Monday, November 30, 2009

NCAA 10 Review

I hope everyone had a great holiday. I ate like a starved viking.

I also posted my NCAA Basketball 10 review.

Ashley started her 3th/4th grade basketball league practices Saturday. The only thing crazier than watching 9 year olds play soccer is watching 9 year olds play basketball on a 10 foot rim.

It's going to be a long year.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope everyone has a great holiday and if you live outside of the US -- goooo Thursday!

In the meantime, the folks at GameShark are running a Black Friday sale for the store. I'm not going to pimp stuff I don't own/use so --

25% off the Fender Stratocaster replica is a nice deal. I own the Fender -- it's normally a $300 piece of fake guitar equipment but it's truly a replica guitar. It's heavy, real wood, it's gorgeous and would make a sweet Christmas gift if you have money to burn and a Rock Band fan in the house. It's the only guitar I use now. I guess for $ better be!

We also posted our 2009 Holiday Gift/Buyer's Guide with some obvious choices as well as a few sleeper picks.

Anyway -- have a good holiday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Todd Does Dragon Age

Todd's on vacation right now so I'll post the link to his well thought out DA review -- this is the PC review and we'll post some console thoughts later. (Boo console version)

As for me, I'm slogging though King's Bounty Armored Princess and it's basically a lot like King's Bounty. A few tweaks here and there but it's still addictive, but also pretty much the same game sans the dragon pet. At least so far.

Thanks again for all of the emails re: Mary. She's fine now and back to being her lovely self. We STILL don't know what caused the reaction, but hopefully will after her trip in January to the allergy doctor.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


8-1 vs Michigan just astounds me. Yes, Michigan is down -- way down -- but rivalry games are just different. I was at Ohio State during MANY a loss to the Wolverines. I was in school during part of the "Cooper" years. Young Michigan fans think it's bad now?

Funny thing about that -- John Cooper was 2-10-1 against Michigan. JT is 8-1.

In other words -- we still owe you and next year it won't get any easier.

Some people talk about feeling bad for UM or how this is no longer a rivalry. Screw that nonsense.

After a shocking loss to Purdue OSU has outscored its opponents 155-48, beat two ranked teams and have had 5 straight games with at least 230 yards rushing. Pretty, ugly, conservative, whatever. The fact that OSU turned its season around the way it did is pretty amazing.

But they REALLY need that Rose Bowl win.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bioshock 2 Special Edition

Let's open the curtain and see what they won, Bob!

The BioShock 2 Special Edition carries a suggested retail price of $99.99 for Xbox 360 and PS3 and $89.99 for Games for Windows LIVE and is limited to a single-production run.

The edition contains the following:

· Vinyl 180g LP with BioShock orchestral score

· Audio CD with BioShock 2 orchestral score

· Three vintage Rapture advertisement posters (rolled)

· BioShock 2 Art Book, 164 pages and hardcover

· BioShock 2 game

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NCAA 10 -- Some Evaluation

Today the embargo lifts so I can talk a bit more about NCAA Basketball 10.

My overall feeling thus far is that the series continues to make some steps with this release but it's still not a prime time ready franchise. There are a few things that I think a basketball game needs to model reasonably well in order for it to have staying power.

  • You need fouls. Fouls need to matter, and you need to see a reasonable amount of free throws, particularly if the penetration/low post game is a big part of a team's game plan. If all you do is shoot 3's you won't see the line very much.

  • AI substitution patterns need to make sense. Subbing when players get tired or into foul trouble. (Assume the above is working properly)

  • When playing the AI, it needs to run a competent offense, taking advantage of opportunities given to it by the human player. When games get predictable, players get bored. I have said this before and I truly believe it to be true -- gameplay predictability is the absolute bane of a sports game.

  • The same play cannot work everytime down the floor. This is otherwise known as the Kevin Garnett NBA 2K9 syndrome.

  • And the AI better damn well know the game situation

  • Finally, things need to look "right". By that I don't mean the Buckeyes need to have the proper shoes or the Schott needs to be modeled to the letter. That's all window dressing. I'm also not the type of player who needs a basketball game to provide 15 different post moves. I'm too damn old to worry about button combos and stick combos anyway. A few basic moves is all I need. I just want the games to look -- believable. Not perfect, and not an exact simulation, but silly things absolutely cannot be the norm, otherwise it blows up the gameplay.
How does all of this relate to NCAA 10? There's some give and take here.

