Destiny, or Why I Am All In for Bungie’s Latest

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So big news to no-one who is a gamer, the Destiny Beta just concluded a ten-day run across the Playstation and Xbox platforms. I was an eager participant during the four days Xbox users had access, and the entire experience only solidified my feelings about Bungie’s latest offering.

I’m all in.

I first ran across Destiny over a year ago. A new game universe promised by the creators of the Halo franchise? Featuring player-v-player (PvP) as well as co-play options? And a strong storyline threaded throughout, giving you solo play? All against an intriguing science fiction backdrop of humanity’s last stand?

It piqued my interest.

Initially due for release at the beginning of this year, I pre-purchased the game outright in the summer of 2013. Then it was the beta in January, with a July release date. And then, July would be the Beta with a release of September 9. With such disappointing news came other information about the game: it would have elements of an RPG; a diverse skill tree; varied terrain and even several planetary environments; small fireteams and large public events. Destiny was looking better and better, even though it was being pushed back.

Knowing how products can sometimes hit problems on the back end, I took solace in the knowledge that Bungie was doing its best to make the game as great as it could be for Day One (aka “Release Day”). Continue reading

Three Things I Like About: Lego Star Wars

Let's play Lego Star Wars

Lego. Star Wars. Individually, these are great brands. Together? A phenomenal experience. And when you blend them together into a video game, you get the introduction of Lego as a game series and a revitalization of the company.

As such, the series hits this month’s Three Things… It’s one of the first games I bought when I finally purchased an Xbox console, and I’ve enjoyed all three iterations. The game is so fun and enjoyable, I’ve purchased and played Lego’s Batman and Marvel Super Heroes series as well. It was also the catalyst for starting my renewed love for Legos in general.

So. Three things I like about the Lego Star Wars video game series:

It’s Lego

Let’s face it: part of the charm of Lego Star Wars is that it involves Lego. These colorful bricks have a charm all their own, and when used to build Lego versions of iconic and classic Star Wars vehicles and vistas, that charm skyrockets. Wandering through the L:SW universe is not just about diving into the known setpieces from the venerable sci-fi universe, it’s seeing how Lego re-interprets them. Many of the vehicles and sets that came out later as kits saw their initial creation as part of the game.

Indeed, one of the many things you can do in-game is acquire the hard-to-find components to build mini-kits that you can then use to tool around with on the main staging level or even in some free play areas.

It’s Star Wars

Because yeah, it’s Star Wars. This iconic science fiction phenomena remains an indelible part of modern geek culture. The L:SW series gives you the opportunity to play through each movie storyline – with the classic Lego humorous takes – and even the first two seasons of Cartoon Network’s Clone Wars show.

The games have minifigure interpretations for a few hundred characters, even the bit-part background ones. They are all useable in-game – usually in the free play zones after you unlock a chapter – and each has a special ability of a sort to make them useful.

The light-hearted take on the universe through the minifigs and the humor also makes the game less dependant on Star Wars lore, so even those only casually aware of the universe (like my wife) can play and understand the references in passing. Unlike some hardcore fans, the game never takes itself seriously but still honors the vast universe and its lore.

Disco Inferno

It’s Playability

One of the great things about the Lego video games in all their forms is the playability factor. Yes, it’s aimed at kids, but there’s enough puzzles and critical thinking elements that brings appeal to adult gamers as well. By making each chapter available first as a storyline and then as a free play zone, it encourages replayability.

The first playthrough uses a small selection of characters, with enough skillsets to accomplish the basic puzzles and situations to solve the level. Once completed, the level can then be re-entered as a free play zone, which has additional puzzles to solve through the use of additional character skills not previously available.

There are enough achievement goals for each game that can occupy a player for months. One of the more difficult is the one requiring a complete playthrough of either Episodes 1-3 or 4-6 within a strict time frame. It’s not a goal I ever came close to attaining, but it’s one of the more interesting among the usual fare.

The Lego Star Wars series really captured my attention because it was so different than other video games I typically play. The whimsy of the setting through using the Lego blocks intrigued me to the point that it factored into my eventual dive back into the brand. Other Lego games have found their way onto my console, but the L:SW games remain high on my all-time favorite games list.

