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Dear Livejournal

 You are terrible.  You don't even work.  God knows if this post will even appear - I certainly have no idea!  Going to be moving elsewhere because this system is non-functional.

Brink Review: Corridor Parkour

Brink is a sorely misunderstood game with a tragically limited scope.  At the development team’s heart lies a deep nostalgia for the team-based shooters from a decade ago.  It shouldn’t have been such a surprise that they produced a game with decade-old gameplay.  Unfortunately, because pre-release marketing heavily emphasized the game’s parkour-based movement model, Brink’s determinedly retro gameplay came as a complete shock to many purchasers.  The tragic surprise is that Brink adds parkour to the old shooter formula without considering the ways in which it could fundamentally revolutionize the genre.  Instead, Brink’s map design relegates the parkour mechanics to little more than a graphical gimmick for barring certain class configurations from certain corridors.


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Total War: Shogun 2 Review

Shogun 2 is the best Total War game that I’ve ever played.  “Total War” has always meant a non-linear single-player campaign that’s split between a turn-based strategy shell and real time tactical battles. The series’ selling point has always been the scale of it’s tactical battles, while the strategic shell provides basic context; no other game puts as many troops at your fingertips, in as gorgeous graphical style, as Total War. It’s about the sublime drama of raw scale. It’s never been about rigorous realism, but it has just enough realism to feel more convincing, more massive, and ultimately more dramatic than its competitors. Back when the original Shogun was released in 2000, the scale blew everyone away. Even now, when real-time games still trend towards giving you control of a few dozen soldiers at most, the thousands of troops at your fingertips in a large Total War battle inherently invokes awe.  Now, in Shogun 2, the entire package has been refined to near perfection.

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Elemental v1.10 Mini-Review

After Elemental: War of Magic's disastrous release, I suggested waiting to buy until Stardock had heavily patched the game.  Well, version 1.10 just released and the changes are impressive.  The game engine is fixed.  I have almost no crashes, no unjustifiable slowdowns, the interface is dramatically improved, the AI is much more intelligent, and stuff generally works as designed.  Unfortunately, stuff generally works as designed.

The game mechanics still range from lackluster to outright busted.  Every mechanic is noticeably improved compared to the release version, but there's still absolutely no reason to play Elemental rather than, say, Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic (which is now available from gog.com).  In fact, Age of Wonders' mechanics are still at least an order of magnitude better than Elemental's mechanics.

So I still can't recommend Elemental.  The progress is truly astounding - I've literally never seen a company put so much effort into post-release support - but the game still isn't good yet.  I have more confidence than ever that Elemental will become good at some point in the future, but that point has not yet arrived.  My advice ultimately remains the same: don't buy Elemental, but do to keep an eye on it's progress.


The Transcendent

[This was my submission for a short fictional writing assignment on origin myths during a mythology class.  It turned into a philosophical riddle/critique.]

I began in the space before space, the time before time. There was not even a void, nor even a “was.” There was no here or there, no then or now – until, of course, there was!

Then followed an infinite pattern of existence. What wonders were produced, from the immutable to the growing, from the tiny to the gargantuan, from the simple to the complex! Yet I saw it all and deemed it lacking.

So I speak to you now – you who are neither the first nor the last, neither the greatest nor the smallest, neither the simplest nor the most elaborate – to ask one ultimate riddle: “Who am I?”


Since my Windows machine decided to die on me, I don't have much to do but catch up on writing.  Let's talk about Civilization 5!

Civilization 5 marks a couple of huge strides forward for the series, but such progress highlights the fundamental weaknesses of the genre.  It's a game about planning and nation-building in a way that previous Civ games never managed.  The strides made in this edition are superb, but cannot overcome the fact that Civilization is simply not the type of game that the subject matter requires.  It should be a multiplayer game, but it's not designed as one.

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I've been debating whether to make this post or not, given that it's so early after Civ 5's release that a few bugs are bound to slip through and be fixed promptly.  However, this is something too stupid to let pass without comment.

