Wednesday, December 31, 2008

ThrawnOmega Predicts the Future: Episode 1

NOTE: Getting this to 4 items actually took a while, but was quite a bit of fun. I'm planning on making this a sub-series within the blog, so I can add more items as I'm feeling creative.

Today being the last day of 2008, I felt like gazing into my crystal ball to see what the future holds for 2009. It should be known that my crystal ball has been know to grossly distort reality and spew forth the claims it finds most amusing. Some of these might come true, some are probably wishful thinking, and others will be plain nonsense. Your challenge is to guess when I'm being serious (if I'm ever serious) and when I'm kidding =P... You ready?

2009 Game of the Year: Onechanbara: Bakini Samurai Squad

Do you like scantily clad women? Killing zombies? Samurai sword hack 'n slash action? Bikini Samurai Squad combines all these fantastic things into the perfect trifecta of gaming bliss. Players will be able to slice the undead with a roster of hotties in what will probably be the most compelling and emotionally moving story ever told in videogame form. What's more, you can even customize what the ladies wear! How can this game possibly suck? The crystal ball predicts sales in the United States to exceed 5 million units sold in the first two weeks after release.

Need to know more? Here's a description I found on "In Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad, Aya, a descendent of the family known as IMICHI, meaning blood that goes out of control, reconciles with her sister Saki and live together in peace for awhile. The peace doesn’t last for long as an infestation of zombies have plagued the city. The sisters join together to draw their swords and rid the city of evil. Gamers can play with a friend in Co-op Mode or switch between any of the three beautiful playable characters in single player. Each character has a variety of unique moves that can be mastered during combat to destroy enemy zombies. Get too much blood on either sister and be driven into Rage Mode and gain more power and agility to destroy enemies faster and deadlier." This game is made of Epic Win.

News story of the year: Jack Thompson to run for Senate.

Reading Jack Thompson's colorful history from Wikipedia was one of the most entertaining things I've done in a while. Perhaps this legendary videogame hater isn't as off the radar as we would hope. The Republican party of late would LOVE this guy. Conservative Christian values? Check. Disregard for rules, procedures, and unrelenting vigilantism? Check, check, check. Sure, he was disbarred and fined over $40,000, but some politicians have survived worse. If Thompson can fire up a Republican base with his conservative values (takes notes from Sarah Palin, okay Jack?) and add just the right amount of fear-mongering in the media (too many examples to list, but Videogames finance Terrorism! seems like a nice slogan to start with), he could have what he needs to start making a run at that Senate seat, next time there's an election. It's never too early to start that grass-roots campaigning. I mean, the guy's from FLORIDA, and in 2000, it seems many of them forgot how to properly vote. If he has a political future anywhere, it'll be in Florida... (Florida citizens need not get mad at me... I live in the state that elected Jesse Ventura governor, OK?)

Avatars to be expanded in... fantastical... new directions.

If you're like me, you've probably seen about a million versions of the Joker on people's avatars. (For the record, I made mine before there were a MILLION of them =P) The latest issue of OXM even shows one of these Jokers, as well as a Barack Obama, Pip-Boy, Jack Black, and Michael Jackson. Microsoft figures out that some people like making their avatars look like other people, or look unrealistic, and rolls out a new line of avatar accessories and options to capitalize on that. Look forward to angel wings, magic wants, the ability to change your skin color to unnatural shades (blue, green, purple, etc.), reptile scale skin patters, and an ever-increasing variety of other fantasy items. Perhaps at last I'll be able to make my avatar look like Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Nate Gillick scores a writing job for major gaming magazine

While the crystal ball would not say where, it believes the writer of this esteemed blog, pictured above, will definitely be scoring a job (complete with paycheck!) from one of those sweet videogame magazines. (For the record, that picture is two years old, and I have no problem making fun of myself :P) Will it be OXM? Game Informer? EGM? Somewhere else entirely? Who knows? He has the determination and (in his own mind, at least) the talent, but does he have the experience? The crystal ball predicts he'll continue to write every review he can for x360a to pad that resume as much as possible.