Fouls: Yep, you'll see them, but not nearly enough of them. What strikes me as odd is that in nearly every game I have played -- with foul settings bumped to around 75 or 80 I see a fair share of fouls in the 1st half, then almost zero in the 2nd unless a team is hacking late. But I have seen some GREAT foul calls. Off the ball fouls, over the back fouls, obvious blocking fouls, etc. But then it just sort of...stops.

Still tinkering with fatigue levels as on default your starters will play damn near every minute. The AI does sub for players in early foul trouble, though.

I have yet to find a money play, and I have tried. :)

The AI offense. Before I get too critical with this I need to play at a higher level because on the mid level game the AI is frustrating. I started a Dynasty with Indiana State, trying the small school to the bigs approach and started off on the road against Louisville (who is not rated very highly in the game for some reason..the starters for ISU and UL are pretty even - mid 70s rated players) playing on 16 minute halves. I shot around 21 3's in that game -- Louisville shot ...four, making zero. The college game is almost synonymous with the 3 -- and the AI doesn't shoot them nearly enough. This wasn't a one time thing. It's a pattern. Unless a guy is GREAT at shooting them the AI almost refuses to take the open 3 pointer. I was daring the Louisville SG to shoot. Backing off 5 feet. No dice. And I cannot find a shooting tendency slider anywhere. Is this an issue with the game level or the general AI? I don't know yet. But how many 3's did Louisville shoot in its real opener against Arkansas? 38.

Despite this, I had a very fun game against the Cardinals, battling back and forth with my scrappy Sycamores. With :25 seconds left my SG nailed a deep 3 to give me the lead 59-56. Louisville called time out. Your options here if you are Louisville are to shoot a 3 (the likely choice) OR try for a quick two and foul. Of course with the weird lack of fouls called in the 2nd half they'd need to foul me 6 times before I went to the line.

Louisville does neither. They their offense. Tick, tick, tick. The ball moves around the perimeter, then down low, then back out, tick, tick tick, and finally the PF shoots a running 5-footer which misses, I grab the rebound. Game Over. Ouch. This was a battle back and forth despite some of the inherent gameplay issues in NCAA, I had a good time. But that final :25 seconds was a fun killer.

Do the games look believable? Sort of. At times it looks great as teams run their offense -- that new motion control stuff is pretty cool. But when the AI shoots a layup from underneath the basket and it smacks into the backside of the backboard causing a turnover, which is something I thought died in basketball games a long time ago, it's understandably annoying. I guess if I did that it wouldn't be so bad, but damn shouldn't the AI know better? Or when I catch an in bound pass and the player's weird momentum carries them out of bounds even though no defender was near them. (Seriously watch out for the sideline monster in this game)

I don't think the game is a total loss, despite my complaints listed here, but stuff like this keeps it from being the sort of game I think college hoop fans want. At least long term.

We'll see how it plays on the higher difficulty levels.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Game Notes on a Tuesday

Dragon Age will simply have to wait. I want to finish it but I am still *so* far from doing so that it needs to take a backseat because I have a gabillion articles to crank out.

First -- Sony sent us an early review copy for LittleBigPlanet on the PSP which is apparently rather awesome.

I fired up Left 4 Dead 2 yesterday and it will remind you a lot of Left 4 Dead. I love the new guns, though. But the solo AI is just as nutty as before, and just like L4D this game will make its bones online. I do miss the old gang.

King's Bounty Armored Princess is another ridiculously addictive strategy game that will remind fans a LOT of...King's Bounty The Legend. Like L4D2, this game follows the "hey if it ain't broke...let's just add more stuff" philosophy. Nothing really wrong with that, but the formula is basically the same sans the fact that you get a pet dragon which aids you in combat. Still, it eats up hours. The writing remains hilariously cheesy. I guess that's part of its charm.

NCAA Basketball 10 -- still under embargo. Not sure WHY as the game is out today. Lots to talk about with this one tomorrow.

Add these gems to the fact that I have tio write our entiore Holiday Gift Guidefeature AND finalize our huge end of the year feature -- I have a lot to do.

Oh, yeah, it's also MICHIGAN WEEK.

