XCOM is Expanding

2KGMKT_XCOM_EW_AGNOSTIC_FoB Firaxis has announced that the excellent strategy game, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is getting an expansion pack titled Enemy Within.  It looks like all the improvements, maps and story elements will be rolled into the main campaign.  Since those improvements will include biologically and mechanically augmented soldiers and enemies, it should add some welcome depth to a replay or more value if you’ve waited this long to pick up the game.  Gaming Trend has the War Machine video that convinced me that I need this expansion.  It will be available on November 12.  Good Luck, Commander.

 

Edit to add this link:  Jake Solomon Meets Julian Gollop.  If you know what that means, you know why you have to watch it.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/09/xcom-is-expanding/

Game of the Week: Infectonator (iOS, Android, Flash)

Infectonator1I’m sure I first played Infectonator in its flash form.  The iOS and Android version appeared to be based more on Infectonator 2.  The concept is simple.  You are a mad scientist trying to take over the world with zombies.  You drop your infectonator bomb or bombs on the city of your choice then see how the results play out.  Initially you don’t have much else to do besides scoop up the coins dropped by the fallen.  Later you’ll be able to drop in special zombies and use support weapons to keep your minions from harm.

Your initial zombies are weak, slow and die fast.  The bulk of the game is deciding how to upgrade your base zombies.  Do you increase their lifespan, strength or speed?  Or is it better to focus on infection rate to keep producing more zombies?  Do you want more or tougher special zombies?  It starts out easily enough with just civilian populations, but soon you’ll face cities that are more prepared.  They have special units you can’t directly infect.  They have police and soldiers that are trained to fight back.  Eventually, you’ll even face NBC troops prepared to take the fight to the zombies.  Even worse, many cities have heroes that defend them.  Who are those red and green plumbers defending Pisa?  Certain of your special zombies fare better against certain heroes.

Infectonator2Each city has a target goal for casualties.  Hit that and you’ll unlock the next city.  However, each city also a set of performance goals.  If you manage to complete all those, the city is destroyed, and you get a destruction bonus.  In fact, there are a lot of bonuses.  At the start, just about everything you do seems to result in a bonus.  These help make up for the initial difficulty due to your weak army.  Soon, you’ll be rolling along.

Infectonator4This could have been a depressing game about global pandemic.  It could have been overly gruesome.  The 16 bit art style keeps the tone light.  It bears more resemblance to watching an ant colony than simulating destruction.  It’s great fun as a time waster if the subject matter interests you. It didn’t over tax my brain when I was sick and my head hurt.  Recommended.Infectonator3

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/08/game-of-the-week-infectonator-ios-android-flash/

Surviving the Craziness

It’s been a bit wild at our house recently.  My son Mark was born.  It’s easy to forget how much a newborn shakes up your life.  It doesn’t get easier after the first one.  You just have less of the mind numbing fear.  Sleep is down, dirty diapers are way up.  Then right as we’re getting adjusted there, strep throat hits our house.  It hit most of us, but me hardest.  If anyone had asked, that’s the way I’d want it.  After all I’d rather be miserable than see my kids suffer.  And if Mommy is down, we all suffer.  We were all happy the baby didn’t get sick.  Still, I’ve still been pretty miserable recently with the aches and fever.  I’ll be glad when the illness has run it’s course.  I’m also thankful we got antibiotics right away.  The last time this hit me hard I suffered for a while before going to the doctor.  The results were so awful even I won’t be that stupid again.

Now, I’m starting to feel better and Mark’s starting to sleep better.  Maybe things will settle down at least until school starts.  You don’t realize how big your kids have grown until you see them next to a newborn and remember holding them at the same size.  Children are such a blessing, but they are not easy.  We’re happy to have another blessing and the extra work.

