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Stream Recap – Far Cry

8b363ca59d94c2aca70a18588187a678-cool-games-pc-gamesIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Since Return to Castle Wolfenstein didn’t scratch that first-person shooter itch I had, I decided to keep going through my collection of unplayed games. Since I’ve been working through these chronologically, 2004’s Far Cry was up next. It’s another game I bought for less than five dollars during a sale, and one I missed when it was first released. And I had a vague memory of there being dinosaurs in the game. There wasn’t.

All I wanted was a fast paced shooter with some run and gun action. That shouldn’t be so hard to find! But Far Cry was not the game to satisfy that desire. As I would find out, the game wants me to stealth most of the time, to sneak and avoid danger. Sure, the stealth elements aren’t great and it still puts road blocks full of enemies in my way, but the game wants what it wants.

I was also unaware that the game was considered harder than normal back in the day, so when I chose “challenging” as my difficulty, I was pretty confident in my skills. Unfortunately, doing so severely ruined my fun. While I got away with quick saving my way to victory in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, there was no such ability in Far Cry. Instead, I was stuck dying and reloading checkpoints, creating a Sisyphus-like experience for myself. It was hard and, because of my difficulty selection which can’t be changed, it stayed that way.

p-txtNow, I doubt I would have lowered the difficulty in the first place, as that would have felt like defeat after playing a few hours on one setting. And, I was completing levels, despite the challenge. But, the problem was, the challenge wasn’t satisfying. It was frustrating to have to replay the same mission over and over again, especially for a game of this length. The gun play isn’t always satisfying, the enemies seem to have perfect aim and their bullets can go through walls like paper. There were times when I would just and sit and stare, having no clue how to avoid being shot and killed.

For some, that difficulty would be welcomed. While I was streaming, I was visited by a few players who had beaten Far Cry on the highest setting, “realistic”, and I can’t imagine doing the same thing. The brutality of it all would have destroyed me. Every now and then, I feel embarrassed by my skills. When other players brag about a pistol-only play through or max difficulty settings, I just nod and accept I’m not that good. With Far Cry, I felt like there was some bad game design working against me as well. I can accept I’m no good at game, but it’s harder to accept being bad at a game with some obvious flaws.

farcry1To be fair, the game is still pretty for its age. And there were moments when I felt like Rambo and a sniping machine. But most times, I just wanted to be done. I just wanted to be able to blow some stuff up and move forward. I never felt like I had momentum. The vehicles felt like a punishment. The mutants that show up start feeling like Doom clones. And the shotgun never felt hefty. A bad shotgun is one thing I can’t forgive.

And the voice acting? Ouch.

Will I keep going with this series? I doubt it. I’m not the biggest fan of open-world/sandbox games because they lack the direction I need to stay invested. I’ve heard good things about Far Cry 3 but there’s plenty of games for me to play that I think I will enjoy. I experienced the same issue with Hitman: Blood Money. About halfway through, I realized I wasn’t enjoying the game and that I didn’t care what the end looked like. That’s not a knock on that game because I just don’t like that sort of challenge. Stealth-ing is all stress with no relief and very little inertia. For some, that’s fine. For me, it gets old real fast.

Despite it’s faults and my lack of skill, I did finish Far Cry. I felt more relief than excitement, but I can say I powered through it. But, I’d rather find a game I enjoy next time.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Stream Recap – Firewatch

16020907294366307In which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Firewatch came to my attention because I pay even a little bit of attention to the world of video games. It looked beautiful, but not photo-realistic. I always appreciate graphics with character, like most of Blizzard’s games. Firewatch is colorful and it stands out. It’s not a brown wasteland or grey war zone, it’s a forest with personality. Even just a few screenshots are so eye catching that it was no surprise that the game ended up in my wishlist.

I’ve heard the game called a walking simulator and, if so, it’s the first one of those that I’ve played. But it doesn’t seem any less complicated than Telltale’s The Walking Dead. If this had come out years ago, we’d be calling it a point and click adventure game. Except, it’s short enough to play in an afternoon and it doesn’t break my brain with puzzles that only The Riddler would find fun.

firewatch_150305_06I played the game over the course of two days with my wife, Kendra. She’s one of those weird people who is perfectly happy to watch someone else play a game. I don’t know if it’s conditioning from being a sister to a gamer or just a Totoro like spirit. Because of her enjoyment of watching there are some games she requires her presence. Bioshock Infinite will be one of those, as will The Wolf Among Us. I think she found the trailer for Firewatch interesting, because it was added to the list.

