Saturday, February 28, 2009

Month in Review: February 09

It's that time again, the end of the month, and a look back at what happened. It was a pretty busy month, with lots of research and writing to do, as well as prepare for the GSL and get a team together. I was able to get a couple of my buddies from the last GSL, as well as some cool new people, together to form the Hand of Thrawn. So far, it's been a good time. We appear to have the #6 spot on lockdown for now, and must next begin the long, hard climb into the top 5.

February started off slow for points, but picked up considerably once the GSL started, as I scored a respectable 4,210 points the first week. Some of the stats will be listed below. In March the action will continue to heat up, and I expect to see three of my friends (Silva, Derek, and Bishop) cross the 100k line by the end of the month.

Reviews Written:
Afro Samurai
Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad

Next Month:
The Pitt (Fallout 3)
Don't know of anything else ATM... Resi 5? =P

Blog Special Topics:
Gamerscore Inflation: How More Points may be Bad for Us All

How Playing Bad Games can be Fun
Halo Wars Demo Impressions
Prima's Achievement Book Reviewed
Pants is my Hero
Three Authors You Should Read

Games Completed:
Oblivion (1250)
Puzzle Quest (250)
The Maw (215)

It was a rather slow month for completions...

Achievement Progress:

February start score: 72,930
February end score: 77,860
Change: +4,930 (Almost all from GSL week 1)

Completion percentage change: +0.27% (from 60.68 to 60.95)
Pretty pathetic month for Operation Jedi, wasn't it?

Distance from Op. Jedi goal: 17,900
(Percentage went up, but the distance from goal went up a lot more...)

Lead over x Ducky Dan x in race to 100k: 7,891 (+985 this month)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Three Authors You Should Read

First, I must mention an edit I made to yesterday's post:


Pants: 0
Thrawn: 250

This is my one, true win. Puzzle Quest is a great puzzle-RPG fusion, and one of the finest games on XBLA. I've spent more than 50 hours in this gem of a game on the road to all 250 points.

Somehow, I forgot I had Puzzle Quest wrapped up. So, I have a whopping 2 RPGs on Pants... both from XBLA. Yeah, he's still totally kicking my ass =P

Now, today I wanted to talk about something not related to gaming. Every once in a while, after all, the controller has to be put down in favor of something else. As an English major and avid reader, it troubles me how little people seem to read anymore. I'm going to do my tiny part in rectifying this by offering you three excellent authors to read when you're not playing.

1. Timothy Zahn

Best known for his legendary novels in the Star Wars universe (he created Grand Admiral Thrawn, who's clearly my favorite character), Zahn writes more than just Star Wars novels. Zahn is brilliant at plotting novels out. I can't think of anyone better at layering elements of a story together, and stringing along the mystery and suspense for some excellent endings. I highly recommend The Icarus Hunt as a starting place for reading Zahn's work, if you're not a Star Wars fan. He's not a prolific as I'd like, but everything he puts out rocks. I'll take the quality over quantity.

2. John Ringo

He's been described as the Tom Clancy of Sci-Fi, and it's not a bad description. Ringo writes both sci-fi and fantasy filled with epic military struggles. I started reading his work with Gust Front, which told the story of how a modern US would deal with an alien invasion... with a little alien assistance. His depiction of events struck me as incredibly realistic, if you can buy the premise, and kept me glued to the book from start to finish. While Gust Front is actually book 2 in that series (read A Hymn Before Battle first if you're a stickler for chronology), prior events were explained enough that I really didn't feel like I was missing much. For those with stronger leanings for fantasy, check out There Will Be Dragons. That novel was truly food for the imagination. Ringo cranks out books at an amazing pace, so if you like his stuff, there's plenty of it.

3. Osamu Tezuka
Do you like manga or anime? If so, you owe Osamu Tezuka a debt of gratitude. There's a reason he's known as the God of Comics in Japan, and has a museum in his honor in his hometown of Takarazuka (I've been to that museum, BTW). Tezuka was instrumental in spreading manga's appeal, and helping shape what it is today. He had a distinctive art style influenced by theater. He viewed all of his characters as actors playing different roles in different stories, so you'll frequently see identical characters playing different roles in different stories. That may sound like artistic laziness to some, but trust me, it truly lends his work its own charm. Tezuka was not afraid to approach serious themes, making his material infinitely deeper than modern crap like Naruto... I challenge you to read Apollo's Song and not be moved in some way. At last, all of his material is being translated into English for mass release, which means you can read his great graphic novels like Apollo's Song, or start picking up volumes of his most popular series, Black Jack, about a rogue doctor who can heal nearly anything... for a price. If you are an anime or manga fan, you owe it to yourself to check out his work. He was a product of his time, so there are some racist and sexually essentialist notions in some of the stories, but if you can forgive and look past that, there's some incredible and thought provoking material to be had here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pants is my Hero (Kinda, Sorta, but Not Really)

The title of this post is a joke, because I believe words like Hero or Idol carry too much meaning to be truly applied to anything as trivial (in the scheme of things) as achievement scoring. Nevertheless, Pants is a legend in my books, as he’s been able to do something I’ve tried for, and completely suck at.

Way, way better then Thrawn @ RPGS...

The man is a beast on RPGs. He loves RPGs. I love RPGs. He actually completes them (the game and all the points). I get 2/3 of the way in and then go “OOOOOOH SHINY!!!” to some other game, and they sit on my card for years unfinished. I suck. I really want to finish my RPGs, but can’t seem to ever do it. Let’s take a look at how much better than me Pants is, shall we? Get ready to witness an encyclopedia of my Epic Fails… (I’m ignoring Star Ocean… it’s too new to count)


Pants: 1000/1000
Thrawn: 0

I haven’t played this one yet, so I haven’t had the opportunity to suck at it yet. Naturally, Pants has creamed it.


Pants: 1100/1100
Thrawn: 485/1100

I’m still sitting at the start of disc 4. I probably have been since August 08… Pants went back and replayed the WHOLE GAME to get the Treasure Trove achievement, if I remember correctly. I tip my hat to you sir. I don’t think I can do that.


Pants: 1000
Thrawn: 5

I played this POS for 5 min and sent it back to Gamefly. I fail. I’ll have to rerent and endure it sometime, cause that game is stuck on my card, and the worst Operation Jedi offender.


Pants: 1000
Thrawn: 0

Also have not played yet, due to wanting to actually finish what I’ve started before throwing more JRPGS on my card.


Pants: 1050
Thrawn: 1050

I’m going to savor this… the rare moment we’re equals in any RPG…


Pants: 1250
Thrawn: 1250

Sure, we’re equals in score, but I doubt Pants went 2 years from starting it finishing off the 1250…


Pants: 1,250
Thrawn: 935

I inched closer to completion a few months back, but just could not seal the deal. I’ll have to try again in the future.


Pants: 1000
Thrawn: 340

I have a perfect first playthrough…. That counts for something, right?


Pants: 1000
Thrawn: 155

After sitting idle for over a year, I went back and play it some before the GSL. I’m almost to disc 3 LOL!


Pants: 1000
Thrawn: 1000

It’s impossible to not have the 1000 after finishing the story. Not hard, but kinda boring after a while.


Pants: 1000
Thrawn: 1000

Another tie in a game that’s hard to miss the points in…


Pants: 1100
Thrawn: 1100

Pants played the PC edition, I played the Xbox 360 edition. While I’m positive Pants actually played the game for his 1100 on the PC, he could have used codes to do it in minutes… I had to play everything. I know I’m stretching, and this is really a tie, but can I call it a win anyway? LOL otherwise I’m FAIL across the board.

Arkadian Warriors:

Pants: 0
Thrawn: 200/200

An RPG Pants hasn’t played??? Well, it isn’t much of one, but it is an easy 200.


Pants: 0

Thrawn: 250

This is my one, true win. Puzzle Quest is a great puzzle-RPG fusion, and one of the finest games on XBLA. I've spent more than 50 hours in this gem of a game on the road to all 250 points.


