Friday, October 28, 2011

Smash 'em Crash 'em Racing

When I was a kid, way back in the Dark Ages known as the 1970s, these cars called SSP Racers were all the rage. These wonderful toys with the one big wheel and the T-stick to rev them up and race across the concrete or the floor filled many days and nights of my childhood. There were dozens of models to collect and then they came out with the next evolution - the SSP Smash-Up Derby. Not only could you race them, now you could run these cars at each other and parts would fly off, just like in the demolition derby.

When I first started college, in that null zone between the Atari 2600 and the first Nintendo system, I had a first date with a girl who invited me babysitting. The home where she was babysitting had an Atari system, so I borrowed some games to play while we, ahem, babysat. Before we moved on to other activities, we played several racing games on the Atari like Night Driver, Pole Position, Enduro and Spy Hunter (I think, it might have been too early for that last one), but because we had other things on our minds, we played them badly, and crashed into stuff constantly. In hindsight it was kind of fun. The crashing part, I meant.

Now among the demo downloads from the PlayStation Store I have found a game that kinda puts together those two memories into a fun beach atmosphere. It's called Smash Cars, and I like it a lot, and even my feeble gamer novice mind can grasp how it works.

You're controlling a little remote control sand buggy and racing around a preset course on the beach. Oh sure, it's a race, and you're supposed to win and get the best time, but I had the best time by crashing into stuff. You can drive through boxes, drive off the pier, and the most fun, crash into the people in the beach. I absolutely love hitting the jump button as I approach this one guy, and nailing him right in the beanbag if you know what I mean.

I love this game. A lot. When I was looking for mindless destruction games, I should have been looking for this one, not The Incredible Hulk or Grand Theft Auto. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Malibu Grand Prix and the Mystery of Dig Dug

One of the games I have downloaded from the PlayStation Store has been Namco Museum Essentials. Yeah, they're old arcade games. I figured they would be way more my speed. One of the games included was Dig Dug.

I used to play Dig Dug all the time, probably for the first time at Maibu Grand Prix in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. The big draw was the miniature Indy car raceway in the back, but inside, it was a huge arcade, back in the day when videogames were played in such places. Now it's just at home on the computer or video console. Us old people did it differently.
Malibu's been gone for a long time now. They tore it all down and there's now a medical complex there. Before that, it was closed and abandoned for years. Rumor has it that when they went to demolish it, a body was found on the grounds. Weird. There are still some Mailbu complexes open, in California and Texas, but for the most part, the arcade is a dead thing in our time.

I discovered Malibu in high school. A friend's mother used to work in the offices nearby and he would pick her up after work every day, and take his brothers and his friends with to play at Malibu while we waited 'til the working whistle blew as they say. Malibu was where I first played a lot of great games, stuff like Star Castle, which I used to be able to play for hours on only a quarter - that was my game, as well as Centipede (though I preferred Millipede), Warlords, Popeye, Galaxian, Qix (another favorite I was very good at), Astro Fighter, Time Pilot, Pac-Man, Zaxxon, and another old favorite, Sinistar - and of course, Dig Dug. Hmmm... I guess I'm really dating myself with that list, huh?

Anyway, as I was playing Dig Dug, and getting my ol' skillz back after navigating the PS3 controller, I started to wonder about the game. I mean, what the hell is it, really? It's a guy named Dig Dug, who dresses like an astronaut and digs through the ground... and when he encounters weird creatures and dragons he shoots a hose at them, and inflates them until they explode. That sound about right? Wow. You can not tell me there were not drugs involved in the creation of this game.

After a bit of research (always a dangerous thing to do when you don't know what you'll find), I discovered Dig Dug's real name was Hori Taizo, and he was the father of the guy in the Mr. Driller videogame (never heard of it) and the ex-husband of the heroine from Baraduke (that one either). The creatures are Pookas and Fygars respectively. Collectively they represent a weird incestuous hierarchy in Japanese videogaming. They are everywhere, in dozens of games.

I still got no explanation of what the game actually means. Sometimes a little knowledge, or a lack thereof, is a bad thing. At least it's fun, and at least I can play it without embarrassing myself...

Monday, October 17, 2011

…And Breaking the Hero

Okay, last time, I had finally succeeded in creating a character to play in DC Universe Online, called "theredsun" AKA The Red Sun, a Mon-El clone with fire powers. I was all set to start playing in the DC Universe, woo hoo! And then the game started.

I don't know what I did wrong, or if I did do something wrong, but I started out on Brainiac's spaceship. I had to get out before I could actually start playing. The narrative, the computer, or whatever, kept telling me I only had to take out a couple guards and I could go. But no, that never worked out. There kept being 'just two more guards' and then I had to find the exit. It never seemed to end.