Todd is officially the enemy until Sunday.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


That's the face of joy -- right there on walk-on placekicker Devin Barclay's face while the ball is still in flight as he put a dagger in Iowa's heart Saturday night in overtime, securing another Big Ten title for the Bucks.

Sports can suck sometimes. Steroids, scandals, ego, boorish fans, incompetent loud mouthed media, and on and on.

But THAT is what it's all about. That face -- absolute unfiltered joy.

Check out the amazing pics from Josh Winslow.

NCAA Basketball 10

Review embargo until the 18th so no real deep thoughts from me til then.

Just a few quick points:
  • As you can tell from the demo, animations and player models are nowhere near NBA Live level and a lot of the commentary recycles. Dickie V is already getting repetitive. Honestly I understand this -- I am assuming this is a budget/manpower issue as NCAA Basketball games typically are low sellers compared to the other games. BUT -- I am loving me some Gus Johnson. The CBS presentation portion is great.
  • However, the motion offense stuff is pretty neat but will take practice to play it effectively. Just running a play and hoping for the best isn't enough.
  • Sliders are a must -- especially in regards to stamina/subbing/fouling/on ball steals.
  • Played a game with OSU and beat Portland State 73-47 on 15 min halves and then lost to Michigan 81-76. I am staying away from the evaluation stuff due to the embargo. Suffice to say I like a lot of what I see and there are some things I wish were different. How's that for committal?
  • NCAA selection AI is better but still not where I'd like it. Illinois gets in after a 15-15 season with no real signature win and Marshall rolls to a 27-3 record, beating #11 Ohio State and gets passed over? I see a lot of 15-15; 16-14 teams from power conferences getting in over a team like Xavier who goes 20-10 and gets snubbed. If X wins 20 games...they should be damn near a lock, no?
  • The games in the tourney are much better outcome wise -- maybe even too predictable. I ran 2 seasons and the final four in year 1 had all 4 1-seeds and in year 2 had 3 1-seeds and a 2-seed (2 seed won the whole thing). I saw a couple of upsets but I'd say the better seed is winning 75% to 80% of the games.
  • As you can see the HUGE upset isn't nearly as prevalent although you will see them -- Ohio State lost a 3 game stretch to Wichita State, Rhode Island and Murray State in year two after losing Evan Turner early to the NBA, but I have yet to see the Fordham over Duke type of outcome that we'd see last year.
  • Speaking of Evan, the game still doesn't know how to handle teams like OSU with no true PF or players who tend to play multiple positions. The game has Evan Turner listed as the team's Power Forward when he's playing Point Guard this year. It has Diebler running the point, which ...just ain't happening. Diebs is 100% pure Shooting Guard. So make sure to look over your team -- you can edit all this stuff of course.
That's it from me til the 18th.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Captain

Earlier this week former Red Wing great, Steve Yzerman was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I’d love to say The Captain (he’s the longest serving team captain in NHL history) was the reason I became a hockey fan, but I’d be lying. I became a hockey fan watching the ‘94 New York Rangers Stanley Cup run. It was the first time I watched a Cup celebration and that alone made me a fan. What the Cup means to players and fans alike makes hockey special and it made me pay attention to the game for what was really the first time.

From that point I did what I do, which was to gravitate to the local team, the Red Wings. You could call me a fair weather fan for that, and given the stellar run on which the team was about to embark the timing was convenient, but the fact is the timing is merely serendipitous. I was a fan of the Tigers through the miserable 90s and 119 losses in ‘03, a fan of the Pistons during the era of teal, the Wolverines in the midst of a horrendous two year slump, and, of course the Lions. 0-16. Eight years of Millen. There is no greater test of one’s devotion to a sports team than to be a fan of the Detroit Lions. I am many things, some of them not so good, but a fair weather fan is not one of them.

For me, it’s always been about the guys who come to play in southeast Michigan and who become the beating heart of an adulate community that adopts them as their own. Trammell, Whitaker, Inge, and Granderson (god I hope he doesn’t get traded). Sanders, Moore, Spielman, and Porcher. Dumars, Laimbeer (you hated him, we loved him), Wallace (Ben), and Billups (still sucks that he’s gone). Shanahan, Larionov (The Professor!), Lidstrom, and –yes- even the underrated Osgood.

