Gaming Stories: Borderlands 2 vs. My TV

We don’t review games here, so what I write below is not intended to indict Borderlands 2 as a bad game. Indeed, it would be difficult for me to render judgment on Borderlands 2 at all since I can’t play the game. My Xbox 360 hasn’t been marked by the scarlet ring (“Ring-a-round Jay Allard/A pocket full of space bucks/Marcus Fenix/We all fall down”?), and the controller is charged. Instead, it’s impossible to play Borderlands 2 when the game looks on my television like someone had spread mayonnaise and petroleum jelly on it:

Almost none of this would be legible on my TV.

For the first time, text in a current generation game was completely unreadable, which makes deciphering mission criteria (though I assume that if the missions in Borderlands 2 are like those in Borderlands, it can be summed up as “kill everything and collect something”), weapons stats, locations, and skill descriptions near impossible. I fiddled as much with my TV’s settings as I could to try to solve the problem, but nothing worked. So, my Borderlands 2 playthrough, for now, concluded right after I was allowed to leave the beginning town. I now can empathize with the complaints about how Dead Rising was unplayable on certain televisions.

Yes, it’s very pretty, but I wouldn’t be able to read any of the text on my television.

Between my inability to even play the game and the fact that Gearbox Software has (so far, successfully) supported Borderlands 2 well with downloadable content, similar to how Borderlands was well supported, I find myself in a strange position of actually regret buying what is turning out to be a very good game. I wish that I had just waited until the inevitable Game of the Year edition of Borderlands 2 that would probably be out in time for Christmas 2013 and would collect currently available and any likely future downloadable content. It almost seems like I would be punishing Gearbox Software of supporting its game well, which points to a larger economic problem in the market today.

One lesson I’ve drawn from The Year With No New Games has been that, more often than not, I can successfully gamble that a game that has a season pass will likely have a special edition that will collect almost all of its downloadable content. The gamble can be extended to almost any game with significant amounts of downloadable content. The theory has held so far for Oblivion: Game of the Year EditionFallout 3: Game of the Year Edition, Gears of War 2 Game of the Year EditionBorderlands: Game of the Year EditionFallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition, Dead Island: Game of the Year EditionUncharted 2: Among Thieves – Game of the Year EditionUncharted 3 Game of the Year Edition, Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition, Red Dead Redemption Game of the Year Edition, Batman: Arkham City Game of the Year Edition, Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition, LittleBigPlanet – Game of the Year Edition, Grand Theft Auto IV & Episodes from Liberty City: The Complete Edition, Mortal Kombat: Komplete EditionL.A. Noire: The Complete Edition, to just name a few. My backlog is large enough that I can wait until these collected editions are released, and I can choose to spend my time and money on less publicized games, like Binary Domain or Spec Ops: The Line, instead. The market now has incentives for me to just wait, defeating the “Day 1” purchasing craze that publishers cultivate.

Ironically, if I could have read Borderlands 2‘s text on my television, I wouldn’t have had a chance to see how the market actually is and how my purchasing behavior has now been incentivized to wait.


Gaming Stories: Aliens Versus Humans

When all of my friends were firmly entrenched in the world of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I found that I was intensely jealous that I could not participate in the conversation because I couldn’t buy the game. So far this year, I’ve been relatively firm on not buying new games; the only moments of weakness were when Borderlands 2, SSX, and Spec Ops: The Line were released and when I bought Episode 1 of Telltale Games’s The Walking Dead on my iPad so I could play with my wife. This means that I can’t help but feel like I’ve been left out of the larger gaming conversation of the year. I can’t very well comment on whether Halo 4‘s Spartan Ops mode matches the greatness of Halo 3: ODST‘s Firefight mode, whether Binary Domain‘s supposed experiments in storytelling worked, or why it seems like many of this year’s spate of sequels (Darksiders II, Max Payne 3, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, Resident Evil 6, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Prototype 2, Ninja Gaiden 3, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, even Halo 4) seemed to have underwhelmed.

Let the cleansing fire do its work.

