Tag Archives: video games

Goodreads Quick Review: Mass Effect: Ascension

Mass Effect: Ascension
Mass Effect: Ascension by Drew Karpyshyn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Whereas Mass Effect: Revelation established itself as an effective prequel to the video game trilogy, the second entry into the series falls squarely into side-story territory. Although Mass Effect: Ascension provides an effective introduction to the Illusive Man and the Quarian’s Migrant Fleet, both playing major rules in Mass Effect 2 and 3, no big steps are made to advance the plot of the games. A sensible decision, considering the myriad choices that can influence and shape each run through the games. Establishing the smallest ripple of canon through these choices would create a tidal-wave of fan outcry over say, the fate of the council after the Citadel invasion. Even the name of Shepard is avoided, perhaps to avoid accidentally assigning the hero a canon gender or any physical details.

With many potential story branches to avoid tripping over, the novel wisely continues the story of a 1st novel-exclusive character Kahlee Sanders (Anderson at this point is too ingrained in the games to be usable in a novel). This time around, Kahlee is putting her alliance background towards training purposes, as she helps an autistic biotic girl who, go figure, happens to be Cerberus’ little biotic pet project. Naturally Kahlee doesn’t want this sweet innocent girl to become a pawn of an evil human supremacy group, and what follows is a pretty standard run away from bad guys adventure.

While the first novel had the benefit of opening readers to the wonderful universe of Mass Effect, by this point the reader is virtually required to be a Mass Effect fan, as major plot points from the first game are briefly mentioned in passing with little context. Yet this provides one of the more endearing benefits of the novel. Great detail is taken to avoid inconsistencies with the rest of the Mass Effect universe, and the attention to even the smallest of species notes makes it clear that the Mass Effect creators played an active role in the development of the story.

Although Mass Effect: Ascension will only appeal to bibliophilic Mass Effect fans, they will be rewarded with a decently written science fiction adventure which earns its spot in the franchise.

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Goodreads Quick Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player One
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this tribute to all things 80’s, Wade, an everyday soon to graduate high school geek living in a dystopian world (albeit somewhat light for a dystopian setting), plunges into a virtual reality MMORPG that is literally the single most popular thing on the planet. Aided on and off by a small group of online users he doesn’t truly know (or know to trust), he fights an evil corporation and attempts to solve a reality bending puzzle devised by the game’s dead creator, who was a bit…eccentric. Oh and naturally enough power to alter the world lies in the balance.

Yes, this is a review of Ready Player One, not Dot Hack. Unlike Dot Hack, the plot here makes sense.

As is typical for dystopian fiction, an inordinate amount of time is spent establishing just how terrible the world has become. The book starts off slow and sluggish, perhaps intentionally slow given the overall theme. Stick with it though, as once Wade navigates a replica of the classic Dungeons & Dragons Tomb of Horror’s module and duels the demilich within to the classic arcade game Joust (complete with original game cabinet) the book zooms right along and rarely loses momentum.

No seriously, that actually happens, and that’s only about a quarter of the way into the book (pun intended). Insert more quarters to continue, for the plot only gets crazier from there. I don’t want to say much more due to spoilers but I will give praise to one of the more creative uses of giant monster fights. Pacific Rim was child’s play compared to what happens later on.

One more coin pun: the last quarter of the book is very well done. You’ll have a hard time putting it down at the final stretch.

Don’t worry niner kids and beyond, most of the constant 80’s references are immediately explained. Given their importance to the plot and the sharp writing, these references never get distracting, and there are plenty of unexplained 80’s easter eggs for the keen reader to spot.

You can judge a good book based on how seamlessly you can picture the world you dive into. Get lost in the Oasis, you won’t be disappointed. As for me? I’ll be truly disappointed if there is no sequel.

