Cursing the Gods All Over Again

I don’t get it. Maybe it’s the fact that my thumbs are older. Or that I’m just not used to the sensitivity of my spankin’ new PS3 controller. Did I have this many massive outbursts of nerd rage the first time I played God of War? I don’t think so. At least, I hope not. It’s kind of embarrassing. Oh I was getting so mad, I was pounding the arm of my easy chair and pretending that I still had some dignity, and trying not to sound like that angry German kid. Thank goodness I beat the damn thing when no one was home. The other half of Team Ultra has witnessed enough of my embarrassing, close-to-throwing-the-controller tantrums that shouldn’t be happening. Because I beat this game once before. So that means it should be easy to beat again, right?

Hah, THAT’s where the gods taunt me!

It’s always fun to play the HD version of a game you loved back in the day. God of War is no different. I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to see Kratos in HD until now, and I was very pleased with the higher-res blood sprays. God of War was one of those games I felt was made just for me, the myth geek that never got to see her beloved stories taken in quite this route before (unless you count the amazingly awesome Clash of the Titans, and I’m not talking about the amazingly awful remake). I got to fight minotaurs and satyrs, talk to the gods and use their powers, and get my groove on with some half-naked Grecian ho-bags. As the years progressed, I couldn’t wait to finally get my PS3 and finish out Kratos’ story. But I had to replay the first two before I delved into the finale.

I remembered a lot of the sections that may have caused previous nerd rage. You see, it’s never the monsters that piss me off; even if I get killed once or twice I can usually power through and live to see the next checkpoint. Nope, it’s the fact that not only is Kratos expected to be a vicious warrior and skilled wielder of the gods’ powers, but he’s also expected to be a friggin’ acrobat. I died more trying to walk across a damn pole than I did the entire rest of the game. And that, my friends, is frustrating as hell. Over and over, load the screen, walk out a little bit, jump a blade or two, get the chest, get hit and fall and die. Walk, jump, fall, die. I can mimic Kratos screaming as he falls to his death. To add to the insult, my xbox-trained thumbs felt like they kept slipping off the sticks, making Kratos do dumb things. Like fall a lot. Onto spikes. The Blades of Hades section had to be created by someone diabolical. It was probably the same designer that put in the stupid part where you have to push that damn block over to the ledge before the spikes pop up. Died about 15 times on that one. Pull the lever, pull the damn block, then try to kick it at just the right angle a couple times, jump on it and up before you die. It sucked. Then when you’re in the underworld it’s time for the balance Olympics. This part should have been called Tartarus because of how torturous it was. Running on spinning logs with spikes on them, slip and fall off or hit a blade and fall off, rinse, repeat. Then when you’re lucky enough to get through those, you have to do it vertically. I almost welcomed Ares chopping my head off umpteen times, because at least I was dying because I’m bad at hitting the block button.

Anyway, I did it, and God of War is officially under my belt once again. Now to tackle the next one. Hopefully my easy chair and my controller will survive. I’m sure Kratos won’t.

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The Game that Started It All… (for me at least)

First of all, I have to remedy something from my last post, which is giving a HUGE shout out to my friend Mike. He’s the one that gently suggested to our lovable group of geeks that we all had to read Ready Player One. So far I’m the only one who listened to him. Good looking out Mike!

As I’ve been readying my poor thumbs and wrists for the onslaught of new games that will be hitting me in the face this fall, I’m reminded of the excitement I used to feel as a kid when I got my hands on some new jewel of nerdy goodness. I suppose we all have those things, even now, that we look forward to with that same kind of glee. One of my good geek friends dropped off the face of the planet for at least a week when Skyrim came out. I’ve been contemplating taking the day off when Mists of Pandaria comes out next week.  But my thrill of getting to play some long-awaited game or finally seeing that epic movie (ahem, Hobbit!) really just doesn’t compare to the day that my younger self bought The Adventures of Lolo.

Now understand this: growing up I didn’t have a whole lot, and my mom worked really hard to make sure I went to a good school, was able to go to dance lessons and so forth. We lived with my grandparents, and as a kid I used to play on my mom’s old Atari 2600 on a black and white TV. I had never envisioned video games in color before. The NES came out in 1985/86, but I wasn’t aware of it and didn’t dream of owning one until close to 1989. And that dream was led not by the beloved Mario, but by a little blue ball of cuddle named Lolo. I must have seen a commercial for the game. Or maybe I spotted it in Toys R Us and read that it was a puzzle game. All I knew was that Lolo must be mine. I begged my mom for a Nintendo for Christmas. Even begged my dad, who was worse off than us at the time. I’m sure my mom would have loved to get me one, but instead she decided to use the NES as a way to teach me about saving. I could buy it, if I used my own money. So I started saving every dollar and quarter I could get my hands on. I milked the Tooth Fairy (yeah I was still losing baby teeth, lost the last one as a freshman in high school), and saved all my birthday money. In the summer of 1989 I had saved $70 out of the $100 I needed for the NES, not even close to having the extra I would need to get Lolo as well. I thought I would never save all the money I needed.

