Need for Speed (2015) – Getting Personal

nfs2015-0

Prologue

The Video Games landscape over the course of just the past five years has changed immensely, and not just due to the introduction of two new core platforms (Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One) but also as a result of a move towards altering its basic focus.

That sort of evolution is not strange to this subculture and the people who make up its citizens.  If you are surprised by my use of words like “citizens” and “subculture” perhaps you are not as deeply invested into the social side of gaming as you think.  Because in most respects the VG Community as a whole and the many specialized groups that essentially make up its defined subcultures are every bit a culture-based society of its own within the greater entity that we think of as human society.

That was not always true.

When the first Video Games War happened in the mid 1980s as the value and the quality of the games that were being created and sold was called into question by its own community, the idea that a cultural identity might be formed from something like a Video Game community was certainly not what might be said as a normal evolution.

In Japan they have this expression - the nail that sticks up gets pounded down.  What it means is that choosing to conform is often the best way to survive and even advance.

In Japan they have this expression – the nail that sticks up gets pounded down. What it means is that choosing to conform is often the best way to survive and even advance.

But as other media-based movements began to morph into their own basic cultural and social identities, the cataclysm that resulted from what we now consider to be the first Video Games War of the 20th Century ended up creating the sort of circumstances that naturally opened the door for just that sort of development.

To be blunt, gamers were angry over the process of creating what amounts to Shovel-Ware as cheap and fundamentally broken games were foisted off upon the game consumer community using tactics like misleading advertisements and worse, outright lies that were planted as reviews and/or social commentary at the time that totally misrepresented the substance of what the games were…  All of that had a decidedly hostile consequence with the community eventually turning against the bulk of the studios who were responsible for creating those circumstances.

Taking a look back, what we now know today thanks to the benefits of hindsight is that the publishers rather than the development studios were largely responsible for the decisions to push broken or shoddily made games onto the gaming public – publishers whose interest was solely and narrowly focused upon boosting the black ink contained in the bottom line in order to appease their shareholders.

When you add into that unfortunate reality the very obvious disconnect that existed between the publishers of the games and the studios that crafted them – and then factor in an even larger disconnect between both the development studios and the publishers with their collective relations to the Gamer Community, it gets a lot easier to understand both how it happened and why it resulted in the scorched-earth war.

In the plainest terms, the one side had no clue what the other wanted from their games, and in fact it can be pretty clearly pointed out now that the nearly violent reaction – the First VG War – was absolutely necessary because it was that level of reaction that was required to make the developers fully aware of just how badly they were disappointing their customer base.

Conformity is why there are plenty of supercars and expensive sports cars in the game.  That is expected and, in many cases, spending the time, effort, and the money to obtain this sort of conformity is also expected - if you only wish to appear to be a racer.   The genuine article however tends to choose their rails carefully, picking the best tool for the job - and rarely is that best tool a 911 - more often than not the best tool is a more common one - like setting up a Volvo as a Drift Specialist Car.

Conformity is why there are plenty of supercars and expensive sports cars in the game. That is expected and, in many cases, spending the time, effort, and the money to obtain this sort of conformity is also expected – if you only wish to appear to be a racer. The genuine article however tends to choose their rails carefully, picking the best tool for the job – and rarely is that best tool a 911 – more often than not the best tool is a more common one – like setting up a Volvo as a Drift Specialist Car.

That this conflict resulted in the majority of those development studios being forced out of business alone illustrates how serious the disconnect was, and why it needed to be fixed.

Put another way, the game development studios, taking their leads from the game publishers, were pumping out what amounts to the home-console equivalent to the type of games that were popular in the arcades and bars – the games that were being installed in coin-operated video game arcade machines basically.

The problem with that was, by the mid-1980s the gaming community had matured beyond that sort of focus, and was no longer interested in what was basically a recreation of arcade games for home play.

If a gamer wanted to play an arcade-style game, they would seek those games out in their favorite watering holes or video game arcades – and they DID on a regular basis.

