History’s runners-up

March 31, 2009 at 1:37 am (Tom) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I have a feeling I’m probably a bit too oblivious for most travel. I’m reasonably alert, given coffee or an amphetamine-flavoured substitute; I have a grounding in a number of romance languages, I can put on a surprising burst of speed if menaced by thugs, and I’m reasonably sure I can hide things in my anal cavity, given 5 minutes and two condoms. So I’m likely to make it through an airport terminal relatively unscathed – but I do worry about what I’d actually gain from the trip. It’s a vicious circle, in fact – I’m worried that I’d be so concerned to make the most of it that I’d cram too much “important stuff” in, and miss getting the feel of the place, or meeting the locals. Or that I’d avoid doing anything at all to preclude that problem, and wind up sitting in a blisteringly hot hotel room, waiting daytime soaps on peseta-per-view.

Apparently great TV, not worth the airfare.

Apparently great TV, not worth the airfare.

So it’d have to be somewhere that doesn’t have too much “stuff”, but not none, either. Because, really, wilderness is just another word for “no-one could be arsed to tidy”, isn’t it? So Rome’s out. The Grand Canyon’s out. No Beijing – too busy, no Kenya – not busy enough. Unless you’re in the private security sector. What I’m really looking for is an area that never really “made it”, world-dominationally speaking, but at least had a bit of a crack. Looked like it was going somewhere at one point, before sputtering to an ignominiousstop. The kind of regime Harry Turtledove might pit against aliens.

So, given those restrictions, I have two excellent alternatives.

The first:


But wait, Spain was like, the biggest empire on earth for a couple of hundred years – that’s a heavyweight champ, not a near-miss! No, further back than that. Cartagena’s name is a distorted clue to its actual origins – originally Carthago Novo (in Phoenician, of course), it was founded by Hamilcar Barca in 228 B.C. to solidify off Carthage’s claim to the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, less than 30 years later, his son, Hannibal, found out that it’s not safe to drive elephants on Italian roads, and the gig was up.

In Cartagena, you can see the remnants of this brief window when the scales of world history were so precariously balanced – before the centre of Western civilisation was cemented with finality, and a dash of mythical salt, on the unlikely Italian peninsula.

Bits and pieces of what could have been.

But there’s another important way in which the city came off second best. In the 1930’s, Cartagena was on the wrong side of history again, during the Spanish Civil War. The deep water port that had attracted the sea-faring Cathaginians centuries before had made Cartagena the home of Spain’s Mediterranean navy; and it remained loyal to the Republican cause until the bitter end. Cartagena was the last Republican stronghold to surrender to Franco, and suffered some of the most brutal experiments in urban aerial bombardment carried out in the entire war. Thanks to the superbly named Condor Legion for those shennanigans.

Fascists cant see in the dark.

Oh, and there’s other cool stuff, too.


Buenos Aires

Again, Spanish-speaking, but that’s not the connection. During the 19th Century, Latin America was t

he Next Big Thing. After finally clearing up the debris of San Martin’s revolutionaries, having won their freedom, looked to be on the same trajectory as the North Americans – a robust economic balance between urban industrialism and rural slave-run plantations. Agressive expansion into untrammelled wilderness, clever protectionism and open immigration turbocharged their ascent into the ranks of first world economies. But it all went horribly wrong in the 1930’s. Unlike the US, who renewed the social contract with the New Deal, Argentina turned to oligarchism and protectionism, and spent the bulk of the 20th Century at war with its own citizens under a variety of military and civilian regimes.

But so close! From the 1880s to the 1920’s, Argentina considered itself one of the emerging powers of the new world order, and built its capital city on that scale; and in a style both European and American deco. Here’s a few of the best:


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THEME WEEK #2 – Armchair Travel

March 30, 2009 at 11:00 pm (Administrative)

It is for make places go and stuff. Where say you?



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daa-da-da-da, da-da da-da dada, dada, dada, dadadadadadadadaaaa

March 28, 2009 at 7:33 pm (Dan) (, , , , , , , , , )

The above, though you would not recognise it to read it, is a visual representation of the Sonic the Hedgehog (invincibility) theme music. This is an important sound for me, and, though it is not a sound I actually make out loud (unlike the Mario theme, which I will sing or whistle at the drop of a hat), it is often going through my head.

So I was going to write an extension of my last footnote in this post, but then I listened to a lot of sonic music, trying to find the theme I was after, and then it seemed like a good idea to talk about videogame music.

Then I had a great big shitfight with my family and maybe now I’ll do something else.

Castle Adventure

Castle Adventure!

This is the first videogame I remember playing. I must have played it on several different machines, because I clearly remember playing it in bright green text on a black background, bright orange text on a 8″ monitor, and on our TV, on the Sega Super Control Station 7000:
Super Control Station
That sticker, under the IO in station, says $599.00c, which is an absolutely incredible amount, given that this was bought in probably 1985 or something. I have absolutely no idea how my dad managed to afford it. But I do know that now, it is mine, and no-one will take it from me unless they are prepared to give a whole bunch of money!

The SCS is basically unheard of, as a console, so a little history: it was released at about the same time as the Master System, and had basically the same internal hardware, but it came with a GWBASIC compiler built in, so you could use it to program things. Castle Adventure was never one of the games that we had code for, because it wasn’t ever released, but we had a book of 1001 BASIC games, where we’d type in the code, line by line, and make ourselves some games to play.