It’s about the history these franchises have, both the tragic (Utley, Brown, Fischer and Konstantinov) and glorious (Layne, Kaline, Horton, and Howe), as well as the wonderful people who surround and built these franchises, names like Illitch, Davidson (RIP), Holland, and the eternally optimistic Harwell (whom we will soon lose to terminal disease).

Not only were each of these people, to a man, amazing in their respective roles, they were and are amazing people. Cars aren’t the only thing Detroit spent the last 50+ years building. It’s also built legends. Some of them, perhaps, just local ones, but they are legends all the same.

Yzerman, though. Yzerman is perhaps the best of them. He is the champion. The Captain. The one name that no person can speak ill of in front of us and not get popped in the mouth. He was the guy you wanted in the faceoff circle at crunch time. He was mettle. He was a leader. He was class. As much as the Rangers Cup celebration initially made me a fan of hockey, it was watching Steve Yzerman lead a team of hockey gods year after year that made me remain one.

To sum up what it means for him to enter the Hall is difficult to do. I still have a hard time thinking of him as retired. When I turn on a game I still expect to see #19 out there on the ice and it still feels wrong when I don’t see him. But really, the best summation of what it means to those of us who watched him play and watched him hoist three Stanley Cups comes from the always excellent Abel to Yzerman blog: Detroit’s Gift to Hockey: 19 to the Masses.

Here’s a portion of the post that’s entirely too long to steal in this fashion, but one that is so simultaneously crass and eloquent that I cannot bear to snip it down:

It was Yzerman who willed us our first, then our second and our third [Stanley Cups]. Oh, I know. They were 8, 9 and 10. But it had been 42 years, man. All we knew were the whispers.

Remember the Free Press photshopped his tooth in? Whatever. He didn’t care. Bettman blathered about something, about Hockeytown and the drought. Whatever. Just give the Cup to Stevie. He did and my frigging God the place exploded. You were at the parade or you said you were and he held that shiny bitch aloft and held it there for hours, or so it seemed. The Cup in the middle of millions. And then next year he put in in Vladdie’s lap because he and 22 other guys said that’s where it belonged.

Four years later the legend was cemented with every shuddering rise from the ice. If you’re a Wing fan you look back at that playoff run and you hear stories of the kind of pain he was in and it brings tears to your eyes because you feel like he did it for you, individually. That’s the effect Yzerman had on Wing fans. You just felt like when he won, he willed it for you. And when the time came for credit and adulation, poof....gone.

But he’s ours no longer. Tonite he becomes hockey’s. And it’s a gift hockey had better be grateful for. Hockey had better stand on its feet tonite and understand that there can be only one. There has never been, and never will be, another Captain like Yzerman. No one has withstood the kind of pain he did, or led as well. Nobody. As Captain Norris said in a comment earlier today, the Hall had better be ready to be humbled.

He’s been ours for nearly three decades, hockey. Tonite we present him to you and the Hall becomes his keeper.

The legacy, though, stays with us.


Game Overload

Finding the time to play games -- especially when you, you know, run a website and evaluate entertainment software for a living, can be a bitch at times.

That's also how I explain my job to crazy outsiders. I get that question a lot now -- mainly when we meet the parents of Ashley's friends either at soccer, birthday parties, Girl Scouts, 4H, and on and on.

"So what do you do?"

"I edit a website and evaluate entertainment software."

That somehow sounds so much more mature than, "I run a game website and write about videogames."

I tend to go with the first option because when you say the second one it normally gets construed and twisted into, "I play videogames for living."

Which in turn gets construed and twisted into, "I don't REALLY have a job."

I wish I played videogames for a living. I would like that job. I do work full time for Mad Catz, running When I started a couple of years ago I was greeted with "hey the cheat code guys" basically at every turn. But that is slowly changing, and I do like the people I work with at Mad Catz. Nice guys.

But running a multi-platform website takes a lot of time. I'm writing this blog post right now because I just changed the lamp in my DLP TV so I have 30 minutes to kill, and I'm stepping out this afternoon on family business.

But my day is mostly planning upcoming articles, contacting PR about review/preview copies and interview possibilities, and editing the staff's work and posting it to the site. And watching the Daily Show/Colbert combo at lunch. I'm basically the EiC and the Copy Editor and the Reviews Editor and the Features Editor and the Everything But the Video, Art and News Guy Person.

