Thursday, February 19, 2004

Games for Non-Gamers
Somehow, I have managed to become friends with predominantly computer science majors, or at least computer science/math/hard science oriented people. Maybe it's a sort of symbiotic relationship, with my exposure to them allowing me to learn all sorts of science stuff that's deadly boring otherwise by osmosis, and I keep them practicing their ability to communicate with the technologically-impaired. Works for me. It means my computer always works and they all think I'm smart because I can speak Spanish.

The other side of this is that all of my friends read a lot of sci-fi (yay! me, too!) and play a *lot* of video games and RPGs (not me so much). I did grow up in the Nintendo generation, and I rock at Tetris and Super Mario World on the old school GameBoy, but I never felt the need to move beyond that. I have played role-playing games, and one was even a good one with my friend Matt as the GM, which is generally accepted as the mark of a well-run game, but in the end, I'd rather read a book than "participate" in the plot. I never was a fan of "choose your own adventure" things.

Last year, during some of my ocassionally excessive free time at work, Will got me hooked on reading Penny Arcade. Even though I don't care about playing the games, Tycho is a most entertaining writer, when he and Gabe start bickering they are hilarious, and by reading the news posts and associated comics, I actually ocassionally sounds like I know what I'm talking about when the subject of games comes up (frequently). At the very least, I know what other people are talking about.

Anyway, the point is I spend a lot of time watching other people play video games. My time spent doing this has increased exponentially since the introduction of an XBox into our abode. Hence, I now present two game reviews from the perspective of a person who will never play them.

Deus Ex: Invisible War
Mark loved this game. He spent hours filling me in on the plot of the first game, just so he could then explain why the reference back to the previous game in the new game he had just seen was funny. I didn't mind, because Mark's an amusing guy, which is why I keep him around. Really, I liked this game, too, for entirely different reasons. First, I am a very visual person, and this game panders to those who like their eye candy. I always found games with movie quality cut-scenes sprinkled amongst the ugly game rendering really irritating. Maybe they solved this problem long ago and I'm dating myself by saying that, but whatever. Deus Ex doesn't have this problem. The animation is just as good in the regular game play as it is in the cut scenes. The complexity of the multiple storylines was fun even for a person not playing to follow.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Mark is currently playing this game. It annoys me. A lot. The art isn't as good. The camera view is third person, rather than first, which means it kind of floats around behind the main character, so you get to see her all the time. (Mark chose the female scout character, but all females of any ability or race have the same body with a different head attached.) And she's irritating. I hate to say it, but whoever did the art on her was either a man with fantasies, or a woman shamelessly pandering to men with fantasies. As kick-ass as the female main character may be, whenever she stops moving, she adopts a hipshot and swaybacked position, calculated to show off her chest and hips as much as possible. As a person of the female persuasion myself, I can tell you it's a really stupid way to stand, particularly if you're about to start fighting, and uncomfortable to boot. When she walks, she looks like a robot mincing on high heels, trying to get the maximum swing out of her hips and rear. Also, said rear is shaded wrong, so it appears disproportionately big from behind, but fine from the side. The only way to make the character move like a human being is to make her run everywhere.

Then there's the voice acting. In the Star Wars universe, as I'm sure we all know, there are many different races of aliens, and they all have their own language. Some of them have kindly learned English, or Galactic Basic, or whatever it is. However, all of the extra, unimportant characters you run into from the same race have the same voice actor, so it's like you talk to the same person over and over and over again. Whether he's a slimy merchant or an honest person begging for your help, he has the same intonation. This is much worse when you are talking to someone who speaks an alien language, because they only ever bothered to record 3 phrases in each language. These 3 phrases just get played over and over in succession, no matter what translation shows up on your screen. Any time the main character engages in a lengthy dialogue, it's like hearing a broken record that's horribly out of sync with what the words appearing on the screen want you to believe is being said. There's one mission in which you discover a stowaway on your ship, and you have to figure out her language because it is non-standard. That's one of your action choices, "Try to figure out language." So I actually tried, until I realized they were completely unrelated. If I could have gotten Mark to do it, I would have turned off the sound on this game long ago.

I'm not totally dissing the game. It's got some good stuff going on in the plot, but the sound annoys me so much, I frequently have to leave the room for my sanity. I don't think LucasArts is likely to hire me for the publicity department any time soon.

So there you go, some totally useless information. Enjoy!

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