Pants: 12,750
Thrawn: 7,770

Pants wins by 5,230 in score. Let’s look at game wins:

Pants: 7
Thrawn: 2 (Arkadian Warriors, Puzzle Quest)
Ties: 5

I bow before the true RPG master. Someday I will match your completion skills! (Probably not…)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Op. Jedi Bloodied, but not Forgotten

It's been a long time since I wrote an update on the progress of Operation Jedi, but I haven't forgotten about it. The long-term goal of hitting 75% completion remains, though it's seen some setbacks during Week I of the GSL had some successes, but also several setbacks, on the road to this goal.


Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway (900/1000): I was able to make it through the whole campaign, and I stayed sane through the whole timezone manipulation process to get the Obsessive achievement. That's one of the dumbest achievements ever.

Scene It? BOS (1040/1250): This game was a lot of fun, and I'll eventually rerent it or buy it cheap to finish off the DLC achievements and the rest of the points. It was my favorite game of week I.

Shrek the Third (830/1000): This sat on my card at 80 points for an eternity. I finally decided to go back and play it on normal, going for all the collectable achievements, and ignoring the Grimm difficulty achievement. Doing that, picking up most of the points wasn't too hard. However, this really isn't the type of game you should play for five straight hours... I was beginning to go stir crazy.


Afro Samurai (490/1000): I now have a new hole on my card. Hopefully I can eventually get this one up beyond 750.

Onechanbara (370/1000): Terrible game, and it's highly unlikely I'll get this one over 750. I love hack-'n-slash games, but this one was a bad mistake.

FIFA 06 RTFWC (50/1000): I can't score goals. I can't play soccer games. I'm now stuck with this on my card since I popped the super easy "Win on Perfect" by team swapping. I'm optimistic this one can be fixed eventually, I just hate the idea of trying to get good at a soccer game. I don't care for the sport... give me Maddens and NCAA Footballs instead, please.

Dark Sector (210/1000): Another game tacked onto my card near the end of the week as I scrambled for ammo. This game is pretty fun, and certainly worth the $9.99 I paid for it. It's status as an Operation Jedi failure is temporary. Eventually, I know I can get the 800 offline points, at least. I hear the boosting isn't fun at all, unfortunately.

Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection (530/1000): Don't let the "under 5 hour" rumors you hear fool you. It's only quick if you have mad retro gaming skills. Sure, many of the points are easy, but Sonic Spinball, Mean Bean Machine, Flicky, Vectorman, and a few other game achievements have not been easy for me. This one will also pass 750 eventually, though I'm not sure how long it will take. Post-GSL, I'm looking forward to playing the old-school RPGS on this disc, and playing Vectorman, which is more fun than I remembered.

Completion Percentage: 60.86%
Distance from Goal: 18,014 points

Distance from 1% badge: 2,876 points! I'm so close! Can I get it by the end of week III?

That's it for today. I'm going off to make my team an alternate GSL sig for later in to competition. It'll be hilarious.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Week I Final Thoughts

I know, I disappeared over the weekend in a blitz of point scoring. I’m now back to report the shindigs, and resume posting as normal for the next week. Before even getting into things, I should make a quick note that I’ll probably be saying little about KOTOR over the course of the GSL. The reason for this comes from the first post of this blog:

“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.”

I remembered that and decided I won’t provide myself any opportunity to slip on that going forward. They won’t be relevant unless we hit the number two spot and start chasing them.

On to Week I thoughts… I love the new scoring system, with hourly updates. It makes it so easy to see how teams are doing, who is scoring well, and who is dragging their feet. I told my team not to put too much stock in the scoreboard, as many teams would be putting up massive numbers. Stamina is more important, so as long as we keep our heads down and run our game plan, we’ll do fine.

Finishing the week at 7th out of 18 teams isn’t too bad, especially since less than 1,000 points separate us from Young Guns and Woodcock Johnsons.

5. The Woodcock Johnsons 20530
6. Young Guns 20393
7. The Hand of Thrawn 19740

It’s safe to say there will be a power struggle between out teams next week, at the very least. It should be fun to watch.

My personal approach to this GSL is not to focus on the top of the mountain, but to focus on the teams directly above and below us. Simply think about climbing the ladder one rung at a time. Why waste so much energy worrying about #1 if there’s five other teams in front of us that we have to pass first? To make an analogy, it’s like yearning for the fall of Berlin when you haven’t even stormed Normandy yet. (I played Brothers in Arms this week so WWII has been on my mind) If you’re only thinking about the teams closest to you, then there’s always competition close at hand, no matter what place you are, and I think things are more fun that way.

One rung at a time.

Our rivals didn’t fare as well as we did. Ducky’s Angels scored 9,065 points, putting them over 10k behind us. They’ve got a lot of time to catch us… but they don’t know what we have planned for Week II. Rogue Squadron put down 5,935 points… As the numbers below will show, both Sabre and Dark outscored their entire team. With a 13,805 point lead, Week I went decisively for the Empire.

Team numbers for Week I:
Sabre x360a: 6475
DarkTharen: 5965
ThrawnOmega: 4210
Bishop x360a: 3090

That’s pretty good. Our goals for the week were:
Sabre – 5k
Dark – 5k
Thrawn – 4k
Bishop – 4k
Total – 18k

Bishop fell short of his goal, but he knows what he’s doing, and will do better next week. Sabre and Dark stepped it up, and put us nearly 2k over our goal. Not a bad start guys.

Planning is now well underway for Week II. This is the week the other two members of the GSL VI champion Silent Assassins get to come out and play. Watch out for Silva, he’s going to put on a clinic and show you all how it’s done. Get your popcorn ready.

T.O. is ready for Silva. Are YOU?

Friday, February 20, 2009

We Took Thursday Off...

Thursday was not as successful as the opener by a long shot, as I think many of us were busy. I gamed as much as I could, but I had 4 hours of class as well as some homework to complete. In the evening, my girlfriend stopped by and we watched Burn Notice. That show is awesome and no GSL is going to make me give it up lol. I'll make up that hour later =P We hold the #8 spot, with Ducky's Angels right behind us, and Rogue Squadron seems to be taking a while to lock their S-foils into attack position... they're at #14. With only 300 points to show for last night, I'm looking at a busy weekend.

JJBDude48 writes: "Not So Silent Ninjas will remain a threat throughout. Just because we haven't had an amazing start like the rest doesn't mean we won't threaten you. Game on. ;) lol"

I would be highly disappointed in your team if you didn't remain competitive with us. If KOTOR leaves us all in the dust, it's this rivalry I'm looking to to keep me motivated to blast points, so I want you to stay in it. I want to beat you (naturally), but it should be a challenge. Rogue Squadron is the team we want to leave in the dust LOL.

I need to learn to curb my impatience in competitions like this... I'm want some of the teams that will fizzle and die to just do so already... I'm forgetting that that takes a couple weeks. Two or three of the teams currently ahead of us won't be staying near the top for long, if my pre-season predictions pan out. Positions #10-18 don't surprise me, except I thought LOL-ers were going to be serious. They might be, it just doesn't look that way yet.

Since my first short story for my 400-level creative writing class is due next Friday, I'm going to be spending a good chunk of my morning and afternoon working on it. Tonight until the cuttoff, I'll be going mad on those points. Scene It won't finish itself...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

So Far, So Good

I forgot the mention, the Onechanbara review is up, so go check that out if you have not already.

The GSL started almost exactly how I expected it to. KOTOR is already up and playing mind games while ego stroking. No surprise there. Their egos are black holes that would suck up the universe if they could =P

As I type this, my team is exactly tied with Team Vengeance at 5,655 points, and we sit at 6th. Considering they had a guy quit on them, that's one team I'm not too concerned about ATM. While I'd naturally like to see my team a little higher on the standings, everyone is at or slightly ahead of where our pre-week forecasts had us, so I can't really complain.

