New Marvel Trades on Nook (12/12/2011)

New Marvel Comics Available on Nook 12/12/2011

The list for this week includes a couple of firsts for the the Nook releases. First and foremost it’s the first 616 Spider-Man trades released (Ultimate Spider-Man vol 1 & 2 were much earlier) though it does show part of the problems in the release schedule by putting out books on either side of the One More Day special event without also publishing THAT story. Previous weeks have shown similar issues with the Civil War and Captain America assasination timeline and I expect that it will continue in that vein until someone can talk some sense to whatever poor intern got the job of getting this schedule together.

The second first is the inclusion of the Masterwork trades. Already owning them in physical form I am still debating if I’m going to pick them up or not though I would imagine they look as good as the modern stuff. It does at least point to some intention to publish some of the classics from the vault.

Marvel Comics on the Nook

I’ve been a Nook user since I got a free Color last Christmas and liked it enough to upgrade to the Tablet on day one (which honestly is a somewhat marginal upgrade) and also a long time Marvel Comics reader though a few years ago I had to decide financially between LEGO and Comics and then once my finances had stabilized I still wasn’t able to return to the comics because I just don’t have any space for them. So when the Nook Tablet announcement included news that Marvel would be publishing exclusively on the Nook platform I was incredibly excited.

Sadly that announcement said essentially nothing about what they would be publishing and several weeks in, some of the shine has worn off the thrill of finally being able to buy Marvel comics digitally however I can say that it has not been a total disappointment. Currently Marvel is only publishing trade collections for Nook and the selection is still somewhat small. Today there are a total of 48 items available in the special Marvel Comics section, and that includes the five new items that were the first new items in two weeks.

The pricing for the trades is decent, though probably nothing to look forward to if you have already bought any of these in print, generally maxing out at $16.74 (currently only for Planet Hulk) and as low as $5.59 for several good items. Most items are within a dollar of $10.

Users of the Nook software on other platforms should beware: These purchases are ONLY viewable on a Nook Tablet or Nook Color with the latest firmware. I’m hoping they open that up a bit some day and since I’m a Tablet owner I’m don’t have too much of a problem with it, but it really feels like a purely artificial imposition for no good reason.

The reading experience is pretty good if not perfect. The default display is a full page taking up the entire screen and the text is quite readable and the graphics come through well. If you want to see detail a quick tap zooms in for a closer look. Tilting the device into landscape mode will resize to display two pages which is handy for big spreads, though makes the text unreadable at that size. Additionally the TOC navigation is visual rather then by page number so it makes it really easy to move around.

The actual problem from my point of view is the what they are publishing and when they are publishing them. Early in the release cycle they published books on either side of the story where Captain America was assassinated without publishing the story where the assassination happened. They seem to be keeping with that kind of idiocy with this week’s publishing of Spider-Man trades on either side of the One More Day storyline, though hopefully they’ll follow up next week with that story as well. The assassination story I wasn’t as bothered by since I had already read that one in print. I have not read the Spider-Man story and so it feels a bit spoilerish to be reading what happens afterwards and I might wait till they correct that oversight before I actually crack that one open.

The initial point of this post however was to make a note of the items that are available when they are released since I can not seem to find anywhere else on the net that talks about it and figured it might be useful for someone else. I’ve been checking the store daily for awhile so hopefully will keep this up for at least awhile in some format.

No tag for this post.

Thoughts on a new module base

Ri Co Le Go on Flickr has proposed a new module base for Micropolis. (Composite example and Building Instructions)

I started working on a comment on the image with my reactions and analysis and it got really big very quickly, so I decided to move it here instead. Please be sure to look at those links and the associated comments first for better context.

First off, I think it’s a really interesting idea and certainly deserves discussion.

I like that it remains compatible with the existing standard and doesn’t compromise the depth of the module. Additionally it seems like there would be a lot more possibility of being able to overcome table height differences with only some small modifications.

To elaborate on Dave DuJour’s observation about pin usage in TwinLUG, we’ve pretty much given up on pins in the big layouts for a few different reasons:

  1. Laziness. :-)
  2. The size of even our medium layouts means that we almost always run into weight limitations that result in cracked or sheared pins across table edges.
  3. These days we have quite a few modules that are larger then 1 block which makes managing the connections much more complicated.
  4. Probably most importantly, we find being able to make quick changes by simply lifting a module out to be incredibly useful, especially in convention layouts where people are dropping off new modules at random times and we want to make sure we get good placement for all modules so that you can still see everything.

