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Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

I’ll skip the “omg so busy and that is why i haven’t updated in a billion trillion years” part since I’m pretty sure no one is reading this anymore.

Not much has changed since my last update. I am still working hard, still loving most of it and not so much the rest of it.

Things I love –

The kids. They are so cute and so much fun. Even when I’m tired and dreading work, being in class with the kids always perks me up because even if not all of them are on point, at least a few of them are going at life full tilt at any give time. That sentence is terrible, but I don’t feel like fixing it. Plus I feel that it gets my point across anyway.

The teaching. I find the subject matter interesting and I enjoy the process of teaching.

Things I don’t love –

Grading. Uuuuugh. No teacher loves grading. If you know a teacher, you’ve heard them bitch about grading. It is so boring, but it has to be done!

Coworker drama. I haven’t had any direct drama myself, but I’ve witnessed some. There is something specifically ugly about seeing teachers be ugly to each other. Most of my coworkers are lovely, but there are a few who could stand to chill out. People can also be weirdly competitive and insecure about their subject area and how much teaching time they get. It’s exhausting. The kids are fine! They are learning all the subjects just fine! If they like your subject, they’ll pursue it regardless of how many hours they spent on it in elementary school. But what do I know.

Things I hate –

Paperwork. Working in a public school means you have an insane amount of paperwork. As you slog through forms designed to hold you accountable for any small failure you might encounter, you have the odd sensation that you are doing someone else’s job as well as your own. Not to mention the fact that this is yet another in a long list of amazing plans to make each teacher the best teacher ever, and it will soon be followed by a new plan that means you have to recycle all your paperwork and start again. On the upside, I can complain about it. The administrators all have to pretend that they thing it is all an awesome idea. I’m frustrated, and I know that every single one of my fellow teachers is frustrated. We spend twice as much time filling out paperwork and sitting in pointless meetings as we do planning lessons, teaching, and grading.

All in all, I find it hard to believe that I’ll stick it out in public school for my entire career. The pay is much, much better (I’m talking nearly 20,000 a year better). But is it worth the trade off? It doesn’t feel like it right now.

And so I sit, the things that I don’t love and the things that I hate revolving around my mind, making me wince at the idea of going to work tomorrow. But I can find comfort in the fact that my classroom feels like a haven, even when invaded by evaluators, and I like standing in front of that room. It is tiring to think of standing in front of a class for hours tomorrow. In reality, however, I’ll be energized  by the subject and the kids, and too busy to think about being tired or hungry.

But I can’t just talk about teaching all the time, there are other things going on in my life! Just kidding, there really aren’t other things going on in my life. The cats are basically the same. They are cute and fluffy and scratchy and annoying and totally spoiled. SleepyHusband used to pretend that cats were, like, fine, like, I guess. But now he’s totally mushy about them.

I haven’t read anything new lately. Too busy reading stuff I’ll be giving the kids. Things I’ve read before. Soon I’ll be teaching a book that is totally new to me. It should be exciting, but frankly, it is just freaking me out at the moment. I keep feeling like I might snap if I’m given one more challenge, but so far I’ve just kept chugging along. Let’s hope my nervous breakdown is not incoming. And now I’m talking about work again.

I saw my whole immediate family for Thanksgiving, which was something that hasn’t happened in about 5 years. Amazing how time can get away from you like that. It was fun, and it was quite nice to be able to escape to our own house when the festivities were over.

We have a Christmas tree! SleepyHusband dragged me out on a Friday afternoon to pick out a tree and I may have lost my shit a little bit in the Christmas aisle of our local Walmart. But our tree is lovely. There is something soothing and charming about having a Christmas tree in the room.

I won’t end with a promise to post more. This blog is one of the last things I think of when I thing of ways to spend my free time. I’m also willing to admit that the recent release of two sequels in two of my favorite video game series ever has eaten up a decent amount of my lazy weekends. Uncharted 3, which I got through relatively quickly, is the last of a great platformer with fantastic voice acting and engaging plot. I don’t know if I’d say this was my favorite of the three, but the game play was noticeably improved and I was thoroughly entertained. Bethesda has also, FINALLY, released the next in it’s line of Elder Scrolls games, Skyrim. It is truly a game unlike any other. Apparently it is supposed to take 250 hours to finish every available activity in the game. I haven’t gotten even close to that, but I’ve been enjoying the heck out of it when I find the time. I’ll try to write a proper review sometime soon.