Gripped by this jealousy and looking for an inexpensive alternative, I settled on Aliens Versus Humans for iOS. Reviews, such as Owen Faraday’s for PocketTactics, described Aliens Versus Humans as a clone of the original X-COM: Enemy Unknown/X-COM: UFO Defense. Though Julian Gollop, one of the creators behind the original X-COM game, touted Hunters 2 as the tactical turn-based RPG that gets many of the elements crucial to such a game right, the aesthetic similarity of Aliens Versus Humans to the original X-COM game drew me to it.

Though Aliens Versus Humans brought the same sense of masochism and vulnerability that anecdotes about XCOM: Enemy Unknown conveyed, the way that the game is stacked against the player began to wear on me. Aliens could shoot at my soldiers from shadow without revealing themselves, which meant that I had to recruit sacrificial scouts for every mission to scout the map in order to find the enemies for my better armed and more experienced soldiers to kill. There were no costs associated with recruiting these sacrificial scouts, Once I solved the game’s core combat challenge in a way that made combat seem rote, a lot of the game’s appeal was lost.

The enemy variety never really seemed to change. Though there were hopping green blobs, skinny grey aliens in blue suits, skinny grey aliens in red suits, and alien cyborgs, they all seemed to use the same weapon and had the same reactions to my soldiers: shoot on sight regardless of how exposed they were. This only added to how rote the game seemed.

I think it was a night mission that broke me and forced my hand to try to break the game. I took a group of relative veteran soldiers into town to find some aliens to shoot. I lost four soldiers to an ambush that I couldn’t see. I tried to send my six remaining soldiers into a building; three of them made it. One climbed to the second floor to try to at least find the shooters; he was shot through the window before he could find the aliens. I tried to wait out the enemy in the building; they shot out the walls and eventually killed me. I quit the game and couldn’t think of it without getting angry for a few weeks. I finally beat that mission by abusing the game’s save and load functions to maximize my soldiers’ opportunities.

I have to acknowledge that I only played the original game’s missions, which were called the Training Missions, and I haven’t tried the new Onslaught mode yet. I’ve read enough about the game know to convince me to at least give the Onslaught mode a try.


Gaming Stories: Video Game Championship Wrestling

The last professional wrestling video game I bought was 2007’s Fire Pro Wrestling Returns for the PlayStation 2, but the last one that I played obsessively was 2004’s WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw. The Create-A-Wrestler function in that game was limited, so I created some wrestlers who were not in the game’s roster and mentally replaced existing wrestlers with other characters to get the roster that I wanted. Thus, lesser wrestlers like Mark Jindrak substituted for 2004’s popular independent wrestler in my head. Every weekend, I would spend a couple of hours copying an independent professional wrestling company’s shows and simulating them, taking control of the simulation whenever it didn’t match what actually happened at the independent company’s show. This may explain many questions about my social life in 2004 and 2005.

Just give him the cookie, John Cena.

When professional wrestling is done well, it can be the perfect intersection of the sublime and the absurd, the blatantly obvious overtones and all kinds of undertones. My favorite professional wrestling memories usually involve wrestlers embracing the absurd, such as when the wrestlers slow down because an invisible hand grenade has been lobbed at a group of man-sized ants, or when a man-sized ice cream is foisted on his petard as he’s bodyslammed onto the very deadly sprinkles that he himself spread on the mat, or when a table beats a stepladder in a match that lasted almost ten minutes, or when a miniature Dachshund pins a metal ladder to become the Ironman Heavyweight Champion. It’s the juxtaposition of the deadly serious with the incredibly stupid that gives professional wrestling the unique flavor that no other performance art can quite match.

Recently, Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann showed off WWE ’13‘s Create-A-Story function in their Quick Look of the game and really showed what that function is capable of by creating the website’s weekly content preview video within the game’s Create-A-Story function. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by WWE ’13‘s Create-A-Story function and the silly things that one could create within it. On the one hand, a wrestler getting run over by a car is a very serious dramatic moment. However, if you recreate that moment in a wrestling video game, that level of separation from reality, combined with sheer repetition and the limitations of a wrestling game’s Create-A-Story function, makes it very, very funny (skip to 24 minutes in that video).