The proposed change resolves being able to maintain a nice and even layout while still maintaining the ability to make easy changes. The implementation seems fairly straightforward as well since it can use pretty common parts.

However I think my biggest concern is about part count for the base modules. These days my quarter block bases use exactly 14 parts at an average cost of $2.72 per base. (LDD File for reference)

Minimal Quarter Block Base Cost Breakdown
qty Part $per cost
4 8×8 Plate $0.20 $0.80
2 1×16 Technic Brick $0.57 $1.14
2 1×14 Technic Brick $0.22 $0.44
4 2×2 Corner Plate $0.03 $0.12
1 2×16 Plate $0.19 $0.19
1 2×2 Brick $0.03 $0.03
Total $2.72

I went ahead and threw together a really quick minimal implementation of the proposed module base and came up with 28 parts at an average cost of $2.28 per base. (LDD File for reference)

Minimal Proposed Quarter Block Base Cost Breakdown
qty Part $per cost
4 8×8 Plate $0.20 $0.80
8 1×4 Brick $0.04 $0.32
4 1×6 Brick $0.05 $0.20
8 2×1 Inverted Slope 45 $0.04 $0.32
4 6×6 Plate $0.16 $0.64
Total $2.28

That did NOT include the cost of each of the H connectors which I came up with several different permutations for. The most sturdy using two 1×4 Technic Bricks ($0.04) and a 2×2 Modified Brick with 2 pins ($0.03), most common parts using two 1×4 Bricks ($0.04) and one 2×2 Brick ($0.03), and your proposal with four 2×2 Corner Bricks ($0.06). If we used 1×4 Tile ($0.07) on all three of those permutations the average cost comes out to $0.31 per connector. Supplying enough connectors for a large layout could become quite expensive and even for a medium layout could be slightly prohibitive. (LDD File for reference)

Still, if you figure an average of 2 H Connectors per module that does make the price difference $0.18, which isn’t huge for the possible increase in functionality.

However I think the best place that this will be useful, and the best reason for adoption, will be with Bluff modules. There is currently a big issue with assembling Bluff modules and keeping them together plus the common need for support structures underneath standard modules arranged behind Bluff modules. If we included the H Connector (or maybe “Rico Connector”?) in the Bluff standard on the high sides of the module that would go a long way towards resolving a lot of the problems I’ve had there though not entirely obviating the need for under structure. However since I am in the minority of people working with Bluff modules I doubt that will have much sway with the rest of the community.

As for concerns about this change causing difficulty for using the depth of the module, I do not find that to be a compelling argument. Most modules that make use of the depth of the module do so towards the middle of the module and not towards the edges. The exception I can think of would be Thomas Anderson’s Construction Site, but even in that case there is an intact road on one side. So if the implementation of this change involved requiring at least one (or possibly two) connection points I think that would probably be enough.

Thoughts on Driver: San Francisco

I used a cache of rewards points this week to pick up a copy of Driver: San Francisco. I haven’t quite finished absolutely everything in the game, but since I’ve finished the story and have played a bit of multiplayer I figured I’d put down some thoughts while they were still fresh.

For all that the game narrative is absolutely ridiculous on it’s face, it was a lot of fun to play through it. The story is that you’re a rogue cop who manages to get put into a coma while trying to take down your nemesis who just escaped from jail and then find that you can “shift” into people while they are driving and essentially run them like a puppet. See? Ridiculous! Also, entertaining.

The mechanic of being able to pop out of your own body and jump into others makes for some really interesting possibilities and the designers took pretty good advantage of them to put together a series of missions that were diverse, interesting, and mostly fun. The best part being that if you didn’t like the current mission you could always go off into the city and find another or just goof off as much as you wanted.

Granted this is still a racing game so all of those diverse missions still involve being behind the wheel of a car but at least you aren’t always racing. In fact one of my favorite mission types is the Takedown. Normally I find these a bit hard to do since my physical coordination, while better then my friends who do NOT play racing games, is just not fantastic. Getting enough speed in a vehicle, weaving through traffic behind the target, and then managing to actually hit them with my car? It happens sometimes, but not often enough. However with the Shifting mechanic in this game I can always catch up with the target by shifting to a new car or even get ahead of them and take them out head-on. It is wonderfully satisfying to jack knife a truck and trailer across a freeway and watch a whole gang of street racers impact a few seconds later then jump into a pickup coming up behind them and put in the finishing touches.

Sound violent? It is, but at the same time it’s somewhat cartoony violence. There’s no blood, no guts, and pedestrians always seem to dive out of the way just in time. Destroy your car ramming into a wall on a bad corner? Shift into something else and keep going or just wait to get respawned. It all certainly takes away from any “realism” but that’s basically not the point of the game despite the incredibly well rendered city that you’re driving in.