That's all of episode 1 of ThrawnOmega predicts the future. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it, and stay tuned for future episodes!

(I forgot to credit images today, but only the picture of me is my own. If owners of those images see this and request I remove them, I shall obey.)

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Best, Worst, and Most Under-Appreciated Games of 2008

After spending the day with some buddies and absolutely destroying the competition in L4D's versus mode, it's time to step away from that and post up my piece for the day a little earlier than usual, since I have the privilege of going to see Blue Man Group live tonight. Today's topic is a less of a rant than yesterday, with 2/3 praise, 1/3 ranting.

Game awards are being thrown out like crazy at this time of year, and everyone reading this has probably already seen or read several of them. Too keep from going overboard, I'm simply going to talk about the best game, worst game, and most under-appreciated game from 2008, in my opinion. I can't claim to have played every game that came out this year, but I sure as heck played a lot of them!

...and away we go...

Game of the Year 2008: FALLOUT 3

OXM gave it GOTY honors as well, and the game truly deserves it. The wastelands of DC have been incredibly well realized, and a joy to explore. The apocalypse has never been this much fun. Bethesda did a great job improving on Oblivion in every single way, offering a lot more choice in how events unfold. No game I've EVER played had me a immersed in the experience, where I would tell myself I'd only play for an hour, and the next time I would look at the clock, three hours had passed! It's easy to lose track of time while playing Fallout 3, and the staggering amount of content here means gamers get every penny's worth of entertainment from their purchase. If you want to know more about how I feel on this gem of a game, read the review I wrote for it for x360a (linked on the right side of this page)

Worst Game of 2008: Zoids Assault

I would much rather play Jumper: Griffin's story that try to slog through what has to be the worst strategy RPG ever made. The use of film-grain effects in incredible overdone to the point of almost being painful to the eyes, and to call the cutscenes You-Tube quality would be an insult to You-Tube. Character customization is extremely limited, and there are no side quests, so if you can't beat a mission, you're STUCK there until you manage to get it right. To my sorrow, I ignored reviews saying how bad it was, thinking my love of SRPGs would see me through to get the game's 1000 points. Now, I'm incredibly glad I punted that game back to Gamefly before scoring any points, so I could delete if off my card, and pretend Zoids Assault never happened. I implore you never to play that game.

Most Criminally Under-appreciated Game: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts

Sure, the critical reviews have been pretty good, but 2/3 of the player response I've heard has been "Waaaaaaaaaaaa.... It's not exactly like the original Banjo-Kazooie!!!!" I know people who mock the game and refuse to play it for that very reason. Give me a break! Rare has created an incredibly fun and creative game, and they get blasted for being original. Creating vehicles to solve challenges is a great way to get the brain going, and testing your creations against other humans in multiplayer is great... when people actually play online (there aren't many who do). The controls also aren't nearly as challenging as some claim them to be. If you build a crappy vehicle, it will handle like crap; it's that simple. While the game certainly isn't perfect, it's a wonderful game, worthy of more praise and less tears from people who can't handle the change. If you have not played Nuts and Bolts yet, I highly recommend doing so.

And there you have it, my picks for best, worst, and most under-appreciated. I kept this relatively short as I didn't want to feel like I was trying to review three games at once.

BLOG NOTE: At the very bottom of the right column is a new feature, listing upcoming posts and what they will be about. While I would love it if people read everything I post, I know that's not too realistic an expectation, so the preview of topics makes it easier to know when you want to tune in. Unlike the blog, the preview text won't be updated daily, but will be changed often enough so you know what the topic will be at least 1 day in advance.

That's all for today folks!

*Images borrowed from

Monday, December 29, 2008

Warriors Orochi 2 Nearly Destroyed My Hobby: A Cautionary Tale

SCAVENGER HUNT: Yes, Warriors Orochi TWO is evil if you want the full 1000 gamerscore. The first prize number is 2.

CLUE #2: Frequent readers know I have a rule about the games I play. Find the first post referencing it for your next number and clue.