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It has been awhile since I reviewed a book. This is partly because it has been awhile since I last read a book. That is to say, a book besides Lord of the Flies, which I pore over constantly when planning lessons. I was in serious need of some literary variety in my life.

I recently got an iPhone, and like so many before me, I am greatly enjoying it. One of the first apps I downloaded was iBook. The app store was advertising it, and while I thought my phone was a bit small to read a book on, I downloaded it. I figured it was free, why not? Then the other day I had the sudden urge to read something new, something good. Since I now live on a small island, it now takes about half an hour to get to the nearest bookstore. It isn’t so much the distance as traffic and finding parking, a pain in the neck all around.

So what to read, and where to get it. I decided to poke around the iBook store, but the way they organize their books didn’t really lend itself to browsing (or at least not the way I was doing it, I should play with the app a bit more). Then I remembered that a friend (hi Mike!) had recently mentioned a book on twitter that sounded interesting. He described Ready Player One to me as “Dan Brown for geek fanboys,” which could mean a lot of things, but it sounded fun to me. The book was in the iBook library and I downloaded it, hoping that the small screen wouldn’t make me insane.

Reading a book on an iPhone wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I would certainly say it slowed me down a bit. It was harder to get immersed in the story when you had to turn the page every 20 seconds. But eventually my brain would get the rhythm, and it didn’t detract from the story.

Anyway, onto the actual review. As usual, spoilers will be written in white text so you can highlight and read them if you choose too. I will try to indicate if they are major or minor, in case you just want to be mildly spoiled.

Let me start with a brief plot summary – It is 2044 and the world is in seriously bad shape. This is your typical distopian future, fires in the street, poor living conditions, a beaten down populace, the haves are few and far between and they have everything, the have-nots are barely scraping by. Our hero is a have-not, albiet a resourceful one when it comes to his main hobby – a virtual world called Oasis. Oasis is a fully (depending on how much equipment you have) interactive virtual world. The sad, beaten down people of earth use it to escape the horrific real world; they go to school, work, carry on friendships and romances, battle for virtual money and status, and generally enjoy things reality can’t offer them. When the creator of Oasis died, he left behind a massive puzzle to be solved by players. The prize for solving this mystery is the “egg,” a symbol for unimaginable wealth and control over Oasis itself, everything that the creator of the game, James Halliday, left behind when he died. This leads to huge amounts of the population devoting themselves to solving this puzzle, the clues of which are deeply rooted in 80’s culture of all kinds. Our main character, Wade, devotes any time that isn’t taken up by virtual high school  to solving the puzzle that so many people have obsessed over. After the contest drags on for 5 years without anyone finding the first of three keys, some people lose interest. But not Wade, and not thousands of other “gunters” as they are called (egg hunters).

What’s bad – The author has a little bit of a wish-fulfillment issue going on. Since the story is immersed, literally, in technology, he occasionally dives off into long tangents about the cool and mostly imaginary technology on offer. Suits that allow you to physically feel what is happening in the real world? Fine. Boxes that release scents into the air so you can smell what you are seeing? Silly, especially when placed in a chapter that is devoted to describing how people can feel, smell, order food that really arrives at your apartment, blah blah blah… It is like the author made a list of everything you would need to make virtual reality as real as possible, then wrote about all of them. And no one told him to cut it down. Leave something to the imagination, not many people are sitting there thinking, “but what about smell!”

The writing itself also leaves something to be desired. The author’s desire to describe everything is related to bigger issues with “show don’t tell.” If Cline wants to tell you what something looks like or how someone feels, he just tells you. All too often there is no effort to integrate information into the story, instead it gets its own descriptive paragraph. Most of the time Cline has taken the time to describe something because it comes up later in the story, but he doesn’t seem to realize that its place in the story is description enough. Everything doesn’t need its own detailed introduction.