Lego Borderlands

Having collected Lego for just about a year now, and having played Borderlands 2 regularly with my co-op partners for about 15 months, it was inevitable I’d mush the two together. So while a Lego Borderlands set/video game isn’t likely, at least I can indulge the fancy from time to time.

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Maya the Siren

Toyed a little with the blue stud’s appearance, to simulate Maya’s phaselock/scourge abilities.

Gage the Mechromancer (sans Deathtrap)

Alas, I don’t have enough specialized pieces to make Gage’s Deathtrap robot. Yet.

Zero the Assassin

Zero (from behind, which is usually how we see him since he’s our vanguard).

Axton the Commando (with turret)

Axton, complete with the always-present turret.

Wiping out the bandits

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Bad news bandits

Zero and Maya

See the full set on my Flickr page.

Three Things I Like About: Adventure

Adventure Cartridge

One of the first Atari games I played on my Sears knockoff system was Adventure. Created as a graphic game based loosely on a computer text game, it was Atari’s seventh best-selling 2600 cartridge.

[begin shameless plug] (I do mention Adventure and other Atari 2600 cartridge games in my book, Games’ Most Wanted. Go buy it.) [end shameless plug]

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Visual RPG

Adventure is the first real graphical roleplaying game I remember playing. It allowed you to have a stash of items, which you had to select one to use at any given moment. You could drop and pick up items without using a text command. And it even managed a ‘fog of war’ effect where much of the catacombs you explored were obscured except what was immediately around you.

So what if the maps were mirror images (thanks to the limited processing power of the 2600). To my eight-year-old mind, it was like playing D&D on the computer screen.

Story

This was also my first true experience with story in a video game. Granted, many arcade games of that time had stories, but Adventure was a game I could play over and over again without burning quarters and on my own time. Plus, the game’s rudimentary use of the game reset switch after you ‘died’ put you back in the gold castle; any objects you had on your person remained where you met your demise.

The story was a quest: find the enchanted chalice and return it to the gold castle. You had to search a myriad of castles, mazes, and other rooms within Adventure‘s world to find the sword, keys, bridge, and magnet you needed in order to succeed in the quest. Oh, and you had to kill three dragons (in the easy version, only two).

Adventure (Atari)

Endless Play

As I mentioned prior, the game allowed you to resurrect your player after death – as long as you didn’t turn off the console or flip the game select switch. Adventure also gave you three play methods: Simple, Standard, and Random. The random version (Game 3 on the select screen) randomized all of the objects in the game, making it a different adventure every time. (This also, on occasion, made it impossible to solve at times.)

Some of my absolute favorite video games – and a feature that weighs heavily in my purchasing and play decisions – are ones with good replayability. I’d like to think Adventure was the genesis of this trait.

So: visual, story, replayability. Three basic and important pillars of how I personally judge video games, and I can trace all three back to Atari’s Adventure console game. It’s not the first video game I ever played, but it certainly is one of the most influential.

Gamers’ Most Wanted

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Quick update of sorts, since I’m absolutely slagged on time:

The title above is actually a reference to a book I’m currently finishing co-writing with Fear the Boot‘s Chris Hussey (also a newbie BattleTech writer). It’s a book for Potomac Press that will see publication in November this year June/July of next year (in time for convention season) – at least, last I heard from the editor. We’re about 7 chapters from completing the first draft…and all 7 are mine. (Then again, we’ve kind of split the book 60/40ish, so…) What’s holding things up is my juggling another book – a complete sourcebook being written for CGL’s BattleTech line with a first draft due in mid-March. I recently had to kick-start a rewrite of said book since my initial approach became increasingly convoluted and messy the further I went, so it’s a race to see just how much I can push into the remaining 28 days before deadline.

Anyway, GMW is a book about games. More specifically, about tabletop, board, and computer games, their culture, their impact, and their fascinating history. Each chapter features 10 “subjects” related to the chapter theme and we’ve really tried to reach out far and wide to include as much about the games and the culture of gamers as possible. It’s a book written for gamer geeks and their significant others (and parents, if you want to go that far) and it’s been an absolute blast to write.

Here’s a taste of some of the chapters we’ve got going. (Note that this is first drafting; material subject to change between now and publication.) Continue reading