Halo 3: Head like a hole

I finally feel like I should give my two cents of the beast that is Halo 3.

I’ve already had a conversation about it which I’m going to let stand as my initial impression.

If you haven’t read or don’t want to read it, I stated that I’ve nevre played any Halo game before and basically called the game average at best. I know I don’t know the backstory, but that isn’t my fault. Bungie and Microsoft should have told me what was going on either with a trailer leading up to the action or some sort of Star Wars-style scroll. Anything! I felt like Ross Perot’s running mate: “Who am I? Why am I here?”

The game starts off with Master Chief falling to Earth and lands conveniently near other human troops. Why was he falling? We may never know.

He comes to and immediately attacks a Predator-looking dude who is voiced by Keith David. Apparently the Chief never saw They Live and didn’t know David could handle a prolonged fight.

After a higher ranking officer diffuses the situation, you are dropped into the heat of battle with orders to kill everyone that doesn’t look like except for the Keith David dude. He doesn’t get a little miffed when you fire upon him.

I got through the first six stages of the campaign mode following this same sort of theme. Master Chief SMASH! Master Chief KILL! Which isn’t a bad thing, I guess, but is the Chief a mindless killing machine, or does he have feelings? Does he have feelings? What’s with the unhealthy relationship he seems to have with a digitized chick that looks like Yori from Tron.

I actually did a little research to find out about this Master Chief guy. When I say a “little research,” I mean I wanted to find out if he had a name which happens to be John-117. I guess John-316 was taken up by a crazy guy in a multi-colored afro.

With that said, everyone seems to call him “Master Chief” when that is just his rank. What if other Master Chieftains were in the general vicinity? Would they start to get annoyed because John-3..er…117 is getting all the attention?

What about if the Chief is at the bar having a drink with his fellow soldiers? Are they still that formal? Or do they call him John or Johnny?

Now that I’m done with my Master Chief tangent, let’s get back to the gameplay. The beauty, as I’ve been repeatedly informed, is in the multiplayer portion of it. This is where the Xbox Live service outshines everyone else. I booted up the ol’ Xbox Saturday morning to find a couple friends playing their guts out. Setting up a game is easy enough. Set it up. Invite your friends. Blow their butts away.

The pain, I found, was finding a game. I got kicked out of a game and tried to find one. I went through the Halo 3 matchmaker system. No luck. I tried to join a game in progress by one of my friends just to get kicked out again. This problem seemed persistent in the party so somebody just started a new game and invited everyone back. Easy enough.

The multiplayer deathmatch, or “Slayer,” as Halo likes to call it, is really start forward and easy to get the hang of: run, shoot, frag. Personally, I enjoy a little strategy in my death…slayer matches. Translation: I’m a camper. Actuality: There’s no good places to camp. When I did find a sniper rifle and found a good place to camp, I was usually fragged within seconds. I haven’t played multiplayer in a very long while.

There is a feature that lets make film clips of the match. I couldn’t figure out how to do this because of two things: 1) I was in the heat of battle and didn’t want to figure out the system on the fly; and 2) I didn’t read the instruction book.

Halo 3 mixed with the Xbox Live online service serves a great way to get you and your friends together for a little legal massacre. I did make a mistake in the middle of playing this game: I went out and picked up Bioshock which, in my opinion, has a better campaign because that’s all it has.

I foresee Halo 3 collecting some major dust in the next couple of weeks. I’m currently playing Bioshock but plan on picking up Orange Box. Any self-respecting first-person shooter fan will pick that up.

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on October 10, 2007.

Posted: October 18th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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Review: Spiderman 3

Can a game be so bad that you can’t actually put it down?

That’s where I stand with Spiderman 3 for the Playstation 3. For the last couple of weeks, I have enthralled in the exploits of Peter Parker and his friends. Like I said before, by no means is this game any good.

Where do I begin? The graphics during gameplay are tolerable, but the cut-scenes are just downright spooky. Big bulgy arms and legs. Lifeless eyes. Unsynced audio. Its just a complete train wreck.

The camera angles are atrocious. Most of the time you’re looking at the web-slinger from the front while getting your butt handed to you from somebody off-screen. Its nearly impossible to swing the camera around. A centering or targeting system would have been great.

The controls are nothing special. It’s a button masher. There’s some ability to control the action by slowing it down and pulling some moves that would make Neo say “Whoa,” but the evildoers seem to always get a hit in somehow.

With that said, what makes the game so addictive?

Simply put: the ability to swing around Manhattan. I followed the silly little missions until the symbiote took control of ‘ol Pete. Seriously, couldn’t they just have used the scene from the movie? I almost felt sorry for the symbiote watching the video game cut-scene.

