Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top Five: Video Games of 2011

  • Here they are, the five games that defined the year for me. As always, keep in mind that I'm only picking games that I've actually played. So if there is some awesome game that I'm missing, it's likely that I never played it. Or maybe you have really poor taste. Whichever excuse works for you.

  • Bastion - Everyone wants to parody the narrator now, but no one can find the right voice. That's because it is not just some trick. There is a strong, well told story throughout Bastion that only Supergiant Games could tell. But even acknowledging that, it would be a crime to let that distract from the amazing art style and its tight Action RPG roots. It works on every level, as a story, as a game, and as a work of art. Bastion is a game that will stay with me for a long time.

  • Dark Souls - There is no way I can think of that I should have liked this game. Any one of the punishing difficulty, the opaque game systems, or the lack of any direction would normally be enough to keep me from even purchasing a game. But Dark Souls proved to me that I actually can enjoy such a game. I may have put the game aside for now. But I will return. I will return and I will earn every soul that I can take.

  • Portal 2 - Valve was in an impossible position when they built a sequel to Portal, one of the best games of all time. That Portal 2 was not only a great sequel, but arguably a better game is amazing to me. It may not have been as surprising (the twist is not so surprising and Want You Gone is no Still Alive), but the emotional resonance is much more intense. The long, melacholy climb through the history of Aperture Science and the frantic, inspired finale left me stunned when the game was over. It may have been a little long, but I can't think of a single thing to cut. And I love the game this much without ever trying the co-op. It is that good.

  • Rift - Try as I might, I have trouble staying away from the launch of a new MMO. The sense of discovery and the inevitable community discussion are a strong attractor. So Rift drew me in and, for a few weeks, it was great to visit an entirely new world. Eventually I ran aground on the single player content, but I don't regret the time I spent with the game.

  • Saints Row: The Third - The insanity of this game paired with the quality of its systems means that playing Saints Row: The Third is pure joy. The missions are great, the open world activities are challenging, and the exploration is actually fun. If there is one compliment that I can give this game, it is that SR3 is the one game that I would consider attempting to complete one hundred percent and I never do that.

  • My honorable mention goes to Panzer Corps: Wehrmacht. It has one of the most fulfilling tutorial campaigns that I've ever seen. If only I hadn't been distracted before I got very far into the real campaign.

  • Now that you've seen my list, what were your favorite games of the year?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Random Shots: The Year That Was 2011

  • Today, we look back at 2011. There are two themes that run through this post that played havoc with the crazy predictions I made last year. One, we had a baby and my gaming time fell precipitously. Two, several of these games didn't even come out this year. So I'm not expecting to have done very well. Let's take a look.

  • Diablo III - Did I really predict that D3 would be out this year. Shame on me. I didn't even get into the beta. (Insert un-smiley face here.)

  • Guild Wars 2 - When I made my predications at the beginning of the year, I knew that there were two ways that I could go. I chose wrong. But in my defense, I really, really, really wanted to play GW2.

  • Dragon Age 2 - I thought that would hold out longer against the DA2 lovefest. However a $20 price tag on Amazon broke my resolve. I was right about the second half of my predication though. I did regret buying it.

  • Mass Effect 3 - More wishful thinking on my part. I'm sure ME3 will be a great game, but not until 2012.

  • Torchlight II - Again, still not out. I haven't even preordered it, though. Anytime you're ready, Runic.

  • Dawn of War II: Retribution - I couldn't help myself. I went ahead and bought Retribution, but I haven't played it very much. Someday, I would really like to.

  • LA Noire - I wanted to like this game. I really wanted to. But I didn't finish it. And here is a spoiler for you: it's not on my Top Five. I do want to see this one though here.

  • The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim - Finally, a predication that I was (mostly) right about. Skyrim did come out on time and I haven't bought it. But all of the hype around the game is weakening my resolve.

  • Portal 2 - The only thing that I got wrong about this predication was that I didn't wait to buy it. It was a lot of fun, it did feel a little long (mostly because of the climb through the old Aperture Science facility), and I still haven't played the co-op. I'm glad that I didn't bother to wait.

  • DC Universe Online - Home run! I still have not played DCUO and it seems like few people are. Yay?