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Goodreads Quick Review: Mass Effect: Revelation

Mass Effect: Revelation
Mass Effect: Revelation by Drew Karpyshyn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mass Effect: Revelation was released before the first Mass Effect game came out, and appropriately so. This novel provides an excellent introduction to the Mass Effect universe, and I highly recommend reading it before starting the games. Although you won’t really miss anything if you skip the novel, conversations in-game with Anderson pretty much spoil the plot of this book. The book also provides a great deal of backstory for both Anderson and Saren, two notable characters in the Mass Effect universe.

On the bright side, this novel provides a shining beacon of hope for video game novels. Proof that they can be written well anyway, as most hold poor writing quality. If I were to rate this book in comparison to all video game novels I would give it a perfect 5 stars. However I am judging this book based on its merits in the sci-fi genre. A perfectly serviceable entry, but nothing truly noteworthy.

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Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions – iPad Version Review

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions

Ask any old-school lover of strategy RPGs to list their favorite games, and Square Enix’s Final Fantasy Tactics will likely make an appearance. The classic tale of political intrigue, combined with a deep battle system resulted in a game that stands the test of time. After a PSP re-release with added features and a longer name (Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions) back in 2007, Final Fantasy Tactics moved to another portable system – the iPad tablet.

Of course, the big question many people have is: how effective was the transition to touch screen? Overall the game transitions very well to the iPad. Although there are a few minor flaws, the Final Fantasy Tactics gamers have grown to love is on the portable tablet in all its glory.

For those not familiar with the game, Final Fantasy Tactics tells the story of Ramza Beoluve, the unsung hero of the War of the Lions. The war is a large-scale clash between Duke Goltanna, the Black Lion, in the east, and Duke Larg, the Red Lion, in the west. These two forces clash with the objective of controlling the land of Ivalice. European history buffs may see a thinly-veiled retelling of “The War of the Roses” beginning to emerge. Allusions to the historical conflict appear throughout the game as Ramza embarks on his quest to not only end the fighting, but also unearth the unknown forces pulling the strings of both Dukes, and the supernatural “Illuminati Demons”  they summon.

As for gameplay, the best part of this turn-based strategy game lies in its deep customization for the units you control. With the ability to change characters between almost two-dozen “job classes” with an equal mix of physical and magical-based abilities, players can develop their own unique strategy for conquering battles. With abilities that can be mixed and matched as the player sees fit, you could have any number of strange, yet powerful combinations. One unit could be a knight who can also cast magic to attack enemies from a distance. Alternatively an archer can alternate between raining down arrows on the enemy and healing wounded allies.

For those familiar with the game, it should be noted that this version is an almost direct port of the Playstation Portable (PSP) version. The new CGI cut-scenes with voice acting, script translation (no more sloppy translations like “I’m rescuing Agrias, geronimo!”), events, and battles all appear in this version. Unfortunately the robust multiplayer and rendezvous modes from the PSP version did not make the transition.

War of the Lions Cutscene

Important cut-scenes are rendered in beautiful CGI.

Despite the missing features, the iPad fixes the crippling slowdown that plagued the PSP version. Although a few select skills carry some minor delay, the game moves at a very crisp pace compared to its PSP counterpart. To accomplish this, the game code was tweaked to increase the game speed. Although this can result in occasional goofiness in certain skills (notably once lengthy summons appearing and disappearing in a flash) and cutscenes (people moving at lightning speed), the game play is not affected overall.

As for the touch-screen itself, it is functional. The controls take a little getting used to, and fortunately the tutorial has been greatly modified to demonstrate how to play the game with the new touch-based control scheme. It is a very good idea to play through the entire tutorial and practice with the touch screen before beginning the actual game, even for veterans familiar with the gameplay mechanics on an older version of the game.