Speaking of that city, they take advantage of that back drop for more then just the hills and streets to be racing on. The buildings are very well rendered though unlike one of my favorite racing games set in the city, Midtown Madness 2, none of them are interactive and all of the facades are just there to keep you from making that next turn properly. That said, the changes in elevation are well done and make for some really challenging routes and stunts.

My biggest complaint is about the cars. There are 140 real cars modeled and while Ubisoft gets full marks for arcade-realistic and varied handling I found their zeal for American Muscle cars and other serious drift cars to be kind of annoying. Give me a grippy car any day and I can do reasonably well in a race but especially as you get to the top end of the vehicles it gets harder and harder to manage to sometimes even go in a straight line without your back end coming around.

There’s lots of multi-player options including fun local split screen co-op and versus modes plus a large selection of online content and plenty of people to play against this soon after launch.

Worth $60? Maybe. If you like or are even mildly interested in racing games the single player story is well written while being self-aware and has an interesting payoff. The cut scenes are pretty well acted and really give a good sense of pacing and direction to the plot. If you’re a Forza or Gran Tourismo lover or otherwise appreciate a realistic approach to driving you’ll probably want to give it a pass.

No tag for this post.

Recent reading

Between Alastair Reynolds and Charles Stross I have recently found two authors to look into, one pretty successfully and the other who had a free ebook of his first novel.

First is Linda Nagata who Alastair Reynolds lauded/blamed for several of the ideas in his early work on his blog nearly two months ago. So far I’ve gotten through her first two novels and am enjoying them quite a bit. “Tech-Heaven” was enjoyable even with the somewhat dated technology prognostication. I did spend a fair amount of the book trying to figure out just how much of a cryonics booster the author was and to her credit never quite figured it out, though it sure seemed to come down a fair bit on the positive side much of the time.

While figuring out which book of Ms Nagata’s to start with I ran across her twitter account where she had mentioned that one of my favorite author’s (who I had basically lost track of in the last few years), Martha Wells, had recently published “The Cloud Roads“. As usual for her writing, it caught my attention enough that I ended up spending time with it rather then venturing from my hotel and exploring Niagara Falls and it’s environs. Excellent world, great characters, and a well threaded plot made for a fun read.

After that it was back to Linda Nagata for “The Bohr Maker“. While “Tech-Heaven” had been somewhat obviously a first novel, “The Bohr Maker” is from an obviously more experienced author. The characters were more fleshed out and it read more smoothly with less to distract me into thinking about what the author’s motives where. I’m still not sure I could recommend it to my friends that prefer character relationships to world-building, but it’s certainly at least worth a look.

I had purchased both “Tech-Heaven” and “The Bohr Maker” through the store on my Barnes & Noble Nook Color but had seen Linda Nagata flogging Book View Cafe pretty hard in her twitter stream and figured I’d give that a try for the next novel in The Nanotech Succession, “Deception Well“. I haven’t cracked the cover quite yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

However I haven’t decided if I’m going to start that first or try Karl Schroeder‘s “Ventus”. He has been doing some guest writing on Charles Stross’ blog for the past couple of weeks and has been more then interesting enough to take a look at, and who am I to turn down a free book in the process.

No tag for this post.

The Robot Adventure

Last week I attended BrickWorld Chicago 2011 and had a great time. Unlike last year however, J and the kids (M and K) were not able to join me for various reasons. Disappointed that he was not able to go, M (age 7) insisted that one of his LEGO MOCs (based heavily on something from a Space Police III set) go with me on the trip to hang out in the Micropolis layout. I imagine his reasoning was that if he couldn’t attend, at least one of the creations that he imbues so abundantly with personality would be able to do so and would be the next best thing. I thought of it as M sending along an avatar and decided that “Robot”, as M called him, would get to have an adventure.

The rest of this post is a collection of the updates I sent to Twitter and TwitPic saved here primarily for later nostalgic purposes though I may insert some additional commentary along the way. A comment about the photography: I am not a great photographer and was shooting all of this on my HTC HD7 smartphone, most one-handed, in highly variable lighting. Any blurriness, odd angles, bad lighting, or general bad image quality can be explained by the preceding note.



At least it’s trying to help…
At least it's trying to be helpful...

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


When I pack the quarter block Micropolis modules I tend to take the tall spindly things off before they come off in the bag in more pieces then I would like. Most of the process of assembling the city is taking items out of their containers and doing that big of reassembly. In the case of the water tower module, it’s just easier to pop off the water tower.

