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Console Games Featured

Old Game Tuesday – Uncharted Waters

This might be surprising, considering how much I love most other Sid Meier games, but I never got around to the original Pirates! game.  I was deep into war games and looking at it, it just didn’t interest me.  Another thing I found to be cool were Samurai (and by extension, ancient Japan), which led me to Koei’s games, such as Nobunga’s Ambition and Genghis Khan.  Young me enjoyed them, even though I didn’t have the tactical and resource-managing skills yet to do well.

All of which led me to Uncharted Waters.  I always rented whatever Koei games came out, mostly because I couldn’t afford to purchase too many games.  This one looked cool enough inthe store to buy outright, and it was a great choice.  The story goes like this:  you are the son of a Portuguese explorer whose family is going through tough times.  You have one tiny ship and some goods to sell, and you have to build up your fleet from there.  Once you get going, there’s a bunch of different ways to advance – trading goods (with an economic model that changes the prices based on how much bought and sold in certain ports), privateering (for any of the three nations represented), exploration (people will ask you to search for things) and of course, piracy.  There is a plot, advanced by doing the odd jobs that merchants ask you to do, which you hear about in the bars.  Once you gather mates to your side, you can add ships to your fleet, up to 5 in total.  Your sailing and combat skills (for you and the mates) improve with use, and there are quite a few options for customizing ships.  You can begin with bare hulls, pick the type of wood, how many cannons and crew berthing spaces, and so on.  You can specialize ships for trading/exploring by cutting back on crew and guns, but that leaves you vulnerable to pirates.  Conversely, go too far the other way and you can dominate any fight, but not actually be able to carry your captured booty.

The nice thing about Uncharted Waters was the openness.  There’s a storyline to follow, but if you’d rather wander around blowing up Spaniards, exploring the whole world, and make crazy money, you can do that no problem.  Oh, and I forgot romancing a princess.  The game is widely available via emulation, for NES, SNES and Genesis, as well as a PC version (which I’ve never tried).  The NES version is what I had, and I actually prefer that (despite the lackluster graphics compared to the SNES) because the SNES version added random people walking around the towns who serve no purpose but to get in your way.

These games were even more popular in Japan, with multiple sequels and even an MMO game (which they keep saying will end up here,  and at least had been in closed beta testing at one point).  I’ve played the sequel a little but never got to deep into it.  Let me know if you’ve tried Uncharted Waters and if so, what you think!

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Console Games Featured Review

Dragon Age: Origins, Awakening, and the DLCs

I don’t think I ever officially review DA:O in this space (but I love it), but I thought that now that all the DLCs are out and the game is basically done, I’d take another look at the ‘story based’ addons.  SPOILERS ABOUND.

First, in case you can’t tell, I love the game.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be still playing and talking about it.  The story is deep, and some of the moral choices made me think.  I enjoyed many of the characters, and a single player game is a nice change of pace from trying various MMOs and being continually disappointed.  Here are some quick-hit thoughts on the game, the expansion, and the DLCs:

 

 

 

My First Warden. Destruction, personified.

For Origins itself: Good story, like the characters and the interplay between them, though the darkspawn as an enemy are not too exciting.  Some pretty tough fights, difficult choices and cool gear (sorry, that’s the Diablo player in me talking).  The Origin story aspect is really what I love, though.  It really can work to make each play-through different, where you meet someone again and now they take on a whole new importance.  Very few RPGs compel me to play through over and over, but this one is (on the third go-round now).

Awakening: Excellent.  Talking darkspawn are much more interesting, the Mother is gross, the new companions are quite interesting to me for the most part, especially Nathaniel Howe (again, moreso if you’ve played the Human Noble origin).  I kind of wished this module could’ve made notice of Soldier’s Peak somehow, as it did seem odd to have gone to all that trouble to reclaim it for the Wardens, only to ignore it when it might still be needed.  Would’ve loved to be able to bring a different companion over (though Oghren is cool enough) but I understand the voice acting limitations there.  Cost too much when it came out, but has quite a lot of content, to me at any rate.

Warden’s Keep: So-so for me, it does tell a bit of story you may have been wondering about:  Why were the Wardens expelled from Ferelden?

The Stone Prisoner: Little sidequest set to get you a new companion, Shale.  One of the Golems made by the Dwarves, the module adds a bit of fun to the whole game as Shale is a funny companion to have around, and unique to go into combat with.

Return to Ostagar: The gear you reclaim here had been passed by, stats-wise, by the time this DLC finally came out, but I wager it will fit in better within the course of the regular game.  For Duncan and King Cailan!

Darkspawn Chronicles: Just not interested in it.  Not well reviewed, and I like my Warden, thanks.