I must have been flying or walking around this stupid ship for hours, when Jeff finally showed up, figured stuff out in a few minutes and finally got The Red Sun off the ship. Damn gaming veteran. I'm jealous and frustrated, yes, but also thankful. I think I might've died on the ship if he hadn't come along, and lord knows what that would've meant, maybe starting the character creation process over again.

Off the ship, I found myself in a city, and at a police headquarters, which seemed more like the place I should've started. The weird part, and Jeff informed me this was how online games worked, was seeing other costumed folk wandering aimlessly around. All of them had their names floating above them. This I thought was funny, and I wondered what would happen if I just followed one of them around constantly.

By this time however, we had other non-videogames things to do and had to leave it go. So I guess I just missed out on getting a cyber-punch in the nose. Good place to stop though, and hopefully the game saved.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Making the Hero

I was so anxious to get started playing DC Universe Online that I jumped right in without a parachute or even knowing how to swim. I was immediately confronted with an intimidating barrage of additional downloads and Apple style contract agreements just to get on with it. It did much to diminish my enthusiasm. Again, I'm learning that patience is a major factor in playing these newer videogames.

I was finally able to play, no, that's not the right word… I was finally able to actually do something some time the next day. After a fantastic cinematic about the framing sequence of the story of the game, I would be able to start making my character. I have to tell you though, that this intro -which I had seen before, but on YouTube - is absolutely stunning on the high definition big screen. I'm happy to watch it multiple times and did.

Here's the gist: Brainiac is secretly absorbing the powers of Earth's metahumans while also inciting them to go to war with each other. In the final climatic battle that we see, Luthor and the other major villains destroy what is left of the Justice League. When no one is left standing except for Luthor, Brainiac plays his hand, and invades the Earth. No is left to stop him. Luthor steals Brainiac's power-absorbing devices and travels back in time to warn the Justice League. On his way, he releases the devices which shower the earth with excess powers, creating new superhumans (the players), whom the heroes, and villains, must train to eventually stop Brainiac. Got it?

So to start, you are a new hero, inspired by any of several metahuman characters in the DC Universe, and you go on training missions to learn your craft and prepare to fight Brainiac. In the meantime, you get to interact with established heroes and villains and explore the elaborate fantasy world that is the DC Universe.

Now I had been told that there was a detailed character creation system, but that's not so true. My initial thought was to create an existing but obscure DC character that wouldn't already be in the game. My fantasies included the Golden Age Mr. Terrific, Congo Bill, and from the Legion's time, Questar. Wasn't happening.

There's a limited number of heroes who can 'inspire' your character, and your powers and costume color schemes kind of match up to that hero (or villain), or at least that's the way it appears to me. If that's not the case, please let me know, because as I've pointed out on multiple occasions, I am handicapped when it comes to videogames. I ended up finally with a character inspired by Superman, who looks like Mon-El, has fire powers, and called The Red Sun, spelled in the game "theredsun" because someone, or several someones probably already thought of it. Ah, the perils of online gaming - everyone's doing it.

Next, The Red Sun actually gets to adventure in the DC Universe...

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ultimate Alliance 2 by Two

The last time I tried to play either one of the two Marvel Ultimate Alliance games I became frustrated quickly and gave up on them. This time, I did it the right way. I brought help.

Jeff was hanging out and staying over the weekend, so we were talking comics and gaming as per usual, and the conversation turned to the PS3. After hear about the free subscription thing in October for DC Universe Online, I had purchased it and was hoping Jeff -in his formidable gaming experience- could help me set it up. It took forever to install, and then update, and then update again. And I think I signed away my home in the terms agreements.

Anyway, I gave up on it after a while, I guess I just don't have the patience for videogames. As we were in the mood though, we turned to Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. The second one was chosen over the first version as there were more characters to choose from, or at least that's what the voice of experience said.

Jeff knew the game backwards and forwards. He had apparently beaten it while we were on vacation a month or two back, both Ultimate Alliances, that is, yeah, both. But, on the positive side, having someone familiar with the game, who knows what's coming, knows all the tricks - and most of all, knows how the controller works, is a good thing for an extreme novice like me. We moved pretty quickly through quite a few levels, and I actually got to see some of the story unfold, which made me like the game even more.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is based in part, at least early on, on writer Brian Michael Bendis' Secret War mini-series from Marvel Comics. These events in the comics led indirectly to Civil War, and in this game they do as well. There's enough story presented in the game to get the point, but much like a Stephen King movie, having read the book helps a lot in fleshing out what's really going on. And for the hardcore fanboys out there, just to avoid confusion, the game also avoids the Secret Invasion storyline.

Regarding Civil War, long story short (and you can follow this link if you want the whole enchilada from Wikipedia), as shown in the game, some irresponsible superheroes in a live reality TV show, inadvertently destroy Stamford, Connecticut. Legislation quickly flies through Congress to have all superheroes registered with the government, as weapons if you will, that must be trained and monitored. The superhero community quickly divides along the lines of pro-registration and anti-registration, with Iron Man leading the former, and Captain America the former.