Or maybe not so helpful…

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


I had already decided that Robot may not always be a nice creature. Posing him for this one was kind of fun.

I swear this was the robot honey!

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


The Cathedral needed more help then I was thinking it would have. This is J’s latest build, and possibly one of her best. In particular the stained glass windows are pretty spectacular. I imagine we’ll have pictures up elsewhere eventually.

The robot has an appointment at the DEA Headquarters.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


One of the best things about Micropolis is that we always exhort other people to bring their own modules to contribute to the layout. The layout is primarily populated with TwinLUG modules but only because we build the most of them so far. So it’s always nice to see stuff that other people bring. This module in particular is based on the actual DEA headquarters building which Michael Harrod brought this year. Michael hung out for quite a bit of the weekend and helped keep an eye on the layout that was much appreciated.

@ He’s taking a nap in my pocket.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


J had asked where Robot was the next day in her Twitter stream, so I kept this reply in the stream for reference. It was a good reminder to get it out again and start taking more pictures.

Robot likes the look of my almond cookie.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


The Westin Chicago North Shore has a couple of really good restaurants in it. Not too long after answering J’s question I was thankfully dragged to lunch at one of those restaurants by A and Other J. I got what turned out to be a modern western interpretation of a bento box, which came with a nice almond cookie. J’s earlier question had got Robot back in my mind so I figured it would be best to start playing around again. Later I decided that Robot probably doesn’t eat human food, but at this point I had not thought that far ahead.

Robot is sated from all the edamame.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


These last two also kind of epitomize the classic kinds of photos on Twitter: food people are about to eat and weird avatars.

Robot surveys the city. Is thinking he might want to travel a bit yet this weekend.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann




Robot has always wanted to see the Eifel Tower.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


FYI – That Eiffel Tower is as tall as I am. Better photo of it, along with the back of my head.

Robot wonders if it’s old enough to drive a lightcycle.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


Lightcycles built by Chris Doyle of ReasonablyClever.com.

Robot finds melodrama incomprehensible.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


Chris also used these MicroFigs in his Brick House web comic.

Robot thinks living underwater would be fun.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


I tried a few different shots with Robot of this one but eventually settled on this. There was really an amazing amount of activity going on, just too much to really capture it all.

Robot did not find the M:Tron people to be very friendly.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


I grew up on Classic Space and got out of LEGO just about the time that M:Tron was being introduced. Blacktron I loved, with the stark black and little bits of yellow for highlights. M:Tron always seemed too garish. That said there was a lot to like in this layout. There was some really cool parts usage and generally good building techniques. I just wish it could have been a better theme. :-)

Robot would like it known that it did not run away immediately. (It was too scared to run).

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


The best thing about this build is the color scheme. Everything is greyscale except for some very specific colors in very specific locations. It’s a fantastic build and rightfully nominated for best creature..

Robot found a spot to see many places all at once!

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


Arthur Gugick is well known for his architecture builds, and his mosaics. He is always up for one or two awards and actually got the Master Builder award this year, which was well deserved. I’ve had a chance to get to know him a bit over the last two conventions and can say that he’s great to hang out with and was one of the people involved in the late night emergency mosaic speed build.

Robot thinks the native Americans throw great parties.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


A fun build by TwinLUG member Lisa Parker. She had to mod some parts to get the La Crosse sticks to work right, but I think it might have been worth it.

Robot really enjoyed visiting the future.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


This is the amazing Utopolis by Michael Labelle. I had several great conversations with him, and hopefully he’ll have a Micropolis module built for BrickFete!

Looks like Robot got back to the room pretty late last night.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


There had been quite a bit of drinking the previous evening, some of which had inspired the previously mentioned mosaic speed build though no one involved had been drinking from what I remember. Seemed reasonable that Robot had probably imbibed as well. It’s entirely possible that this experience is what turned him off all organic foods in the future.

Robot is proving itself useful for checking the room before we leave.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


Yes, the original tweet had a typo. Thus, the advantage of editing.

Robot is taking a moment to check in with his famous new friends.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


Marc-Andre Bazergui does some really amazing Mindstorms creations, though his most famous are probably his Wall-E reproductions.

Robot hopes that the good guys win.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


The Lord of the Rings group layout was probably the second largest, after the Norther Illinois LEGO Train Club’s usual huge collaboration, and contained a good variety of MOCs from lots of different builders. There are better builds then Minas Tirith (The White City), but it made for a good shot with the army massed outside it. The guy who had built Khazad-dûm had apologized for being the likely reason that it had been so difficult to find the roof parts for J’s Cathedral this past spring.