We also got to learn to program at the same time, though I then forgot all of it and had to re-learn it later.

Castle Adventure, as games go, is pretty shit. You are trapped in the castle, it is full of treasure and monsters, and you need to get out.
Sometimes there’s a hole in the wall in the north east corner, and if you can walk all the way to the front of the castle without the game crashing, for some reason, you win.
Most of the time there is not.
You fight people by pressing the arrow key towards them. However, the key-resend time of the keyboard is usually slower than the clock speed of your computer, so the snake (almost always the first enemy you encounter) will pretty much kill you. The ogre in the throne room will always kill you. This is pretty much unavoidable. This is why I never finished that game.

But it was my first game, as far as I remember. Certainly my first PC game.

We bought a Master System when I was in junior school. I’m not sure what year it was, but we bought it from some friends of ours, and they used the money to buy a Mega Drive. Damnit!
But we had Sonic, and a bunch of other stuff. Sonic is the only one that counts, though.

The decision to buy the Master System was fateful. It was the first time an object contributed to my identity in any way I was aware of – because, see, I had a Sega system, which meant that Sonic was cool, and Mario was a dumb game. Also, that the SNES was rubbish, etc etc.

I played SNES intermittently at friends houses, but I didn’t own one personally until well after they were dead (2002 or something? I found one in Cash Converters for $35 bucks. I still have it, but I don’t know if it works anymore), which meant that I missed out on, basically, the flower of videogame experience, as it happened. The SNES was not a better machine than the Mega Drive, in terms of hardware (well, from memory – I am pretty sure that Sonic 2 on MegaDrive was designed to show off how damn fast their processor was. Can you imagine it, showing processor speed by how fast your main character moves on screen? Madness), but the sheer number of developers pumping out amazing games for it means that, still, to this day, there’s more games on the SNES that I want to play than on any other system.

I should look into a SNES emulator for my DS, actually. That’d be shit hot.

But I missed out on CRPGs in the meantime – all we played were platformers. There might have been a couple of top-down action games, and a few flight sims (G-LOCK, I think I am thinking of), and a puzzler or two (Fantastic Dizzy Adventures!), but there weren’t any RPGs. There weren’t many on the SMS or the MD, especially compared to the SNES – and since they were the SNES’s genre, I couldn’t really be interested in them.
I am not sure that, if I had been a Nintendo kid, not a Sega kid, that I’d have played RPGs anyway. We certainly had the attention span for it, back then. We hammered away at Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Sonic, etc. There were lots of games we never finished, but we knew the first three levels inside out, man.

Speaking of Alex Kidd, I recently played an emulated copy of it, and it is: astoundingly more easy to play on an emulator. I mean, especially since you can just go and save state, and not die immediately every time you fly near an overhang, and accidentally land on a fish in the water. Goddamn fishes. But I missed a thing and I can’t be bothered finishing it without it – my damn dad sicced a ghost on me! That shit don’t play.

Anyway, so the point is that I didn’t discover my favourite genre until I was in highschool, when I should have been in year 9. Instead of teaching myself the maths I was supposed to catch up on, I would play emulated copies of FF5 and 6, and then my friend Yun brought FF7 to school… And it was on from there.

But I wish I’d been a Nintendo kid, so I could have got my CRPG on earlier.

Short post today, as now I’m gonna go to Heather’s place, get XP set up on her machine, and maaaybe set up that MegaDrive we found the other day!

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March 28, 2009 at 3:28 pm (Dan) (, , )

I was gonna post, but I have the, hehe, burning need, hehe, to burn some people.


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Knife edge adrenaline stressmeter set to: PERCY!

March 28, 2009 at 11:49 am (Percy)

I have played many, many video games in my life. Thousands of hours have been poured into everything from Crash Bandicoot to Diablo, SimCity to Baldur’s Gate, Smash Brothers to Pokemon and most things in between (except for sport games, because: whatever). Rather than tell you about all the gaming I’ve ever done, I want to write more about the games which have  had the greatest impact on me and what I think it says about me as a person.

The first console I owned was a NES. It had Super Mario Brothers, Duck Hunt with the awesome orange gun:

and a bunch more games that aren’t worth mentioning. Mario was the game I played the most, and I played it until it couldn’t be played any more. I found the challenge so compelling that I wouldn’t even notice that the horribly shaped controllers:

Ergonomics be damned!

… were hurting my hands, or that my thumbs cramped up from too much vigorous pressing. I played it through until I could get through the whole game without dying, and then doing the same on “Hard mode” where your life counter was replaced with a crown (ooh shiny reward), but I couldn’t do that without dying even though I tried so very hard! I remember bouncing around with joy when I completed a level and got the maximum points, and screaming with frustration when I died.

I played a lot of multiplayer games with my brother, and it was one of the activities that I really enjoyed. He was (and still is) far more active than me, and the “sitting down and playing” style suited me much more than his “go to the park and play cricket” mode of fun-having.

Christmases with cousins always set my envy meter to maximum. My cousins always had a console that was one generation better – their SNES to my NES, their Nintendo 64 to my SNES, their PS2 to my PS.

