Shoddy Workmanship

Once again I’m on the receiving end of Microsoft’s shitty console quality assurance with my Xbox 360 system failing on me, again. This is now the third time that my 360 has died on me, but this time it didn’t have the decency to RROD on me now that it is out of warranty. No, instead the damned thing decided to have problems recognizing brand new game discs and after a lucky attempt to finally play Halo: Reach it doesn’t recognize any kind of disc at all anymore. /RAGE

Yuck, that sucks. Did you call Xbox support and raise hell?

Yes, I did … well not the raising hell part, because that wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere … but I did explain my situation in detail and was told that there wasn’t anything they could do, but to give the Feedback link on Xbox.com a try. So I did and this is the result …

 

My system is now unable to recognize any disc (CD/DVD/NTSC region games) after months of intermittently receiving “Unable to read disc” issues. This would occur on brand new game discs in perfect condition and to reliably use my system to play games I was forced to install the games to the HDD. This problem came to a head with my trying to play Halo: Reach this past weekend. After hours of failed attempts to install the game (best I got to was 52%) I finally lucked out and was able to play the game from the disc. This was the last time I was able to use my system to play a game disc as I’ve previously stated my system is now unable to recognize any disc at all.

I’ve run through all of the trouble-shooting for the “Unable to Read Disc” except for the removal of the HDD since Halo: Reach requires a HDD to play. Therefore my only option is to send my system in for a repair, but as you’ll see from my account history I’ve already had two 360 Elite systems suffer the 3 flashing red light problem. I was pleased with the turn-around and service I received with the first occurrence, but when the system sent back to me experienced the exact same problem only after approximately 6 months of use I was rather turned off by Microsoft’s Quality Assurance on their console systems.

As such I am highly reluctant to pay money to have my system repaired especially since I am fearful that my system will once again be inoperable within months of being returned to me. I do not play my 360 for extended periods of time other than using it for Netflix (mainly) so I can’t blame wear and tear as to the cause of the laser lens falling out of alignment. I regularly use a DVD cleaning disc and keep my 360 in a well ventilated but clean environment.

I’m hoping for some leniency in dealing with my system being out of warranty and offering a free/reduced cost for the repair given my history as a sign of good will and a renewal in my faith in Microsoft as a company to do the right thing. As of right now I will not purchase another Microsoft console system in the future based on my experiences with my Xbox 360 Elite (I thought the Elites were supposed to be better manufactured?)

 

I doubt that I’ll receive the results that I’m hoping for (free repair), but at least I feel a little better letting Microsoft know how I feel about the quality of their system this generation. It’s a shame really since I love the games on the 360 and generally would pick up a multi-platform title on 360 only because of Xbox Live. Shoddy parts are what really angered me about the Sony Playstation (One) in that I felt that the total systems sold wasn’t a fair representation to game developers of actual working systems.

Oh well, one of my buddies suggested buying a $40 kit to fix my system myself which I will end up doing if Microsoft doesn’t do the right thing. I’m sure as hell not going to pay $100 for my system to be temporarily fixed for an undetermined amount of time.

Lord of Blogging Neglect

Another month has passed with empty promises of blogging more so it’s about time that I sat down at my keyboard and typed some words into a browser for you.

Where have you been? I yearn to know!

Awww, I’m touched. Really. I haven’t been up to anything particularly exciting, just the same usual stuff. Well that’s not entirely true, because if it were that’d insinuate that I’ve been dumping as much free time as I can into that World of Warcraft thingie. No my friends, my typical winter break from MMOs has struck once more and a quick look at my Raptr account will provide the visual proof of it.

But, but, but … it shows that you’ve played WoW more than anything for the past month!

Yes, that much is true but those 18 hours came in the first two weeks of February and other than being logged in for 90 minutes to record The Overlores I haven’t even looked at WoW for the past 2 weeks. I’m not sure why I always seem to go through this phase, but there’s at least one benefit to its reoccurrence: I satiate my console gaming needs and keep myself from completely burning out on WoW. You can also blame my signing up with Raptr for my quicker than usual jump from MMO to console gaming.