That summer I had to get some shots. God I HATE shots. Even to this day. They SUCK. The thought of getting a needle at the doctor’s would incite nightmares in me the night before, every time, without fail. I would dream that the nurse would staple my clothing to me. Don’t ask where I got that association from, I’m kind of scared of staples too. Anyway, this time around at the doctor’s office, I took those shots like a champ, and didn’t cry or complain. I remember so clearly how proud my mom was of me, and how I felt when I figured out that we were driving to Toys R Us from the doctor’s. She gave me the rest of the money I needed for my Nintendo, and bought me Lolo to boot. That blue ball of awesome was officially mine! And in return, I tried to teach her how to play. She sucked 🙂

Recently I played Lolo on a NES emulator, and wouldn’t you know, it still holds that same magic over me. I can still remember many of the puzzles, where to push those stupid blocks to protect myself from the Medusas, still jumping when I would accidentally get killed, humming along with the catchy music. It is really the game that made me a gamer, and I am proud of that.

So I want to know, my treasured few readers: what game do you remember being the start of your gaming obsession? It doesn’t have to be a video game, though mine certainly was. I want to know!

Ready Player One: Real Life Sucks

Yesterday I read Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. Only yesterday, because I finished it in one day. It’s one of THOSE kind of books, the kind that even though you know you should put it down for a minute to cook some dinner, or do some laundry, or whatever sort of boring minutiae that life has to offer, you simply…can’t. It takes you out of your world and puts you in another one, very much what the book is all about. As a younger child of the 80’s, and an all-around geek and gamer, I instantly appreciated the care that Cline takes to reference so many beloved classics, some of my personal favorites, and others that I vaguely knew about but have piqued my interest. I couldn’t wait to see what movie or song or game was going to pop up next. Add in that most of the book takes place in the future of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs), where the game is actually a way of life, THE way of life, and you have a great cocktail that any geek should gulp down in a heartbeat.

After finishing my book, I decided I had spent enough time offline, and jumped onto WoW. I immediately realized how hyper-sensitive I was to that online environment now, how much I really used WoW (and other games, and books, and movies, etc.) as escape and solace. Because, as one of my guildies put it so succinctly:

“Real life sucks.”

Yeah, sometimes it does. You worry about money, or your living situation, or your job, or your family, or your other half, or your kids, or the world in general, and it can add up. I see myself coming home after a long day at work, exhausted, thinking about the next day and the next and the future, and immediately I want to plug in. That’s what Team Ultra does.  We come home, we unload the weight of the world off our backs, and we plug in. Of course we have our priorities. I’ve never missed work or important events just to game. I’ve never been in a dire monetary situation because of gaming. The most harm it has done me is occasional lack of sleep. We don’t let the game take over our lives, or think we live BETTER lives in our game…but do we?

My avatar in WoW, I should say my latest one, is almost at the top of her game (I don’t raid, so I’m not THAT cool). She’s got some awesome outfits, state-of-the-art gear, and many sweet rides. She’s got more money on her than I have in my bank account on a regular basis. She can create epic and special things that are in high demand. She associates with a group of people that go out and have regular adventures. My avatar can do things that I can never hope to do (mainly because they don’t exist in our reality).  And death isn’t even permanent! Is that kind of world…a better world than ours right now? Many people think so. But…most people, myself included, have the wherewithal to realize that the digital world is not a REAL world. It is a story. Just like good movie, or a book, or even a great piece of music. It gives you the idea of possibility. And isn’t that really, all we want in THIS world?