If my parents had bought me a 64 before it was already passe, I would seriously have been like this at Christmas:

Any excuse to post this video will do!

Anyway, my cousins always obliterated my brother and I, for obvious reasons. This was really, really frustrating to someone who prided himself on his mastery of any game he played! I have a strong memory of sneaking out of the room I was staying in after everyone had gone to bed. I memorized every move of Sabrewulf’s from Killer Instinct, playing him over and over again:


After a few days of this, being completely sleep deprived, I challenged my cousins to a game and BEAT THEM. I memorised the finishing moves just to give it a satisfactorily gory ending each time.

I don’t think my parents were too fussed about my gaming, but they saw it as a mere distraction – what was wrong with the games I had?, they would ask, and it would always take much begging for them to buy a new console or the latest game. I would play the games until every secret was unlocked, every part discovered, and I would fight the feeling of “diminishing returns” on the effort:fun ratio with every ounce of effort my brain and fingers could muster.

I didn’t own a computer that could play games, but I was always interested in computers. I wish I had had regular access to a computer from a young age (because I probably would have learnt how to program, as well, not just for the gaming times!), but instead I used to go to friends houses and take turns playing Doom or puzzle games or anything they had, really. I abused more than one friendship because of this, and still feel really guilty more than ten years on.

Eventually, we got a computer that could play games. Starcraft was the first game I ever really played. I enjoyed the micro-management combined with the intensity and adrenaline, the elation when you beat off an attack only to swarm their base, to time your hydralisks’ unBurrowing just at the right time for maximum effect… I rarely cheated, also, because I couldn’t claim to be the master if I was a filthy cheater, now, could I?

I never really enjoyed the more turn-based strategy games. Civilization and its variants were nowhere near as visceral to me, and that was an important reason why I played games. I wanted the adrenaline pumping through my body while I mastered the intellectual complexities of the game, and I wanted to be rewarded in both my successes and my failures. When I made the wrong moves in Civilization, I felt like a failure, and wanted to start again, as if I couldn’t shake off the choice to build my city in so stupid a place. When I made the wrong moves in StarCraft, I would hang on and build and build and see if I could recover and hold on for dear life as my people got obliterated right before my eyes, never surrendering before the relentless onslaught of the AI! The immediacy made all the difference. I used to spend whole days during the holidays drinking way too much coffee and playing StarCraft for 8 hours straight while my parents were away at work.

The subtle art of the zergling rush

Half-life was another game that I played several times through, eventually beating it on the hardest difficulty setting. I loved the immersion of this shooter, the complicated storyline. When the military who were supposed to save me started shooting at me instead it was such an enormous shock, I felt so personally affronted! I loved the aliens, the guns, the changing environments, the puzzle-solving and heart-racing action.

Headcrabs beware!

I also played a lot of the original Team Fortress and Counterstrike once internet gaming took off, but it was always so difficult due to my parents’ refusal to upgrade our internet to cable. Oh, lag!

Ye olde Team Fortress!

Final Fantasy X was another game I will remember forever. The storyline was good, but it was the strategizing and unlockable features, the secrets and the puzzles that had me going for hours. All up, I played it for over 150 hours in the five or six weeks building up to my year 12 exams; I defeated the final Monster Arena boss just before my Maths exam. If I wasn’t studying, then I was figuring out the optimal path through the sphere grid so that my characters would be the best they could be, running around the beatiful world capturing creatures and summoning my fearsome Aeons.

Crush them, Valefor!

In short, gaming was a huge part of my recreation. Writing this post has made me remember all the hours I spent, and the true joy I experienced while I played them.

When I moved out of home, I didn’t take anything but my crappy laptop with me – everything else was technically my parents’, and I didn’t leave on the best of terms. For the first few years of university, I didn’t game at all. I truly missed it. I would hear about a game, and realise I had neither the time nor the money to buy it, and no means to play it. When I wasn’t working or studying, I was spending time with Tabitha, which didn’t involve computers or consoles at all.

It wasn’t until my housemates started playing World of Warcraft that I got back into gaming. My new laptop barely ran it, but I enjoyed it so much. I only ever played in a group, and I have never liked playing WoW solo (questing just seems monotonous to me after a while), but I loved the PvP and group stuff. I played a healer, which engages all my multitasking skills and requires lightning-fast reflexes to snatch victory from the hands of defeat time and time again. Playing a support/leader role in a team situation rather than damage-dealer has always suited me, as I can keep track of everything and lead from the rear!

I just bought myself a new computer, and the main reason is so I can play Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2 without begging time from my housemates. Playing TF2 much better, richer, smarter, funnier and modern than the old Team Fortress, but it feels like coming home at the same time. I am still woeful, having only played it for about 4 hours total, but I plan to perfect my skills.

L4D, on the other hand, is something that I frankly rule at. I love how immediate it is, how intense and knife-edge the gameplay is, and how much it relies on teamwork as well as personal excellence. I love surging through zombies as fast as I can with my teammates, I love joining a team that’s losing and turing it around to victory, and I love to destroy the survivors as Infected with a well-placed smoker pull or Tank strike, exploiting the errors of the opposition to maximum effect.  The atmosphere is perfect for the incredibly tense, immersive, edge-of-your-seat stimulation that I crave.

