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Everyday I’m Hustlin’ (and Doublin’.)

Happy Easter. Quiet here at the Ghost, I know. Chalk up 65% of it to an extremely busy month of work — one of the busiest I can remember — 25% to the usual existential malaise that accompanies blogging these days, and 10% to the sheer addictiveness of 2048. In any event, the schedule is clearing some now, so I expect the posts will pick up around here in short order.

Kill Me Again.

“Imagine Zelda and Link et al. being brutally, graphically murdered, over and over, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Now you’ve basically got it: The Souls games are like 50-hour playable Red Weddings in which you are the victim. These are, to put it mildly, games in which you die…The jokesters at From Software, the Tokyo company that makes Dark Souls, have put in the new game’s central hub an obelisk on which is written a constantly updating count of the global number of deaths. As of last Wednesday night, the count was 4.3 million. The game came out on Tuesday.”

At Buzzfeed, Joseph Bernstein sings the praises of the highly deadly Dark Souls games. “Basically, the Souls formula is to put a very difficult boss at a very far distance from a checkpoint with many difficult enemies in between who come back to life every time you save or die. It’s devious.” He spends entirely too much of the piece fretting about gaming’s respectability, and I think he oversells the uniqueness of the Dark Souls franchise, but still worth a read nonetheless.

Be the Batman.


This still ain’t no place for no hero: The Scarecrow threatens Gotham, and Bruce Wayne gets a spiffy new Batmobile, as Rocksteady Games announces Arkham Knight, the fourth and final installment in the excellent Arkham series, now enhanced with XBox-One-level graphics. There goes another fifty hours.

For Want of a Checkmark…

“The Battle of B-R5RB was the largest and bloodiest in the history of warfare. More than 20 million soldiers were killed and more than 600 warships — some of them kilometers long and capable of destroying lesser vessels with a single shot — destroyed in a battle that raged for 22 hours…[But] The biggest battle in the history of forever started with a clerical error.”

By way of Dangerous Meta, it has happened again. Wired‘s Bo Moore explains the tactical snafu that precipitated the costly Battle of B-R5RB in Eve Online last month. “Though it was just a game, the 7,548 people who fought the Battle of B-R could not have taken it any more seriously — and not simply because they lost virtual ships worth more than $300,000 in real-world money fighting it.”

For Want of an Eggplant.

“To watch Rex play Spelunky is to watch someone who has spent hundreds of hours — entire days — with the game, training his muscle memory, familiarizing himself with every possible situation, memorizing Spelunky arcana and honing techniques. Yes, he’s naturally gifted, but his talents are clearly bolstered by a colossal amount of experience. If anyone were going to pull off a solo Eggplant run, it was going to be Bananasaurus Rex.”

By way of longtime reader Jared Dunn, Polygon‘s Douglas Wilson tells the story of a successful solo eggplant run in Spelunky, 30-For-30 style. “[T]o someone who’s played Spelunky, those times aren’t just impressive — they’re superhuman. They’re like the four-minute mile of video games. And watching Rex use the Teleporter, one of the game’s most lethal tools, is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball with a bomb, successfully.”

I’ve never actually played, or even heard of, Spelunky until this article, but thought this was a fascinating deep-dive into one particular gaming subculture.

Warlords of Draenor (Aaaahoooo).

He’s the hairy, hairy orc who runs amok on dwarves. Lately he’s been overheard in Orgrimmar. You better stay far back, he’ll rip your lungs out Jack. Huh, I wonder if he leveled tailor. Aaahoo, Warlords of Draenor, aahooo. And, yes, that song’s been in my head since, over the past weekend, Blizzard announced the fifth and most recent Warcraft expansion. I was in for Outland, Northrend, the Cataclysm, and Pandaria — I’m up for another tour.

Blue Man Group | Examine Meth.

“What, exactly, does it mean to be a ‘man’? It’s a question that sits at the dark, warped heart of the entire series and its anti-hero protagonist. A nerdy chemist whose brains haven’t earned him any power or respect from the world at large, the terminally ill Walt decides that he’s finally going to get that power and respect through whatever means necessary (and whenever possible, using science). The show doesn’t just trace Walt’s arc from Mr. Chips to Scarface, as Gilligan famously described it, or from Walt to Heisenberg; it also maps his journey from being a ‘pussy’ to being a ‘man.’ And while he succeeds in his goals, it’s a transformation that comes at a high price.”