Star Wars: The Old Republic–Temptingly Badass, Because I Played a Badass

So this weekend marked the last beta testing for SWOR before it goes live on December 20th, and I got in on a little piece of the action. Which I didn’t think I would get, considering the beta was on Thanksgiving weekend, and I was driving 9 hours to visit family and friends and run around like a crazy person. I did however get enough time to create a bunch of characters, and play one in particular, my Sith Inquisitor. The character creation can be a touch clunky, since you go through a series of screens, instead of having it all right there on one. But you get to zoom in and out, and get much more choice in the variety of faces, skin tones, tattoos, scars, and whatnot, not to mention features specific to your race. For my Sith Inquisitor (which is like a caster/melee dps/heal class) I chose the Rattataki race, which I thought was the race of Asajj Ventress from Clone Wars, but she’s apparently a different bald grey-skinned alien. Anyway my bald grey-skinned alien came with a condescending, vaguely British-accented voice perfect for what she was destined to become–a lightning-throwing, lightsaber-wielding badass.

Lvl 9 Sith Inquisitor

Funny, she doesn't look British.

 

I was able to get up to level 10, running around with a ton of other Sith (many of which had the too-obvious name of  “Darth(insert dumb word here)”). The things that really set this game apart from WoW have to be the voice acting and the story. I was much more interested in completing my class quests and advancing my storyline than playing with other people. Maybe that was a bit of a downfall for me, since now I can’t talk about what group dynamics were like. But the solo stuff was interesting! I couldn’t help it.  And hearing it all spoken out, and hearing my character’s own voice in the mix brought you into it that much more. I tried to make her as bad as possible. Except sometimes, when I thought I was obviously picking the Dark Side option in my conversation, I got awarded with Light Side points. I can’t have those! I am Sith! Not some goody-two-shoes Jedi. I’m creepy-looking for god’s sake. Well. I guess some Jedi are pretty creepy-looking too.

Anyway, as I traversed the ancient Sith homeworld of Korriban (Did you know that the Sith are actually an alien race too? I sure didn’t.), I died. A lot. The combat forces you to think on your feet a touch more than questing in WoW.  There’s not a lot of single creatures roaming around, or ones you can isolate from a group. Very rarely did I fight less than 3 mobs at a time. If you’re not paying attention, you can die really easily. Thank goodness that you get a companion that helps you fight, to make things a little easier. But you have to work for that companion. I had to plot out who I was going to  electrocute, then force-stun, then chop up with my training lightsaber (because of course you have to work for that too, you get it at lvl 10).

The comparisons to WoW will be infinite. But this is a different game. It’s not quite WoW with a Star Wars skin. It’s definitely got its pluses and minuses. And WoW has had quite a few years to get polished. But I think that people who are more accustomed to single player RPGs, that want to get into MMOs may find SWOR to be a good bridge. The story is intriguing enough that I didn’t care about power leveling through. Of course, that may change once you play it through on a toon or two. But having the different conversation choices also make for interesting differences. The controls were familiar enough, and the basic mechanics the same as WoW, so it wasn’t like I had to completely reteach myself.

Am I going to completely give up on WoW and scramble for SWOR? Not after signing up for the WoW Annual Pass I’m not. But eventually, after the initial rush, I would like to go back to Korriban, pick up that red lightsaber, and see how much more badass I can be.

Nerd Rage: When “It’s Just a Game” doesn’t quite cut it

Nerd Rage. We’ve all been there. Even if you’re not a geek or nerd in the classic sense, everyone has something that they are passionate about, that brings about equal amounts of frustration. But anyone even remotely close to the geek culture knows truly what I’m talking about. For example, yelling at the one DPS in your dungeon party that can’t seem to get their crap together and makes your party wipe 5 times on the same boss. Throwing down your controller when someone with a gamertag that screams 12-year-old has shot you in the face for the 10th time in a row.  Lamenting to the powers that be who decided to give you consistently crappy draws with no mana, while your opponent gets the mana he needs for that one card that will slaughter you, within the first 3 turns. Yup, that’s what I’m talking about.

As a girl geek, I really try to rein in the rage as much as possible, but I’ll admit that I get super frustrated just as much as anyone else. Though for this girl geek, sometimes the rage does not manifest as anger.

It comes out as tears.

I guess, being of the more sensitive (and sensible) persuasion, crying out of frustration could be acceptable. It could even work to my advantage, if my opponent sees me cry and feels bad. Though I wouldn’t want anyone to let me win, just because they feel bad for me. That’s not a true victory. But if it throws them off their game, then that’s okay 🙂 When it comes to playing online though, this goes completely out the window. Your teammates and opponents cannot see you. Depending on what and how you are playing, they may not even hear you. All they see is your dead body crumpling on the ground over and over, or your low DPS recount, even though you’re over here mashing keys like a fiend.

