Friday, October 4, 2013

Disneyland, but Cheaper

It is NOT this easy.
So the kids and I recently remembered that we have the very fun and engaging Kinect Disneyland.  So we've been trying to play it.

Trying is the keyword.

I basically don't know how families stay together after trying to play this with my 3 year old, my (now) 6 year old, the 1 year old wandering around, and my husband.

First, the baby.  When two other big kids/me are playing, and he wanders in front, it somehow totally removes us as player and accepts him.  This is beyond annoying.

Then the 3-year-old.  She desperately wants to play this.  She's probably the most age-appropriate for a Disneyland game... and she can barely do it alone.  It is impossible to help her with the proper motions, and have you ever tried telling a 3-year-old, "Lift your left hand.. no your left. Your other hand.  The one close to me. Now lift it.  Less.  Lift it just a little.  Now lower.  Higher.  Like this.  Do what mommy is doing.  Oh for the love of Pete, you're on your own."

The 6-year-old has a great grasp of it, and can properly control it.  Phew.  I suppose I also fit in this category.

And then there's my husband, who somehow always has to walk across the room, and since this is the most finicky Kinect game it either picks him up as a player, or the brief second he passes the Kinect totally blanks us all out.

I can't understand why some Kinect games are so good at tracking and keeping you logged in, despite madness in the room, and others are just absolutely awful.  Disneyland fits in the awful category.  And it's marketed for children.  Ironically, Once Upon a Monster is also awful, and also for children.  Does Xbox/Kinect want parents to kill themselves over their children crying that the characters won't dance with them??

I don't think it's reason enough not to buy the game.  It is super fun.  I am an unapologetic Disney lover.  Disneyland was truly the most magical place on Earth for me.  And it is faithfully recreated in this game.  It's so fun to walk around and see the same corners of the park that we walked in.  "Hey look! That's the bathroom where we cleaned up that giant poopy diaper!  Ahh..memories."

Just, when/if you buy it, prepare yourself. I suggest a glass of wine.  Or just playing it after the kids go to bed. You know you want to.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Offline Mode

So with the onslaught of new responsibilities that have come with having a kid in school, I find my gaming time has become even more limited than before.  I know.  This has been a constant complaint for me, and I imagine it will be until, well, until the day I die.  There just aren't enough hours in the day.  And to top that off, I have four people in my house who are active on a single TV screen, housing all three of our main systems. Sure I have my PC and my 3DS, but I find that sometimes I just have to unplug from all the of it.

Ironically, then I turn to my Kindle.  I clearly can't escape the screen.  But you know what - I love it.

Lately I have been reading dystopian lit, focusing on the idea that virtual worlds or games have taken over because they are so much better than the real life people have.  I've read a few Neil Stephenson books, and then I read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  Dude.  Go read this book, right now.

Don't mind me, just plugged in.
We live in an increasingly connected world.  I mean, I think the Xbox One's Kinect is pretty much going to try to live inside of us.  The current Kinect is creepy enough.  The One can see your heartbeat.  And your soul, or so I'm speculating.  In these books, the characters are escaping their crappy real world lives for a glamorous second life, completely online.  The wear visors or goggles so they can completely immerse visually, and in some they even have full body suits so they can feel and interact with their virtual world.  They live there, work there, fall in love there... It's crazy, but it definitely seems like that's where we're headed tech-wise.

And it is fun to speculate on.

And don't tell me you don't like to read.  I hate to break it to you, but you're reading right now.  Your cell phone?  Constantly reading texts, Twitter, Facebook...  And all those games.  You're reading the screen, reading the story line, directing your character's speech.  You read all the time.  So just read a book. It's fun, I promise.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

I Want More Than A Just Movie

I learned something new over the last week about video games.  I already understood the obvious statement that everyone loves great game play with a great story.  I understood the idea that not all great games had stories, but they are still fun to play.  What finally occurred to me was that an amazing story doesn't make up for mediocre game play.

After years of putting it off, I finally finished Alan Wake last week.  The story for this game is pretty intricate.  It offers up compelling characters, excellent voice acting, and an interesting narration that hasn't been used before in too many games.  With all these things in mind, I found the game play to be really uninteresting and redundant.  I would have to make my way from point A to point B.  Along the way, I grab a couple weapons and upon arrival, an extended cut scene to tell the story.  After the cinematic ended, I would have to travel from point B to point C and the routine of weapons, shooting, and walking would continue.  This  cycle happened over and over and over.

