October: Games Played and Time Lost

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Happy Halloween. By the way, most of my WoW gametime has been more or less pushed to the backburner until Cataclysm comes out. This is usually about the time that I take an extended pre-release WoW break anyways, but to be honest, there’s just not a whole lot to do at the moment. I guess I can PvP or run dungeons, but the two big things that I really wanted to complete before the expansion (Loremaster and Kingslayer) have been finished. Besides, it’s gaming season and all of the new shit is starting to come out. Come early December it’s not like I’m going to do anything else on my computer for X months other than play WoW.

I posted a series of Minecraft videos on YouTube. The original idea was to narrate them, something that I still might do. I was going to do a Keiya’s adventures sort of continuous story bit but, eh. The problem with that is Minecraft is one of those games that I am usually playing while either half-watching or half-doing something else. It’s relaxing (when not in dark areas at least lol) and I like it that way. These videos are ultra crap-ass but I had fun recording them and hope that at least at least one person enjoys them.

I haven’t had much of a chance to play the Minecraft update in depth, just in small spurts; Partially because I was busy this past weekend and partially because a new Sims 3 expansion (Late Night) pack came out. I caved in and bought it after work on Friday; Obsessively playing it for a good portion of the weekend, which means that it probably warrants a review post. It’s a fairly standard expansion pack for better or for worse. I’d say that it’s probably my favorite out of the three that have been released, but much of it seems half-assed compared to the corresponding Sims 2 expansion features. The implementation of apartments in particular are pretty lame.

Wow is it really November already? Hey, CoD and AC:B are coming out soon…

Another Computer Toy: Asus Xonar DX

I have several more posts to make regarding certain games and certain game updates that were released recently. I even have a few cheesy videos, yay. Anyway, I finally got around to picking up a new sound card for my machine last weekend. I never bothered installing the X-Fi on this machine; I think I’m kind of done with Creative’s crap ass drivers, though in all fairness I haven’t used it in about a year. The Realtek onboard sound was actually pretty decent and more than sufficient if you aren’t picky. By the way, I’m not an audiophile or an expert of any sorts. I am however, picky enough to want decent sounding audio on my computer (and a new toy).

Anyway, I was at Fry’s and picked up a Xonar DX for $69. I read quite a few reviews and system guides stating that it was good, providing the most “bang for the buck”. I figure, Worst case, I get a mediocre card for a low investment and/or return it. My sound is notably clearer, I really wasn’t expecting that much of an improvement. I mean, I expected my sound quality to somewhat improve but I didn’t think that there would be that much of a difference.

It’s particularly fantastic for music. I spent quit ea bit of time going through my stash, listening to things that were previously way to heavy on the bass or way to trebly with onboard sound. For example, I used to have to manually turn my bass down on my volume doodad whenever Streets of Philadelphia would cycle up in iTunes. Otherwise, neighbor angering bass would flood out from beneath my computer. No so much anymore, it’s quite nice and balanced. Gaming is pretty good as well. From what I understand, GX’s EAX emulation isn’t quite as good as the real thing, but I can’t really tell the difference. It sounds great to me.

For what it’s worth, here are a couple of things that weren’t really included in any of the hardware reviews that I read. It’s a great card for the price, but there are a couple of quirks:

  • SVN kills the dynatic range and causes loud popping noise whenever I start certain sounds (like playing something in iTunes and changing songs). Solution was to turn it off.
  • There’s no automatic headphone detection for whatever reason. In order to switch to headphone mode and kill the speaker sound, you have to manually switch the analog out settings. It’s not that big of a deal but it’s a little irritating.
  • I don’t know why many of the newer cards do this but: Mic input and line-in are on a shared jack.

Also, don’t use the installation disk. Download the drivers from Asus’s website, especially if you are running a newer operating system. The disk is a little out of date.

WoW Odds and Ends

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Hey before I forget: Happy birthday Paradigm! Four years is a pretty damn long time in guild years. So are WoW guild years anything like dog years? If so, I guess that makes us uuh 28? Looking forward to more good times ahead! Oh, the Lich King finally kicked it a while back. The screenshot has been sitting on my desktop for awhile waiting to be posted. We finally just got folks together and pretty much razed the place; It was really the last thing (other than Loremaster) that I really wanted to do before Cataclysm.

