A Year of Achievements

365 Day StreakLast night, I completed the goal I set out for myself last year – to score at least one achievement per day.

Looking back at it, I’m not so sure that was time well spent.

I know there are plenty of gamers out there that put absolutely no stock in Microsoft’s reward system (or in any of the many copycats that followed in the years since its introduction), but I happen to like earning them. There is something about the little dopamine hit every time that ding sounded.

Was, actually. It was fun. When I started last February, it was supposed to be for a month. Maybe two. Before I knew it, I wouldn’t stop forcing myself to get another one each day until I finished out the year. Game time wasn’t about enjoying myself anymore; it was more like a job. Instead of smiling when the alert popped up, I would sigh “finally” under my breath and immediately save and quit in fear of popping a second one in the same session. This behavior ruined story-heavy games like The Walking Dead and caused me to spend more time with mobile games on my Windows Phone.

Even though I know how much this is messing with my favorite pastime, after meeting that year-long goal last night I started heavily considering going for another year.

So, this is it. I’m going to bed tonight without getting another achievement.  Once I break this hobby-wrecking habit, I’ll be able to actually resume having fun with my games and those achievements will finally have meaning again.

Wait… wasn’t 2012 a leap year?

2009 Games

In picking my 2010 FGOTY, I realized just how many games I still play that were released in 2009! Forza Motorsport 3, Borderlands and Assassin’s Creed 2 top my list. Am I the only one?

How Weak I’ve Become

Whenever I intend on buying an XBLA game, I always download the demo first, no matter how sure I am that I will love the title. This is to avoid contributing to the many “I think this game was going to be like this, but it was like that!” posts that I see on gaming-related forums. No matter how sure I am of a game’s quality, I always try the demo first.

Except for Perfect Dark.

I’m not sure what possessed me to skip that step. It isn’t like I have to redownload the game after trying the demo. Buying the full version of an XBLA game from the demo is pretty easy and quick to do.

Luckily, Perfect Dark is just as great as it was when I played in on my N64 all those years ago. I haven’t finished it yet, so I won’t be writing a review right now, but I wanted to mention how much more difficult this game is when compared to modern FPS games. I don’t mean in terms of the AI, but in how little guidance the game gives you.

While walking through the Carrington Institute (the hub area that missions are launched from), I couldn’t figure out how to actually begin a mission. None of the terminals were lit up or had a floating button above it or any sort of indication of what to do with them, so I assumed I couldn’t interact with them. That isn’t the case at all; most of them can be used in some way. I just had to hit the A button. In the years since I have played Perfect Dark, I had forgotten about that.

I was off on my first mission. After infiltrating dataDyne’s tower, I saw a light switch on the wall. “Hmm… what happens if I hit A on it?” I hit the button, and the lights went out. I pulled down on the left analog, moving away from the wall. All of a sudden, I was lost. There was no way to get back to the switch, forcing me to restart the mission.

During the three missions that take place in the tower, I learned the following:

  • Joanna’s health will not regenerate.
  • There are no maps to guide me.
  • There are no checkpoints, so when I die, I start the mission all over again.
  • The game will not auto-select items for me; if I need the Data Uplink to hack into a computer, and I don’t think to use it, then I will be stuck until I figure it out.
  • As mentioned before, anything I can interact with will not be called out in any special way, forcing me to figure it out on my own.

The more I play this game, the more I realize that modern FPSes (and games in general) have all these crutches in them that I have come to rely on, and I am a “softer” gamer as a result. I plan on playing through Perfect Dark a few times. I hope to finish it on Perfect Agent difficultly; a feat I was never able to accomplish in the N64 version. Perhaps this game will toughen me up a bit.

On a related note, the auto-aim feature is insane. Most FPSes will nudge the reticle a little to line up your shot. This game jerks the reticule halfway across the screen to make sure you hit your target. While it is a little much, it makes me feel like a secret agent when I one-shot a room full of dataDyne agents. I don’t recall the original doing anything like this.

I Feel So Weak

I was all ready to take a stance against Microsoft. “No, I will NOT buy another one of your 360s! I already bought two, and had them each replaced twice, only to have them both die!” is what I imagined myself yelling at MS while shaking my fist. After only three days, I caved in and picked one up at Best Buy. Having a $40 coupon and getting Dragon Age: Origins for free helped to ease my bruised ego.

What did you dress as for Halloween?

Chill Penguin as an ODST
I didn’t dress up for Halloween, but my Xbox Avatar did.