I reached the point where I was begrudgingly playing the game just so I could find out what happened next in the story.  Towards the end, I started to care less and less about the outcome because I was so frustratingly bored with the actually game play.  Luckily, I stuck it out just for the sake of seeing it through to the end.

Plenty of people are going to disagree with me and say that they loved the game no matter what.  Don't fret, this is far from a review.  I realized that as much as we preach about the value of a well told story, there has to be some respectable game play to go with it.  I don't know why it took me so long to realize that.  With my new found understanding of just how detrimental this can be, I'm going to have a little more appreciation for games with solid game play.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

No Shame In My Game

For years, I have heard about the game Half-Life 2.  Despite owning The Orange Box since 2008, I have never really tackled that particular title.  This isn't a review, or a sermon about gaming nostalgia.  I'm writing to come clean: I played this game on "easy".

I am habitual about playing games on the hardest difficulty I can muster.  I like the challenge of a difficult game almost as much as I like the bragging rights.  But with Half-Life 2, I didn't even attempt the medium setting, let alone the hardest.  There is always this underlying talk in the gaming community about how much people are waiting for Half-Life 3.  It was obvious, that the second game in the series left players on quite the cliffhanger.  I had to experience this for myself.

There have been many games that I played with the difficulty cranked to eleven, but in doing so, I was usually so busy blasting through enemies to pick up all the story details.  With such casual game play, I discovered that Half-Life 2 is the source for a lot of Easter eggs in newer games. While I didn't go so far as to play the first Half-Life, I was able to absorb the entire story by simply playing the game on easy and taking my sweet time.

With this revelation, I decided to replay Bioshock Infinite.  It helped that I needed to knock out a few achievements for collectibles.  Instead of combing through the game on 1999 mode (which is also an achievement), I set it down to the easiest setting.  It was the best decision I made in that game.  I noticed tiny details in the environment, the excellent music that surrounded me, and I truly understood all the twists and turns in the story.  

So I have no shame when I say "I played that game on easy".  While it's fun to brag and give yourself a challenge, you should try dialing it back once in awhile.  Think of it as the difference between finishing a marathon, and going for a walk with your best friend.  Both are winning situations.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Now I make no qualms about the fact that I love a sale.  It is the highlight of my Tuesday to check out the new Gold Deal of the Week on Xbox.  In May or June, there was a huge deal on Sega games, and I excitedly bought up Sonic 1, 2 and 3 for like, 160 MSP each.  Dude.  All that nostalgic fun for under $5!?  Heck Yes.

And playing them has led me to the conclusion I always make when I go back and play old games.  How the heck did gaming get popular??  These games are so difficult it makes me want to chuck my controller out the window.  I am seriously struggling to get past the first world in Sonic 1.  And I got all the way to the end and the airship defeated me and all of my continues on Sonic 2.  I have barely even tapped in to Sonic 3.

I have also had a few other observations.  I was just playing and really wished I had the patience to live tweet the level, because I felt exceedingly clever at the time.  Let's see what I can remember.

First of all: Sonic is a game made to be played fast.  Like, unbelievably fast.  Sometimes Sonic isn't even on your screen because the little dude is zipping all over the place.  That said, the game is designed so that if you play it that fast, you will die. All. Of. The. Time.  Because there are like a billion bad guys and they are all strategically placed so that when you come off of that ring, you will hit him. When you bounce off of that wall that you didn't expect, you will be shot backwards directly into a crab.  Oh yeah - and everything shoots random bullets, and all of them kill you too.  And they will ride across multiple screens with you, or get to your screen before you've even see the bad guy.  Awesome.
Sonic has a serious case of bitchy resting face.

And the little sign at the end?  When you spin it around Sonic gives you the peace sign.  He might as well just be flipping you off.  Dude is a grouchy little guy.  He's got that crabby face all the time, and heaven forbid you stop moving the controller for a second.  He's immediately impatiently toe tapping.  Alright, man, if you're so ready to get flung into the next pit of lava, let's go.

Also, what kind of lesson is it teaching us that if you have money, you can't die?  But the second you're broke, you're toast.  Nice one, Sonic.  The original gold digger.