I’m glad to have computer games back in my life. I plan on turning Tabitha into an ubergamer, so I can share with her this thing I love so deeply (I will stack the fridge however you like if you play Versus with meeeee :D). I like how Steam operates as a way to connect with your friends through gaming, and I am seriously looking forward to doing a lot more of that in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

TF2 tiem!

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Sims Fortress 2: Total War

March 26, 2009 at 3:05 pm (Julia) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

When I was growing up, computer games weren’t allowed. My mother abhors anything she considers violent – quite famously, in the early years of her marriage to my father, she was shocked to discover he enjoyed watching The Bill, and felt that this meant he was a violent and angry man. I’m talking about 1984 The Bill, with Reg and Polly and “You’re nicked, my son!” “Fair cop, gov!” Not exactly Oz. But this hatred of violence (mostly because she can’t stand raised voices or conflict) meant that computer games didn’t happen for me.

Even as a teenager, when I had friends with consoles, I didn’t enjoy playing them because invariably, my friends were much more familiar with the game and controls, and always kicked my arse. A steep public learning curve is NOT the Julia way.

I didn’t really get into computer or console games until I moved in with Tom. A month before we moved in together, I bought him a PS2 as a moving-in gift. I figured he’d love it, and that it would work as a DVD player. This was in 2002, when DVD players were often over $300. $400 for a DVD player that als0 played games seemed like a bargain (and it was, we still use that thing 7 years later). I wasn’t really expecting to play games on it, it really was a present for him. One of the games that came with it was Project Eden. I really enjoyed watching Tom play, and he often let me have the controller to do certain things. I found that I was surprisingly good at the puzzle-solving aspect, as well as being able to spot important items. The game can be played as co-operative multiplayer, but we were doing this as co-operative single player, and it was a really enjoyable couple activity for us.

About six months after we’d moved in together, Tom bought me The Sims for Christmas. I’d seen ads for it on TV, and it seemed sort of interesting. I’d dabbled a bit with Civ 3, and I liked that, because of its history-basis, but this seemed like even more fun. So, he bought me The Sims, and I absolutely fell in love with it.

This was also during my recovery from bulimia, and Tom quickly worked out an excellent reward system – if I went a month without purging, he would buy me an expansion pack for The Sims. I LOVE extrinsic rewards, and because I wanted The Sims so badly, and because I couldn’t bear the thought of lying to Tom, it gave me the willpower to break patterns of behaviour I’d had in place since I was 14. I stopped seeing food as the ultimate reward for good behaviour, and started focusing on computer games instead. Say what you will, but I think that’s a lot healthier. Also, it got me totally hooked on computer games, which I think may have been Tom’s cunning plan all along.

I love The Sims because there’s no winning. I grew up as an only child, and so I’m far more focused on narrative-based play than Ludist (or Gamist)-based play (Hey Tom, I payed attention to your thesis). Competition isn’t exactly enjoyable for me, and so if people are playing MarioKart or another party game, I’ll generally just read a book. I like WiiBoxing, but only because I have competed against some EXTREMELY sore losers. But for me, the story is the most important thing. With The Sims (and these days, The Sims 2, and soon to be The Sims 3), I can create my own story. It’s got all the features I loved about Lego when I was small, which was my favourite toy. I can build whatever the damn hell I want, and be creative and have fun, but I also have little people to play dolls with. I can change their clothes, in The Sims, I can build a house to look like whatever I want. I can tell stories. The Sims franchise is a game which I believe encourages imaginative play, and I absolutely adore that. I also really love the potential for user-created content – websites like Mod The Sims 2 have anything you could want. I have downloaded Victorian clothes and furniture, medieval stuff, and an entire set of Harry Potter themed stuff, including uniforms for university-aged Sims (like, for all four house, and for boys and girls, and some with robes on, and some with robes off, and some with shirts untucked etc), and furniture for the different common rooms, and so on. If I want to make a themed neighbourhood of some kind, the stuff will certainly be available. I even have some downloaded furniture that’s better than the stuff in the game, which I think is rad.

As well as The Sims etc, I find I also dig city-building games, like Sim City, and recently, CivCity: Rome. But I like to play these with the cheats on: I want to build a beautiful, functional city, not having to worry about running out of cash or shit like this. I don’t like my gaming to be stressful, I like it to be creative and beautiful. When the little dude pops up to tell me my treasury’s running low, I tend to shout HOW DO YOU EXPECT ME TO WORK UNDER THESE CONDITIONS and go off and have a liedown. This is probably why I’m not allowed to be Prime Minister. (“All children should travel to school on elephants!”)

I’m digging the Total War games pretty hard, and I think I actually like them better than Civ (don’t taze me, Tom), just because everything is themed properly. With Civ, I find I can’t deal with the concept of the Americans v. the Roman Empire, and things like that. So I’ll make a Classical Period game, with the Romans and Greeks and Persians and Celts and Carthaginians etc, or a Modern Europe game, with England and France and Germany and Russia and so on. But I am deeply uncomfortable with crossing the streams, or playing America as an ancient civilisation. It’s just not right, man! So, the Total War games appeal to my sense of order.  The map is correct, (none of this “London is right next to York and right near sources of ivory and dyes” malarky) and I understand where things are. If I want a medieval game, I can have one, and there’s no Americans.

Fucking Americans.