Leilana’s Song: A favorite of mine, but then Leilana was my love interest in my first play-through.  You play as Leilana as she helps her mentor/lover bring the Orlesian game of intrigue and assassination to Ferelden.  If you ever wanted to know her story, here it is.  Also seems pretty hard to me, though it may just be the fact that it’s lower level stuff than Awakening.  Not really very replayable, though there are different choices you can make for different endings.

Golems of Amgarrak: A return to the Deep Roads for your Warden (though sans your other companions), as you search answers about a group of Dwarves trying to recreate Caridin’s work in Golem creation.  The final critter you fight is supposed to be the toughest battle in any part of the game, though I am not there yet.  Fun, tough, but again, I miss my companions.

Witch Hunt: Hinted at during the Origins campaign, it was finally released just recently:  the story of what the heck happened to Morrigan after the Blight was ended.  Except that it more hints and some of those answers, which bothered some folks mightily.  I loved it, and not only because you get your dog back right smack-dab at the beginning!  I am easy to please.

Well, that’s about all of it.  I’m not going over all the little piddly DLCs (like the Feastday pranks or whatever).  Any other thoughts on Dragon Age out there?

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Console Games Media PC Games

Seeing Art

If you are like me, and you read Roger Ebert’s excellent Twitter feed and blog, you know he sometimes gets on a subject and won’t let go.  Recently, one such topic has been how video games can’t be art.  Now, video games are pretty close to my heart (as close as movies are to Mr. Ebert’s), and I have felt compelled at times to defend games, but have never posted.  Many others did so so eloquently, and Ebert seemed stuck in his ways, it seemed fairly useless.  Still, after yet good-natured snipe, I had to get this on record:  Video Games Are Art.

I mean, there are some great stories – great stories are art.  In modern games especially, there are beautiful images – images can be art.  I have certainly been moved by games, perhaps not to the same extent as a really outstanding book, but there are levels to everything.  I probably rank games  above most picture art, as far as that goes, but it’s different for everyone.

My favorite ‘video game as art’ example is Half-Life.  Now, I don’t enjoy horror movies, typically.  But the beginning of HL plays out like a horror movie, that is actually supremely enjoyable to me.  It produced real tension, as I crept through the ruined Black Mesa facility.  Doors bursting open, me wildly swinging the crow bar until the headcrab zombie was dead, then laughing and shaking my head at my own reaction.  That’s art, to me.

What causes the outcry about stuff like this is the fact that we gamers are a prickly bunch.  We get derided as childish, lazy, violent-offenders-in-waiting who play killing simulators and brain-numbing MMOs.  So we are touchy when a major media outlet of any kind takes a shot at us.  Even when it’s one we generally like (despite a favorable review for Star Wars: Episode 1).

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Console Games

Old Game Tuesday – Final Fantasy VI

fftitle
The Title Screen

There was a time when I was perfectly happy just playing my original 8-bit NES. I had fun, time-consuming games like Final Fantasy and Uncharted Waters, and didn’t need any new console just for better graphics.

Then I was informed Final Fantasy II was coming to that newfangled SNES. Someone brought their system and the game and I was hooked.

I had to have it. So I got a Super Nintendo and FFI and played, and played and played. I couldn’t get all the way through, not without getting stuck or taking time away for a while…usually during the Earth crystal part, or the Tower of Bab-il. Final Fantasy III (which I came to know as VI later), on the other hand, I ripped through without stopping. It remains my favorite FF game in a landslide.

Why did I love it? For one, it was set in a more technologically advanced time, sort of steampunk-ish. That was pretty different to me, as the previous FF games and Dragon Warrior were all more medieval. The wide array of characters (with several battles that had more than one party in play) was something I hadn’t seen before. Graphically, it was an improvement over FFII (with the character sprites being larger and more expressive) and of course the music is fantastic. I was actually spurred on to write this (and play the game yet again) while searching ringtones for Final Fantasy VI. The story is a classic, with the typical ‘rebels fighting an evil empire’ motif…except the bad guy wins (for a while).

Exposition!
Exposition!

One other thing that stood out in going back to the game later in life is the sorts of issues the game speaks about, despite Nintendo of America’s normally draconian editing. Teen pregnancy, suicide, and the death of loved ones (not just vanishing into thin air) were all present. Notably, it’s also a game that did not suffer nearly as much as it’s US predecessor in translation (“you spoony bard!”, actually having no gameplay tweaks to make it easier). I mean, the game features an Opera performance for crying out loud, and I still enjoyed it. That should be all you need to know.

If you like RPG games at all, especially the Japanese style, you owe it to yourself to check it out. In addition to the original Final Fantasy III released in the US, you can also play this on Game Boy Advance and the original PlayStation.

