Hi, my name is Gary and I'm an alchoho- Oh, wait. Wrong introduction. Well, this is awkward. What is this place for? Gaming? Okay.
Let's start over. Hi, my name is Gary and I've been into gaming for as long as I can remember. This will probably date me as fairly young, but my first gaming platform I ever got was the Gameboy Pocket when that was released. I was seven. The first game I got, and it was the only game I had for a while, was Mortal Kombat 2, until my sort-of uncle bought me Super Mario Land 2 and Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening for Christmas. That was the beginning of the end. From that moment on, I was drinki- err, wait... Gaming! Hah! Got it. I was gaming ever since then.
I enjoy a nice bottle of aged scotch and a long RPG, preferably something by Bioware or BethSoft.
But, everything isn't all hangovers and adventure. There exists the dark times of the year. The coldest, darkest, most dreary and soul crushing months of the year, I can be found in the darkest corner of the apartment crying, wishing the demons would go away and stop trying to burn my library and break everything I own. But, I digress.
Hmm... I think I'm mixing up my introductions again. Anyway, I'm here and hopefully you'll have me.
I know I havenít been around on the C-Blogs a whole lot lately, but itís not like I was here a whole lot to start with. I had some good times. Lately, though, and I use the term ďlatelyĒ in a rather loose sense of the meaning, I have spent a fair amount of time writing.
This started as a side project of mine in 2004 and got pushed to the side after I finished part one of three. A couple of years later, I picked up the project again and wrote the second part to this story. I followed that up with attempting to rewrite the first part and stopped after I got about halfway through the first attempt at a rewrite. Fast forward a few years and I restarted my rewrite from the beginning and stopped after a couple of chapters.
The story of this picks up again three months ago when I scraped together ALL of the work and notes I had for this and started my rewrite again. The difference, this time, is I saw it through and finished rewriting part one and started my rewrite of part two to reflect the changes made in part one.
I drew inspiration for a lot of this from many different places. The two big ones ended up being survival horror games and countless psychological thrillers I watched during high school. For a while, I had terrible insomnia, and after a while of fighting it, I just gave in to it and spent my nights playing games and watching movies. It probably really shows throughout the story.
I feel like I need to clarify this. Iím not proud of my writing. I feel accomplished for actually writing it. Iím not trying to play it up or down. Itís just something that I did and wanted to share with everyone.
Right now, in my life, things have settled down a bit. Iíve gotten my major medical stuff out of the way. I got a (somewhat) promotion at my job and now am full-time (guaranteed 40 hours a week). Also, my cancer looks to be cured. Not treated, but cured. I just have a few follow-ups over the next few years. Because everything has settled down, I've got a bit of extra money to spend.
For the longest time, I was only a handheld gamer. I , later, became a handheld and PC gamer. Then, as the story goes, I got my first large tax return, after I moved out, and decided to get a 360. I never really had all that much interest in the Nintendo Wii, until now.
The problem Iím finding is picking out a Wii to buy. I have some older Gamecube games that I want to be able to play, but itís looking like all of the new Wii models donít support Gamecube games. Iíve searched for a bit now for one of the older models with Gamecube support, but almost all retailers Iíve seen or been to only have the new holiday bundles without Gamecube support. I feel a bit disappointed I never jumped on board with the Wii before now.
Enough of that. Iím going to get a Wii sometime soon with or without Gamecube support, soÖ
Right now Iíve got No More Heroes 2 on order (found it for $2 on Glyde. With shipping it game to just over $5) and I plan on getting Xenoblade when I get paid this weekend. I want to track down the first No More Heroes and also get Skyward Sword. Outside of those games, Iím not sure of what else to get.
This is the part where I finish talking, and ask everyone for game suggestions for the Wii.
So, what games should I pick up?
Games are an odd medium for storytelling; between being judged by their visuals, auditory performance, and controls, most try to pack in a narrative of some sort. Rather than books and comics, which use just text and still images to get across their story, or movies, which are all simply moving pictures with audio, games are interactive. Itís this interactivity that sets games apart from other forms of narrative.