Mark Christopher Price

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/08/surviving-the-craziness/

Game of the Week: Sleeping Dogs

260px-Sleeping_Dogs_-_Square_Enix_video_game_coverI played the original True Crime: Streets of L.A.  It wasn’t up to Grand Theft Auto standards, but the spin of playing a cop and the increased focus of melee combat bumped it up a few notches.  Having Christopher Walken as a narrator didn’t hurt either.  I enjoyed that game but didn’t finish it.  The sequel set in New York got worse reviews, so I didn’t buy it.

When I heard that Activision was rebooting the series with a version set in Hong Kong, I was interested since I had enjoyed Stranglehold with a similar setting and premise.  Then Activision shut down all mid level game development to focus on AAA titles.  I later heard that Square Enix had picked up the project and rebranded it Sleeping Dogs.  I just assumed that the end result would be mediocre at best.  Reviews and impressions painted a more positive picture so I planned to pick it up when it was on sale some time.  Before I got around to that, Sony announced that it would be a ‘free’ game on Playstation Plus.  While Plus is not free, I have found it to be a great deal because of quality games like this.

Sleeping Dogs is an open world sandbox set on the island of Hong Kong.  This is a streamlined playable Hong Kong that reduces distances and density, but they’ve managed to create a believable, lived in space.  Different sections feel radically different.  With cars, motorcycles, boats and cabs (for fast travel), you can get around anywhere quickly.  Clearly United Front learned the most important lesson from Rockstar, make everything fun.  Ok, not everything is fun, but most core activities are.  Unarmed combat, melee weapon combat, ranged combat, driving, racing and vehicular combat are all fun.  Unarmed combat and vehicular combat are the standouts in the game.  Both give you a real feeling of power and destruction combined with high risk.  It’s nearly impossible to get through completely unscathed, but skill will carry the battle (at least after upgrades).

With a strong gameplay core, you might think the story stinks.  No, not really.  As long as you don’t compare it to reality, it’s a fun ride.  If you go in with a Hong Kong action movie mindset, it’s even better.  You have a ton of characters with larger than life personalities.  They get into outrageous situations and clash in mighty conflicts.  If you don’t pay attention, some of the names and terms can be confusing, but the game does a good job keeping you on the right track.  Even though the characters are kind of wacky, the voice actors are good enough to humanize and make you care for them.  For instance, when a battle breaks out at a wedding, you actually feel upset that someone would break tradition and do such a thing.

That involvement is the driving force that pulled me into the game world.  I wanted to know what would happen to these characters.  I wanted to make Wei a little stronger, more respected and dangerous.  That’s the mark of a good game.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I stuck around to get my first ever Playstion Platinum Trophy.  That’s a story for later.  Overall, very highly recommended.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/07/game-of-the-week-sleeping-dogs/

5000 Miles

Small 5000 milesI may be a kind of old, kind of fat gamer, but I do try to look after my health.  Since my taste in food is pretty unhealthy, I tend to focus on exercise (and portion control).   Mostly, I run, ride my bike and lift weights.  I sometimes swim when my shoulder holds together.  I also try to help my kids practice whatever sport they’re playing at the time.  I just hit a milestone on my bike that I wanted to share.  I just passed 5,000 miles on my bike.  For some people that might not be a lot, for me, riding on weekends and free days, it’s an accomplishment I’m pretty proud of.

How far is 5,000 miles?  Well, I live near Houston.  I looked it up on this nifty page.  Madrid, Spain, Casablanca, Morocco and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil are all around 5,000 miles from Houston.  With my next ride, I zipped past Paris, France.  I’m not much of a fitness role model, but I do know this:  find exercises you enjoy and stick with them.  Perhaps I’ll see you when I hit Switzerland.  I’m not looking forward to the mountains.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/07/5000-miles/

Email not Sending

MS-Outlook-2007All of a sudden a few weeks ago, my email stopped sending.  It wasn’t on all of my accounts or devices.  I could receive email, but I couldn’t send it.  Eventually I figured I could send from my phone and webmail for my email and gmail.  So it had to be the way my local accounts were configured. The problem was that I hadn’t changed anything.  It turns out that my internet provider had changed something.  They had started blocking port 25.  This made sense since a lot of spam and other automatically generated messages use that port.  However, they just updated their email FAQ without sending any notice of the change.  Thanks for the heads up guys.