Over the weekend, I discovered someone else who appreciated the inherent absurdity of professional wrestling and who combined it with the silliness that WWE ’13 is capable of rendering through its Create-A-Story mode. This person ran a TwitchTV stream, and I was delighted to see this on his stream’s static placeholder image:

Indeed, he was simulating a wrestling pay-per-view show in WWE ’13, only he substituted Internet celebrities like Egoraptor, JonTron, and the Angry Video Game Nerd, Gamecenter CX’s host Shinya Arino, video game characters like Phoenix Wright and Mega Man, and Dragon Ball characters like Nappa and Vegeta for the actual wrestlers. (For the lack of a better name, I’m going to call him “Bazza87,” since that’s the username on his TwitchTV account.) Last night was, so to speak, the grand finale to Bazza87’s weekend of simulation. Bowser had won a shot at Ganondorf’s championship in an over-the-top-rope battle royale, while the Angry Video Game Nerd and JonTron faced off against Guile and Donkey Kong, each character’s respective nemesis whose rivalries were ignited during a single-elimination tournament earlier during the extended holiday weekend.

Of course I watched the entire show, which seems ridiculous in hindsight. There were no stakes in any of the matches except those that the viewing community imposed onto the matches through collective force of will, as if we agreed to suspend reason and disbelief and chose to accept that these characters were real. We projected emotions and motivations onto them. So, when Donkey Kong faced JonTron, we remembered that JonTron had supposedly injured Donkey Kong during an earlier show and could tell each other that Donkey Knog sought revenge from JonTron. We were collectively creating stories, and it was almost magical.

This felt dramatic even though the game’s AI controlled all four characters. Perhaps that was the key to the experience; because human skill was removed entirely, the storylines worked themselves out on their own. Bazza87 supplemented the visual appeal of watching these ridiculous pairings with strong musical choices. For example, Charles Barkley’s entrance music is a reference to Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, while Nappa’s music is a reference to Team Four Star‘s DBZ Abridged series of videos and Ghostbusters.

Ghost Nappa!

Bazza87 was also able to replicate the exciting spontaneity that professional wrestling is capable of , even though we know that nothing happens in professional wrestling without at least the wrestlers’ and promoter’s knowledge, just as nothing can happen in Bazza87’s simulation without his intent. That’s why the impromptu backstage brawl between Nappa and Zangief after Nappa pinned Zangief in the opening match felt perfect. Because all matches were simulated by the game’s AI, the show balanced unpredictability and planning beautifully.

In effect, watching these fictional characters fight was not as removed from watching actual professional wrestling as it would appear. We entrusted our time with Bazza87, just as we would entrust it with actual wrestlers and promoters if we attended a show or watched a pay-per-view event. Bazza87’s simulations straddled the line between undeniably real and serious and surreal and absurd as well as the best professional wrestling show.

Four days ago, Bazza87’s TwitchTV channel had about 1,300 viewers in its history. At current count, the channel has had about 150,410 viewers. This explosive growth can be partially accounted for by the fact that we like to see video game characters from different franchises fight, which would explain the popularity of the Super Smash Brothers series and the motivation to create PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale. I also believe that the success this weekend of the Video Game Championship Wrestling series was due to Bazza87, who applied an understanding of how professional wrestling works and achieved the crucial balance between drama and absurdity in his shows. The next Video Game Championship Wrestling show has not been scheduled yet, but I am undoubtedly anticipating it. After all, I need to see if Deus Ex: Human Revolution‘s Adam Jensen’s challenge to Ganondorf for the VGCW championship will succeed, whether Mega Man can shed his status of “Canceled Man,” where the feud between Nappa and Zangief will go next, and whether Link, who debuted in a surprise match, will redeem himself after his upset loss to Waliugi. (Does a loss to Waliugi only seem like an upset because we’re applying outside information to this? Link is the Hero of Time and Waliugi is a second-rate villain, but none of that really matters in the Video Game Championship Wrestling world.) Perhaps Link can conquer a few dungeons so he can become the hero the VGCW league needs to unseat Ganondorf.


Nintendo is a Heck of a Lot Smarter Than ‘Hardcore’ Gamers Would Like to Believe

How often do you read a post on Twitter, a gaming forum or in the comments of an article about Nintendo, where “hardcore” gamers deride Nintendo for making underpowered hardware that is more concerned with being accessible to a wide audience than pushing the technological envelope?