In order to help navigate the chaotic battlefields, a zoom button and two different directional schemes can be toggled at will. The first directional scheme allows you to move the battlefield to a fixed point, while the second one allows you to rotate that fixed point. Both angles will be used to maintain an accurate view of the fighting. As for accuracy, the touch screen will generally pick up selections 95% of the time; when selecting squares on the battlefield, use a bird’s eye view as much as possible for best results. Selection can sometimes be a problem when dealing with characters in confined areas or with two elevation points (like an archway or staircase) though adjustable in-game battle options help selection issues here, and the tutorial recommends a few.

In addition to the occasional touch screen hiccup, the text and command boxes occasionally appear glitched. Commands are still functional, just nigh impossible to see within the jumbled mess. Fortunately if this ever happens, you can always save and quit, exit the app, and then reload your save. There are also rare moments where the game locks-up mid-battle when casting a spell – ironically time magic appears to be the most frequent offender. Fortunately the game has an excellent autosave feature, and even if the game boots you back to the title-screen, you are given an option to resume from right before the game locked up. The action that locked the game up will work upon trying again. Hopefully Square Enix will fix this in a future patch. Incidentally, you can also exit out of the app mid-battle and resume right where you left off thanks to this quicksave feature. The game even includes a helpful battery icon in the upper right that lets you know if the iPad battery is running low.

War of the Lions Gameplay

A battery icon on the upper right helpfully reminds you to charge the iPad after extended sessions.

All that said – is the game worth getting? If you’ve never played the original Final Fantasy Tactics and are looking for a good strategy game, this classic is highly recommended. If you’ve played and enjoyed the original Final Fantasy Tactics but not the PSP version, there is enough new content to make another playthrough well worth it. PSP owners and those who have played War of the Lions on the PSP should stick to that version.

At $19 (as of this writing) War of the Lions is one of the more expensive iPad apps out there. Yet considering what you are paying for (a fully functional PSP game) both old and new school strategy fans deserve to give this classic a shot.

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This is what happens after I work on papers all day and need a break. 🙂 I suppose I could do something else productive, like say update my blog or actually accumulate a halfway decent score, but oh-look I’m doing that now! (The blog post that is)

I’ve enjoyed playing pinball since I was tall enough to actually stand over the machine and reach the flippers. Something about breaking the high score present on the machine, realizing that this score is impossible to beat without years of training, and then settling to beat my own score has always been a favorite pastime of mine.

That and multiball. Oh yes, MULTIBALL. Because let’s face it, nothing in life is more exciting than hitting the flippers over and over again and watching 3 pinballs zoom around the machine accumulating tons of points while the pinball machine goes crazy. A fascinating display of lights and sounds that only lasts for a few seconds before the balls all fall out of play because you hit the flippers over and over again instead of actually concentrating on hitting them properly.

But I’m not here to discuss pinball strategy. Just to pass along a few fun pinball games for the bored or nostalgic fans out there.

3d Space Cadet Pinball

If you own a windows computer from within the last 15 years or so, then you are familiar with this game. If not, click on your games window and go play it now. It’s waiting for you. Patiently. Space Cadet is a pretty simple pinball game with somewhat erratic physics, but there is no better way to get through a boring class or paper then refueling and accepting target practice training.

Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection

A fun little trip in the wayback machine, the Williams Collection brings back several tables from Williams Electronics during the pinball loving 80’s. That said, these tables contain fairly simple designs without all of that fancy video screen stuff you see in modern day tables. The game does faithfully recreate all of the rather silly sound effects which is nice though. It should be noted that these tables are quite tough (especially the one pictured above, Black Knight) as you have to remember that this was made in a time when pinball machines, like all good arcade devices, existed for the soul purpose of draining every last quarter in your worldly possession.

However, as simple as the machines may appear, most of them have the ability to trigger multiball, so naturally it’s OK in my book. Also if you play the Wii version, you can activate tilt very easily by shaking the wiimote. Now you can actually pretend you are ripping the pinball machine to pieces when the pinball goes straight down between the flippers!