It turns out the reason that only some of my accounts didn’t work was that newer accounts automatically set up shop on port 587.  The older accounts that I had imported from my last computer were the ones configured on port 25.  So I changed all my accounts to use port 587.  Then once I knew what I was looking for, I found the updated FAQ on the Comcast support website.  Of course, reading that I found out that Comcast recommends the use of port 465 with SSL.  I’ll get around to that sometime guys.   Anyway, if you’re troubleshooting email send problems, this might help.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/07/email-not-sending/

Game Story from Gamers With Jobs

Crusader_Kings_II_box_artSean Sands of Gamers with Jobs has written an excellent game story about the emerald isle.  It’s well written and makes you want to play the game.  That’s exactly what I look for in a game story.  Here’s a link to buy the game if it inspires you.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/07/game-story-from-gamers-with-jobs/

Custom Foosball

ping-2-foosballI played a lot of foosball in college.  I wasn’t the best, but in a 2 on 2 game I was a darn good defender.  We had a ton of fun, probably even more than the Xybots game cabinet that was in the same room.  So I was pretty thrilled by this article on making custom foosball figures based on real people.  One day I’ll probably buy a 3D printer.  Until then I can enjoy the stuff others make with them.  Thanks to Make magazine for the article and picture.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/06/custom-foosball/

Closed for Remodeling

Sorry for the lack of updates. We’ve started some remodeling for our house. I didn’t realize how disruptive and consuming the process would be. I hope to get back to regular updates soon. Just to be clear, it’s just my house that’s being worked on. I’m afraid improvements to the site might need new management.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/06/closed-for-remodeling/

Xbox One and the PS4

Now that Microsoft and Sony have had their big next generation console press conferences, we should have a level field to compare them.  Unfortunately, neither side wanted to play ball.  Sony made their pitch at developers while showing lots of games and no hardware beyond the controller.  Microsoft made a pitch for the unified living room showing hardware but few games.  These presentation left gaming fans wanting more.  That should be a good thing for an upcoming launch.

Sony translated their conference into a steadily building positive buzz.  Yes, there were some haters, but overall they received positive coverage and dominated the console news for nearly two months.  Microsoft sort of exploded onto the scene.  Or perhaps they imploded.

Here’s the goal of any news conference especially one dealing with rampant speculation.  Replace all bad messages with your message that puts your product (company, candidate, etc.) in the best possible light.  No one really achieves that completely, but success is measured by how close you come to that goal.  Microsoft had a near total failure.

Now a failure to communicate doesn’t mean that the product will be a failure.  It just makes things more difficult.  It also doesn’t reflect on the quality of the product.  Based on everything I’ve read, I’d expect the two products to be very similar inside the box.  They both have AMD 8 core x86 chips with AMD graphics integrated on the system chip.  The PS4 has more graphics cores and faster memory, but the impact on multiplatform games should be minimal.   In fact, the similar architectures should make porting much easier.

Raw power has rarely been the deciding factor in console wars.  The upcoming generation will probably come down to focus and exclusives.  Both controllers look to make modest improvements on the versions they are replacing.  I don’t know if lighting effects trumps vibrating triggers or not.  I don’t think Sony’s touchpad will be a significant factor, but I know I’ll feel less silly swiping on my controller than I do making some of the silly gestures I make with the current version of kinect.  Speaking of kinect, it and Playstation’s move both feel gimmicky.  I’ll have to see something compelling to change my mind.  In general, I do support more controller options over fewer.