And it's a time sink. I'm not complaining -- it's my job. And I'm normally in a t shirt and sweats when I do it. No rush hour for me. No maze-like cubicles of death, either.

But add in the whole "hey I have a wife and 9 year old daughter" variable into this equation and finding time to PLAY hard. I have been up until 2:00AM the past few nights just to play Dragon Age, a game I'm not even reviewing. But I took on the task of reviewing King's Bounty, NCAA Basketball 10 which arrived today, AND Assassin's Creed 2 which should arrive any day now. Basically I just don't sleep anymore. All because I love using the Earthquake/Tempest spell combo in Dragon Age.

I know a lot of guys that love videogames, and who are married with children -- when do you find time to play? Maybe I need to hire a professional time manager. They'd probably tell me I'm wasting quality game time writing blog posts at 11:15 on a weekday.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dragon Age: Choice and Consequence

Last week I promised to write up something about choice and consequence in Dragon Age and have yet to follow through. That’s largely because I’m still not sure I have a grasp on the scope of these things in the game. I’m about 30-40 hours in, have only completed about 30% of the game, and I still don’t have a very good handle on the full scope of the game and how your decision making affects the world.

I find that very impressive. (With regards to Bioware, not myself. I’m never impressed with myself. Well, I looked damn good as Indiana Jones on Halloween, but that’s pretty much it.)

I will say that I like the extent to which the localized characters react to the events around them. This was a huge problem for me in Fallout 3 because too often critical events would occur and characters would go on like nothing had changed. (The town sheriff in Megaton comes to mind. If he dies only his son seems to notice.) This is not the case in Dragon Age.

***Begin Vague Spoilers***

There is a sequence at one point in the game where I attempted to rally the locals to fight in a dangerous battle. When it was done, several of the townspeople, including one prominent figure there, were dead. I was never able to fight this battle without losing these characters, but my impression is that it is possible for them to survive. Afterward, a cut scene began in which bodies were being sent out on boats to be lit on fire and the local chantry priestess noted the name of the one major town NPC who had died. Judging from the rather rough cut in audio dialog, I’m pretty sure this list can vary based on how many more (or less) you lose.

In one of the boats was the body of another whom had fallen. When I later went to place where he ran a business, one of his employees had taken over and there was an in depth conversation about her decision to stay in town rather than leave. In another area of this plot thread a brother and sister who had lended to me a family heirloom insisted that I keep it, a fairly routine sort of occurrence in an RPG. What made it unique was that I had options for how to respond that included just accepting it and choosing to give them variable amounts of money for it. The amount given directly affected what they would decide to do next. (I think I could have still refused it too, but my memory is hazy.)

***End Vague Spoilers***

I love this aspect of the game. The jury is still very much out on how some decisions affect long term events in the game, but certainly the sense is that in each of the major quest lines there are multiple ways for it to unfold and that your choices there will directly affect the end game. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out because there are choices I’ve made where I was genuinely trying to do the just and noble thing and those choices do include the possibility of generating less than ideal results in the end. I hope that’s the case because more games need to do that.

These sorts of games shouldn’t consistently reward you for endeavoring to take the virtuous path. Sometimes you should be penalized for doing so because trying to “do the right thing” should result in you having to walk a more difficult road; a road that is more disadvantageous to you as a player. I’m really hoping that when I do reach the end game (sometime before the end of the world in 2012) that my attempts to play the ethical character have mixed results. Say, less overall individual power to work with, but perhaps more allies.

NCAA Basketball 10 Interview

As promised, here's the Q&A with Producer Connor Dougan.

Being a big college hoops fan, I really hope this game is a winner. It's been a while since College Hoops 2K8...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

King's Bounty!

Today I received review code for King's Bounty: Armored Princess -- the sequel to, well, King's Bounty. The game drops on the 20th and if it's as good as KB I'll be one happy camper.

There's no review embargo...woo hoo.

Friday, November 6, 2009

NCAA Basketball 10 Q&A Runs Thursday

I received the answers to the Q&A tonight but there's some info that needs to wait until Thursday before I can reveal it (not sure why, it's just the way it is).

