Monday, August 15, 2011

The Universal Language

The Bride and I went to Finland a few years back to see the Eurovision Song Contest finals in Helsinki. For the night of the finals, The Bride got a ticket but I did not. So I ended up at a party in the city. These were friends of friends, and only a few folks there spoke English. As it happened however, many of the people at the people were similarly 'orphaned' with partners at the actual show. What was odd, was that there were many people there who did not just speak English, but did not even speak the same language. There was Finnish, Japanese, English, etc., it was a house party of Babel.

When I arrived at the party there were still a few hours left before Eurovision came on TV. So there was a roomful of folks, eating and drinking, and sitting in front of a big screen television - but no one was talking. Well, we tried to talk, we just weren't doing very well at actually communicating.

Then someone turned on the game thingy and we all began taking turns playing a game. It was a simple game, understandable to all of us, and we bonded quite quickly while playing and taking turns. The game was about microscopic creatures eating smaller microscopic creatures while trying not to be eaten by even bigger ones. As the main little guy got bigger and evolved, so did the prey and the predators. It was fun, and by the time Eurovision started, we were all pretty much Babel friends. I never knew what the game was called, but I liked it quite a bit.

So when I finally figured out how to download demos from the PlayStation Store, there was a game that looked similar, so I got it. Lo and behold, I was right, that game from Helsinki was called Nucleus.

I was able to play it for a while. There doesn't seem to be much more to it than I had seen before. Mostly racing the clock, dodging cells and grabbing sunshiny things. This is a good demo download, very much a game I would consider buying to try and play. Also, it might be a step toward world peace. I wonder if President Obama has a PS3?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Grand Theft Auto in Miniature

As I mentioned before, in the infamous pile o' games that my friend Ray lent me was one of the Grand Theft Auto games, I think it's GTA IV. I sucked at it when I tried it the first time. I even let the game sit for a bit until it became daytime in the game world so I could see better. I'm still not any better at the PS3 game but, I discovered something I like a lot more searching the App Store on iTunes - Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars Lite.

Now this is the free version of Grand Theft Auto Chinatown Wars and is designed for the iPhone. Much like The Bride with Portal, I became, and remain, obsessed. I eventually moved up to the full version for $9.99, which I have to say, is totally worth it. I love playing this almost mindless game. All that said, I still have no idea what the hell I'm doing.

After the frustration of trying to work that ever-annoying PS3 controller in the GTA IV game, I was relieved to have so much more control in the touch screen format of the iPhone. As a matter of fact, I got so skilled on the Lite version that's why I moved up. It was worth the money when I was able to actually do things.

Another reason I like this game is that it sort of has a story. Heck, it might have more of a story if I were to get farther in the game, but at the moment, I am happy where I am - causing chaos, stealing police cars and eating hot dogs. It has an obviously Chinese theme to it whereas GTA IV involved the Russian mob, not that the ethnicity of the characters or the world really matter.

You can just drive around smashing cars, running over people, and my favorite - blowing up hot dog carts, or you can go on missions like retrieving ancient family swords, shooting rival gang members, picking up taxi fares, or even delivering Chinese food. I love it. Hours of mindless and/or purposeful fun, this is the best videogame I've played so far for the PS3, um, I mean the iPhone...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I Enter the Portal

I told you earlier about The Bride's obsession with Portal and Portal 2. Well, I keep hearing, and not just from her, how fun the game was, so, with the thought in mind that I could always mute the sound and not have to deal with GLaDOS or her cake rantings, I thought I would give it a shot. God help me. I popped the Orange Box disc in. (Yes, I have finally learned how to turn the darn PS3 on by now.)

Unlike the The Bride, I wanted to try all the games on the disc, before trying Portal. I tried Team Fortress 2, and quickly learned that this was a multiplayer game. Hmmm… as much I do want to try that someday, I pass that one up for later, and move on. Keep it simple, stupid should be my mantra, after all, I can barely work the controller on this thing yet.

Then there's Half-Life 2, divided up between regular Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2 Episode One and Episode Two. I really don't get it. I was under the impression that Half-Life was some sort of zombie shooting game. In the first version on this disc I was greeted by a creepy Christopher Lee wannabe with multi-colored eyes talking gibberish at me and then dropping me off at a train station. Wow. How about some background, some instructions or something, huh? Anything?

At this point, I just think the videogame companies are just mocking me. I'm old, I wouldn't understand. I retreat to the instruction manual. It says I am Freeman, and I'm here to shoot the alien Combine who have taken over the Earth. Okay, I'm down with that, but what's with the subway station and the vague overhead marching orders. Give me something to shoot, goddamnit! Give me a gun to shoot with, and I'm not talking about the aliens, but that guy who keeps 'welcoming me to City 17.'

Next. In Episode One, I'm the same guy, only this time I have a gun, but I can't make it work. When I try it makes a whimpering sound. I'm really getting frustrated here. The intro to Episode Two is at least exciting, lots of shooting alien creatures. And then it starts… and I'm trapped in a crashed train car with no gun. Remember the old Atari days when the game started when you turned it on. To hell with this crap, I move on to Portal.

