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Malik (4/20/09)

With the sun out, things are looking pretty good for me. However, winning a free Rock Band DLC track makes it better. Usually I have some bad luck with winning stuff, so any free thing, even a $2 track, is a definite bonus. The one down side of this is that I've downloaded everything I like on Rock Band...but at least it's there in case I find something I somehow neglected to get...which is unlikely.

This weekend some friends and I had a good old fashioned LAN party. While this usually means a lot of hassle with buying new games that I will never touch again, one of my friends had a better idea. Since Half-Life 2 is almost always on any PC that belongs to someone we know, my friend had the idea of a free LAN party. Free as in just being HL2 mods.

It's amazing how far you can go with a price of $0...assuming you have HL2 or are willing to spend the $20 to get it. In fact, it can get you at least eight hours of good times, and probably more.

In particular, I'm amazed by the quality of Age of Chivalry and Dystopia mods. AoC is a great mod that feels like a new game. You have a class select feature (like in Battlefield or any other modern online FPS with a war theme) and pick from a range of medieval style jobs. You have knights, bowmen, and everything in between. While it may sound like a weird game (FPS with few ranged attacks), it works beautifully with missions like capture/defend a castle, variations on capture the flag,'s mainly capture/defend missions involving siege weapons like rams and catapults.

Dystopia also has that nice "this is a mod and not a new game?!" feel to it. It's, in a lot of ways, how Shadowrun should have been. You have futuristic weapons and customizations (with skills and special abilities from implants) as well as some elements of hacking into cyberspace/networks along the lines of how the old Genesis Shadowrun had. You have the same general game terms/style/goals as AoC (mainly capture/defend missions), but with the twist of how much you can alter your class to your own taste. You can be a heavy guy (big weapons, but no way to hack), a medium guy (with most abilities and some nice, but smaller, weapons), or a small guy (with weak weapons but more abilities, like advanced hacking, and a stealth cloaking device).

Quite frankly, I think either of these mods could have been games on their own. AoC would probably have to be more of a bargain game ($10-$20), but Dystopia could have easily sold for a good amount of money. With just a little more content (maps, or a single player mode), the game could easily have been a $50 full price game. In fact, I would have enjoyed a full game of Dystopia just to have a nice instruction sheet at my hands to better know what I was doing. It's not that the mod is confusing, but it's just too damned big to pick up and play without finding yourself a bit lost in all you have presented before you.


Malik (4/22/09)

I didn't feel motivated to download any of the new Rock Band tracks...yet. I did check the charts for expert guitar online and found some surprises that will be fun, if I ever feel motivated to do the download thing.

First off, I didn't know who Hautewerk was and I still don't really know. The only thing I can say is from a Rock Band POV, the songs look boring as hell. I can also say from an audiophile POV, I am not a fan. I wouldn't say I dislike the band, but I'd rather say they don't exactly put out memorable music. The songs were slow, quiet, and just lacking an overall energy. If I get around to downloading, the three Hautewerk songs will be the three that I definitely pass.

As for Styx, their songs sound fun and look fun. There's not much in the way of challenge, but there's some fun looking chord progressions. I'd imagine the Styx songs would be great warm-ups for beginners to the expert world on guitar. Beyond that, if you're a Styx fan, then get these...and if not, then you'd probably be better off without them.

The REO Speedwagon songs fall into a similar categorizing as Styx. Simple enough and with a good beat, but probably not for people who don't know or like REO. However, it all changed on these tracks when you hit the guitar solos. There are some really ugly and unexpected hammer-on highways that don't even make full sense to my eyes. If not for the solos, these would be some pretty easy songs...but with the solos, these are definite challenges not for the faint of heart.

Anyway, my time lately has still be away from gaming. I did get some Demon's Souls time two nights ago, and was able to beat the damned Flame Lurker or 2-2. This is a boss that I definitely don't want to face again. While most bosses in Demon's Souls just require good planning and a solid strategy, the Flame Lurker requires some damned quick reflexes and a touch of luck. If this boss decides that you must die, then it will do anything possible to see it happen. The only luck I found was when it would go evasive for a few seconds (long enough to gulp down some healing items). As for strategy, the only one I found to be solid in any way is to avoid melee and aim for magic being your attack of choice. At melee range, unless you try to cheese the guy (hide behind an object to try to get him stuck and then use a reach weapon through the object), you will take some major hits in a hurry.

I just wish the game had one change so I'd be better able to play. That one change being a way to turn off multiplayer. I don't use help by summoning friendly players, so it would be good if I could also stop being invaded by player killers. Since lag is a factor in the invasions, it's annoying to feel compelled to quit if I'm invaded just to avoid a lag filled fight that leads to many missed hits and an eventual "WTF?!" death for one player of the other. I guess, however, that's the true cost of playing an imported game...lag coming from most players being in Asia.


Malik (4/23/09)

I spent last night with some Demon's Souls and some frustration. After making sure to not die since my original death at the beginning of the game, I was finally slain by the boss of 2-3 (the Dragon God boss). I think it was mostly because I was looking for an easy solution that played it safe in a moment that required some guts and a sense of urgency. When I should have just gone for a mad dash to victory, I tried to play it safe and got destroyed in the process. At least I now know what I must do.