So what about focus?  Sony only wanted to talk about games and especially game developers.  That easily resonated with gamers.  Microsoft wanted to own the living room.  I don’t have a problem with that goal.  It’s just that every effort thus far has been a flaming disaster.  Not to mention that everyone has a different idea about what ‘one box’ should do.  Here’s mine.  I need a cable box plus an over the air tuner.  I need a DVR with multiple tuners.  I need a surround sound receiver with multiple HDMI and legacy inputs.  I want streaming and downloadable video.  I want a game player with backwards compatibility.  I want a blue ray and DVD player.  I need internet access that supports apps and channels.  I need to be able to control it with a remote, with voice and my smartphone or tablet. I want a seamless, consistent interface.  Clearly I am insane.  Honestly, on that list, Microsoft doesn’t do too badly.  The problem is making what they offer work with what I have.

Theoretically, my receiver has HDMI control (or Consumer Electronic Control, CEC) after a firmware update.  I haven’t actually tested this out.  My TV does not.  For some reason Tivo doesn’t seem to support it either.  Perhaps Microsoft could work that out since the Tivo can be controlled over the home network and both need to be ‘online’ to keep working.  Even if I had all CEC devices, there’s no guarantee that they would play nicely together with the XB1 as they’re from different manufacturers.  Even people with CEC devices from the same company have had problems with compatibility.  There have been anecdotal reports that the more CEC devices you add, the less stable the setup.

If CEC isn’t the solution, then we’re stuck with an IR blaster.  Don’t get me started on IR blaster problems.  Even if it works, I dread to think where I’d have to place a blaster to hit my Tivo, receiver and TV.  Perhaps you can daisy chain them together at cheap Microsoft accessory pricing.  Of course, the rest of the world can avoid this trouble since the TV features aren’t available there.

Update:  I’ve heard that Microsoft is going to use Kinect 2.0 as an IR blaster.  The Kinect points the wrong way, but they claim that the signal will bounce off the walls and still work.  Good luck with that.  It’s even worse since the XB1 has no way of knowing if the blast bounce worked.

If I get it all working, it sounds nice.  I can use voice control for everything.  Well, it doesn’t sound like it will initially be able to access anything recorded on my Tivo.  I also wonder if I can exclude voices.  I really don’t want my three year old shouting, “Xbox, watch Word World.” and having that work when I’m trying to game or watch a show or movie.  There have already been threats of griefers shouting “Xbox, turn off” over voice chat.  That shouldn’t work, but I wouldn’t throw out that headset just yet.

Speaking of getting things working, the truth is that I’m going to wait before I buy an Xbox One.   It’s been a long time since I’ve been excited for a major console release (sorry WiiU).  Even though I don’t consider myself an early adopter any more, I’d be tempted to grab one of these consoles before Christmas.  If I do, it’s going to be a PS4.  It’s not just that I still have my abiding Playstation love from the PS2 or the fact that I’ve ended up playing my PS3 much more in the past couple of years than my 360.  It’s not even that the last few dashboard updates for the 360 felt like they were more about serving ads to me than improving my gaming experience.  No, it’s that I got burned hard on the 360 launch.  I went through at least four consoles (it might have been five though I try not to think about it too much, the flashbacks, the horror, the horror) in my battles against the red ring of death.  Yes, Microsoft kept sending me refurbished units, but it wasn’t until the dual die shrink Jasper units were released that I hunted one down and paid cash for the peace of mind.  I still remember looking at the model and serial numbers to make sure I got the right version.  To be fair, that unit has lasted for years without problems, but I can’t in good conscience buy another Xbox console without giving it at least six months to prove its reliability.

I must admit that I don’t understand smart match as a new feature for the XB1.  I’m all for better matchmaking.  After all, it must be hard to find people as incompetent as I am at online shooters.  I don’t understand why you’d ever want matchmaking that takes so long that you want to watch a movie or video.  And if I ever started playing another game while waiting to get into an online game, I’m unlikely to go back to the online game.

In short, Microsoft needs to turn this ship around and prove hardware quality and functional software to get me to bite.

 

Permanent link to this article: https://www.talkstrategy.com/2013/06/xbox-one-and-the-ps4/