Playing With My Weiner

Gaming at the mercy of miniature daschunds.

Weiner Review: Geneforge 5 January 16, 2009

Filed under: 3 weiners,Games,Mac,PC,Reviews — Gwyddia @ 11:28 am
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Shape On!

Shape On!

If you are not familiar with the Avernum and Geneforge series of games, you are missing out. Developed for both Mac and PC by Spiderweb Software, these RPGs eschew flashy visuals for deep story and hours and hours of solid gameplay.

 

Theme:

The latest from Spiderweb is Geneforge 5. The core concept of the Geneforge series is based on the existence of people known as Shapers. Shapers can mold matter and magic into semi-intelligent or even intelligent creatures that are subservient to the Shaper. The classic Shaper hierarchy is fine with this, believing that Shapers’ creations are lesser beings and should be treated as such. A growing group of Creations, backed a group of Rebels, disagree, and have been fighting the Shapers for five games now.

Geneforge 5 finds this world on the verge of total disruption. The Rebels are succeeding, and regime change seems imminent. The Shaper Council has begun infighting and choosing sides at will. You are thrown into this as a character with a mysterious past, who might even be a Creation, but who has rare Shaper skills.

The game centers as much around you finding out who and what you are as it does on your role in the greater world. That’s a welcome change, as the last four game in the series have been strong but slight variations on the theme of Empire vs. Rebels. That classic trope is present here, too, but there seem to be many more factions and options for the player to choose from than in previous iterations.

 

A typical town scene from Geneforge 5.

A typical town scene from Geneforge 5.

Art:

Art is not Spiderweb’s bailiwick. Spiderweb is largely the work of one man, Jeff Vogel, and he has made a conscious choice to put his efforts into writing over visuals. As a result these games have passable characters, decent textures, and utterly forgettable items. The advantage is that you can play these on an aged system or the newly-popular Netbooks. The disadvantage is that they look like they were made in 1996 with minor visual tweaks along the way.

 

 

Gameplay:

The heart of any RPG is its battle system.  Fights in Geneforge are classic turn-based fare with a bit of strategy thrown in.  Characters have action points which they can spend to move, fight, or both.  You have to be in range of an attack for it to hit, so figuring out how few points you can spend on movement of each character or Creation and still attack is key.  After that, though, it is very much an RPG-type magic and mundane attack system with the expected status change spells and elemental weaknesses.  

 

The World Map.

The World Map.

When you’re not in battle, movement is accomplished through an overland map system. New areas open up as you move through the map.  Once you’ve cleared an area, you can always move to it from any other cleared area.  This is a real time-saver, and takes away the question of annoying random battles.  You can always see what’s coming in Geneforge 5.

 

 

 

 

Overall:

For people who have played through the Geneforge series, Geneforge 5 is more of the same.  Solid but somewhat tired story, good battle system, excellent writing.  If you are following the Geneforge storyline and want to know more, have at it.  For newcomers to Spiderweb’s particular brand of game, Geneforge 5 is as good an entry point as any.  It assumes no prior knowledge, though prior knowledge will add depth to the proceedings.  In the end, this game sells for $28 and you’ll be hard-pressed to find more RPG entertainment for less money these days.

 

For being a solid RPG, if repetitive for fans of the series, Geneforge 5 gets Three Weiners out of Five.


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Review: Mirror’s Edge November 17, 2008

Filed under: 3 weiners,Games,Reviews — Gwyddia @ 10:31 pm
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This one is a little late, partly because of Amazon and partly because of Blizzard.  I take no responsibility for my own actions here…

 

Art:

A friend of mine suggested that Mirror’s Edge was inspired by Hong Kong, but I think its Singapore  The smooth, clean lines, spotless buildings, and dirt-free streets all call to mind the land in the Far East where chewing gum is a crime.  I think my friend was thinking of Hong Kong action movies, where high-flying martial artists take to the roofs to avoid the mob or a totalitarian police regime.  Hmm, maybe we’re both on to something there.