These lines are mirrored in the game, as once you pass a certain point in the story, you must choose whether you are for or against registration. And from that point on, you may only use the heroes who are on the side you've chosen. It's an intriguing obstacle, and also lends to having two possible storylines and endings to the game. I haven't gotten that far yet, but I like it.

As Jeff promised, there are lots of characters to choose from. The ones I had the most fun with, or in other words, the ones that I figured out how to control and do what I wanted, were The Thing, Ms. Marvel, Luke Cage, and Spider-Man. I did try out a few others too. Iron Fist was kinda cool, and Deadpool was lots of fun. It took some time to figure out Mister Fantastic and Deadpool as they seemed to be a bit complicated to control - maybe that was just me. Iron Man and the Human Torch looked pretty cool too, but Jeff kept playing them, ahem.

The dialogue that goes on in the game as the characters are fighting opponents is a lot of fun, especially as one would expect, Deadpool. And the interaction in the inbetween scenes is good too. It's very funny and surreal watching Reed Richards trying to talk sense to Deadpool - my absolute favorite part of the game.

I like Ultimate Alliance 2 a lot, and it verifies my thoughts that all gamer novices need a gaming mentor when they start to play. It really makes me wonder why so many PS3 games are only one player - they should all be two or more players. I really think there is merit to the mentor idea though, once I played for a few hours with Jeff, I was able to get farther later on by myself.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Value of Good Customer Service

When I heard about the free play offer on DC Universe Online for October, I decided it was time to buy the game I wanted the most, but never bought because of that pesky monthly subscription fee thing. So I went to the usual two places I have gotten my PS3 games from, Play N Trade, and then Walmart, and both let me down.

I was about to turn to the wonderful online worlds of Amazon and eBay when I remembered that there was a Game Stop right in town, mere moments from my home. I have been hesitant to shop at Game Stop as a company for one reason. My sister is a librarian, and some years back, there was someone filching videotapes and DVDs from the library, and selling them en masse to the local Game Stop. Considering that all of the items were marked with 'property of said library,' there's no way the GS folks couldn’t have known what was up. It had to be a partner job. I had a hard time trusting Game Stop after that.

Proximity, and a crazed need for the DC Universe Online game prevailed and I called the Marlton Game Stop, not the one in the incident described above, it should be noted. Yes, they had a copy of the game, and sure, they'd hold it for me. Woohoo. I went right over.

When I went in, they knew exactly who I was and what I wanted. They tried to sell me on other games, but in a friendly, conversational manner - not like it was their job to do so, but because they wanted to. They hipped me to a game The Bride would definitely be interested in, a pseudo-sequel to the Portal games called Quantum Conundrum. And we also talked for a bit about comics and tabletop role-playing games.

Suffice it to say, the next time I'm looking to buy new games, they will be my first stop. That's the value of good customer service. And for more info about playing DC Universe Online for free, check out this link.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Infamously Better

One of the reasons I have never been much of a gamer, and the PS3 with its aversion to multiple player games is a big culprit, because I dislike the 'turn wait.' That is to say, I don't like waiting for my turn at a game when the other player is infinitely better at it than me. This reared its ugly head back in the Nintendo days when The Bride and I used to play Super Mario Bros., and her turn would last for hours. It was also the reason I preferred Dr. Mario as we could both play that at the same time.

The night I talked about a while ago when Jeff and Crystal came over and played the demos, they just didn't whup my butt at Zombie Apocalypse and Nucleus, they also tried their hands at Watchmen and my favorite, Infamous. I was not disappointed by the long long looong turn wait.

In Watchmen, I had gotten past the wonderful Dave Gibbons motion comic animated art from the original Watchmen comics that form the introduction, but had barely moved anywhere in the prison break. I did find it annoying that whoever you picked to play - Rorschach or Nite Owl II - the other would just stand there doing nothing. Not realistic. Jeff and Crystal ripped through the prison break like they were the real characters.

Then they moved on to the Infamous demo. I had never gotten past zapping folks and cars with electrical powers, and riding to the first station atop the train. For those who don't know, that's really not far. Fun, but not far. That keen mutant skill, of both Jeff, and Crystal, derived from years of gaming experience, kicked in and soon they were sailing far ahead in the game and fighting bad guys that I had never even glimpsed in my hours (yes, hours) of playing this game.

The Bride who had watched me play the same two or three scenes from Infamous multiple times, was treated to almost an entirely new movie never seen before. The turn wait was starting to get to her as well, so then they moved on to Little BIG Planet 2. Three people can play that at once.

This turn wait was much longer. I went to bed. When I got up in the morning, I swore I was gonna practice. Years of experience can't be that hard...