The ODST armor is courtesy of Halo Waypoint, which was released this weekend for those in the Preview Program. I was awarded nine Halo-related pieces of Avatar clothing for my various Halo-related achievements! I’m one of the few people who think that it is okay to spend real money on virtual clothing, but not too much; 80 MSP is a fair price for a shirt, but 400 MSP for a light saber is just too much.

I did think about buying that light saber though. Just for a second.

In My Hands

In my hands:

Forza Motorsport 3 box art (PAL) - I couldn't find a decent US NTSC version anywhere

Twenty Four Hours?

I turned on my Wii for the first time in forever today. I messed around with the Nintendo Channel and learned that the Wii has been keeping track of all the gaming I’ve done on that console! Wii Fit is my most played game (47 hours) and The Twilight Princess is the runner up (24 hours). How did I pour that much time into Zelda and then just quit playing?

Zune Marketplace on 360

Last night, in the middle of a mission in Borderlands, I got booted off of LIVE for an update. I saved my progress and applied the update.

Like most people who got into the preview program, I started playing with the new updates immediately after the update applied itself some 20 minutes later. Unlike most people, who probably went to Facebook or Last.fm first, I went directly to the Zune Marketplace to see how well the transition went.

Zune on PC video history

When I installed the Zune 4.0 software on the day it launched in September, one of the first things I noticed was that all of the videos I had downloaded on the 360 appeared in my download history. This made me happy, as I never understood why the Zune and Xbox 360 had two different video marketplaces. Although I couldn’t access any of those videos from the Zune software, I figured I would be able to when the 360 update went live. As the screenshot above shows, many of them still come up as unavailable. It is likely this will change once the update goes live to all 360s.

Zune on 360 video library

A week or so ago I downloaded the first episode of Battlestar Galactica, 33, from the Zune Marketplace. After applying last night’s update, I checked out my video library on the 360’s newly Zune-branded video marketplace and was pleased to find that episode sitting there, ready to play.

Caprica Six and Baltar talking on my Xbox 360

It only took a few seconds of buffering before I saw Caprica Six and Baltar talking to each other in 1080p. That was quite a step up for me, as I had seen the entire series in standard definition. The video transitions from a somewhat pixilated SD picture to a smooth HD picture quickly. I found the quality to be better than Netflixs HD videos, which is surprising considering how long it takes an HD Netflix video to start compared to the Zunes HD videos.

Caprica Six and Baltar talking on my Zune HD Caprica Six and Baltar talking on my PC

To demonstrate that Microsofts claim of Buy video once, play it on HDTV, PC or ZUNE HD is accurate, in the screenshots above you will see the same TV show running on my Zune HD and on my PC.

As a user of both the 360 and Zune, I am very happy to see how well the video portion of my Zune account is synced up with my 360. I would like to see Microsoft bring the Zune Pass service and some aspects of the Zune Social to the 360 as well.

Borderlands

Are any other buttonmashers getting this game? I will be picking up the Steam version.

+800 Microsoft Points

Microsofts Summer of Arcade has come and gone. A couple of weeks ago I got a message from LIVE letting my know that 800 points had been credited to my account. This made me look back at the  5200 points I spent to get this rebate.

When I first saw the line up, I was unsure of most of the titles. Getting 800 points back was a nice incentive to take a chance on them. Now, having played all of them, I found that my expectations and my experiences with the games did not match up.

'Splosion Man

Pre-demo impression: Whats the name of the game? Splosion Man? Pass.

Post-demo impression: Whoa, this game is kinda fun. The demo let me play through a few levels (six, I believe) and even gave me a sneak peek of the first boss; just enough for me to get a handle on the game. There is no tutorial at all, but I didnt need one. All face buttons splode. The left analog stick moves. Pretty simple, and I like it that way.

Post-purchase impression: The game starts of nice and easy. Every level slowly ramps up the difficultly, but at no point did I feel overwhelmed or frustrated. No matter how difficult the puzzle, I always think about how I can change my tactics to complete the puzzle.

Verdict: Satisfied. This is my favorite 2D platformer on the XBLA.

Marvel vs. Capcom 2

Pre-demo impression: I played Marvel vs. Capcom 2 when it was out on the Dreamcast. Id play with my brothers, wife, her brother, and her future brother-in-law. We had a blast, so adding an online mode with Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remixs quarter match setup and excellent netcode? How could I go wrong?