Achievement progress is being benched for most of the next week, as I have 4 days of special topics lined up in a row, so now is a great time to be tuning in to the blog (achievement progress may slip into Jan. 1's post, or there will be a rough update on the 2nd). I kick it off with a desperately needed rant about Warriors Orochi 2's achievement list.

Most people who have played Orochi 2 already know what goes into getting all 1000 points. I purchased this game before I was aware of just how much of a time sink it is, and wish to pen this as a cautionary tale to anyone considering starting the game.

I love the Dynasty Warriors games, I really, really do, even though I know there are a lot of valid reasons why I shouldn't. The voice work is awful, the music can be grating, the graphics (exception DW6) always look painfully dated, the AI are morons... the list goes on, and yet I've played nearly every hack 'n slash game Koei has put out.

Koei has never been very original with their achievements, but at least they rewarded you for unlocking things and progressing through the game. Repetition is an issue with Koei, as they've made many of the achievements for Orochi 2 virtually the same as the original. For example:

-The "Save the game with X officers unlocked" achievements. There are 14 of these in the original, 6 in Orochi 2
-The "Save with X total ability level" achievements. There are 5 in the original, 5 in Orochi 2.
-Both games award points for finding a level 4 weapon, and the dream mode levels in Orochi 2 can be compared to the clearing the X-mission achievements in the original.

...That's right folks! They essentially used the same achievement list twice! If only it were that simple. The truth is much, much worse. Recently (as in DW6 and Orochi 2), Koei has started an unfortunate trend of being utter douchebags with their achievement lists. Now, it seems they want to put in at least one achievement that will make you suffer, and turn their games into time sinks in excess of the playtime the amount of available content should support.... In Orochi 2, they added 3, for a total of 260 points!

The achievement descriptions seem straightforward enough...

Dream Mode - all cleared (80g)
Save the game after clearing all Dream Mode scenarios.
All officers available (80g)
Save the game with all officers unlocked.
All difficulties cleared (100g)

Save the game after clearing all Story Mode
and Dream Mode scenarios at all difficulties.

...and hide the fact that they really are pure evil in achievement form. There are 40 story levels, plus 28 dream mode levels. Orochi 2 sports 4 difficulty levels, meaning you're in for a minimum of 272 missions, assuming you never had to replay a mission on the same difficulty level. Of course, completing everything in 272 missions in utterly impossible, as unlocking the last dream mode level requires having a total proficiency level of something like 2,730, which means grinding the proficiencies to maximum for almost 55 characters. Assuming you grind out proficiency in pretty much the fastest way possible (Wu stage 4 over and over for several HUNDRED times), you might average about 60 points an hour, when load times and waiting for the message spam at the end of a mission to resolve. This means the proficiency grind to unlock 1 FREAKING LEVEL would take about 45-46 hours! Of course, a lot of proficiency will be earned while playing through the campaigns, but the point is this is an unbearably time consuming task, which has to be completed in order to unlock the 3 achievements listed above.

At least with this nightmare grind done, you can now finish every dream mode level to get the points for that, and unlock Orochi X, the last character. But the nightmare is not yet over...

Congratulations, you've survived the grind and maxed out a bajillion characters to unlock that stage. Think the grinding ends there? Dream on! While it's possible to use 1 great character to plow through all the story missions, the dream mode stages require you to use three specific characters. To be able to tackle those levels on Chaos difficulty, you're looking at several more (possibly reaching a dozen or more) hours of weapon grinding, so each officer has a very powerful level 4 weapon, the Almighty skill (at least 1 of the 3 officers MUST have Almighty, or your life will be much harder), and possibly Revival as well. With this weapon grinding finished, you're finally able to make a serious run at finishing every level on every difficulty.