Civilization 5 could optionally be pre-ordered (for an extra amount) as a "deluxe" version that added the Babylonians as a playable Civ.  However, it turns out that deluxe version saves are completely incompatible with basic versions of Civ - even if the game was originally created by a basic version, and even if Babylon isn't in the game at all.  Nor can a deluxe version be run as a normal version of the game -deluxe owners are stuck generating incompatible saves.

That may not sound like a major issue at first, but the Civ community has a huge tradition of "succession games" where players take turns playing the same game, discussing strategies and learning as a community.  In that context, this sort of technical mistake - assuming that it really is a mistake and not some idiotic attempt at stealth-DRM for the deluxe content - is ridiculous and unacceptable.  The stealth-DRM accusation sounds insane, yet takes on a certain air of conspiracy-theory-plausibility given that people have looked at the save file data and concluded that the deluxe version saves games entirely differently than the basic version does.  That simply shouldn't happen, given that the devs ought to know about a tradition spanning over a decade of Civilization gaming (in which many former devs of Civ games participated).

Odds are that this is just a dumb bug that'll get fixed.  That doesn't stop the facepalming.
[I originally wrote this post in my LP thread for Call of Pripyat, but this might actually be of more interest to those few souls reading this LJ.]

I have a few musings on the Civilization series and it's relation to realistic shooters like the Stalker series. There's a key contrast that illustrates why I'm drawn to the latter, even though I can enjoy the former. Civilization games are about ideas; Stalker games are about concepts. That distinction doesn't exactly come up in common conversation, but it's an important one; please permit me to illustrate.

Consider the player's role, or avatar, within the game world. Civilization doesn't give you a character to play - while the Civ series now assigns different historical leaders to different nations, we know very well that any of those individuals teleporting through time and space to 4000 BC and then surviving for another 5000 years is laughable. It's impossible to take the player's role as immortal Ghandi, Darius, or Washington seriously (though, side note, a 4X game based on Highlander could be awesome). The player isn't any single human being - if anything, the player is placed in the role of nationalism itself, the idea animating a succession of leaders throughout history. Ultimately the player's avatar is an idea, merely an abstracted collection of information reified by the game's structure into a natural or universal fact. This bit of stealth ideology is my single biggest beef with the Civ series, because reifing ideas is a incredibly bad move (it's easily within the top two ultimate causes of violence and suffering throughout human history). Only Alpha Centauri, my favorite of the Civ-alikes, partially avoided that structural blunder by divorcing itself from historical characters and technology, allowing it to consciously focus on the individual leaders and their effects as characters.

Stalker, on the other hand, gives the player a clear, embodied avatar. The player is put into the role of Major Degtyarev, a human being. He has a goal assigned by outside forces (including ideas like nationalism, given his position), but there is (almost) no intermediate cushion of abstraction between the player and the game world. We are human. The avatar is human. Instead of concentrating on abstractions, we concentrate on how a human interacts with the world. Specifically, we concentrate on the concepts that form our limited sensory grasp of those objects. It's still a collection of digital abstractions, being a game, but it's trying to simulate concepts (a necessarily-limited grasp of physical reality) rather than ideas (abstractions). Stalker is about dealing with cold hard reality, even though it's own particular reality is fantastical.

From the perspective of a Political Science student sick and tired of how ideas get horribly used and abused every day in the form of ideology, Stalker's realistic perspective on the world is actually vastly more encouraging than the idealism of Civilization. Fatally flawed optimism is far more depressing than grounded pessimism.


Ambitious? - Call of Pripyat Review

This week I finally finished S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat (CoP) for the second time.  Yes, the second time; it's good enough to play twice, maybe more.  It's no Shadow of Chernobyl (SoC) in terms of raw impact, but it's the most refined iteration of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series to date.  It's immersive, atmospheric, engaging, and ultimately thought provoking - without the technical problems that characterized SoC!  And yet...

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PAX 2010

What a show this year.  What a convention.  PAX just keeps growing, and this year the industry seems to be bringing out some genuine Awesome to display.

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