I put down 1,205 points last night, including the 340 long-delayed points from Onechanbara, and the rest from Brothers in Arms or Scene It: BoS. Scene It is a lot more fun that what I had expected. My roommate and I have had fun trying to answer the questions, even though I'm obviously going to win every game for those points. Brothers in Arms is like a mediocre Rainbow Six set in WWII. The game's not terrible, but Vegas 2 is infinitly better. I'll take the points though and not complain... in a few weeks I'll be playing much, much worse (foreshadowing FTW) *cringe*

Should my team not win the GSL, we still have three side missions:

1. Everyone scores the best they possibly could have, so we all see great increases and have a blast.
2. Outscore the new team from our former captain, Ducky Dan (the Not So SIlent Ninjas, aka Ducky's Angels =P)
3. Outscore THE CRAP out of Rogue Squadron, the team silly enough to specifically target us as rivals =) They don't know what they got themselves into...

SO far, we're succeeding in all three of those missions. Woot! Still a lot of time left, of course.

You can follow GSL scoring HERE. It updates hourly during the scoring week.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Don't Mess With Tradition

I'm going to keep today's post short, as once we're allowed to start scoring points, I need to go nuts that first afternoon the take the edge off of only getting 220 points in 14 days, and have some work I'd like to get done first...

When I was in high school (already seems like a long time ago), I was involved with our Drama department, acting in a whole bunch of plays. Just before every show, about 10 minutes before the curtain opened, the ladies would go off to do their own getting ready ceremony, and we guys had our own.

To get jazzed up for the show, we would listen to one specific song, jump around, and act like idiots. I didn't invent that tradition, but if it works, why stop? (I may pass on the jumping part this time lol) To get ready for the next show (GSLs are really multi-week nerd soap operas), I present the song we used. Time to get ready.

You don't mess with tradition.

*Explicit Lyrics*

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Daily Musings

The Onechanbara review is done, and now merely awaits some peer review and then posting to x360a. Since Webby appears to be busy on more important titles like Halo Wars and the Lost and Damned GTA IV DLC, I can't say when he'll have the time to look at it. It'll probably get buried in the stack pretty quickly after posting, which is a shame, since I brought my sarcasm out to play =P

Part of me wonders what will happen to my readership once the GSL starts, since a fair amount of my readers are also competitors in the GSL. Will everyone vanish to go beast points, or keep tuning in to see what I've been playing. The daily updates won't be stopping... I make the time for this. I'm even working up some special topics, as a part of my plan to keep this blog running as smoothly as possible, even while I'm going point-crazy.

Since the whole thing starts tomorrow, it would be kinda nice to know how the official tracking system is going to work; I think a lot of us are clueless. I'm having my team log into DoD during the specified window, but not score anything, since scores are taken at the end of that window and the points would not count. I'd encourage all teams to wait until those start scores are posted before scoring anything, so you know you're safe.

Strangely, virtually all of my friends are going back to their hometowns for the weekend. Every flipping one of them, each for a different reason... bizarre. Amy will be gone, and Stefan too... no girlfriend, no roommate... I was planning on going out on Friday night and being social like a normal person, but with no friends around, it looks like I'm gaming by default all Friday and Saturday... I'll have to notch up my weekly estimate a bit as a result (that estimate is classified information =P)

Time to get back to beasting... homework! Lame...............

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Anticipation is Killing Me...

Over the last two weeks, I’ve scored a lousy 220 points. Those points have come from games like Puzzle Quest, Stranglehold, and Dynasty Warriors 6, which will be virtually untouched when the league starts. It’s not that I hate not scoring a ton of points… it the fact that I could be scoring points and I’m deliberately holding back that is killing me. I need the gloves to come off. NOW. Do you know how hard it is to play Onechanbara for 10 hours and have 0 points to show for it? To only play the games on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection that don’t have achievements, so nothing accidentally pops? Right now, I’m actually trying to survive all 280 waves of survival mode in Onechanbara… that’s a hell of a personal achievement, but there’s no points in it. Thankfully, it’s possible to save and quit, because doing all 280 waves in one sitting would probably take 10 or more hours! I’m currently on the 115th wave.

Some Vegas 2 multiplayer, the subscriber Uno tournament (which my teammate Bishop won), and watching episodes of the Venture Brothers has kept me happy enough, but I like scoring points when I’m playing… Just a few more days!
Sabre x360a

To my sorrow (and every other team’s delight), Operation Overdrive has been a dismal failure. I don’t have my short story done, and research is taking 3x longer than I thought it was. That means my dream of 3 intense work days and nothing but gaming during the GSL week will never come to fruition. It would have been nice, but I can’t ignore responsibilities to play games.

Week I will be amusing. Every team is going to go big and try to make a name for themselves. It’ll be a chest-thumping ego fest. The more interesting thing will be to see which teams go big then fizzle, which teams are consistent, and which teams are Dead On Arrival. The rivalries with Rogue Squadron and Ducky’s team need to get going for real =)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Prima's Achievement Book Reviewed

Recently, Prima put out a guide book for xbox 360 achievements, made in conjunction with As someone who generally likes having hard-copy guides, I picked up a copy, and thought I'd pass along my opinion of the book. Trust me, you'll be glad I did.

Unofficial Xbox 360 Achievements book
MSRP: $14.99
432 Pages
  1. Hard copy of the guides, so internet isn't necessary.
  2. Some of the guides, like Tales of Vesperia, are very good, and probably better in print form.
  3. Guides for 70+ games.

  1. Original authors are not credited.
  2. Tiny type
  3. Numerous editing issues
  4. Poor layout
  5. You can get this information FREE on the internet.

Cons (expanded):

  1. As a writer, the fact that the people who worked so hard to write those guide don't even get acknowledged, while others make money off of their work, really makes me mad. I feel those authors were exploited. Prima couldn't even spare a page or two to recognize and thank authors.
  2. It's easy to lose your place on the page with the tiny type. They tried to ram as many words onto a page as they could, which makes it hard to read through, especially for the longer explanations.
  3. Prima should be embarrassed to have put this guide out in this condition. On the top right corner of the right page is the name of the current game guide. Why "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is the page tab for Fight Night Round 3 baffles me. On the left and right side of the pages are tabs indicating the current genre. On the left pages, sports are called "Old Skool Sports" on the right page, it's misspelled as "Ols Skool Sports." I found those errors in 30 seconds... I stopped looking after that. Also, why are several games called "Short Sports" when they're listed as 30+ hours to complete? Lego Indy is correctly named in the table of contents, but called "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in the actual book.
  4. Poor layout comes with the tiny text. They don't even give you an extra line or an indent between paragraphs... good luck following that CSI guide. Also, why is the table of contents in alphabetical order, when the rest of the book is divided by genre? A more logical approach would have been to list the games by genre and the order in which they appear.
  5. With the above flaws mentioned, do you really want to pay for info you can get for free from x360a? Some of these guides I will actually use in print form, but I simply cannot recommend this book. I hope x360a gets a cut of the sales, but let someone else do the buying.

Grade: D- (Only the quality of the RPG section keeps this from failure)

Don't buy it. You can't say I never did you any favors =P

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentines Day!

Happy Valentines Day everyone! I hope you have a great time. I'm spending this morning and early afternoon trying to get some stuff done, with virtually no success... Sunday through Tuesday will be brutal. Then, later this afternoon, Amy and I will be getting together and hanging out, as well as going somewhere nice to eat. It's been a while since we've gone out somewhere, and had an evening all to ourselves, so I'm looking forward to it.
In Barcelona, Spain.

Amy's not exactly the sentimental type, so I'll do my best to keep this post sap-free so she doesn't punch me LOL =P But, in the spirit of the day, allow me record some of the advantages of dating another gamer:

1. You can talk about your hobby and they know what you're talking about.

When I talk about games, I may occasionally hear "You're such a dork," but she knows what I'm talking about. The first conversation I remember us having involved killing Ganados in Resident Evil 4. I knew then that she was more awesome than most.

2. Co-op Sessions

Playing L4D together is fun. It would be even better if Amy bought a headset so we could actually talk while doing it (we live on opposite sides of the campus). Of course, we do local co-op from time to time, and some games like Guitar Hero together.