Simply put, I can't see this same taking anyone less than 80 hours to complete, and possibly up to 100 or more (when the game has maybe 20-24 hours of content), and most of that time will be spent on insanely boring grinding sessions. If you can't see yourself playing the same level hundreds of times for proficiency levels, you probably won't complete this game. I've had to ask myself multiple times while playing this, "Do I really want to be spending so many hours of my life on THIS???" Asinine achievements like this make the whole concept feel pointless, to the extent I nearly vowed on several occasions to abandon achievement scoring permanently. Honestly, this game has nearly soaked all the fun out of my hobby. As a completionist, I feel I HAVE to finish this bastard. I will, simply because I've invested too much time to not see it through.

360voice says I've played Orochi 2 on a total of 40 days since I started on October 3rd. In just under a week, I'll have been working on this game off-and-on for 4 months! (Trust me, only total loons can focus on this game non-stop until it's done) I'm hoping after another 4 months I'll be done with it, so I can have the game out of my life by May. When completed, Orochi 2 will be by far the most impressive completion on my card, not because the achievements are particularly hard, but because of the extreme dedication and threats to sanity involved in the task. After reading this, same may legitimately argue I've lost my mind already...

If you actually want to 1k this game, here are some tips to survive the grind.

1. Custom soundtracks: You won't last 10 hours if you have to listen to the game's annoying music. Find some music you absolutely LOVE and could listen to until the end of time (because that's exactly what you'll be doing). I went for some progressive rock or metal that could keep me awake. I've probably listened to almost all of Dream Theater's albums a dozen times by now. In your mind, make enjoying the music the main thing you're doing, and think of gaming as the secondary activity.

2. Audio Books: I haven't tried this yet, but I think it could work in the same was #1 does... unless the sound of the reader(s) puts you to sleep. If that is the case, abandon this method.

3. Dual screens: If possible, have another TV next to the one you play xbox on. My roommate and I had this setup going during my fall semester. Watch TV on one, while playing Orochi 2 on the other. Grinding Wu stage 4 barely requires eyes on the screen when you've done it enough times, so you can pay attention to something else. I often spent hours grinding levels while actually watching NFL football.

4. Grind during your "dead hours": Ever have the feeling that you're too tired or brain-dead to do anything that requires thinking, yet you're not ready to sleep? Those are the perfect times to grind levels in Orochi 2. No thought is required, and the simple action of hacking mindless enemies over and over again will lull your brain into a drowsy state where falling asleep is easy, when you're ready.

With this knowledge in mind, I urge you to think long and hard about whether or not you really want to bother chasing all 1000 points in this game. Only the dedicated, truly hardcore, and more-than-a-little insane need apply.

All I Do is Grind...

I subjected myself to another Warriors Orochi 2 grinding session today. Part of that was very early in the morning, when I was too tired to do anything else, and the rest of it was during the day, when I should have known better. The better part of my afternoon got soaked up in grinding up 4 characters, and starting a 5th. To break the monotony of that a little, I did some work on the dream mode levels, including finishing one of them off on every difficulty. However, my sanity can only take so much Orochi 2 in one shot, so I needed to switch it up.

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance found its way into my disc tray for the first time in almost 2 years, I think, as I played it online with a group of friend and earned a whopping 5 points. I traded the game in before I was really an achievement whore, but recently re-acquired it on the cheap. I've also downloaded the new characters, for those points, and on the hope that they'll make my next playthrough feel fresh. I've already played it on normal before, so this time I'm just playing on easy and following a guide to find everything. Having played the game "legit" once already, I feel absolutely no guilt about trying to speed along getting the rest of those achievements. Ultimate Alliance is pretty good, though, like all hack 'n slash/beat 'em up type RPGs, it begins to get repetitive after a while.

The only other game to see action today was Unreal Tournament 3, where I played some Warfare matches against bots to work toward the "Around the World" and 100 Warfare match achievements. I know there are faster ways to get those points than what I'm doing, but I actually want to play for them.

This was the last 100% vacation day for me. Starting again tomorrow, I need to spend a significant amount of time every day working on my sociology research. I'm going to be checking out my local library to see how it fares as a work location tomorrow, because I want to get as far away from the Temptation-box 360 as possible while I work. My evenings will mostly be devoted to continuing Operation Jedi point scoring sessions. Having a social life is seriously hard in January in my hometown... Nobody's around, and there's nothing to do. Just research and xbox...