But thanks to some ground-breaking RPG and Action-Adventure games that were created and released through the mid-80s that same gamer community now understood and – what is more – appreciated – what their home gaming consoles could REALLY offer.

So the idea of basically being offered recycled arcade genre drivel on a routine basis not only made them angry, it made the community feel (rightly as it turned out) that they were both being taken for granted and being told what to like.

Taking the job into consideration, if we were choosing the tool we would use for targeting just the Drift Events in the game, that tool would not be a supercar, or sports car, it would be something like this Mustang.  Large, heavy, box-shaped, but fully adaptable.  A car whose basic construction lends itself to solving the problem we wish to solve so that we do not have to completely re-invent the wheel to make that happen.  Just saying...

Taking the job into consideration, if we were choosing the tool we would use for targeting just the Drift Events in the game, that tool would not be a supercar, or sports car, it would be something like this Mustang. Large, heavy, box-shaped, but fully adaptable. A car whose basic construction lends itself to solving the problem we wish to solve so that we do not have to completely re-invent the wheel to make that happen. Just saying…

It got so bad in the end – before the war settled all of that – that a typical video game release had to make ALL of its profits from sales in the first 72 hours following release to the streets, because that was about how long it took for world-of-mouth to basically out a crappy game and kill its sales.

Logically the only possible solution to this situation – and the proper one as it turned out – was to stop making crap games and start to really put in the effort to both seek out what the community wanted, and then deliver that.

So in the end around 80% of the development studios that existed prior to the First VG War were forced out of business not by consumers choosing to boycott them (though they did do that) but rather as the direct result of their inability to change their business models to match the new economic imperative that had developed.

That is to say they did not have the capability to actually innovate – to create new games utilizing a previously established pattern that offered the consumer a larger ratio of entertainment versus cost.  Man that sounds so unlikely, but it was true.  The development studios were so used to picking a handful of elements from a list and then putting together a game whose sole creative elements came down to the colors that were chosen for the palate and whether or not some objects in a game blinked that they found themselves in a rut that offered no exits.

What was true then – and remains true – is that a good idea did not necessarily equate to a good game.  So when a developer managed to create a good game – which meant a commercially viable and successful titles that the consumers of that product actually liked – the decision to begin cranking out sequels really was not a decision at all – it was called a business model!

Now granted, when a sequel was rushed to the market the chances were that it was going to be lower in quality and entertainment than the original, but sometimes that was not true.  The Donkey Kong series is a great example of that – though to be fair Rare and Nintendo did not rush games to market as a general rule – sequel or not.

Still you get the idea – the quality and value of games went up, gamers were happy, and the game culture began to solidify into multiple sub-types based on things like platform and genre.

Practical very rarely equates to the use of words like "sexy" or "intimidating" but then, when you are building a drift car, or a sprinter, what you really want are words like "tight" and "fluid" and "efficient" because in the end the point is not to look good while you race, the point is to transfer energy as rapidly and efficiently as possible between your engine and those big, fat, sticky contact patches that attach your rail to the road.

“Practical” very rarely equates to the use of words like “sexy” or “intimidating” but then, when you are building a drift car, or a sprinter, what you really want are words like “tight” and “fluid” and “efficient” because in the end the point is not to look good while you race, the point is to transfer energy as rapidly and efficiently as possible between your engine and those big, fat, sticky contact patches that attach your rail to the road.

It was all good – some really great gamer series were the result, and from the late 1980s onward there was something of a gaming renaissance in play.

When The Need for Speed arrived on the scene it contained a collection of ideas that really resonated with the gamers of the time, and naturally the wizards behind the game saw great potential for it, as a game series.

For a long time – nearly a decade – the games that were being produced really worked well – they followed the basic pattern that the original had established, and they offered a predictable and quality game play and entertainment experience.

At some point though, as the original wizards were replaced by new and younger ones, the path that they had been following became confused.  Their direction was off, and eventually it got really off.  The format or formula, call it what you will, basically became a muddled idea that anything that involved racing cars was basically okay.  Sort of like what we imagine the situation was when the wizards behind Battlefield came up with Battlefield Hardline.  Just saying…

So when the decision was eventually made that it was time for the Need for Speed series to return to its roots, that involved far more than simply the creation of a great game following the original path.  It involved first seeing if it was even possible to convince the players that the wizards had the ability to do that!