You’re not wrong, Walter, you’re just an asshole! In a well-thought-out and close reading of the show as a whole, Wired’s Laura Hudson discusses “the toxic masculinity of Breaking Bad.” “The series begins with what seems like an odd image: a pair of pants, flying through the air. Much of what follows is about who gets to wear them.”

Also among the many farewells, homages, and critiques of Breaking Bad as it departs: screenshots from the Breaking Bad text-adventure game. Admittedly, this sort of article is basically just egregious click-bait, only one step higher on the content chain than Buzzfeed listicles. (Breaking Bad as a Nintendo Game/Choose Your Adventure Book/series of commemorative plates!) Still, I’m always down for a little Infocom nostalgia.

My Money’s on Scorpion.


“What’s really great about these clips is the way they incorporate classic sprites from the game and put them in a real-world setting. It’s…pretty amazing that technology has advanced to the point where YouTube users can do this stuff without the backing of an entire studio.” An enterprising Youtube user films himself sparring against Mortal Kombat‘s fiercest fighters. Somebody needs to work on their combos.

Knocker of Knocks.


Round the decay of that colossal wreck, nothing beside remains: In anticipation of the final eight episodes, Bryan Cranston’s Walter White reads Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias. Breaking Bad returns Sunday, August 11th, meaning you now have less than two weeks to beat the Lego game.

When Routine Bites Hard…


And ambitions are low. And resentment rides high, but emotions won’t grow… “The game asks players to explore relationship issues like miscommunication, emotional impasse, and the sadness of separation, and players must learn to accept that not all relationships are salvageable. Each level of the game is inspired by a verse of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart.’” Meet Mario’s older, depressed cousin, Emo! Anyway, haven’t tried this yet, but it’s definitely in the queue.

Follow the Bouncing Dot.

“‘We are trying to understand how human motor performance changes with age,’ the researchers say. ‘We believe that research should be done in collaboration with people—with people like you who are interested in learning about themselves and helping research.’”

An online Harvard experiment tries to guess your age by evaluating your mouse-clicking ability. Hard to say how good it is, really. It deemed me thirty — eight years too young — but then again, with blogging and gaming both ranking high among the extra-curriculars, I probably use a mouse more than most people too.

Where Worlds Collide and Days Are Dark.

“Here I am, standing outside Winterhold, watching the snow blow in gusts down the path. There’s that bridge to my right, and that mill to my left, and the docks beyond the bridge. I hear a dragon somewhere. I still have no idea what else is up in the mountain behind the city, despite having sojourned to its peak multiple times. I’ve still never collected all of the types of blood that one demon asked for…There’s still so much of Skyrim left to see, and so much Skyrim left to play. But I’ve probably seen enough.”

Onward to the next adventure: With the announcement that there’ll be no more xpacs, Kotaku‘s Kirk Hamilton says farewell to Skyrim. To be honest, I haven’t even started Skyrim yet. I borrowed my father’s copy many moons ago, but I’ve been daunted by the scope of the game — and afraid of the inevitable timesuck it will generate — since it came out. As Alan Sepinwall noted of the currently-unfolding Golden Age of Television, it seems to get harder and harder to keep up with all the great pop culture out there at the moment. Not enough time in the day.

Farewell, LucasArts.

“‘After evaluating our position in the games market, we’ve decided to shift LucasArts from an internal development to a licensing model, minimizing the company’s risk while achieving a broader portfolio of quality Star Wars games,’ Disney informed Game Informer in a statement. ‘As a result of this change, we’ve had layoffs across the organization. We are incredibly appreciative and proud of the talented teams who have been developing our new titles.’”

It’s as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. As part of their recent acquisition of the Star Wars empire, Disney decides to close down LucasArts. (A solid appreciation of their middle period is here.) As one of the wags at Coming Soon well put it, this deal is getting worse all the time!

Granted there hasn’t been a must-play Star Wars game since Knights of the Old Republic in 2003, and that was mostly on account of Bioware. But give credit where due – in the late 80′s and early 90′s, LucasArts had an unparalleled record of excellent games: Maniac Mansion, Zack McCracken, Sam and Max, Monkey Island, Full Throttle, Grimm Fandango, Dark Forces, and, of course, the original X-Wing.

Throughout, the LucasArts sign was a symbol of quality craftsmanship, and in many ways, they kept the torch of adventure games aloft after Infocom had closed up shop and Sierra’s Quest line had faltered. (Today, that torch is held by Telltale Games, where Sam and Max and Monkey Island live on.)

