Monday, November 30, 2009

Of Stonehenge & Eternal Earths

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I'm gonna mix two subjects here that in some twisted sense could be said to be related, so I'll just pretend they are. Sorta.
First of all I just finished reading an interesting book, a compilation of the worlds greatest archaeological finds (according to the authors) - Unearthing the Past by Douglas Palmer, Pual G. Bahn and Joyce Tyldesley. They've split it up into chapters like "Tombs and Burial Sites", "Cities" and "War" and covers a wide range of finds from the more known ones like Macchu Picchu and Ötzi to less known ones like Sutton Hoo in England and Lake Mungo in Australia (well it wasn't well known to me anyway). It has some nice photographs of each find and each text is well written.
One that especially captivated me was the one about Stonehenge. I mean everyone has heard something about Stonehenge. But have you really ever grasped what it all those stones meant in labor and effort? I hadn't. Well I had in some sense, but still not really.

First of all it's approximately 5000 years old. Some of the stones weigh up to 50 tons, that's just short of what a Sperm Whale weighs! Some of the stones must have been carried (or pulled/pushed) around 300 km to get there. Some think that the great Ice Sheet pulled those stones there but that would mean the people that built Stonehenge used every single of that stone type in a vast area. Which isn't likely. One thinks it has been in continuous use for about 1400 years. Can you think of any one place that has been in use for that long? And that still exists, and is in use in some sense today? I can't, but I would like to hear about it if you can :)

Another thing you really should read more about is Easter Island. Not just because of the really odd habit of putting huge heads all around, but the entire story about how the natives killed the plant life on the island to do it an so destroyed their own civilization. Very fascinating.

On a side note (or totally related!); If you're ever in the need to grind Eternal Earths (dunno why anyone would need that but anyway) I found what seemed to be a good spot to do it. The Maker's Terrace in Scholazar has mobs with a good drop rate of it, they're minable for extra cash and seem to be on a forced respawn. So there's a tip for ya.

Picture is from Wikipedia.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

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Modern Warfare 2 is the sequal to Modern Warfare 1 (duh) but should really be considered more of an expansion. If you're not completely daft with first person shooters you'll play it through in a couple of hours, something around 3-4 or so. Yet again I didn't play this game but Love did.
Although MW2 will provide you with some hours of shooting fun it has some interesting gameplay problems, issues which could have been easily changed to further the experience.

First of all there is no way to mod your weapon, a feature becoming increasingly available and loved in first person shooters. This means that if you want to use a weapon with a silencer you need to find said weapon with a silencer on it on some enemy and pick it up. This really limits your possibility to chose between weapons as you please. For example, at some points you are provided with a weapon with a silencer for a special mission that requires it. This means you can't change that weapon to something else unless you find the exact weapon you want that already has a silencer on it. You are therefor forced to play with a special type of weapon which seems lame for a first person shooter which is all about being able to choose your own shooting experience at least to some part.

Also MW2 offers a choice of game-mechanic which really becomes bothersome and negates any sense of sneakiness and skill you feel you might have. The enemies can do things you can't, which means you have to trick them in order not to die horribly all the time (which you'll do anyway). This could sound like an interesting twist as to make the game more challenging or the AI more intelligent, but it is done in the wrong way. For example, not being able to peek behind corners in a first person shooter seems really odd. This means you have to do trial and error runs to find out where enemies are positioned, which isn't a rewarding type of gameplay. To hurl your entire body into the open in these kind of games usually means instant death. Being forced to do it seems like poor planning or game constructing to me. The enemies can do this however which means you'll often die by some sneak-shot from behind some cover. It is not like in Gears of War where you can just hurl your weapon around or above some cover and blast away some shots, a feature that works well in these kind of games and at least should exist in some form.

Another problem is that missions aren't always well balanced to the difficulty of staying alive. This was now played on easy and still you die in approximately 4 shots or any one burst from an enemy weapon. Yet there are some missions that require you to run through open areas with literal hordes of enemies and few offerings of cover. Yet again you'll need trial and error over and over to run through a room with over 50(!) enemies shooting at you from all places and no chance to duck behind cover to shoot some off before running along. That makes MW2 feel more like an old Mariogame where you have to learn some parts by heart to make it.

Also the whole feel of the game and the attitude to war is sometime so deadly serious it feels someone is about to burst a vein. In games like Red Alert you really feel that this is just a game and we do this because it's fun, it just happens to be in a war setting. MW2 makes clear that this isn't a joking matter, at all. This is dead serious and you better understand it, son! There is an opening mission you actually have to promise not to be offended by before being able to play it. This because it's about killing loads of civilians. But the game has no trouble what so ever with the player killing butt loads of people tagged as "enemies", be it terrorists or confused military of other countries. This means the game developers have put a distinct line between people ok to kill and people not ok to kill and don't care at all what the player might think. All enemies are also of course rabid trigger happy maniacs who need to be killed or they will kill you. This "all or nothing" attitude is sort of perplexing but you need to look behind the american "if you're not with us, you're against us" moralizing and try to enjoy the game for it's gameplay features instead.