Finally, and most fun, playing a game that I haven't played in years reminds me of awesome game memory.  These classics imprint themselves on your mind and never leave.  I still remember which trees hide coin blocks.  Where to jump to get to the secret high locations full of rings.  And, of course, which bad guys will get you. Every. Single. Time.  Those I remember best.  I wish I could go back in time and make sure that you guys all got to take advantage of the sale and play these great games again, for super cheap.  But regularly priced they are still a steal.  Go pick at least one up, and relive your youthful frustration.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Little Something About Narrative

In the time that Linz and I have taken our hiatus, I managed to squeeze in a ton of gaming every chance I could.  Long, short, mobile, flash, shooters, puzzle, PC, console, and more.  Predictably, I am drawn to games with story and a strong narrative.  But I am learning that there are very different types of storytelling within games.

One of the few games that I actually didn't play was The Last of Us.  I was playing side by side with someone else, each our own games.  When cut scenes popped up on their play-through of The Last of Us, I would pause whatever I was doing and listen in.  It is an intense game with beautiful art and graphics.  The whole experience was very moving and each cinematic told more and more story.

Alternatively, I have been playing Half-Life 2 for the first time.  This game is steeped in storytelling and it's own serial mythology.  The graphics are almost a decade old, so clearly they don't come near the standard set by Naughty Dog for The Last of Us.  However dated, I am far more attracted to the story in Half-Life 2.  The only thing I can attribute this to is that the story unfolds within the game play.  I am actually playing the story and finding things out along the way.  We try something and it fails, now the team has to move on to something new.  Or we discover new types of enemies together and work out ways to kill them. 

Thinking things through, I seriously doubt that one way of storytelling is better than the other.  Cut scenes with amazing graphics have a great way of showing me what is happening in the classic sense.  It does, however, remove me more from the experience that is just playing the game.  I am forced to sit still and watch what can sometimes be a very lengthy scene.  Alternatively, Half-Life 2 allows me to stay in that character.  I don't have to leave my first-person vantage.  However, there are times when important things are being said by some NPC and I'm missing it because I'm busy shooting, or screwing around in a room trying to jump on boxes or find new areas.  In these cases, I am my own worst enemy.

It's really up to each individual which type of game and storytelling they prefer.  Both games are pretty awesome and you should take the time to check them out if you haven't already.  But this should give you something to think about and talk about at the breakfast table.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Well hello there, fellow Achievos!

Here's a quick catch up:

Gamerscore - 43,280
Recent Games - Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning; Catan; and a variety of arcade games on her new Windows phone.

Gamerscore - 22,165
Recent Games - Kinect game after Kinect game after Kinect game; arcades thrown in for fun (I got Debbie to buy Catan, and she totally dominates me at it. Grr!)

So that's what we've been up to.

I am shocked at how much my Xbox has become my Kinect machine.  I have been trying to do Dance Central 3 or Just Dance 3 as work outs every day.  I've got my kids playing Once Upon a Monster, Kinectimals, Kinect Party, and Kinect Disneyland to burn off some of that excess kid energy.  And we are having so much fun with it.  The variety of things to do, even within a single game, has us up and playing for hours a day.  The Kinect's "Tired or sore? Take a break!" banner is pretty much our bestie.  But I figure if we're going to be around the house the kids might as well be moving.  And heaven knows I won't exercise unless I'm having so much fun that I don't realize I'm exercising.

Kinect Party - super fun and silly
That being said, I still am boggled by how Kinect games are so different.  The dance games are exceptionally good at tracking and never losing the player.  The arcade games for Kinect are also great at this.  For some reason though the kid's games are awful!!  We played Kinect Disneyland for the first time last night, and ended up quitting after about half an hour because Kiera (5-years) was so mad when the game kept losing her and she couldn't complete objectives.  We'll try that one again, but have had similary problems.  Once Upon a Monster can also be frustrating.  They're great games, but why can't they track us as well as other games?  And with Kinect it's not as easy as grabbing a controller and helping the kids out..  As fun as it is, there is a lot of room for irritation.  That's why a game like Kinect Party which is totally forgiving and just about being up and having fun without objectives is really nice, especially for my little ones.  And me.  I mean...who doesn't like silly mini-games?

So what've you been up to?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

I Like to Move It, Move It

According to Wikipedia, Kinect was launched on November 4, 2010.  It took me quite some time to get my hands on one, and when I did I was initially thrilled, and skeptical.  In all honesty, two years later not much has changed.