3. Game Exchanges

So far, this mostly has involved me hooking her up from my collection, but it's definitely not a bad thing when your girlfriend wants to borrow Dead Rising, Afro Samurai, and Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad (seriously).

4. She knows what Achievement Points are.

My point-fixation would probably be another "You're a nerd" conversation (I know that, thank you ^-^), but she knows what they are. She's even told me about trying to get the "Red Mist" achievement in L4D. While it's highly unlikely she'll ever be a major point-chaser, hope springs eternal LOL.

I think that will cover me for today. I'm not feeling particularly chatty today. Gotta go get more done (or at least try) before Amy and I go out. Happy V-Day all.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 is Evil (Not Really)

This is Thursday's post... Somehow Blogger messed up the post dates...

Review Note: Afro Samurai is now officially posted! You can read the review HERE
. Go ahead and read it... I'll wait. Next up is Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad. My 11th review will be blood, zombies, and scantily clad babes... I can't wait. As I said in THIS POST, it's destined to be the Game of the Year =P.

For those of you who haven't heard of it, is a site where you can go to listen to music for free. You enter the name of an artist or some you like, and Pandora will start playing songs similar to that song/artist. The whole point of it is to help you find other groups you might like, and of course listen to some free music.

I've been listening to Pandora a ton while working on my sociology research. Of course, Pandora has a evil side... It chooses what you listen to, and you can only skip so many songs per hour. And, after hearing a few songs you like, it's really hard not to run out and spend a billion dollars on new music. Well, for the first time in a while, Pandora (and the Nightwish channel) have made me cave in, and some new additions have been made to my library. I download everything legally from Amazon MP3. It's legal, cheaper than CDs, and the gratification is instant. The music goes right to my Windows Media Player library.

With the GSL coming, its inevitable that I'll be playing some crappy games, and wanting some music to listen to, so having some new stuff's not a bad idea.

Most of this music is still incredibly new to me, so instead of trying to explain it myself, I'm stealing info from Pandora itself, so credit goes to that site. (My bro is going to love reading some of these bios) I purchased:

Vinland Saga (Leaves' Eyes)
Leaves' Eyes
Gothic metal band Leaves' Eyes was born out of the romantic relationship between singer Liv Kristine Espenæs and guitarist Alexander Krull, who met whilst she was fronting Norway's Theatre of Tragedy and he Germany's Atrocity. The pair eventually married and announced their musical union in 2003, with Espenæs quitting Theatre of Tragedy to join Krull and the rest of Atrocity's lineup (guitarists Thorsten Bauer and Mathias Roderer, bassist Christian Lukhaup, and drummer Nick Barker) to found Leaves' Eyes and record their 2004 debut album, Lovelorn. Along with its next-year successor, Vinland Saga, the record confirmed the new group's affinity for theatrical, symphonic goth-metal, as the leading couple living out the ‘beauty and the beast' vocal roles. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia, All Music Guide

Amplified- A Decade of Reinventing the Cello (Apocalyptica)
The Helsinki, Finland, quartet Apocalyptica comprised classically trained cellists Eicca Toppinen, Max Lilja, Antero Manninen, and Paavo Lotjonen; formed in 1993, the group made waves internationally in 1996 with Plays Metallica by Four Cellos, which combined their formal background with their love of heavy metal. The album found favor with both classical buffs and metal heads alike, and two years later Apocalyptica resurfaced with Inquisition Symphony, which featured covers of material by Faith No More and Pantera. Manninen soon left the band and was replaced by Perttu Kivilaanso. They added double bass and percussion to the mix for 2001's Cult, a collection of all-original material, and again on 2003's Reflections which featured guest drummer Dave Lombardo from Slayer. Max Lilja had left the band and Mikko Sirén joined as the band's permanent drummer. After Reflections was reissued as Reflections Revised, featuring a bonus track with new wave diva Nina Hagen, 2005 saw the release of the eponymous Apocalyptica, followed in 2006 by the collection Amplified: A Decade of Reinventing the Cello. The band returned to the studio the following year for Worlds Collide. Rammstein vocalist Till Lindemann appeared on the album performing the German-language version of David Bowie's "Helden." ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide

Bloodangel's Cry (Krypteria)
Formed in the early years of the 21st century by guitarist Chris Siemons, bassist Frank Stumvoll, and drummer S.C. Kuschnerus, Krypteria were originally formed as a musical theater studio project with a selection of rotating vocalists. One of these singers was Ji-In Cho, who added her part to the track "Liberatio" on 2003's Krypteria. When the song was chosen by a German television station to be included in a benefit for hurricane victims, the trio decided to add Cho as a permanent member of the band. Their debut full-length as a four-piece, In Medias Res, came out in 2005, followed by heavy touring and the release of Bloodangel's Cry two years later. ~ Marisa Brown, All Music Guide

Nine Destinies and a Downfall (Sirenia)
Somehow, leading Norway's Tristania to the top of the goth metal heap wasn't enough for vocalist/guitarist Morten Veland, who unilaterally seceded from the union in the year 2000 to found a brand-spanking-new though similar-sounding band named Sirenia. Picking up pretty much where he'd left off stylistically, Veland hand-picked compatriots Kristian Gundersen (clean vocals, guitar), Hans Henrik Varland (keyboards), and French singer Fabienne Gondamin to quickly perform on the following year's At Sixes and Sevens debut. He and Gundersen then found a more permanent support staff in vocalist Henriette Bordvik and drummer Jonathan Perez to work on their 2003 follow-up, An Elixir for Existence. An EP, Sirenian Shores arrived in 2005, followed by the full-length Nine Destinies and a Downfall in 2007. ~ Ed Rivadavia, All Music Guide

Thank you Pandora. My wallet is $40 lighter, and I'll be rocking out for a while now. So far, I've been digesting mostly Sirenia and Leaves' Eyes, but the other two albums will get some love too. I really love Vinland Saga... it's kinda "laid back" metal, if that makes any sense. It's rocking enough to keep me interested, while gentle enough that I can listen to it while focusing on homework. A couple of the Sirenia tracks might make their way into my custom playlist for FPS games... This is some good stuff.

Two Op. Jedi Success Stories

But first, 2 quick blog notes..

Note 1: Comment moderation has been turned off for new posts. Posts older than 7 days still have moderation, but that's mostly so I notice if comments are being left on older messages.

Note 2: I've recently gotten into the habit of writing in the evening and posting the next morning. It's been working well, so look for posts to keep appearing between 8-11am CST, with weekend running a little differently.

With the GSL coming, and the freakish amount of work I'm trying to get done (my MMO research is taking 3x as long as I thought it would...), my gaming progress has slowed to a crawl. Lego Star Wars II locking up on me in the middle of a level didn't help my mood much, either. However, despite the annoyances and setbacks, a little progress has been made, and I can therefore present two more Operation Jedi Success Stories.

Operation Jedi Success Story #5: Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
This is one of the most time consuming (though great) XBLA games out there. Getting the full 250 took well over 20 hours, but every hour of that time was fun. Puzzle Quest was worth every penny for the game and the DLC expansion. Sitting on my card at 125/250 for a long time, I decided it would be a fun game to work on pre-GSL, so I was chipping away at it in bits and pieces, and finally completed it yesterday be forging a Godlike item. Lord Antharg, the final boss of the DLC line, was nearly impossible for the longest time, but when my roommate showed me an item that heals disease every turn, the battle became super easy, as Antharg's whole ability to win revolves around disease. Puzzle Quest is easily the most satisfying arcade completion on my card.