I now spend my days fighting crime and sometimes the occasional mission. There’s a venerable rouge’s gallery of bad guys. I’ve taken down Scorpion who first freed Rhino. I watched Dr. Connors turn into the Lizard who I eventually fought and took down only to return as the prey for Kraven. And taken straight from the movie, I flushed Sandman down the pipes.

Some of the missions are damn near impossible to finish. In mission 4 in my fight with the Order of the Dragon’s Tail (honest to god, that’s the name; I thought it was a PBS kid’s show), I have to take four samurai at the same time. Those samurai don’t go down easy and by that time, I’m completely out of energy.

I still can’t put the game down. I go back for more. Sure, the game is bad, but like the symbiote, it has taken me over.

Maybe I should’ve heeded the words of the fellas over at Penny Arcade.

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on May 24, 2007.

Posted: October 18th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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Duel at the two o’clock bell – A review of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The company tells you that you need to take three vacation days by December 24 or risk losing them.

Most people would take this time to take a nice Christmas vacation. Leave the desert. Check out some snow. Experience one of those “White Chritmas’” we’ve heard so much about.

Meh. You can have your snow. Lock me up my apartment with Zelda calling my name.

Going into my mini-vacation in the hole, I had clocked in over a little over 30 hours playing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. I was bound and determined to beat this game by the end of the six days (Wed-Mon).

At roughly 1:30 am on Saturday night/Sunday morning, it was Mission: Accomplished.

As I was dropping Ganondorf (like you didn’t who it was going to be) like a bad habit, I started thinking about how my Zelda experiences have seem to come full circle. nearly 20 years ago, I popped in the gold-colored cartridge beauty that was the original Legend of Zelda. My brother and I challenging each other by trying to get further than other. My mother and sister watching us play while nothing could distract from the mission.

I’d like to think I’ve grown up… a little.

During a fight with one of the bosses last night, my mother calls me up with a computer problem. I didn’t have time for this. I was in the heat of battle.

“Just restart the *expletive’n* thing.”

“Tried that but it says…” I admit. I missed the error.

“Force quit. Do something. I’m *expletive’n* busy here. I’ll look at it tomorrow.”

“Playing your game?”


“I’ll leave you alo…”

I already hung up.

The game brought back frustrations I’ve buried deep within my subconscious.

The odd angles irked the hell out of me. How could I fight something if there was a wall in my way?

Multiple types of enemies when usually just one requires my undivided attention. Those big armored dudes with the huge swords. How do you expect me to defeat three of them when they always have me backed into a corner?

And what’s with that creepy Midna character? Never really offered any solid advice beyond smart aleck comments and “duh, no crap” stuff.

With that said, Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto doesn’t disappoint with this fabulous Wii launch title. the graphics are rock solid. the control doesn’t take full advantage of the Wiimote and nunchuk has to offer, but once again, its a launch title. hopefully they’ll take better advantage of the features in the sequel.

The story is better than most stuff coming out of Hollywood. I got the impression that Miyamoto and Nintendo wanted their players to grow up. Unlike the cutesy, cell-shaded Wind Waker on the Gamecube, Twilight Princess doesn’t pull any punches. There’s a point in the game where you think Link will have to chose which side he fights for, and you see past heroes who have been sucked in by the evil. You see a darker side of the Zelda series.

Fear not, though, the tedious tasks are still in there. Collecting bugs for a bigger money bag? Give me a break. here’s a tip: collect one bug, take it in and get your 600 jewel wallet. You can waste your money on that magical armor, but I never really used it.

Despite all my criticisms, Twilight Princess is probably one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in the past five years. The story is solid. The characters are engaging. The missions and levels are difficult but not so much that you can easily work your way around them.

After over 55 hours of play, I beat the game. I will admit that a few unsavory words were used. That’s my personal sign the game has sucked me in.

If you own a Wii and not this game, go out at get today. right now. Stop thinking about it. it is also available on the Gamecube.

(the headline comes from the reverend horton heat’s “lucky 7″)

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on December 24, 2006.

Posted: October 18th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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Fear and Loathing in Game Design

I received an email asking if I would like to meet Ernest Adams, the man who helped in create Madden football, as part of a video game design workshop at DeVry University on Dunlap between 19th Avenue and I-17.

I really didn’t what to ask the guy but questions started swirling through my head like “Who does EA think they are by creating the only NFL game?” and “Do these video game specific classes help or hurt the students?” I was going to get my answers straight out of the horse’s mouth. Not only did Adams work on the Madden franchise, he also wrote a book titled “Break Into The Game Industry: How to Get A Job Making Video Games.” To say the least, he was an expert.

