Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Recent gaming

I've been at the bongos every now and then, seeking those gold crests and the very elusive platinum ones. Jungle Beat is simply a good ame, even if it does get to your stamina very quickly. I hope the bosses don't get much harder than Karate Kong. My arms were cramping from the desperate clapping.

Ikaruga is still not completed. I can get to the last boss on "easy", though, and most of it doesn't feel so difficult anymore. I'm tempted to move on to "normal" once I can clear the game, but maybe it would be a better idea to hone my skills until I can complete it with just one credit on "easy".

Yesterday I played some Metroid Prime after a long while. I'd been stuck in the game for the first time. Turns out I just hadn't thought of clearing the ice in a tunnel in the Phendrana Drifts with missiles... I got the Wave beam, which should open up quite a few doors all over the play area. I remain puzzled about my completion rate, which is merely 19%, while I think I've seen quite a bit more of the game up to now. I believe there are some items I haven't noticed, just waiting to be grabbed up (Spiderball, where art thou). The game remains one of the best designed ones in my library, and one of the best-looking.

Once again I thank Gamefaqs.com. The game would've likely been abandoned at this point without a FAQ to consult.

Then there's been PBEM (play by email) Space Empires IV (yes, a PC game). We're playing SEIV among four friends and a bunch of computer-controlled empires. It's one of those games where you're certain that you're making huge mistakes all the time, but you won't know it until a challenger comes kicking in your door, probably two months down the line in real-time.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

One quick go

I've noticed lately that I rarely find the time or energy to sit down with a game for hours on end. Baten Kaitos must've been the latest game to get that treatment and since the wife hogged it, I haven't found time to continue it, despite being very enthusiastic about it.

I am very much into Ikaruga, OutRun 2 and beat 'em ups (Soul Calibur II foremost). I think this is because I can play a meaningful game in just ten minutes. A successful OutRun run takes just under five minutes, as do a couple of rounds of Soul Calibur. Donkey Konga you can only play for five minutes at a time - I was about to give up because of physical exhaustion when first fighting Karate Kong.

Another cool thing about these quick games is that you don't have to think about them. When playing an RPG or strategy game, you need to keep the game in your mind, merely put on shelf while you're not playing. That can be tiring.

There are some games which absolutely require more than an hour of gametime. With these games, I essentially need to arrange a date with the game, plan the session in advance, informing my wife that this evening I'm going to play a game and nothing else. While I feel this is somewhat silly, it does lend a nice air of... expectation to the event.

Games which require this treatment are Madden NFL, the Metal Gear Solid series and, say, Morrowind (if only for the loading times). But of course, in practice you do this kind of thing pretty rarely, no more than once a week, with the possible exception of weekends.

I don't know if this is a good thing or not. On the one hand I miss really delving into a game and burning away hours upon hours in a game world, but on the other hand I like the way these less time-consuming games don't take over my life. Although having played games all my life, I highly suspect this is merely a phase and a time will come when I'm exclusively into more demanding games, again... like King Of Dragon Pass, which I haven't still tried out, or I-War 2, which I really want to get into, but haven't found the time or energy yet.

Edit: quickie games aren't the sole property of the consoles, of course. On the PC I fancy Mutant Storm, Parsec47, MAME and the zany Typing Of The Dead, which is only made more hilarious by its awkward technical merits.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Blood Bowl

Last year I played Games Workshop's Blood Bowl with a group. I had a lousy Lizardman team in this fantasy take on American football. The group's interest waned and we stopped playing some time ago. However, I was still interested in the game, so I was keen to try out a Java application that enabled me to play Blood Bowl with my friends over the Internet. You can find a link here.

The game is delightfully fast and easy. I imagine it might be a tad confusing for a newcomer, but we had a blast. I don't know whether we'll actually start to keep records on team experience and match results and everything all over again, but the actual play is fun. Recommended to all old fans of the game. You can find leagues online.

I've played a handful of matches via the Java version now, losing all of them. My orcs really keep getting pushed around by the elves. I've always hated the elf teams, they seem to have no weaknesses. It does feel very good to stomp on them when they're down, though. The game works very well, we haven't encountered any bugs. If only the team upkeep could be automated, too, without having to resort to the manual at all.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Bookshelf: And The Ass Saw The Angel

Over my holiday I read a book by Nick Cave which I got for Christmas from a friend. I had seen it on another friend's bookshelf, but never got around to loan it. Which is just as well, I hate returning (good) books to their owners. I read the Finnish edition, Kun aasintamma näki Herran enkelin.

Cave's writing is very fluid. The story drags in mud and ugly (very ugly) things, but the writing rolls on independent of its subject matter. I wouldn't recommend this to everybody, but it's very much worth checking out. It feels good to read, even if the portrayed proceedings make you feel ill. It's all about one setting and one overall feeling to it, which pull the novel together much in the way of some of my other favorites, like James Ellroy's American Tabloid. It's more about the way it's told than the story itself.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Luxor, Egypt

I was away on a two-week vacation to Luxor, Egypt. It was my first actual paid vacation. I'm 27, so I guess I'm a bit late to that train, but it did feel good and did the recharging trick pretty well. It's the middle of the winter and very dark in Finland. It was good to get some sun in and be really away from the day to day.

I did miss videogames out there. I played some Dweller on the phone, but nothing more. Once I got sick and had to stay in for a couple of days, in the very cold apartment (+14 centigrade), I was longing for some multiplayer Soul Calibur II or Dead Or Alive 3. Something relaxing to take the mind off the boredom and the cold. I read the books I had along before craving for videogames, though, so I guess I'm not that hopeless. But I sure hope I had brought some card games along! Like Mythos, Pokémon and INWO - I was quite a bit into the collectible card game thing back when they were new.

Our group was mostly students of Egyptology. We didn't have a paid guide, but the trip was organized by a former guide. We got to know some interesting people over there and two weeks of free time is quite enough to get to know a small city like Luxor (150K inhabitants). Some culture shock did set in, in the end, but I got to like the atmosphere a lot before that.

When I came back, I played some Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, but that's been about it. Too much quality TV occupying the free time right now: backlogs of Shield, Survivor and Desperate Housewives. Deadwood and Galactica open this week in Finland, too, so lots of tube time heading my way.

Bookshelf: Century Rain

I picked up Alastair Reynold's novel Century Rain at the airport. I quite like the author; I'm still going through his earlier effort, Absolution Gap. (And haven't read the latest, Pushing Ice.)

Century Rain doesn't take place in the same Revelation Space continuum as the body of his work does. It is much simpler in terms of plot complexity and characters than his space opera outings are.

The book was a good holiday read, easily digested. It didn't always feel convincing, though: it seemed to lack a character or two and there was a bit of running on empty. The portrayal of Paris in the 1950s didn't really hold, either. I felt the author was dropping French names to sound authoritative, without success. The future stuff held some crunchy bits, but overall I was a little underwhelmed. Not a bad effort, but I was expecting more. In the end, it feels like the author needed a break.