Post-demo impression: The demo doesnt do a good job of showing what the game can offer; you can only choose from six characters in offline mode. Oh well, since I liked the game years ago, Im sure the full version will be fine.

Post-purchase impression: I dont remember this game being completely unbalanced. In particular, multiple characters share similar moves (such as Captain Americas Charging Star and Jill Valentines Kinkyuu Kaihi B), but have completely effects in combos, allowing certain characters to be more cheap than others. Using the two characters I mentioned as an example, Jill can land multiple hits when your character is in the prone position, whereas Captain America cant, despite the fact that both moves only differ in a cosmetic way. These differences lead players of Marvel vs Capcom 2 to build squads made up of the cheapest possible characters that can land as many unblockable hits in a row as possible. As I prefer to build thematic squads (such as my Boys in Blue and Brotherhood of Evil Mutants teams), playing against this type of gamer leads to me getting frustrated.

Verdict: Regret. Years of playing better-balanced, slower-paced fighting games like Street Figher IV, Soul Calibur IV, Dead or Alive 4, and Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix have made this game unplayable for me.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle: Turtles In Time Re-Shelled

Pre-demo impression: Just like with Marvel vs. Capcom 2, I played this game with friends and family on the SNES. It was such a simple game with memorable music and colorful graphics that looked like the cartoon. Now Ill get this game again, with updated graphics and  four-player LIVE play? Instant buy.

Post-demo impression: What happened? I already knew that the graphics were going to be different. Unlike many message board posters, I actually like the new graphics, since they look a lot like the most recent CG TMNT movie. However, I did not expect the light-hearted and sometimes goofy music to be replaced with totally uninspired music that could have been copied directly from a low-budget B-movies soundtrack.

Post-purchase impression: I just cant get over the change in music. When I think back to the multiplayer beat em up action games from my youth, like Streets of Rage and Final Fight, one of the things that sticks out is the music. This games dull tones seem to be trying to put me to sleep. Knowing what the music should sound like prevents me from getting into it. That aside, it works well as a four-player online game.

Verdict: Regret. My nostalgia for the SNES version of Turtles in Time negatively affected my ability to enjoy this new version.

Trials HD

Pre-demo impression: Some called this game an HD ExciteBike. I never played that game or its Nintendo 64 follow-up, so that comparison didnt take hold on me.

Post-demo impression: This game is pretty fun! The tutorial is simple but effective. I breezed through the levels offered in the demo. I imagine the game will get harder, but I should enjoy it.

Post-purchase impression: This game is ridiculously hard. In no way did the demo prepare me for the extreme ramp up in difficulty. The Beginner and Easy tracks are pretty easy to get gold medals in. The Medium tracks are unbelievably hard. I dont even want to see what the Hard and Extreme tracks are like. Want to see how hard this game is? The split wasnt in my controller before buying Trials HD:

Stupid Trials HD

Verdict: Satisfied. Yes, it is ridiculously hard. If you have the patience to push your way through, or a lot of controllers to go through, you will enjoy it. When I first wrote my post-purchase impressions on this game, the Medium tracks were practically impossible. Now, I have gotten through them, finished most of the Hard tracks and am struggling with the Extreme ones. My controller has flown across the room a few more times, but I keep coming back for me.

Shadow Complex

Read our full review on Shadow Complex.

Pre-demo impression: This game is constantly referred to as a Metroidvania-style title. Those are mighty big words for me, as that designation doesnt only describe how it plays, but it is a statement about its quality.

Post-demo impressions: I can see that Shadow Complex has a lot of potential. I enjoyed the opening sequence, where you get to see how powerful your character will become. It is an effective tease.

Post-purchase impressions: Shadow Complex was very difficult for the first few hours. Jason Flemming could not take many hits before dying, and I found the aim at the background mechanic to be flawed and aggravating to deal with. Given how difficult the beginning was to me, it became immensely gratifying to see Jasons power grow. By the end of the game, I strolled into every room without bothering to take cover. I walked over every enemy, including those annoying black-suited agents that would hang from the ceiling. The ending sequence is one of the easier ones Ive seen in a game, which was a bit anti-climactic.

Verdict: Satisfied. Shadow Complex became an obsession for me. I wouldnt quit until I found all of the items. I intend on going back to get all the way to level 50.

I spent 1200 more points than I should have. The rebate made up for the cost of Turtles in Time Re-Shelled, but Im still out for the cost of Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Even though I really enjoy the three Arcade titles that I had no previous experience with, buying into the Summer of Arcade was not a smart financial move.