So expect the Q&A to run on Gshark this Thursday morning. (Nov 12th)

However, because I'm just that cool here's a snip from the interview that made me smile:

NBA Live 10 was a major step up in control and gameplay and NCAA 10 definitely benefitted from that growth. All of the gameplay, AI, animation and control enhancements seen in Live 10 will be in NCAA Basketball 10.
Anticipation -- effectively increased.

Is This What's Known as Motivated Salesmanship?

*Bonus points for you if you correctly pegged the title of this post as a line from Mallrats.

If you haven’t seen today’s Penny Arcade, you’re forgiven for not having heard about this. It’s… well, I guess it’s most generously described as a new standard in DLC pimpage. Many of you will feel compelled to replace “standard” with “low.”

***very mild spoilers ahead***

It seems in Dragon Age when you get your party camp there’s a certain quest giving gentleman there who begs you to help him with an errand that relates directly to The Warden’s Keep DLC quest. I got to this point last night and, having purchased Warden’s Keep already, thought nothing of it. I assumed the guy just wouldn’t be there if you didn’t have the DLC; obviously, an incorrect assumption. In addition to the wonderfully mocking PA strip, a poster at the GWJ forums was good enough to get a screenshot of it.

That’s just… I mean, wow. It’s one of those things that probably should bother me, but since I’m in Dragon Age’s thrall I think I’ll just whistle as I walk by and pretend I know nothing about it. I love the game too much for righteous indignation about DLC hocking and will instead leave that to petition-making death nerds still upset about Diablo III rainbows and Left 4 Dead sequels.


At some point in the next couple days I’ll be writing some more about Dragon Age, in particular about the nature of choice and consequences in the game, which is something it’s handled incredibly well, so far. I’m about 10-12 hours in, have made the journey to Redcliff, and if there’s a point at which the game derails I have yet to reach it. As Bill Harris likes to say about Torchlight, it’s like drinking candy.

And now, just because it’s Friday and there’s a Mallrats mention in this post, I feel obligated to embed this. (There’s no language or skin, but still, it’s probably not worksafe.)

Left 4 Dead 2 Demo and Dragon Age

So, I'm loving Dragon Age. Granted I started with the 360 version, played the human origin story, was underwhelmed, smacked myself in the face and cursed my name for abandoning my roots by not buying the PC edition to start with, and started over with a bald female elf mage. She's aces. But I just got to Ostragar (sp?) so basically my adventure is just getting under way.

Playing a female character is new to me. I usually don't do this (we even make Todd play Chole in Left 4 Dead) but I did catch myself wandering the Inner Circle, coming across a guard who was acting nervous/shy when talking to me and I kept thinking, "I bet I totally bang this dude later on in the game."

I bought the Digital Deluxe Super Duper Edition or whatever it's called and got the DLC Todd was pining about. I think I get some extra gear storage space, or something. Todd told me to get it so I did. I'm pretty easy.

I would be further along in DA if it wasn't for a call from Billy Baroo last night to try the L4D 2 demo via XBL. It was a disaster thanks to massive lag -- it was nearly unplayable. I'm still not sold on this version. The demo is basically the same stuff we saw at E3, and the daylight just seems...wrong.

When I say I'm not sold that doesn't mean I won't but it. We only (usually) get one review copy per title delivered to the GameShark Home Office (my house) and I'm not reviewing L4D2 so I'll pony up just like I did with Dragon Age. I'll buy it, we'll play countless hours via online co-op and hopefully more Vs. mode but I still hate the sunshine.

News on the Mary front is mostly positive. Coming off the steroids is a bitch -- it's put her in a really foul "I said I want FOUR ICE CUBES NOT THREE!" kind of mood. But I serve with a smile. She's had a brutal 10 days. On the plus side we have moved from Mad Men (we're totally caught up now on the series) to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Great, great show.

White Stripes in Rock Band

This made my day.

Available on
Xbox 360 and Wii (Nov. 10) and PlayStation 3 system (Nov. 12):

The White Stripes – “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”
The White Stripes – “Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine
The White Stripes – “Icky Thump”

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dragon Age

In short:

PC Version: Holy shit this is great. It's like playing Baldur's Gate 2 with the ability to drop into 3rd person with a scroll of the mousewheel!

Xbox 360 version: Holy shit this is ugly and the interface is terrible and where's my overhead camera angle?!