What’s fine – 80’s 80’s 80’s! Any connoisseur of 80’s culture is going to enjoy this book. The sheer number of movies, videogames, bands, songs, actors, pop culture icons, etc. that are mentioned in this novel is staggering. Me, I’ve never been overly into the 80’s. I was seven when the 90’s came along, and even then I’m really more of an aughts girl when it comes to music, movies, and gaming culture. I did enjoy some of the name checks, like Wil Wheaton, but I can see how someone who is more into the 80’s would get more out of the book in general. In order to “win” the game and collect all the keys, gunters have to be encyclopedias of knowledge about the 80’s, a decade James Halliday was obsessed with. Puzzles include things like (minor spoiler) reciting entire movies and successfully playing through Pac Man without making a single mistake, and only the most obsessed will survive.

Another mention for wish-fulfillment for the “fine” catagory. What annoyed me about some of the other wish-fulfillment was that it was too much “listing” and not enough story. But there is another, romantic comedy-esque style that also shows up. (Minor spoilers to follow). Our protagonist starts off the novel looking like what one might expect someone who spends all their time in a virtual world to look like. He’s spotty, pale, and overweight. But after suffering a soul-crushing setback, Wade downloads a program that forces him to exercise in the real world before he is allowed to play in the virtual one. Thus our chubby nerd transforms into six-packed hero, just in time to do something that demonstrates his willingness to leave the virtual world and kick ass in the real one. This is the kind of wish fulfillment I don’t mind. The authorial urge to take an ugly duckling and swan him up a little is strong, if not original. Taking care of ones’ self physically is a tried and true sign of growth in fiction, so I’ll give the author a partial pass for leaning a bit too much on the “training montage” school of character development.

But also, let’s face it, it undermines his “it’s not what’s on the inside that counts” message a bit.

Another thing I’d have to put in the “fine” catagory is the ending. After working our way through this book of incredibly complex puzzles and epic battles, the story seems to end quite suddenly. But perhaps that was just me. Also, (major spoiler) the big red button that destroys the entire online world? Mmm, not sure what to make of that. Clearly the message is that part of the reason humanity is going down the tubes is because everyone spends all their spare time in a virtual world where they can be and do anything they like. Wade will presumably be pressing that button at some point, thus forcing humanity to face what they’ve done to the real world and work on solutions to the disaster that is Earth. But if you are going to introduce a major button like that, wouldn’t that fall under the Chekov’s gun rule? For those who are unfamiliar, the rule basically means that one shouldn’t put a gun on stage if it isn’t going to go off at some point later in the story. Can we not even get a quick conversation where Wade and the virtual Halliday discuss the pros and cons of the button? No? Just going to throw it in there, say “you might want to push this at some point, up to you, moving on”? Ok… If the author writes a sequel that features the button, I officially retract my complaint. Spoiler over.

The good – This is a really engaging story. I think the comparison to Dan Brown is fair – the writing is weak (better than Brown’s, but still weak) but the plot is really, really fun. James Halliday and his cohorts were clearly based partly on real world characters like Jobs, Wozniaki, and Gates. I think Cline has a strong grasp on human nature that shows in his character development. The main characters tend to be a tad overdramatic, but then again, they are teenagers. I wouldn’t say their drama queen tendencies aren’t a fair representation of your average 18 year old.

I really enjoyed learning about some neat pop culture history. As I mentioned before, the book is awash in 80’s nostalgia. While I couldn’t always relate to the obsession, it was interesting to learn more about the Atari, or hear a story about the man, John Draper, who discovered you could make free long distance calls by blowing a penny whistle a particular way.

I also found myself in the rather unique position if being midway through this book when Steven Jobs passed away. Suddenly, the anecdotes in the book were showing up in articles about Jobs’ actual life. One article in particular, on Slate.com, mentions what a large impact John Draper and his whistle had on Jobs and Wozniaki in their youth – inspiring their first foray into the technology business (You can find the article here). My first computer was an Apple, my current computer is an Apple, and I was reading Ready Player Oneon my iPhone. The sadly premature death of Steve Jobs lends the book an air of poignancy I’m not sure it would have had otherwise.