So that is where they were when they sat down to chart out the path to bring Need for Speed (2015) to market.

The wide variety of models in 2015 allows for economical approaches to tings like setting up a bespoke car.  Using models like the 1975 Vovlo 242 and 1965 Ford Mustang for dedicated drifters, the 1986 Toyota Sprinter GT APEX and 1996 Nissan 180sx Type X for medium range sprinting, and the 1971 Nissan Fairlady 240ZG or 2014 Didge Challenger SRT8 for longer range Circuit Racing.  Sure you can buy more expensive models, but these hit the mark on a budget!

The wide variety of models in 2015 allows for economical approaches to tings like setting up a bespoke car. Using models like the 1975 Vovlo 242 and 1965 Ford Mustang for dedicated drifters, the 1986 Toyota Sprinter GT APEX and 1996 Nissan 180sx Type X for medium range sprinting, and the 1971 Nissan Fairlady 240ZG or 2014 Dodge Challenger SRT8 for longer range Circuit Racing. Sure you can buy more expensive models, but these hit the mark on a budget!

Need for Speed (2015)

By the time that the game released in November of 2015 the hype that had been generated around it, and the very dedicated and genuine efforts of the PRs who were behind promoting it, had succeeded in the most important parts of what it was they had been hired to accomplish.

They had, in essence, managed to communicate to the gaming public that this new game was both a reboot of the original game series, and that it would offer players the sort and caliber of game play that they not only missed but had come to expect from the series – and so found each of the last half-dozen games in the series to be disappointments because of those expectations.

That is simply amazing.  And not just because it seems reasonable that the wizards behind the games had to pretty much KNOW that was happening, but rather amazing because even though they KNEW that reaction was likely as they crafted and released game after game that failed to include the basic premise that the gamer community expected – but they CONTINUED to create those diverted games anyway!

Think about that for a moment will you?  They managed to so broadly alter the very basic identity of the game series so badly that by the time they got around to working on a series reboot, they had to PAY their Public Relations reps to explain to the gaming public that this new game was NOT going to disappoint them!  Mind blowing.  Simply mind blowing.

The typical mid-80s hot hatch never really looked boss or anything, but they were wicked fun to drive and hey, they got the job done.  Fast.  From a standing start.  A lot.

The typical mid-80s hot hatch never really looked boss or anything, but they were wicked fun to drive and hey, they got the job done. Fast. From a standing start. A lot.

Here There Be Dragons

When the game arrived – and for us that came in the form of a Digital Key that we needed to enter into our Xbox One to unlock a license for the game and then download it from the LIVE service – we were pretty pumped up because the PRs had managed to successfully communicate to us that this new reboot title would not simply revert the game series back to the style and substance we had come to associate with it, but would in effect give us a game play experience that was if not identical to that of the game that first established the series, was at least similar enough so as to make the difference inconsequential.

So by the time the game fully downloaded and patched, we were good and damn ready to be pleased.  Know what?  The game actually delivers on that promise and, even more important, despite being handicapped by the inclusion of a large amount of more recent game play mechanisms, also delivers a level of play, entertainment, and excitement that almost made the last five years of drivel worth it!

Easing our way into NFS 2015 was a complicated and rather slow process, largely because the expectations of disappointment kept getting in the way.

Once we managed to convince the little voices in our head that this was, in fact, NOT going to be the morphed interpretation of a combination of Hot Pursuit, Unleashed, and Wanted, we were able to start judging the game on its own merits, and folks, it has a lot to say for itself.

Making it Our Own?

One of the points to the evolution of the video game as entertainment that really stands out is how well it integrates its own story and game play mech while meeting certain personal expectations that are near-universal among the gaming community.

What I mean by that is actually pretty simple – this is a street-racing game within which the primary components are the streets, and the cars.