This week Modern Warfare 3 came out, and of course Team Ultra claimed a copy right away. The other half of Team Ultra has been playing pretty consistently, even though (in both our opinions) the graphics and setup just aren’t as good as Black Ops. Several times I have played multiplayer alongside him, and it’s been really hard not to let the rage overtake me. I kinda suck at these games. Really. I’m not horrible; I can at least kill some people here and there. But for the most part, I’m not all that great. So when I’m the only level 14 in a full group where the lowest of the other players is in the 40s, yeah, I’m going to die. A lot. A whole lot. So I just have to breathe and accept it. And when it gets too much and I am particularly sucking, I step away, and go to something a little lighter. Like Picross (for the DS). Because in the end, while having your heart rate up and playing something exciting can be fun, if you adrenaline rush starts going the wrong way, you’re just putting undo stress on yourself, which is not healthy.  For the most part, I try to channel my inner Buddha and just let it go. It’s just a game. Which is what I get told when I start to rage. It doesn’t really work, which is proven when Natty gets killed a bunch and looks at me with that “did you see that guy make an impossible shot on me?” look, and I respond with the “isn’t it just a game?” look.

It’s just a game, no matter what. But whatever it is, it can still incite the rage. And we are entitled to that rage, because we are passionate geeks. It just comes with the territory. Even single player games can incite the hulk transformation. When playing Batman: Arkham Asylum recently (gearing up for the new one, Batman: Arkham City!) I could not get past this one battle, and it was driving me crazy. I try not to slam the controller lest I get a stern look, but slamming a controller on a soft chair is okay, isn’t it? Okay, maybe not. Anyways, in this instance, there was no one to rage at, no 12-year-old or bad connection or anything. The only person to blame was myself, for being too slow, or the game for being diabolically hard. And the game wasn’t that hard (well, I had it on normal mode, so maybe it was a touch hard).

All in all, nerd rage comes packaged with being a nerd or a geek. Express it wisely.

LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4: Glitchiaro Fixicus!

When I first heard that the next installment in the popular LEGO game franchise would be none other than Harry Potter, I’m not ashamed to admit that I did a little dance of joy. I’ve been a fan of the LEGO games since Star Wars. I love the tongue-in-cheek approach to the story, the crazy random buildables thrown into the levels, and, come on now, running around as LEGO versions of your favorite characters? That’s just downright awesome.  And LEGO Harry Potter holds a special place in my heart. Yes, I am THAT geek that owns every Harry Potter LEGO set. And at one point had the whole shebang set up in my writing room. I’m talking Hogwarts, the Chamber of Secrets, the Hogwarts Express, the Dursley house, the Shrieking Shack…

It was glorious to behold, I assure you. Sadly, they are in boxes now, waiting for the day I can display them with pride once again.

Yes, I got the collector’s edition. Yes, I have the magnets on my fridge. And yes, I had my little avatar playing with the broomstick. For about a day, til they put the fantasy pets out on Xbox Live. Then I abandoned the broom for a cute lil’ kraken 🙂

The game holds true to the LEGO standard. Not only do you play through specific story levels, but there is also Hogwarts to explore in between levels, where you can learn new spells, make some major moola, and collect the red bricks and gold bricks essential for 100% completion of the game (and some gamer points to boot). I enjoyed tearing my way through the castle, shooting things willy-nilly with my wand and specific spells. I like the idea of being able to find the icons of unlockable characters, though most of the student icons really look the same, just different color ties (which you can barely see) and different hairdos.

The major problem I had with this game came when I was in the middle of Year Two, in the fourth story level (Tom Riddle’s Diary). I ended up having to exit out of the level because I got my rambunctious Harry caught in a corner I couldn’t escape. Once I left the level the game continued me on. I didn’t think anything of it until I was nearly done with the whole thing. I looked at the boards for all the levels, and noticed that 2-4 was missing. After doing a little research online, I discovered that this was a major glitch in the game–if you left midway through the level (not sure if this is true for all levels or just 2-4), you could never get back to it. No 100% completion, no gold brick, nothing. You were SOL. And there was no was to fix it, other than going back to the beginning and starting over.

Wow.

So here I am now, blitzing through LEGO blocks like some kind of Panzer tank, just so I can finish the damn thing. I’m also playing with all multipliers on, just for kicks. So far I have over 4,000,000,000 coins. Yeah, that’s right. Who’s a billionaire?!

All in all, if you are a fan of the Harry Potter series, or a fan of LEGO, or both, this game brings hours of enjoyment and lends itself well to playing co-op for extra fun. Just be careful of the snags; there are apparently several little glitches in the game, including inescapable rooms and invisible gold bricks. Too bad they didn’t make a spell to fix them all.

<waves her wand> Patchicus!

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