Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Has Come and Gone or Indie Games Are Awesome

The year is (almost) at an end.  I know a lot of bloggers are doing top ten lists and predictions for the next year.  I've done that before, but today I feel like reflecting on 2011 in general instead of telling you about games you've already played.

The thing is, I realized that AAA $60 games were a huge disappointment for me this year.  I bought a handful, played them, and enjoyed them but looking back on the year I realize that they didn't truly do anything new.  My favorite 3 AAA titles this year were Arkham City, Assassin's Creed Revelations, and Skyrim.  They were all sequels with incremental improvements but none of them were truly groundbreaking.

For me the best part of 2011 were all the indie games.  Oh my god, the indie games.  I've seen them grow by leaps and bounds in the last few years.  With the rise of Steam, XBLA, PSN, and downloadable games in general indie games are gaining the attention of the wider gaming community.  The indie developers were the true innovators this year.

My favorite game released in 2011 was Bastion from the small team at Super Giant Games.  It gave storytelling an interesting twist with voice over in a world barely holding together.  That combined with an interesting art style to make the most memorable game of the year for me.  Super Giant Games tried new things and succeeded.

Bastion was awesome, but all the other games that surprised me with their innovation this year also came from indie developers.  Minecraft, Frozen Synapse, Atom Zombie Smasher, Tiny Wings, VVVVVV, SPAZ, and countless others I haven't tried.  Not to mention all the Humble Indie Bundle goodness that keeps coming our way.  These games are not only innovative, they are also much cheaper than the traditional $60 asking price.  Most of the games I just listed are in the $5 to $15 range.

My hopes for the future of the gaming industry no longer lie with the big name developers.  They're going to do what makes them the most money and stick to the tried and true.  Instead, I'm looking to the little guys, the start-ups, the independent developers who want to push the envelope and try something new.  That's what I learned this year.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Ready Player One

Happy Holidays everyone.  I hope the holiday season has given you some free time to be with family and (of course) get some gaming in.  I want to talk about an awesome gift I got from my brother, but I'll save that for another post because first I need to tell you about Ready Player One.

Last week it was slow at work and I had free time every night.  I fully intended to catch up on my Starcraft II and some of my Steam games but on Monday I happened to pick up a new book.  A friend recommended Ready Player One and said it was a great book for gamers.  That was a huge understatement.

Ready Player One is set in the near future and finds the world slowly falling into decay.  The world population now spends all their free time in the virtual world of OASIS.  OASIS is the evolution of modern day MMOs into a virtual universe where anything can exist.  The creator of OASIS was a child in the 1980s and pulled his love of 80s pop culture into OASIS.  Classic video games and movies have worlds and star systems devoted to them.

I couldn't put this book down last week.  Anyone who was alive in the 80s or appreciates classic video games will enjoy this sci-fi romp through a virtual world.  I have a feeling most of my readers would like this book.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The End is in Sight. Or is it?

I'm still playing through Final Fantasy II and enjoying the experience.  While playing, something caught my attention in this old JRPG.  I was grinding.  I was grinding for experience, gear, money, and other loot.  I was grinding the way I grind in MMOs.  But instead of that listless MMO feeling I was having fun.  What's the deal?

I think part of the reason is that I'm playing a game with a definitive ending.  I may be grinding, but there's an end in sight.  In MMOs it's way too easy to get stuck on the gear treadmill at "endgame" and keep grinding for better gear so that you can clear the next tier of raid so that you can get better gear etc, etc, etc.  That's how they keep you playing.  But without an ending, without that feeling of conclusion and satisfaction, a videogame loses something.

The end is always time for reflection

MMOs aren't the only culprit.  I've invested around 60 hours in Skyrim and have "completed" 2 of the main questlines that might as well have been entire games unto themselves (8+ hours for each).  The world and gameplay continue on despite finishing them.  Now, this is the nature of an Elder Scrolls game, they design it with open exploration in mind.  Nevertheless, Skyrim still loses something by having no true end.  There's no final payoff and sense of accomplishment.  That moment of sitting back on the couch and just reflecting on everything you've done while the credits roll doesn't exist.

I don't know if this is a problem or not.  What I do know is that games that end have a much bigger emotional impact on me than games without end.  The narratives and feelings from the game stay with me longer and I think about them more often.  So, maybe developers should think twice before deciding to create an open-ended game.  They might not be doing themselves a favor.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Revealing Thoughts on Revelations

I picked up Assassin's Creed Revelations for $25 on Black Friday thanks to Amazon lightning deals.  I always keep an eye out for when they do video game lightning deals and in this case it paid off.  The game had only been out for about 2 weeks and I saved $35.  I love Amazon.

Anyway, AC Revelations is ok.  I know that's not a rousing endorsement, but it's the truth.  In terms of gameplay there is so little added on top of the last installment that it's hard to be excited.

There are a few minor changes.  Desmond gets some intriguing puzzle gameplay while stuck in the Animus, Ezio gets to customize bombs, and Ezio has access to a  badass hookblade that allows the use of ziplines and faster climbing.  None of these is bad, but they don't go far enough.  The puzzle gameplay with Desmond tells an interesting story but the puzzles themselves don't offer much fun.  The bomb customization is worthless outside of specific bomb missions, you're better off using smoke bombs all the time.  And while ziplines and new kill animations are cool the hookblade doesn't dramatically shift the game.

So why did I even pay $25 for this game?  Well, I like the Assassin's Creed series.  I'm invested in the characters and want to know the outcome of the story.  I want to support the developers so that hopefully some day they make a true Assassins Creed 3 that radically revamps the entire gameplay into a new and amazing stealth/action/exploration epic.

At this point, with yearly releases, the Assassin's Creed series is losing steam with me.  Revelations was probably worth the $25 I paid just because I'm a fan of the series but it definitely is not worth the $60 it costs regularly.  If you're new to the series you would be much better served by buying Assassin's Creed II.  It's a great starting point to get into the series and it's now a platinum hit so it'll only cost you $19.99.  Or if you want a new release in the same vein that's worth the price of entry check out Batman Arkham City.