 

Gameplay:

That movement, or parkour, is what Mirror’s Edge is really all about.  The story, about couriers sticking it to the Man, is flat an generic.  The combat, when you can’t avoid it, it tricky and annoying.  It is as if you’re being stopped from doing the thing you really want to do – run.  A a result, the star of Mirror’s Edge is movement itself.  When you can perfectly execute a stage through running, jumping, diving, and sliding, you have it made, and you understand why this game feels so good.  

 

You’d think a game that is all about real motion would cause motion sickness while watching it.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  It is as if the absence of a bouncing gun focus allows you to see through your character’s eyes, not her weapon, and rally creates the illusion of speed and force.  That being said, it gets awfully annoying to watch your hands flail around like a bad Looney Tunes knockoff after the sixth of seventh time you miss a jump.  Don’t miss time trial mode, though.  There is something infinitely satisfying about shaving seconds off your best run-through a tough level, or finding a new route through you missed the first few times around. 

 

Overall:

It is a rare game in which the time trials are the best part and you still enjoy and recommend it to others.  And yet that’s just the case here.  Mirror’s Edge’s story is short, maybe 7-8 hours, and it has limited replayability.  It is a thing best rented, rather than bought.  That all being said, Mirror’s Edge really is something new and something fun, and isn’t that what games are about?

 

For being an fun and original game worth playing, while also being too short and sometimes deeply frustrating, Mirror’s Edge gets 3 Weiners out of 5.

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Review: Guitar Hero World Tour October 27, 2008

This is not Rock Band.

 

Beat it!

Beat it!

I need to get that out of the way right now. I also need to state that we are playing this game on Xbox 360 with the Rock Band 2 drums and microphone, but the Les Paul Guitar Hero III guitar.  I have to admit that I went into GHWT thinking of it as a Rock Band 2 expansion pack. I quickly learned how wrong I was.

 

The art style of GHWT is animated and over-the-top, and each instrument and type of play has a series of hysterical cutscenes that just scream “rock”. The characters, both the pre-made type and the ones you can create are the colorful distorted, exaggerated “Judy Nails” types you’ve come to expect from GH. The venues, both real and imaginary, are fully rendered and complete down to the broken chairs and half-eaten wings. Maybe the venues are a little TOO realistic, as they are festooned with in-game advertising for real world brands.  I understand having Sabian cymbals and Marshall amps, but do I need to be told which fried chicken to eat while playing?

Screw my hair, check out my knobs!

Screw my hair, check out my knobs!

 

The controls and setup are so-so. Despite promises to the contrary, the Rock Band drums do not map perfectly onto the GHWT songs. Drummers are encouraged to hit silver-topped notes harder for more points, but the velocity sensitivity is variable at best. It is nearly impossible to deploy Star Power, as the regular set requires you to hit the Green and Orange cymbals together, and those two notes don’t usually show up together in the drum track. The tutorial is not available for drummers that aren’t using the GH set, either. We aren’t using the GHWT set because having tried them both at PAX, we found the Rock Band 2 set to be crisper, quieter, and more responsive, with a good spring in the pedal. The GHWT set we played was mushier, louder, less accurate, and just all around not as good as the Rock Band 2 set, though it was an improvement over the original Rock Band drum set.

 

Vocals are a nightmare. There is no “Tambourine Hero” fill section during long instrumental solos. Instead vocalists have fills which seem to be randomly inserted passages of swirls in which you can earn multiples of 9 points by saying “la” over and over and over.  Vocals Star Power can only be deployed through hitting your microphone or holding your controller the whole time and hitting a button. It lasts for about five seconds, and then you have to go back to hitting buttons like a rat hoping for a food pellet. There is no musical staff guiding your pitch adjustments, but rather one line for you to follow the whole time through. The accuracy level and pickup are just plain bad. I scored about 15% lower in GHWT on songs that I have completed perfectly on Hard in Rock Band 2.