Immediately the voice of GLaDOS makes me regret trying this. At least I have a gun, but I can't kill anything with it. But it does make a noise and show a blast when it's not making portals. But it's a puzzle game, and much like the cryptic crosswords that give The Bride so much joy, it gives me a headache. Five games, and all of them a total wash for me. I'm glad The Bride enjoyed this. I don't however.

Yes, I entered the Portal, and then I jumped right back out again...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Infamous Demo

When we first got the PS3, a remarkable thing happened. The entire PlayStation Network was hacked and personal information and passwords were stolen by Mario knows who to do Mario knows what. Nothing bad has happened yet, but Sony encouraged us all to change our passwords and hope for the best.

Oh yeah, as an incentive to get folks to trust them again, they also had what they called their "Welcome Back" program where they would outright give you two free games from The PlayStation Store for each account. The Bride and I looked at each other and said "Hells yeah," cuz that's a total of four free games for our inconvenience. That might be fair - as long as no one who stole our info ever uses it.

The problem of course is that there was a 30 day expiration on those free games, and neither I nor my non-technically challenged wife could navigate the terrors of The PlayStation Store/Network/Home to make this thing work no matter how hard we tried. It's a damn shame, because I was kinda looking forward to two of the free games offered - Little Big Planet and Infamous.

Now we've talked about the second Little Big Planet here before, but Infamous was a game whose interest caught me elsewhere. I co-host a weekly vidcast about comics, The All Things Fun! New Comics Vidcast, and a few months back, one comic book grabbed my attention. It was Infamous from DC Comics, and it was, you guessed it, "Based on the Best-Selling PlayStation Videogame."

What got me the most was that there was a story here. This wasn't like the mini-comics that came with the old Atari 2600 games like Star Raiders and EarthQuest that really had nothing to do with the game at all. Infamous had a compelling story and characters, and from everything I had read, this carried over directly from the PS3 game. I really wanted to try.

Dejected at not finding my free games in exchange for being hacked, I was exploring the rest of the Store/Home/Network and found that there were demos that could be downloaded - among them, Infamous. So I went clicky-clicky. I was a bit surprised to find it would take well over two hundred minutes to download, but I let it go overnight and decided to play it the next day.

Unlike a lot of things on the PlayStation, the downloaded game was actually easy to find, and when I clicked it on the intro started, looking very much like a comic book, not the comic book, mind you, but a comic book just the same. Nice art, and animation and flash working together to tell a narrative close to what I already knew. Then it was time to play, and then it got hard.

A diagram of how the controller worked came up on the screen, no, two screens. Wow, maybe I am just a technology caveman, or just easily perplexed, but that's a whole lotta buttons and functions. Again, I am flummoxed by the controller. I'm going to have to take a picture and print it out to use as a cheat sheet so I can play. Or I can do what I always do, just push all the buttons and move all the levers and hope for the best.

When it comes to playing, I am eased up a bit by the way everything is pretty much spelled out as far as what you have to do, with missions, and onscreen directions. It still doesn't make it easy. And the controller shaking in my hand is an interesting sensation. There is a learning curve involved, and knowing the basic plot of the game helps. One annoying factor is that when you leave the mission area, you start over.

All in all, I'm still learning, and still trying to play, but this has great graphics and is fun for those who know how to turn on the PS3, and those who don't. I might just buy the whole version of this one.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Russian to Dawn: Grand Theft Auto IV

The reputed granddaddy of this new generation of videogames could be said to be the Grand Theft Auto series of games. These offered not only an entire world (or if you like, Liberty City and its surroundings) to explore, and technically, no plan or mission, if you really don't want one. It's similar to Little BIG Planet in that way I suppose.

I popped the disc in, after asking The Bride several times how to turn the PS3 on, and watching intently as she did it to make sure I had it down. Trust me the new technology does not like me. The story plays out through the introduction and the sweeping credits sequence. Two Russian ne'er-do-wells, Nico and Roman, the cousins Bellic, come to the States in search of the American dream, and in Liberty City, that means a career in the mob it seems.

The instruction booklet is another big one, but it is not without its charm. It is set up like a tour guide, and even has advertisements and places you have to see in the city. Niiice. My only complaint, much the same as with most PS3 games, is that it seems I have to read and study for an hour before I can even play the game. Don't mind me, I'm just a grumpy old man.

The controller for the PS3 still confounds me. I try to drive but fail miserably. Those who know me personally know that I failed my driver's test several times because I was terrible at parallel parking. I am worse at driving in this game. The game begins at night, and after a while of trying, I merely waited for dawn before attempting to drive again. The daylight really helped, especially when I hit stuff - the headlights are the first to go.

While waiting in the car, I had the chance to just listen to the radio, albeit Russian dance music, but it was intriguing how much music was available for a videogame where the player sits still for many minutes. When I figured out that I could actually change the channel on the car radio, my mind was really blown, and opened up to how much music there really was. And it's not just the music, the conversation between Nico and Roman is entertaining as well.

After much much practice (see, I been playing so long I even start to sound like Cousins Bellic) I was finally able to get the car to go a little ways, and then finding interesting, most of them against my will, ways to crash the car. I suppose more practice in order. I go practice more now...