So, the first day we played, everything went fine. Easy streamy, lemon squeezy. The second day… well, I’m an idiot. I had the mics muted the whole session. Which is too bad! Because, near the end of the game, the music gets nice and atmospheric and I started singing a great song. Kendra would tell you that the song was just me saying the words “fire” and “watch” over and over again, but there’s no video proof of that! This is a case of the Tenecious D’s “Tribute”!

ub3gfzt3vo6muca8jcy1But, that’s okay, because we both liked the game. Not the ending so much, but the whole experience was fun. It was stressful at times, funny and just a new type of game for us. The story was depressing at times, which is why you sometimes need someone there to lighten the mood. But the excellent voice acting really did take this game up from just being scenic to actually being immersive.

Also, I like shorter games. I don’t need them all to be four hours like Firewatch but gone are the days when I want all my games to be fifty hours or more. I liked Xenosaga lasting eighty hours because I was fifteen and all I did was game. Now that I’m older and have less time to play a game taking a weekend isn’t the worst thing in the world. And something the length of Firewatch or Limbo can really leave a strong impression. Especially compared to the opposite situation, like when I was praying that Fallout 3 would just end.

In conclusion, the stream might not have worked out because I’m a dope but the game is a good time. I recommend it easily, especially if you’re looking for something different or to play in front of someone who just likes watching. I might even revisit it someday and it won’t be a crazy commitment to do so. Plus, you can take pictures of trees!

You can find my previous streams and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Stream Recap – Return to Castle Wolfenstein

12597-return-to-castle-wolfenstein-collector-s-edition-windows-front-coverIn which I recap streaming a game I just completed. Please accept this stream recap.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a game that I never played as a teen. I didn’t buy my PS2 until the summer of 2002 and I didn’t go looking for many of the earlier games for the system. That means a first-person shooter from 2001 that was part of a series I never had any attachment to was ignored.

I think I first heard of the game when it was ported to the XBox but, again, I never went back to find it. Many years later, more than a decade even, I saw the game on a Steam sale and picked it up for about a dollar. I can never know when I need an old school shooter to pick me out of a funk.

As I mentioned in another post, I just played the Mass Effect for the first time. It was fun, for the most part, but near the end I was getting impatient. I decided during the last few hours that my next game had to be faster and have more action. Since Return to Castle Wolfenstein was one of the oldest games in my collection and some gameplay footage I watched looked just right, I gave it a go.

2863876-return_to_castle_wolfensteinThe game taught me that I’m not as good at older shooters as I used to be. Where once it was my genre of choice, now it feels like I’m an old man wondering where the bullets are coming from. I’ll admit, since there’s video evidence proving it, that I quick saved like a maniac who gets an electric stimulant whenever he presses F5. It’s the only way I was able to beat the game in a reasonable amount of time because it was tougher than I expected. I was a bullet sponge with no aim.

The bosses weren’t tough, but the levels took forever for me to get through. There were many sections where I was repeating the same corridor fight like a digitally violent version of Groundhog’s Day.

In the end, Return to Castle Wolfenstein was the type of game I was looking for, but it was a frustrating time. I wish I had been better at it, but I’ll excuse myself for it being an older game. I guess I’m now moving through first person shooters that I missed in chronological order, continuing with the first Far Cry. And there’s a bunch more after that, so maybe I’ll get better as I go along. I doubt it will be the same as when I was a teen. Gone are the days of playing the same game through multiple times for hours at a time. Now is the time of praying for body armor and checkpoints, just so I can finish the game at all.

You can find this stream and other videos here!

Streaming Makes Games More Fun

250px-masseffectWhen I say I’m behind in the world of video games, I’m not kidding. I just beat Mass Effect. The first one. From 2007. For those keeping track at home, that’s a decade old.