Keep in mind all of this is based off the single player game.  If I find something worthwhile in the multiplayer I'll write it up in another post.  But again, it looks extremely similar to what was offered in AC Brotherhood so don't be surprised if that post doesn't get written.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Achieve Arkham City

Batman: Arkham City is an achiever's delight.  It's a great action/exploration game filled to the brim with hidden Riddler trophies and mysteries to solve.  The whole game appealed to the explorer and achiever in me.  I even went on to do a 100% complete run of the game.  That meant completing over 400 Riddler challenges and I loved every minute.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Arkham City is the follow up to Arkham Asylum, a game I also loved.  It takes everything from Arkham Asylum and builds on it.  The combat has more diverse options and the controls feel tighter. The exploration is faster and far ranging thanks to the grappling hook, cape glide, and a full city to explore.  The cast of villains has been expanded to the point where some of the lesser known evil doers get their time to shine. Overall, it's a bigger badass Batman game.

All together I only had a couple of gripes.  By expanding the cast of villains the game actually ends up making each one seem weaker.  Since Batman defeats a villain and moves on to the next one so quickly I don't know if I even remember them all.  For such an iconic cast of characters that's a sad statement to make.  On the other hand the Joker and the Riddler are very well developed characters who I felt were actually Batman's equal.  They tormented me the entire game and made the payoff at the end that much sweeter.  Every other villain was a speed bump in comparison.

My other complaint is the stealth gameplay.  In Arkham Asylum I felt that stealth was always the answer.  Intelligently approaching a room to stealthily eliminate every opponent without being detected was the name of the game.  Hand to hand combat was always a last resort that felt less effective.  It's similar to the feeling I get at the start of an Assassin's Creed game.  Stay stealthy, stay smart.

This is no longer the case in Arkham City.  Batman is so powerful in hand to hand combat that I barely used stealth throughout my entire play-through.  A common battle tactic of mine was to throw a freeze grenade into a group of enemies, freezing 3-4 of them, then dive bomb at full speed into whoever was left resulting in an instant takedown and scattering anyone still standing.  I would follow that up with a batarang to a distant enemies, a batclaw to disarm a foe, a remote electric charge to any other armed foe (making them swing wildly at those around them), and then an explosive spray on the ground while I flipped away and detonated it.  From there cleanup was a breeze.  Yes, it's badass, but with abilities like that why would I ever take the time to be stealthy?

Keep in mind that when my two complaints are that there are too many iconic villians and that Batman is too badass the overall game must be good.  And it is.  I invested more time then I would like to admit in Arkham City.  From me, that's a rousing endorsement.  I played through Arkham City to the end and then I went back for more.

StarCraft 2 for $30

I don't normally endorse game sales, but StarCraft 2 is half price from now until Monday.  This is my absolute favorite game from the past 2 years and I recommend it to everyone, even at full price.  I love it so much I've written a whole Newbie Guide about it.  If you are an RTS fan and you don't own SC2 you don't know what you're missing.  If you've ever been intrigued by Starcraft 2 now is the time to pick it up.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gaming While Busy

I miss posting multiple times per week, but work has been absolutely crazy busy this fall.  It's great for us at work, but I haven't had a whole lot of extra energy to write about gaming.

That's not to say I haven't made time to actually play games.  I'm on vacation now for all of next week so I'm hoping to catch up on posting.  But, I wanted to touch base first and let you know generally what I've been up to.

I'm still playing Starcraft 2 at least a few times each week.  It's amazing to me that this game is so fun after a year and a half of playing it.  I don't anticipate it falling out of my gaming rotation any time soon.

I'm slowly working my way through Final Fantasy II on the ipod touch.  I'm getting to the point where I just want to finish it, but it can still be fun in small doses.

I bought and beat (100%) Batman Arkham City.  I loved the game, so I definitely need to get a post up about it soon.

I've been dabbling in Battlefield 3, League of Legends Dominion, and the Tribes Ascend beta.

Not to mention that Skyrim has absolutely dominated my gaming time since it came out on the 11th.

Each of those games has at least one post attached to it, so hopefully I can crank out a bunch of them for you lovely readers this week.  I did want to mention that of all these games I might be the most excited for Tribes Ascend.  I'll have to check out the NDA to see what I can write about it, but overall this is a PC shooter that I would love to see succeed.  If you care about FPS on the PC even remotely you should watch this video by Total Biscuit.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Must Orcs Die?

Yes, they must.  Orcs Must Die is an entertaining hybrid of the tower defense and shooter genres from robot entertainment.  I picked it up when it released last month and couldn't put it down for days.  I had a blast placing traps and trap combinations for the horde of orcs to stumble into while I head-shot them with a crossbow.

The overall concept is familiar.  Stop wave after wave of enemies from reaching your exit point.  The difference is in the execution.  In Orcs Must Die you control a single war-mage on the ground who is entirely in charge of placing traps and killing stragglers.  The 3rd person shooter viewpoint made me feel much more immersed in the action compared to the standard high altitude/isometric view found in most tower defense games.

As you progress you unlock new spells, traps, and guardians.  Points gained from successful defense can also be used to upgrade existing spells, traps, and guardians.  It's not much of an upgrade system, and I wish it were deeper, but it's a step in the right direction.  If there were more upgrades for each item with different upgrade paths I think it would make for an intriguing upgrade system.  I guess I'll have to hold out for the sequel.

My only other gripe about the game is the amount of clicking involved.  As the player, you want to constantly be shooting at the orcs to maximize your damage to the horde.  There is no auto-attack, which means that throughout the game I was constantly clicking to fire my crossbow.  It's fine for a couple minutes but gets annoying after that. Fair warning for those with carpal tunnel or repetitive motion injuries.

I had a really fun week with the game upon it's initial release, but since then I've been devoting my gaming time elsewhere.  Because of that, I would recommend it to anyone who whole-heartedly loves the tower defense genre.  It's worth the $15 for you to own it.  For everyone else, it's still a fun game but you should probably wait for a Steam sale or price drop before picking it up.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Blizzcon News

Everywhere I look, people are writing about Pandas and how Blizzard is mis-stepping with the new WoW expansion.  I looked at the news, shrugged, and moved on.  I guess I really am done with WoW.

On the other hand I read everything I could find about the new StarCraft 2 units!  They look awesome.  It's much more exciting news for me because adding new units totally changes the game balance and the flow of battle.  Here's a full list of the new units and changes.