  • Rift - I was pretty close on this one too. I did get caught up in the hype, I going in during the head start, and I did burn out pretty hard. However I was smart enough to unsubscribe in time. I get extra points for not being stupid, right?

  • Tera - Again, failure to launch makes this prediction moot. At this point, I'm starting to doubt that they will even bother.

  • Star Wars: The Old Republic - SWTOR came out so late this year that my predications haven't had enough time to prove themselves. I was right about the very first thing, though: my brother was in at launch and wants me to play. And considering the gift card burning a hole in my pocket, I'm sure that a purchase is not far away. For my reaction to the actual game, we'll have to wait until next year. Oh, and I'm going to give myself credit for predicting that SWTOR will be the most talked about. You can't turn around in this community without bumping into a Jedi or Sith. But so far, I haven't had the opportunity to tell anyone "I told you so."

  • Considering how bad I did, I should get out of the prognostication business. But why would I do that? Look for my 2012 predications here in a couple of days!

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Random Shots: In Memoriam - 2011

  • As the video game industry has grown and matured, it is only fitting that we at Bullet Points look back at the game developers and executives who we lost in 2011.

    • Matt Stubbington, 39, artist, co-founder of Iguana Entertainment and Big Sesh Studios

    • Don Barnes, 41, artist, credits include Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Kung Fu Panda

    • Heather Thompson, 42, producer and project manager, credits include Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure and Dead to Rights

    • Jerry Lawson, 70, creator of the Fairchild Channel F, the first cartridge-based video game console

    • Norio Ohga, 70, former president and chairman of Sony, launched Sony Computer Entertainment

    • Takeshi Miyaji, 45, founder of Game Arts and creator of the Grandia series

    • Bill Kunkel, 61, pioneer of video game journalism, founder of Electronic Games, the first video game magazine published in the United States

    • Will Townsend, 33, producer, credits include DJ Hero, Command & Conquer: Generals, Medal of Honor: European Assault, and Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth

    • Carl Wade, 40, programmer, credits include Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and South Park: Chef's Luv Shack

  • Please take a moment to reflect on the lives of everyone, in the game industry or not, who we lost this year. They will be missed.

  • This post is in honor of my father-in-law, Wellan Briggs. There is a hole in our lives where he belongs.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Read Lately: On Basilisk Station by David Weber

  • One might think that with all of the novels available in the world that I would have dug something up out of Amazon's catalog when I got my new Kindle Fire. Instead I turned to Baen's Free Library and tried out a book that I've been wondering about for a while, On Basilisk Station by David Weber.

  • On Basilisk Station is the first book in the Honor Harrington series. Commonly thought of as Horation Hornblower In Space, the novel follows Harrington as she takes command of the light crusier Fearless and deals with the incompetance and politics within the Royal Manticoran Navy. Assigned to the backwater Basilisk system, Harrington refuses to let her current position define her command.

  • In establishing the series' sci-fi trappings, Weber has created a system wherein ship-to-ship battles play out much like Napolionic navel battles. He does take into account modifications to account for three dimentional space and inertia in a vacuum. So instead of a line of battle, ships array themselves in a wall. And the outcome chases are determined not by relative velocity, but by relative acceleration. But otherwise you could drop these ships in water and have the battles play out quite familiarly.

  • The level to which you can accept that will go a long way to determining whether you think the book is clever or crap. If you prefer your science fiction of the hard variety, you will probably like this as much as you like Star Wars. But if you don't mind science fiction being used as a backdrop to tell interesting stories, then you should be just as delighted as I was.

  • David Weber is an excellent writer and this novel got its hooks in me from the start. There is nothing flashy about his prose. But he is deft in his characterizations and the creativity of his plot. With On Basilisk Station he has built a future that I can understand and visualize with ease, and that is a great accomplishment.

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Played Lately: Saints Row: The Third

  • This is the time of year when tend to reflect on where the year started when how we got here. When I wrote my post looking ahead at 2011, Saints Row: The Third was nowhere on my radar. At most, the game was an off hand joke because of its childish "Strap It On" tagline. I knew about Saints Row 1 & 2, but they never sounded like anything that I wanted to play. But then the hype for this game started to build and I got super curious. That, plus the fact that I had enough gift cards to buy it for five dollars, was enough for me to try it out.