Another thing I really enjoyed about the book was the twist it took about three quarters of the way through. I was genuinely surprised (major spoiler) not only that Wade was dragged out of his apartment by the evil corporation he’s been battling, but that he’d carefully planned the whole thing to gain special access to their system and save his friends. It was a level of badassery I hadn’t expected from Wade, and a pleasant break from the near constant immersion in the virtual world. Glimpses of the real world are sprinkled throughout the book. Wade’s rare forays outside are quite engaging. Cline doesn’t engage in over-description when Wade is outside Oasis, and this is a very good thing. Because the reader has spent so much time thinking about the 80’s, most of us are probably picturing some cross between Blade Runner and Back to the Future II (the ugly future, not the shiny one) anyway. The jarring differences between Wade’s real life and his virtual one make for some of the most interesting moments in the book.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book to pretty much anyone. Especially since most people my age have an undying affection for things like The Breakfast Club (when it comes to 80’s movies I’ll take Aliens over John Hughes every time, sorry!). I’m a little surprised this book isn’t listed as a young adult novel. The themes and writing seem very YA to me. Cline has included a lot of really dark themes here – murder, terrorism, evil corporations, suicide, a distopian future, racism, sexism, homophobia, and on and on… But when it comes down to it, the book can’t help being fairly gleeful and happy. This may be due to how much fun the author is clearly having with his subject. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the tone of the book did mean that I never once (spoiler) had the least doubt that everything was going to work out just fine. There was just no way that Art3mis was going to get murdered or the corporation was going to gain control over the egg. It just wasn’t going to happen. Nothing wrong with an upbeat tone, but it didn’t really lend itself to suspense. 

Here ends my rambling review. As usual, my attempt to put things into good, bad, and fine categories just meant I put everything all over the place anyway. But hopefully I got my point across. If you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend it. And go into it expecting what is basically YA that is a billion times better than Twilight, but not on the level of something like Hunger Games or A Wrinkle in Time.

Edit: I should probably mention that I am often mildly annoyed by books written in the first person. I think it is tough for a lot of writers to write a solid protagonist without the “I did this, I did that, this is how I feel, me me me” making the character seem a lot more self obsessed than they are actually meant to be. But this is a personal preference and might not bother other people at all.

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Dragon Age 2 (2011)

Dragon Age II, unlike Mass Effect II, gives you a whole new life to start. While you can import a game from the first DA, it really only affects very small plot points and a little bit of dialogue. Unlike the first game, you have one origin story and the same family. You can, however, have a strong impact on the game plot by choosing from three different kinds of characters – a warrior (big swords, shields, etc), a rogue (archery or daggers, with additional talents like picking locks), and a mage (magic user). I’m going to give you a mini spoiler here about something that happens in the very beginning of the game – highlight white text to see it – If you choose to be a warrior or a rogue, your warrior brother dies in the first few minutes of the game. If you choose to be a mage, your mage sister dies instead. Whomever survives will be a party member, so your character type matters.

The main conflict of this game revolves around mages vs. templars. Mages are considered dangerous and confined to “circles” where they are watched over by templars, who have special abilities to keep them in line. Not only do mages have magic powers, but it is relatively easy for an untrained or weak-minded mage to become infected with a demon, which makes them ten times as dangerous. This conflict came up in Dragon Age: Origins because Alistair was a templar and Morrigan was an apostate, even more so if you choose the human mage origin story which starts you off in a circle. Apostates are mages who escaped circles or were hidden from circles, and they are considered very dangerous and constantly hunted by templars. While this was a decently large part of the story in Origins, it is the most important part of the story in Dragon Age II. Because you either are an apostate mage or you and your sister both are (spoiler – thought she’s dead early on if you choose to be a mage) you are very much in the middle of this conflict. You will meet party members throughout the game who are either pro-mage, pro-templar, or neutral. Things are going bad between mages and templars in Kirkwall, the city you are in, and you are very involved.

In Origins it was relatively easy to go around making good guy choices. Some choices were hard, but generally it was easy to see if you were doing good or evil things. In II, however, they make it damn near impossible to really feel like you are definitely doing the right thing and pretty easy to constantly feel you might be doing the wrong thing. This game, as a result, is much darker than the first.