Okay, so you’ve been playing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow? Is that any good?

HELL YES!

Castlevania: LoS is incredible! From the first trailers I saw of the game I knew that I was going to be entranced by this title. From the soundtrack to the environments and the overall direction of the storyline I was hooked. Toss in a couple of Shadow of the Colossus style battles and the fact that Sir Patrick Stewart provides the voice-overs for Zobek and you have a recipe that I couldn’t help but to fall completely in love with.

But isn’t it just God of War with a Castlevania theme?

Yes and no. Yes because the general flow of combat is very similar to God of War, but no because the combat has a metric ton of layers that provide an insane level of depth. You cannot mindlessly button-mash through Castlevania, doing so will have the game chewing you up and spitting you out even on the NORMAL difficulty. Lords of Shadow is a very finesse driven combat engine because of all its parts from trying to fill your focus meter to provide you the energy you desperately need to manage your light and dark magic abilities. I won’t go into great detail about it, but I will attempt a cursory explanation of these systems and just how important they are to the flow of combat.

As you might expect, light and dark magic are pretty much polar opposites of each other: light is pretty defensive focused and dark is offensive minded. When you activate your light magic aura attacks you deal will heal you and many of your abilities will gain defensive augmentations if you purchase the related upgrades. For example when you finesse a perfect block while in light aura you will blind all enemies facing you. It’s an awesome defensive ability if you’ve mastered the art of perfect block (pressing block at the exact moment an attack would hit you) since as you progress the game likes to throw mini-bosses en masse at you.

In polar opposition to light magic, your dark magic aura will increase the damage you deal and offer offensive augmentations to your abilities should you upgrade them. It seems basic enough but attempting to find the balance between your light and dark magic usage is where the complexity and depth of the combat engine shine. In order to use either magic type, you need to absorb magic energy from enemies by pressing in on your left thumb stick to fill your light magic gauge and your right thumb stick to fill your dark magic gauge.

Well that doesn’t seem all that complicated, what’s the catch?

Most enemies drop a small amount of magic energy and won’t provide enough of a supply to keep your light and dark gauges filled. When you activate either aura, you burn through it quickly which makes you really think about when is the best time to use it and for how long you keep it active. Fortunately the focus meter provides a mechanic that will assist in obtaining magic energy in that once your focus meter is full, any successful hits will cause energy to drop from enemies.

That sounds cool, but let me guess … there’s a catch there too?

Ohhhh yes there is. Filling your focus meter is TOUGH since it requires you consistently land hits to fill it and it will gradually deplete if you’re not hitting an enemy or will empty completely when you get hit. Let me state that one more time, it EMPTIES when you get hit.

OMG! Ouch!

Exactly, but fret not since this actually a boon to the combat engine. This meter is a good gauge as to how well you are playing the game. If you’re being reckless with your attacks you’re going to have an incredibly hard time with the game, but if you take the time to learn how to tackle each enemy type you’ll be able to fill that meter easily and unleash the fury of a thousand Belmonts upon those foolish enough to stand in your way!

Fist pump! Hell ya!

Erp, okay let’s calm it down for a second. There’s one thing that I need to explain about the focus meter and how playing well fills it quickly. Remember when I brought up perfect blocking? Well it is this mechanic that quickly fills the focus meter and it is something that you’re going to have to master to get through the game. I spent a good 30 minutes retrying a battle against 3 alpha lycans that really pushed me to the limits of my understanding of the nuances of the engine. It was REALLY HARD to not get hit and watch my precious focus meter empty thusly making the battle that much harder.

So it can be frustrating?

Yes, to a certain extent when the frustration lies in your own inability to play properly, but occasionally there are moments where camera angles get in the way (I’ve only encountered 2 occurrences of that in the 8 hours I’ve played so far). Lords of Shadow does a good job of teaching you how to play it, but it definitely does ratchet stuff up in the 2nd chapter. There’s a great sense of satisfaction from improving at the game and it is easily apparent with the focus meter. You just need to divorce yourself from the mindset that button-mashing can overcome the obstacles in your way.

