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I still hate gnomes though.
Permalink   Filed under: Weird, Personal

Dwarves dwarves dwarves
Ten years ago I wouldn't have given a flying flip about dwarves. Then when we started playing D&D 3rd edition, I played a dwarven monk. When World of Warcraft came out, I played a dwarven hunter who hated gnomes. And for the past couple of years, I've been (off and on) addicted to Dwarf Fortress. Sadly, dwarves will probably never achieve the mainstream recognition or respect that pirates and ninjas now possess. But they will forever hold a place in my heart.

Hitman: Blood Money
Hitman: Blood Money returns to the root of the series. Back to a sequence of missions, rather than the fractured, annoying flashbacks of Contracts (many of which were rehashes of original levels).

Every Hitman seems to tweak the unlock system. Here you earn cash based on your level ratings. That money can then be spent on weapon upgrades for your core equipment - your trademark silverballers, a shotgun, a submachine gun, an assault rifle, and a sniper rifle. These improvements include silencers, better sights, stocks, and a variety of ammunition choices to do more damage or make less noise. Additional weapons can be added to your arsenal by carrying them to a mission exit, though to be honest there didn't seem to be any point in doing so because with a few exceptions, your standard choices are unquestionably superior.

Blood Money makes a few changes to the mission ratings. Upon completing a mission, you're presenting with your score in noise and violence. Obviously both should be low to achieve the optimal "Silent Assassin" rating. Additionally the game tracks how many witnesses there were and if your face was captured on video. A witness, as it turns out, is anyone who sees you carrying a weapon, even if appropriate to your costume (such as a guard). High noise and/or violence will increase your notoriety, though you can spend some of your earnings to lower it. I'm not sure exactly what happens if you get a high notoriety.

I noticed that there are fewer obvious silent assassin methods presented to the player and the mission levels seemed more complicated on average than many of those from previous games. For instance, it's rare to find a vial of poison sitting a few paces away from a bowl of soup. This game also requires a bit more patience than previous iterations. There's a lot of time spent waiting for people to hit their waypoints for optimal killing (especially when it's one of the levels where the AI characters stupidly and rigidly follows a seriues of baffling waypoints).

On the other hand, this game introduces the ability to make kills look like accidents. An explosive on the cable holding up a chandelier, for example, can detonate just as the target walks underneath. It's then considered an accident, so there's no need to hide the body. Accidents tend to be somewhat hidden, so you have to search for them. One side effect of accidents and Silent Assassin kills is that you have almost no need of any of your weapons except the fiber wire. It's disappointing to have all these options for upgrades and yet to get the money needed for upgrades, you won't want to even use the weapons you're upgrading.

Though graphics are improved, there's one big problem that's impossible to overlook: the "hot" women are freakish. They all have giant globe breasts that are unnaturally round and body proportions that strain credibility.

I had a few problems with the interface. The menu system had a few glitches when it came to clicking on things. Every once in a while I'd click something and it would not register. Instead, my mouse cursor would be relocated to the center of the screen for some reason. The ESC button would often be disabled during certain scenes and even beyond that it would occasionally be unresponsive. My standard method to get to the game menu was to double-tap ESC because it would often disregard the first one. Save games are entirely transient. Once you finish a level or quit the game, your saves are gone. So while the game tracks your progress by level, you can't save the game in the middle of a mission and quit the game with plans to come back later. You'll have to start that mission over from the beginning.

This game has one of the better endings of the series but it's a bit too easy to miss the hidden "treat". Even so, it was well done. All in all, I found this to be a good addition to the Hitman series.

Permalink   Filed under: Games, Review

PAX 2007

At the end of August, I attended the Penny-Arcade Expo, my first visit to a videogame convention. Though the expo ran from Friday to Sunday, I was only able to attend the last two days, thus I missed Wil Wheaton's keynote speech on Friday. I also spent too much time looking for other people and not even concentrating on the expo itself. See, there were plans for members of Gamers With Jobs to get together at and after the expo, but no concrete plans were made. As a result, I spent a lot of time looking for GWJ shirts among the crowd. That didn't go too well and distracted me from paying attention on Saturday or waiting around for demos.

Sunday I got around to trying out the PC Freeplay, basically a whole room of PCs set up for free use by attendees. They came loaded with a number of games, such as Quake 4, Unreal Tournament 2003, and BF 2142. Since 2142 is my current multiplayer game of choice, I joined their local server. Jumped in and ugh! No unlocks at all. Without grenades or my favorite weapons, I can't get into the game anymore. So I switched and played with the World in Conflict demo. They've been promoting hard. The neck lanyards included in every PAX registration packet were WiC ads and they had girls dressed in Soviet uniforms (were those short skirts regulation?) passing out flyers to the Saturday night launch party. Sadly I wasn't able to attend that, but the GWJ meetup more than made up for it.

I think. I heard the launch party had an open bar.