Personally, I prefer the fluffy bunny choices of the first game, but many people love the darker second game. Plot-wise I think this game is less organized, but not really in a bad way… I’ll try to explain. In the first game there was a clearly defined main plot, bad guys from the caves. There were side quests and personal quests for your party members, but you could always tell what was important to the main plot and what was extra. In II your quests are much less clearly defined. You never know, for example, if a mage you save from templars is going to go off to another city to live happily ever after and never be seen again, or show up later infected with a demon and seriously worsen the already bad relationship between mages and templars. That is a semi-made up example, but that is pretty much how it works. In this way, it is more like real life. Your choices, some small, some big, can have an impact you don’t foresee on these two large and varied groups of people.

Romance in this game is interesting. They made it a bit less complicated than Origins, and drastically lowered the number of conversations you have with friends and romantic interests. Bioware decided to bypass the whole “some characters are straight and some characters are bisexual” thing and just make every romantic option (except for one extra downloadable character) available for either sex. Anders, Fenris, Merril, Isabella are all interested in male or female characters. There is one party member, Sebastian, who is an extra download. He is a romantic option, but he’s a brother in the chantry and very religious. He is a) only interested in women and b) won’t break his vow of chastity. So no kissing or sex for Sebastian, your character will just have to be satisfied with love from afar (it should be noted that I haven’t made a character who falls for Sebastian, so this is secondhand info. The game just came out last week so not all internet info is reliable, sometimes characters just haven’t made someone love them enough, etc. But I suspect this is true). The choice to make every character bisexual has come under some scrutiny, but for the most part it has been a very popular decision. It will be interesting to see if they make a similar decision for Mass Effect 3 after getting some flack for having no gay male characters.

DA 2 is clearly hinting at a big event coming in the near future, I’m really looking forward to seeing where they go with this world.

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Dragon Age: Origins is probably my favorite game ever (though Mass Effect 2 is right on its heels). Some people criticized the game for making the relationships between your character and your party members too deep and complicated, but I loved it.

You start off by choosing an origin story. You can be a human noble, a human mage, a city elf, a “Dalish” (country) elf, a noble dwarf or a poor dwarf. You play through your origin story, and the choices you make during that story and your particular origin will inform major plot points throughout the game. This adds a huge amount of variety to the game and adds a lot of replay value, since you’ll be curious about how a different origin will make the game different.

The main plot has a simple base. Icky orc-like things are coming out of the caves in droves, and some people suspect it might be a “blight.” A blight being when a demon shows up and helps these orc creatures organize and attempt to wipe out humanity. Your character, through one way or another, depending on your origin, gets involved with a group known as the Grey Wardens. For reasons not really known to anybody, including the Grey Wardens, some people can become Grey Wardens via a dangerous ritual due to general specialness, and some people can’t hack it. You, of course, are special and join up. The plot becomes less and less simple as the story goes on, and you start to see the full implications of your choices and learn the secrets of your party members.

Like Mass Effect, you have a four person party system (you as the main character always being one of the four) and you meet party members along the way. In Origins, you get 8 (i think 8, hopefully I’m not forgetting anyone) party members. Alistair the templar (my personal favorite) and Morrigan the witch are the most important party members in terms of the plot and they are by far the most fleshed out personality-wise as a result. They are also the heterosexual romance options for your character. H likes to tease me about having a crush on a video game character, but Alistair is just adorable. When it comes to companions, this game is really Alistair’s story. Another favorite of mine is Zevran, an elf and an assassin, he’s a gay or straight romance option for your character. Leliana is a human with a mysterious past who used to be in the Chantry as a sister. The Chantry is basically the Christian Church, but the religion is invented for the game (and quite complicated and interesting). She is a romance option for male or female characters. Other characters join up as well, but generally they aren’t really as complicated or interesting as these four (except for Wynne, who operates as a kind of mentor, if you choose to let her).