So that’s what you call a cursory explanation?

Well, I suppose I did go on quite a bit about the combat engine, but considering that I’m only nearing the end of chapter two I haven’t come close to mastering the combat yet. Any assumption on my part to properly explain the nuances of the engine this early would be foolish, hence my cursory explanation of it. So while it may seem that I’ve babbled on about the combat engine for seemingly ever, there is much more to Lords of Shadow. Ohhh yes, so much more.

As I stated before getting side-tracked into explaining half of the game, there’s another half to this game: the atmosphere. Ohhh the atmosphere … it oozes with polish and beauty at every turn. Lords of Shadow is a GORGEOUS game aesthetically and aurally. Just about every environment I’ve come across has nearly taken my breath away and what breath I had left is taken by the stunning soundtrack to the game.

In case you haven’t heard, Óscar Araujo won “Best Original Score for a Video Game or Interactive Media” by the International Film Music Critics Association, and for good reason. Anything I could write wouldn’t do the score of the game justice … it’s just that incredible. So instead of attempting to wax poetic about it, I’ll allow a track from the soundtrack to do the speaking for me.

So what are you doing still reading this? Or for that matter why am I still typing words for you? We should both be playing this game RIGHT NOW! Okay, maybe that’s going a bit too far but seriously, if you haven’t played Lords of Shadow you should give it some serious consideration. In my opinion it is a masterpiece and I only regret not having played it sooner. So with that being said, I’m going to end this entry.

Here’s to hoping I don’t go another month with only updating this thing once ^^;

The Greatest Game You Never Played

Given that my blog has been mostly mmo-centric during its lifetime it’s probably safe to assume that there’s a good chance that many of you are not too big on console gaming. Or even if you are, there is still a good chance that the greatest game ever made (in my opinion of course) slipped through your fingers. I am, of course, referring to Team Ico’s Shadow of the Colossus for the Playstation 2. Simply put, Shadow of the Colossus is a masterpiece and is the centerpiece in the whole Game vs Art debate.

The premise is very simple, yet the message it conveys is as complex as you want it to be. You play as Wander and your motivation is to find a means to bring the girl you’re carrying back to life. To do this you make a deal with the Dormin who claim they have the power to bring her back, but only if you go out into the world and kill the 16 colossi. You then set out with your horse Agro with only a sword, a bow, and some arrows to achieve your task.

As you explore the Forbidden Land you’ll discover nary an enemy, just you, your horse and the occasional fauna between you and the scattered colossi. It’s almost haunting how serene and lonely the landscape is and the game is as much about the exploration as it is tackling each of the colossi themselves. Each of the colossi are different from each other and you’ll have to employ different techniques to take each one down. When you do manage to take down a colossus, you’re met with a remorseful cinematic where their life essence is absorbed into your body. It’s both satisfying and depressing. You’ll probably even feel a tinge of guilt after killing such a magnificent creature, but you must save the girl … so you carry on.

You owe it to yourself to play this game. Period. If you still don’t believe me, then watch this video …

Sold? Ok, good.

Now you understand the err in your ways for not picking this up, fret not! Shadow of the Colossus should still be relatively easy to find for PS2, but you may want to hold off until the spring of 2011 for the Team Ico Collection for the PS3. Yes folks, today it was confirmed that we’re all going to be the recipients of HD remastered versions of Shadow of the Colossus and Ico. If that’s not enough for you, Team Ico is also remastering each game to play in HD-3D if your television supports it.

If you own a PS3 and do not buy this collection then you’re missing out … and I hate you. Strong words, I know but I’m in a bit of a pickle myself. You see, I never did play Ico and holy crap is that game hard to find nowadays. Fortunately for me I get to stop hating myself for missing out on the game that started it all and get to play it glorious HD. Just after I play through on hard mode a couple of times in Shadow of the Colossus ^^;

Crossroads

It’s no surprise that it’s been almost a month since my last update on the blog. It’s not for a lack of trying, but every single time that I’ve sat down to write something I’ve immediately lost my motivation. I’ll get this great idea for my blog, then just as I’m about to start typing everything goes blank. After a few minutes of blankly staring at the screen I just decide to do something else.