On a different (but not so different) note, I've been hearing a lot about a lot of the upcoming games for the PS3 and 360 and a theme seems to be emerging. It's another year of the same round of ideas. In particular, the "you can be good or evil" theme is coming back in a lot of games. This is an idea that used to get me excited. When KOTOR first came along, it revolutionized the good/evil system by adding some major plot changes and some additional abilities depending on if your wanted to be good/Jedi or evil/Sith. This was more than five years ago.

In the time since good and evil game play was first brought into the big time (not counting the really forced good-not-evil of earlier Ultima games), it has not been advanced. In fact, this concept of a dichotomy has stagnated. You still have a lot of games with this option, but now, more than ever, the changes in the good and evil path always lead to the same final destination and only offers a few simplistic tweaks. Mainly these tweaks are on what powers you use as a player. If you're good, you have powers with blue or green auras and if you're evil you have basically the same stuff but with some red or purple colors involved.

A great example of this is the upcoming Infamous. In the game, from all released info so far, you either have blue (good) or red (evil) lightning powers. Not all the details of this game are out, and E3 may reveal a lot more, but it sounds like that's about where the line is drawn. This is where the line is always drawn.

Gone are the days of KOTOR in which you (spoilers for KOTOR) could actually kill off some party members due to how they got in your way. Even then you still had the same levels to play and final boss battles. You just changed who would be around with your party to see your victory over the Sith master.

The only game I can think of that seems to have even tried to build on good and evil ideas is Demon's Souls...and that's a small and limited change. Demon's Souls allows you to alter the alignment of a zone/world in addition to your own personal alignment. If you make a world good (white), the enemies become weaker and you have a few new places to check out or items to obtain upon reaching a pure good world alignment/tendency. If you make a world evil (black), the enemies are stronger, but they drop more items and experience/money (souls) and some new enemies emerge with unique (or limited in number) items to make your player more powerful. It's a risk/reward system that adds a tiny bit to the, now classic, alignment system.

However, this is about as far as the now aging system has gone. I used to become excited about the idea of playing how I wanted. A world didn't need to be set in stone since I could change how I played through it. In the end, these changes in play style don't really exist. Good/Evil game play is a dead idea, due to a lack of innovation, but it's still being used as a selling point for a game. In fact, it's worse than a dead creative path for's a required crutch. You cannot get away from it, but it's now coming down to maybe a slightly different power set and an explanation for being able to kill innocent NPCs. It's a lame and half-assed explanation for why the developers are pushing for higher ratings (M is almost a requirement with the killing innocent people in a game) and more violence.

I'm still waiting for what was promised after the introduction of KOTOR. I want a new way to play the game based on how I want to play. The worst set back in this idea seemed to be with Fable 2. No matter how good or evil your were, it only changed your appearance. Nothing more. You even got the exact same three choices at the end of the game on how you wanted to change the world with your victory over evil (or your victory over the evil that wasn't you). You could play through the game two very opposite ways, in theory...but with the same powers, abilities, dungeons, and final outcome.

Worst of all is how so many games will let your change from one extreme to the other without any real penalty. If you're pure evil in KOTOR2 or Fable 2 (two games I know this personally from, but I also know Fallout 3 and several others I've yet to play are this way as well), or pure good, it takes only an hour or two of playing to become the opposite extreme alignment. In fact, it sometimes takes less time to erase your sins/purity than it takes to first reach that extreme you first aimed for. It took around ten hours to become pure evil/Sith on KOTOR2, and it took only an hour after that to be 100% Jedi with the same character when I played through the game. If there is to be no consequences to one's actions, then this system is obviously broken and needs to be either enhanced/innovated upon or just be done away with. At the very least, the alignment meters in game should be eliminated if this system cannot be improved and not just used as one giant requirement for all supposedly open-ended games.


Malik (4/24/09)

After too many months of knowing it was coming, next week will see Nothing's Shocking from Jane's Addiction for Rock Band. Best of all, with the discount price for the whole album, it's $16 for ten songs ($2 each). This finally puts the last announced album to rest and leaves room for Harmonix to tease us all for another seven to eight months with another list that seems to take too damned long to come along.

The one down side is that I really have lost a lot of interest in Rock Band as of late. I think a big part is that my usual weekend Rock Band night with my friends has become a night when other things are going on. In particular, most Sounders FC (Seattle's MLS team) home games tend to fall on Saturdays around when RB would normally go down and two of our regulars are season ticket holders.

Not even if Lego Rock Band was able to transfer it's songs to RB2 would I feel all that changed in my loss of RB motivation. Of course, Lego RB, on it's own, is a very unusual idea. I use "unusual" in the same way that your might use the word "special" to describe a person who is...ummm...slow. In fact, I would be happy to not mention the game at all if it weren't for some awesome songs that I want to be in the DLC library of RB (like Final Countdown, Kung-Fu Fighting, and Song 2).

Most of all, I think more details are needed for Lego RB. In particular, will music be transferable to RB1/2...or will RB2 music transfer to Lego RB? Also, I wonder about how Harmonix said there would be no Rock Band games in 2009, and then we get a pseudo-RB title with Beatles: Rock Band. Now we also have Lego Rock Band, which sure sounds like a RB title to me. I hope this isn't the start of the Neversoft "milk-it-until-it-dies" approach in the works.


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