Like Mass Effect, you can either develop friendships/romances with your party members, make them hate you, or somewhere in between. But DA makes this much more complicated. One of the complaints people had about the game was the conversation style. You get three options for each response you make, and the tone of these responses can give you plus or minus points with your conversation partner. Some of them are obvious, like if you tell the Morrigan that all witches should be burned. Yea, she’s not gonna love that. But other times it is very difficult to tell what your tone is supposed to me. They changed that for the sequel, so you can always tell if you are being nice, sarcastic, charming, cold hearted, violent, or downright mean. Once you’ve played through a few times the relationships get easier and you remember the right thing to say (or the wrong thing, if that’s your goal). If you choose to play, there are plenty of guides online to tell you how to make friends or get characters to fall for you, which makes it easier to get through. When your character and another fall in love, you get a short little sex scene and make goo goo eyes at each other from that time onward (though problems in your relationship can and will crop up).

Choice is the big word in this game, much like Mass Effect. What is amazing how completely different you can make one play through from another. Everything from the main plot to your fighting style is extremely bendy.

I was going to put Dragon Age and Dragon Age II in the same post, but it got a little long. I’ll just post it tomorrow.

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Over at themarysue.com, which bills itself as a “guide to girl geek culture,” I found this article today – http://www.themarysue.com/essay-appreciating-the-little-things-pokemon/

A lot of it is pokemon related, but it has some stats in the first two paragraphs about female gamers. Some of them I found pretty surprising, like the fact that there are more adult female gamers than male under-20 gamers. BTW, if you like anything from video games to comics to Neil Gaiman to Futurama to feminism to a million other things, you will like themarysue.com. I’d say I find about half of their content personally interesting, and the writing is funny and engaging. (Also, checkout thehairpin.com).

Before posting my long ass commentary on the Dragon Age games, I figured I’d do a normal post about normal life stuff. Then I realized I have nothing to talk about, heh. Life is fine, chugging along same old same old. I try to get to the gym about 5 days a week (having a little trouble talking myself into it today, but I think I’m gonna get my ass there). TV has been slow and I haven’t read anything new lately, just a reread of an old favorite that was as fun and weird as ever (seriously, read Christopher Moore’s books, they are bizarre and hilarious).

We went down to my parent’s place on the beach last weekend. Friday night was so nice we went to the beach with my sister and some of her friends. They built a fire and we stayed out there for hours, staying just warm enough to be comfortable. Saturday night was much colder, Pat and I took it easy, watching movies and relaxing. No plans for this weekend, aside from getting out and having fun. The husband has been working crazy amounts, so we are both really looking forward to some fun.

Tonight is the first time in about a month people are available for pub trivia, which I’m excited about. Pat can’t go, unfortunately, due to the aforementioned working a lot thing. But I haven’t seen some of these friends in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to catching up (and in the case of two of them, hearing about their trip to Aruba, jealous!).

Classes have been going fairly smoothly. Worked Good Will Hunting into my freshman English class, and they’ll be writing reviews of the movie, which I look forward to reading. My ESL classes are fine, if a bit small. The trade off is generally that it is much easier to provide personal attention and guidance in small classes, but it can be much harder to keep the energy level up without many kids. I think we are managing pretty well, but those last 15 minutes before lunch can be a killer.

Last night I hit up a local Indian place with my sister (different sister than last weekend, I have two). I know this makes me so boring, but I always order their Chicken Tikka Masala because I just love it. And the garlic nan is killer. One of these days I’ll go and order something new and crazy that I’ve never tried before, but when it comes to restaurants I frequent, I usually opt for the “don’t mess with a good thing” order.

That’s about it, not much of interest. And if I don’t go to the gym now, I’m not going to get to it before trivia, so off I go!

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Before I start this review, I wanted to cover one topic briefly. Video games sometimes come in for more scrutiny than other media because of the way they are perceived by older generations. I don’t mean to be ageist, I am pretty much part of that generation myself. It is just that video games are often thought of as something for children, it was an opinion I held myself for awhile. As a result, two assumptions become issues. First, the belief that grown people (usually men) who play video games are immature. This can be true, heck, maybe this is mostly true. But more and more adults are playing video games, and Xboxes, Playstations, and Wiis are showing up in more and more households. Which brings us to the second, more inaccurate assumption, games are for kids. This perspective causes the video game industry a lot of grief. When Rockstar games releases a new Grand Theft Auto full of violence and sex and criminality, there is an element that will respond to these games as if they were designed to hand out to 9 year olds.