Right now is also an odd time for games. Roger Ebert comes out every so often and writes off games as nothing more than a toy and discredits any artistic merits they may have, but this is also coming from a man who made a career out of watching movies and talking about them. Roger Ebert isnít the right person to ask about the merit behind games being a form of art. A person with common sense wouldnít go to a urologist for shoulder pain. Asking Roger Ebert about whether games should be considered art is just as absurd.
Events in the past few years concerning some games (notably Mass Effect, Fable, and Call of Duty) caused stirs in the entire gaming community. From offering a paid service for an online shooter to people demanding the story of a game be changed, it seems like a lot of people expect their games to be treated as products. The problem with this, though, is that the game aisle at any given store will begin to look more and more like the business software aisle of a computer store. Games will be classified more by system and genre more than ever. The market seems to want not just a game to be a product, but art as well. I donít see a problem with this, but a distinction needs to be made between whether the negativity concerning a game is based on which aspect of it; product or art?
When watching a movie in a theater and the entire movie is blurry, half the audio is missing, and everythingís discolored, itís reasonable to want a refund for the experience, or some sort of compensation for the entire experience. The delivery of the product is different than the content of the product. This would be judging a book on itís physical quality, not the words written within. The problem here is that delivery can impact content. If a game ships and itís completely unplayable right out of the box because of software bugs, itís another part of delivery and it failed.
At the same time, I donít feel like gamers should demand the story for a game be changed. If I think a movie is terrible, I donít demand the whole thing be changed to my liking. I accept the fact that the movie is terrible and move on. I just may decide to not watch any sequel that may come out for it. I understand complete and utter disappointment as much as the next person. I never went through the trouble to demand something be changed. It never occurred to me because I accepted the fact that whatever I was given was what the creators felt like it should be.
Instead of games be considered art OR a product, I donít see why they canít be both. Seeing how a game like Team Fortress 2 works with micro-transactions built in and how many other games work with downloadable content added later on, itís not a large leap for a game to be both at once. Other games that come to mind that follow a model that I feel covers both bases of art and product are Call of Duty with its Elite program and Battlefield 3 with the website community it has built in. My opinion is that they can be both at once, but Iíll be interested to see how things play out over time.
Everybody seems to be doing this, and itís been quite some time since I last posted here. I thought Iíd follow the trend and get this up. Just be prepared to learn some facts about me you may not have ever wanted to know.
1 Ė Iím a pack-or-more-a-day smoker. I have been for quite some time, now. The only brand I smoke is Camel Turkish Royals.
I started smoking at age 17 when I was working at K-Mart (I recommend never working there, by the way). I remember going through some odd time as a teenager and having a fascination with clove cigarettes. After work one night, I drove into downtown and had the older friend of someone I knew pick me up a pack of cloves. I remember staying up that night until about two in the morning writing a story for creative writing, and chain-smoking, listening to Queens of the Stone Age the whole time.
This all was after my parents had sat me down a few weeks prior and said that they ďknewĒ I was smoking. I hadnít even started yet. They told me that I could be doing worse things, and that they didnít care. I just shouldnít smoke at the house. I took that as the green light to give it a try.
2 Ė My favorite soda is Cactus Cooler. For those that donít know, Cactus Cooler is an orange and pineapple flavored soda that was made for, originally, mixing with tequila.
Growing up in southern California, I was fortunate enough to be in the area this soda was distributed. After moving up to northern California, I had abandoned all hope of seeing that beverage again. I had, too, for a good twelve years, until I moved into the crappy apartment Iím in now. Around the corner from here is a liquor store that, to my surprise, stocks Cactus Cooler. I used to stock up on it there, until I found out, even more recently, that the Savemart grocery store about five minutes from here has the twelve pack cases of it.
3 Ė Iím part Native American, part Scottish, and no idea what else.