I’m pretty sure that I got nerfed fairly hard in the patch, though stuff like that usually sorts itself out in time, so whatever. The verdict is still out on what I plan on spec’ing into at 85, though remaining retribution is very high on the list. But who knows, I might go holy again. For whatever reason I tend to change roles with each expansion packs. Other than patch stuff and what not there’s not a whole lot happening in WoW land. I can go achievement farm I suppose, but not really into that at the moment. It’s as good as time as any to take a small break for a month or two to pursue other interests for a bit. Have I talked about Minecraft yet? Not sure I did 😛

There are way too many games coming out in the next month or two. So far my list is: Call of Duty Black Ops, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Cataclysm (obviously) and possibly Fallout: New Vegas. I’m skipping Medal of Honor (heard that it sucks, not really interested in it at the moment) and will probably hold off on Fallout for a while. After all, there is a fairly large Minecraft update coming out at the end of this month. I highly expect that it will rekindle the obsession.

PS: PS3 + Netflix = awesome (yay discless).

Minecraft: Brave New Worlds

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Note: If anyone cares, there are forums on this site; Mostly for me to play around with, but guest posting is now enabled. If anyone has a question or concern about any topic I post about or any game that I play, I would be happy to respond.

I played around with the new talents and mechanics in the latest WoW patch last week. The verdict on the new retribution changes is still out in the open, but that is for another post. So in Minecraft World #1, Base Beta has a spiral staircase that winds all the way down to the bedrock layer, where there are a series of tunnel mines extended off in various directions. One of these tunnels goes on for quite a bit but surfaces up against the edge of a lake. Base Gamma was built a short distance away from that tunnel in a small valley surrounded by mountains and a neat waterfall flowing into a small lake.

There’s a small cave entrance off in the far corner of the lake. I explored it and unearthed a huge huge series of underground caverns (which was later connected to a tunnel dug from inside of Gamma ). In the process of exploring, I came across a section of the cave that just infinitely spawned mobs of every single type. Had I been wiser, I totally could have setup a bad ass mob farming trap. I mean, I sat there and whacked on them until I ran out of weapons and arrows and they still came.

Later on, I had explored the area in peaceful to see if there was a mob spawner nearby, but could not find any. What I did find was an even larger series of caves right above me in the same chunk. I am assuming that they were spawning in the darkness and falling down some hole in the ceiling. I didn’t realize that they could spawn in that quantity that fast. That cave was also nowhere near my origin chunk. I checked that too.

Anyway, being a dumbass, I kept dying in that same area, losing 2 diamond picks and a small stash of diamond ore in the process because I had not bothered dropping them off at Gamma. It was then and there that I had pretty much ragequit that game and started a new world with the intention of being more build centric. So Minecraft World #2 is what I have been up to lately. I made a video today detailing what I had built last week over the 3 day weekend (and some change. The dock, underwater tunnel and tower were built this week). It was supposed to be narrated, the YouTube annotations will have to suffice for the time being.

Also: Is there a better way or program to use to re-encode Fraps videos? Is there? Or at least, is there some way to get Fraps to encode differently so that 1 minute videos aren’t 500+ MB in size? Handbrake doesn’t seem to ffmpeg very well and would encode videos without errr the video part, so I had to decompress the file in virtual dub (couldn’t get the proper codec working in that program either, but didn’t really bother trying. It was late), then encode it in handbrake. Bah. Nevermind. The issue was fixed in Handbrake’s nightly builds.

So here’s a Cartograph render of my World #2 map (posted below this paragraph). The generated map was about twice the size of the cropped image that I uploaded. Out of everything rendered there were 43812115 blocks of stone, 390598 blocks of grass, 23159 gold ore, 9505 diamond or and a whopping 410 blocks of clay. CLAY. Why is it so damn hard to find clay? I can’t possibly build my brick empire with 410 blocks of clay. More exploring is necessary.
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Uncharted 2

I better post this before I disappear into the world of Minecraft again. Sorry, did a pretty shoddy proofing reading and editing job, even for me. I was looking for a new console game to fix on a few weeks back and ended up purchasing Uncharted 2. TL;DR, it’s really fun, go buy/rent it. I really didn’t know what to expect from this game, it was a title that I have heard of multiple times, heard that it was fantastic, but just blew off because of a time constraint or general lack of interest. More specifically, at the time it seemed like a generic action game, in that it didn’t fill one of my fantasy/sci-fi weakness niches so I passed on it.