Is it writer’s block? I’m not sure. Usually I’ll rationalize my decisions to not update my blog with the notion that whatever I would have written would have been tripe and uninspired. That might be the root cause for the lack of updates over the past month. I just haven’t been inspired enough to sit down and share my thoughts.

Now before either of us goes into a panic, this thing happens to me a lot and at some point I just get over it. It has happened many, many times in the past and I’m positive it’ll continue to be a problem that plagues this blog for the years to come. Oh noes! Not to worry, I always get over it and suddenly my blog springs to life once more.

It’s just the natural ebb and flow of my blogging that is frighteningly  similar to that of my gaming habits. For instance, this hiatus has been caused from the lack of gaming that I’ve felt inspired to write about. What have I been playing this past month? Mostly Torchlight, a couple of PS3 demos and I’ve recently decided to try LOTRO, (free trial of course).

As great as Torchlight is, it isn’t a great game to blog about. I mean, it’s Diablo, what more need be said about it? Sure I could blog about the trials and tribulations of my melee alchemist, but would any of you care? It’s solely a single player game and the end-game is a randomized dungeon-crawler. At some point I may decide to post an entry or two about the unusual builds that I’m playing, but right now I’m not feeling it as a necessary blog update.

Anyhoo, I have also decided to give Lord of the Rings Online a try since I am a fan of the Tolkien world, but the game hasn’t struck a chord with me and there’s little hope that it will. My lack of interest in LOTRO is cemented in the fact that I’ve dedicated 5 years of my gaming life to WoW and every single time I play LOTRO, I’d rather just reactivate my WoW account. Everything just feels clunky in LOTRO where as everything in WoW feels just right. That isn’t to say that LOTRO doesn’t do anything well as it is most certainly a very competent game, it’s just that WoW has spoiled me as an MMO gamer.

Has WoW ruined every other MMO for me? That is my biggest worry about going into Final Fantasy XIV later this year. I’m hopeful that FFXIV will rekindle that love I had for Final Fantasy XI, but after playing WoW for so long, I’m worried I’ll fall into the same trap of rather-be-playing-WoW.

At this point I think the only way I could conceivably give any other MMO a fair shot is if I find myself in a strong community. If it hadn’t of been for the fact that Star Trek Online was released way too early, I might actually still be playing it. Cryptic failed to deliver on a true Star Trek experience and the community has fled from the game.

Many of the STO podcasts I was listening to have disappeared, or are having issues with feeling inspired to keep podcasting about STO. I’ve stopped following news regarding STO and at this point I could care less about it. Between my forth-coming inner-turmoil between WoW and FFXIV, there’s just no room for a poor MMO. I would say shame on Cryptic for STO, but after City of Heroes and Champions Online, it’s shame on me for putting my faith in them one more time.

Well, I think I’ve rambled on long enough about the MMO crossroads that I’m at. I’ll try to keep my inspiration and motivation going for slightly more frequent updates, but I think I’m going to have to go with smaller updates. More stream-of-consciousness stuff without so much emphasis on trying to write something great. I might even share a couple thoughts on what’s going on with WoW, but no promises. ^^;

iRule

Okay, don’t read too much into the title. I just needed something catchy, if not silly, for this entry. My hiatus from online gaming has produced a completely unexpected result for my gaming habits: casual gaming. Wait, what? Did I really just admit to playing “casual” games? Oh dear god. I did! But dear readers, it gets worse … I’m actually playing a facebook game. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Well, it’s not the end of the world. Sure I may have on occasion bitched about some of my facebook friends spamming up my news feed with their FB game spam, but fortunately for me, I don’t have to spam my friend’s feeds if I don’t want to. (At least I hope it hasn’t been spamming other’s feeds) Alas, this is not going to be an entry about Treasure Isle on Facebook. No my friends, I’ve succumb to the charm of an iPhone/iPod game: We Rule.