Review done.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ahhh Steroids

Last night things with Mary finally took a turn for the awesome.

Her allergic reaction, to which we still do not know the cause, was truly unbelievable. It looked like her face was going to pop. I was trying to express how bad it was to friends and family and all I could come up with was asking, "Have you seen the film Mask? The one with Cher. Mary looks like Eric Stoltz."

That's a slight exaggeration -- but only slight. The nurse freaked out when she saw how bad it was. It was dangerous. We were all freaked out, scared, and hoping whatever it was wouldn't spread to where she couldn't breathe.

The doctor -- the surgeon who performed the Septo-Rhino-Plasty gave her enough steroids for a man weighing 250 pounds. Mary checks in at 135. If this failed she'd be admitted and pumped with an IV Steroid. It almost came to that.

Last night she got her jawline back. That was a big step. She also got all of her bandages removed from her nose -- another big step. She's still swollen but at least she looks like Mary and not Mike Meyers as the fat Scotsman from Austin Powers. She's smiling. Eating. And making me clean...she's feeling like herself.

So I hope the worst has passed -- even though she will be on the steroids for another week.

Thanks so much for all of the e,mails and comments. We both appreciate it. (Me and Mary, not Todd.)

As for games-- I bought Dragon Age on the 360 -- and it's UGLY. Distractingly ugly.

So I ponied up and bought the PC version as well which I'll start tonight after Mary crashes.

She's been confined to the couch for SO long..we watched all 3 seasons of Mad Men. That's a lot of Madison Ave.

Dragon Age: Stuff You Should Know

Tom Chick’s got a great post up on the “Seven Things I Wish I’d Known Earlier” with regards to Dragon Age. No spoilers, just stuff you should know. It’s well worth checking out if you are playing, or plan to play, the game. Here’s a snippet:

7) I wish I'd paid attention sooner to the tactics screens. Early on, before you're comfortable with the pace of combat, here's an important tip that I must insist you follow: For every character, and especially your front-line fighters, go to the character screen, select tactics, and insert a new first line that instructs the character to drink a lesser health poultice as soon as his health is below 50%. It'll save you a lot of grief, injury kits, and reloaded battles.

I’d say wait for 25% if you want to conserve health potions, but if you do that you do run the risk that a character will get knocked cold before they can imbibe. As Dr. Peter Venkman would say, “Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.”

Dragon Age!

First thing’s first, for those who’ve so kindly expressed concern and since I don’t know when Bill will get around to posting an update (such a slacker): Talking to him this morning, it sounds like Mary’s been doing much better the last couple days. Hopefully that trend continues and all will be well.

As for Dragon Age, the Collector’s Edition I ordered did arrive yesterday. That’s a huge relief given that my supposed review copy is nowhere to be found (and will evidently be on the 360). To be fair I get there’s a lot of schlub sites out there trying to get free review code, but it’s Gameshark. No, it’s not IGN, but it ain’t Skippy’s House of 2nd Grade Game Reviews either. Ah well. I shouldn’t really complain. The people doing the PR for this game are incredibly nice and I’m sure they’re doing their best. I’m just disappointed that it means I (probably) won’t have a Gameshark review ready for about two weeks and that does impact how much it gets read. This isn’t something that can be played in a couple of nights, after all. (Plus, I’ve got my kids with me for the next seven nights which severely restricts my gaming time; this is not something that I should be playing around a four and five year old.)

As for my first night with the game -that sounds so taudry!- I stand by the assessment that it’s just incredibly great. I won’t speak for the console version, which does play much different even if the story is the same, but I played through the human noble origin for the second time and it just snares me. It only takes about 90 minutes to complete and I was emotionally connected to my character’s family inside of 60 minutes. I really should play through the other origins right away, but I’m torn because I need to start progressing in the game.

Some other spoiler free notes:

- I’m running a Intel Core 2 (2.x GHz) PC with 2GB RAM, GeForce 8800 (GTS, I think) graphics card, and Win7 64-bit. I’m running at 1680x1050 with details set to High (second best) and no anti-aliasing enabled. The game runs just fine. There’s an occasional hitch here and there, especially when adjusting the camera distance, but I think that’s a product of running 64-bit Windows with just 2GB of memory.