But, I also like how the game dynamics change depending on the era. Gameplay for Medieval II is very different to Empire, and a lot of that is based on the historical period. They’re also games that are more enjoyable if you’re a bit of a history buff, which appeals to my love of entertainment which doesn’t cater to the lowest common denominator. I’m just getting used to Empire, right now, and it makes me want to play Rome: Total War, which I avoided when Tom played it due to my lack of knowledge (at the time) of Ancient History. But now I’ve done a bit of Ancient, and learnt more, and I think I would get a bigger kick out of the game. Awww yeah.

I find that I have varied and extremely specific tastes. I don’t tend to like everything in a genre, I will like one or two examples of that genre. The only real-time strategy games I like are the Age of Empires/Age of Mythology games. I mostly enjoy the campaign, rather than the multiplayer skirmishes, probably one again because of my love of narrative. AoE III and AoM were also very pretty games – I liked building the towns, and deciding where things went.

WoW doesn’t appeal to me, but that’s mostly because I don’t care about the world it’s set in.  If they made an MMORPG set in Regency London, with society intrigues and you could go to Almack’s and have a character and run around and be social and go to balls, I would be all up in that, ALL THE TIME. I would call it World of Ballcraft (hurr). I would also totally play an MMORPG if it were set in Rapture (from Bioshock) before all the shit went down. But I’m not interested in Second Life, because I can get that shit on The Sims, and The Sims is less full of furries and French fascists (I am not even kidding). I only want to run around in a virtual world with other people if the world has a cohesive narrative and aesthetic that I enjoy.

Another game I really enjoyed was Portal. I played Portal before I played TF2, and I adored it. I know people call it an FPS, but I find this to be a useless description. It’s a puzzle-solving game! You don’t shoot other people! It’s first person, and there’s a gun, but FPS, to my mind, conjures up stuff like TF2, or Counterstrike. Portal kind of is a genre all its own. I think I also dislike the idea that a computer game genre is based on some mechanic of gameplay, because for me, the primary appeal of a game is its narrative and setting. But yeah, back to Portal. I kicked arse at it, and I was actually better than Tom, which was sort of a new thing for me. Being good at things is always exciting, and because Portal didn’t really require me to have spent my teen years with my fingers permanantly glued to the WASD keys, I loved it. I’m good at that kind of puzzle-solving, too. But, at the same time, it gave me greater familiarity with FPS-style controls, and this eased my way into TF2.

Now I will talk about Team Fortess 2 for a while.

I freaking love this game. Before this, the only FPSs I’d actually enjoyed were things like Battlefield: 1942 and Battlefield: Vietnam, because I knew the period quite well, I enjoyed the different type of gameplay (I’m gunning down planes! I’m sniping the VC! I’m steering an enormous ship!), and it was fairly low-stress. Counterstrike never appealed to me, because, I guess, modern-era real-world killing is kind of depressing. I don’t like futuristic sci-fi games (I don’t really know why). So, these few historical FPSs were what I played at shootybang nights, until the arrival of TF2.

TF2 is, I think, the perfect game for people who didn’t spend their teen years playing FPSs. The wide range of classes means that you’ll find at least ONE class you’re good at (for me, it’s sniper and pyro), there are different maps, and the visual aesthetics of the game make things extremely obvious. There are huge arrows pointing the way to intel rooms or control points, the other team is very obviously the enemy, marked out by colour, and it’s obvious what each character can do. It’s fun, too – it has lots of injokes and doesn’t take itself seriously, which I think is good for a game where the whole point is to kill people. The flavour text is always hilarious, and you can play a really team-worky character, or a solo one. I think it’s got more flexibility than most other FPSs, and I enjoy being able to play one round, and then going off and doing my own thing. I also like being able to play with friends, without having to have them in my house.

Lastly, some console games. I enjoy some things on the Wii – I really like WiiBoxing and WiiPlay, but mostly to do on my own. I enjoyed Zelda, and I liked the Harry Potter 5 game for the Wii, because the spellcasting was fun, and running around and getting a sense of how the school was laid out was really interestiong for me. But ultimately, I am a Playstation girl. I’m looking forward to earning money and buying Tom a PS3, because I love cooperative RPGs. We’ve played a few really good ones together: the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance games, as well as the X-Men: Legends had really fun cooperative play, and I kind of loved sitting down on the couch next to Tom for a whole day and killing bad guys together. But I also love Rockstar games, like Bully, which Heather already talked about, and I’m looking forward to LA Noire when it comes out.

So, yes. From being someone who never played video games, they’ve become kind of a staple of my entertainment. I enjoy playing them, and talking about gameplay and mechanics with Tom, and all that kind of stuff. I think that it’s also a good time to be a lady who games, because game designers are making games with women in mind (which means that World of Ballcraft is only a few years away, I hope), and so I can find games where “winning” isn’t necessary. Video gaming is, for me, an activity which can be done solely on my own, with Tom, or with groups of my friends, and I kind of love that. I can be running the British Empire in 1700, or I can be Harry Potter at Hogwarts, or I can be a guy who sets people wearing a different coloured shirt on fire. I can play games requiring thinking and strategy and puzzle-solving, or ones that need me to be creative, or ones that require improving my reflexes. Ultimately, I guess, I think that video gaming has broadened my mind and taught me new skills, and any hobby that does that has to be pretty awesome.