Here’s three I found in short order as I sat down to write this post:

“Nintendo jumped the gun with this console (WiiU)–the Wii was a success purely because it primarily catered to the casual gaming crowd.”

“The Wii was short-term miracle that won’t be repeated in the future. Nintendo doesn’t seem to have a long term strategy and is dangerously out of touch with gaming in general IMHO.”

“$299+ for a console with specs basically the same as (or worse than) cheaper competing models that are being replaced by something much better in a year? Seems like poor planning on Nintendo’s part.”

Does this sentiment sound familiar? It should, because we’ve been hearing it since shortly after the launch of the first Wii. Which, by the way, went on to sell 100 million units. We also heard it after the bumpy start of the 3DS, which has since gone on to sell 22 million units worldwide (in less than two years).

A lot of “hardcore” gamers seem to want the WiiU to fail, and many of those same gamers are the ones who scoff at the idea of mobile gaming, despite the enormous growth of games for iOS and Android devices over the past few years.

But ironically, it’s the “hardcore” gamers that are the short-sighted ones here. Because the fact of the matter is that the AAA, big-budget technological marvels that defined this gaming generation are going to be a smaller part of the next one. What “hardcore” gamers see as “casual” gaming will become the norm, and what they consider to be the mainstream now will become a niche market in the next generation.

And that’s why they’re all angry at Nintendo–because Nintendo isn’t railing against the move toward more accessible gaming experiences, they are embracing it. Nintendo gets it–more than Microsoft, and certainly more than Sony. And Nintendo has once again positioned themselves to be successful in the next console cycle. They have an HD-capable machine that can provide a spectrum of gaming experiences, from “casual” to “hardcore.” They have a stable of first-party franchises and characters that adult gamers grew up with and kids are immediately drawn to. And when it comes to their user interface and aesthetics, they would rather be charming than edgy, which results in a wider appeal.

Neilsen just did a survey in which they asked kids ages 6 to 12 what electronics and gaming devices were on their holiday wish lists this year. Of the top five, four of them belonged to Apple. The iPad topped the list at 48%. Number two? The WiiU.

This week, word came out that Microsoft was planning on releasing two versions of its next console. One version would be geared toward higher end, more technologically intensive gaming experiences, while the other version would be more of an entertainment hub, with the ability to download and play XBox Live Arcade titles and smaller games. Sounds like Microsoft is starting to get it, but I’m not sure that creating two versions of the next XBox is the right way to go. In any case, they’ve seen the writing on the wall that the “hardcore” market is shrinking, and they are beginning to adjust.

It was also revealed this week that while Nintendo is selling the WiiU at a small loss, as soon as a consumer buys one game for the console, it becomes profitable for Nintendo. Odds are that will not be the case with the next XBox (the high end version) or PlayStation.

So as “casual” games continue to become more popular, and console develoeprs continue to leave to develop for mobile platforms instead, “hardcore” gamers continue to yell that Nintendo doesn’t get it. In reality, Nintendo began to adjust their long-term strategy with the Wii, and that has continued with the 3DS and now the WiiU. Of the big three console manufacturers, Nintendo is poised to be the most successful in the future. If I was Sony and Microsoft right now, I’d be terrified, as they are developing new hardware for an audience that is getting smaller, and with publishers and developers who are afraid to take risks with big budget games.

The next year sure is going to be very interesting.

**If you’re wondering why I put the terms “casual” and “hardcore” in quotes for the entire post, it’s because they are nonsensical terms that are usually used by avid gamers to separate themselves from less avid gamers. 


This Holiday Gaming Season, It’s All About the Handhelds for Me

As I was scouring the internet looking at Black Friday game deals, a thought occurred to me–this is the first year I can remember where there are more handheld games I want to play than console/PC ones.

For the purposes of this post, let’s call the holiday gaming season September 2012 to February 2013.

