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What the Fun: Portal 2

April 23, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve finished the single-player campaign of Portal 2 in what feels like record time for me when it comes to games.

During the last few days, I have devoted lunch time and what free time I have after work (including some late nights) to hurling myself into the Aperture Labs test chambers, watching the narrative evolve from the familiar “GlaDOS wants to kill me in new and unusual ways while snarking” motif to a Bioshock-esque tale of one man’s ambition and greed while you run around with a potato fused to your hand to a final fight-the-clock showdown against a hideously incompetent  opponent.

A colleague stopped by my desk while I was playing and noted that the game looked good, but he wondered what happened in it. “Do you kill things? Do things try to kill you?” he asked. He’s a veteran of our daily Left 4 Dead 2 misadventures, so the expectation is understandable.

“Not exactly,” I said, struggling to line up two portals for a solution to a particularly tricky leap-and-fire style puzzle. “Right now, I need to get from this platform here to that platform there. There’s white wall that I could shoot a portal onto if this glass wall wasn’t in the way. So, I have to find a way to target that white wall while I’m free falling.”

“But things are going to try to kill you soon, right?” he pressed.

“Erm, no,” I said. “Well, wait. Yes. There are these cute little white turret robots that will shoot me full of holes, but all I have to do is pick them up and drop them to destroy them.”

“Oh,” he said, and soon left to the sound of my joyous exultation when my mid-air acrobatics sent me plummeting through one hole, up from another, whereupon I zapped a hole in that elusive white wall, fell again, and then lofted across the chamber to the platform I had so eagerly wanted to reach.

I’ve played a lot of video games in my day, from the old Combat tank games on the Atari to the epic RPGs like Dragon Age 2, and while I have enjoyed them all for what they were, I have to confess that Portal 2 is about as close to perfect (for me) as they come.

* Dialogue: Snappy. Funny. Sarcastic. It’s very dry, cutting humor from the school of Monty Python.
* Art design: A great mix of claustrophobic isolation, staggering heights, and misty wide open spaces.
* Playful game mechanics: The introduction of conversion gel (for making new portals on previously invalid surfaces), propulsion gel (for speeding you up), repulsion gel (for making you bounce), and excursion funnels (for levitating you around in straight lines) provide a lot of fun. I spent about 30 minutes in one test chamber just toying with the physics of conversion gel splattering around, like a kid in one of those little parks with the dancing fountains.
* No combat: I don’t hate combat. Truth be told, I have a great time with violent video games. Every day, when possible, I’m running around L4D2 with my co-workers, spitting acid on them, vomiting goop at them, pouncing on them, choking them with my tongue, or trying to ride them like a pony into hordes of zombies. It’s really a human resources nightmare. However, I adore games that prize wit over twitch.
* Clever puzzles: They probably aren’t much use for measuring qualifications for Mensa, but some of the test chambers in Portal 2 certainly make me feel like a wicked genius when I figure out the solution. It’s a little victory, no cure for cancer or anything, but that feeling of accomplishment is addictive.

After just a few days, I’m done with the single-player campaign. I won’t give away the ending for those who have yet to see it, but I will say that it was one of the few times I have just burst out laughing in my chair at a moment of surprise at a video game.

Now I’ll probably turn my attention to the co-op features.

The Road to World Conquest: Shoe ’nuff

April 14, 2011 3 comments

My feet hurt.

I don’t even have to be doing much. Just sitting at my desk at work for a while, then I get up and the right side of my right foot just…hurts. Then there are those moments when I really try to exert myself, working out on the treadmill at the Y. Can’t do it. I can’t even run. How am I ever going to survive the coming zombie apocalypse if I can’t *run*?

I’ve told myself to “just live with it” and “play through the pain” for the past six months. Really, that was the lack of insurance talking.

So, today I went to see a podiatrist. It’s my first time at a foot doctor. As I sat in the front office, filling out paperwork, it occurred to me that I’ve really never had a serious limb injury. I’ve been sick – nearly killed myself with pneumonia when I was in college. I’ve stepped on nails. Suffered a hernia. But I’ve never broken an arm, leg, or prehensile tail. Now, though, it occurred to me that maybe I had fractured a bone in my right foot somehow. Maybe smashing it up against a hard piece of living room furniture. Except my living room furniture comes from Big Lots or Wal-Mart, and when I kick it, it cries in agony and falls over.

The doctor spent several minutes groping my foot in a manner that seemed suspiciously to me like a pedicure, until she found the sore spots, and then it was more like a massage. Her assistant made me slap on some brown paper slippers – little grocery bags for feet. Note for the next inevitable Saw movie: Severed feet in little brown shopping bags, after Jigsaw asks “Paper or plastic?” Then I was walked…well, shuffled, because that floor was slippery and the paper slippers were smooth…across the hall to the closet that served as the X-ray chamber. Here, my right foot was subjected to several irradiated mug shots. I shuffled back across to the exam room.

A few minutes later, the doctor came in, slapped the X-ray images up on the light wall, and proclaimed “OHMYGOD, YOU’VE GOT AN INGROWN *TOE*” and pointed at a sinister-looking shape in the middle of the image.

Well, that’s how I imagined it.

What really happened is that she told me that I didn’t have any broken bones. Instead, I’ve apparently got these nerves running the length of my foot, routed in a channel between the bones. The bones are pretty close together, though. My feet, which are flat and tend to roll outward, apparently cause the bones to squeeze those nerves, like a couple of low-brow thugs muscling in on a bookish nerd. That leads to inflammation, which leads to anger, which leads to hate, which leads to wishing Han was gutting a Gungan in Empire instead of a tauntaun.

So, for the good of the Old Republic, the doctor recommended custom orthotics to make my rebel scum feet walk the straight and narrow.