I could review the game but who needs that? Most have heard of it, played it and moved on. You’ve had ten years to find reviews, you don’t need mine. Well, fine, if I must. Combat is fun until you’re too strong, the story is entertaining until it gets in the way of it’s own momentum. The driving sections are the most frustrating “adventureing” I’ve ever done. I’m sure my opinion has greatly affected your purchase of this game.

But what I wanted to focus on was how this is now the first game I’ve streamed on my Twitch page from beginning to end. See, I’ve streamed before but never a whole game. On my YouTube, I only have the last three episodes of the second season of Telltale’s Walking Dead. As long as I keep playing the first Pillars of Eternity and recording it, that one will join the “complete” club, but I’ve only got two videos of that game out.

In the past, I’ve only streamed pieces of games. Some Knights of the Old Republic II or Doom 3. A lot of Hearthstone and FTL: Faster Than Light (why the abbreviation then?). But, again, it wasn’t a start-to-finish event.

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During Mass Effect, I had some people visit, mainly my wife and a few friends. But, what happens is, I keep talking and joking while playing the game, even without an audience. Just turning the camera on switches something in my brain. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter if I’m alone or not, I’m “on”. It might not make sense to others, but it makes the whole experience a bit more fun.

It makes me interact with the game more, like I would with friends around. If I’m playing alone and not streaming, I’m silent, just staring at the screen and passively thinking about the game. If I am streaming, I talk back to the characters, even if I have the same option to converse with them in-game. I make fun of the game, make comments on something being cool or impressive. I’m more likely to laugh or get angry. It sounds silly, but even pretending there’s an audience makes me more engaged in the game.

Which is good, because I think that explains a quarter of the enjoyment I got out of Mass Effect. Again, it’s a fine game but I think I would have become bored with it as I went along. The pacing might have been too slow, or the planetary exploration might have been too frustrating. Turning it into a performance, even slightly, made the game easier to get through, especially during the rough patches.

mass_effect_1___07_by_gelvuunIt also creates a sense of responsibility, if that makes sense. It puts a reminder in my head that, yes, I need to keep playing so I can keep streaming. I don’t want to miss a part of the game off-Twitch and have a gap in the play through. It’s not an addiction, but it does activate the completionist in me.

And by exporting my Twitch videos to my YouTube page, I can save them indefinitely (until the internet collapses and we’re hunting with packs of wolves in the dying twilight of humanity). It gives my YouTube a new life, a new sense of purpose. It means my old videos that I made with my friends can be surrounded by new material, whatever the form. I means I can share the playlist of all ten videos of me playing Mass Effect. 

The whole process made the game a better time. And when people do show up and talk about the game, it makes it better. I’m glad I had the few viewers I did during those driving sections. I’m glad I had someone else to talk about how annoying the characters could be or call me Neo when I tore an enemy force to ribbons. So, I’ll keep going. I’d like to record more games from beginning to end. If you’d like to see that happen, head over and say “hi”. Or stick to the Youtube and watch from there. Or I’ll just post finished playlists in their entirety here, since that was the point of posting a blog that was planned to to be much shorter.

Music is the Secret Weapon of Indie Games

At one point, I was incredibly behind in the world of video games. I had spent time away due to college life and budgetary reasons. But then, when my financial situation stabilized, I upgraded my laptop situation and with the help of many Steam Sales, I began to close the gap of time lost.

I finally played Doom 3 and Fallout 3 and the Arkham series and other big budget games I had missed out on during their releases. The older games I wanted to play were cheaper and that meant they were the games I was tackling first. No surprise.

It was a surprise, however, that I started trying out indie games. I had moved away from video games around 2006 and missed out on the rise of this world. If Braid was the unofficial beginning of this bright new era, then I was wearing sunglasses. I didn’t read articles about these games, I didn’t hear people talk about them. I was oblivious.

But Overclocked Remix changed that with one ReMix. They posted a track by contributor Dale North for the game To the Moon. It was a mix for a game that I had never heard about. The write-up for the song had a positive review for the game itself, especially the soundtrack. Combined with SNES-style graphics and a relatively cheap price, I was intrigued.

