Saturday, 6 February 2010

Enkindle this (aka your Mass Effect 2 mini-review)

The sequel to Mass Effect has arrived and after about 10 days with the game I can honestly say that on virtually every dimension, ME2 is superior to its predecessor. Combat has been made a lot better; the decryption and electronics “mini-games” are much more engaging than playing Simon with the A-B-Y-Z buttons on the controller; and the voice acting and animation is a step up from the original. Overall the game definitely is more polished than its predecessor and feels more complete. After a short adjustment to the “new” rules of the ME universe, I found I really didn’t miss the elements of gameplay that were reduced or simplified.

Comparing two play-throughs of the game based on different saves from ME1, I could definitely feel a more ominous sense of Things To Come based on the differences in my actions in the two “pasts”; the consequences of past actions do not affect the main plot of ME2 drastically, but I have the sense that some of Shepard’s actions in the fight against Saren and Sovereign in ME1 will have major consequences in the third installment, as well as Shepard’s actions in ME2 of course.

ME2 definitely reflects its creators’ intentions to have a “darker” middle section of the trilogy; in particular, the lines of morality are blurred much more than in ME1 (where the only arguably morally-dubious “Paragon” choice was the decision to free the last of the rachni), and certainly what might be good for the galaxy doesn’t always align with what is right for Shepard. In the various missions you have to wrestle with the morality of taking actions to rectify past morally-dubious actions by others. If one faction seeks to impose its vision of Truth on another, is it morally acceptable to turn the tables on them and impose a different vision? Should a species that was mistakenly “elevated” without its consent be hobbled until that species’ people can mature sufficiently to deal with the technological advances that fell in their laps? Should a major piece of enemy technology be left intact for one particular race’s ethically-challenged black ops organization to discover its secrets, perhaps to be used not against the civilized galaxy’s common foe but for more immediate political advantage?

I would be remiss if I didn’t also discuss the humor that Bioware stuck in the game, including (but not limited to) self-deprecation about the excruciating elevator rides in ME1, a 22nd century take on Dirty Harry, an alien scientist who performs Gilbert and Sullivan, and ads for probably the worst production of Hamlet in recorded history. I laughed myself silly several times during the game; sometimes, it was because of something Shepard did (or a squadmate’s response to it), while other times it was just something bizarre overheard in the background—random banter between bystanders, for example.

My only quibbles thus far would be with the planet scanning part of the game (I don’t mind having to gather resources, but you’d think your multi-billion credit starship’s AI could scan for minerals on its own much faster than I could), the inability to revisit some of the interesting locations from ME1 (leading to some rather improbable coincidental encounters with important folks from those locations at other ports-of-call), and a sense that some locations just needed to be grander in scope—even some of the interesting places you visit are sealed once you complete missions in those areas, so you can’t really go and see what difference your actions made. I also miss a bit of the “party banter” from the previous game; given the much larger combination of squadmates possible for missions (and the lack of elevator rides for banter to take place), however, it’s understandable.

But the quibbles are more than offset by the positives of the game. ME2 was definitely top value for my entertainment dollar.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Memo to colleagues: I will be out sick for a week in early 2010

Mass Effect 2 has officially been announced for the PC and XBox 360. Hopefully this time Bioware will be spared the fake controversy that arose last time with the original Mass Effect, but then again maybe the fake controversy will help sell games.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Bleep this

Just for the record, Mass Effect is not Luke Skywalker meets Debbie Does Dallas. Besides which, after playing ME for over a day (including seven hours wandering aimlessly in the Mako and three hours riding up and down elevators) to get to the minute of dirty bits, you deserve to be rewarded with something for your perseverance… but there’s nothing there you didn’t see on NYPD Blue in 1995, at least in the sexual realm.

In other words, being a kickass space marine is pretty darn cool, but you’re not exactly getting Hot Coffee (warning: Wikipedia article with possibly NSFW image) at the end.

Edited to slightly rephrase my thoughts on the matter.

Tuesday, 27 June 2006

Steve saves me $50

Steve at Begging to Differ has played NFL Head Coach and gives it a pretty blistering negative review. At least the football gaming blahs will be over in three weeks after the release of NCAA Football 07. At least… I hope so.

Tuesday, 12 October 2004

Rating the D&D monsters

The Book of Ratings rates the first edition D&D monsters. The beholder received the highest rating, an A+. The shrieker received the lowest rating, a D.

Unfortunately, they confined themselves to critters from the original Monster Manual. I'd like to see their ratings of monsters from the original Fiend Folio, such as the flumph.

Thursday, 12 August 2004

Boardgaming group article in CA

The local group that I play boardgames with, the Memphis Strategy Boardgaming Community was the subject of a writeup in today’s Commercial Appeal (reg. required).

The accompanying picture is of Joe, Alan, and me posing in front of a Settlers of Catan board. (We actually played Modern Art that evening.) That’s me in the hat, and the drink in my hand is Maker’s Mark.