Tomorrow I pull out the stops for my Warriors Orochi 2 rant. It'll be therapeutic.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New Day, More Points

Today was hardly the most exciting day of gaming, but some progress was made. First, I got to work on more Dynasty Warriors 6, finishing Guan Yu's campaign and starting Xhaou Dun's. I'm loving DW6 so far, but I hate what they did to Xhaou Dun this time around. They've replaced his sword with some sort of a pole with a long-spiked club-thing at the end of it. It's hard to describe. In effect, this weapon change has transformed him from a speedy fighter to a slower power-type character, and I don't like the change at all. Shame on Koei for messing up one of my top five favorite characters...

Besides working those campaigns, I gave the challenge modes a try, and earned the achievements for personal best in Rampage, Havoc, and Gauntlet. Rampage, which tasks you with getting as many KOs as possible in 10 minutes, and Gauntlet, which forces you two evade stampeding horses and collect experience pouches, were both surprisingly fun mini-games, which I'll likely play again even though I have the achievements for them. Breaking as many things as possible in a strict time limit (Havoc) wasn't as much fun, and I think I can pass on that one.

Needing to step away from hack 'n slash, I loaded up Lego Star Wars II, hoping to finish the Super Story for Episode V and get that gold brick out of the way. All of five minutes into it, my Xbox locked up... at least it didn't do it near the end of the story, where the loss of progress would have been much more significant. I gave the game another try, and shifted my focus to running through several levels of Episodes IV and V, collecting minikits and power bricks that I'd missed before. I really wanted to get to 60% completion and earn that 60 point achievement. Reaching the point where I could play no more, I was stuck at 59.1%. Since I've been saving studs to buy the "x2 stud multiplier" power, I didn't want to buy anything, but I saw I still had several unpurchased tips available in the store, for only 100 studs each. I bought those, which put me over 60% completion, without putting a dent in my stud savings, so I was quite pleased to get my 60 points without having to play another level.

That's likely all the gaming I'll be doing today. Tonight I have a party with a bunch of high school friends I haven't seen in almost four years. It'll either be totally awesome or really awkward... I'm going to bet on awkward at first (for me, at least) and will transition to awesome as time goes on.

OPERATION JEDI UPDATE: The most recent numbers have me at 57.46%. That data is off by 100 points (I've gained 100 since it updated), but I can say for sure I'm still 20,668 points short of the big goal. Still a lot of work to do, but I can't complain about picking up 530 points in the last five or so days.

That'll do it for today. The extended forecast remains:

Sunday: Open. Could be anything. May be an off-topic gripe about Minnesota Vikings football.
Monday: The Famous Warriors Orochi 2 rant (four months in the making)
Tuesday: Best, Worst, and most Under-appreciated games of 2008.
Wednesday: The 2009 forecast (full of hilarious wishful thinking. Stay tuned!)

The Christmas Chronicles


Before going out to spend Christmas Eve with my Mom's side of the family and go to church, I spent the majority of my morning and early afternoon working through Eternal Sonata, and finished my first playthrough with 340 points, which is a perfect score for the first play.

I have no complaints about gifts this year. I received what I asked for, and my brother and parents loved what I gave them, so everyone was happy. Gaming-related gifts included a used copy of Dynasty Warriors 6 (I told them where to get a copy for cheap) and a 1600 Microsoft Points card. Those were also the only gaming items I asked for, since I'd already purchased GoW2 and L4D. I needed DW6 for Operation Jedi, and I like the DW games, I just didn't want to spend $40+ for it, but the used copy was $20, so it's all good there. The points will probably be used on the Fallout 3 DLC, and that's one heck of a Christmas present.


It's tradition on the morning of Christmas to check out our stockings to see what "Santa" (aka my parents) got for us. Stocking stuffers are traditionally things that we are going to use, and not necessarily things for entertainment (that's been the trend since I was about 16-17, I think). This year's gifts included a set of pajama pants and two pairs of boxers, all decked out with various Xbox 360 logos. I wish I could upload pics of them, but I'm having SD reader issues at the moment. They're really pretty awesome.