- The Dragon Age website is a mess, or at least it was last night. I’ve got two codes for custom items and I didn’t even mess with entering them because the site would not let me stay logged in when I tried to move from page to page. (And it’s definitely not just me.) This morning it seems to be working better, so I did go ahead and enter the codes (hopefully content will be filtered down to my account by the time I get home), but my game’s data from last night still isn’t all updated to my online account either so I’m not sure the site is over its release day meltdown just yet.

- I do feel gipped that buying the CE doesn’t also give you either of the release day DLC packs (Warden’s Keep or Stone Prisoner), yet the Steam digital deluxe version gets you both. I know I get the DVD and cloth map, but come on, I paid $60 for an extra $5 worth of goodies (if that). Give me one of the DLC quests, at least!

EDIT: I take it back. I did get a code for Stone Prisoner. It was on the back of the Blood Armor card and I didn't see it. Yay! :)

- I do so love the cloth map. It’s getting framed.

- I am such a geek.

- When I got my first look at the game in Edmonton I didn’t spend much time looking at the tactics stuff. Last night I did and it’s great. Depending on your character’s cunning attribute you get a set number of tactics slots to configure how that character behaves in combat (if left to his/her own devices). You can tell them which enemy to attack (nearest, ranged attacker, strongest, weakest, same guy you’re attacking; the list goes on), when to use their special abilities, when to use health and whether to use the weakest or strongest available potion, etc. etc. etc. Taking the time to set these options really makes a difference.

- It seems like, on Normal difficulty, a lot of people are struggling not to get murdered in combat. I definitely ran into problems last month when I first played it, but last night I didn’t lose my party once and only one character took injuries form being knocked unconscious (this is up through the quest to become a Grey Warden). My suggestion is not to overly divide your party. Don’t send all four guys after different opponents. It just takes too long to bring adversaries down and if ranged attackers outnumber you badly enough they’ll slaughter you. I tend to put three melee guys on one opponent at a time (making sure one of them is flanking for extra damage) and then let a ranged/magic character try to keep ranged attackers busy. This seems to minimize the amount of ranged damage my guys take, while allowing them to really mow through the grunts.

- One thing that some may not like (I don’t) is that I don’t think there’s any way to get at the numbers game going on in the background. What separates a 20 Dexterity score from an 18? I really don’t know. What kind of success am I having with hit rolls in combat? No idea. You get enough info on skills and attributes to get the idea, but if you really want to know numbers and try to maximize the math, I don’t think there’s a way to do that.

- I love, love, love this game. But you already knew that.

If anyone does have questions leave ‘em in the comments and I’ll answer what I can. Tonight I finish out the Ostragar section of the game, which is where it really starts to open up.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Where I Have Been

My time at the PC of late has been...sketchy. Basically just enough to work, waste time chatting with Todd and Brandon on Google Chat, and that's about it.

A little over 3 years ago, while we were building our house out in the country, my wife was assaulted -- attacked, really, in the parking lot of Don Pablos restaurant on a Tuesday evening, around 8 PM. She was alone, working late.

Two thugs beat her up pretty bad...for her laptop.

She broke her orbital bone, which required surgery. Her nose was also broke, but she never had it fixed.

3 years later, that decision is coming back to haunt us.

Over the past few months she hasn't been able to get her breath. She yawns all the time, never getting enough air.

So she finally decided to have a procedure done called Septo-rhinoplasty.

Basically the surgeon cut open her nose and moved it back in place. This was done because the Dr. discovered her nasal passage was, due to the assault, 98% blocked, thus causing (we hope) the air issue.

She recently had this done, and she's not doing well. We're unsure exactly what's going on but she has had a reaction to...something.

Maybe it's the Percocet? Maybe it's the Zithromax, maybe it's the Iodine that was used? We really don't know but hope to find out Monday.

Her face is so swollen right doesn't even look like all.

It's a terribly helpless feeling. All I can do is get her what she wants and sit in front of the TV and watch movies with her, change her drip pad (don't ask) and change her dressing every few hours.

So I have been watching lots, and lots of TV. And not much blogging.

Tomorrow we go back to see the Dr. to TRY and find out what we can do to get her swelling down.

The cocktail of Ex Str Tylenol, Benadryl, Zithromax and Keflex isn't doing enough.