Zen Pinball (PS3)

This is not a philosophical look into skill shots. Rather Zen Pinball is a pretty cheap and fun downloadable title (11$ for 4 tables with additional downloadable tables just a few dollars each) for the PS3 that my parents picked up. I noticed this while I was taking a study break and suddenly 2 hours passed before I realized what happened.

While I generally dismiss downloadable games as cheap thrills, this one I’m willing to mark in the exception category. Each of the initial tables + one that was purchased (Excalibur) are extremely well-designed and contain realistic physics. Unlike Williams these tables are also not out to screw you. Seriously, some of the ball saves (the pity feature that brings your ball back into play one time if you lose it right after deployment) will last upwards of 20 seconds after launching if you’re not playing well. They also contain lots of fun video effects that closely resemble modern day machines. If you want to relive the fun days of modern day pinball I highly recommend picking this one up.

Anyway, writing about pinball time is over. Now it is back to work time. Then multiball time. 🙂

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Super Library Bros.

Libraries are not made; they grow.
-Augustine Birrell

In writing my literature review for my MCS Capstone (examining the future of the academic library) I’ve come across all sorts of awesome material. Sadly I’m quickly developing the realization that not all of it will make the cut for my final project. Regardless, I’m finding all sorts of fascinating trends that you might not expect in the world of bookshelves. One such example: gaming in academic libraries.

Gaming in libraries is nothing new; however, trends suggest that the practice is mostly limited to public libraries. Public libraries are always making a splash about the next new innovative gaming club, and research supports the examination of effects of video games on the public library. Believe it or not, gaming in academic libraries is more popular than you might think. University libraries across the country are incorporating video games into their own world of information academia.

An obvious question emerges at the forefront of this discussion. Why should academic libraries bother with video games? You go to an academic library to do serious research, not perfect your latest Toon Link strategies or pwn noobs with grenades…right?

Part of the answer lies in marketing the library services. College students, especially freshmen, aren’t completely aware of the many services an academic library can provide outside. Often no real effort is given outside of a short demonstration given in English 101 that most students probably sleep through or spend cruising Facebook. Given that many college students play video games, it only seems natural that offering video games will entice these reluctant users to come. Draw them in with video games, and perhaps they will stick around. Students then discover that they can actually get some help on that paper that they’ve been procrastinating on because they were too busy playing video games at the library.

Okay, so video games will get people to come to the library and check out a book. What about the cost behind getting all of this equipment? As case studies have shown, obtaining the necessary equipment will not destroy the library budget. Compared to the amount of money spent on books and other media such as movies and music CD’s that you’ll often find at an academic library, video game equipment can actually prove to be a worthwhile investment. How much money is spent on books/media which end up sitting on a shelf forgotten for months, if not years at a time? By investing in a small stock of popular video games, an academic library will make a worthwhile investment that patrons will obviously use.

The process of integrating video games into an academic library is not an easy one. Indeed, the video game medium introduces a very different set of challenges that you won’t encounter with other forms of media. Cataloging can be an issue in addition to the logistics of creating and maintaining a dedicated gaming area in the library that won’t disrupt other patrons. Yet video games might prove to be a valuable tool in the ever-increasing push to market the academic library to millennials making the transition from high school to college.

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24 Medialess Hours

Living twenty-four hours without interacting with electronic media. Such a task seems simple enough, but of course anyone who has attempted it would likely say that it’s easier said then done. I know I have. Although I don’t consider myself as technologically inclined as many college students in some regards (my cell phone gathers dust from time to time, if such a thing is possible) I knew that I was still very technologically dependent.Just how technologically dependent I was became quite evident to me when I attempted this challenge over Spring Break.

In her article “The Longest Day” Danna Walker explains just how electronic technology has been a subtle influence on the current age college students that have grown up with it:

“And yet, even though they are savvy, articulate, emotionally attached and educated consumers of electronic media, millennials don’t actually think much about it. At the beginning of the semester, my students seemed surprised to learn they are trail-blazers in a time of great upheaval in the media world. But they became painfully aware once forced to unplug.”