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Console Games

Educational Games That Don't Suck

As you may know, aside from being a hockey (and general sports) nut, I’m also a colossal nerd. I’m also a Daddy, and my son has naturally taken to some of my favorite hobbies, like computer games. This article from InventorSpot gives a few examples of games that can help educate without losing the fun factor. Mentioned are school classics (Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, The Oregon Trail) and some extremely popular games in the real world (Sim City (2k is still my favorite), Age of Empires II). I’d add Number Munchers in as well. What other games might you use to sneak in some educational value?

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Console Games PC Games

Old Game Tuesday – M.U.L.E.

M.U.L.E. holds the distinction of being the game I’ve probably played the longest. I was first exposed to it on my old Commodore 64, and though there are many classics from that era (which may be covered here in the future), this is the one that has kept my interest continually since then.

M.U.L.E. is a game of economic strategy. You begin as colonists on the planet Irata (it’s Atari backwards, you see). The goal is to build up the colony for a set period of time based on the difficulty level chosen, and individually, to build your wealth. Up to four players could participate, either human or computer, and there were multiple ‘species’ to choose from with various bonuses or handicaps. Each pioneer picks plots of land (with an occasional auction of additional plots) and then takes turns working them. The M.U.L.E.s (Multiple Use Labor Elements) themselves are robotic assistants that are outfitted with equipment to harvest Food, Energy, Smithore (to make more M.U.L.E.s) and Crystite (in Tournament mode). After each player has their turn, their plots of land experience their growth cycle, assuming they have a M.U.L.E. on them that is outfitted properly. Oh, and there is a bit of game balance each turn. The player with the lowest score gets a boon (bonus money from an inheritance, etc.) and the player with the highest gets smacked down a bit (darn glak-elves).

Next up is the auction…and here’s where it gets nasty. Each player gets a chance to buy and sell the various commodities, either to other players or the store. The store runs out at times, though, forcing you to rely on the other players for what you need to survive. Not enough energy, some of your plots go fallow. No food, and you have very little time to work your plots. If the colony has no smithore, no more M.U.L.E.s, or the cost of them go up. There is a fine line, you want to be the winner, but if the colony collapses, you all lose. You can try and hoard all the energy and force your opponents to pay through the nose – they even provided a way to collude with another player as a feature – but an ill-timed global event (pirates stealing all the smithore!) could be disastrous.

The game was developed by Dan (later Dani) Bunten, who also made several other favorites of mine, Seven Cities of Gold and Command HQ. She pioneered several features that are commonplace in games now, including multiplayer and modem/network gaming. M.U.L.E. is widely available via emulation, with the original Atari 800 version being the most popular. I’ll link it up tonight if I get a chance. Now I’m off to hunt the mountain wampus…

edit: Here’s the link, just go to the download page and pick your version of Windows. Has everything you need. You can even play over the network or internet with a bit of work.

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Console Games Life

Child's Play Update

The boys are nearing their goal, having crossed the $600,000 threshold!. Here’s the previous post if you are not sure what’s going on.

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Console Games

Final Fantasy Turns 20

One of my favorite game series, Final Fantasy, just turned 20. 1up has several features on it this week, but I’m pressed for time so hit up this /. article for all the links.

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Console Games Life

Child's Play

Gamers unite! It’s time to donate to Child’s Play, the charity started by the creators of the popular webcomic Penny Arcade. What exactly IS Child’s Play? Here are Gabe and Tycho in their own words:

Child’s Play works the same as last year. With the help of hospital staff, we’ve set up gift wish lists full of video games, toys, and movies. You can go to each hospital’s list and buy a toy, and that toy will be sent to the hospital. Some of these kids are in pretty bad shape. Imagine being stuck alone in a hospital over the holidays, getting something from a fellow gamer would really raise their spirits. Some of the stuff the hospital will give away for kids to keep, while other gifts (like consoles) will be kept by the hospital for patients to use throughout the year.

They have numerous letters from parents and children whose encounters with the various children’s hospitals was made a bit more tolerable by having some games to play, new books to read or new movies to watch. I’ve seen studies and reports that show kids have better surgical outcomes when they play Gameboy before surgery. There are fundraising events across the US and Canada and hospitals that need help as far away as Egypt and Australia.

If anyone wants to combine forces for a larger donation, let me know either in the comments or via the forum PM system.

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Console Games Wacky

As If Marching Bands Weren't Geeky Enough

The Cal Marching Band recently performed an opus to video games as their halftime show. Gizmodo has the video here. Complete with a Pokemon fight between the mascots.

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Console Games

Bionic Commando!?!

I MUST HAVE! Bionic Commando on the NES was the first game I ever bought and paid for with my own money, as well as the first one my friends and I finished in it’s entirety. The bionic arm made the gameplay very unique for the time. For the Xbox360 so far, I’d LOVE to see how they could pull this off with the Wii, though.