That being the case – and admittedly we had hopes – the ultimate expression of success in this case would be the ability for the player to not only find in the catalog of cars in the game one of their favorite models, but also have the ability to customize it.  And all that?  It is here.

Often times when writing a post like this it helps to present an example – so as to make it clear that those warm and fuzzy feelings of satisfaction are in fact based upon some real experience rather than, you know, a hypothetical one?

She was not sexy - look at that rear why don't you?  That said, and maybe she does have a flat butt, even so the '86 Trueno could fly like a scalded dog!

She was not sexy – look at that rear why don’t you? That said, and maybe she does have a flat butt, even so the ’86 Trueno could fly like a scalded dog!

1986 Toyota Sprinter GT APEX

In the 1980s there were a lot of cars that certainly qualified as performance examples – and just like any era you might care to designate, there were cars that ended up being slightly or greatly more popular than others.

In 1980s Australia (which is where I was and grew up) the go-fast choo-choo cars of the era that you often read about in race magazines about the street racing scene in Cali were mostly restricted to a small list of really expensive rails that nobody actually had in Oz.  Corvettes, Camaros, Porches, and the like, which hey, we would have LOVED to have but reality bites.

No, what you found in Oz – and I suspect that this was also true about America, the UK, and Europe – was a more reserved list of cars – mostly the sort that doubled as your daily transportation when you were not taking them out on the weekend to race them.

What am I talking about?  Well, this list is pretty representative of what you often found at the time on the street, actually racing:

  • Alfa Romeo Alfasud
  • Audi 5000CS Turbo Quattro
  • BMW M3 E30
  • BMW M5 E28
  • Ford Falcon XP
  • Holden VL Calais Director
  • Honda Civic Si
  • Honda CRX HF
  • Honda Prelude
  • Lancia Delta Integrale
  • Lancia Delta S4 Stradale
  • Mazda RX7
  • Mini Cooper
  • Nissan 240SX
  • Nissan Z31 300ZX Fairlady
  • Peugeot 205 GTi
  • Saab 900 Turbo
  • Subaru GL-10 Turbo
  • Subaru GL Brat
  • Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno
  • Toyota W10 MR2
  • Volkswagen Golf Mk1 GTI

From that list there was a handful of cars I truly liked.  In fact one car in particular I both liked but could never quite manage to afford – and that was the 1986 Toyota AE86 Sprinter Trueno.  Yeah, compared to some of the cars that came later it was really more of a bare-bones racer than the jewel in the crown, but the heart wants what the heart wants.  And my heart wanted a Trueno!

With a base sticker price of $65,200 the '15 Ford Mustang GT is not exactly what we would call a mid-priced sports car and certainly she is not an entry-level model, but  her stock-standard 5.0L Ti-VCT V8 automatically qualifies her as a certified production-class   Muscle Car.  If you choose to bypass the dealer options and order her from the factory with the optional 5.2L V8 via the Shelby Conversion package you get 526 hp with 429 lb.-ft. of torque straight from the production line.  Sweet right?

With a base sticker price of $65,200 the ’15 Ford Mustang GT is not exactly what we would call a mid-priced sports car and certainly she is not an entry-level model, but her stock-standard 5.0L Ti-VCT V8 automatically qualifies her as a certified production-class
Muscle Car.  If you choose to bypass the dealer options and order her from the factory with the optional 5.2L V8 via the Shelby Conversion package you get 526 hp with 429 lb.-ft. of torque straight from the production line. Sweet right?

So you can imagine how stoked I was to discover that exact car among the catalog of cars available in the game.

From the get go I started out with a 2014 Subaru BRZ Premium – as that was the starter car I liked best from the three that I had to choose from.  Using that car I began doing races to get the bank I would need not only to buy me a Trueno, but then to afford to upgrade it.