My gaming time in the morning was devoted to Dynasty Warriors 6, where I picked up a few achievements to get me above the horrendous 10/1000 I previously had on my card. I might have dabbled in starting the 2nd play of Eternal Sonata, but I didn't get very far. Then it was off to have a blast with my father's side of the family (Gillick family Christmas parties are AMAZING), and that was it for gaming that day.


Went to Gamestop to take advantage of their trade-in offers and got rid of some crap I've 1k'ed, never want to play again, and felt wouldn't sell for anything on EBAY. Surprisingly, I got $55 for the 6 games I traded (including just over $15 for Bolt!), which allowed me to pick up Lego Star Wars: TCS on credit and still have $35 to go toward Resident Evil 5 when that comes out. Hurray for recycling! The Lego game will probably remain on the shelf until I get close to the full 1k in Lego Star Wars II.

Today I spent too much time in another depressing Warriors Orochi 2 grind (that game will be the subject of an upcoming rant). I did the math and realized that 260 of the game's points require the massive Proficiency grind to unlock the last dream mode level, and that level requires you to pretty much max out 55 characters! I counted up all the characters I've maxed out so far, and came up with 36. The fact that I've been working on this game off and on for close to four months now, and I still need to max out 19 more characters just to unlock a level, made me die a little inside. Koei needs to go to hell and never, ever make an achievement list like this again. If I managed to grind out 60 levels an hour, it would still take 45 hours to finish that grind! Insanity! Dynasty Warriors 6 is easy compared to that.

To break up the monotony, I loaded up Prey nearly two years to the day from when it first appeared on my card, and started the game over, picking up the arcade achievements and making it through the ten chapters of the game, before reaching the point where I'd have enough of it for the day. The game's pretty good, surely worth the $7.50 I paid for it (we'll call Superman Returns a total freebie).

I believe that will cover it for the last three days. Here's a forecast for the next five days of blogs, so you'll know when you want to tune in.

Saturday: Short post, maybe a witty tangent. I'll be out partying with friends all night.
Sunday: Open. Achievement and Op. Jedi updates, maybe something else.
Monday: The Famous Warriors Orochi 2 rant (four months in the making)
Tuesday: Best, Worst, and most Under-appreciated games of 2008.
Wednesday: The 2009 forecast (full of hilarious wishful thinking. Stay tuned!)

Next week's blogs will be fun. I have to end the year strong =)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Harmony Chain Train of Pain

Today I spent most of my gaming time working on Eternal Sonata, and I made significant progress. Starting on the 5th, chapter, I completed chapters 5 and 6, and made it all the way to the final boss of the game in chapter 7. I could have finished the game, but decided to go the the Mysterious Unison dungeon instead to earn party level 6, and complete the two other objectives in the dungeon (resurrect Claves and defeat Rondo) that have achievements tied to them. All told, I earned an amazing 70 points today. JRPGs really make you appreciate your points, because they take a lot of work to earn.

(Note: The next chunk of this post contains gameplay methods for Eternal Sonata, which may be lost on anyone not familiar to the game. If you don't care how I'm rocking this game, skip to the line END ETERNAL SONATA DISCUSSION and read on.)

I decided, since the game lets me use any 3 characters I want at this point, to not bother leveling all of them and focus my attention on only 3. Therefore, I've been using exclusively Salsa, Allegretto, and Jazz. After reaching level 8 of the Mysterious Unison, they're all leveled in the mid 50s, with great weapons and armor. With party level 6, they're also unbelievably powerful.

Harmony chains can get simply insane. I use each character's specials that deal the most hits, so the echo counter keeps building up as specials are used. Building an echo counter to 24, for example, and then using specials to get half or more of that back right away, makes it incredibly easy to quickly slap down more punishment on the next character's turn. Combine this with multiple characters using their specials through harmony chains, and I'm replenishing the echo counter as fast as I'm depleting it. The changing buttons that come with party level 6 have taken some getting used to, but the results have been devastating. When I pull it off right, I've been able to execute 380,000 points of damage per character turn! As you can imagine, that burns down monsters and bosses really, really fast. It's all been smooth sailing for a while now.