I love the Kinect.  There is nothing greater than being in the kitchen and controlling my Xbox by calling out, "Next episode!"  (Any parent of young'ens with Netflix can attest to this.)  It is no less loved by me when I am snuggled up under a blanket and want to see that next episode of Tudors without having to move.  Ugh, movement, am I right? ... wait ...  The voice controls are less of my friend when I'm just having a chat and suddenly the Xbox is rewinding my show, or bouncing around menus.  Once my husband said "that's the way it is" and it Bing searched "gay suede shoes," obviously.

I have not really used its functionality on games like Mass Effect 3.  I rarely even remember to hit the buttons to direct my squad; therefore I'm definitely not going to remember to sit on my couch, alone, at night, talking to my television.  Besides I'm not a very direct leader.  I'd be like, "Kaiden, take cover. No, seriously...Kaiden.  Cover.  Ok wait, shoot that guy.  No, that one.  Jeeze.. ok just do whatever you feel is right."

But of course the main point of Kinect would be Kinect games.  And they are fun, like...75% of the time.  The remaining 25% of the time I'm getting frustrated trying to make my Kinect recognize me. Track me. See me.  See my daughter.  Not see my other daughter on the couch just trying to watch.  The Kinect is notoriously fickle, and the fickleness fluctuates depending on what game you're trying to play.  I find no issue doing 2 player on Dance Central, but Kinect Adventures is like, "Nope, no friends for you."  Fruit Ninja is fun for all, as are the Kinect Fun Lab games, but Carnival Games is rarely accommodating.  How does this make any sense?  I actually got rid of The Michael Jackson Experience after one day of play because it was so awful at seeing me that I literally could not even play the game.

Oh yeah. Nothing embarrassing about that.
And I still love it!  I still return to it!  I feel so frustrated when my body is physically too tired to play the games I want to play.  That is a bummer.  And a reminder that perhaps I should be playing a little more often...because I doubt getting winded by Carnival Games is a good sign.  Uhh..*shameface*  But I can hardly play with an audience, because...really.  See image at left.

On the flipside, my husband hates the Kinect.  I can not coerce him into playing any Kinect titles with me.  He has little to no desire to stand up and move to enjoy a gaming experience.  How do you guys feel about it?  Love it?  Hate it?  Forget you have it since you never use it?

Friday, January 11, 2013

It's Like Riding A Bike

Wowzers.. I know this is not the first time I've come back and apologized for extended radio silence on our end.  My husband deployed out, so I was away for a few months to be with family.  That put me in a position to be more sane throughout my days - but without internet and therefore no Xbox Live.  Trust me when I say that I was still getting my game on to the best of my ability.

I finally entered the world of smart phone owners, which just means that while I was away I could regularly play the "With Friends" games.  I am awesome at Scramble, and totally suck at Hanging with Friends.  Go figure.  But it keeps me busy.  We also have an iPod so I got totally addicted to Tiny Tower.  I rounded out my gaming with the 3DS, and, as always, Mario is my bestie.

All of these game types got me thinking though, and in the end I realized I was getting used to what I came to think of as no-risk gaming.  Obviously the only danger in losing in the "with friends" games is just the shame of losing to your friends (in some cases over and over...)  But my fascination with Tiny Tower really got to me.  There was absolutely no way to lose in that game.  There are no consequences for not checking in, not clicking your building, not stocking the shelves.  It's a bonafide time waster.. And I still kind of love it.

And then there's Mario.  I love Mario.  He's been around a long time, and he continues to be fun and interesting.  But, again, there is no punishment for dying.  You don't lose progress.  You don't lose coins.  You just have to start again at the beginning or middle of the level.  Even if you kill off all of your lives you continue without any cause for distress.  Not that I'm complaining.  I never could get through the original NES Mario Bros.  Wayyyyy too frustrating to die and have to start at the beginning.  Now those were the dark ages.

I'm not lamenting no-risk gaming, or hating on it.  It is great for a more fun session, and perfect for the little ones.  And now that I'm back on my beloved Xbox and playing Borderlands almost non-stop, I get so furious when I die and lose money.  It's a small setback, but it is motivation to keep myself alive!  And sometimes it is motivation to turn off the Xbox, check on my Tiny Tower, and maybe read a book for a while.