Protoss are (finally) getting some more anti-air and an intriguing new unit that can become any other unit in the game.  Unfortunately Carriers are being pulled from multiplayer all together.  Some Zerg units are changing or gaining abilities, like the awesome burrowed charge for Ultralisks.  They're also getting a new siege unit which resembles a burrowed Broodlord.  Terran Hellions will be able to morph into what looks like a giant mechanical firebat.  A Terran player will be limited to one Thor at a time, but Thors are getting a huge buff.

Balancing three races must be an unbelievable amount of work.  I can't even imagine how much time has gone into it.  Needless to say the multiplayer will have a different feel once the new expansion hits.  And that, for me, is way more exciting than Pandas.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

For Chainsaw Enthusiasts Only

Gears of War 3 has been out for a few weeks but I put off writing about it until now.  I've been playing it off and on since it's release because I really wanted to like it.  The problem is... I don't.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad game.  Unfortunately, it's just more of the same.  I liked Gears of War and it's sequel a lot but this third installment isn't doing it for me.

The problem is that it plays exactly like Gears of War 2.  Granted, now there's four player co-op, a couple new guns, and some new enemies... but it all feels like it's been done before.  Probably because it has.

There are a few other new features.  Horde mode, one of Gear's crowning achievements, has some added base building features.  Beast mode now let's you play as the enemy killing the humans.  Overall, the whole package is tied into a nice online system too.

But I have to be honest.  If you didn't absolutely love Gears of War 2 then do not spend $60 on this game.  There's nothing new here.  I paid full price and I regret it.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Opaque Mistakes Breed Frustration

Recently I’ve been playing two separate games which go by the names of Starcraft 2 and League of Legends. Both games are highly competitive. Both pit players against each other in deadly head to head combat. And, without a doubt, both are ruthlessly brutal to new players. Yet, only one of them frustrates me beyond belief.

League of Legends.

It’s interesting that two games which are so competitively similar can affect me in two vastly different ways. So why is that? I believe the key lies in how information comes across, or does not come across, to the player. Starcraft 2 is very transparent, while League of Legends is extremely opaque.

In Starcraft 2 most information is telegraphed to the player. It’s pretty obvious to anyone that an army with 30 units is better than an army with 15. While unit composition can muddy the water of army size comparisons, most of the time, it still takes a miracle to beat an army twice the size of yours. This transparency also extends to game wins and loses. Most of the time I can tell you why I won or lost a match of Starcraft 2. (“My macro was just horrible.” “I could have microed that battle so much better.” “If only I had scouted that tech switch sooner.”) It’s this information that allows me to improve my play, and it’s this information that helps me see that a loss was my fault. I lost because I did something wrong and I could have played better and actually won.

This is where League of Legends fails. It’s like a stone faced royal guard, just too damn opaque. In League of Legends it’s incredibly hard to tell how strong your opponent is. All you can tell at a glance is how much health someone has. You can’t know for certain how much damage they can dish out or if they run faster than you, or how much armor they currently have. So, when I die over and over again to a player, I couldn’t tell you why. It’s even worse when that player has seemingly less health than me(the most visible stat in the game), shouldn’t I be stronger? Am I just playing bad? Did I not level fast enough? Did I buy the wrong items? I don’t know. All I know is that I keep dieing and it sure as hell doesn’t feel like my fault. That champion must be unbalance, and overpowered. There’s seemingly nothing at all that I can do to win.

And when I’m powerless to do anything, I get frustrated.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Still Here, Just Quiet

I haven't had a lot to post about lately.  I've been mostly just killing time by playing League of Legends and Red Orchestra 2.  League I've already talked about in depth and I'm still not sure what I think about RO2.  It's a WWII game set on the Russia/German front that's a lot more realistic than most first persons shooters.  I'm hoping my brother will do a write up for A Green Mushroom on it soon, since he's had more hands on time with the game than I have.

Gears of War 3 is releasing tomorrow, and I'm very excited for it.  I'm not expecting anything new or groundbreaking.  I'm just looking forward to playing a series I love that's been polished to perfection.  All the reviews I've seen have been positive.  It's also a great excuse to get someone to sit down and play couch co-op with me.

On the MMO front I'm starting to feel twinges of interest in Guild Wars 2.  That's saying a lot since I still feel burned out on MMOs from my last stint in Azeroth.  SWTOR is looking more and more like a WoW clone with an interesting license, but GW2 seems to actually be doing some new things.  I'll keep my eye on it.

To make up for my absence, I come bearing this awesome link.  Read the article.  I know it's Cracked and it's supposed to be humor/satire, but a lot of the points hit home with me since I'm now a husband, father, full-time worker, and a gamer.  While I don't think I'm getting too old for gaming, as the article claims, it does bring up some valid points.  As I'm settling into my adult life I'm treating gaming differently then I used to.  Anyway, check that one out.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

No 3DS for Me

The 3DS is bombing.  Sales numbers are way lower than projected and Nintendo has already done a massive price cut in the hopes of increasing holiday sales and hype.  Executives are taking pay cuts and apologizing to investors.  The rumors are circulating that Nintendo is considering a hardware redesign already.  They have rewarded early adopters with free games, but that doesn't fix the main problem, that people aren't buying their system.

I can't speak for everyone, but I can tell you why I don't own a 3DS.  In a nutshell, I've been spoiled by the price of mobile games.  I play games on my ipod touch almost every day and the most I paid for one was around the $8 mark but even that is the exception.  95% of my games were in the 1 to 2 dollar range.  I get hours upon hours of play out of the games I purchase and for $1 it's a steal.

When I'm getting so much playtime for a few bucks on my mobile device how can I justify paying $30+ for each 3DS game?  Realistically, I can't.  It's not the full-fledged experience that I pay for on the PC or Xbox 360.  The 3DS is inherently a mobile gaming platform.  Despite the 3D hardware, with the prevalence of smartphones we have new standards upon which we judge mobile gaming.  Unfortunately for the 3DS it's still playing by the old rules.  It may be cool new hardware with a big name behind it, but I don't think fortune is in it's favor.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Final Fantasy II Impressions: Hitting Myself in the Face

Despite the title, I like Final Fantasy II.  I'll get to the face hitting part in a moment.  Overall, Final Fantasy II is very similar to FFI and, really, any other classic JRPG out there.  All the genre staples are present; armor, weapons, gaining power, new abilities, a heroic quest.  The 2D sprites are classic, but nothing to write home about.  It's obvious that when Squaresoft was making FFII they wanted to keep it close to the first game.