I stopped by my local Blockbuster today to examine the dregs of their buy one, get one sale, and managed to pick up Prey and Superman returns for under $8 total. Prey will probably be worth the cash, while I'll take Superman as a freebie. Both are already on my gamercard, and need completing for Operation Jedi anyway. I also checked out Gamefly's end of the year sales, and scored Transformers and Incredible Hulk for $10.54 each (that's after taxes). Transformers is also on my card already, while Hulk is new, and will sit on the shelf until I've made more completion progress. Definitely check out Gamefly for some great used game deals.

Operation Jedi update: When I started my quest for an overall 75% completion percentage, I was at about 56%. Now, I'm at 57.10%, according to the last 360voice update, which still leaves me a whopping 21,198 points short of my goal, assuming I never popped a new game into the disc tray... I'll be at this for quite a while folks. At least I can say I'm making progress.

There will be no posts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, as I'll be out with family, and I would imagine all of you will be, as well. So, I'll save Xmas stories for the 26th.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Student-Faculty Research update #1

Part 1: Sociology Research

As some of you know, I've received a $2100 dollar grant from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, to conduct research with the Sociology department. I'll be researching the transformation of instrumental to affective relationships between players in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games (MMOs). In simpler terms, I'm looking at how player relationships within a game shift from being mostly about the game (getting loot, completing quests, etc.) to placing a higher degree of importance on relationships with fellow players. Where these transformations are observed, I'll be analyzing what might be responsible for those changes.

Conducting this research is a far cry from playing video games and taking notes. I'll be trolling the internet for blogs written by players of MMOs, gather about 20 quality blogs that meet my criteria, then read through them, and develop a system of codes for analyzing what is being said in them. From there, I code the data, and analyze it to draw conclusions. It's quite a time consuming process, but I get to study video games, so I find the topic interesting.

My last semester was incredible busy, so I didn't get much work done on it, and must now get cranking over the winter break so I meet deadlines in the spring semester. Right now, I'm at the phase where I find blogs and copy/paste them into word documents, so the data is safe if the sites should go down, and so I can manipulate the posts (add my coding, notes, etc). This is by far the most boring part of the research, as it's hours and hours of surfing followed by even more hours of copying and pasting. I made some OK progress on that today, but an issue with my computer caused me to lose an hour and a half of work, and I thus lost all motivation to keep working. I didn't get nearly as much done as I wanted to, and sense that I'll have some long hours of work to do on this in January.

Part 2: The Daily Achievement notes

Continuing Operation Jedi, I played a little Unreal Tournament III. That game is seriously one of the best shooters on the 360, and it's tragic that the game is virtually dead on Xbox Live. At least I can play against bots, so I'll always be able to get a game going, even if human competition is lacking. As much as I love the game, the achievement list is rubbish, I think, so I love knocking them down and not having to worry about them any more. If I can get to 850 total, I'd be happy enough. 500 ranked wins would take an eternity to boost (and can't be done legit if nobody plays), and I won't get a ranked win on every game type for that same reason. Like the Back of my Hand is also too much of a chore to bother with.

I also put some time into Eternal Sonata. While I've been pretty good about finishing Western-style RPGs, I've been garbage at completing JRPGs. I have to finish Eternal Sonata, Lost Odyssey, and Blue Dragon. Even if I don't get all the points, I want to get to the end credits, and finish these before picking up Infinite Undiscovery, Tales of Vesperia, Last Remnant, or (next year) Star Ocean. I've put in about 18 hours into the game at this point, for a measly 80 points... I love the game, but its points are waaaaay too back-loaded. I'm at chapter 6 now, and want to finish it, and get through the second play to get the rest of the points, by the end of January.