First thing you'd see when walking into the exhibition hall was Microsoft's area and, past the row of demo PC's, a Big Daddy from Bioshock. Those PC's, by the way, were running demos of Gears of War and Hellgate: London. I did to play a bit of the former. It took me a minute to realize the server was running team deathmatch and shooting my teammates was having very little effect except annoying them. Then I had to figure out how to tell the difference between my team (Locusts) and the other (humans), both with uniforms of lovely shades of beige! The final handicap was the PC setup. Imagine standing at a desk because there's no chair, the desk is at waist level, and it's slanted down at about 20 degrees so your wrists are bent at a horrible angle. So most people ended up using the USB gamepads that were attached. Not me. I'm old skool. Plus I'm not any good aiming with a gamepad in an FPS. And because I was the only guy using the keyboard/mouse, one of the roving reporters decided to interview me. By then I'd picked up some of the finer points of the game and impressed the guy that I was able to frag while still answering his questions. This, I explained, was because I was married and I was used to talking while I played.

Mass Effect was being strongly promoted with trailers being shown on the Microsoft big screen. My interest is still pretty much nil. I didn't win the Mass Effect Xbox 360 Elite, but I did get a free Mass Effect t-shirt.

NCSoft had a big presence, pimping both Guild Wars and Lineage 2. I'm a sucker for the artwork used in Guild Wars so while the game doesn't interest me much, I had an urge to steal their posters and banners.

The guys behind Alien Hominid, The Behemoth, were showing off their upcoming game Castle Crashers. This was a cute cell-shaded cartoonish side-scrolling fighter, in the same vein as Golden Axe.

The Warhammer Online booth was showing off their game on a number of computers. I didn't pay much attention because I'm really not looking for another fantasy MMORPG already.

Telltale games was showing off Sam & Max and their CSI: Hard Evidence game. Though it will likely throw gamers everywhere into a rage, I must admit that I have never played any Sam & Max game, not even the old Sam & Max Hit the Road. So again, this was another booth I didn't spend much time around.

It was hard to miss The Spoils, a collectible card game, thanks to its, ah, attention-grabbing banners. I'm still astounded that there are still so many fantasy collectible car games coming out. Spoils was certainly not the only one here. There was even a Warcraft CCG being demoed at the expo, though I didn't bother trying it. Never had much interest in Magic: The Gathering and these games don't see all that much different. There was a Spoils card pack in my swag bag and the actual cards were much more boring than the banners suggested.

Halo ActionClix is a wargame based on HeroClix, I assume, except set in the Halo universe. The units were impressive, especially the giant scarab figures. I've never done any HeroClix gaming myself, though I'm open to the idea.

Eye of Judgement has garnered a lot of buzz, one of the few PS3 games to really interest people. It was being demoed by GWJ's own Gorgeous Rob Borges (and he really is dreamy). The game uses a camera peripheral to scan the cards played by players onto the game board and manages the turns based on what cards are laid down. It's an interesting use of tech and mixes the videogame with the card game. Nothing about it really grabs me, though, especially with it being on the PS3.

America's Army had one of the biggest booth areas there. In fact, most of it was blocked off by a tall black curtain. They had quite a line for most of the expo. Sunday morning I decided to stand in line since it looked so short. Unfortunately, their main demo was suspended while they tried to get someone to fix something suspended from the ceiling. The guys working the booth were worried it looked a bit precarious and might fall. So while we waited, the sergeant (I'm assuming he was a sergeant) decided to pass the time by having us players compete in a few physical competitions. I took part in a push up contest but only came in about 4th out of 7. After a while, they turned us loose on the latest America's Amry PC game where we did some 4 on 4 team games. Definitely slower than BF2142 and I had one match where I managed 3 kills. Finally, we got into the main demo room. The setup was a military Humvee situated in front of 3 projection screens. Mounted on the Humvee were 4 machine guns, all with electronic sensors for hit detection and components to mimic the feel of recoil. We then ran through an evac mission where our convoy drove through some hostile territory on the way to evacuate a patrol. It was fun, though I quickly discovered that my far right-mounted gun could not hit targets on the center screen. When the mission was done, I got some dogtags stamped with my name and gamertag.

Harmonix had one of the most popular booths at the expo. They had three consoles running their upcoming game Rock Band and the line to play was the longest at the convention. Being by myself, I really didn't want to stand in line alone for the hour or so it would've taken to play. A shame though, because the game looked like great fun. Guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. I did grab some Rock Band stickers though. Score!

Prolific makers of boardgames, Fantasy Flight Games also had a booth, showing off not only their huge catalog of games such as Game of Thrones and Arkham Horror, but also their new Starcraft boardgame. It was filled with oodles of figures for each unit, much like the World of Warcraft boardgame. My guess is that the rules are similar, though I didn't get a chance to read them or play the game.

Penny Arcade had a demo of sorts for their game Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness. Sadly the demo was little more than a cut scene that lasts barely longer than it takes to say the name of the game. The interactive part was creating a Mii-like avatar for your character. That character you create then took part in a cut scene that would seem to kick off the start of the game. Gameplay trailers for the game look good but the "demo" didn't give even a taste.

South Peak Games seems to have stretched their ambitions a bit and gone beyond the Dukes of Hazard and Wild Wild West videogames of their past. They were pimping their new MMO Two Worlds which, despite generating some buzz beforehand, seemed to generate very little interest at the expo itself, since its booth was mainly empty the times I went by. I've heard some pretty bad things about the demo too.