I have reached that point in my game play.  I am happy – thrilled!  Tickled!  Very pleased?  To tell you that I now proudly race the following go-fast choo-choo Trueno:

1986 Toyota Sprinter GT APEX

Its performance specs are:

  • 0-60 mph (s) — 4.53s
  • 0-100 mph (s) — 9.67s
  • 1/4 mile (s) / (mph) — 12.70s @ 119
  • Top Speed (mph) — 166
  • Horsepower (hp) — 353
  • Max Torque (ft-lb) — 255

Bearing in mind that I am only Level 13 at this point and so am quite limited as to the kit I can buy, its present very winning load-out in kit and upgrades consists of:

  • Air Filter: Short RAM Air Intake.
  • Cooling System: Intercooler w/h 26 x 6.
  • Intake Manifold: Aftermarket Edition.
  • Fuel System: High Performance Fuel Injectors.
  • Forced Induction: Turbocharger EliteTune-TC2-B-PRO.
  • Electric System: Aftermarket Wiring.
  • Ignition: Stock.
  • ECU: Sport ECU Flash.
  • Engine Block: Elite TUning Ported Block v.2.
  • CAM Shaft: Aftermarket Sport Plus Elite 4 243 int / 283 exh.
  • Cylinder Heads: Sport Plished.
  • Exhaust Manifold: Sport EL Manifold.
  • Exhaust: Sport Catted Race Exhaust.
  • Clutch: Sport Clutch w/0.4s gear change time.
  • Nitrous System: 5lb Capacity Time Refill.
  • Suspension: Semi-Adjustable Sport Suspension.
  • Differential: Semi-Adjustable Sport Differential.
  • Tires: E/T-G2-MID-GRP SpeedHunters.
  • Brakes: Semi-Adjustable Sport Brakes.
  • Handbrake: Semi-Adjustable Sport Handbrakes.
  • Sway Bars: Semi-Adjustable Sport Sway Bars.

That is way beyond just respectible mind you – heck in the 1980s if you had told me that I would be able to get 252 Horsepower in that configuration I would have been like ?!  As in what the heck could I possible need that much for?!  What else HAD that much?!

I still think that using the right tool for the right job is the way to go - so if you are setting up a bespoke drifter for tight and twisty mountain roads you could do a lot worse than this one.

I still think that using the right tool for the right job is the way to go – so if you are setting up a bespoke drifter for tight and twisty mountain roads you could do a lot worse than this one.

And the thing is I would totally have better specs for this ride if I was just ten levels higher in XP because why?  Because the really good kit is Level-Locked!

In My Other Life

In addition to being a freelance writer who works the business and tech beats, I also write extensively on the video games beat as both a game guide and walkthrough writer, industry news journalist, and video game reviewer – yeah I know, getting paid to play video games, cool right?

That said, I reviewed Need for Speed (2015) for the Cape Cod Times – if you would like to see what my impressions of the game were in the review arena, head on over and check out the review at the following online link:

The Game On Review of Need for Speed (2015)

 

Halo MCC: Achievements Run Amok

Before we jump right in to the subject of this post I wanted to explore my special feelings for the word “Amok:” which, being one of those special words that sounds very different from how it is written – and how significant it is to expression an idea accurately.

The Word “Amok”

The word first entered popular usage in both English and Spanish in the mid 17th century, and its roots can be found in the original Malay word mengamuk – which is defined as “rushing with great frenzy”.

The origin is significant for a number of reasons, not the least being the general atmosphere for highly educated and verbally articulate members of society at the time.

Perhaps more significant (at least in terms of its strategic use in debate) is the fact that it contains specific emotional and even religious connotations.  It is fair to characterize Amok as being similar to the original meaning of Berserk, the two words sharing a fanatical religious origin.

It certainly helped in increasing the popularity of these strange words and ideas that there  was something in the atmosphere then that was very much like that of the habitual collector – and when we say “habitual collector” we are tactfully saying they horde… That comment requires some explaining…

In the mid-17th century the world was rapidly growing smaller, and not simply because everyone and their brother was outfitting small merchant vessels for exploration and trade, dispatching them to the far flung corners of the earth in the hopes of discovering some very specific goals that were widely believed to exist.