Don't count out those game designers at Square completely, there are differences in FFII.  Whether they're good or not is another question.

The leveling system has been completely redesigned.  Each individual skill levels up with use instead of leveling up as an entire character.  In theory it sounds interesting, and it's been used to great success in some modern games, but the problem is with the execution.  For example, if a character ends a battle with much less health than they started it with (by taking massive damage) their max hp will increase.  This was great and all until I realized that the enemies didn't have to be the ones that caused the damage.

I immediately started gaming the system.  I would go up against minor monsters while wandering the overworld and kill off all but one in battle.  Then I would have all of my characters hit themselves in the face (I assume they aim for the face because I find that hilarious) until their health was critical, at which point they would finish the battle.  This way their max health would go up after every battle.  Face-hitting is the most funny example but spamming white magic on full-health party members worked great too.  My spell levels skyrocketed with little effort.

In Final Fantasy II's defense there were improvements.  There are real characters in this game, with a back-story and motivations.  It's much better than the empty shells in Final Fantasy I.  And, better yet, there's a story!  Things happen, there is cause and effect, events change the world.  In FFI I was told that the enemy was evil and I had to kill his minions and then him.  In FFII characters come and go, rebels rise and fall, superweapons are made and villages are decimated.  It's nice to feel a connection to the story instead of just playing through the game as a series of dungeon crawls.

The leveling system is an improvement in some sense.  While it can be abused it also makes for interesting characters because there are no pre-set classes.  My Firion isn't locked into being a mage, he can be whatever I want him to be.  The same goes for the rest of my party.  I feel like this is foreshadowing some of the ideas in FFVII's Materia system down the line.  I ended up making most of my characters into the equivalent of a red mage and I'm having fun with the result.

More of the Final Fantasy traditions are also emerging.  I've already run into chocobos that can be ridden and a Cid that flies a handy airship.  It will be interesting to see more of these appear as the series continues.

Final Fantasy II is a decent old school JRPG and I'm having fun with it in bite-sized chunks.  5 minutes of play here, 10 minutes there and I'm happy.  I don't know if I could sit down with this game for an hour straight, but I would still recommend it as a pick up and play title for mobile devices.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lasting Appeal

I can't find a new game to hold my attention.  I want something that I've never played before that grabs me and keeps me interested... but I've had no luck.

Thankfully, I have a few fallback games that keep me happy.  Team Fortress 2, League of Legends, and Starcraft 2 are all amazing games that I love to play.  I started wondering why I keep coming back for more.

After giving it some thought, I've come up with a few reasons these games stay enjoyable.

PvP Done Right
No matter how well an AI is programmed there is still nothing like matching wit and skill with another human.  All 3 of these games are based around multiplayer and have systems in place to keep things fair while competing against other humans.  TF2 scrambles the teams whenever it detects a big imbalance in skill.  SC2 and League both have awesome ranking systems in place to match players with others of a similar skill level.  This way, no matter how good or bad you are, you'll have just the right amount of challenge in your gameplay.

Diversity of Play
TF2 has 8 classes which all play in unique ways, SC2 has 3 races that add their own twist to the RTS formula, and League has close to 80 champions to pick from that span a wide range of playstyles (and they add more all the time).  Not to mention that each of these games has multiple game modes which means there's even more chance to find something fun to do.

Skill, not Luck
I know when I'm playing these games that I win or lose by skill alone.  There's no dice rolling or random number generator in the background to swing the game one way or another.  Skill determines the outcome.  In TF2 and League my twitch skills are tested, but also my skills at communicating with teammates and coordinating our efforts.  We win and lose as a team.  In SC2 my multitasking, strategy, and execution skills are put to the test and I rise or fall depending on me alone (I play mostly 1v1s).

These categories are some of the key aspects that keep these games fun.  I could also tell you about the level of polish or the stylistic graphics or the payment models or other details that I love... but I think it all comes down to fun gameplay in the end.

So, dear readers, do you have any games that always seem to draw you back for more?  What do you love about them?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Those Dulcet Tones

From the moment The Kid awakens he's vocally followed by an aloof narrator.  That, above all else, makes Bastion stand apart from a stagnant game market.  The narrator's ever-present dulcet tones hounded and haunted me as I played but they simultaneously drove me onward.  Super Giant Games has implemented a storytelling device in a unique way that must be experienced to be appreciated fully.

I should have written about Bastion when it first released on XBLA but I was far too busy playing the game.  I beat my first playthrough of Bastion within three days of it's release.  I honestly can't tell you the last time I was so drawn into a game.

Mechanically, Bastion is a hack and slash, but putting it like that doesn't do it justice.  Every weapon has it's own individual feel, something often overlooked and no easy feat to accomplish.  Choosing and customizing the weapons that accompanied me were fun decisions because they actually mattered.  The bow ended up being my trusty companion during my adventure while I switched out the second slot to play around with all the other weapon options.

I'm four paragraphs in and haven't even mentioned the visuals.  Shame on me.  The way the world is reconstructed at The Kid's feet is simply breathtaking.  It gives the world the feeling of being utterly destroyed with just a tiny bit of land still clinging to existence.  The artwork throughout is beautiful and made every new area a treat to explore.

At this point it would be next to impossible to top Bastion as my favorite indie game of the year.  We'll see how I feel in January, but this game completely captivated me.  It's out now on PC and XBLA for just under $15.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Trenched: Multiplayer, Co-op, Mech-based, Tower Defense

Trenched is the most interesting take on tower defense that I've played in awhile.  This game came out of nowhere, it wasn't even on my radar, but when I tried the demo on XBLA and I was hooked.

The second I got into a "mobile trench" I knew this game was something different.  The World War I/II mech setting somehow works and really drew me in as I played.  I did the first couple of missions solo while I felt out the mixture of laying down defensive turrets and charging with guns blazing.

Then I discovered the best part of the game, multiplayer!  All of the missions can be played with friends or with a random set of allies online.  Once I played a map with allies I didn't even consider going back to solo.  Not only is four more fun than one but getting to see each player's customized Trench is a treat.

There's all the customization I've come to expect from a mech game.  Various chassis (basically classes) with different strengths and weaknesses along with all sorts of weapons that fit into various sized slots within said chassis.  I had just as much fun in my engineering chassis throwing down turrets left and right as I did in my heavy chassis running and gunning.