North : East : West : South

Comparisons to Farmville are not without merit, but We Rule is substantially different to deserve an examination without direct comparisons to that other game which is a blight upon the facebook society. Sure you grow crops in We Rule, but the game itself is very SimCity’sh with the ability to customize and build your kingdom as you see fit. You’ll build tailor shops, schools, bakeries, etc that your friends can place orders at which yield gold and experience for you and your friend when fulfilled and delivered. It’s all very basic, and yet addictive as SimCity was so many years ago.

We Rule is definitely not without its problems as it crashes, a LOT. There are also strange bugs with businesses not appearing open for business to friends and occasionally there will be frustrating collision problems when attempting to place objects around your kingdom. I’ve spent far too much time tinkering with the redesign tool to work around some of the collision problems in order to get my kingdom to appear how it does today.

I spent far too much time getting those darned trees to align properly.

Fortunately the growing popularity of We Rule is giving ngmoco a reason to address these issues. We’ve seen multiple updates to improve the stability (which still sucks) and speed (which is still slow as molasses) of the game as well as given us a few new toys to play around with. One of the biggest additions to the game has been the inclusion of magic vegetables which yield obscene amounts of gold and experience for a moderate gold and harvest time investment. Once I was able to plant magic cauliflower gold became trivial and I was able to go all out on designing my kingdom.

There are still plenty of updates I’d like to see to We Rule, the biggest being a sortable friends list. I’d also like it if there were benefits to being OCD in designing your kingdom, ie. roads increasing yields of your orders or a happiness factor to your kingdom. Other than personal preference and satisfaction there is no benefit to designing your kingdom. This presents a problematic issue for those striving for the leader boards: either stack dragon caves and gryphon nests all over your kingdom, or the continual building and selling of buildings just for the experience bonuses.

Another sterling example of my OCD.

Then I’d greatly appreciate an improved redesign tool where you could either lock objects in place or have it go into a pseudo-outline mode ala Adobe Illustrator. I can’t tell you how many times when redesigning my kingdom I’ll end up moving a road, fence, tree when I was trying to move something else. Rivers are also very problematic to place currently and I’m hoping ngmoco can make them function a lot more like the roads.

Anyways, I still need to figure out how to properly pay homage to Excalibur in my kingdom with the sword in stone object as well as figure out what I’m going to do once I hit level 25 and have more room for my kingdom. If you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch check out We Rule (it’s free!) and come place some orders in my kingdom (username: nevikjames).

Hamburger

Man was I excited about Super Street Fighter IV. I couldn’t wait to get back into the action and school some scrubs … Yup, I was going to pick up where I left off and hold my own. I couldn’t have been more demoralized when my first foray in online play was met with my being absolutely destroyed. “Okay, I’m out of practice … that’s to be expected” I thought to myself. Nope. I stink … really bad.

Sure, I was never that great at Street Fighter IV, but I wasn’t absolutely horrible at the game either. Well, maybe I was considering that I was truly only really good with Blanka. Blanka was never my aim to be my main in SFIV, but for some reason I clicked with Blanka’s playstyle. His rushdown style was simple and yet so elegant and fun to execute. So needless to say I’ve been trying to avoid playing as Blanka so I don’t fall into the same trap as I did in SFIV.

Forcing myself to focus on another character didn’t seem like it was going to be hard to do at all since Adon was making a return in SSFIV. “Adon, sweet! I’ll main him!” I thought to myself once he was confirmed. I was pretty decent with Adon in the Alpha series, so I thought I’d be able to pick him up and have a decent go of things. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I’m horrible with Adon. To the point where today I lost perfectly to an opponent that wasn’t that much better than me. Yikes. I’m not sure if I’m just not understanding how to use Adon with SFIV mechanics or whether he’s just rubbish anyways, but I get my ass handed to me when I play as Adon. It’s very, very demoralizing.

There is a silver lining though, Juri. She’s fun to play once you set her speech to japanese. Perhaps it’s more a case of how new she is and everyone being unfamiliar with her, or just how she’s meant to be played. She can lay the smack down early on and keep the pressure up. Unfortunately when I do get ahead, I have a tendency to get a little over-confident and start making stupid, stupid mistakes which make matches a lot closer than they need to be.