Aperture Science.

“With a portal at each university, students can stand in front of a vertical 50-inch high-definition monitor and communicate with the help of a webcam, microphone, speakers and a computer running a video communication service. A backlit booth will house the portal.” Look at them still talking when there’s science to do — Now Duke and UNC are playing with portals. (I just hope the Duke side is red.)

Leeroy Rides Forth.

Warcraft has grown to be one of the most popular multiplayer online role-playing games. Taking an almost kitchen-sink approach to fantasy, it is part fantasy, part science fiction and — depending on the game you’re playing — includes elements such as dragons and orcs, zombies and werewolves, aliens and spaceships.

After years in development hell with Sam Raimi, two of my hobbies converge anew as Moon and Source Code director Duncan Jones grabs the reins of the Warcraft film. Said Jones in 2010: “I’m hugely jealous of Sam Raimi. I really believe World of Warcraft could be the launch of computer games as good films…[I]t’s not worrying about how the game plays, it’s about creating the world of the game and investing the audience in that world.”

Game of Bricks.

“It took me and about 100 other builders a little over 4 months to build the whole thing. We estimate there are around 3000 unique buildings, all hand made and all fully decorated on the interior.”

Best build some wildfire…A group of audacious (and bored) GRRM-enthusiasts recreate the entirety of King’s Landing in Minecraft. I’ve yet to try Minecraft, since quite frankly I’m afraid to court another gaming addiction. But everything I read about it makes it seem like it’s eventually going to be the online world described in the namedroppy but compulsively readable Ready Player One.

The Bloodbath at Asakai.

“This past Saturday, one misplaced mouse click in MMORPG EVE Online sent a lone Titan spaceship hurtling into enemy territory, triggering a cascade of alliances somewhat akin to the run-up to World War I, and resulting in one of the largest space battles ever seen in the history of the game.”

Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate..Finally on the MMO front and also languishing in the bookmarks, Tor recounts how one simple mistake caused an intergalactic catastrophe on EVE Online (another game I’ve never played.) “While EVE ships start at $1 and top out around $100, the Titan dwarfs them all by requiring around $7600 of time/investment. Thanks to a single wrong click on Saturday night, that money is gone, and thousands more with it (at one point the estimated number reached $150,000.)”

570 Channels (And Nothin’ On).

“‘We don’t know whether the media multitasking is causing symptoms of depression and social anxiety, or if it’s that people who are depressed and anxious are turning to media multitasking as a form of distraction from their problems,’ Becker said in a statement.”

And here I thought Netflix and Warcraft went so well together: A new Michigan State study finds a correlation between depression and multi-tasking media. I wonder if the obverse is true also. One of the many reasons I love seeing a movie in the theater is that (ideally) nothing else but the film is impinging on my attention.

Aperture Bridal.

Well, there’s no sense crying over every mistake. You just keep on trying ’till you run out of cake.” Thinkgeek posts some pics from a snazzy Portal-themed wedding. I hope it lasts longer than the Companion Cube.

Target Acquired.

“Then, Daphne Bavelier of Rochester University began publishing studies showing that computer games improved the vision of people with normal eyesight. I couldn’t help but wonder: If they helped the normally sighted, why not people with impairments? Also, I saw studies where enriched environments for rats improved aspects of vision damaged after early deprivation. Well, what’s an enriched visual environment for a human? It might be a computer game. I thought, ‘Click, why not give it a try?’”

Developmental psychiatrist Nancy Maurer discusses her findings that playing first-person-shooters helps people born with cataracts to improve their vision. “I’m a reader. My husband and I don’t have children. So computer games wouldn’t be a part of our lives. I’ve never played one. I can’t imagine enjoying playing one.

Z0MGP4NDAS.


About that time again…Blizzard releases the official trailer for Mists of Pandaria, dropping September 25th. Still not sold on the pandas, but I’m looking forward to a more cohesive xpac than Cataclysm, where it seemed most of the best work was put into revamping the 0-60 content and the 80-85 stuff felt more like a throw-in.

hOw’S aNnIe?



The good Dale is in the Lodge, and he can’t leave. Write it in your diary.” Since, two decades later, we never got a satisfactory resolution on Agent Cooper’s fate in the Black Lodge — although I guess it’s possible Ed Helms freed Annie from there during his epic Hangover — some enterprising soul has turned Dale’s attempted escape into a downloadable 8-bit game (available here, and here’s the source material.) Extra points for the 8-bit “Sycamore Trees.”

