Afterthoughts on Portal 2


It’s really hard for me to write a fair review about this game, given my slightly biased feelings towards the Portal series. I will try to point out a few differences between Portal 1 and Portal 2 instead of rabidly raving about how much I loved this game. By the way, this post is more of a discussion about mechanics than anything else. I will try not to discuss the plot or include any spoilers, but I do slip on occasion. So, you have been warned.

Portal 2 is the first full-fledged, full-length single player campaign that we have received Valve since Half-Life 2 if you exclude episodic content (and the first Portal, since it wasn’t technically full-length). It is roughly twice as long as the first game, at about 8 or 9 hours for the single player campaign and about 5 hours for the co-op campaign. It is just long enough to deliver a complete story and a fantastic ending without getting too old or repetitive. Portal 2 is still at heart a puzzle game, but has much more of a narrative experience this time around. Each character is masterfully characterized and played out by a very talented cast of actors, from GLaDOS’ palpable passive aggressive annoyance to Wheatley’s humorous quips. I would be hard pressed to find a game with funnier or better dialogue. Being a direct sequel, the game loses a little bit of it’s charm, to some extent at least. It does not have as much of a wow factor because it’s not a new face; Players are familiar with the Portal mechanic and the overall feel of the series. Though fantastically paced as it may be, Portal 2 also settles into a rhythm: Enter a chamber, listen to a sarcastic AI quip, solve  the puzzle, exit the chamber, listen to another quip. I think that it is a game designed to be savored: Don’t just rush through it in one sitting.

The Source engine isn’t going to win any beauty contests nowadays, but it has held up remarkably well over the years, and is a fitting match to the Portal universe’s austere test chambers and degenerating building infrastructures. The texturing and shadowing are both well done and amazingly detailed. Also as always, Portal 2’s art direction and level design are top notch.

Portal 2’s difficulty doesn’t escalate as much. There were less twitch-based puzzle solutions this time around (mid-air rapid portal placement, and stuff like that). It feels more like a collection of different types of puzzles. I like the new mechanics and feel that just the right balance of newness was added, to keep the game fresh without creating giant clusterfuck puzzle rooms. The speed gel/bouncy gel courses were particularly fun. Also, this item was mentioned on a couple of other blogs but: There aren’t as many white panels in Portal 2, making proper placement fairly obvious in many cases. The first thing that I would do in a new room was to search for white panels. It seems to be very much a game of observation, both plot and puzzle wise. So the big question: Do any of the changes really detract from the game as a whole? No, they do not. It’s a bit different than what we are used to, but necessarily in a negative way. Portal 2 is easily the best game that I have played in quite a while.

PS: Co-op is amazing.

Portal 2 Is Out


Hey fellow World of Warcraft guild members. If you don’t see me uuuh on at all this week (though, yay for iPhone guild chat which was just updated into the app today. Too bad the servers won’t connect to it yet. Boo.) now you know why. Also, is it just me or does the who Valve Potato thing feel like one giant troll? I have been refreshing this stupid counter on my phone all day at work. But whatever, I get to play Portal 2 ahead of schedule (if it ever decrypts). And that’s really all that matters!

Protip: Stay off of gaming sites and communities for a while. Spoilers are bad.

Chests and Junk Everywhere (Another Minecraft Rant)

image_20We have shit everywhere. There is one or two chests at the waterfall station near our original spawn point. There’s one chest off to the side of the staircase on the way down from the waterfall station (I built a small supply depot). There are about 3 more chests at a subterranean directly below the mountain base (just South of Home). There are about 10 chests at Home and now 3 chests at The Obligatory Tower, east of Home. Each chest contains a variety of unorganized shit, save for the chests at Home. Those are actually fairly organized.

We  badly need some sort of centralized transportation system allowing for both player travel and supply travel back to Home. I am torn between finding another more centralized location to build a ginormous train station + storage facility or utilizing the existing home base and expanding outwards a bit. Said train station is going to occupy a fuckton of space, because I want it all to be switch operated.

I want an automated cart booster with a pressure sensitive plate to detect players. The transportation hub would also have a master control panel, allowing players to choose a destination. For example, flip a switch to choose your destination, a torch lights up indicating your choice, activates redstone circuitry which in turns changes the track destination to A. The system would also need to be fairly modular should I choose to expand it to accommodate other destinations or features. Some of my destinations are rather far, I may have to implement a satellite switching system: From the hub, go to A, from A you may choose to go to either B or C and so forth.

I was experimenting with automated delivery systems the other weekend (fuck booster carts by the way. Take up way too much space). Halting all progress on the Minecart station since powered rails are supposedly coming tomorrow in 1.5 Which also means that progress on the server will grind to a complete halt in honor of Portal 2. Alas, cruel fate releases two great things in one day…

Crysis 2


At first, I didn’t have that much interest invested into Crysis 2. But, it seemed somehow wrong to purchase a shiny new video card and not buy the premier game for shiny new graphics. This entry was originally just going to be a short afterthought on the game, but I found myself enjoying it much more than I had expected; So there you go. Now, keep in mind that I have not played the first Crysis game beyond what was included in the demo. Even so, all I really did was run around punching chickens. Crysis 2: Y U NO AUTOSAVE?? Seriously.