So while I may be terribad at Adon, at least I’m getting better with Juri. Hell, I’m actually having some success with Sakura occasionally, but I’m still getting smacked around pretty frequently and that really hurts my confidence. I’ve found myself questioning whether it was a good idea to pick up the game after some horrible beat-downs I’ve received.

Practice makes perfect.

Yah, yah I know. I went through this when SFIV came out, so I’ll just have to remember relax. Being up-tight didn’t help me then, so it definitely won’t help me now … I need to get it into my mind that I know I’m going to lose, but to learn from those loses. Yuck, that’s awfully philosophical. It wouldn’t hurt to have a few friends to play with on a more consistent basis either. At least when I lose to friends, I don’t beat myself up over it.

Anyways, back to the dojo.

Mass

Good intentions only get you so far in life, you actually have to follow through on them.

Over the past couple days I have intended to update my blog with an entry centering on Mass Effect 2. Sadly this never came to be as one thing or another got in the way and my general pittance of energy wasn’t enough to sit down in front of my computer to pump out an entry. Fortunately things seem to be in order now and my energy levels have normalized to make this entry possible.

So let’s get this started, shall we?

It’s a shame that I didn’t take my annual break from online gaming sooner to spend more time with Mass Effect 2. Trying to sandwich in as much ME2 time before Final Fantasy XIII’s release hasn’t allowed me the opportunity to fully enjoy just how epic ME2 is. Bioware has crafted an experience with Mass Effect 2 that has captured my heart unlike the original and has given me reason to go back and play the original when I get the chance.

Mass Effect 2 is quite simply the greatest TPSRPG I’ve played and I haven’t even gotten all the way through the game yet. Okay, I might be jumping the gun a little on showering ME2 with praise having not yet finished it, but the first 15 hours have engrossed me so thoroughly that I can confidently place it in the company of Panzer Dragoon Saga and Final Fantasy X. Yes that’s right, X is my favorite Final Fantasy ever, or at least so far.

It isn’t without fault, however, as there are a couple issues I have had with the game. They are, mostly, small quibbles such as the cross-eyed conversations and the frequently reused pacing animation during in-game cut-scenes. Bioware still has a few things to learn to humanize character interactions in a more believable and natural way, but they’re getting there.

Mechanically the game is pretty solid, but I have had issues with how the game handles the sniper rifle scope. Most of the time the game does handle the sniper rifle decently enough for me to score impressively quick sniping shots, but occasionally I found myself grossly off-target when zooming in. There also has been one occurrence where I became stuck on top of a ramp’s railing when attempting to use the side as cover.

I haven’t encountered another game-breaking bug, but I have encountered an incredibly obnoxious bug where I’ve lost the ability to use Grunt’s Fortification ability after completing his loyalty mission. His status shows he is loyal and I have access to his alternative outfit, but his fortification ability remains grayed out. While this may not be a game-breaking bug and doesn’t occur for everyone, it is exceptionally disappointing that Bioware allowed the game to ship with this bug.

As a quick aside I’m positive Bioware knew of this bug prior to release but couldn’t nail down the cause and deemed it not important enough to fix. I did work in QA as a tester for Namco and can confidently state that 90-95% of all bugs that go live are found by the testers. They just don’t get fixed because at some point the time investment to squash every bug isn’t worth it, especially if it isn’t a game-breaker.

My biggest gripe with Mass Effect 2 is with the load times, especially when reloading after a critical mission failure. I simply do not understand why I have to sit through a ~20 second reminder of my failure. I can understand epic loading times when switching between areas, but most games are able to restart at the last checkpoint without need to reload the entire area. Maybe I just need to harden the fuck up, but because of this issue, I definitely will not replay the game at anything higher than the normal difficulty.

There will definitely be multiple playthroughs of Mass Effect 2, I can guarantee that. I am going through the game as a paragon infiltrator, but I intend to go through as a renegade after finishing the game. Then of course I’ll probably play through a third time after I go through the original and import my character. I just need to decide upon the character types for each playthrough. That and finish Final Fantasy XIII ^^;

Oids, so much gaming goodness.