For the next fifteen minutes, I underwent a process of having my feet wrapped in plaster-soaked gauze. Once the plaster set, the casts were removed so that they could be used to model the new orthotics, which should be available in a few weeks. Then her assistant used a warm rag to wash the plaster off my feet. This seemed unnecessarily messianic and I almost tried to snatch the rag from his hand so I could do it myself, but then I thought: If I’m spending $300 on orthotic foot gear, I might as well enjoy this brief spa day. I demanded a fluffy white robe, a cucumber-avocado mask, a copy of Cosmo, and a mimosa.

Sadly, they could only provide a November 2010 copy of People, which mused about a possible relationship between Taylor Swift and Jake Gyllenhall. It may seem cruel to say so, and I hate to ruin anyone’s fantasies, but I fear that without makeup, Taylor probably looks like Gollum or the Borg Queen.

You’re welcome.

What could possibly go wrong? Batman Live

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

The Road to World Conquest: EA Store grumpiness

April 12, 2011 5 comments

So, last night I decided to give in and try out this new Sims Medieval game. I’d heard it was an interesting take on the classic Sims model. So, I went to Steam to purchase and download it, only to discover that it’s not available on Steam.

Sad.

I love Steam. It’s so simple. So addictive. I just click a button and I’ve got a new game. No boxes. No muss or fuss. New updates? Automatic!

Still, I wanted to give the game a try. I didn’t feel like driving to Best Buy or Target. So, I went to the Electronic Arts Store website, which offered a downloadable version of the game. Excellent! Almost, but not quite, as good as the Steam option. It would at least have the benefit of rapid gratification without going out into the maelstrom that was battering Huntsville last night.

I bought the game. A few moments later, my Gmail account received a confirmation email with my order number attached, complete with instructions to click through a link and then click again on a Customer Service link to check the status of my order. How hard could it be? I clicked through both links, only to discover that they had no record of any purchases from me. I checked my bank. It didn’t show any new payments. I watched House. I watched Castle. I checked on my order again. Nothing.

Time to complain to customer service!

First, when you try to complain via mail on the website, they want you to pick a product that you’re griping about. You must pick a product or they’ll never talk to you. However, Sims Medieval isn’t even one of the options. At random, I picked one of the available Sims games in the list. I notified them that I had ordered the downloadable version, received a confirmation email, but no actual download.

I heard nothing before going to bed.

When I got up this morning, though, I had an email from EA, indicating that my order was still in process and that I wouldn’t be able to download until the process was done.

Throughout the day, I checked the EA Store site for updates. Nothing. Finally, I went back to the customer service page and started the process of getting a refund. At this rate, I figured that I might as well just stop by Target and pick up the game there.

Lo and behold, the customer service site encourages you to chat live with someone when you want a refund.

Here’s what transpired:

Garcia: Hi, my name is Garcia. How may I help you?
2312721268: Hi, there. I purchased the downloadable version of Sims Medieval last night. I’m used to dealing with services like Steam, where the download is then automatically available. For some reason, it isn’t the case here at the EA store. In the time I’ve waited, I could’ve easily gone to the Best Buy in town to get this. So, I’d like to do that – thus, need to cancel order (the order number that you don’t need to know!).
Garcia: I have looked in the records and found that the order is still in the process as we have not received the payment yet.At this point as the order is in the process we will not be able to cancel it however when the order completes we will be able to issue a full refund for the order
2312721268: Oh, for heaven’s sake. What kind of service is that?
2312721268: You can’t just delete the order since it hasn’t processed?
Garcia: I really apologize for the inconvenience caused to you.But as the order is in the process we will not be able to cancel it at this moment
2312721268: Well, go ahead and refund it once it goes through. However, I *will not* be dealing with the EA Store again, nor will I recommend my friends to use it. The site isn’t user friendly and this process is just way too clunky. Not your fault, I know, but please pass it along to those who might be able to improve it.
Garcia: I would also like to inform you that you will need to contact us to get the order refunded
2312721268: …
2312721268: Wow.
2312721268: Yeah. That’s all I can really say to that while remaining polite.
2312721268: By the time I have to deal with that, I might as well go through whatever hell awaits when I actually try to download this game.
2312721268: Which, at this point, better be the best game I’ve ever played.
2312721268: So, for now, I will drive home – past three brick and mortar places that actually have the boxes – and wait by my computer for whatever’s next.
Garcia: Is there anything else I can do for you at this moment ?
2312721268: Nope.

And that was that.

Frustrating! If EA can’t do a better job of this when it comes to selling their product in digital form, they really need to let competent services handle it for them.

The Road to World Conquest: The Truth About Cats and Dogs

April 11, 2011 1 comment

I’m not a cat person.

All the cats that I’ve allowed into my life were either by accident or through association with someone else.

I don’t hate cats. I’ve been around them ever since I was a kid. For the most part, we’ve tolerated each other. But I don’t feel the same sort of attachment that I do to a big affable dog like Huck.

That’s not to say I don’t get attached. I do. It’s just different.
Read more…

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OtherSpace: Looking back at the old cast!

April 6, 2011 1 comment

The discovery of an old OtherSpace website incarnation led to the unearthing of this list of characters, from circa 2003. We had a pretty huge group involved in the game way back then. See if you recognize any of the names after the break: Read more…

Rebuilding the Sand Castles

April 2, 2011 3 comments

It started, simply enough, with a question: What might be a draw for veterans of OtherSpace to return?

I thought about Saga Point rewards, but that just smacks everyone who has stuck with the MUSH through thick and thin right in the face.

Handing out special Action Cards occurred to me, but that’s just something else worth Saga Points and, again, would insult everyone else.

So, then I started getting away from thinking about what I should use for bribery and instead I pondered: What drove them away in the first place? Read more…