I also spent a little time in L4D and Gears 2, but nothing major happened there worth writing about. At the conclusion of Monday Night Football (Go Packers! Help put the Vikings in the playoffs!), I'll be spending some more time with Eternal Sonata. I highly recommend the game, and it's probably not too expensive at this point. Just don't expect the points to come quickly.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Big Post to Kick Things Off

Sit down in a nice comfy chair and settle in, as this first post will probably big a long one. I figure it's not a bad idea to set down from the start the rules of the blog, and the blog's purpose. I'm leaving these near the top of this entry because I feel they're highly important, so I'll cover them before moving on to other matters.

Rules of the blog:

1. I give myself free reign to criticize games if they fail to deliver in gameplay mechanics, are buggy, unoriginal, or just generally mediocre. The blog will never be used as a platform to take cheap shots at or make criticisms of others (praise, however, may be lavished where it is due). If you're looking for drama of that nature, read someone else's blog.

2. I will not post comments on any review I'm working on before that review has been finished and posted to The reason for this is that my opinions on a game may change over the course of the game, where a game that seems brilliant in the opening hours could fall to pieces, or visa versa. I take reviewing games very seriously, and want to make sure my opinion is well-formed before I open my mouth, so to speak. Once the review is complete, I'll allow myself some more "off the clock" commentary if appropriate.

3. This blog is not a resume. It is, however, meant to convey who I am as a gamer and a human being, and provide a more personal side that cold-cut resumes can't. Therefore, I shall approach this blog as something I wouldn't mind friends, fans, or professional game writers having a look over. I want to keep this casual and fun. The reviews shall be my professional writing samples.

4. Unless it gets to the point where I'm receiving more comments than I can handle (probably not likely in the near future), I shall try to respond here to any comments readers have.

The Purposes of the Blog:

1. As stated in rule three, this blog is meant to be the casual expression of myself as person and gamer. I would have no objection to any game magazine/website editor reading through it to get a sense of who I am. I want to have a blast with this, and will look to my reviews to represent my formal writing.

2. Write editorials on the gaming industry. From time to time I may be moved to post something more serious here to show I'm paying attention to happenings in the industry beyond what's happening on my xbox.

3. Chronicle my achievement progress and opinions on my games in a more personal fashion than 360voice can. I love that site, but I want to get more in-depth than a mere summary of what I did.

More rules/purposes may be added in the future, but I think that's sufficient for now. I'll do my best to keep this blog updated on a near-daily basis, for my own personal satisfaction, if nothing else. I'll wrap this with a few personal notes, then start in earnest tomorrow.

Next up on the docket for reviewing is Rise of the Argonauts from Codemasters. I shall say no more on that game right now so I don't violate rule #2. It hasn't arrived yet, but hopefully it shall soon so I can get started.

As we near the end of the year, I've made a few gaming-related goals to pursue for 2009. First of all, I want to get my gamerscore about 100k. Considering the number of easy games I have not yet played, and the amount of awesome games coming out, scoring 30k points shouldn't be that hard (thank God for Gamefly and great bargin-bin skills). The other goal is to increase my completion percentage from it's current state of about 57% to the lofty 75%. Money doesn't grow on trees, and I figure it would be a good idea for a while to get more milage out of games I already own and pick up points previously left on the table than constantly buy/rent new games.

Before I quit for the evening, I'd like to thank everyone who has supported me thus far with positive feedback and appreciating for my reviews. The work is a lot more fun when you know what you're writing is being read, and that people find the information useful. Writing the Dead Space review was a stressful experience, as it was my first very high-profile review, but the positive response to seems to have killed worry in me permanently, as I handled Fallout 3 and Gears 2 without any apprehension of hesitation. Confidence is a wonderful thing. Keep reading them, and I pledge to continue striving to make them among the best reviews you'll find anywhere.

That's enough for now. On tap for tomorrow are some (hopefully) interesting thoughts on the blogging world of World of Warcraft, and student-faculty collaborative research. It'll all make sense, trust me.

EDIT: You may find typos and other stupid mistakes in this blog, as I don't edit this to the extent I do formal reviews. I promise to always run a spell check, at least =)