Sunday, 1 August 2004

Modern Art

I’ve posted a review of Reiner Knizia’s game Modern Art at Settling Catan.

Wednesday, 14 July 2004


I’ve posted a review of the game Ra at Settling Catan.

Saturday, 10 July 2004

Memoir '44

I’ve posted a review of Memoir '44, a boardgame about the Allied Invasion of Normandy, at Settling Catan.

Friday, 2 July 2004

El Grande

Monday, 28 June 2004

Settling Catan

I, along with a couple of friends from the Memphis Strategy Board Games Community, have started a new boardgaming blog, Settling Catan.

So far, we’ve got a repeat of a Signifying Nothing post by me, reviewing Princes of Florence, and a review of Die Macher, a game of German electoral politics.

Expect more game reviews, thoughts on game strategy, and musings on what makes a good board game in the near future!

Tuesday, 22 June 2004

Genesis of a gaming geek

Vincent Baker confesses how he got started playing role-playing games:

When I was 8 or 9 I was playing Zork on my uncle's new Atari 800 with a couple friends, and we dug it. At some point we wanted to play it but we weren't at my uncle's house, so I volunteered to "be the computer." We even played it text-based! I'd write a description, pass the notebook, my friends would read it and write their actions, I'd write the results. We kept that up for a while, actually, several sessions, before we figured out that we could just talk instead.

He’s got me out-geeked. (Link via Jim Henley.)

Saturday, 15 May 2004

Princes of Florence

I played two games of Princes of Florence this afternoon at Cafe Francisco downtown.

The theme of the game is Medici-era Florence, and the goal of the game is to gain the most prestige, which you get by building a magnificent Palazzo, with lots of buildings and landscapes, and by commissioning works from artisans, artists, and scholars.

Turns in the game consist of two phases, an auction phase and an action phase. In the auction phase, players bid to add landscapes to their Palazzo and hire architects and jesters. In the action phase, players build buildings and commission works. Each artisan, artist, and scholar has a preferred type of building to work in, a preferred type of landscape for recretation, and a preferred freedom (travel, opinion, or religion), which makes the works they produce more valuable.

There are three things about this game that make it one of my favorites.

First, the auction mechanic acts as a natural balancing mechanism for the game. There can be no consistent winning strategy for the game. If there were a winning strategy, everyone would pursue it in the auction phase, bidding up the value of the items. This would give an advantage to anyone not pursuing that strategy, since they could buy the items they need cheaply.

Second, the game appeals to the amateur economist in me, since it illustrates so well the concept of opportunity cost. Each player can only buy one item in each turn’s auction, so even if you get a good deal on, e.g., hiring a jester, you might have gotten a better deal on hiring an architect. The game is won by getting a better deal than everyone else at the auction.

Third, the goal of the game illustrates Aristotle’s virtue of magnificence. It’s good to earn money, but only because it lets you do great things with it.

If you live in the Memphis area and would like to play Princes of Florence or other strategy board games, you should sign up for the Memphis Strategy Board Gaming Community Yahoo group. We meet to play games at least twice a month, once in downtown or midtown, and once out east.

Monday, 5 April 2004

MidSouthCon 22

It’s taken a week for me to get around to posting about it, after a lightning strike fried a modem, a hub, and a network card, leaving chez Sides with only one fully functional computer, but last weekend I attended MidSouthCon 22 here in Memphis.

Unlike previous years, when I spent most of my time playing D&D, this year I spent most of my time playing and running board games: Settlers of Catan, Princes of Florence, Ra, Pirate’s Cove, and New England.

I ran a game of Settlers of Catan that Mark from the Conservative Zone played in.

I also extended my collection of dragon art with a print of Cherry Blossom by Maia Sanders, part of her “Dragon Garden” series. I wish I’d picked up a print of Black Pine as well. They would make a nice pair.

Saturday, 14 February 2004

Blegging for Go players

If you live in the Memphis area, and would be willing to teach a beginner (i.e. me) how to play Go, please contact me.

Friday, 2 January 2004

Bourbon blogging

Forget this wine blogging fad. Will Baude is bourbon blogging. He recommends Jim Beam Black, and provides a Manhattan recipe.

I don’t know about this Manhattan business, since I drink mine on the rocks. But I’ll put in a plug for W. L. Weller Special Reserve. It’s an excellent buy at about $17 a bottle at Joe’s Liquor in Midtown Memphis. It goes well with a game of Settlers of Catan, which is how I spent New Year’s Eve.

Sunday, 30 November 2003

What I want for Christmas

An ancient Roman 20-sided die (circa 2nd century), with astrological symbols on each face, is being auctioned off at Christie’s.

Estimated going price, $4000-6000.

Now that would be an impressive die to pull out of the obligatory Crown Royal bag at MidSouthCon 22.