Operation Jedi Success Story #6: Unreal Tournament III
For the longest time, this game lamented in the high 600s. While getting it to the 750 Operation Jedi standard isn't as dramatic as some other projects I've done, I'll take it. I was able to get "Equal Opportunity Destroyer" for winning a ranked game of every time, which I thought I would never get, since 6 people are needed to boost the team modes. Luckily, while playing some Rainbow Six Vegas 2 with Silva and some of his friends, we realized we had 6 people on who owned UT3, so it made sense to knock that out, since we didn't know when we'd have such an opportunity again. I only needed a CTF win, but I helped everyone else get their wins too. Add 20 points I never thought I'd see to the board. I've also picked up the invisibility time achievement in the last couple days. I'm gradually working on the "No Life" achievement, while trying to get wins on every map, and play 100 warfare matches. So, I'm chalking this up as an Operation Jedi victory, but work on it continues. 910/1000 is probably my limit though... 500 ranked wins (50g) and Like the Back of My Hand (40g) seem like far too much of a pain in the butt to bother with. I'd seriously rather grind all my officers to level 50 in Dynasty Warriors 6...

I'm withholding detailed Operation Jedi statistics until after Week 1 of the GSL. Why? Because I actually expect my completion percentage to bump up a bit. Even if it doesn't, it will by the end of Week 2 =)

Images from x360a, as usual.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Halo Wars Demo Impressions

Note: The Afro Samurai review was finished on Sunday, and now merely awaits posting. Hopefully it'll be up sometime today.

So, I was bored yesterday and decided, since I couldn't decide what to play, to check out the Halo Wars demo. I've gone on record before as saying I'm not the biggest Halo fan, as the universe is pretty generic and lacks much depth to anyone who reads a lot of (quality) science fiction. Added to that, I'm just not impressed with Bungie's storytelling capabilities. However, I'm still itching for a truly good console RTS game, so I'll give anything a try. C&C3 was OK, Warhammer controlled horribly, and EndWar's voice controls won't work for me at all. Could Halo Wars finally be the game to get it right?

Obviously, I came to the demo as a skeptic, and came away completely surprised by the quality here. The visuals (animations in particular) make Halo 3 look like a bad joke. While the RTS action here is noticeably less complex than the C&C titles or Starcraft, there's still some pretty decent unit variety, and the tech tree is easy to understand and work through.
Base construction is simple, as bases are a hub surrounded by multiple slots you can fit a building into. There's no need to think about where a building should go like there is in the C&C games. All units pour out of the same opening in the base, making finding them easy, and setting rally points is a breeze. With the bumpers, players can quickly select all units on screen, or all units they've built, allowing for quick commands. The d-pad allows for rapid switching from your base to the units doing the fighting, so multitasking combat with production is as easy as its ever been. Armies are limited in their size to about 30-40 units, which I found to be a nice and manageably small number, while keeping the action feeling intense. And with the possibility of 6 players in full battles, competition should get very intense. They even thought to include nice touches, like having groups of units move at the speed of their slowest member, so units stay together, unlike in C&C, where it was tough to keep everyone together. Resource management is incredibly simple, so players can spend more time focusing on climbing up the tech tree, building units, and managing a battle.

If tutorial length can say anything about the quality of the controls, Halo Wars fares very well. It took my about a half hour (if I remember right) to get the controls for C&C3 down. Warhammer took over 3 hours (1.5 in tutorial) to get down, and I still never mastered them. I was through everything in Halo Wars, and confident in my commanding abilities, in no more than 15 minutes.
After playing the first two missions of the campaign, and a couple skirmish missions (and DESTROYING the AI on normal... I should probably play on Heroic), I'm completely sold on Halo Wars. Ensemble Studios has finally make THE console RTS game. You can even play through the whole campaign in co-op. When my brother gets back from Spain, I'm forcing him to download the demo and try it out himself. Perhaps I can finally get him interested in an RTS, and we can co-op the campaign... or at least he can ride on the Grand Admiral's coattails lol =)

I'm picking up this game, the only question now is when. Do I get it now and play it on my bench weeks in the GSL? Do I wait until after the GSL and get it as a celebration that KOTOR lost? (to my team or any other) I'll have to think about it, especially with RE5 coming soon.

I encourage people to download the Halo Wars demo and try it for themselves. I was extremely impressed.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Buck Wyyld Breaks 100k at Last!

Today I have to give a shout out to my GSL VI teammate, Buck Wyyld, who has succeeded in passing the 100k mark, after 7 long months of being within 4k of it. He's now officially the first member of The Silent Assassins to pass that mark.
During the GSL, Buck scored 27,915 points, making him the #4 scorer in the league. Some of those points came from an absolutely unforgettable late-night Viva Pinata Party Animals boosting session. Nothing says manly like 4 grown men boosting a children's party game in the early hours of the morning.
My fellow members of the Assassins and I have been waiting for this to come for a while now, and had all chipped in to buy Buck some strippers... But as the months dragged on, our cash ran out, and the strippers all died... so I hope you don't mind a zombie stripper instead.
Congrats on passing that milestone Buck. We're all happy for you.

If you're a member of x360a, you can congratulate Buck HERE.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Messages from the Holonet (Episode 1)

Yes... It's 12:30am. Sunday's post is going up really early, because I'll be spending most of the day writing the Afro Samurai review, as well as a short story. That huge amount of writing means I get to cheat out a blog post early =)

I'm totally stealing an idea from Stallion on the posting of messages. I don't get as many as he does (thank God), but every once in a while I'll have enough total to merit posting. This is the first such instance.

ScarQueen writes: Tumnas still wants a kiss!

Context: ScarQueen is my girlfriend Amy's gamertag. Tumnas is the goat-boy (satyr?) in the Chronicles of Narnia, and the nickname of my former roommate... who does look a bit like a goat if he doesn't shave.

Answer: Bestiality isn't my thing. Get Betty to do it.

Bond x360a writes: congrats on orochi

Reply: Thanks man, there was much suffering involved, but it feels great to be done with Orochi 2 at last. Dream Theater saves lives. Let's all pray Koei never makes such evil achievements again.

BL4CK SiLv4 writes: BL4CK SiLv4 would like to add you as a friend.

(that was the message, Silva is already on my friends list).

Reply: Nice one, smart ass. It worked to get that first team meeting rolling. I loled.

xRogue 5x writes: i'm going to have to cancel our onichanbara race, i won't be able to play it until the league starts

Response: I too am saving this until the GSL, but I'll be playing it on an offline profile as soon as I get it, since I'll be writing the review. I'll be practiced and ready to rock it when the GSL starts. I would have smoked you anyway, so it's all good =P...

FinTacular writes: I just read on ur blog that you think that Dark Passion Play by Nightwish is the #2 best album ever. Just wanted (to) drop a message to (say) that I'm probably the only Finn reading ur blog and its nice to know that Nightwish is appreciated in the US. =)

(Re-added words probably omitted due to character limits)
See the blog post referred to HERE

Response: I'm surprised that that post has been one of the most attention-getting posts of any I've written. It's also nice to see my blog has some international readership =) Dark Passion Play is absolutely an incredible album, which I can never get enough of. Good music should be appreciated everywhere, though it can be tough for great stuff to be heard outside its native market, especially with American pop crap flooding the music scene world-wide. I'm glad Nightwish has made its way to the US, and I'm hoping more music makes its way here. I'm glad you also like Nightwish, and I appreciate the feedback =)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

GSL Prep: Operation Overdrive

As usual, when ever I come up with a goal for myself, I have to call it "Operation" something. It's dumb, but over-dramatic titles for my goals give me more motivation to see them to the end than if I said, "Hey, I should probably get busy on X." Since it's a personal habit that I know works, why stop?

Welcome to the not-so-glorious side of trying to be competitive in a GSL...

The newest operation in my list of them is Operation Overdrive, effective NOW through Feb. 18th (conveniently when the GSL starts). Overdrive isn't a glorious operation, indeed, it'll be a long, boring slog of an experience. Basically, from now until the league starts, I'm going to be spending double or more the amount of time I normally do on homework, so I have time to play without setting myself back academically. This means getting in the habit of doing the whole week's homework on Sunday night and Monday, when the GSL would be in recess. With my light schedule this semester, that's really not as hard as it might sound to someone with a 15+ credit load. I'm also trying to jump-start the long-term projects, like the two short stories I need to write for my 400-level creative writing class.