Just off the top of my head, here’s the list of current and upcoming (in the next month or two) console/PC games I’m playing/interested in right now (as well as my preferred platform):

Halo 4 (XBox 360)
CoD: Black Ops 2 (XBox 360)
Borderlands 2 (XBox 360)
Dishonored (PS3)
Hawken (PC)
ZombiU (even though I don’t have a WiiU yet)
Black Mesa Source (PC)
Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC)
Crysis 3 (Xbox 360)
Deadly Premonition: Director’s Cut (PS3)
Dead Space 3 (PS3)
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (PS3)

Here’s the handheld list:

Pokemon Black/White Version 2 (3DS)
Silent Hill: Book of Memories (PS Vita)
LEGO Lord of the Rings (3DS)
LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (3DS)
Little Big Planet Vita (PS Vita)
Kingdom Hearts 3D (3DS)
Adventure Time: Hey Ice King, Why’d You Steal Our Garbage? (3DS)
Assassin’s Creed: Liberation (PS Vita)
Paper Mario: Sticker Star (3DS)
Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion (3DS)
Playstation All-Stars: Battle Royale (PS Vita)
Persona 4 Golden (PS Vita)
Retro City Rampage (PS Vita)
Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault (PS Vita)
Uncharted: Fight for Fortune (PS Vita)
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS)
Castlevania Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate (3DS)
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (PS Vita)

What’s more interesting to me as I look over that list is that there are games I would rather play on handheld than on console/PC. Retro City Rampage, Sly Cooper, Assassin’s Creed, Ratchet & Clank and the LEGO games are all ones that I would prefer on either the 3DS or Vita instead of on the larger platforms. In fact, the only games I can definitively say i’d rather not play on a handheld are first-person shooters and larger RPGs that just could not be done on a handheld.

I’m not exactly sure why I feel this way, but I suspect it’s because I no longer have time in my life for the marathon gaming sessions of even a few years ago. I get 1-2 hour increments at the most, and I squeeze them in wherever I can. So, I tend to want my games in a format that is easily accessible and consumable in bite-size chunks. But I also still want a meatier experience than most iOS and Android games can provide at this point. when it comes to console and PC now, I reserve that precious time for experiences that I can’t get on a handheld.

I think a lot of my friends are still finding the time to play console and PC games on a more regular basis than me, and their preferences are now the opposite of mine. They have little interest in either the 3DS or the Vita, whereas I find myself gravitating toward them more and more.


Force Test–Part 1: It’s All About Atmosphere

After spending a couple hours with the just-released, free-to-play version of Star Wars: The Old Republic, I’ve already seen some good, some not so good and some very intriguing things.

For starters, the cinematics in SWTOR are amazing. I had seen one of them before (the forest battle between troopers, Sith and Jedi), but the opening cinematic is stunning.

Once I got past the opening, I got to make my character. The transaction-based options are immediately apparent from the get go. While all of the classes are available to F2P players, only three of the species (Human, Cyborg and Zabrak) are available. Of course, you can purchase the other ones if you want. So, I made a female cyborg Smuggler, who is in league with the Galactic Republic.

The character customization options are decent, as there are several different versions of each feature to choose from (hair, eyes, etc.), but not the granular type of customization that offers infinite options for customization. Nonetheless, I was happy with the look of my character and moved on to the proper game.

The Galactic Republic storyline has its own cinematic, which was the one I’d seen before in previews (the aforementioned forest battle).

My storyline began as my character flew into Ord Mantell, a planet embroiled in a civil war. As soon as I began interacting with NPCs, the familiar Bioware conversation system came into play, and it works just as well here as in their other games. There wasn’t a lot of time for chit chat though, as there was a separatist attack going on that I needed to get out there and deal with.

Ironically, the combat is where I had the least amount of fun with the game in my first session. It’s very much the typical MMO style on combat–clicking on enemies, powers and abilities assigned to number keys, etc. The familiar pattern of ‘use an ability-wait for it to recharge-use it again’ feels the same in SWTOR as in other MMOs. I don’t know what I was expecting, but the combat is certainly not going to be the thing that keeps me coming back to SWTOR.

But I will be coming back, and it’s the rest of the SWTOR package that will be the reason. The Star Wars setting, the rich conversation system, and the desire to see my storyline play out are already making me think about this game when I’m not playing it.

I’ll spend some more time with it over the next week and be back to post again.


Gaming Stories: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter

“Transfer laser power to shields and double rear shields. I’m going to take the one behind us out, and then I’m going to try to hit the other one with missiles.”