Robot got a little dizzy riding the rides.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann




Robot found some new friends that remind him of home.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


This one was entirely for M. It’s exactly the kind of thing he builds, and these will probably be the level that he’ll be building in about 10 years.

Robot thinks he may have found a faster way home.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann




Robot got bored and decided to try skydiving.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


The crowds had started to thin out a bit and I was looking forward to the end of the public hours. In other words: Time to goof off.

Robot thinks the car is -very- full.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


I had wanted to do some pictures of Robot helping to pack up but we just didn’t have time. Public hours ended at 3pm and we had to have EVERYTHING packed and out by 4pm so that they could put in chairs for closing ceremonies. We got it done, and with time to spare, but there was absolutely no time for taking photos of the process. I was pretty amazed though that I was able to get everything into the car. I had made a few purchases (not more then a few thousand pieces. Well, not very much more then 10,000 pieces…) so the car that had been very full on the way to the convention was even more full on the way back.

Robot unfortunately agrees: Clown-Bot 6 isn’t very funny.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


This build is my Dirty Buildster entry that was titled, “ClownBot number 6 was never really very funny.” It’s not a great build, but I wanted to have at least one photo of it.

Robot is glad to going home, but is sad the convention is over.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


Taken from across the street after the traditional TwinLUG post-convention dinner. This year Buca was full so we ended up at the RAM.

Robot thinks waiting for a train is boring. Would rather be buying liquids for organic friends.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


Madison has a problem with their transit design in that a fairly busy freight rail runs right through the middle of downtown. Granted, building the city on an isthmus makes for limited options, but it can be irritating getting stuck.

Robot thinks that @‘s eyes may be bigger then his car.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann


My sister Rachel pointed out that Robot does not actually appear in this image. It was just starting to rain so I wanted to get into the car relatively quickly _and_ somehow load the soda somewhere into the relatively full vehicle, but Robot had been left in the car. Rather then risk getting soaked I just took the picture without him. Hopefully it didn’t feel too left out.
In my own defense I had not been intending to buy three cases of soda, just one. When I arrived at Cost Plus World Market in Madison is when I found out that Bundaberg had released three new flavors at which point my path was clear. I was disappointed I was not able to get a case of the Guava as well as the Blood Orange and the Pink Grapefruit.

Robot is just fine sitting around and watching @ do all of the unpacking.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann




Robot is overjoyed to be home and has decided to take a long and overdue recharge.

@Cavorter

Nathan Stohlmann

I figured this was a relatively fitting end to the adventure and would allow for me to pick it up again later if the inspiration appeared. If I do then Robot is likely to get his own blog and Twitter account. I do have some ideas of where I could go with this, and at the very least I do have BrickFete in just a month, so we’ll just have to see what happens.

No tag for this post.

Playing with settings

Part of the fun of helping friends host their own blogs is that I get to try out all the new stuff on my blog first. :-) So pretty much nothing to see here really, just mostly functional testing for some Twitter integration and checking some other settings.

Update! Oh, right forgot to test these too: @cavorter @sigridellis

No tag for this post.

A Snowy Morning Antidote

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in having occasionally experienced a time when hitting shuffle on one’s music collection, or some subset that fits onto your portable device of choice, just seems to work really well for the mood or circumstances you are currently in. This morning I have had one of those experiences and I thought I’d put it down for posterity. Right at this moment it feels like exactly the right antidote to having sat in traffic for an hour to get to work.

  1. Semisonic – Who’s Stopping You – All About Chemistry
  2. Tosca – Session 7: Song – Dehli9
  3. The Guggenheim Grotto – Fee Da Da Dee – Happy the Man
  4. Peter Mayer – Harry the Pharoah – Novelties
  5. Cafe Accordion Orchestra – Velma From Selma – Live!
  6. They Might Be Giants – The Mesopotamians – The Else
  7. Afro Celt Sound System – North – Volume 3: Further in Time
  8. The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Three to Get Ready – Time Out
  9. Glee Cast – Keep Holding On – Glee: The Music, Volume 1
  10. Sufjan Stevens – Chicago – Illinois
  11. Baka Beyond – Mbé – Journey Between
  12. They Might Be Giants – Pencil Rain – Then: The Earlier Years
  13. Martyn Bennett – Stream – Martyn Bennett

There has since been quite a bit more that’s worked pretty well but I figured I had to cut it off somewhere.

No tag for this post.