As a game, To the Moon was fine, more of an interactive movie than a game. But the story tore my heart in half, so it left an impression. And the music was as melancholy as the narrative, over-emotional and infectious. Too the Moon helped me realize that there was another world of games that I had missed. It wasn’t just the big titles like Bioshock or X-COM, but this new crop of indie projects.

Binding of Issac must have been the next game I tried. The Zelda-esque dungeon-crawling was something I immediately understood but the presentation was unlike anything I had played before. And I found the game’s soundtrack to be absolutely fascinating. It was dark, exciting, creepy and atmospheric. It felt like a carnival or haunted house, it has a sense of humor in it’s despair. It was also the first game I watched others stream, which means it opened a whole other world for me.

I found Faster Than Light soon after and fell head over heel. It’s a great game that feels like an action movie version on Oregon Trail, but, you know, in space. It’s difficult but incredibly satisfying. Even when you lose, you don’t feel like giving up. It’s endlessly entertaining and imaginative. I love it. And the soundtrack is killer.

I bought the soundtrack, actually. It’s on Bandcamp and I find it a great listen apart from the game. The battle music is thrilling but the tunes that play when you’re simply exploring are wonderful. They feel timeless, like the soundtrack has always been around. It creates the feeling of traveling through endless space and threatening nebulas perfectly.

Bastion also has a great soundtrack, which is good because the gameplay is, as best, fine. Actually, the whole presentation of the game is beautiful, with gorgeous graphics and a process of growing the world as you grow. But, still, it’s the music that I remember the most. It has a rustic soundtrack, filled with folksy guitar and lyrics that reminded me of the show Firefly. I can’t think of another game with music like Bastion.

Crypt of the Necrodancer is all about the music and it works because the tunes are great. You want to move on the beat of the current song, lest you die. It starts to become second nature because all the tracks are funky enough that you start nodding your head as you play. It feels like it could have existed back on the SNES, but I don’t think those games had the technology for the soundtrack. It music is a bit more intricate than what I remember from the early 90s. I might be wrong, because the soundtrack fits with the pixel art of the game so well.

I say all of this because it’s something I think modern video games have lost. I loved Bioshock but I couldn’t tell you if it had music or not. Nor can I hum anything from League of Legends, Arkham City or the new Fallout series. As games have become more cinematic, they’ve gone the route of having large, orchestral soundtracks that lack the memorable tunes of titles of old.

But indie games are smaller. They can’t afford orchestras. They get individuals who make smaller, more intimate music for the games. Because of the limitations, personality is more important than scope. They recall a time when video game music was memorable, when you would play certain levels just to hear the music. And now with Spotify and other streaming options, we can listen to that music whenever we’d like. The sound is quirkier, or maybe it wants to be more emotional, or has it more character. It’s not afraid to show it’s sensitive side or be silly. These days, it feels like, bigger games are less likely to experiment with their soundtracks. Or perhaps, because they’re longer, they’re afraid to play the same music over and over. A game like The Binding of Issac can repeat it’s creepy tunes on a more regular basis because you’re only on those levels for minutes at a time.

As someone whose iPod (yes, a classic, with the clickwheel and everything) is filled with video game remixes, I have a special place in my heart for the memorable side of video games. Music is one of the most important factors of those memories. Maybe the PS2/XBox/Gamecube era was the last time musical themes were an important factor for developers. Halo had a great soundtrack with an iconic theme, as did The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (so much so that it’s carried on through the rest of the series). But these days, it’s the indie games that are carrying on the tradition of catchy, interesting video game music. It’s their secret weapon.

A Geek’s Guide to the Best Podcasts

On the 91st episode of The All the Books Show, we talked about podcasts. Nic and I each mentioned three podcasts for our listeners. The thing is, I listen to more than three podcasts! And a lot of them are a bit too geeky for me to talk about on the show.

So, I’m going to talk about my favorite podcasts that I listen to and would suggest to people with similar tastes. Or different tastes! Some people like branching out!

Let the free advertising begin.

 

The Weekly Planet

the_weekly_planet_jpegAn Australian podcast hosted by Mr. Sunday Movies and Nick Mason (not that one), The Weekly Planet talks comics books, movies, tv and sometimes, rarely, video games. It’s a geek news cast, keeping listeners up-to-date with the latest rumors, trailers and reviews. Each week, the cover the latest news, review a movie or tackle a topic, talk about what they’re reading/watching and answer letters.