With a free demo, anyone considering themselves a fan of tower defense, co-op, shooters, or mech games should spend some time with Trenched.  I shelled out the $15 for the full game and after playing through to completion I don't regret it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Console and PC Disharmony

I have a huge craving for a single player console game.  I want something that I can have fun with while blasting through mindlessly, but I can't find a good one I haven't played!  Ugh.  But that's what happens in the summer slump.

Anyway, since I'm in the mood for a console game but have been doing a lot of PC gaming lately I started to think about why I want to play a console title.  The main reason is the sitting back experience.

My oh-so-comfy couch

When I'm playing PC games I'm always sitting forward (or at least sitting straight in my chair) while I'm engaged with the game.  When I'm gaming on a console I'm usually slouched back in my comfy couch.  They make for two very different styles of play.

One isn't necessarily better than the other, but some days I just want to slouch in my comfy couch and chill out.  I haven't been able to do that as much as I'd like to lately.  I guess I'm still stuck holding out until fall.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Matter of Time, Time Played That Is

When people shop for games, they want to know if what they're going to buy is worth the price they're paying. This is just like any product you'd buy, but it's arguably much harder with video games.

Video games are a subjective thing at their heart. How much enjoyment a person has with a game can be drastically different between individuals. Different game genres, art styles, levels of quality, and even developers can make or break a game for some, while others could care less.

So, people do their best to work with the tools available and try to turn a decision that's subjective into as objective a decision as possible. They read reviews written by an author they don't know with scores that are heavily skewed toward the high end of the scale. They watch video footage of gameplay and look at screenshots. Maybe they try a demo. And if they're lucky, they talk to their friends who own the game.

But why don't people share and look at time played? The amount of time someone spends playing a game can be an indicator of if they got their money's worth or not. If someone buys a game and only plays it for an hours or not at all, perhaps it's not worth picking up. At the other end of the spectrum is when a game gets played hours and hours, meaning, for some reason, the player keeps coming back for more. None of this tells you why a game might be good or bad, and you still run into the issue of whether or not you like the same types of games as the person the stats are from. All this considered, it can be used, along with other factors, to help in the selection of games.

Helpfully, Steam keeps track of how long you've played every game in your collection. Below, you'll find a compiled list of every steam game I own and how long I've played each of them. Take it with a grain of salt, especially those games with 0 play time, which could mean I just never found the time to play it.

What the Hell is a Klelith?

Lost in Neurons is an analysis blog written solely by Klelith that I've been reading since it started. I would be generous if I said its posting schedule was average. However, when a post does come around, it tends to swoop in out of nowhere with deep analysis on a vast number of subjects from gaming and technology, to fiction stories and funny videos.  He'll drop it off in the middle of the night with little warning and vanish before you realize he was ever there. 

This level of writing is beyond mine to say the least, so I have always forgiven Klelith for the sporadic   posting schedule. 

I've had the pleasure of knowing this writer for several years, seeing that he is in fact, my brother. I have been asking for ages for him to do a guest post about gaming for A Green Mushroom to no avail.  

I had all but given up when he offered to do all of his game analysis posts on this blog. Imagine my surprise!

All of his other thoughts on things like programming, technology, thoughts about life, fiction, and just existing will still be posted over at Lost in Neurons so be sure to check out his site.

The majority of A Green Mushroom's posts will still be done by me, but you'll know Klelith's work when you read it! Enjoy readers, and welcome aboard Klelith!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Time to Think

We're so connected all the time.  Between work and leisure time I'm constantly looking at screens.  Technology is amazing but it's invaded our lives.  It's not always a bad thing, but I find I need to disengage to recharge my mind.  I consume so much content in any given day that my brain needs time off.  I need to give myself time to think original thoughts.

Part of my problem is that not only work but also my hobbies revolve around technology.  I'm finding more and more that I'm a happier person overall if I take some time each day to be quiet.  Sometimes I just sit and think, but even more fun is playing with my daughter on the floor, talking to my wife, or taking a walk outside.  I love being around my family, but I love interacting with them even more!

And it's the perfect season to step away from technology.  I try to remind myself to enjoy the summer!  Minnesota winter is always lurking around the corner and it sneaks up fast.

Maybe this post will make you rethink how much time you spend in front of a screen, but mainly it's for me.  I'm still here.  I'm still thinking about games and I have a bunch of posts in my head.  But, for now, I'm taking a little bit more time away from screens to enjoy life.  As fall and winter set in I'm sure my posts will pick back up.  Until then, make sure you enjoy your summer too.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On the Horizon

I was thinking about the summer slump today so I browsed ahead to the fall launch lineup and holy shit.  There are so many AAA titles coming out between September and November.  Let me run down a quick list of the ones I know I want.  Gears of War 3, Assassin's Creed Revelations, Batman Arkham City, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Modern Warfare 3, Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary.  Not to mention a bunch of others that I want to check out before I buy.

Many of these games are releasing within a week of one another.  It's crazy.  I know why they do it.  They want the holiday hype to drive sales from Thanksgiving until Christmas.  The logic makes sense, but I don't know if it's still the best idea when all of these other games are releasing at the same time.

The crazy thing is, if one of those games released right now it would have all the press attention it wanted until September.  Think about how much Starcraft 2 dominated the gaming news last summer.  It was a great game, for sure, but a huge part of the coverage was because there wasn't a whole lot to write about.

So here I am in the summer, enjoying my time outside for sure.  But when I sit down to game I'm mostly fooling around with old JRPGs, XBLA games, and my fallback PC games.  If one of those AAA fall titles was available today I know it would get my $60 and I'm sure there are many more who feel the same way.  I guess we'll just have to wait until the frenzied fall.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Snap Judgements: MK, Ms. Splosion Man, Professor Layton

This time you get three games in one post.  How exciting for you.  This is what happens when real life gets busy and I try to play catch up with my posts.  Let's get to it.

Mortal Kombat
Platform: Xbox 360
Total Play Time: 2.5 hours

Mortal Kombat hasn't changed much over the years.  It's still full of over the top gore.  Overall, it's a fighting game on a 2D plane with decent controls.  I still prefer the Street Fighter series, but it's nice to see MK go back to it's roots with this game.  After a few hours of playing around with Fatalities I had seen all I cared to.  This is not a game that I could sink days into.  I have to admit that the fatalities appealed to my inner 13 year old, but besides that I wasn't overly impressed.