The real beast of this goal will be plowing through my sociology research. During the weekdays, I'll be spending obscene amounts of time in the sociology research lab, reading World of Warcraft blogs and coding all that data. As someone who's never played WoW, it's not something I can do for more than an hour or two before losing all interest. This project is time-intensive, and I'm contractually obligated to complete it (I'm being paid $2100 after all), so failing to get it done because I was busy with a videogame league would be an extremely retarded thing for me to do. So, between now and the GSL start, I'll be spending about 6-8 hours a day on my research, every day Monday through Friday, which means a minimum of 42 hours invested by the time the GSL starts. Hopefully, that'll be enough progress that I'll only have to work on it Mondays and Tuesdays during the GSL and meet the deadline, but we'll see. Work comes before points. I may be scheduling my weeks on the bench around my research needs.

I haven't even wanted to play games much lately, when the league is so close. I'll continue to chip at Stranglehold every now and then, as well as Lego Star Wars, and possibly Blue Dragon and Dynasty Warriors 6. DVDs I've been meaning to watch but have not are more likely to get my attention though. There will be more than enough gaming later.

Since there probably won't be much gaming progress to report, I'll try to work up some special topics and commentary to fill the space until the league starts.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Afro Samurai and 100Ks

I received Afro Samurai yesterday, and I've begun playing that on an offline account, as I take notes and prepare to write the review. Normally, I'll throw anything on my card so I get the points for my time, but this close to the GSL starting, no free addition to my game stash is going to be wasted. I'll get those points "for real" in a couple weeks. Instead of even thinking about the points, I've just been playing the game. Having familiarity with the game before the league starts should allow me to get through it again in better-than-average time. I'll do my best to have the review complete by Sunday night, but make no guarantees. I also downloaded a couple episodes of the show off the video marketplace, so I'm more familiar with the original material.

According to TrueAchievements, my score is 99,758 (TrueAchievements calculates your score based on how many other people have the same achievements you do. Achievements fewer people have earned are worth more points). Since I'm so close to getting my first 100k, I might take some time away from reviewing to load up Stranglehold and try to get a few more points out of it. It's not as sweet as the "real" 100k, but it's a start.

Fabruary-March will be the "100k Blitz," as I anticipate watching my friends Silva, Derek, Bishop, and Buck Wyyld (he only needs 300 or so, surely he can get that in 2 months) reach that milestone, and I shouldn't be too far behind them. I'm looking forward to it.

That's the Friday update, folks. Happy gaming.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Another (Golden) Brick in the Wall

With the GSL just a couple weeks away, I've really been slowing down my gaming. I want to get as much work done on my 400-level creative writing short stories and Sociology research as I can before the league starts, so I have more time to play. The off-days of Monday and Tuesday will be the days I spend in the career center, I reckon. With my gaming hours so cut, my roommate is probably spending more time with my Xbox playing Puzzle Quest. I don't mind, since in a couple weeks I'll be pretty much hogging the thing.

When I am playing, my gaming has been extremely casual. I've been playing Stranglehold from Gamefly as something to tide me over until the league starts. I needed it for Operation Jedi anyway, as it was sitting at a 25/1000 for a long time. I'll mess around with it some more, then ship it back about 7-10 days before the league starts, so I can get an easier game back.

Puzzle Quest has been getting some love as well, as I completed the entire DLC quest line, and finally reached level 50. Now all I need to do is defeat Lord Bane and forge a Godlike item and that game is completed. As you can see from the number of days Puzzle Quest has been played (via my 360voice profile), I love the game. Hopefully Galactrix, the sequel, will be out pretty soon.

Also an the gaming roster has been Lego Star Wars II. I'd love to get this one done so I can start The Complete Saga when the GSL is over. I've been merrily replaying levels to meet the "True Jedi" stud requirements, for the most part, and earn those gold bricks. Having the x2 stud multiplier turned on makes those a lot easier. I'm now saving for the x4 multiplier. With both enabled, all studs are worth 8x as much, as I'll be able to get the most expensive items more easily. I really want to go on a shopping spree at the store now, but it would take too long to replenish my funds, and thus I'm saving for the multipliers.

I recently noticed that Venture Brothers season 3 is available on the video marketplace, while the DVDs won't be out for another month. Since I have the hard drive space, I've begun downloading the season. Stefan and I have been laughing our asses off... I've got to get Amy interested in this show LOL. I've also noticed that episodes of Afro Samurai cost half as much as if I purchased the DVDs, so I'll probably end up downloading an episode or two to check out the show. Since the Afro Samurai game is my next review, getting to know the original material probably isn't a bad idea.

That'll cover me for today folks. Happy gaming everybody.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How Playing Bad Games Can Be Fun

First, a blog note: I've temporarily enabled comment moderation, so comments won't appear on the blog right away. Hopefully it's only a temporary measure. If your comment has a name on it and is reasonable, it will be posted, even if you're completely disagreeing with me and calling me a moron =P I'm more critical of anonymous posts, flames, pointless comments, or comments unrelated to the topic of the post.

Today, I felt like talking about why I play come crappy games. The majority of gamers out there play only what they want to play for fun, and would not subject themselves to games like Jumper or Golden Compass, as I have. These gamers probably wonder why I waste my time on such garbage for some stupid points. It's a fair question to have, and I'll try to provide my answer to it.

First, I want to distance myself a bit from the Stallion, Rogue, and Hayden type of gamer. Those guys will play anything at any time for points, and I believe they all own multiple xbox 360s. I'm not suggesting that they only play games for points, and don't play games for fun (I'm sure they play some games for fun), I'm saying that have much higher and persistent crap-tolerances than I do. While they seem (to me) capable of playing crap whenever to boost their scores, I can't do that. More power to them, I guess. I personally need a little more motivation to spend my time on junk.

If I'm going to play crap games to boost my score, I need to have fun doing it. Sounds impossible, right? How could Golden Compass possibly be fun? There are several ways in which I find playing garbage enjoyable:

1. Playing bad games helps you better appreciate the good ones

I wish all those people who bitch about how horrible Gears 2 is would go play Hour of Victory for a couple hours. After you've played a real turd of a shooter, it's easier to appreciate Gears. While the game certainly isn't perfect, the Gears 2 cry-babies don't realize they're bitching about an excellent game, and have no idea what garbage really is. They're like a bunch of spoiled princesses whiling over trifles. Mini-rant aside, I enjoy the quality games more if I just played something mediocre or bad. They make you realize that excellence isn't a given, and a quality game takes a lot of time and talent to pull off.

2. The art of mocking

Playing bad games is an exercise in creativity. You're always thinking of new ways to chain swears together, or coming up with clever ways to describe how poorly made a game was. This may sound like an exercise in masochism, but it's actually great. As a writer, I'm pressing myself to come up with better metaphors to depict the horror, and generally trying to exercise wit. When I'm playing crap, I'm critically thinking about it. While enjoying quality games, I'm not doing much thinking at all.

3. Social context is key

The vast majority of bad games I've played have been done during a GSL. I did have to review a few lame ducks, and a few games I rented to try out turned out to be horrible, but they are the exceptions. Everyone has heard the saying "misery loves company" and it's true for playing bad games, among many other things. The fun of playing in a competition against other teams, while chatting and working with your own team of people, easily compensates for the misery of a few bad games. How else would I have met awesome guys like Silva, Ducky Dan, and Derek? We've played games together for fun as well as points both in and out of GSLs. Other people make bad games more fun. One of my favorite memories of GSL VI is when four of us boosted some of the MP achievements for Viva Pinata Party Animals at 2am on a Saturday night. It's an absurd time of day for 4 grown men to be boosting a party game for children, and we spent the whole time joking about it. That gaming session was nothing but a couple hours of torture metaphors and slinging gay jokes and your mom jokes at each other, among other juvenile antics. It was pretty hilarious. The game may have been bad, but I had a great time anyway.

4. Perverse pride

I'll admit it, knowing that I was able to sit through games that other people couldn't stand amuses me. I have a strange respect for people capable of seeing bad games through to the end. That requires more dedication than getting to the end of a masterpiece like Fallout, in my opinion. It's easy to ride through a game that draws you in; it's much harder to ride through a game with broken mechanics constantly pushing your interest elsewhere.