I used to get all my comic book news from sites like Comic Book Resources, but since I started listening to The Weekly Planet, I now get my news from this podcast exclusively. It’s funny, they tend to have great ideas and it doesn’t have the cold, corporate excitement of a press release like most websites. I don’t always agree with them, sometimes I feel like I know more about a subject then them, but it’s always amusing. Nic Mason is a quick wit and can crack me up without a moment’s notice. Mr. Sunday is a good spirit, though he gets much more aggressive than Mason. But he’s a great host with a pretty fun YouTube channel of his own.

It’s a great show for those who’d like to stay up to date with comic book movies, geek TV and pop culture in general.

 

Filthy Casuals

231717_300x300Next is another Australian podcast and this one has risen to the show I look forward to the most. The hosts, Tommy Dassalo, Ben Vernel and Adam Knox, are all funny comedians on their own, but together, the show is a great time.

Filthy Causals is a video game cast that covers the current gaming news and releases. They’ll speculate on rumors, review the games they’re playing and answer listener mail. Sometimes discussions go long and philosophical, such as the future of gaming or whether or not The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is, objectively, the best game ever made.

They’ll also dedicate whole episodes to certain topics, such as the time they covered TIME Magazine’s 50 Best Video Games of All Time list or, just recently, E3. They also will talk about whole series, such as the Grand Theft Auto or Mario games. Their humor is crude more often than not, but it’s hilarious and despite some of the harsher jokes, the show does create a warm environment to talk about video games. Never claiming to be experts or the most skilled and focusing on comedy over dry information sharing, it’s easy to recommend.

 

Do Go On

8949871_origThe last Australian podcast I’m going to list is also harder to describe. Each episode, one of the three hosts reports on a topic and the other two do their best to make the facts fun. Many of the topics are chosen by the listeners, with report topics ranging from Charlie Chaplin, Jack the Ripper, Shackleton’s Endurance or the Wives of King Henry VIII.

It’s a fun show. Dave Warneke, Jess Perkins and Matt Stewart crack each other up constantly and I’ve had to rewind to hear jokes a second time. It’s a show that I can bulldoze through, going through multiple episodes in a row. The topics are rarely boring on their own and the humor adds to it all. It’s a weirdly educational show and I’ve learned quite a bit while listening. Sometimes, the humor gets in the way of the fascinating history but it’s hard to fault it when it’s so entertaining.

 

The Great Albums

qsvreiauThe Great Albums is a show that looks to cover the best albums in music history. The show’s goal is to talk about albums as a whole, as not just a vessel for singles but a work of art from first song to last. The hosts try to have the discussions about the work in the same way fans would, as two friends talking about their favorite music.

Bill Lambusta and Brian Erickson host the show and almost always have guest to talk about that week’s album. Topics range from the obvious Dark Side of the Moon and Who’s Next to the obscure, like New Miserable Experience. These days, the albums discussed depend on the guest’s favorites and Bill and Brian’s own taste tends to run a bit different than mine. While I don’t love all their choices, the conversations are always interesting. They have great thoughts about music and what makes it last.

I appreciate the focus on albums over singles, as I’ve learned to appreciate them myself over the last few years. I ended up buying a car with no aux port so I relearned how to listen to albums from beginning to end. It really is a different experience than listening to just your favorites on shuffle. And The Great Albums is a guide in finding the best music.

 

OverClocked PodCast

downloadI wrote about OverClocked Remix back on Hubpages once or twice. To quickly talk about it, it’s a fantastic site that collects remixes of video game music. With thousands of songs and albums, it’s treasure trove of your favorite game’s soundtracks presented in new and interesting ways.

The OverClocked PodCast shines a spotlight on the website and video game music each episode. Brothers Stephen and Bryan Kelly will introduce music to each other, see what’s new over at OCR, interview a host about a particular track or project and than host a listener created playlist. The interviews are great practice in talking about what we love from game music and to see what elements stick with certain people. The playlists feel like a radio station got smart and started playing the best unaired music they could find.