“Wait, damn it, don’t close the S-foils! Power to shields, not power from shields! Argh! I am never letting you co-pilot again!”

All things considered, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter was a victim of expectations. My friends and I jumped became attached to LucasArts’ series of space sims with TIE Fighter when we passed a set of floppy disks around to install onto our computers. Then one of us got the CD-ROM edition of TIE Fighter, and we passed that around too. We still talk fondly about TIE Fighter and wonder why no one’s produced another Star Wars space sim like TIE Fighter.

At some point, one of us will inevitably remember that X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter came out and that we played it together one summer. Only one of us had a joystick and an air-conditioned room, so we would get together at his place. One of us would prefer to use keyboard and mouse, while another would prefer joystick. My preference was always keyboard and joystick, but that’s a lot of buttons to manage. So, I would normally ask one of friends to act as co-pilot. My reasoning was that Luke Skywalker had R2-D2; why couldn’t I have someone to help me pilot this fighter?

Of course, I didn’t take into account then was that my friends wouldn’t always follow directions or even act in our mutual best interest.

In vanilla X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, our options were limited to arena battles, called “Furballs,” and we would compete to see who could down the most enemy fighters in a given amount of time. So, we would pass the keyboard, joystick, or mouse to each other and try to pull off the best and flashiest kills. The details escape me, but my lasting memory was cursing my friend’s name after he sabotaged our fighter as my round was running out. My friends couldn’t stop laughing; I couldn’t start laughing until weeks later when I got my revenge by shutting his fighter’s engines down so the computer-controlled fighters could easily pick him off. Good times.

Gaming Stories: Civilization Revolution

December 31, 2076

And with my last move, I nuked Calcutta and wiped Gandhi from the planet, completing our absolute domination of this world. That is justice for all the little nagging wars that Gandhi would start beginning when we first encountered his envoys in 111 A.D. or the several times he tried to hold our settlers hostage, forcing us to pay exorbitant fees to have them safely returned. Before we conquered Athens and subjugated Alexander and his Greek nation to the unstoppable American way of life, we had paid them to occupy the Gandhi’s attention by starting a border war. Unfortunately, like other previous allies, Alexander did nothing with the funds we supplied him. And in an ultimate show of disrespect and what would ultimately prove to be his undoing, three turns after we gave him money to start the war with Gandhi, Alexander turns around and declares war on me because my economy is booming. So we had to steer a portion of my forces away from the Indian/American border so we can bring the Greeks to an understanding, rebuild their cities, occupy their lands so that we may resume our good war with Gandhi.

The history of the world started out so well too. I founded Washington, my capital, on an ocean coastline with access to bountiful plains and productive mountains. I built the first buildings in Washington with my bare hands. We sent my warriors to survey the land, and they encountered friendly peoples who supplied our fledgling nation with soldiers, trade caravans, and persons with unique intelligence skills. Some of them even offered to join our nation, which brought pride and, more importantly, resources. We encountered some barbarian nations and clarified to them that the new world order had no place for them. As they fell, they gifted us gold and a ship with which we could begin to explore this world.

Let us remember the brave Pikemen who defended Boston.

Our view of the world expanded when we encountered envoys of Bismark of the Germans. There was some tension when our settlers founded Boston near the German border, but we ignored their demands for technology. Providence ensured that we found an advanced war machine, called a Sherman Tank, and we used it to smite the warriors and catapults that the Germans sent to conquer Boston. Sufficiently impressed with American might, Bismark sued for peace, which I gladly gave them. To ensure Boston’s continued success, we settled Plato there. I will never forget the look on Bismark’s face when his people in the city of Hannover chose to join the American nation. This was the sweetest victory of all, an act of self-determination made because of how appealing the American culture and the booming American economy were, not at the tip of a spear or the receiving end of a big rock. Perhaps that is why the German declaration of war in 1970 A.D. seemed so half-hearted; after Hannover defected, they knew that they had already lost. I gladly accepted the German nation into the American melting pot in 1993 A.D., when they joined the English and Japanese nations under the American banner.