Iím part Chippewa Indian. Card carrying and everything. That, mixed with me being Scottish as well probably explains my love for scotch whiskey. Itís also a bad idea for me to have too much of it, as people who have seen me drink will tell you.
This next bit might get a bit darker in tone. Eh, whatever.
4 Ė I saw a psychologist for two years for manic depression.
As a preface for this bit, I need to explain that I started having some major issues starting around age thirteen or fourteen. I stopped sleeping normally and was averaging maybe twenty-four hours of sleep a week. I started having some issues with friends because three of my friends moved away in the same summer, and the ones who didnít move ended up being narcissistic little shits whose parents never punished them for anything. I remember becoming mostly introverted and socially awkward and starting high school made everything worse. I had a lot of anxiety problems as well. Mix all of that with suicidal thoughts and youíve got yourself a cluster-fuck cocktail of bullshit.
Anyway, to get back on trackÖ What led up to me seeing a psychologist was a short story I wrote. This happened in freshman year of high school. I wrote a short story involving a man talking to himself. He was arguing with a ďdemonĒ in his head about something or other. This went on for a page or two, and ultimately ended with the man killing himself. I had the misfortune of having an over sensitive teacher who, rather than pull me aside and ask me if everything was alright, took my short story straight to the school councilor and sheriff on duty at our school. I got called out of class two periods later and had to have a long, in depth discussion with them.
Long story short, they were worried that I would try and shoot up the school and kill myself, and my parents got pulled into the mix. It was a huge ordeal and I ended up going to a psychologist. I stopped going after it got to the point that I didnít want to try medication for things, my parents were against the idea as well, and I felt that I was getting nothing out of the entire experience. I still have issues, but Iíve learned how to manage things.
5 Ė I used to have an eating disorder. Itís something that I kept hidden for a long, long time, but it feels good to get it out in the open. Now Iím lazy and will eat almost anything, but I struggled with that for almost four years. Along with that were other destructive habits I had, but, like my other issues, I just learned to manage them.
Sorry for bringing anybody down with that. Hopefully this next one is a bit less of a downer.
6 Ė I wanted to be a psychologist, but dropped out of college. Twice.
To be fair, the first time I was stupid, and the second one was because of a car accident. I guess the car accident part is more interesting, though. Letís change that.
6 Ė I once did a barrel roll in a 1998 Chevy Blazer at 4:20 a.m. on April Fools Day. You read that right. Itís exactly what it sounds like, too.
Me in the driver seat of the Blazer. I wish I had one of it after the accident. Every window on it except for one exploded.
Four years ago, I was working overnights doing remodels for a retail store. The whole crew was built up of people from different stores in the retail chain, and we would work on one store for a week, and move to the next store the following week. It was all really easy stuff. We mostly shifted planogram sets around and added some shelving fixtures and that was about it. But, the bonus for doing all of this was an extra dollar an hour and paid mileage. I jumped on the as soon as I could. The only issue was I was still going to school during the day. My schedule ended up being I would go to work at ten at night (sometimes having to drive an hour or two to the store we were working on) and then once work got out, I would start school. I would then sleep a couple hours between two of my classes, and then get a bit of sleep after my last class, and start work all over again.
This went on for two months. But, on April first, in the early hours of the morning (it was 4:20 in the morning, too. I had just gotten gas at about 4:15 and was on the road maybe five minutes before my accident happened.) I dozed off while sleeping, went to correct myself, overcorrected, and then overcorrected one more time which caused one of my back tires to burst, the rim to dig into the road, and my car to just go rolling off the road.
I almost walked away from the accident with just some scrapes and cuts, but I guess I took a deep breath and held it the whole time and the impact from it all caused me to get a pneumothorax, or as most people who are not doctors would call it, a hole in my lung. This resulted in a hospital adventure like none other. I was in and out of there for a month and a half. Things were going fine, and then it turned into pneumonia, and three liters of fluid had to get pulled out of my lung cavity with a long needle through my back.