My Gaming in 2010 (Part 2): Xbox

(Read Part 1 here)

My Xbox 360(s) are where I spent a large portion of my gaming time this year, and the platform continues to provide me with a lot of entertainment for the money I invest in it. According to my count I played 57 different games on the Xbox this year. Granted, I didn’t spent a lot of time on all of them but I do remember the experience with most of them distinctly and fondly. LEGO Indiana Jones 2 and LEGO Harry Potter were the usual kind of fun. Lazy Raiders and Lara Croft had a couple surprising points of similarity while being utterly different and very entertaining. Spending time supervising the kids while they messed around in Tower Blocks Deluxe, Kung Fu Panda, LEGO Indy 2, LEGO Rock Band, and We’re In The Movies was almost always a good time as long as we didn’t get too competitive. There are a few though that really stood out more then the others.

Being a long time racing game fan I had been looking forward to both Blur and Split/Second. So, along with the rest of the racing fans, was both thrilled and disappointed that they would be released right on top of each other. The good part was that there were going to be some obviously excellent racing games available for us this year, but the down side was that the social component of both of them was going to suffer since they appealed to essentially the same audience. Not everyone was going to be able to afford to buy both and then we certainly couldn’t play them at the same time. At first Blur was my favorite. The multi-player demo offered early in the year played smoothly and provided a great introduction to the game that really whet my appetite for more. However when the game did arrive the only good part was everything that was present in that demo and the single-player parts of the game were simply awful. Split/Second also had a demo before release and it certainly had some spectacular visuals but the gameplay felt somewhat slow and unresponsive which is exactly what you do NOT want in a racing game like this. It should be wall-to-wall adrenaline. When the full game for arrived though it was obvious that the demo had been only the very tip of the iceberg. With lots of game modes (many of which are actually fun to play), plenty of very entertaining tracks, a really good single player progression, and adequate but fun online play it was worth much more of my time. I still haven’t quite gotten gold in every single event, and I don’t have the chance to play online as much as I would like to, but if you have to decide between the two it should be a pretty easy choice. To be clear, I would not call Blur a bad game but if you don’t play online it’s a complete waste of time and money.

The most enjoyable amount of social time I spent playing a game this year was with the critical darling Limbo. The social aspect was a bit unexpected given that Limbo is a decidedly single-player game. There are no online options, other then a fairly half-assed leaderboard, but what it did provide was some hours to spend time with my partner J while we worked through the puzzles together. Heck, she even took the gamepad a few times and on one particular section was the only one who could get us through it. This isn’t surprising in the “A girl was playing Xbox!” sense, so much as it was surprising in the “J managed to get over her distaste for the complexity of the Xbox gamepad!” sense and along with the shared experience of watching that little boy die over, and over, and over, and over while we did the best we could to move him to the end punctuated with those ecstatic moments of success while solving a particular section it was some of the best time I spent with her this year. Even if the game wasn’t one of the best games I have ever played, and it is, and if the visual style just by itself wasn’t worth giving it a try, which it also is, and if the genuine moments of terror, fear, and despair engendered by the game were possibly the best emotional moments I’ve ever seen in a game, and again they were, the experience was worth it to be on the couch next to her and doing it all together.

The video game that I played with other people the most however was somewhat expectedly Rock Band 2 and 3. I have a preference for the Rock Band series of games over the Guitar Hero games that I have never quite bothered to figure out and so this year’s release of Rock Band 3 was something that I had budgeted for, especially with the addition of the new keyboard parts and associated peripherals. After a friend who played with us regularly had tried the keyboard she decided she wanted to be able to play at home and so it was nice to be able to sell off one of my old Xbox 360’s to her and replace it with one of the new 360 S consoles in the living room. We haven’t been able to play online together as much as I would like but it is a lot of fun hearing about her regular improvement in the world leaderboards on the Pro Keyboard song parts. I do have some mixed feelings about Rock Band 3. I think that the new deconstructed interface is almost ideal. I can work on challenges or sets or pretty much whatever and it’s really easy to do so with whoever I want to play with. Additionally making it really easy to find the music that I want to play out of four years of track packs and DLC is somewhat of a miracle. However I don’t find that I want to play Rock Band 3 by myself the way that I did with LEGO Rock Band or even some of the earlier titles. At the same time that they have made the game pretty much the ideal version of what it needs to be I just don’t find that I’m interested in it as a single player game anymore, and that’s too bad. Additionally I find it disappointing that there does not appear to be a way to use a MIDI bass guitar for the Pro Bass parts and playing them on the upcoming Pro Guitar peripheral just doesn’t sound as interesting. It is still a great game and will likely provide plenty of fun for me and my friends of the next couple of years and that’s something I have found hard to get in videogames.