I’ve been going to OverClocked Remix for seventeen years, filling my iTunes with it’s music. While I’ve tried to introduce the site to friends and family, it’s never stuck with them and I’ve been left to appreciate the music alone. But this podcast shares my love for the site and video game music in general. The Kelly Brothers are fun, nerdy hosts and keep the episodes cheery. If you’ve never been to the site or don’t listen to game music yourself, this cast is still a great music show and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for great tunes.

 

Revolutions

600x600bb1Is this somehow the nerdiest podcast I’m talking about? This is a history podcast hosted by Mike Duncan, who is not a comedian, that covers revolutions throughout history. Split into seasons by the revolution being covered, each episode focuses on elements and characters of history that make up the wars.

Duncan is frighteningly knowledgeable about each revolution and wise to keep each episode thirty minutes long. By keeping them short, the show feels digestible and less intimidating. Sure, some of these revolutions are more interesting than others, but I always feel smarter finishing an episode.

While Duncan can be a bit dry, he does have a sense of humor and brings up the insanity and bad choices that led to many of these uprisings. He’ll follow rabbit trails to see how small decisions lead to big consequences, he’ll make fun of historical figures and stop to make sure we’re understanding what’s happening. He’s not the world’s most charismatic entertainer, but he’s a fun professor if you’re an attentive student.

 

The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

1200x630bbOne of the oldest podcast I still listen to as I used to follow Goldsmith’s other show Creative Screenwriting Magazine. The Q&A follows the same format; Jeff Goldsmith interviews screenwriters, directors and actors about the creative process of film making.

Each interview, Goldsmith has a formula of of questions for the guest. We learn how they got started, how they’re process works, if they outline or not, how they deal with writer’s block, etc. He then focuses on the movie at hand and asks about decisions, challenging scenes to write, elements that came easy and the creator’s next project(s).

This show has made me a more critical movie watcher, as I’ve learned terms and troupes of film making. Depending on the movie being discussed, some of the the interviews can be fascinating and seem too short. The episode with George Miller discussing Mad Max: Fury Road is criminally brief, the interviews with the writers of Marvel films are never long enough and I remember wanting the Nightcrawler show to not end. For writers, this is an invaluable cast. For film buffs, its more insight to share at parties. Even if you’re not a writer, this podcast can be a wonderful look into the creation of your favorite films. Highly recommended to everyone.

 

Shut Up and Sit Down

600x600bb2An extension of the popular board game website of the same name. The episodes are hosted by a steady crew of British gamers, tackling board game news and reviews, while also reading listener mail (sometimes even my own!). In the growing world of table top games, this pod is a quick way to stay up-to-date with new releases and trends in the hobby.

It’s mainly hosted by Quentin Smith and Paul Dean, with a regular rotation of other site contributors. They’re all enthusiastic about the hobby and it’s growth and many of them are very well traveled in the world of table top games. Even if their opinions are different from mine, they always know what they’re talking about and talk about games with a desire for others to play as well.

I owe Shut Up and Sit Down a lot, because they helped and guided me as I got into modern board games over the years. They were the first place I learned about 7 WondersLetters from Whitechapel and Rex. If it wasn’t for this show, I wouldn’t have wanted the classic Survive: Escape from Atlantis or tried the hilarious Spyfall. It’s been a great resource and it’s fun as well.

 

The Adventure Zone

wfpebjnpA very new addition to my listening schedule, The Adventure Zone is one of the funniest podcasts I’ve ever listened to. Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy are three brothers who bring their dad, Clint, along for a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, with few of them ever having played before.

Griffin runs the game, starting from the 5th Edition premade adventure and then creating his own world and story. He’s a funny guy alone, but his brothers carry a lot of the weight. Sure, some of it is from their own jokes, but their role playing can be so bizarre and hilarious that listening to the show while driving can dangerous. I ended up laughing myself into tears, thankfully in standstill traffic, during their early adventures.

It’s the only narrative podcast I listen to and it’s a a niche one as well. Where I might recommend most of the other shows to anyone, your mileage may very. My wife has very little D&D experience, but she still found the show entertaining and ended up laughing right alongside me, so I would suggest giving the first episode a try, despite reservations.