Around 1 in every 5 of these expeditions actually returned, and of the roughly 20% that completed a successful voyage, perhaps 1 in 10 returned with the fortune in goods and spices that their benefactors hoped for.  Dismal odds to be sure!

The European exploration of the Pacific during this era was largely inspired by four obsessions: (1) finding a faster and safer route to India by sailing into the sunset; (2) finding the fastest and most productive routes to the spice-rich islands of the Moluccas.

In addition to those two important considerations, there was (3) finding undiscovered sources for cash crops like cocoa beans (which recently gripped the continent in a vice-like habit of taking in the news – and the newest beverage of the elite – whipped chocolate); and finally (4) locating the route to the vast and as-yet undiscovered massive southern continent that simply MUST exist in the South Pacific waters!

A fifth consideration actually existed – though this one was what we might call a fringe element today, and was not widely embraced by nations or the leaders of city-states, and that is that the origins of social culture and wisdom originated not in Africa, but in the South Pacific!

Specifically it was thought that if an island so small and isolated as Greece might produce learned men such as Thales of Miletus, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and Plato, what might the islands of the South Pacific offer?

Fame and Fortune via Patronage

The consequences of this rapid exploration though mostly unscientific was new opportunities presented to the naturalist and natural scientists of the era – men (and with rare exception a few women) who could go to the New World, spend six months collecting seeds, drawing plants, and classifying them, taking samples back with them to England or one of the more affluent European city-states.

A system of fashionable collectors and patronage existed that basically meant that any natural scientist who managed to defy the odds and get their new collection of notes, seeds, and best of all, live plants — back home — could depend upon widespread support to the extent that certain collectors of botany and keepers of rare plants would fight over who got to purchase that new flower!

Now add to that environment a subset of scholar-patrons whose interest fell in both the preservation AND the inclusion of languages, lore, history, and the like, and you can easily see how all of those language books, history books, and basic travel guides ended up being published.

To help explain the thought patterns of the era and color-in the personalities and how that all came together try to accept that for these wealthy sorts who considered themselves the patrons to the natural sciences, any triumph for one of the many natural scientists, biologists, linguists, and scholars that THEY supported was widely accepted as reflected glory for THEM.

So you see, when the book was published it did not simply contain a dedication to Mssr. Ronald Smythe-Blunt, Patron, but was credited as published by that patron.  So shared glory was largely the currency of the realm in terms of fame at the time.  Today we have YouTube.

You have to remember that this was a period roughly 75 years BEFORE Carl Linnaeus appeared on the scene and delivered his significant influence on the great value of learning and classifying the discoveries one makes in both the world and natural sciences!  More on that in a moment…

First though, consider this: the Javanese language was virtually unknown in contemporary and learned society outside of the small community of naturalists whose hobby-slash-profession included exploring the mysterious corners of the world, and what was at that time considered to be the last truly great mysteries – the South Pacific Islands.

While very few readers could tell you where the islands upon which these amazing words and ideas might be heard, words like Amok very rapidly entered the lexicon largely due to their colorful nature and a shared desire to be able to speak influentially.  That last bit was very important to the learned and those who thought that they were learned.

Amok Amok Amok!

The early use of the word – and the reason that it so quickly caught on – was as a noun denoting a Malay who was in the grip of a homicidal frenzy and on the attack.  Several very popular (read that commercially successful) exploration adventure books (these were a specific sort of adventure book that were a mixture of non-fiction and fiction, very heavily embellished and, prior to the mid 17th century, largely focused upon the dark continent (Africa).

You could do no better in scoring social points – and particularly among the diverse collection of psuedo intellectuals to be found in coffee and chocolate houses – to win an argument using a real word that was so new your opponent lacked the basic comprehension to know HOW to respond to you when you used it – and so words like “Amok” soon became the .44 Magnum Bullets of the day for personal dueling.

It may help you to understand why this was so powerful a phrase to consider that by its very definition an episode in which the person has run Amok was normally thought to end with the attacker being killed — either by bystanders or by committing suicide – and thus you can see how colorful it stands as a way to paint an adversary as being on the route to a Pyrrhic victory.