My biggest disappointment of the year was playing Midnight Club: Los Angeles. I had an interval in the spring where I really wanted to play a new racing game. I had gotten pretty much everything I wanted out Burnout Paradise and Need For Speed: Shift just hadn’t kept my attention so it was time to look around for what else was out there. Looking around MC:LA seemed like a fairly good bet given the reviews I had found so I decided to give it a try. The first 80 hours I put into the game were fantastic. The open world environment was well put together with enough shortcuts and not too much traffic. The density of police was a bit higher then I would like, but it just made it a reasonable challenge instead of being too easy. The cars had enough differences to be noticeable and their variety was pretty good. The ability to really customize the vehicles visually fairly easily was a nice bonus and I found myself taking a surprising amount of time getting the look exactly the way I wanted it. The career progression was very well done with enough challenge to require some work but not enough to discourage me from trying the same race sometimes ten times before I was finally able to win them along with easy ways to go find an easy race I could just blow through when the urge struck me. So if the game was this good why did I stop playing suddenly on April 11th and never put the disc back in? One word: Bigotry. While you are participating in single player races the computer opponents will trash talk. The implementation is really pretty impressive with distinct personalities and well recorded voice-overs for all of it and just enough variety that it only gets mildly repetitive. However I was getting to the end of the single-player career and I ran into a particular opponent who’s entire set of trash talk consisted of homosexual and gender slurs. The first time through that race it was irritating, but I figured it was somewhat of a fluke or that I had misheard some of it. The second time I quit the race and moved on to some other events while I thought about it. The third time, I turned off the console. It’s unfortunate but when I’m playing online and run into idiots that use the word “faggot” like punctuation or think they’re funny for thinking it’s demeaning that a female might be a better player then others (even when there are other females playing and beating them while they are saying it) at least in that case I have tools at hand to do something about it. I can say something, I can mute them, I can even report them to the enforcement team but with a game I don’t have any of those options. I have already given the company that produced the game my money and there is no reasonable return policy on software (slightly understandably) so there is effectively nothing I can do about it. Heck, it’s even taken me eight months to be able to explain adequately exactly what the problem is in this kind of detail. The weird thing? I couldn’t find anyone online even mentioning it. I had expected that at least some of the gay gamer folks would have mentioned it somewhere, but there has apparently been complete silence about it and in some ways that was the most disappointing part. I still wonder about my decision to stop playing: It’s a great game and I would really like to finish it up, but I have to wonder what else is in there that I haven’t heard yet that just shouldn’t exist in a game at this point in time.

The big surprise for me though was a game called Just Cause 2. I had not initially been very interested in the game when it was released since I don’t really like Grand Theft Auto very much and this game was very much in that same mold. However the more I read about it the more it sounded like it might be fun, and so when Best Buy sent me a coupon for $20 off and when combined with some Reward certificates the price came down to $10 I figured I’d give it a try. The in game clock tells me that I’ve spent 111 hours running around the fictional third world country known as Panau and I think I’ve enjoyed almost all of it. The story is silly but fun. The voice acting is well done. The visuals are jaw dropping. But it is the game play that keeps me coming back over and over. I completed the storyline back in October and since then I have progressed past 75% completion for the entire game and it is still possible that I might try for 100% of the thousands and thousands of collectibles and liberating the hundreds of communities by blowing things up. My only problem is that I just can’t seem to get the hang of flying planes in the game. I don’t know if it’s me or the controls but I just can’t seem to keep them flying level enough or turn quickly enough to complete most of the races that require them and so that is probably where I’ll have to call it quits. Until then I’m sure I’ll spend a few more frigid winter days under the tropical sun.

The last of the Xbox games worth mentioning is Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Made by the same group that created one of my other favorite racing games, Burnout Paradise, it has just about everything required for a great racing game. While it has something like power-ups, they don’t feel nearly as gimmicky or unbalancing as the ones in Blur, and the primary Police vs Racers theme makes for a constantly changing and constantly challenging game that is just as fun to play single player as it is online. If you can find some other people to put on your friends list, the integration with their progress in the game makes for a constant stream of new things to do. All told, it’s a very good game. Unfortunately it doesn’t feel like it has quite the soul that their previous games had. It’s all really well executed and you can tell that they put a lot of work and polish into the game, but for all of that it still feels kind of hollow. I’m not sure why that is and it’s obvious enough to be slightly disappointing. Still, definitely worth playing.

No tag for this post.

