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Apocralyptic

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#1  Edited By Apocralyptic

I don't like to brag, but I own a lot of video game houses. I'm the owner of five residences in the province of Skyrim alone, and in Albion anything bigger than an anthill has my name on the deed. Some of my many electronic properties were even built with my own two thumbs, like the mansion I designed for my Sims or the low-res countryside villa I constructed in Minecraft (from cobblestone I mined myself).

I still own my 300,000-gil mansion in Costa del Sol, one of the first video game properties I ever bought.
I still own my 300,000-gil mansion in Costa del Sol, one of the first video game properties I ever bought.

Given my depth of experience in the arena of virtual home ownership, I wasn't terribly concerned when (back in the real world) my wife and I recently bought a single-family house for ourselves and our two children. Moving into our new home, however, I quickly realized two things:

  1. We own a lot of crap, and most of it is very heavy to lift.
  2. The countless hours I've spent playing games like The Sims and Minecraft have led me to very seriously misjudge the amount of time, expense, and effort required to establish a suitable residence for oneself and one's family.
Hey, if it can hold up a Honda Civic, then it should be able to keep my cabinets from falling off the wall, right? (Yes, this is really how I fixed my kitchen cabinets.)
Hey, if it can hold up a Honda Civic, then it should be able to keep my cabinets from falling off the wall, right? (Yes, this is really how I fixed my kitchen cabinets.)

In other words, it appears that owning all these video game houses has done fairly little to prepare me for buying an owning a house in the real world. Upon reflection, I've realized part of the problem is that certain key parts of the homeowner experience have not been adequately represented in gameplay.

For example, despite the province of Skyrim's incredibly low real estate inventory (which apparently consists only of five houses), I didn't have to engage in any multiplayer battles against other prospective buyers who were all competing for the same property. When playing Fable III, buying a property in Albion never involved filing a mountain of paperwork in order to get a mortgage, whose underwriting inevitably would have unlocked entire new dungeons full of paperwork for me to navigate. And don't even get me started on the lack of a plaster repair game mechanic in Minecraft.

I suppose what we're really talking about here is a question of immersion. Video games often talk about being more "immersive", but to be honest I'm not always sure what that means. In a truly immersive version of Skyrim, for instance, upgrading the blacksmithing perk would have required the Dragonborn first to complete a five-year apprenticeship, and exploring the frozen mountains of Winterhold would probably have involved less enchanted loot and epic battles with dragons, and more crushing loneliness and frostbite. With these changes, I'm not exactly sure what kind of game Bethesda would have ended up with, but somehow I doubt it would have sold 10 million copies.

Here's an MLS photo of
Here's an MLS photo of "Breezehome", a little place I own in Whiterun. It's an historic Scandinavian-style cottage in a great school district, provided you don't mind your children occasionally being eaten by dragons.

My point is that people like video games not because they provide some sort of alternative "virtual" version of reality, but because they provide something far better than any virtual reality: distilled reality. Like the corresponding physical process, the distillation of reality that video game designers perform removes the impurities of the real world (like taxes and wallpaper removal), leaving us with an invigorating aqua vitae chock full of action, mass murder, puzzles, instant gratification, and bizarrely athletic plumbers.

Regrettably, like any libation, distilled reality must be consumed in moderation, lest its side effects lead to unfortunate consequences. In my case, getting drunk on booze or reality both result in similar kinds of behaviors, including (but not limited to) unpredictable fits of anger, horniness, and the firm belief that I would probably be able fight a dragon. Nevertheless, there's nothing like a bourbon Manhattan and some Gears of War deathmatch to take the edge off at the end of a tough day... and like my distilled spirits, I don't expect I'll be giving up my distilled reality anytime soon..

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#2  Edited By Apocralyptic

I actually like the quests as well. I think they're a great way to direct people to places on the site they wouldn't normally go, which is important considering how big the site is and how much content is on it.

I wonder if the kind of traffic that the quests generate is either hard to analyze or just not of interest on the business side of things?