In these four ways, I can enjoy playing games that are pretty bad. So remember, if you see me playing garbage during GSL VII, like (heaven forbid) My Horse and Me 2 or Rapala Fishing Frenzy, remember that, in my own way, I'm actually having fun with it, or I wouldn't have bothered.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

GSL VII Preview: Meet The Hand of Thrawn

Today, I'd like to introduce you to a team that's going to be making waves in this season's GSL. It really shouldn't come as a surprise, when you consider who is on the team. The Hand of Thrawn represents the reunion of three members of the GSL VI Champion team, The Silent Assassins (ThrawnOmega, BL4CK SiLv4, and Derek1337). We all have experience with a GSL, and know what you have to do to win it, which gives us an advantage over most of the other teams in the league. Of course, every teams thinks they're going to win, and I have no problem with that, but you're a fool if you don't think we'll be competing with you every step of the way.

For those of you out there who didn't follow GSL VI, or don't remember, let's review some stats.

How about MVP totals for the whole season (Black dot by name = Assassin):
As you can see, all 4 members who were on the team the whole season made the top 10 in the league. There was a revolving door of subs in the last 2 spots, but once Silva found his way into the ranks, he definitely made some noise. He nearly cracked the top 10 as well, despite having 2-3 less weeks of play than almost everyone else.

Or how about some weekly totals from returning members of the Hand of Thrawn? We clearly know how to score, and we can and will do so again. While other teams can talk trash based on their potential, we speak from know-how.

Week 7:
Derek: 5,964
Silva: 6,298
Thrawn: 7,750

Week 8:
Derek: 7,260
Silva: 7,395
Thrawn: 7,530

Let's meet the members of the Hand of Thrawn:

Captain: ThrawnOmega
You've seen my numbers from GSL VI. I lived up to the pre-season hype I threw about myself, and was the 2nd overall pick in the draft that season. Now I'm taking that experience and using it to lead a team to the best of my ability. Whatever the outcome of the league, I promise you the Hand of Thrawn will be one of the most organized and cohesive teams in the league. We will have fun, and won't self destruct if we fall behind. Since this whole blog is about me in some form or another, I don't want to spend any more time on myself.

BL4CK SiLv4:
Unquestionably the best sub ever for TSA. He showed up and came to play. A resident of New York City, he's used his mad photoshop skills to make our team sig. He knows how this game rolls, and his advice will be invaluable to our team's success. Look for him to crack 100k early in the competition.

He's Mr. Reliable. You can count on him for consistent points, which is extremely valuable in GSL competitions. When he tells us how many points he's going to put down in a week, we can count on those points showing up.

This guy has the gaming hook-ups. If he wants a game, you can count on him getting it. Where some captains may see the high scores he, Derek, and Silva have as I liability, I know that means they know how to score points. Bishop is already well on his way to organizing his plan for GSL domination. He'll crack 100k not long after Derek and Silva do. He's someone to keep an eye on in the MVP race, I reckon.

Sabre x360a:
Sabre is a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army, which means instant respect from me, for his service to our country. As one of the "low" gamerscores on the team (compared to the rest of us), he has a ton of potential games to play to boost his score. His ability to put down over 5k points in January convinces me he's serious about scoring points, and I know he can kick it up a notch in this tough competition.

A fellow Minnesotan and Star Wars fan, I consider him my apprentice for GSL VII. We shall teach him the ways of point whoring, and his sub-10k score represents enormous potential. In his own words, "I hope to play with some of the best so that I too can become one of the best." You're on the right team for that, no doubt.

The Hand of Thrawn even has a team silly enough to take us on as rivals. The team Rogue Squadron has taken it on as their mission to take us out, no matter what. We don't tolerate rebellions, and will therefore do our best to utterly dominate them, as well. I think, even if neither team wins it all, taking out the other will still feel satisfying. I wish the best of luck to all the members of Rogue Squadron. May you bring your A-game, and suffer absolutely 0 RRODs. You'll need that luck... I'm not sure you knew what you were getting into when you chose us as rivals. =) God, I can't wait for this league to start.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Gamerscore Inflation: How More Points May Be Bad For Us All

Before writing this post, I did a Google search on "Gamerscore Inflation" to see what turned up. I wasn't too surprised to see that there wasn't much, and existing sources use the term differently than I'm about to.

"Gamerscore Inflation" has been discussed in two different ways that I found. The first usage refers to people who hack/gamesave/profile glitch their way to more points, thus artificially inflating their scores without really playing. People offering to boost other people's score for them, sometimes for money (and possibly using one of the methods earlier mentioned) fall into the second usage of the term. Both involve a single player's account, and what happens to that score.

My definition of Gamerscore Inflation has ramifications on the entire gaming industry, and every Xbox owner. I'm talking about Microsoft-sponsored Gamerscore Inflation, in the form of raising point caps on games, and rising uncertainty on where they'll draw the line on how many points a game can or should have. As gamers and consumers, we need to keep a critical eye on this trend, as its development over 2009 will define the future of the achievements system. More points isn't always a good thing.

Microsoft has changed is policy on achievements more than once. I believe the initial rules were that a game must have a minimum of 5 achievements, a maximum of 50, and could have up to 1000 points. Most games took all 1000 they could, but there were a few weird exceptions. To polish things up, and make for easier comparison, Microsoft changed the rules so every game must have 1000 points available on the disc. The Shivering Isles expansion of Oblivion marked the first time DLC was given achievements, and a new cap of 1250 was given to games, where developers could add up to 250 points through DLC, and could make that content free or for purchase, as they wished.

Now comparisons start to get sloppy again, though it isn't Microsoft's fault. Developers don't have to add all 250, so now that nice line of 1000s on your card has been replaced with 1050 for Mass Effect, 1100 in Bioshock and Lost Odyssey, 1220 in The Force Unleashed, and 1250 in Oblivion, as an example. At this point, perhaps you're thinking I'm a neat-freak of sorts who wants all games to look the same in points, that's not the issue here. I love getting points in DLC like most other achievement junkies (though I'm not part of the "No points = No purchase" crowd). While it's nice that every game now has 1000 original points, this DLC policy has undone the "ease of comparison" idea that was part of the original intent of the first policy revision.

So far, the system has worked well enough, as most of the DLC content that comes with new achievements is substantial content that deserves to have points attached to it. At this point, developers don't seem to be abusing achievements as a way to get people to purchase DLC, though I know some whine about Gears of War 2 or Fallout's 800msp cost for 100 points in Operation Anchorage. If you're only playing Fallout 3 for the points though, you really have issues. Certainly, some developers aren't as good as others about providing good DLC, but if asked the question, "Are developers ripping us off on DLC or exploiting achievement whores?" my answer for now would be, not YET, for the most part. 2009 will be a telling year for DLC though, and things could shift in that direction.

The change in the system that truly has me concerned is the rise of new "super games," or games that are allowed to ascend beyond the 1250 cap. First, Halo 3 got the obscene raise to 1750 points. Obscene is the only word to describe Halo being worth almost any 2 other games, especially since its DLC is only a series of map packs, but since Halo is one of Microsoft's biggest cash ponies, it's not too surprising. Next up is Fallout 3, which is reported to have 100 points in The Pitt, and 150 in Broken Steel, making for a total of 1350, with the possibility of more points if they make more content. Fallout raises an important question; how should episodic content be treated? Should all such releases of content get points? What will the standard be? Right now, there doesn't seem to be one, but Bethesda doesn't appear to be abusing their exception status.
You're not worth 1750 points, sorry.