I would go into more details about all of that, but it gets pretty gnarly. But, I will say, when a needle has to pierce the lung cavity in your chest, they can only numb so far. After a certain point, you excruciatingly feel everything.
7 Ė A collage of photos of me is hanging in a photo studio somewhere.
The thing with this entry is that for our high schoolís senior portraits, we had to go to local photo studios to have them done instead of something at the school. The photo studio I ended up going to had some urban something or other package they just introduced, which ended up being photos in alleys around Old Town and such. They ended up looking really cool, but the whole thing was a bit odd at first. However, because I was the first person to go in and choose to do that package instead of the boring, ďHey, look at me sit next to a tree, or near some flowers, or some shit like that!Ē package, and the photographer was impressed with how well the photos turned out, he uses my photos as an example.
Now, every year when the street market starts in summer, a collage of photos of me get displayed in his window.
8 Ė In addition to video games, one of my hobbies is tracking down really old, creepy places with fucked up histories. I live in Grass Valley which is an old mining town in Northern California. To find it on a map, itís pretty much right in between San Francisco and Reno. But, because this is a mining town, thereís tons of really creepy historical places around here. Up in Nevada City (which is in California; it happens to be only a six minute drive from Grass Valley) one of the restaurants is built on top of one of the old mine shafts. The basement area is connected directly to one of the shafts and is used year round to store the wines and kegs of beer because it keeps them cool. Something a lot of people donít realize about that building is that the original owner of that specific mine (about one hundred fifty years ago, maybe more) decided he wasnít going to pay the Chinese immigrants he had mining for him anymore and just blew the mine up, caving it in on them.
One of the many mine shafts around here.
There are tons of places with fucked up pasts like that around here and I love tracking them all down. Iíve got a story about Dr. Anton LaVey, but itíll have to wait for another time.
9 Ė Iím going to be 23 in two months, but it feels like Iím turning 40. I wish I was kidding when I say that, too.
10 - I only have one testicle.
Last year I found a lump on one of my testicles and put off going to the doctor for a couple weeks. Finally, I got around to making an appointment. I put it off out of equal parts fear and denial. When the doctor I went to wasn't sure of what it was, I knew I was in trouble. I was then referred to a specialist for this type of thing.
The next doctor I went to, Dr. Kirby confirmed that it was cancer and that I should go and have some tests done. I was a bit disappointed he wasn't round and pink. I was even more disappointed he didn't suck me up and spit me against the wall.Anyway, after the test results came back, he scheduled me for surgery the following week to have that testicle removed.
Luckily, right now, after surgery and going through chemo, I'm at a 98% chance or so of it never coming back. I just have do to some follow up appointments over the next two or three years to monitor things. But, everything's looking good so far.
I would have a picture of the removed testicle in a jar here, but they didn't let me keep it. I asked, believe me. Even coming out of anesthesia and being doped up on dilaudid, I remembered to ask them. So, instead, a blurry photo of the paperwork I had to run over to the hospital will have to do.
11 Ė I may like a lot of music, but a certainly donít like everything. Some people may have a band that got them through a hard time, or maybe a go to album to help them feel better, or certain songs that make them happy. I constantly change what I listen to and rarely go back to what I listened to before. What I listened to ten years ago Iím not going to listen to again because itís so strongly tied to that entire point in my life and Iíd rather not deal with that. I just move sideways, music wise. I find similar artists and bands and branch out from there.
I will tell you what Iím currently listening to, thou8gh. Right now, loaded on my Zune is Brasstronaut, The Heavy, Innerpartysystem, Kill Hannah, Katzenjammer, The National, Queen Adreena, Ruby Throat, Say Anything, Corps Electrique, Modest Mouse, Nine Inch Nails, and Aesthetic Perfection.
Thatís it. I made it through ten things. Any questions, feel free to ask.
Christmas and the entire month of December are flooded with nostalgic feelings and traditions shared with family and friends. I would be lying if I said I didnít have some of my own. However, besides the standard fare of exchanging gifts and spending Christmas Eve with friends (to keep Christmas open for family), exists another one. While the television stations are clouded with Christmas specials and a thousand and one movies involving people helping that helpless, jolly bastard, Nick (seriously, though, I donít think he even has parents), I can be found in front of my pc or a small television with a controller in hand.
