet in the beta.  I really want to play Invasion.  It looks intriguing with it's progressive map, objectives, and loadouts that unlock during the course of a level.  I checked out and it looks like Invasion will be introduced on May 7th.  I may not play the Reach beta again until then.

Monday, May 3, 2010

PSA: Halo Reach Beta is Live Today

Halo Reach beta goes live within the next few hours.  If you have a beta key or own Halo ODST I fully expect to see you online tonight.  Get prepared with this Halo Reach beta primer via Joystiq.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide: Learn Your Units

I have already mentioned that you should pick one race and stick with it.  In StarCraft 2 you need to learn the units under your command, and that's difficult when trying to learn all three races at once.  Once you decide on your racial preference it's time to start learning about your units.

Their are two key things to learn about each unit: how to make that unit and what that unit is used for.

Helpful Hint
All of the tech trees and unit match-ups can be found from within a game by pressing the F12 button.  All of my screenshots from this post came from the F12 menu.  Use it to learn about your buildings and units.

How to Produce Each Unit

In StarCraft 2 it's fairly easy to figure out where to start producing the lowest level units.  They're built from a basic structure that is needed to move up the technology tree - commonly called the tech tree.  Protoss use Gateways, Zerg have Spawning Pools, and Terran build Barracks.

After the initial building you need to understand which structures to build to progress up the tech tree.

Click Image to Expand

For example, I decide - as Protoss - to make some Carriers because I like the way they spit out tiny ships.  After my Gateway I need to know to build a Cybernetics Core next.  A Cybernetics Core will let me make higher tier buildings.  These "advanced" buildings are the Twilight Council, Stargate, and Robotics Facility.  In this case I need a Stargate to produce air units, but since Carriers are a higher tier than that I need another building to supplement the Stargate.  Once I build the Stargate an option opens up to build a Fleet Beacon - which is exactly what I need.  With the Fleet Beacon built I can now go back to the Stargate and create Carriers from there.

This is simply one example.  In your head you need to know how to do this for every unit that your race can make.  Take some time to look at the tech tree for your race, the F12 button is your friend.  Since I'm your friend too; here are the Terran and Zerg tech trees for your viewing pleasure and handy reference.

Click Image to Expand
Click Image to Expand

What Each Unit is Strong/Weak Against 

StarCraft 2 is essentially a modern day chess.  Every unit is used for a particular purpose.  No unit is the "best" unit in StarCraft 2.  Every unit can be countered if you know what it's weak against.  It makes sense then that every unit is strong against something.  Knowing how to use the units you create is paramount to success.

Let's again use the Carrier as an example.

From looking at the Carrier statistics - F12 button - I can tell that they are strong against Mutalisks and Pheonixes but weak against Vikings, Void Rays, and Corruptors.  I can also see that my Carrier will attack both ground and air units.  This means if I discover that my opponent is in the process of making Mutalisks and I want to counter his build it's a good time to start making Carriers.

These are the nuts and bolts that I need to successfully use a Carrier.  Again, you need to know this information for all of your units.

Learning how to effectively build and utilize your units will come with experience, but looking at the tech trees and unit statistics will help you learn about them faster.

Sunday Viewing: Halo Reach on the Horizon

I'm getting pumped for the Halo Reach beta next week.  Anyone who has Halo ODST gets access and I fall into that category.  The live action trailer released this week just helps top off the buzz surrounding Reach.

I stumbled upon an internet gem last week involving Dwarf Fortress.  In Dwarf Fortress players start and maintain a fortress over the course of its lifetime.  It is an overwhelmingly complex game.  A group of players got together and each played for one year.  Then they would save the game and send the save file to the next player.  They wrote about the progress of their fortress as it came along.

With that lead-in out of the way I want to point you to the year run by StarkRavingMad.  He is about 5 years into the play session and the fortress has had plenty of time to get messed up by multiple overseers.  His description is simply epic.  I don't want to ruin it, just read it.

Once again I'm going to mention the StarCraft 2 replay post series at Lost In Neurons.  Klelith highlighted cheese builds in SC2 this week.  If you want to see some crazy ways to mess with your opponent go read his post.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Current Games: StarCraft 2 Edition

A quick update on what I'm playing and what I intend to play.

I'm investing a lot of time in StarCraft 2 and in writing posts for my StarCraft 2 Newbie Guide.  I hope they are clear and helpful.  They are all things that I didn't know 2 weeks ago when I started playing StarCraft 2.

I beat the Splinter Cell Conviction single player campaign.  I liked it, but not as much as the co-op.  I'm doing a second playthrough on the hardest difficulty and playing around with some of the extra modes in the game.  Going for the P.E.C. challenges keeps me busy too.  I hope to do a second playthrough of the co-op campaign on a harder difficulty as well.  I'm really enjoying my time with Splinter Cell, but the co-op is much more impressive than the single player.

I have Darksiders from Gamefly on the floor next to my Xbox 360.  I haven't put in the disc yet, but it is next on my list.

I'm still dabbling in the Blur beta.  I can't believe how much fun I'm having.

The Halo Reach beta is launching next week and I'm pretty pumped for that.  I hope to see some new things, because Halo gets stale when they don't change it up.  Some of the new play modes look promising and the loadouts interest me.

I'm burned out on MMOs, but Guild Wars 2 piqued my interest and I have feelers out looking for a new MMO to occupy some of my time.  I may end up waiting until Cataclysm before I play a MMO again.

Loving Angry Birds on the ipod touch.  Another 60 second game for under a buck that was well worth the investment.

I hope to write more in-depth posts about all of these soon.

PSA: Guild Wars Trilogy

The Guild Wars Trilogy is on sale via steam at the moment.  Its $19.99 for all three Guild Wars games.  I decided to drop the twenty bucks for it after reading the Guild Wars 2 Manifesto the other day.

I want to understand the pedigree Guild Wars 2 will have, so I need to check out the first Guild Wars games.  I played the very first one way back when it was initially released but I never got around to checking out the expansion packs.  I know each is a stand alone game, so I will probably dive into one of the expansions instead of touching to original again.  With the sale going on, now is the perfect time to revisit the series.