In some sense, it is a generic action game: Nathan Drake, from a design standpoint is such a normal character. He’s un-noteworthy to a point: He doesn’t have an eye-patch, a mechanical arm or super powers. There’s not a whole lot that stands out about him on a surface perspective, which is what I think makes him a great character. There’s no gimmick or “miracle.”  Nathan Drake and the cast of Uncharted 2 are believable characters to the extent that I think players get the feeling that if they were a little more athletic and well studied, they too could climb walls and partake in wonderful adventures. It creates a connection rarely seen in a game nowadays.

Uncharted 2 is cinematic. It plays out like an interactive movie, which in game speak translates to a well paced plot-based linear title. The action scenes are artfully scripted, the dialogue is well placed and well written, and the cutscenes are plentiful, but well done and don’t overstay their welcome. In fact, many could have been cutscenes were replaced by (for lack of a better term) playable scenes.

Uncharted 2’s gameplay is pretty standard fair in terms of action games. Much of the gameplay reminds me of Assassin’s Creed in the, climbing around and jumping on things sense (but without the sandbox element). The free running and climbing is very fluid if not a bit obvious, since much of it consists of searching for conspicuous bricks and ledges sticking out from walls, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it feels very very similar control wise, so having played Assassin’s Creed not so long ago, there wasn’t really a learning curve which is nice (because apparently, my game attention span has shrunk).

The camera angles are very deliberate; it’s like a movie and its director: We are supposed to experience certain scenes from a certain angle. It works well for the story and the game’s atmosphere at a small sacrifice to gameplay (in my opinion at least). Any time a game takes control of the camera, console games especially, awkward control situations are created. For example: At one point a truck is chasing you. the camera pans around to a full frontal shot so that Drake is running towards you with the truck speeding after him in the background. You are supposed to run and gun, but which way do you  hold the stick? Are the controls reversed because the camera is reversed? The point of reference tends to change with some frequency and that just feels really really odd to me as a primary PC gamer. It’s not that big of a deal, but camera antics are a personal pet peeve.

The combat felt a little weak for an action title. Aiming and targetting is a little cludgy and the cover system doesn’t feel as natural as it should. Much of the ranged combat also felt somewhat off. I mean, in what magical land, real life, gaming or otherwise are headshots not insta-kills? Did they just not register or do they really take two or three headshots to go down. Awkward. Uncharted 2 also suffers from Obvious Level Design Syndrome, though to a pretty minor extent: You walk into a large round room with boxes and other low cover walls strewn about. There are two doors off on the opposite side. What are the odds that a swarm of enemies are about to rush?

Even so, the combat system is fun and doesn’t feel like a chore. You have the option of sneaking up and stealth killing an enemy, going balls out and rushing, taking a cautious ranged approach or any number of strategies. There are a surprising number of combat options depending on both level and weapons available. One method might work well for one particular scene whereas poorly in another.

I, being a primary PC gamer am usually poo-poo about console graphics, but I was legitimately impressed with Uncharted 2, specifically its color palette. This game is notably color. As in, a game that actually achieves a realistic graphical design (as opposed to cartoony or abstract) while using colors extended beyond shades of brown and browner. Amidst, drably designed “modern” games, Uncharted 2 is a shining jewel. Seriously, it’s vibrant.

Uncharted is a visual treat. The environment is lush, detailed and quite varied; Ranging from jungles, to temples, to snowy mountains. The shadowing is gorgeous and the visual design is pleasing. There were a couple occasions in which I hit an invisible wall, but not many. The game boundaries and level flow are presented naturally enough not to notice. Nothing breaks immersion more than a game element sticking out like a sore thumb. Speaking of which, instead of having a giant bar across the screen, color is also used to indicate Drake’s health level. As he takes dangerous amounts of damage, the game’s color saturation will fade, when you are about to die it’s black and white.

Uncharted 2 isn’t the most original game. It’s one part Indiana Jones and one part Tomb Raider, mashed together in cinematic video game form. It also doesn’t excel in any particular area (though as mentioned before, the graphics are very impressive). What it does provide though, are a variety of experiences neatly tied together in a package that has been polished to a mirror shine. It’s the kind of game that will make you wonder why other similar games aren’t as fun and polished. Well worth buying.