Ms. Splosion Man
Platform: Xbox 360 (XBLA)
Total Play Time: 3.5 hours

Ms. Splosion man is a satisfactory follow up to XBLA hit Splosion Man.  If you're a platforming fan and haven't played the original Splosion Man you should probably give it a look.  It's jumping mechanic revolves around the main character exploding, which you have to admit is awesome.  I'm enjoying this sequel, but I don't know if I would recommend it to others.  It just doesn't do enough new things to warrant the current asking price.  If it drops in cost pick it up for sure.  Until then, go visit the original if you haven't.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
Platform: Nintendo DS
Total Play Time: 3 or 25 hours

Why is my play time 3 or 25 hours?  Good question.  I rented this game and played for about 3 hours over the first few days.  Then my wife saw me playing it, loved it, and invested another 25 hours or so to beat the game.  Professor Layton is a point and click adventure game with a series of puzzles along the way.  I liked the game, but my wife absolutely loved it.  Honestly, the best part was sitting down with her to play a game together.  As a friend over at Systemic Babble would say, it's a great cuddle game.  I couldn't put it better myself.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Console Quandary

I'm back from vacation and ready to write.  In other big news I just landed my first full-time salaried job!  I had a good couple of weeks.

I told myself once I got a full-time job one of my rewards would be a new gaming console, so now I have to make a decision.  Should I get a PS3 or a 3DS?  I really can't make up my mind.

The 3DS has a few awesome 3D remakes of some of my favorite games.  Namely, Star Fox 64 and Ocarina of Time.  I'm sure down the line they'll release some new Mario platformers, which I'll eat up.  Nintendo has also announced a new Smash Bros game for the 3DS and I don't want to pass that up, although it may be years away.

The PS3, on the other hand has a HUGE backlog of games already.  It's been out about the same amount of time as the Xbox 360 and has fallen in price many times.  The built in Blu-Ray player would be a cool added bonus.  I've wanted to check out the Uncharted series, Little Big Planet, Infamous, Warhawk, Demon Souls,  and God of War III.  The real draw for me here are the PSN downloadable games.  I haven't regretted any money I've spent on XBLA and I'm sure I would love the downloadable titles from PSN as well.  Off the top of my head I want to try Flower, the Pixeljunk series, Fat Princess, and 3D Dot Game Heroes.  Not to mention the Final Fantasy's available for download as PS One Classics.

Looking at my lists I can tell PS3 has a bigger backlog now, but I just love the potential of the 3DS.  The other reason I hesitate to buy a PS3 is because most of the games I buy are cross-platform and I'll always choose the 360 over the PS3.

So, readers, please help.  I truly can't make up my mind.  If you own a PS3, 3DS, or both, leave me some feedback in the comments.  I'll owe you one.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Snap Judgement: Super Scribblenauts

Platform: Nintendo DS
Total Play Time: 45 minutes

Super Scribblenauts is an advancement from the original Scribblenauts, there's no faulting that.  The control issues have been taken care of and there are more words and modifiers than in the first game.  The overall premise, summoning anything you want out of thin air, remains the same.

I have to admit that I laughed when I accidentally put a zombie on a dinosaur and he commanded the dinosaur to kill me.  But besides that chuckle I was mostly bored.  While I love the idea of Super Scribblenauts I just couldn't get into the gameplay.  I saw how it was meant to be fun and how others could find the game fun, but it just didn't click with me.  I was hoping all the improvements would really wow me, but the game hasn't made a giant leap from where it started.  It's probably more of a problem with me than with the game.

I will say there's a ton of potential in this game for you if you love words, vocabulary, and stretching your mind.  As for me, I wanted to love it, but I'm sending it back to Gamefly.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Snap Judgement: Inside a Star-filled Sky

Platform: PC
Total Play Time: 20 minutes

Inside a Star-filled Sky is full of interesting design decisions.  The core gameplay idea is that while fighting your way through a Shump you are able to dive into enemies, power-ups, and yourself to change inherent characteristics.  Not only are you diving into all these things but while not inside of objects you're trying to ascend to higher planes of existence.  Needless to say, there's a lot going on here.

Unfortunately, these interesting concepts are marred by generic and flawed gameplay.  The twin stick shooter concept works well enough, but it's been done to death by now.  The main problem with this game in particular lies in corridors.  A twin stick shooter needs a decent amount of open space and lots of enemies to be fun.  Inside a Star-filled Sky has few enemies and lots of narrow corridors.  This results in all kinds of cheap deaths and impassible sections because there's no room to dodge.  It's extremely frustrating to feel confined, bored, and unfairly defeated all at the same time.

If you want a fun shoot'em up I would recommend other games instead.  For some twin-stick shooting try out Geometry Wars 2.  If you're in the mood for a bullet hell dodge-fest you won't go wrong with Ikaruga.  There's also a new game that caught my attention called Realm of the Mad God.  I've been playing it almost every night and having a great time with it.  It's free to play, all you need is the Chrome web browser.  Expect a write up on it soon, but until then you might as well try it if you want something new.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Reading: Deep Thoughts Edition

I haven't done a link dump post in a while and this week I read a bunch of really interesting posts.  Here they are for your perusal.

Kill Ten Rats: Time outweighs the price of entertainment.
Elder Game: Fun loops and gameplay loops.
Systemic Babble: Complex vs elaborate games.
Killed in a Smiling Accident: MMO combat is based too much around the UI.
Killed in a Smiling Accident: Concern for the MMO blogging scene.

Support the Indie Game documentary by checking out their Kickstarter page and donating!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Legendary Legend of Zelda

A remastered 3D Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time was released yesterday and there's been a lot of press coverage since it's widely considered the best Zelda game.  Now I have Zelda on the brain.  By the way, if you're interested in doing a community playthrough of Ocarina of Time, along with forum posts and discussions, you should definitely check out The Brainy Gamer as he's organizing one this very moment.

After reading a round-table discussion about the creation of OoT (seriously, go read this now if you're a Zelda fan) I have an itch to play a Zelda game.  Since I don't own a 3DS and don't feel like buying one just yet that means I'll have to play something besides the new release.

Ocarina of Time is considered the definitive Zelda and most people say A Link to the Past is a close second.  Personally, I found Wind Waker, with it's cel-shaded graphics, to be one of my favorite's and I'm extremely tempted to go back and replay it.