Halo and Fallout will not be the last games cracking the 1250 cap. With Microsoft shelling out millions for the exclusive rights to GTA4 DLC, I promise you they'll push that title by offering up more points, so count on GTA4 getting to at least 1500 total. I'm also expecting Gears of War 2 to push beyond 1250 before Epic releases Gears 3. So far, it looks like things are being handled on a case-by-case basis, which is good, but this trend is only beginning. How far will it go? What happens if more and more developers want to break the 1250 cap?
GTA4: The next achievement super-game

If the number of games granted exceptions remains rather small, it's not too big a problem, but there are several possible outcomes to the system as a whole if more and more games were to be allowed to go beyond 1250. Enter the dark potential futures:

1. Gamerscore Inflation:
As games continue to have more and more points, the games released before the cap raise would mean less and less, compared to new games offering up hundreds of points in DLC. Suddenly, everyone has higher scores, and hitting milestones like 100k aren't nearly as hard or impressive as they once were.

2. Developer exploitation:
Some could argue we're already being over-charged for DLC, but further point allowances could make things worse. What's stopping developers from making "Get X kills with Y DLC-only weapon" achievements? We already have "On X map, do Y" achievements in Halo and Gears, among others. If you think developers are using achievements to push some people into purchasing content now, imagine how much more they could do it if they're given more points to work with. Remember Microsoft gets a cut on DLC sales, so if it helps their bottom line, they could be more generous in allowing games to have more points. And of course, the more points attached to a piece of DLC, the likely you are to buy it, if you care about points.

3. Stringing along gamers:
While Bethesda's releases for Fallout should all be quality, odds are not everyone will be so good. Episodic content doesn't really exist on the 360 yet, but the idea of monthly content packs, each with a fee and a few more points, is certainly possible, if Fallout 3 turns out to be an example of the future. Could developers keep using points to sell strings of mediocre DLC? Add an achievement or two to a bunch of DLC pieces, so people have to purchase all of them if they want all the points? What about games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero? Would they take advantage of higher point allowances, and the 99 achievement limit introduced by the Orange Box, to keep attaching an achievement to whatever track pack they want? I'm a little surprised they haven't tried that already...

Ultimately, who has control over how points for DLC are utilized going into the future? Microsoft, for starters. They'll be the ones to decide just how many points a game is allowed to have, and whether games with more than 1250 become common or not remains their decision. However, it's up to us, who buy that DLC, to decide how far we'll let developers go. If we live up to the moniker of 'whores' and buy anything for points, could you blame developers for wanting to exploit that? If we're smart, and don't succumb to the temptation to buy any crap for a few more points, perhaps developers will be responsible in their usage. We can only hope.

In the February issue of OXM, Achievement Whores are listed as #35 in a "Top 100 for 2009" article. They write, "They're Microsoft's most valuable resource: The gamers who will do, buy, or play anything for another 1000 points of Gamerscore. Mediocre budget software of 2009, you have found your new target audience. Please milk it with care." We'll have to decide on our own how badly we let them milk us...


Achievement Generator:

Sunday, February 1, 2009

2 Years Later..... Oblivion Complete At Last

Today's post is a little... odd. I'm going to be writing about how I finally completed Oblivion, in two parts. Part One is a fictional rendition of how I got the last achievement, told from the POV of my character. It's meant to be more amusing than "good" as I'm writing it in one shot, off the cuff, and won't be editing it. It's supposed to be dumb, since I'm making fun of Oblivion's NPC AI. Great game, but very unrealistic in some ways (and I'm not talking about the Fantasy setting). Part 2 is my actual thoughts/opinions on the accomplishment.

Part 1: Training Sneak Skills

I've received the quest from Sheogorath to poison Thadon with Greenmote, and assume my rightful place as the Duke of Mania. However, getting through the royal guards requires a sneaking skill I altogether lack. In order to pull this off, I'm going to have to seriously train in the arts of sneaking up on unsuspecting foes.

The Waterfront district of Imperial city seemed the natural place to do this training. With the guards busy inspecting incoming ships, I was able to easily pick the lock of the home of a man named Jair, who was to be my prey. There he was, sleeping and vulnerable... I spent the 4 hours sneaking around his house, completely undetected. Jair didn't even twitch in his sleep.

Everything was going fine until someone else entered the house... a guy by the name of Isleif the Open Handed... whatever the hell that was supposed to mean... Amazingly, at first he didn't notice me, but stood in the middle of the house, as if unsure what to do next. Eventually, he spotted me, so I did what any would-be-assassin would do in that situation... I acted like I was supposed to be here. Isleif the Dim-Witted actually believed me! Somehow, the fact that their locked door was unlocked upon his arrival, and that a stranger was huddled in the corner, pacing back and forth near his roommate's bed, didn't seem strange to him.

Well, I could not have this interloper getting in my way, so I said goodbye to him, and made my way for the exit. Once I was behind him, I turned around and snuck up on him. This idiot must have the memory of a goldfish, as he seemed as oblivious to me as if I was long gone. I cut him down with one swipe of my sword, then continued my sneaking around the house.

Unfortunately, I overstayed my welcome, and happened to be pacing next to Jair's bed as he woke. I thought I was doomed. An unknown intruder in a house that was supposed to be locked, with a dead body on the floor? I expected the gallows to be my fate, but to my great surprise, he looked around as if I wasn't there. He made his way to the dead body of his friend, and examined it with little real interest, before leaving for the day's work... Maybe this guy is even dumber than his friend.

I shouldn't have pressed my luck, but I returned the following night to train some more. Jair slumbered on his bed, while the body of Isleif remained untouched on the floor. Was there no inquiry? Did Jair do anything about the murder of his friend? I spent the whole night sneaking. Again, Jair awoke and left without seeing me.

For a week, I continued to sneak Jair's house... and the place really started to stink near the end, since Isleif's body never moved...

Part 2: Thoughts on Oblivion

Oblivion was one of the first two games I ever put on my card, and my first regular 1000/1000 points scored. I've invested about 100 hours total between the main game and the Shivering Isles expansion. It was a fantastic game, and I loved it, even though this post has a mostly mocking flavor to it. During the Shivering Isles quest line, there's a branch point where you must choose to be the Duke of one of the two factions. You can't do both in one playthrough. I accidentally saved over my save file of the branch point, so I could not go back and do Mania after finishing Dementia. This meant I had to do a whole new play, at least of the Shivering Isles quests.

While Oblivion is a great game, it holds for me absolutely no replay value. After 100 hours, I just had no desire to go back to this game, but as a completionist, I knew I would have to eventually. I made a new character, and played with the difficulty slider turned all the way down. I only wanted the last 30 points by now, nothing else. Then, to my horror, I learn the Mania quest involves stealth! The character I had already made was a master ninja, and could have done the quest easily, but my new person was a conjurer, and not meant for stealth... So, I had to waste a ton of time upping my sneak skill to have any change.

To do that, I went into the house of a sleeping person, as depicted above, and snuck around all night. After getting tired of pacing back and forth, I wondered if there was an easier way to do it, and came up with a great idea. I pulled out some sticky blue poster putty from my desk (used to attach posters to walls), and broke off a decent sized piece of it. I then used that putty to stick my controller's left stick in the "up" position, so my character would keep running up against the edge of Jair's bed, so I could put down the controller and do things (like type this post), while still gaining sneak skill. Once Jair woke, I'd go outside, wait 18 hours, then re-enter his house and repeat the process, until I got to full sneak skill. The putty trick worked great, and there was no sticky residue on the controller after (unlike when using tape).
I sneak well... lol

Will putty-grinding sneak, I:
  1. Listened to Dream Theater
  2. Ate Lunch
  3. Shaved
  4. Changed clothes
  5. Wrote this post
  6. Surfed x360a

But you want to know the best part of this story? As previously mentioned, I had the difficulty sliders all the way down. When I messed up on the sneaking and a Golden Saint saw me, I killed her in 3 hits!!! I cruised through the whole quest without sneaking! I didn't have to do that damned sneak grind at all! /facepalm

When simply looking at dates, Oblivion took over two years to go from first played to fully completed, as the dates below show. That time period is the longest of any game currently completed on my card, and it's a record that probably won't be undone any time soon.

Earliest Date-Stamped Achievement: Pit Dog, Arena (12/27/06)
Shivering Isles Completed: (06/20/07)
Oblivion 1250: (02/01/09)

How about that time delay?