These problems don't make the game unplayable though, and it is still short enough not to make it an entire pain to have to live with these problems for a few hours. It just feels kinda sad that they haven't put more effort into something that comes with a pretty solid base and idea. Wouldn't say it's worth full price though.

Picture is from Wikipedia

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dragon Age Origins

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I don't actually play that many different games, although I am very interested in most (except sports games). I am just too... dunno... don't have the patience for most games really. For instance I've played like every Final Fantasy game but only finished one (VII of course). It often feels like when I've fully understood the game-mechanics and gameplay there is nothing much more worth playing for, unless the story is amazingly interesting which rarely is the case. So when I say something about a game it's most likely not played by me but by Love, who plays new games all the time. Dragon Age is such a game.

Dragon Age is a very basic rpg-game with the compulsory dragons (duh), elves, warriors, thieves... well you name any fantasy ingredient and it's there. Bioware has basically distilled the old Dungeon & Dragons theme into a great rpg game. There are awesome amounts of lore and gamestory to read through if you're interested (and you can skip it if you're not). It's always fascinating to think about all the man-hours put into something that's supposed to be just flavor to a game (kinda sad somehow). You can read up on any place or monster you encounter, about different events and about people in the world. Actually there is something written about nearly everything you'll see in the game.
You can play as warrior, caster and thief/rogue and for once the caster option isn't the most difficult/annoying one. Many rpgs suffer from having their gameplay balanced after the warrior-class, or any melee, which makes caster-classes usually much more difficult to play due to unfair and unbalanced game-mechanics. Dragon age is not so. The caster is a viable, even great, option for playing through the game. There are only slight changes to the story depending on which class or race you choose of course, people will call you by your class and race and such.
The story is interesting with some twists which is quite unusual in most rpgs who are pretty straight-forward. Or if they try to implement twists you can see them painted red from a mile away. The actors are good too and don't ruin the mood with crazy Tidus-ish rants. Graphics and music work well to add to the immersion although some of the gear make you look like you fell through the Red Cross clothes-container with glue all over your body or like you lost a bet.

Although Dragon Age has way more ups than downs, it still has some downs (and talking about what's bad is always easier). The fight system, which is turn based, leaves something to be wished for. Actually it sometimes turns a little too turn-based and doesn't flow as neatly as one could hope for. It is quite similar to the fighting system of FFXII where your teammates can run around with standard orders to act by and can be given new orders during combat. This means you can have one team mate set on "heal when needed" and he/she will do so fairly accurately until you tell him/her to do something else. And that is where some issues might arise. If you give someone a new order mid combat they will not smoothly engage in this new action but halt entirely, as if their brain needed rebooting, and then start their new action. This is a loss of valuable time, but fortunately only slightly annoying and nothing one will die from repeated times.
As many other games Dragon Age jumps on the choose-between-evil-and-good-fad-train. Unfortunately being evil isn't really set as a real option to good, as it doesn't bring you anything especially useful to make it worth all the drawbacks (people hating you and being uncooperative and not letting you buy from them and so on). This is a problem all games I've seen who try to implement this game style suffer from. Kotor and Fable and others give the option of being good or evil but reward one side (always good) more. Is it then really an option? Most of the times you don't even have the possibility to be really evil, as to say force someone to help you when they refuse because you're so evil. So the evil-side isn't well worked through and that is a shame.

Dragon Age is all in all a great game, offering about 100 hours of solid gameplay and a great story and very few drawbacks, worth playing through for anyone who likes rpgs (and doesn't suffer from acute antsiness like me).

Picture is from Wikipedia.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Time Bandits

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I saw the movie Time Bandits the other day. I had read somewhere that it was a "hilarious movie by Terry Gilliam, starring Sean Connery, John Cleese etc". I thought "hey that's alot of famous names, maybe I should give it a try". So I did and I warn you, it's among the worst spent 1,5h this month. No probably these last 6 months. I didn't have an issue with the actors or the effects, they were all ok considering the movie is from 1982ish. But the plot was really freaky. And not in a cool way like in Being John Malkovich but in a "wtf is going on?".
My "favorite" wtf-is-going-on-moment (here be teensy spoiler) was when the midgets (short people, dwarves, whatever you call em) jumped through a portal, landed in some water (well a sea really) and got fished up into a boat by an ogre who was gonna eat them. But they fooled him and threw him and his wife into the sea. Then suddenly as they thought they were safe they realise the entire boat is the hat of a giant. Who was standing in the sea. And who now walks up on land with the boat on his head.

It's like Monthy Python light all through the movie, but it isn't funny anywhere (well ok, there are actually some funny places) because it's not a comedy. Or is it? Well anyway it isn't wacky enough to be funny, like Monthy Python, or normal enough to be exciting.
I would recommend a movie if it was so bad it still had some entertainment value. I saw Re-Animator 3 some weeks ago and that is such a movie (I loved it tbh).
But Time Bandits is just boring. Unfortunately.

By the way, who would say such a movie was hilarious? Well I snooped around to see where I had read about it and found it - an ad in an ad-paper from a movie store. Figures.

Picture is from Wikipedia.