Crysis 2 is a good shooter. If you like first person shooters and don’t mind spending a bit of cash, you may as well buy it. The multi-player component is a blast and it has a solid campaign of a reasonable length (in other words, it’s not pulling a 4 hour CoD special). If you don’t enjoy FPSs well, this game probably won’t change your mind. The overarching story is decent, but it’s not a literary masterpiece and the voice acting/dialogue was tolerable at best. I wouldn’t say that any of the characters or story elements were particularly engaging or memorable. It’s not a bad story per se, it’s just that the pacing and execution feel fragmented: There were many chapters that didn’t stitch together well or were segued with a cheap loading cut-scene. There were also way too many, “suit is failing, Alcatraz is half dead, load new area, wake up and start shooting” sequences. I swear that happened at the end of every major plot element.

Crysis 2’s gameplay is very flexible; I wasn’t expecting that to be the case and was pleasantly surprised. If you want to pick people off with a sniper rifle while safely tucked away, you can. if you want to stealth around and stabify enemies in the neck, you can. If you want to go balls out shoot-em-up style, you sure can. And, if you want to just throw shit at people with super strength, you can do that as well. There are a lot of options. My personal preference tends to lean on the sneak and snipe side of life; so I always appreciate first person shooters that offer a comprehensive stealth experience, since they seem to be few and far between.

All of your abilities draw from the same power source: Your suit. You may swap between different gameplay “modes” as they are all tied into nanosuit abilities. You have enough energy to do quite a bit, but it’s still very finite. If you move around too much while stealth, your energy will deplete fairly rapidly. The same is true if you get shot up too much while in armor mode and so forth. It forces you to analyze the situation and think about your next course of action. There’ seven a tactical view display that will display various options that are available to you.

The graphics on the PC version, obviously, look pretty kick ass. If you like this genre, have a PC that can run high end games and have even an inkling of an interest, just buy this game now and play it before the graphics go out of style in a couple of months. It looks great and it’s fun. I will admit that a not-insignificant portion of my enjoyment came from gawking at how good it looks. It’s not even the graphics too: The environments are amazingly vibrant and detailed. Crysis 2 is a linear game but, there’s enough of an exploration element where I didn’t feel trapped on a rail.

The downside is that, there  are a tragically limited number of things that you can configure from the options menu. What the fuck. All graphics options are limited to one slider. If I am playing on my computer, I want the ability to fine tune the game’s graphical settings from within the game client itself. I shouldn’t have to resort to editing config files just to enable/disable shading and fov options. Not cool. Also, the DX11 carrot keeps being dangled every other day. I know that a patch is being promised, but I haven’t seen it yet. So, I guess I will have to wait.

Video Games and the Test of Time

I can recall marvelling in awe at how beautifully crafted certain games were back in the day. But now, it is really really really difficult to get past how old some games look. Even with old favorites like Final Fantasy VII. Hell, even games that aren’t that old are starting to lose their graphical appeal. I was going through my Steam library and had started up a new Mass Effect game over the weekend and was a bit surprised at how old it had already looked. Now, I know better and know that it is an excellent game, but what will people think in 5 years? 10 years? How well do video games really age?

Games in the first person seem to inherently age poorer than other genres because of the focus on graphics. First person shooters, with exceptions of course, do not tend to differ much between titles in terms of gameplay and story. So in most cases, nostalgia and game historical value aside, you aren’t missing much by not playing an older FPS. I’m trying to think of older titles (90s through early 00s) from this genre that still appeal to me. There aren’t too many besides Half-Life and a handful of others (that I cannot recall at the moment).

Games that have stylized graphics and clear art direction age better than games that choose not to focus on either of those elements. Love or hate the way World of Warcraft appears, but it still looks pretty damned good for a 6 year old game. I can appreciate effort spent crafting a zone instead of covering it with a new 3D engine. And obviously, games focusing more on gameplay and other gaming elements age well. I reckon that one version of Tetris is almost as good as another version of Tetris. I don’t think that puzzle games lose much after a couple of years.

Even other forms of media suffer from a similar problem: For every Cassablanca, there are at least a hundred throwaway movies that no one will ever see again. Films aren’t immune to time either. This issue is also relative to its audience. Many classical films, no matter how historically significant, are going to be barely palatable to audiences born outside of a certain time frame (young people!). I can appreciate old black and white films as an art form, but I wasn’t born in that era and don’t feel any sort of nostalgia for them.

Art is art and music is music. I think that there is some element about certain types of media that inherently make it age poorly. Are there currently any games that can be considered  “timeless?” Will there ever be?

Minecraft Error “at jg.a(SourceFile:29)”

Hey, just an FYI since I could not find the solution to this problem on any Minecraft forum anywhere. My server started freaking out earlier this week after updating minecraft_server.jar to beta version 1.4. It would just repetaedly spit out these two errors indefinitely:

at jg.a(SourceFile:29)
at jg.b(SourceFile:37)

It’s most likely a permissions error. Check permissions on minecraft_server.jar (and Don’t remember exactly what I did last night) and make sure that the user running the minecraft server process has access and execute rights to that file. And remember: NEVER run Minecraft as root! If you are running a Windows server, make sure that the Minecraft directory is not read only and try running the process as administrator.