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History of immersion

March 25, 2009 at 12:39 am (Heather) (, , , , , , , , , )

There’s been some old-school console action happening around me lately. A couple of weeks ago, shortly after I signed the lease on my new place and still a week before I moved in, Dan came over to help me with my condition report. We headed out for some dinner, but before we got too far we made an exciting discovery.

Now, I’ve been moved in for… well, tonight will be my tenth night here. And I love this neighbourhood. My street, especially, is quiet and lovely, with lots of beautiful (but incredibly varied) houses. And there is a culture of throwing stuff out and leaving it on the nature strip. It’s like every day is council cleanup day. There was a sign, lovingly produced on someone’s home computer, saing ‘LOVELY PAVERS – Help yourself!’ on a nearly stacked pile on the pavement. I saw some shoes I thought about taking the other day, and for a brief moment I thought I had found an indoor washing line. (it turned out to be broken. I suppose that would be why its former owner threw it out.)

But on our way to dinner that night there was a box on the nature strip with a Mega Drive, a Mega Drive 2 and a Mega CD in it, with a selection of crap games. Dan might talk about this at length, for all I know, as it was certainly his discovery rather than mine. But it’s got me thinking about my console gaming past.

We didn’t really have that kind of stuff when I was a kid. Our first computer was an Apricot. The most advanced computer we ever had was a 386 (and it’s possible some of you won’t know what that even means) until we finally got a decent enough computer, which gave us all the comforts of the internet at home, in 2001.

But we had a Sega Master System II. I’m pretty sure it was obsolete when we got it – my best friend had a Mega Drive at the same time, although when she played Sonic she had to do it with the sound on mute because her pregnant mother found it stressful. I was free to play at full volume, although if memory serves it was a shared Christmas present with my two sisters, so my playing time was much less. Also, my parents both liked to play Lemmings.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World was an extremely formative experience for me. I wasn’t nearly as good at it as my big sister who, four years older than me, had better reflexes or better coordination or a greater capacity to learn from experience. But I made it through that game. Recently in discussion about that game I discovered that I still remember the sequence of tiles as set out in the stone slab, for getting you the crown at the end of the game. For the record, it is: sun ripples moon star, sun moon ripples, fish star fish.

After that knowledge sprang fully-formed into my mind, I messaged my big sister. She, too, remembered it just like that. We would both like that brainspace back to make way for more useful information, please. But by this stage I had already started reading walkthroughs and FAQs about the game, trying to find out about a possible alternative ending, or just what would happen if one did not collect all the relevant artefacts. I’d had no idea that it was possible to progress in the game without picking up the autographed letter, or the moonlight stone, or the stone slab. Such was my commitment to finishing the game that I never really messed around with the game. There was a heartbreaking moment when I discovered in an FAQ that there was an unannounced continue feature, whereby a specific series of button mashes resulted in starting again at the beginning of the last level with three lives. I nearly cried. But there was nobody around to tell us about this. Oh, internet, how did I ever live without you?

But of course, now I am curious about this, and want to at least play it through again from start to finish, and probably again after that to skip selected objectives and see what happens.

I have a TV and a Wii here. I haven’t set them up. I should soon, but the TV weighs a metric arseton and I have no real desire to move it to the side of the room where the power is and then have to move it again post-ikeatrip to get it up on a TV table. It nearly killed Claire and I getting it down some stairs and into the car; I don’t think I could do it alone.

But moving out means that I no longer have access to a PS2. Abby and I reached an arrangement whereby I’m hanging onto her Mario Kart DoubleDash (way better than the Wii version) and she is nominally hanging onto my We ❤ Katamari. It’s been at Dan’s for some time, though.

What I really miss, though, is Bully. I think Bully is probably the game I have been most involved with as an adult. I’m only a few percent off completion – I was down to the arcade games in the clubhouses and a couple of go-kart races, if memory serves. A few times recently I have sat down intending to improve my completion and just ridden around on my aquaberry cruiser. The soundtrack, by Shawn Lee, is fantastic (and in fact the first I heard about the game was when I downloaded a couple of tracks from a music blog), and the music that plays when one is cycling around is my ringtone. On a few occasions I have found myself drifting off to sleep while thinking about cycling around Bullworth. I so enjoy that particular aspect of the game, the sense of freedom one has on one’s bicycle, that I’m planning to get a bike sometime soon IRL. (and I wish I could have a skateboard hotkey so I could whip it out at a moment’s notice when I get tired of the short walk to the cafe. I’ve seen some people with razor scooters lately who I suspect are longing for the same thing.)

My inclination is to keep going with the PS2 version. There are so many cheap games for the PS2 that my investment is sure to pay off. But I may yet be seduced by the siren song of Scholarship Edition. Eight new missions! Four new classes! 2-player competitive minigames! And some new characters. Possibly even some more boys who can be persuaded to kiss Jimmy if provided with a box of chocolates and a few sweet words. All in all, this seems like the perfect excuse to play through from the start again.

Until I decide, I’ll be playing GTA: Chinatown Wars on my DS. This turns out to be slightly problematic, because I tend to swear copiously (albeit silently) and make faces when things are not going well. I looked up from a lunchtime game to find a businessman staring at me from across the food court today, and I did a little dance of agitation when I got busted mid-mission while waiting for the pedestrian lights to change. And I nearly missed my stop on the train yesterday.