Because of Boston’s location, the Germans were effectively bottled in their archipelago, which allowed me to continue to expand. American cities are, by design, founded on coasts to utilize economic and military advantages. This was critical when our little ship, which was a prize won from barbarians, was sunk without provocation by the Japanese navy in 1780 A.D. That steered our powerful research and development academies to uncover the secrets of steam power. Cruisers carried our riflemen and cannons to the Japanese islands, and we engaged in a protracted island-hopping campaign that led us to their capital, Kyoto. Emperor Tokugawa sued us for a ceasefire, and our government faced a moment of crisis when Congress vetoed my rejection of this plea. I argued that to stop now would mean that the Japanese nation would have an opportunity to rebuild and threaten our nation once more. Furthermore, the continued existence of a separate Japanese sovereignty would trouble the Japanese citizens who already voluntarily joined the American nation as they recognized and approved of America’s Manifest Destiny. With a heavy heart, I suspended that Congressional session, dismissed the Senators and Representatives, and continued the campaign to ensure American safety against future Japanese aggression. I continue to intend to restore Congress; I take no joy from claims that I am the Mad King Lincoln. As always, I work to better the American nation and its dependent peoples. This is why I build aqueducts and granaries in every city to ensure that my people are fed. This is why I install courthouses in every city to ensure that justice is not forgotten. This is why I limit the production of arms to only certain cities.

Though I regret the crisis that the war against Japan brought us to, I believe that we are stronger for it. That crucible forged the American nation into a nation capable of facing all obstacles, particularly those presented by the insidious English culture. Their religious fundamentalism threatened modernity, and I was not surprised that they violently opposed the values that we projected. We tried to engage them in trade, but they seized our trade caravans at every opportunity. There were moments when I thought the English people would reject their trajectory; I had high hopes when they threw down the religious fanatics from power and chose to create a democracy. I regret that we did not do enough to support their blossoming democracy before it fell to religious fanatics again. For the safety of the American people, I had no choice but to take them under the American banner. It was a humanitarian act.

America’s greatest minds led to our victory.

Our nation faced its greatest trial when Gandhi uncovered a trove of advanced technology and threatened us with tanks and advanced artillery. I marshaled our resources to uncover these secrets as well, constructing the Oxford University in order to gather our finest minds to lead the way. Providence again guided us; for all of the Indian nation’s might, they could not break through the stalwart defense posed by our veteran riflemen. They were the rock, and the Indian tanks and artillery were the wave. Eventually, we were able to unleash the full power of the American economy and manufactured tanks, artillery, and bombers. We also discovered Leonardo’s Workshop, which allowed us to quickly upgrade our existing soldiers’ equipment. The unconquerable veteran riflemen replaced their rifles with machine guns. That was the turning point of this protracted war.

Our hope for the future.

But I am tired of war. Now that Gandhi has joined Bismark, Elizabeth, Tokugawa, and petty barbarian lords in the realm of the unenlightened, we have a chance to ensure to improve our world. With global safety assured, I believe that unrest in the former Japanese, English, German, Indian cities will be relieved by expanding education, by building more universities, by ensuring that they have easy access to food and good jobs. One day, we will be able to disband our rapid reaction force and send those veterans home to the heroes’ welcome that they have earned. But most of all, I hope that our colony ship successfully finds a new world where we could start fresh and leave the mistakes of this world and its history behind.

America’s humble servant,
Abraham Lincoln


PlayStation Plus Could Turn the Vita’s Fortunes Around

As one of the early adopters of the PlayStation Vita, I’ve experienced a good amount of buyer’s remorse since picking it up in February. The Vita had a pretty great launch lineup, including Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational, Wipeout 2048, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, ModNation Racers: Road Trip and Super StarDust Delta. A few weeks later, MLB 12: The Show launched, which was the first game where you could share a season between the PS3 and Vita versions of the game, one of the highly touted features of the Vita leading up to its launch.

After the launch however, things pretty much dropped off cliff. After The Show in the beginning of March, there was pretty much nothing until the end of May, when Resistance: Burning Skies was released, and it wasn’t good. The next solid Vita release was Gravity Rush in June, and that was the last really good game until the amazing Sound Shapes came along in August. So far this Fall, Little Big Planet Vita is the only thing resembling a top-tier game that has come out for the console. Almost everything else released for the Vita since its launch has been a port, a remastered collection or a stripped down version of a console franchise.