 

The Rest

There’s a few other shows I at least want to mention, if not get into deeply.

Fatman on Batman by Kevin Smith used to be a great exploration into the world of Batman and comic book history. He would have writers and artists of comics and tv come and be interviewed about the Dark Knight and it was an amazing look being the creation of some of the best Batman stories. Unfortunately, the show has lost focus and is now just another new show for movies. If you’re interested, I highly recommend going back through the older episodes, especially the interview with Dennis O’Neil.

Writing Excuses was the first podcast I ever heard and I loved it for a long time. The show changed format and focus a bit, and I personally lost interest as the years went on. Aside from that, it’ an amazing tool for inspiring writers with hosts who have been there and found success. Endless tips, suggestions and great ideas for writers (and readers), I don’t think I would have written a novel or taken a writing minor without this podcast.

Cane and Rinse is a new show I’ve found but I’m hooked. Every episode is an in-depth discussion about one particular video game. I’m not far enough a long to say too much more, but I find it fascinating and the hosts really do a good job talking about the game objectively with a dry, English wit. It probably won’t appeal to people who haven’t played the games but I recommend it to all interested parties.

Years ago, I wrote a post about Christian podcasts I suggested. It’s dated now and it’s not for everyone but you can find it here.

Any suggestions of your own? Podcasts you think I should listen to? Hate my choices? Let me know! And of course, be sure to check out my sweet podcast! It’s a weekly treat for readers and non-readers alike!

Stardew Valley is My Therapist

I’ve been playing a lot of Stardew Valley.

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Like most things, I got to Stardew Valley late. The game has been out for more than a year and despite Steam Sales and fantastic word of mouth, I only recently purchased a copy for myself. You see, my wife got a new computer and since she likes Animal Crossing, I decided she might like another farming/village simulator.

She’s played it for a little bit and moved on. I’ve played it for weeks.

When I was younger, the PlayStation 2 got a port of the Sims and I got addicted for a week. That fire eventually died and I moved on to more complicated simulation games like Civilization IV and such. I figured since I missed the Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing craze, I was pretty much safe from the farming/life simulator genre. I was wrong.

The game opens with you receiving your own run -down farm from your grandfather. This gift frees you from the 9 to 5 world of cubicles and city life. Let me tell you, I’m at the point of my life where I don’t know what I want to do and where I want to live. I’ve got my 9 to 5 job and regularly scheduled life and I’ve found the whole experience unsatisfying. Not bad, mind you, and it’s extremely helpful in allowing me to do some things I want and have dogs and a roof over my head and etc. But, I found the opening of the game to be highly effecting.

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In a way, it’s a meta opening. Your character is given a change to get away from the world and fix up his farm and start a new life. The player, in turn, is given a virtual farm that helps them escape from the busy day to day of life. More than most games, I’ve found Stardew Valley to be one of the most relaxing games I’ve played.

Which, is ironic because you stay b-u-s-y in the game. Days move by quickly, with hours gone in minutes due to the in-game clock. There’s never enough time in a game’s day to do all I want. Each time my character wakes up, I have to choose what my day will look like. Will I farm and milk my cows and plant new crops? Will I spend the day fishing and gathering? Or will I spend hours in the mines, fighting off slimes and digging for gold?

16There’s so much that I can imagine some players only doing specific things their whole play through. Me? I like doing a bit of everything and see all there is to see. As my second year in the game rolls around, I’m more excited for my crop choices and barn expansions. And I still want to do more.

The characters are probably the secret weapon in this game. Goals are nice and designing my farm is fun but the people you meet in town give it personality. I’ve played games that are huge in scope but only leave me feeling lonely because the characters I meet are empty vessels of conversation trees and quest markers. But each villager you interact with in Stardew Valley has their own goals, regrets and personal journey. Romancing has a simple charm to it, people falling in love through gift giving, but there’s a story to it all. AS you learn more about each character, you want to know more and soon you’re trying to unlock all possible stories.