The one thing stopping me is the fact that I never beat Twilight Princess, the latest Zelda offering for the Nintendo Wii.  I remember the motion controls kind of bugged me, but I think the main reason I stopped my playthrough was because I got stuck and there were no guides out yet.  If I remember right, Twilight Princess had solid gameplay and a lot of potential... along with an annoying creature from another dimension.

And that's the thing.  If I can't remember that much, maybe I should give it another chance.  It is the only Zelda I haven't beaten...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Snap Judgement: Final Fantasy Four Heroes of Light

Platform: Nintendo DS
Total Play Time: 40 minutes

My first thought on booting up the game, "These graphics are ick."  I would rather have beautiful high-res 2D graphics than these blurry/muddy 3D graphics.  What a bad first impression.

After that initial letdown I realized the stylus was bugging me.  It created a feeling of disconnection from the game.  I'm so used to touching a screen with my finger on my ipod touch that the DS stylus feels awkward,  especially after just completing FFI entirely on the ipod touch.

There is absolutely no tutorial in Four Heroes of Light and I immediately felt lost.  I got to the first cave, at which point they told me I had to go back to town to buy a torch, but I got back to town and had no money so I wasn't able to buy a torch.  I figured it out eventually but it still would have been nice for some straight up explanation of what was going on.

The playthrough wasn't going well and then I decided to save.  I quickly discovered the only way to save was at a save point.  Save points are an unnecessary hassle in this day and age.  On handheld devices a save anywhere system should be the norm.  It's frustrating to trek back to town to save and I know it would piss me off if I continued to play this game.

There were a couple interesting things going on with inventory management, ability points, and camera angles. Sadly, these weren't enough to overcome my negative thoughts.

After 40 minutes I threw in the towel and moved on with life.  I don't think I'll every come back to play this one again.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Snap Judgements

With my Gamefly subscription in full swing I've decided to start a series of Snap Judgement posts.  I'm going to be trying out games and treating them almost like a demo, but I'll give them a little extra time and effort.

My only rule is that I'll give a game a minimum of 15 minutes.  If a game can't hold my attention in the first 15 minutes then I'm done with it.  With every game I drop, I will let you know how long I played that game before setting it aside.  But, if I like a game, I may very well end up playing it to completion.

Expect to see a handful of these posts over the summer.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Abandoned Games

We've all done it.  We start a game with dreams in our heart only to find it lackluster as we play.  One day we just stop playing and then never really find our way back to it.  I know it's happened to me and I know it's happened to you.

For some reason at some point you have abandoned a game without getting your money's worth.

This year I dropped Red Dead Redemption and Dragon Age II without completing them.  I try to be good about only buying games that I'm going to play to completion, but it's not always possible to know in advance how much I'm going to like a game.  That's one of the reasons I save up my "maybe" games throughout the year and then try them out with my Gamefly subscription in the summer.  I really don't want to invest $60 in a game that I won't get the most out of.

I don't feel as bad when I buy a cheaper game and stop playing them part way through.  That's probably why I'm trending towards downloadable titles and indie game lately.  Sales on Steam, XBLA, and the iOS ipod app store all get me excited.

More companies are releasing demos alongside their games now too.  I love this trend because it's just another way to ensure I don't get burned with my game choices.

So, readers, how about you?  What bad game purchasing decisions stand out in your mind?  Did you pick up any flops this year?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Final Fantasy I Post Mortem

After months of chipping away at it, I've completed Final Fantasy I.  It had it's ups and downs but I must say it has provided me with hours of entertainment.  You have to admit, months of entertainment for $9 is a steal.  My completion time was right around 18 hours, but it was broken up into chunks of 5-10 minutes which is why it lasted so long.  I think the longest play session I did was around 30 minutes and that only happened once.  As always, my initial impressions still stand but I had a few other thoughts along the way too.

The main thing I liked about this game was the chance to look back at the foundation of modern RPGs.  Final Fantasy basically defined the shape of the JRPG genre and many of the conventions set forth in this game can still be seen in RPGs today.

The whole game was fun back-to-back dungeon romps.  If you're in the mood for that type of gameplay then Final Fantasy I still measures up.

Where it doesn't measure up is the story.  Almost all relevant information about the story is revealed in the first half hour and the closing epilogue, the 17.5 hours in between are pretty bare.  The four Heroes of Light have to defeat the four Fiends to restore the crystals' power and defeat the evil Garland.  That sentence was the entire story for 18 hours.  There are side quests and obstacles that need to be overcome, but none of them advance the characters or change the shape of the story.

And that's the thing I missed the most, a driving storyline.  My favorite Final Fantasys, VII through X, all have a driving storyline with character advancement and plot twists along the way.  Watching Cloud come into his own against Sephiroth and holding my breath to see if Zidane and Garnet would be reunited are moments captured in my mind forever.  While I still knew why I was adventuring in FFI I, didn't really care about the reason.  I'm interested to see how story becomes more important throughout the progression of the series.

I've always wanted to go back and play through the first game in this series that I love.  I'm proud of myself for actually doing it!  I think it's amazing to look how far we've come in such a short amount of time.

Now I need to determine the next Final Fantasy that I'm going to play through.  It's probably either going to be FFII or FFVI since I have them both already.  The question is, do I want to keep going chronologically or do I want to take a break from the super old school and play something closer to modern?  I don't know.  I'm going to take some time to think about it before I decide.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Clash of Heroes Post Mortem

I just finished the Clash of Heroes single player campaign and thought I'd reiterate how much fun it was.  A tactical RPG puzzle game isn't something you come across every day and this one held me captive most nights for the past few weeks.

On top of what I mentioned in my initial impressions there were also a ton of battles with interesting win conditions.  If I ever felt like I was close to getting bored, one of these odd battles would pop up and re-engage me.  Switching between 5 main characters helped keep things fresh too.

In the end, Clash of Heroes took me 30 hours to beat and provided me with weeks of entertainment for only 15 dollars.  And there's still a whole multiplayer aspect that I haven't touch yet.

I liked this game a lot and now it's put me in the mood for something else tactical.  I want something slow-paced.  Maybe a turn based battle system of some kind.  I'm in the mood for more thoughtful decisions and less twitch action.  Please leave any suggestions you may have in the comments.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Games for the Summer, Games from the Year

With the summer slump setting back in for the gaming world I've done my yearly re-subscribe to Gamefly.I reactivated my account and started adding games to my queue.