I immediately called back and said I would be attending.

The build-up to the workshop was spent drawing up questions. I wasn’t going to let this pass me by. I wanted to know thing. I needed to know things. I was going to get my information and possibly dig up some dirt.

I arrived at the campus amped and ready to go. I didn’t really care about the workshop. I wanted to talk to Adams. Get my dirt.

Quick side note: The DeVry Phoenix campus is really nice. I think it’s a new building, but it seems nicely laid out complete with a mini market and big classrooms. For a technical college, it seemed really inviting.

I had to wait until the end of the workshop to talk to Adams because I have this problem with timeliness. The workshop started at one and arrived five minutes before that. I had enough time to introduce myself. No worries, I thought, I’ll sit through this and come up with more questions.

Something strange happened. Hit me like a ton a bricks. I had no idea about the process of video games and what goes into making them. The first thirty minutes of the workshop was spent with Adams describing the different types of jobs, games, points-of-view and scenarios, and why each of these are important to the other.
He spoke with the passion of a man who has been in the business for quite some time. I got the feeling he didn’t look at games as something with pretty graphics or advanced technology. He was more concerned with the emotion of the game. How the player feels while playing the game.

Near the end of the first session, he said he was going to break the class out into groups and hand out a game idea to each group to brainstorm it out. Three people to each group: a writer, user-interface designer, and mechanics engineer. A few people in the class bowed out. They didn’t want to participate. He asked me if I wanted to participate, and I immediately jumped on the chance.

The group I was in consisted of myself, of course, Nelson Bixler, a first-year student in the Game and Simulation Programming department, and Xavier Olivas, a prospective student with a strong passion for video games. Bixler acted as the U/I Designer, Olivas on mechanics, and I was tabbed to be the writer.

After we divvied up the jobs, Adams handed a little note card with a game idea on it. We jobbed to make game where the gamer’s dream was to be… Little Miss World. It was to be a game for 8-year-old girls. Earlier in the workshop he told us that 35-year-old men developed the Bratz games. In other words, we had to get in touch with our inner 8-year-old girl.

I started thinking out loud, “What was I playing when I was eight? What was popular in 1984?” A stunned silence fell over my group. Both the guys were looking like I was the oldest guy they’ve ever seen.

“I was born that year, dude,” Bixler, 23, said.

“Man, I wasn’t even born yet,” Olivas, 19, said, adding insult to injury.

“Hey, guys, Super Mario rocked in the arcade,” I said trying to defend myself and all old school gamers.

Back to the game, we decided to make the game a sort of satire on the child beauty pageant industry. The opening scene would be an empty room with a solitary trophy sitting on the mantle, which belonged to mother. This room would soon be filled with trophies won by the mother’s daughter. We then cut to the mother and daughter traversing through a dress shop looking for the perfect dress on a $50 budget.

With the perfect dress chosen and purchased by the player, we move into the area where the player practices walking the runway by pressing buttons at the right time. We’d give them enough time to hit the button. The talent portion of pageant is where gaming ingenuity really comes into play. The player can hook in a guitar, a microphone, dance mat, or go with button repetition for a gymnastic or baton twirling competition.

Experience and money are gained by doing well in competitions. The player can use the money to buy new clothes, pay a stylist, get new music, etc. The player would work her way through different levels of competition: city, county, state, region, national, and finally landing Zurich for the big competition.

Adams would walk around the room offering advice to whoever needed it.

The final step of the process was creating a promotional poster for our game. Our poster was the earth and a little standing in front of with a guitar and mic. We had to go up to the front of the class to pitch our game. All the groups had really great ideas. Any fears I had of DeVry creating basically non-creative code monkeys was dashed because some of the games were really creative and well thought out.

The real story here isn’t Ernest Adams: the Madden game developer. It was about Ernest Adams: the ambassador of video games. The couple of moments I had to sit down with and talk was less about what I had planned on, but more of what he liked about games.

He said the game he liked so far this year was BioShock because of the moral choices that the player is forced to take when dealing with the Little Sisters, and that it was a satire on Ayn Rand. He said you almost feel sorry Andrew Ryan because his Libertarian utopia really came crashing down.

Adams also said that he draws inspiration from Leonardo Da Vinci because he was both an artist and an engineer. He saw the world from both sides.

I have new faith the breed of video game developer and designers coming out of schools like DeVry. They all have a real passion for the industry and for games, in general. I hope to playing their games some time in the near future.

Originally appeared on the 4Play video game blog on azcentral.com on December 20, 2007.

Posted: October 18th, 2009
Categories: Video games
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