 

All of that being said, if you’ve enjoyed Guitar Hero before, keep on keeping on. You’ll probably enjoy this game. The Guitar and Bass work just fine. If you are new to GH, or are trying it after Rock Band, keep in mind that GH is significantly different, and don’t count on the manual or the early tracks to help you find your way. The manual is eight pages long and barely goes farther than “turn the game on and play”. If you are eligible to play a tutorial, good luck finding it. You have to search around through stacks of menus to find the tutorials or anything else in the game.

 

I was disappointed in Guitar Hero World Tour. I guess I expected more after I saw the excellent track list. I did enjoy the cameos from rock icons such as Jimi Hendrix and Zack Wylde, and the game is fun to watch in general, but I’d almost rather watch than play, and that’s a bad sign. Maybe they’ll get it right on their inevitable next time out, but on their initial foray into the full band genre Activision has put too much focus on being different for difference’s sake and not enough on streamlining and gameplay.

 

For being a mediocre comparitor to Rock Band 2 when it could have been so much more, Guitar Hero World Tour earns 3 Weiners out of 5

 

Review: Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood October 6, 2008

Filed under: 3 weiners,BioWare,DS,Games,Reviews — Gwyddia @ 2:15 pm
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The original Sonic design.

In the beginning there was a hedgehog. Well, maybe more in the post-beginning/pre-middle. Certainly in the early 16-bit era. Yes, by 1991 there was Sonic The Hedgehog. (Note: The “T” in “The” is properly capitalized. Sonic creator Naoto Ōshima registered Sonic with The as his middle name.) Over the last 17 years there have been over 30 Sonic and Sonic-related titles, including such highs as Sonic 2 and Sonic CD, and such lows as Sonic Heroes and Sonic and the Secret Rings.

 

Super speed also leads to jaundice.

Super speed also leads to jaundice.

 

Several of those games have had RPG elements. Chaos Emerald and chao collection could earn the Blue Blur extra powers or lives.  Most games post-Sonic Adventure featured a “Super Sonic” mode, giving the ‘hog even more speed after he collected 50 precious, precious rings.  In Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, BioWare has taken these power-ups several steps further in an attempt to turn Sonic into a “real live” role-playing game.

 

On a pure mechanics level, they succeeded.  Sonic forms a party, gets quests, earns experience, levels up and collects loot.  The party’s static skills increase automatically with each level, but the player can assign one bonus point to a stat of their choice each level. Every level also brings five more action points that you can either spend on a talent or save for higher levels of a talent.  Pretty standard fare, with the exception of Chaos – cute little creatures which you can collect, hatch, and bond with to add abilities to your team.

 

Say it COW, spell it CHAO!

Say it COW, spell it CHAO!

The real question is how this stop-and-go framework fits a game world that is all about speed.  The answer is that mostly, it doesn’t.  BioWare has a knack for making pause-and-play gameplay seem fluid (see KOTOR), but mere fluidity is not enough for Sonic The Hedgehog. The developers tried to include running puzzles and loop-de-loops aplenty, but the fact that you have to select Sonic then push a button to enter the loop then have no control whatsoever over where you land or what you do during the “speed boost” completely destroys the illusion of fast.

 

Whee!  Talking and button-pressing!

Whee! Talking and button-pressing!

Where BioWare does try to allow for real speed, it is a complicated mess.  It seems as if they tried to combine their own inimitable style of pause-and-play with the 2.5D action-RPG battles of Nintendo’s  Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time. The problem is that Mario is all about good jumps and better timing, and Sonic is all about running like hell, which does not lend itself to drawn-out battles.  The stylus-controlled special abilities minigames are ill-explained and imprecise, and every special move requires a metric ton of minigame action to pull off.  It makes you want to just hit Attack over and over and over.