  • I am so glad that I tried this game. Saints Row: The Third is the game that every pseudo-nanny thought that GTA was, only played entirely for laughs. Sure the gangster story is played straight, but it is in service of making the over-the-top gameplay stand out that much more. There is really nothing ordinary about the missions. That's not good enough for Volition. Either the mission is crazy or it's not worth putting in the game.

  • And while it emulates the GTA formula, it doesn't suffer from the hazard of poor controls. Whether it was driving, shooting, or just running around, I haven't ever felt like the game was fighting me. Truly, I'm do die a lot and end up losing more missions and activities than I care to admit. But I've never been able to blame that on anything other than my own poor abilities.

  • As much as I'm enjoying the game, let me make one thing clear: the QTEs suck. I hate them so very, very much. They don't come up that often. Only in two places: whenever you fight a brute or when you perform a flashy melee takedown move. But they flash by so quickly that I rarely have to ability to react. Just no, folks. No.

  • Barring that one idiocy, I love Saints Row: The Third. The only thing keeping me from finishing it is that I have to take care of my family and work first. Every other bit of free time, though, will find me in Steelport, expanding my criminal empire, laughing the entire time.

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Random Shots: Dear SantaCorp

  • It has come to our attention that your company is taking proposals regarding the administation of gift assignments this year. We are aware that Bullet Points is a fiendishly difficult corporation when dealing in this field. As such, we have prepared this guide to assist with your preparations

    • Although our game playing has been severely curtailed this year, we will not be requesting a greater portion of time to do so. Instead, we request the wisdom to remember why we have chosen to spend our time free time with our family instead.

    • While we are thankful that so many are enjoying their time in Star Wars: The Old Republic, we request that they be mindful that they are still playing a Bioware game. Therefore we hope that they will be circumspect about posting spoilers, else we will find ourselves reading far fewer blogs in the coming months.

    • While we appreciate the effort that Hasbro has made in releasing its boardgames as apps for the Kindle Fire, we would be very grateful if other developers decided that it was worth their while. We are sure that involves the Kindle Fire actually becoming popular, so we are asking for a miracle here. But you didn't become SantaCorp by playing it safe now, did you?

    • Finally, with all of this years ups and downs, we hope that 2012 will be a happier and healthier year for everyone, family and friends, online and otherwise.

  • We hope that will ease your decision-making burden.

  • Sincerly,

    President & CEO
    Bullet Points

  • P.S. Can you do something about all of these blogging memes? They are driving us up the wall.

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Played Lately: Dark Souls

  • It is funny to me how much my time with Dark Souls has changed with study and practice. I have nearly memorized the extent of the Undead Burg. I know about the hollow warrior just to the right as I exit the bonfire room. I know that I have to watch out hollow crossbowman on the rooftop nearby that I have to keep my sheild toward as I fight the first. I know about the warrior who charges up the steps as I finish those two off. I know where every single enemy is in that stretch of the city. Knowledge makes me powerful, but it also makes me cocky.

  • Dark Souls is not a game that rewards sloppy play. You can certainly bash your way past opponents. And I have been as I've started leveling and gearing past these initial enemies. But I'm still being punished for not playing the game the right way, even though the punishment is now longer as dramatic.

  • Since my last post, I decided that I needed to stop farming for souls and finally took on the Taurus Demon atop the wall overlooking the Undead Burg. Luckily for me, I knew the trick (flinging myself from the tower onto its head) and was able to bring the beast down. And then the Hellkite Wyvern burned me to a crisp and I lost all of those souls I just won.

  • I was able, however, to snipe the beast's tail with my bow and arrows to win the fabled Drake Sword. I made short work of it because my Wanderer focuses on Dexterity, also the required statistic for archery. Whoever that left me low on Strength, leaving me to only wield my new blade two handed. It is an remarkable weapon, so I was able to farm souls quite well afterwards and build up my statistics. But I felt quite naked without a shield to protect me.

  • Unfortunately, that is were I have stopped playing. Not because I ran into a brick wall, though that wyvern seems unkillable. Instead, my attention was diverted to other things. Like Saints Row: The Third.

  • But Dark Souls is an amazing game. A game that I did not know that I was yearning for. So I will be back when the time is right.

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.