Borne Back Ceaselessly into the NES.


Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther, jump ever higher, collect all the coins… Hey, wait a tic…The Great Gatsby Nintendo game. Once again, he’s playing with power.

Now You’re Playing With…Pandas.


We’ve explored an alien planet. We’ve thrown down the Lich King. We’ve witnessed the End of the World. And now…we consort…with kung-fu pandas? At Blizz-Con 2011, Blizzard announces the next WoW expansion: Mists of Pandaria, and, er, yeah. Not feelin’ the pandas, guys, sorry. (But, yes, I’m sure I’ll be playing it anyway.)

World of Enzymecraft | Taming the Dragon.


Games provide a framework for bringing together the strengths of computers and humans. The results in this week’s paper show that gaming, science and computation can be combined to make advances that were not possible before.” Score one for spatial reasoning: Using the game Foldit, online gamers manage to decipher a enzyme structure that has eluded scientists for a decade — in three weeks. “Cracking the enzyme ‘provides new insights for the design of antiretroviral drugs’, says the study, referring to the medication to keep people with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) alive.

On the subject of HIV, it looks like the enemy of our enemy is our friend: In a stunning feat of gene therapy, scientists have used a disabled version of HIV to successfully defeat leukemia. “Mr. Ludwig’s doctors have not claimed that he is cured — it is too soon to tell — nor have they declared victory over leukemia on the basis of this experiment, which involved only three patients…But scientists say [this] may signify a turning point in the long struggle to develop effective gene therapies against cancer…In essence, the team is using gene therapy to accomplish something that researchers have hoped to do for decades: train a person’s own immune system to kill cancer cells.

Stations of the Crossword.


Every crossword in the Times is a collaboration between the puzzle-maker and the puzzle editor. On average, about half the clues are mine. I may edit as few as five or ten percent of the clues, or as many as 95 percent for someone who does a great puzzle but not great clues. Why accept a puzzle when I’m going to edit 95 percent of the clues? Well, if someone sends me a great puzzle with an excellent theme and construction — you want fresh, interesting, familiar vocabulary throughout the grid — I feel it would be a shame to reject it on account of the clues, because I can always change them myself

In the Atlantic, NYT crossword editor Will Shortz briefly explains the techniques of his craft. “Liz’s clue was Rory’s mom on Gilmore Girls, and I didn’t think solvers should have to know that.” You don’t? That’s a bit elitist, isn’t it? (Apparently, I’m not the only person to think so.)

Raining Cats and Rocks.


In advance of the teaser purportedly dropping this weekend with the final installment of Hogwarts, the first poster for Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knights Returns is released. The villains are less iconic in this one (although those of you who want a Riddler fix should head on over to Arkham City), so the publicity people will have their hands full matching some of the Joker fun they had last time ’round. But so far, so good.

Epix At Knifepoint.


‘Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour,’ Liu told the Guardian. ‘There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [470-570 pounds] a day. We didn’t see any of the money. The computers were never turned off.’

Some very troubling news for MMORPG cheats to consider: The Guardian reports that prisoners at Chinese labor camps are now forced to gold-farm for hours on end. “If I couldn’t complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things.” Ugh, don’t subsidize this, people. If you can’t farm the stuff yourself, find another hobby. (Arthas pic via here.)

This Ain’t No Place for No Hero.


Have you ever considered that all this is your fault? Your presence creates these animals.” Following up on their Hugo Strange teaser of last December, WBGames releases the gameplay trailer for Batman: Arkham City, and it looks like the Joker and Harley Quinn are back for another go-round (along with Two-Face, Catwoman, and the aforementioned doctor.)

My non-Cata gaming time has most recently been spent playing through the scary-impressive Dead Space 2, but this and Portal 2 are on my drop-everything list. Can’t wait. (And FWIW, that catchy song above is “Short Change Hero” by The Heavy.)

Funke Town | Coenology 101.


Mrs. Peacock with the Cornballer in Wee Britain…By way of Web Goddess, Pleated Jeans has assembled the Arrested Development version of Clue, “complete with box art, game board, suspect cards and weapon cards.” And, once that fails to entertain, Muller has fashioned a handy and informative Coenfographic to trace exactly who’s shown up where in the Coenverse over the years. Even more illuminating than the Goy’s Teeth!

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