Friday, August 29, 2008

Pot calling the Kettle "Racist"

Just a quick update: I got my first vocal idiot complaining about my choice of gamerpic tonight, during a ranked game of Catan. He said, and I quote in entirety:

McCain is a racist! He's going against a black man! Obvious racist!

Yes, obvious, I suppose, if you only look at the color of the candidates' skins.

I'm not sure if the correct action, then, is to let Obama run uncontested because he is black; or if it's just that a white man isn't allowed to run, and the Republicans are required to pick a black candidate just because the Democrats did.

But I didn't bother to ask. Something tells me that such a question would've exceeded this individual's mental capacity.

Xbox Politics

An interesting joint project has MTV's "Rock the Vote" releasing some promotional material over Xbox Live. Apparently, by downloading a gamer picture, you can indicate your desire to register to vote, and Microsoft will provide a way to register. I'm not sure how the logistics of this will all work out, and to be honest, I don't necessarily care, since I've already registered. I've always been a little dubious about the whole "Rock the Vote" campaign anyway. Sure, it promotes awareness and participation in the political process, but it doesn't seem to do much to make people take it seriously.

But anyway, part of the promotion included gamerpics of the frontrunners for the two major political parties: McCain and Obama. Without getting into political details (this is a gaming blog, after all), between the two, I support McCain over Obama. However, I don't choose to identify myself as McCain, so I didn't see the need to download the picture and make it my own. Besides, I know when it comes to identifying people online, I see the gamerpic as part of that identity recognition, and I didn't want to "confuse" other people by changing mine. And, admittedly, another part of the decision was a concern for how the unrestrained masses of Xbox Live would react to a political statement with which I'm sure a non-insignificant number don't agree. (After all, there are two topics that are almost always dangerous on the internet: politics and religion.)

However, after a discussion on, and after noticing people on my friends list downloading these candidate pictures, I decided not only would it be fine, but it might actually be an interesting experiment to see what happens. So, I downloaded the McCain picture and set it as my public-facing gamerpic. (Because I didn't want to include friends in this "experiment", and out of respect for those who may identify me by my BugBash picture, I left my friends-facing picture the same.)

Last night was my first night in Xbox Live matchmaking with my new gamerpic. I decided on Catan, both because of the high-visibility of gamerpics in the game and the fact that I still need the "accumulate x points" achievements.

It's difficult to say what reaction it provoked, if any. The first game I played, one player dropped out immediately, leaving a computer to fill the seat. Even though there was an AI to pick on, and I was behind for much of the game (with the AI and one human battling for the lead), both other humans seemed to take great joy in hitting me with the robber. This didn't last the entire game, though, and, ironically, I was able to come back from behind and win that game.

Right after that game, I ended up in another ranked match with fellow Geezer AylaAtHeart, and we played through that game without any noticeable incident. I did check my reputation during that game to see if the previous gamers left any feedback, but it seemed unchanged.

Ayla and I played, and then we spent some time attempting to coordinate getting into a ranked match with another Geezer, bifercatur. During that process, I did end up having to back out of two games that attempted to start. (I mention this because this kind of behavior is something that, by itself, could be worthy of bad feedback.) We did eventually get into a game, and then we played one more after that which Ayla couldn't get into.

I didn't notice any disproportionately mean play (except for some good-natured ribbing from Ayla and bifer, which I'm reasonably sure was not gamerpic-related since they would see my BugBash pic). I did have more than one string of bad luck, but that was due to bad dice rolls, not players. All in all, for expecting fire and brimstone spewing from my headset, it was fairly anti-climactic.

Although my 360 Blog did report a drop in rep yesterday. I'll have to check that out.

I'll add new posts with this label if anything interesting happens, but for the moment, it doesn't seem that political statements on Xbox Live matter all that much.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fable and Fable II Pub Games

With Fable II coming out this year, I decided to finally finish Fable. I got it as part of an Ebay auction when I had to replace my old Xbox. It's a pretty good game. The only real glaring issues I had were with camera control (can't look "up" or "down", just rotate around you and zoom in or out on you), target lock (I rarely used it except when trying to shoot my bow or magic from afar, and in the final battle it kept locking on to the minions instead of the main boss), the enemies that would multi-hit faster than my character (may have been a function of me using a slower weapon, although it was described as "light"), and that my character would occasionally swing in the wrong direction (which might have been helped if I used target lock, except when fighting groups of enemies, I didn't want to target a single enemy).

The game suggests you can choose between good and evil. However, I found that it seemed very easy to get on villagers' bad graces without even trying, and difficult to correct mistakes. Towards the end, I had managed to build up a fairly "good" reputation, which happened quite slowly. Women (and some men) would fall in love with me just walking into the room. It was rather amusing. Then, I had a choice of three quests. One was to rescue a bandit spy. That one seemed fishy, so I passed it by. Two involved a bandit execution. One was to free the bandit being executed, and one was to stop the bandits from freeing the one being executed. I thought that the game designers would determine that stopping a killing was the lesser evil, so I chose that option.