For me, the biggest gripe I had about the Vita was the lack of PlayStation One support at launch. This was something that Sony has talked about over and over before launch, and we didn’t get the feature until late August, over six months after the North American launch.

Sales of the Vita have been unimpressive so far, and by refusing to cut the price of the Vita, Sony wasn’t doing anything to help themselves. Media outlets and many gamers have been talking about the Vita as if its already dead, and they may be right. But I think Sony finally understands just how bad of a position they are in with the Vita, because they have finally stepped up and provided one very compelling reason to own a Vita–PlayStation Plus.

I’ve raved about how great PlayStation Plus has become over the past year and a half. On the PS3, it’s essentially become a Netflix for games, as each month subscribers are getting access to great games for free. In the past several months I’ve downloaded InFamous 2, Just Cause 2, Assassin’s Creed 2, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 OneSaints Row 2, Resident Evil 5 and a bunch of PSN games. There are also tons of discounts on newer games–this month is Portal 2 for $13.99, for example. Bottom line is, for $50 a year, I’m getting a huge amount of value out of the service, and now it’s coming to Vita.

On November 19th, the PS Plus service will be available on the Vita, and six games will be available at launch–Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Wipeout 2048, Gravity Rush, Jet Set Radio, Mutant Blobs Attack and the PSP game Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions. That’s an amazing group of games. And since I’m already a PS Plus subscriber on PS3, that subscription transfers over to my Vita as well.

PlayStation Plus reinvigorated the PS3 when Sony started giving away free games through the service. A couple weeks ago, Sony reported that the past two quarters have been the most profitable in the six-year history of the PlayStation Network. Sony has fine tuned the PS Plus Service on the PS3, and now the Vita will benefit from what they’ve learned.

So let’s say you go out and buy the PS Vita Assassin’s Creed: Liberation bundle. For $250, you get the new white PS Vita , AC: Liberation (a $40 game) and a 4GB memory card. If you grab a 3-month PS Plus membership for $18, you get immediate access to $150 worth of other games that will provide you with months of gaming. Not a bad deal.

I’ve no doubt that this move could turn around the fortunes of the Vita, but it all depends on how well Sony does in getting the word out about it. I’d like to see a holiday bundle that comes with a year subscription to PS Plus and a decent size memory card (at least 8GB). There are rumors of $200 Black Friday bundles featuring some of the current big titles, so that’s a step in the right direction for the short-term. Of course, Sony will need to keep the games coming each month to PS Plus on Vita, as they have with the PS3 service.

It’s about to be a great time to be a Vita owner. Kind of makes me wish I’d waited to get mine.


Gaming Stories: Spelunky

Six hundred and twenty-one plays, six hundred and twenty-one deaths, zero wins. I’ve never been so happy with such futility.

I’ve been poking at Spelunky since about 2010, but I didn’t make a concerted effort to finish the game until this summer after the Xbox Live Arcade port was released. To this day, I still haven’t played that version. Instead, I’ve continued to try to conquer the original freeware PC version, where, despite my futility so far, I feel like I’m near a breakthrough.

I wonder how many of those deaths are intentional suicides after I took an early hit in first couple of stages. If I can feel the game going poorly, I’ll find the nearest enemy, spikes, or large fall, kill my avatar, and start again.

The pressure for a perfect run used to define my explorations of Spelunky, but for now, I just want to make it from the first stage to the fourth stage in one piece so I can unlock the tunnel to the fourth stage. When I pursued the perfect run, I would rage at the cheap hits from bats and snakes, curse the spiders, and curse myself for walking into yet another arrow trap that knocked me off a cliff, taking me from full life to death in a matter of seconds. I would boil because I was too close to an exploding space ship in the third stage or because I was caught in a damage loop from the snow monsters in the third stage. I would curse the spiders and frogs who seemed to be able to impossibly adjust their jumps so they land right on my head.

Try again. 

I tend not to play many video games around my toddler, but Spelunky, for whatever reason, is one of the first video games to which I’ve exposed him. He calls it the “try again” game. In a way, I guess it’s teaching him good-nature perseverance.

Update: while finishing this post, I gave it another try. Six hundred and twenty-two plays, six hundred and twenty-two deaths, zero wins. Let’s try it again.