 

All of that being said, the game is not terrible.  The visuals are charming and do hold true to classic Sonic style.  The RPG format in and of itself is an interesting twist for an overused, yet beloved, video game character. And BioWare does bring the story.  For a Sonic game, this baby is deep.  A plot with turns, surprises and revelations, all adding to the Sonic “canon”.  I think the problem is that Sonic doesn’t really need a canon. Sonic needs another good 2D game full of speed and color.  I wish that Team Sonic would take a page from Mega Man 9 and go solidly retro the next time out.  Unfortunately, as the next few Sonic games include Sonic Unleashed (featuring a were-Sonic)  and a sequel to the super-odd Sonic and the Secret Rings, I don’t think I’m going to get my wish any time soon.

 

For being a colorful and often witty addition to the Sonic family while also being unfittingly slow and imprecise, I’m giving Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood 3 Weiners out of 5.

 

Hardware Review: PAX ’08 DeathAdder and Logitech VX Revolution September 6, 2008

Filed under: 3 weiners,5 weiners,Hardware,Indy,Penny Arcade,Reviews — Gwyddia @ 9:41 pm
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I know this is like comparing apples to oranges. The Razer DeathAdder is a gaming mouse, pure and simple. The VX Revolution is a wireless notebook mouse. So why bother? Because if you’re like me, using more than one computer in the course of your day, you find yourself needing more than one mouse. Hopefully this review will help suggest the right mouse for the right job.

 

I first bought the Revolution because I wanted a mouse to play WoW on my MacBookPro. I chose a cordless mouse to maximize my mobility. The Revolution connects to the computer with a small dongle that sticks out about an inch. Most of the time this wasn’t a problem, but one one occasion Indy ran by and knocked over my laptop. The computer was fine (thank you MagSafe adapter!), but the USB dongle snapped clean off and I had to replace the mouse.

Note the dongle.

Note the dongle.

 

A medium-sized mouse that fits well in my hand.

The Logitech VX Revolution

The Revolution has a nice form factor. I have small hands, and the Revolution is a smaller mouse. It is ergonomically designed and I never have any wrist pain when using it, even after hours and hours of scrolling and clicking. It is reasonably accurate without noticeable lag. the “Hyper-scroll” feature is great for heavy surfing and certain games. The battery life is reasonable – I have to change the two AAs about once every 3-4 months.

 

The DeathAdder is like butter. Within seconds of plugging it in I was experiencing the silkiest, smoothest mousing experience of my life. It had better be, with a 1800dpi Razer Precision™ 3G infrared sensor and a 1ms response (compared with 8ms for standard mice). This thing has pinpoint accuracy, and its almost a waste to be clicking on lootable bodies rather than fragging the heck out of some sucker in TF2.

It slides, it glides, it juliennes fries!

It slides, it glides, it juliennes fries!

 

Again, the form factor is nice. The DeathAdder is a little larger than the Revolution, but not overwhelmingly so. The cord is 210cm long, so I never feel that I’m pulling at it. If anything, it may be a little too long, because I had to find a place to tuck it out of the way. The exclusive PAX ’08 paintjob isn’t really that great looking, but there were only 400 made and I got one, so the smug feeling of dork accomplishment compensates for the bowling shoes design. This is my desktop mouse of choice.

Strike!  Oh, wait.  This is my megamouse.

Strike! Oh, wait. This is my megamouse.

 

In the end, it really does come down to the right mouse for the right job. For high-tension gaming, particularly in a desktop setting where mobility isn’t a factor, it’s going to be the DeathAdder every time. When a gnome’s gotta go, though, the VX Revolution goes with her, and does a serviceable and comfortable job.

 

Logitech VX Revolution Wireless USB Mouse (USD$69.99):

Weiner-worthy: Portable, accurate and comfortable
Be Curful: One good thwack at the right angle and you’ll need a new mouse.

3 Mousing Weiners out of 5

 

 Razer DeathAdder PAX ’08 Limited Edition (USD$59.99):

Weiner-worthy: Smooth, ultra-responsive, and comfortable.
Be Curful: Razer’s long cords can be a problem if you don’t have the room.
5 Mousing Weiners out of 5