At least Alex Kidd never interrupted my life outside the home.

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Video games: perspective of a n00b.

March 24, 2009 at 11:13 pm (Tabitha) (, , , , , , , , )

Let’s be honest, I’m not a huge gamer. The only video game I ever played as a kid was Super Mario Brothers. We had a Nintendo console when I was in primary school, and just that one game to play on it. I was one of those players who was mocked for thrashing the remote around pointlessly as if I thought it worked like a Wiimote! I choose to interpret that information as that I was a genius player who was far more advanced than the technology at the time. Heh.

My next exposure to video games came when I was about 12, and living in Vancouver. Our neighbours had older teenage boys who played what I think must have been Myst. I remember watching them play and thinking it was the most incredible game I’d ever seen. It seemed way longer, much more complex and absorbing than the little console game I was used to. I was intrigued, but didn’t try it. I don’t think I ever had an opportunity to.

I didn’t come across any other games myself for years and years. I noted that in year 12 Andrew played Final Fantasy 2 for 150 hours during his final exam period alone. I also noticed that various Sutekhers referred to WoW, which I had never heard of before uni, as crack for gamers. The same people warned Andrew to never EVER try it, and told horror stories about people losing their jobs and relationships to their WoW addiction.

Then, Alan and Ingrid started playing WoW. We lost them for a few months! It changed the whole dynamic of our household. It was so quiet (other than the skype conversations between guild members) and weeks would pass with very little interaction between us and Alan and Ing. It made me sad! (I should mention that since then, most of our housemates play very much less often and it’s not a case of antisocial house anymore. So, yay!)

Then Andrew started to play in a guild which only played on one day per week for 4 hours. They did it that way so that all of their characters would be at similar levels so that they wouldn’t be pressured to (or able to!) play too much alone without getting ahead of everyone else. It was a great idea! But, it was hard to stick to the time limit, with some people starting late, and having to do pre-questing outside of the planned hours. It still often went over time. This caused a few rows between me an Andrew when in cut into our plans.

Then Nathan and Jodi started playing together… Then me.

I suppose it was a bit of a case of, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I tried it one night, sure I’d find it boring and be unable to figure out how to do it properly. But, I very quickly discovered, that it really is like crack. The more I write about this, the more it feels as though I’m recounting how I got mixed up in hard drugs!

Here’s what I mean. I am probably the world’s most impatient, restless person with the shortest attention span of anyone I know. I find watching movies very difficult because of this, and get antsy about a half hour into most card/board games. I struggle to read for more than about half an hour at a time. I feel most comfortable when I’m up and actively doing something, like cooking or cleaning. So, on that first try of WoW, I expected to last about half an hour, thinking I’d very quickly get bored or frustrated. But, the first time I thought about the fact that time might, you know… be passing, and looked for a clock, I thought that about an hour had passed.

Six had! This immersion seems to be a common occurrence with me and WoW, and nothing has EVER had that effect on me before. It’s so engrossing. I forget about everything while I’m playing, so it’s a fantastic way to have a solid break when I need it. It also blows my mind how huge and complex the WoW world is. It’s incredible to me that you can play for years and still discover new things, improve and complete new quests.

It also gives me a real sense of achievement, to figure out the best way of doing things (ie- tactics and using new skills, locating quest items/characters etc). To me, playing makes me feel  similar to completing harder and harder sudokus or crosswords that build on each other. Even just that I could figure out how to play at all made me pretty chuffed, considering my lack of experience compared to everyone else!

I have now levelled my character to 34 out of 80 possible levels, and still play from time to time. But, I have always insisted on playing alone. That’s very linked to my reasons for enjoying WoW. My enjoyment comes from figuring it out on my own to get that feeling of satisfaction and progress. I know that a lot of other players love the interactive, team work aspect of guilds, but there are several reasons that that aspect is not for me.

I cannot commit to maintaining my character at a similar level as the other guild members. Even once a week is too often for me. I fear feeling obligated to do something that’s meant to be fun and relaxing when I’m busy, tired or stressed. Un-fun to the max! For that same reason, I have always had commitment issues about things like ongoing role playing games or even long board games or Poker. Also, I’m way behind everyone else in WoW, and don’t want to rush to catch up.

But, enough about WoW.

When Alan and Ingrid got a DDR machine, it was so awesome! We all played together and progressed together. It’s really my type of thing, being more active. It’s actually a real work out, especially at higher levels! I like that you can play competitively or in exercise mode on your own. The music is pretty amusing as well.

We also got a Wii last year. I think it’s way more fun than the old style of console. It suits me in the activeness of it, and in the shortness of the games. It’s pretty amazing the way the motion sensors can pick up movement in all directions and speed. Also the Miis are pretty hilarious. Mine looks like a very serious librarian.

I’ve really loved Wii Sports, especially boxing (which made my wussy arms so sore the next day!), bowling, group play tennis, in which I found it difficult to avoid causing random accidental back hands. I haven’t tried Wii Fit yet, but I’m interested.

I also really love Smooth Moves. It’s sense of humour is so wacky and surprising. I think it’s cool how it makes you think on your feet and interpret the hints quickly.  The way it gets faster and faster, giving you less and less time to complete each mini game gets me excited and really annoyed when I get out!