Indeed such a thought brought back memories to me as I started the day without the welcoming tunes of my iHome to pull me out of sleep. As I began to plot out the days activities in my head I began to realize just how much of my life has been spent around electronic technologies like computers and video games. The event reminded me of a moment many years back when a random power outage meant no electronic activities over a rainy day. Although the outage only lasted a few hours, it created a struggle when, being unable to play outside, I tried to figure out ways to pass the boredom. This event was beginning to replay itself here.

Ultimately I decided to use the opportunity to catch up on some tasks that I had been neglecting. Walker explains how some of her students went out, caught up on sleep, and read to pass the time. Reading was one such thing I decided to try over the twenty-four hour period. Although I am normally an avid reader over the winter and summer, schoolwork keeps me from reading series that I want to catch up on. Not in the mood to study, I decided to take the opportunity catch up on some reading. Unfortunately I never finished the book I started. Unfortunate since after the twenty-four hour period I never got back to reading it being easily distracted by something else.

As I continued through the day, I noticed something interesting. Electronic media has grown so much, that it has had an influence on activities that traditionally had no need of the stuff. When I decided to take some time work ahead in preparing adventures for my Dungeons and Dragons group, something that occasionally gets left for the last minute, I realized that I couldn’t use my computer to type up notes like I normally did, or look up a rule easily. Gah! As one of the traditional pencil and paper games, it didn’t occur to me until now just how much games like that have evolved through the use of electronic technologies. Now games like that (and even board games) can be played online through instant message technologies and online games. Instead of play by mail for games like chess, now you have play by E-Mail. Unfortunately the day was not all peaceful as temptations to use electronic media were abound, made especially difficult by the release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl a few days before. To have time to play it and yet be unable to felt ironic. Yet I knew that spring break was still young, and I would have time to unlock Snake and Sonic later.

Although it was a long day indeed, I managed to survive somehow. After resting up and getting back to Brawl the next day I contemplated the exercise. The new forms of media and technology have become essential to everyday life. With the ability to communicate and transfer data instantly society has evolved to become reliant on the stuff. People, myself included, have become slaves to technologies to the computer. Constantly checking e-mail, news, and social networking sites like Facebook to become up to date on the latest going-ons and events. As Walker points out, “E-media keep us up to the minute on information, facilitate relationships without geographic constraint, make logistics easier and sometimes help us relax and fight boredom.” Although there was not much waiting for me when I connected to the internet the next day, there could have been something important, you never know.

Is this reliance a bad thing? Although these new technologies have granted us great new tools such as Wikipedia, old technologies like the encyclopedia have taken an entirely new form. As Stacy Schiff points out in her article “Know it All: Can Wikipedia Conquer Expertise?” Wikipedia and those behind it believe that it can “produce an encyclopedia that is as good as any written by experts, and with an unprecedented range.”Of course, with this new rise in technology come new threats in the form of online hackers using the internet to obtain and exploit personal information. Problems abound arise with this rise in electronic technology. Yet that is only natural as a new technology grows and matures. Will we ever fully understand how to deal with this? Elizabeth Eisenstein notes in “The Rise of Public Reading” the ambiguous nature of the influence of older technologies like print media through today:

“Even at present, despite all the data being obtained from living responsive subjects; despite all the efforts being made by public opinion analysts, pollsters, or behavioral scientists, we still know very little about how access to printed materials affected human behavior.”

It is hard to determine what the future will bring as electronic media and technologies continue to dominate our lives. But as society has been influenced and repeatedly changed by the technologies that have come before, these forms will continue to evolve and effect how we live our lives.

Works Cited:

Eisenstein, Elizabeth. “The Rise of the Reading Public.” Communication in History. Comp. David Crowley and Paul Heyer. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2007.

Schiff, Stacy. “Know it All.” Annals of Information. The New Yorker. .

Walker, Danna. “The Longest Day.” washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post. .


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