Grand Theft Auto is a difficult example, because it could be argued that it  IS marketed to children and there is plenty of fault to be found with the world the game asks you to immerse yourself in. I use it as an example because it is fairly famous and controversial. I’ve never played the games myself (never found them appealing). But I’m going to talk later about some games that include sex and romance, and how those games were received, so I wanted to cover the “not all games are for kids” angle now.

On to Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 – Do yourself a favor and play these in order, or the step back in technology will make you crazy. These are two exceptional games. The story is engaging, the gameplay fun, and these were the games that really brought a new depth of relationships into gaming (for me anyway, others might cite Jade Empire or Knights of the Old Republic, but Mass Effect was the big one for me). Your main character is a customizable person of either sex. In the beginning of the game you choose your gender, hair color, skin color, etc. As you travel through the game you pick up party members.

These games are a little different from Oblivion and the Fables because they have a four party system. As you play through, you meet new people (or aliens) who will take up residence on your ship. Every time you go on a mission of any kind, you have the option to choose three of these characters to bring along and help you fight. They have different skills that can help out in various ways. Not only do they fight with you, but they can add their personal perspective to certain situations. These characters are very fleshed out, and you have the option to get to know them through several conversations. During these conversations you can make them like you, love you, or hate you depending on the answers you choose. If you are male you can have a romantic relationship with Ashley, females can hook up with Kaiden, and either can romance Liara (a blue female alien). This game caused a tizzy when it was released due to sex scenes between your character and whoever you choose (about as graphic as you would find in a movie, probably less so, but since one was a lesbian scene and the whole “video games are for children” thing, there was a fuss).

It is hard to describe even the basics of the plot without giving out some big spoilers. Suffice it to say you are chosen to investigate some sketchy goings on in the universe. You get a ship, a crew, and the aforementioned special characters join you as you go. Aside from the main plot, you will get side quests and personal quests. Personal quests are quests than your squad members might ask you to do. Your actions on these quests strongly influence how much they like you.

In Mass Effect 2 you are still Shepard, the main character. You can either start this game cold, or import a character you made in the first game. If you choose to import one, the choices you made in the first game have an impact on the second. Who you romanced, who lived, who died, who likes you, who doesn’t, how powerful you are, etc. If you choose to start cold, these choices are made for you (and you didn’t have a romantic relationship with anyone in the first chapter).

Mass Effect 2 was superior in pretty much every way to the first one. That is not a knock on Mass Effect, but a comment on how freaking great this game is. The gameplay is much improved, and instead of 6 possible squad members, you get 13, only two of whom are squad members from the first game. Each of your 13 possible squad members comes with a personal quest. In this game they included a loyalty system. The conversations you have with them as well as the way you do their personal quest (if you do the quest at all) determines how loyal they are to you. Loyalty unlocks talents, outfits, the possible romances. In this game there are three possible romances for a female Shepard to have with a male squad member, three possible romances for a male Shepard to have with female squad member, and three females shipmates and squad members who will get together with either a male or female Shepard. There was some backlash for Bioware (the maker of these games) due to the lack of gay male options. Essentially they decided they didn’t want to deal with it, we’ll see if they rethink that decision for the hotly anticipated Mass Effect 3 (probably coming around November of this year, yay!).

The plot of this game follows the first one, where the odd goings on in the first game have escalated to totally scary and complicated goings on in this game. Shepard leaves his or her (in my case her) work with the government (in a fairly spectacular way plot-wise) for a private and vaguely mercenary group who seem to have their own agenda for stopping the bad guys. For now, Shepard and this group have similar goals. Besides the two squad members from the first game, you will run into your old friends on various quests (assuming you kept everyone alive). Your romantic relationship, if you had one and if you imported your game, will also be a minor plot line.

At first I avoided these games because my lack of experience with video games had led me to prefer a sword I could just swing wildly at things without any aiming. But the guns in Mass Effect come with aim assist, which gets stronger the lower the level you decide to play on. So playing on easy means that the game practically aims for you. I got sucked in by the story, watching Patrick play Mass Effect 2, and I just had to try it for myself. So glad I did.