Apparently, that was the wrong choice. But here's where it gets very annoying. My stats said I was still positively aligned. I even saw the halo and butterflies around me when I stood still. Yet my face had become darkened, and now villagers cowered in fear. My (in-game) wife wanted nothing to do with me. Even when I tried picking up a simple escort mission, the traveller refused to follow me, instead trembling in fear and running away.

I didn't get any more quests to undo the damage, and even wandering around killing bandits (which did give me "good" points) didn't change anything. I was quite annoyed with the whole thing at that point and just went on with the main quest to finish the game.

Maybe there's some moral point to that, like it's easier to be evil than good or that people believe the worst — but it was a rather disappointing twist to an otherwise good game. The main story (which hopefully didn't change with my errant quest), at least, was interesting.

Moving on. Fable II comes out this fall. As in Fable, you will be able to earn gold by playing games in pubs. To make things interesting, though, the pub games can be downloaded separately as an Xbox Live Arcade title. These games can be played outside of Fable II, and the gold earned in those games is "real" gold earned in the "real" game.

Personally, I think they should be giving away the Pub Games for free as a promotional tool for Fable II. They only "sort of" are — if you pre-order Fable II, you can get a code to download the Pub Games for free. Which I did.

Right away, there's a huge difference in the games between Fable and the Fable II Pub Games. Fable had several games across Albion, and some of them were actually based on skill rather than chance. The Pub Games, of which there are only three, are almost all chance.

The first, Fortune Tower, is a type of card game. Cards are dealt, and you are given the opportunity to collect money based on the total value of cards in a row, or take a chance that the next row dealt will be a better value — the risk being that a card that matches a card from the previous row can end the round and lose your complete bet. I would argue this game takes the most thought, as you have to constantly weigh the risk against the potential reward and decide whether to "press your luck or pass". Still, it is quite possible to completely lose your bet with a deal of only six cards, and while it would seem the odds of this happening should be quite small, it happens with alarming frequency. Fortunately, a small glitch in this particular game allows you to bet the minimum but get credit for betting the maximum, minimizing the risk and maximizing the rewards. As long as this glitch goes unpatched, this game can actually be used to consistently make money.

The second game, Keystone, is essentially roulette, except instead of a spinning wheel, you bet on the outcome of three dice. The third, Spinnerbox, is nothing more than a slot machine, where gameplay consists of pressing the A button.

These games can be extremely frustrating, primarily because you really have no control over the situation. Indeed, the achievements aren't based on doing anything, but on the random chance that something just happens. Example: The "No Stone Unturned" achievement is earned in Keystone when a 3 or 18 is rolled as the first roll in a game. For an hour and a half, I played the first roll of Keystone, cashing out and restarting when the roll failed to come up 3 or 18. It never did.

The tournaments are especially bad, in that it seems the computer opponents are especially favored by Lady Luck. Many times, I have watched helplessly as my minor successes are leapfrogged by the major successes of the AI players. I lost count of how many times I'd win gold and yet drop two or more places in the leaderboard for the tournament, because my winnings were a pittance compared to my opponents'.

If nothing else, this game is a strong reminder of why I don't gamble in real life.

I just hope I can get those final achievements, so I can spend the rest of my time earning gold before Fable II is released...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A step in the right direction

I saw a piece of encouraging news today. is reporting that Gears of War 2 will have filter settings for language and violence, so that gamers will be able to turn off the excessive gore and the foul language.

While some bloggers choose to laugh this off as childish or silly, I personally applaud this move. Finally, some choice is being given back to gamers to control the kind of experience they want to have (and expose their families to).

I'm certainly not naïve to think that it turns an 'M'-rated game into a 'T', but at least it gets rid of the over-the-top violence and language that so completely turned me off of Gears 1 with just two minutes of game video.

And as I believe I mentioned before, it's not just about my kids. My kids don't get to play 'M'-rated games — the console is in the family room, so we can monitor its usage, and we use parental controls to help enforce this rule. Also, as a rule, I don't play 'M'-rated games until they've gone to bed. So if it were just about them, the content of an 'M'-rated game wouldn't matter one way or another. It does matter, however, for the simple reason that I just don't like it. Period. So being able to turn some of it off is very appealing.

Does this mean I will run out and put a preorder down for Gears 2 and join the throng that will be battling locusts on "Emergence Day 2"? Eh, no. It's still a pretty violent game. I need to see what these gore settings reduce. If the main character is still running around with a chainsaw graphically ripping bodies in half, even without blood splattering over the screen, will I be comfortable with that?

Ideally, a demo would help me make this decision, but as before, "CliffyB" doesn't think his game needs a demo to sell. (Apparently not to the masses, just to me. :shrug: ) I'll have to wait until I see some hands-on gameplay videos and see what the swear-less, gore-less experience turns out to be, and if it's for me.

But this ability to turn off the excessive junk that doesn't affect game play is a very good thing.

While I would of course prefer the stuff not be there to begin with (Halo never went close to "over the top", nor did Call of Duty, and they both did just fine), I hope future developers that find the need to add language and gore, also have the sense to add the option to turn it off. Gamers like me certainly appreciate it.