My Gaming in 2010 (Part 1)

I had a good year in 2010 on a number of fronts, and gaming in particular. I’ve been reading all of the retrospectives in the video gaming press and the idea certainly seems to have caught in my head, so I figured I’d try and put it to words rather then let it fester. I got about half way into writing this and decided to split it up over a few posts. In his post I’ll cover the intro and PC and web gaming. Subsequent posts will cover Xbox and mobile gaming.

This year I played video games on the Web, Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Xbox 360, Microsoft Zune HD, Palm Pre, Nintendio DSi, Microsoft Kinect, Microsoft Windows Phone 7 on HTC HD7, Nook Color, and at the dining room table.

Reading that list it is more obvious then ever that I’m really heavily invested in the Microsoft eco-system of products and I’m happy to say that this year really feels like Microsoft tried harder then any year in recent memory to make that worth my while. That is certainly not to say that they don’t have a long way to go on a lot of fronts: Why can I not “Play To” an Xbox 360 directly from a Zune HD, any WP7 device, or any of the other Windows boxes on my network? Why doesn’t the Zune interface on the 360 allow for local media playback? Why don’t my “hearts” in Zune persist across all interfaces? Among MANY other weird little missing bits. Still it does all work together pretty well and I’m fairly happy with it. But back to gaming…

PC gaming this year fell somewhat by the wayside. It’s been something that I’ve been doing a bit less and less of over the years but this year in particular really seems to have taken a big step back. I played a few fun little “casual” games, most of which I don’t really remember but I only played two “AAA” games on my PC this year and one lower tier MMO and I didn’t really do much with any of them. Those three in particular were Dragon Age, World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, and LEGO Universe. All of them are great games. They have oodles of fairly interesting content, are open to several different types of play, and generally look stunning but with all of them my interest just waned over time. I do still intend to finish the main storyline of Dragon Age, but I think I’ll be cancelling my WoW subscription again this afternoon and I’ have pre-payed for LEGO Universe through the end of the year but I just don’t know how much time I’ll be spending logged into it. Part of the problem is that I can not quite put my finger on what precisely about these games doesn’t hold my attention. Is it that they are too big and so I don’t quite feel like I’m getting far enough fast enough? Or is it related to a similar theme in my fiction reading where I’m just not interested in fantasy environments anymore but still have fun with Science Fiction settings? But if that was the case, why didn’t LEGO Universe have more attraction for me over the long term?

Some casual games on the PC that did stand out this year are all PopCap properties: I continued to play Plants Vs Zombies occasionally and both Zuma’s Revenge and Bejeweled 3 were released this year and managed to soak quite a few hours but after the initial time spent on them they have joined the collection of icons in the start menu that I tend not to think too much about. The game that I played the most on the PC for the umpteenth year in a row? Minesweeper.

LEGO Universe probably deserves a few more words from me. I was in the open beta for most of the summer and so I’ve seen it progress from a seriously buggy game to a fairly fun romp through a simplified MMO universe. Is it great? Well…. no. But it is fun and there is plenty there for people who want to spend the time in it. For me though I don’t find building in LU to be worth the effort when I could be doing the same sort of building in LDD or MLCAD and be able to share those creations with a whole lot more people. The animation options in LU do make it a bit of a different experience, but I got to do many of the same things in LEGO Indiana Jones 2 on the Xbox and I got Achievements for my Xbox Gamertag for doing it. I think I might show it to K and maybe M later this year and see what they think but without a solid social lure with people I know playing it I just don’t think it’s something I’ll be spending a lot of time with.

Games on the web suffered somewhat similar fates where I spend some time on them initially and after not too much time just stop playing them. Echo Bazaar (sometimes called “Fallen London”) held my attention for a good few weeks and was a lot of fun while I was still playing it. It’s still fun to see tweets from my friends when they re-light their candles. If you are looking for a Facebook style of game without having to deal with Facebook, it is absolutely worth a look. The other web game that I can remember is one I finally got around to in the last couple of weeks of the year: Zuma Blitz. I spent some time in 2009 exploring apps on Facebook and was generally unimpressed. I tried Bejeweled Blitz earlier this year and thought it was decent but it also didn’t hold my attention. So far Zuma Blitz is about at the point where I expect that my interest might either continue at the current level (where I pull it up a couple times a week) or decline to nothing and I think I would be happy with either of those options. However, I think if PopCap released a PC or Xbox native version of the game I might stick with it a lot longer. Not saying that I’ll spend any money on the game, but it certainly is tempting some days.

(Read Part 2 here)

No tag for this post.