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Just a quick definition to start with, for clarity

Gameplay – Gameplay is a term most commonly used to used to rate, or score the quality of the experience had by gamer while playing a particular game. The term gameplay is often found in game reviews where a score is given based on player experiences during the interaction with game. (webopedia.com)

This is a pretty accurate definition of how I’ll use the word in these posts.

Overview – Fable was a cute, fun game, but the sequel was excellent. I don’t think anyone expected that the serviceable and enjoyable Fable would be followed by something as impressive as Fable 2. The story, the mechanics, the look… It is the total package. They did, however, have four years to get it right. Perhaps inevitably, the 3rd game was a little disappointing. The story was not as compelling, though the game mechanics were a definite improvement. I’m a story kind of girl so I wasn’t thrilled with 3, but it was nice to see them fix some of the minor annoying issues in Fable 2. Both Fable and Fable 3 are totally worth playing, even if they aren’t quite as great as Fable 2. The big problem I ran into as a newbie gamer attempting to play Fable was just finding things. It’s a big world and the maps can be complicated. Fable 2 solved this by having a glowing trail for you to follow when you set a quest as a destination. Sometimes it is fun to wander around the world of Fable, but if you are like me and have no sense of direction in the real world, let alone a fake one, a trail to follow is essential. Fable 2 also gives you a dog as a companion, which is great fun. Sometimes characters will join you on quests for a short time.

Your character can buy houses and businesses (the best way to make money, as you can rent them out). You can also buy a house for yourself and decorate it. Once you have a house, you have the option to get married. The other people in the games have their set of personality traits. They can be straight or gay, evil or good, they have certain tastes in gifts and places, and so on. By checking their info screen you can learn how to make them love you, and then marry them. You can basically marry any random off the street whose sexuality lines up with your character, or you can marry some of the more developed characters you meet along the way. After that a certain amount of attention is required, or they might leave you. You can have sex (married or unmarried) and choose protected or unprotected sex. Unprotected sex with prostitutes can lead to STDs, with a romantic partner it will often lead to children who grow up and become another character wandering about the town. So as you can see, you can build up quite the complicated life for yourself. Fable was notable in that same-sex marriage was possible. It was an interesting choice for the game developers, and from what I’ve heard a very popular one. It was not, however, possible for same-sex couples to have children until Fable 3, when they put adoption into the game.

I think part of my disappointment in Fable 3 came from wanting more. Fable 2 was incredible, but in the 2 years before 3 arrived, some really amazing games had come out and raised the stakes quite a bit. The developers were in a tough spot. Much like fans who wait two years for the sequel to an amazing movie or book, expectations were high. Then put that up against games like Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age… and the challenge is doubled. It is a heck of a game and they’ve released some nice expansion quests and story lines, so I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do with the series (assuming the plan isn’t to stick with a trilogy). I think I played Fable 3 twice, and I played Fable 2 several times because I liked the story so much more.

The main story in Fable 2 involves gathering a team of “heroes,” people with special abilities, in order to stop an evil man from accomplishing his goal. You are asked to make many moral choices along the way, from how you treat your dog to whether or not you steal a new friend’s recently resurrected girlfriend. Eventually, if you get good or bad enough, your inside will inform how you look on the outside. This is a great game to start with if you are new to video games. The fighting is easy and you can choose from swords, hammers, guns, crossbows, and magic. You generally end up fighting people, werewolves, undead, the usual. The quests are great little stories in themselves. One of my personal favorites involves running into a character who wants you to find a girlfriend for his son. However (spoilers ahead, highlight white text to see them) the gruff farmer doesn’t realize his son is gay. You find the son a boyfriend instead, and the son finally opens up to his father in a very sweet little scene.

These games are really good fun and will make you care about the characters and enjoy leveling up their abilities. I can’t honestly recommend the first Fable to anyone who is new to video games. I loved the story and enjoyed watching the husband play through the game, but I never managed to finish it myself. Fable 2, however, is a great way to start off.

 

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