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Apocralyptic

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#3  Edited By Apocralyptic

Well, thank goodness. My fall was starting to look pretty packed with new releases. I especially got concerned once I started to hear that there was actually a chance that Black Ops II might be good, 'cause that was originally on my "skip" list.

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#4  Edited By Apocralyptic

@Ravenlight: I think it will be pretty much the same; I think they just built on top of the same crappy wallpaper physics engine from WRC2010. Hopefully they'll update it for the next-gen systems.

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#5  Edited By Apocralyptic

As I've mentioned in the past (and as known by anyone who has had the misfortune of meeting me personally), I love criticizing things. Unfortunately, the writing of game reviews brings with it a host of other problems, and since I started blogging I've noticed that my gaming habits have changed significantly. These days I almost exclusively play new releases, rushing through each game as quickly as possible in the hopes that I can pen some sort of semi-informed review while anyone still cares. (In fact, in the 10 days it took me to finish Mass Effect 3, everyone had already become sick of debating its "controversial ending".)

So, for a change of pace I decided for the month of April to play whatever I felt like playing whenever I felt like playing it. (At least, as long as "whenever" happened after the kids went to bed.) Rather than write exhaustive reviews for each game, I figured I would instead attempt to condense my standard several pages of witty commentary and dick jokes into just a paragraph or two about each game.

Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)

After spending an uninspiring winter term studying at the University of Final Fantasy XIII-2 (The "Safety School" of J-RPGs), I was anxious for a role-playing game that would really spike my cocoa. Enter Xenoblade Chronicles, (nominally) spiritual successor to the other "Xeno games" (i.e. Xenogears on the PS1 and Xenosaga on the PS2). Xenoblade Chronicles was originally released in 2010 for the Wii, and like most Wii games, it wasn't released in North America. However, unlike most Wii games, it was supposedly quite good... in fact, it was apparently so good that a fan campaign led to it being released here nearly two years later.

You'll enjoy exploring Xenoblade Chronicles' lush and expansive world, especially since there won't be any pesky high-definition graphics getting in your way.
You'll enjoy exploring Xenoblade Chronicles' lush and expansive world, especially since there won't be any pesky high-definition graphics getting in your way.

Right now I'm about 20 hours in, and so far the game's primary effect has been to remind me that the Wii's graphics are on par with a PS2 that's been left out in the rain, and that its controls handle like an old Atari joystick made out of a live weasel. That said, it's impressive that such an underpowered system can support a game of this scope. The stereotypically inane J-RPG dialogue--while still present--is softened by the choice to make everyone have a British accent, and the initially simple battle system continues to become increasingly more layered. So, I suppose for now I'll forge ahead with the hope that all that hype was founded in some sort of reality I have yet to experience.

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (Xbox 360)

Seeing the extended-gameplay trailer for Assassin's Creed III at PAX East rekindled my interest in this series, or at least nudged it enough that I was willing to drop $21.99 on Amazon and about 20 hours of my life on Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (which I passed on when it came out back in 2010). I have to admit, I'd forgotten how much I love these games. Although largely unchanged from the formula of Assassin's Creed II, there are a few subtle changes that go a long way towards enhancing the AC gameplay experience.

I had heard that the real contribution of ACB was its innovative multiplayer, but unfortunately I didn't explore this aspect very much... in part because I didn't want to tarry before moving on to Assassin's Creed: Revelations, but mostly because I didn't feel like getting the ol' hidden-blade-to-the-brain-stem treatment by the few die-hard assassinos still lurking on the servers after 18 months.

Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360)

For about half a year now, Gears of War 3 has reigned as the official game of TNGN (Thursday Night Game Night), my weekly multiplayer gaming session with my friends from high school (or as my wife calls it, my "standing Thursday play-date"). As much fun as it is to frag complete strangers, there's a lot to be said for engaging in multiplayer with folks who respect a request of "don't kill me for a few minutes; I need to go change a diaper".

"RAAM's Shadow" introduces the new character Michael Barrick. He can be easily distinguished from other characters in the Gears canon by his gravelly voice, terse demeanor, and impossibly large musculature.