I sorted through all the games released in the past year for every console I own (Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS) adding everything that I didn't own but wanted to try.  Most summers my queue is full of somewhere between 50 and 75 games.  Imagine my surprise when I clicked on the queue button, after hours of dissecting this year's releases, to find that I only had 13 games there!

I started to wonder what happened over the past year to cause such a huge discrepancy.  After looking through my game collection and thinking back over the past 12 months I realized that I barely played any traditional console games at all.  Most of my gaming time has been spent on the PC or with downloadable titles on Xbox Live Arcade or on my ipod touch.

I only bought 3 full priced ($60) console games this whole year.  Halo Reach, Red Dead Redemption, and Assassin's Creed Brotherhood.  I didn't even beat Red Dead Redemption either.

Tiny Tiny Giraffe loves mobile games.

On the other hand, most of my gaming money has been spent on $1 to $15 downloadable titles.  I've bought so many more games in the past year because of that price point that it's unbelievable.  Most of my favorites from the past year have been innovative indie titles outside of the main publishers.

None of this dawned on me until today, but I must say I love the way this trend is heading.  It's easier and cheaper to buy more innovative and interesting games.  It's amazing!  I hope this continues for the foreseeable future.  I'm still in the market for a few AAA big budget titles every year, but I think the more room in the industry there is for small developers the better off we'll all be.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Outland Impressions

During my latest exploration of the XBLA offerings I not only picked up Clash of Heroes but also stumbled upon a gem called Outland.  Outland is a platformer that any metroidvania fan would feel right at home with.  Throughout the course of the game the player slowly gains more abilities which in turn open up more sections of the map.

The real fun starts when polarity is introduced.  Obviously drawing inspiration from Ikaruga, the hero can be in one of two states, Blue or Red.  Or, in the mythos of the game, "good" or "evil."  The important part is that projectile attacks don't hurt the player if they are the same color as the hero and only enemies of the opposite color can be hurt.  This leads to a continuous on-the-fly adjustment of polarity between colors.

This is one of the few games lately where I've lost myself in the flow of the gameplay.  Figuring out and executing complex patterns of polarity switching while running, jumping, and attacking gave me a huge sense of accomplishment.

As a downloadable title Outland is worth it's price.  I would recommend it to any 2D platformer fans and especially fans of the metroidvania style.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Clash of Heroes Impressions

Might & Magic Clash of Heroes is an Ubisoft creation with something in it for both puzzle and strategy game fans.  I stumbled across the demo in the Xbox Live Arcade, but the game is also available on PSN and Nintendo DS.

The basic premise is a match three puzzle game where army units are the things being matched.  Match 3 vertically and they become an offensive attack.  Match 3 horizontally and they form a defensive wall to block incoming enemy attacks.  The player is limited by the number of moves in a turn before the opponent gets to respond in kind.  Completely drain the opponent's HP with attacks and you win the battle.

It's a simple enough premise, but it quickly gets complex in a fun way.  Experience points, leveling up, gear, new units, and new skills all show up in the course of the game.  I've had a great time tweaking my army as I progress.  Personally, deciding between using giant treants or acid dragons was especially difficult.

The main game is split between multiple characters who have different units in their armies.  As such, they all play differently.  I'm finding that as soon as I got a little too comfortable with a character or army composition I'm thrown to another character and immediately got hooked again.  The pacing has been excellent so far.

The game isn't twitch based at all, which is a nice change of pace from what I've been playing lately.  It's not hard to jump in and play a short session because battle length is fairly short.  Overall, it's a good break from the shooters and real time strategy games that have occupied most of my time in recent months.

So, you want my recommendation?  If you're a puzzle fan you can find enjoyment in this game.  If you're a strategy fan you can find enjoyment in this game.  If you're both a puzzle and strategy fan then you really can't go wrong here.  Even though it's not too expensive, make sure to try out the free demo on XBLA or PSN before you buy.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mental Combo-Breaker

 I've been working 60+ hour weeks between multiple jobs lately and when I get home I've been having trouble getting my mind out of work mode.  My thoughts are still on the projects of the day and what I have coming up tomorrow.  I've found one of the fastest ways to successfully get my mind out of work mode is to play a video game.

Watching TV, movies, and just hanging out are relaxing activities but they don't usually require my full mental attention.  But when I jump into a game it requires me to strategize, pay attention, and act.  It uses up most of my mental processing power and is definitely a mental combo-breaker for the day.  It helps get me into a mental state where I can fully enjoy my time at home.

I'm realizing that games can be a great tool for attitude and mental state if used correctly.  Has anyone else found that to be the case?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Chance to Play

Games have goals.  Save that princess, kill ten rats, level up, defeat evil.  We all know and accept that these goals are set for us by the game developers. We take it for granted that the goals will be presented to us and we will try our best to accomplish them.

But trust me, there is another way.

Look at the success of Minecraft: a game with no goals.  We're given a tool set and told to have fun.  It's like being given a stuffed giraffe as a kid.  We can make up epic adventures for the giraffe to go on.  He can explore his environment and interact with other toys.  He can befriend a tiny tiny elephant or become bitter rivals with a cake.  Or maybe you'll just choose to chew on his head (like my daughter).  It's all up to us and our imagination.  We are given a toy and what we do with it is up to us.

 Delicious choice.

How many games like that are out there?  Not many at all.  Minecraft is the only one that readily springs to mind.  But why can't more games have player created goals?  Why haven't we moved closer to a virtual world?

Well, as a developer it must be terrifying to not give the player a goal.  To simply say, "This is my world, have fun in it."  In this age of highly scripted experiences it takes a special kind of developer to do that.

But oh, the adventures we can have.

A virtual world is what we all dream of.  I remember thinking about it all the time as a kid.  I couldn't wait to put on a future technical contraption and actually feel like I was in another world.  But a huge part of having a virtual world is not having explicit goals.  That's the way we function in the real world, we have to make our own goals.  As soon as we're given a goal by an outside force it changes the entire texture of the experience.

Technology has advanced by leaps and bounds since I was born and I've played games of every make and model.  But rarely, so rarely, have I felt a sense of wonder.  Maybe that's something I need.  Something that lay dormant for years but has finally resurfaced.  Maybe, sometimes, I need the chance to just play.