When my wife has gone to bed and I’m left with the choices of what to do with the night, it all comes back to Stardew Valley. Nothing feels as relaxing as sitting at the beach while trying to catch squid or exploring the depths of the mines looking for Purple Mushrooms. Nothing feels quite as satisfying as harvesting quality potatoes or producing duck egg mayonnaise. Maybe this is more of a critique of my current life, my current contentment. It’s not like I want to own a farm myself.

But the Super Nintendo graphics are so charming, the music is so relaxing and the characters you meet are unique and funny that it’s almost a convincing pitch of farm life. And it keeps you coming back. I enjoyed Prison Architect but, after finishing the campaign modes, I haven’t returned. Stardew Valley has content to spare.

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Again, this is probably as much about me as it is the game. Medal of Honor: Frontline left a strong impression on me as a teenage because I was unhappy with my life at the time and I wanted to feel like a hero. But, joining the army would have been the wrong choice for me back then.

Stardew Valley is a great game. It’s addicting, it has personality and helps me wind down after the day. But it also taps into a part of me that isn’t satisfied, that isn’t excited to start a new day. It taps into the adult I’ve become and makes me wonder if I’ve taken the right roads.

In the game, I’m goal driven. I have long term and short term plans and I work towards them with determination. In the game, I’m people oriented. I work to find out the character’s likes and dislikes, befriend and romance and attend all the parties. In the game, I’m exhausted at night and jump out of bed in the morning.

In the game, I’m who I’d like to be in real life.

Did Eric Barone mean to make a Rorschach Test when he created this game alone? Did he mean for it to sell one million copies so that some people would rethink their life? I doubt it, but that’s what happened with me. I like my job and love my friends but where am I supposed to put down roots? Because no one is going to give me their old farm and save me from the mundane.

Maybe I can take the positive lessons from Stardew Valley and become more goal-oriented in life. Maybe I can take this discontentment and work for something that will bring me more peace. If I prefer the person I am in the game, maybe it’s time to be that person in the real world.

 

…always a gamer!

The last post on my blogger was about my final days as a video gamer. It’s always a sad topic for me, because I once felt a personal connection to the games I played, the characters I met and the worlds I explored. To not be part of that anymore because my life is now filled with other things is bittersweet.

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But there is some light coming down this tunnel! A resurgence!

My wife and I recently traded in some older video games we inherited from family. I didn’t expect much money back, but Bullmoose has a great exchange program. I walked around their video game selection, looking for inexpensive PS2 games I hadn’t played. This proved to be a gold mine, as I found a copy of Shadow of the ColossusIt was a game I had watched a friend play but never picked up myself. Not only that, but they had a copy of Tomb Raider: Legend, which I had only played a demo of but enjoyed quite a bit back in the day. I also found Onimusha 3: Demon Siege and my uncle lent me Silent Hill 2. The first two Onimusha games were some of my favorites back in my big gaming days and the Silent Hill series is one I’ve stayed away from due to not wanting to cry like a baby.

As of right now, I playing through Resident Evil 4 and Onimusha 3 and then I’ll move on to the others. What’s exciting for me is that I’m having fun playing all of these old games because they’re new to me. I missed all of these back in my glory days but they’re here for me now. Cheap, fun and I even have time to play them! Shadow of the Colossus was great, even if it was short. Now, I just need to find a copy of ICO, Kingdom Hearts II and Final Fantasy XII and my PS2 days will be complete.

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But just playing video games isn’t the only thing to give me back some of my old gaming joy. Kendra and I recently attended a Video Games Live concert. We went to the one in Allentown, PA and despite the look of the surrounding town, found the concert hall to be extremely fancy. The audience was filled with geeks and gamers, but also people you didn’t expect were gamers. I assume a lot of the older audience were there to support the local orchestra.

The show was amazing. It was great to hear the soundtracks of my favorite games get so much love. Their rendition of Castlevania rocks and the Pokemon segment was a heck of a trip down memory lane. Repeating the Team Rocket speech with an entire opera house? Awesome.

I’ve also never seen so many people cheer for one man playing Guitar Hero.

The whole experience was wonderful and helped remind me of how much fun I used to have with video games. The concert played a big part in me going out and picking up the classics that I missed, so it looks like I have Video Games Live to thank for getting me to play Shadow of the Colossus.