What got me thinking about all of this was a combination of two things. The first one was the Destructoid forum thread asking what games everyone plays at Christmas, or during the holiday season. While that sparked my interest into the topic, it was the Christmas playlist of music at work that really made me sit down and think (and thankfully the furniture section is hidden in a back corner of the store and business is generally slow before 10am). Instead of what some businesses do and pipe in Christmas music from a lot of ďhipĒ or new artists and play butchered covers of songs that, when modernized, sound terrible, most everything in the playlist of music consists of the classics from the 40ís, 50ís and 60ís. I know I canít be the only one with the sentiment that, even though my personal taste in music may differ, these songs are truly Winter and holiday songs. It must seem like Iím straying off topic with this, but it pertains. Everything comes around.
Every year now, for the past four or five years, come the end of November, or start of December, I get an insatiable itch to play the Fallout or Bioshock series. Before that, growing up, it was always Final Fantasy. I never took the time to think about why those franchises and not any others. The easy argument for the why on the Final Fantasy series could be made; having all of the extra time off and wanting a fulfilling experience, those games fit the bill, but it goes a bit beyond that. By the time I got a Playstation 2, the system had already been on the market for at least a year, if not two years, and I had missed out on all of the great Playstation and Playstaation 2 titles. However, for birthdays, and more notably, Christmases, my grandma would get me a Final Fantasy game and the guide to go along with it. I remember getting Final Fantasy X one year and putting in nearly one hundred hour into the game in the two following weeks. Certain games and series always make me reminiscent of certain times of year and other such things, and Final Fantasy has cemented itself as a long, cold winter game in my mind.
Previously, I also mentioned Fallout and Bioshock. These two franchises are a more recent addition to my repertoire of Winter games. Rather than be associated with winter and Christmas specifically, they get pulled into the category for me by their sense of setting and atmosphere. I know this sound odd right now, but allow me to continue. This goes back to what I was explaining regarding Christmas music (I told you Iíd get back to it). The subject matter of the songs doesnít affect the categorization as much as the sound and style. Hearing the jazzy tones and analogue created sounds of ďBaby Itís Cold OutsideĒ does the same as far as getting me in the Christmas spirit as does listening to a playlist of Peggy Lee or Dean Martin. This, I believe, comes from spending the holidays at my grandparents house at the holidays and listening to what they always played. I feel itís the connection I make with the style of music to the time of year that pushes me to pull out any of the Fallout or Bioshock games this time of year.
This all being said, I think itís time I put on some Dean Martin and play some Fallout 2 or Final Fantasy VIII to round out this holiday season.
To start, and this is something that, as of lately, some games seem to fail to do, is draw a player in, and, more importantly, care. The player should be rewarded for their exploration and time investment into the game world with a sense of accomplishment, especially in an open world game. Sometimes, the small things are what really matter in BethSoft RPGs. This is my entire problem with playing Skyrim after finishing Fallout New Vegas. The world of Fallout draws me in so much more than that of The Elder Scrolls.
I enjoy good fantasy stories and worlds, and believe me when I say that Skyrim is a damn good fantasy world, but the reward for exploration doesn't feel as prevalent as it did in New Vegas. It feels like every time, in Skyrim, that I explore a series of caves, a set of ruins, a crypt, or an abandoned ship, I start at least one, if not more, quests. Sometimes I wish that instead of a quest, I was rewarded with a unique weapon, or a piece of special armor. I want trophies for my exploration. I feel perfectly fine accepting some of these quests most of the time, but sometimes, trying to maintain an organized quest log feels like work. A lot of this comes down to pacing, from what I've noticed. The rewards never come from exploration, but from quests.