Actually, I think there must have been quite a few diapers that needed changing during the month of April, because more than once our TNGN crew seemed a little thin. In fact, one week I was a party of one, but instead of sobbing into my Manhattan and cursing children everywhere, I instead took the opportunity to wrap up the GoW3 RAAM's Shadow DLC. It turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable and well-executed addition to the campaign, especially the parts where you get to play as General RAAM (the final boss from the first Gears of War).

Dragon Quest IX (Nintendo DS)

They say the birth of a child is a happy event. I'm inclined to agree, because the birth of my daughter in January resulted in my three-year-old son getting an Xbox Kinect and myself getting a Nintendo 3DS. After playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D for about an hour, I opted instead to go back and dive into some of the old Nintendo DS games I missed, such as Dragon Quest IX.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is an RPG in the classic Dragon Quest (a.k.a. Dragon Warrior) style, meaning that you can't blow your nose in the game without it being accompanied by several pages of text narration. While this results in a gameplay experience that is doubtlessly padded, it also has a certain laid-back charm that is well suited to a portable gaming experience. In the past few months, somehow I've managed to sink 50 hours into this game (mostly in 15-minute chunks), and I still haven't beaten it.

Fez (Xbox LIVE Arcade)

Last month's indie darling Fez looks on the surface to be simply a perspective-based puzzle-platformer, reminiscent of Crush or Echochrome. Though its pixel-art graphics and chiptune soundtrack are not without their charm, most folks are unlikely to be blown away during the three hours it takes to collect "32 Cubes" and beat the game.

What does it mean??
What does it mean??

However, once you beat the game and unlock New Game +... that's when things begin to get weird. As you start over on your quest for the "32 Anti-Cubes", you begin to realize that the pixel-art world of Fez is rife with cube-based iconography, and that the environments you've been carelessly hopping through are littered with snippets of language, numbers, history, astrology, and religion, much of which is integral to solving the puzzles in this second half of the game. The culture of this strange little universe is so deep and interwoven that at one point (around 2:00 AM) I started to believe an entire race of 2-D people actually lived inside my Xbox. It's been a long time since a puzzle game forced me to write actual notes on actual pieces of paper.

Well, that's about it for the April Game Roundup. In other news, we're closing on our new house tomorrow. Perhaps in another month I'll be writing about my new favorite games, which are likely to include such titles as Wallpaper Removal Challenge 2012, DIY Home Wiring: First Aid for Minor Electrical Burns Edition, and Moving All Our Crap to a New House.

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Apocralyptic

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#6  Edited By Apocralyptic

@camp7203: Welcome! I remember back when I joined, I got some interesting comments on my welcome thread. Well, it was actually a mix of interesting comments along with sketches of anthropomorphized piles of excrement sporting enormous genitalia.

You know, it's funny, at PAX East when I finally met some of you folks in person, I said that one of the reasons I liked this site was because people were friendly. The universal response I got from every duder was... "Friendly? Really??"

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#7  Edited By Apocralyptic

@This_Dude: I tried it for the first 5-10 hours I played the game. It was passable as long as things didn't get too hectic, but on Hardcore or Insane, once shit started to get real it was a lot faster (in terms of game time) and more reliable to bring up the command ring and enter the commands manually. I did feel it made the game more "immersive", but given the choice between (a) immersion and (b) getting murdered because a squad member didn't listen or took to long to respond, I'll choose the option that keeps me from having to see another loading screen.

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#8  Edited By Apocralyptic

@Alphazero: I had mixed success. My main issue was that there was a bit of a lag, and since I was never really convinced they heard me, I would often repeat commands, and sometimes get impatient and speak multiple commands. Looking back, I suppose even real human beings may have been confused by my leadership. Regardless, a single-player game won't have a lot of these issues.

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#9  Edited By Apocralyptic

@Donos: I suppose shouting Dragonspeak would be more fun than yelling commands at Garrus while he pointedly ignores me.

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#10  Edited By Apocralyptic

Did they play ME3? And still decided this was a good idea?