Ubisoft's Frag Dolls (all-female gaming team) were on site as part of their recruitment of 2 new members. The candidates played a lot of matches for the crowd. The Frag Dolls also held a panel discussion on Sunday, answering questions from the audience.

One of the few times I got to sit down in the exhibit hall, I played a big of Empire Earth 3. My history with the series isn't great. I got the first in the series years back, played two rounds, and just hated it. As a real-time strategy game, it was so very boring and bland. Now the whole concept behind the game was that you play from prehistory to futuristic warfare, kind of like the Civilization series but as an RTS. I don't know if Empire Earth got better as a game after you advanced from rock throwing. With all that in mind, I sat down to give the series another try. The booth worker chatted a bit and then loaded up one of the save games on the machine. In this particular scenario, my super-advanced civ owned almost the entire map and had an entire army camped out not too far from my enemy's last remaining camp. My opponent, by the way, was a feudal Japan town with only a handful of units and buildings. It was a slaughter since, not surprisingly, Japanese bowmen can do very little against tanks, artillery, and mechs. This was their demonstration of how the game played? To his credit, the booth worker offered to show me another scenario but by then what little interest I had was used up.

Wizards of the Coast was at PAX to give some tantalizing insight into their recently announced D&D 4th Edition. Solid details were not given, just a lot of talk of the way they want to incorporate more computer and internet tools into the way people play tabletop RPGs. The tools looked cool, but part of the whole draw to me of tabletop RPGs is the face-to-face social aspect of it.

The Penny-Arcade store was packed the whole time. I'd say that at least half of their t-shirt designs were sold out by Sunday.

Rockstar was pimping Manhunt 2 hard and yet had nothing to show of it. No demo, no trailer, not even screenshots. Just lots of Manhunt stickers. They had a few Wii stations set up for Table Tennis.

Speaking of the Wii, they had a number of consoles running the new Metroid Prime 3. Me, I haven't played Metroid since the original, so you can tell what my level of interest is.

Sword of the New World (Granado Espada) is a fairly recent MMORPG from Korea. It seems to have a more renaissance feel as opposed to all the straight fantasy games out there. And it seems to be pitching itself to gamers interested in dress-up because I've seen a lot of intricate costumes in the screenshots I've seen. In fact, their booth babe (they were one of very few booths with costumed booth babes) had this nice little short short thigh-high boots with red jacket ensemble. The game itself I know almost nothing about.

Playstation had a lot of demos running and one of the cutest booth babes at the expo (I'm a sucker for redheads even though she wasn't in costume). The Heavenly Sword demo was flashy but it wasn't clear if it really had rewarding gameplay.

The Witcher was running demos constantly along with a fairly long cut scene trailer. I can't say the in-game combat looked all that interesting to me. The cut scene was of a long drawn out fight between the main character and some ugly demon. It went on just way too long, demonstrating that the main character is so badass that he can beat up demons with his fists. At the end he pulls out his sword and the demon runs away.

THQ (and developers like Gas Powered Games) had a booth showing of a wide variety of games. The Frontlines: Fuel of War demos looked decent, sort of a next-gen BF 2142, complete with vehicles and player-controlled UAVs. There was a Supreme Commander expansion which, sadly, I did not get a chance to play. I did get a chance at the WWII expansion Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts. The British side I was playing was quite different from the Americans or Germans and by the time I learned its quirks, I was losing too badly to easily catch up. And their HUGE lcd monitors placed about 8 inches from the player did not make the game easier to play. THQ was also showing of their Conan videogame, not to be confused with Age of Conan, which was not in evidence at the expo. Conan, on the other hand, I got to watch for a bit. I also got to watch the Conan-themed booth babe. Rowrr.

Haze is an interesting concept. On one side of the conflict, you've got the government and their drug-using supersoldiers. On the other, rebels who've learned to use those drugs against the supersoldiers by causing them to overdose and go psychotic. I got to play a bit of this FPS on the PS3 in co-op mode and of course I had trouble with the controller. Not bad but since it's on the PS3 there's effectively no chance I'll ever play it. Haze was one of the few booths to have a booth stud rather than a booth babe and this guy was buff enough to put the soldiers at the America's Army to shame.

Kane & Lynch ran on three big widescreen, demoing a bank robbery scenario straight out of Heat. I can't tell if it was the players or the controls, but it sure looked to me like the people playing the demo just couldn't hit crap.

Assassin's Creed looks great. Some real attention to detail with fluid combat and interaction with the environment. Sadly I didn't get to see the entire demo.

I spent a little while Tycho & Gabe (Penny Arcade creators) did crowd question and answer sessions. Besides giving me a chance to rest my feet, these were also fairly entertaining, even though I'm not a huge Penny Arcade fan myself.

Though I didn't get Wil Wheaton's autograph or listen to his speech, I did manage a photo of him pointing out the scientific truth on his shirt.

(Updated Monday, October 1, 2007 1:08 PM)
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