I get tired of this menu easily
I feel there should be another way of distributing these rewards outside of the game saying, "You found this crazy man's journal in a cave describing his smuggling operations and infatuation with diseased vermin, now take it to this person across the map to start an entire quest line to find his secret stash of supplies and gold. But, before you do find it, you'll have to visit three other people along the way, question a beggar, and explore two major caves full of bandits and vampires for little to no reward before getting your actual reward." I understand the mechanics of the game doing this; the game is making me reach outlying areas that I haven't been to before. This all comes down to the radiant storyteller in the game. That bastard seems to be working against me at every turn. Those of us familiar with The Elder Scroll Games generally have a way we play them. The same goes for a lot of other open world games. I know I get to everything in my own time and experience the game in full. This radiant storyteller, while a good concept, isn't at its peak just yet. The game is making me not want to continue playing Skyrim because of this hand holding technique removing the sense of accomplishment that used to be prevalent in The Elder Scrolls.
I can't be the only one who used to love exploring ruins, caves, and buildings in Morrowind and Oblivion just to see what was in the next room and to try and find something unique to take with me as a trophy for my work. The same went for the Fallout games, especially the two newest ones from BethSoft. One of my favorite things in New Vegas, and the what killed the most of my time in that game, was finding all of the little secrets in nooks and crannies. The major reward in that game came from exploration as opposed to questing. When I came across a large abandoned building, possibly full of security bots and raiders, I immediately wanted to explore it and find its secrets that were long forgotten. Everywhere I went felt rich and had some sort of story to tell. I loved learning the explanation behind the skeleton in the cave, and the ghouls on the mountain in the cave. I loved finding the sniper's outpost full of traps and seeing the bizarre entries on computer terminals. Everything felt familiar but fresh. Exploring was a break from the questing and traveling. I had similar experiences in Bioshock about wanting to learn as much as I could about that world. Exploring had its own reward of allowing me to find more plasmids, little sisters, and tape recordings. More important than feeling rewarded was I cared about the people in that game. This is something that I haven't really felt about a lot of the NPCs in Skyrim.
Small details like this is what makes the atmosphere pull me in.
An NPC's AI/programmed personality should make me feel connected to the universe it's held in. Nothing breaks my attention in a game more than a poorly programmed AI. This happens to not be the case with everyone in the world of Skyrim, but specific groups that feel disconnected from each other. I felt connected with everyone in the Dark Brotherhood, for example, but almost everybody inside of Whiterun had the personality of a robot. What was done differently between to two groups of characters is hard for me to pin down to any one thing, or even multiple things. It all has to do with how they acted and their personalities and habits. The people of Whiterun, for example, just seemed like the animatronic figures from an amusement ride, where everyone in the Dark Brotherhood's hideout gave the impression of actual people. This leads me to another thing in dealing with AI's programming. I would rather have characters robotic in nature than make them seem real, but just very stupid. Adding in more complicated patterns that they follow and more lines of dialogue that never seem to fit the situation just makes me feel like I'm in a world of morons. While Fallout 3 and New Vegas may have had some pretty terrible conversation and AI, specific characters felt real, and I grew attached to a lot of them. I remember vividly the bond I made with ED-E throughout the last DLC of New Vegas, Lonesome Road. I felt legitimate sadness near the end of that story. So far, nobody comes to mind in Skyrim that has made me feel attached to. I feel more attached to my horse in that game than anybody else.
A combination of AI and game structure is what makes me feel welcome in a game world. The AI doesn't necessarily have to be perfect, or even good. I have just as much fun playing with robotic AI as I do with basic NPCs. I just prefer to not feel like I'm playing with morons. I can get that experience online in any number of games. I turn to these large single player games for an escape as opposed to more of reality. The structure should reward my exploration and dedication of my time in the world. I don't feel that when I explore the furthest reaches of a world that I need to be bombarded with a dozen quests to my already exploding quest log. I love the sheer volume of content packed into the game, but something is to be said about the delivery of said content. Every time I get another quest telling me to talk to an NPC about a book or small trinket I found, I feel pushed away a little bit more.