The most recent game to have taken over our house is Left 4 Dead, which Tom has already talked about, and I’m sure Andrew will talk much more about in his post. It has swallowed Andrew and Alan, and loads of other people as far as I can tell. I have not picked it up myself, but I have had a go. It’s pretty awesome, even just to watch. The graphics are so realistic to start with, there are so many surprises and the emphasis on team work is so strong. It’s a rush to play, even as a complete beginner. I think I’ll play it some more in single player to get better at it before I try playing with a team. The only trouble is that there seems to be a bit of a mean social aspect attached to it, where the (normally nice) players all yell insults at each other when mistakes are made. I don’t get why everyone behaves that way when they’re playing, and I don’t like it. To the regular players: I’d love any explanations you have as to why this culture exists in L4D.

So there you go! That’s the entirety of my life’s video gaming experience in post form.

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I 4X therefore I 4 a.m.

March 23, 2009 at 11:17 pm (Tom) (, , , , , , , , )

Neat, theme week. You’ve all just been spared from a rambling discussion on the politics and possibilites of the Fair Work Australia bill – which passed last Friday; something which is probably very worthy, but may or may not have interested anyone greatly. And has also been rather done to death in the nation’s trad media. So a winner is you, dear reader.

But you’re not dodging the ramble entirely – because Percy, perhaps foolishly, has played right into my mental hands. It’s probably common knowledge to the average reader that I did my Honours thesis on computer games – specifically turn-based strategy, what used to be called “God” games. There’s a rather obvious reason for this – my teen years were split near perfectly between world domination and masturbation; and trying to tell academics about onanism would have been like teaching the proverbial granny to suck proverbial eggs.

(The concepts in that sentence are probably NSFW. So I made the best bits into tags. P.S. Hey there, Senator Conroy! How’re you doin’, sailor?)

Oh yes indeed, I was a 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) machine, back in the day. From the classic (and according to Wiki, genre-titling) Master of Orion, Warlords II, Heroes of Might and Magic, Colonization, Star Wars Rebellion, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Imperium Galactica, Europa Universalis and Victoria: Empire Under the Sun, right up to the more modern Total War series, Galactic Civilisations II and Sins of a Solar Empire*, I’ve been responsible for more deaths than cholera, launched more ships than Helen of Troy and Captain Picard put together, destroyed more governments than a well-timed sex scandal, and long regarded genocide as the desirable endpoint of nearly all state activity.

And there is one man I think I can safely blame: Sid Meier and his ludicrously addictive Civilization series.

Back before I had a computer (I know, I know, how did we live?), I used a variety of methods to get my gaming fix. I enjoyed the pixelated pleasures of my already aged Atari 2600; I frequented the local fish and chip shop which possessed a Street Fighter II machine that annihilated my supply of pocket money most weeks, my selection of friends had more than a little to do with who owned a second controller for their console, and I once borrowed a gameboy for 3 months. I asked, seriously! The fact that I happened to know that I would be changing schools within a week was probably information I ought to have shared; but that’s hindsight for you. But the pinnacle of my gaming experience was heading in to the library where my Mum worked on Saturdays; and plonking myself in front of the anachronistically titled “Word Processor”, which happened to have a copy of Civilization installed for “educational purposes”.

If anyone’s actually interested in reading 3000 words about how influential, important and world-changing Civilisation is, I’ve still got a copy of my thesis around somewhere. But why did 11 year old me like it?

The original Civilization is a brilliantly simple game, at heart. It takes a brutally straightforward view of human history, politics and society, and divines about 4 basic mechanics – combat, growth, production and technology/finance. Balancing these goals through the development of cities, armies and fleets, Civilization judges that you have a pretty complete representation of life on planet earth. Oversimplified, but compelling; and one of the first games that gave a genuine illusion of balance and human competition by setting the AI and human player up with the same starting hand and identical goals. It cheated, sure, but that was part of the fun – outsmarting and outplaying someone who’s not quite playing by the rules is just that little bit more satisfying.

And once you’ve dropped yourself into that world, the game unfolds quite beautifully. In the beginning, when your decisions are few, you’ll race along, with your full attention focused on every unit, able to manage your handful of cities and fight off your handful of enemies. As you expand, your focus moves outwards, from units to armies, citizens to cities to production regions and key map features, barbarians to other civilisations, tech advances to, well… higher tech advances. Turns that took 10 seconds can easily take 10 minutes; the steady increase in complexity mirroring the scaling up of human civilisation Basically, it’s possible to lose entire days playing “just one more turn”.

I enjoyed it because I was both a computer geek and a history nerd. I was the kid who because briefly known as Norman, not because I had the archetypal no-mates, but because I turned up to a year 2 show-and-tell in replica 11th century armour and proceeded to explain how Harold got shot in the face with arrows, to the mild dismay of my teacher. Civilisation spoke to both sides of my bookish soul; and I responded with love, affection, and rampant, raging addiction.

Sid Meier, you wonderful bastard, we salute you!

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Theme Week #1 – Video Games I Play(ed), and Why I Enjoy(ed) Playing Them

March 23, 2009 at 9:02 pm (Administrative, General) (, , , , , , )



Oh, right, yeah.


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