So Where is This Taking Us?

When Halo: The Master Chief Collection (hereinafter called Halo: MCC) was announced the fact that it was to include FOUR major game titles under ONE roof was not lost on the gamer community in general, or Halo fans specifically.

It did not take long following the announce for speculation to begin on how the Achievements would be handled.

It was widely accepted that the games would probably get a brand new Achievement scheme, one that combined game play rather than isolating it.  Oh man was that off target!

Not only did the wizards who were creating this new package opt to retain the original Achievements Scheme, they did so with no apologies offered – to the tune of 500 Achievements worth a total of 5000g (!!)

500 @ 5000g

Those two numbers are so large that they deserve some examination.  The first point is there is no way to use the traditional display system on either the Xbox 360 OR the Xbox One to set and display them.  There are simply too many.

As a result of this reality in place of the standard sliding row of Achievements what we received instead was a token sample in that format that, once the player actually moved to examine the remaining 95% of the Achievements was then forced into a PiP window in the form of a narrow column divided into two themes: Locked and Unlocked Achievements.

Okay that is not so bad really, and it is easily managed up to a point, for sure, but once you actually begin to dig into the first game (and most players pretty much started from the beginning) which is Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary (or Halo: CEA) a curious pattern emerged.

The typical player ended up STAYING in HCEA mode far longer than might otherwise be the case, largely as a result and consequence of the Achievements!

Put this another way – most players were loathe to move on from CEA until they had unlocked ALL of the Achievements that they felt they likely COULD unlock, for reasons (we suspect) that have more to do with the ungainly display scheme for Achievements than anything else.

Oddly enough – considering that WE do not play these games strictly for Achievements or adding ‘g’ to our score, we also found ourselves being influenced by precisely THOSE concerns!

So what does that look like?  Typically we mean? Consider that for JUST Halo: CEA there are 91 Achievements worth a total of 855g (those do NOT include the Common ones, of which there are 71 Achievements worth a total of 895g!)

Loitering for Achievements and ‘G’

Using Halo: CEA as our example, the Achievements Scheme for the game is structured as follows:

  • Common Achievements – G that applies to ALL of the games equally / cumulative activities.
  • Story: Level Completion – 10 Achievements worth a total of 100g.
  • Conditional: Par Times – 11 Achievements worth a total of 120g.
  • Conditional: Par Scores – 11 Achievements worth a total of 120g.
  • Conditional: Terminals – 11 Achievements worth a total of 70g.
  • Conditional: Skull Collection – 14 Achievements worth a total of 85g.
  • Conditional: Completion Difficulty Levels – 4 Achievements worth a total of 70g.

The remaining Achievements consist of a collection of conditional events as well as multi-player events that require some rather amazing commitment from the player to fully unlock.

Put it this way – in terms of TIME, the soonest that a player can complete unlocking the entire Achievements for Halo: CEA is around one (1) month (depending on the day of the month you begin) since one of the Achievements can only be unlocked on the 15th of a month.

Notes:

“Common” = Achievements that are shared among ALL of the games.
“Conditional”
= Achievements that require the player to do specific actions for set results.
“Skulls”
= A collection set that consists of Skull Objects that when used perform specific game mods.
“Story”
= Achievements that are unlocked as part of the Story Mode for Single / Multi-player and so cannot be missed.
“Terminals” = A collection set that when used triggers an external news and notification system.

So because of the diversity in the design of the Achievements – and the odd display scheme as well as organization – most players (particularly those who are into neat and orderly game play in terms of Achievements) quickly find that there is no way for it NOT to be messy!

Because of that we find that a lot of players end up opting to stick around in CEA until they have taken the unlocking as far as they reasonably can BEFORE moving on to the next game in the series, Halo 2, where they do precisely the same thing!

Is that strange or what?

Now that you understand that – and we have very well defined both the meaning and the origins for the word “Amok” – can you think of a better and more accurately descriptive word to use for this instance?  Because if you can, I would really sincerely like to know!

The Deed in Practice

Recently a reader emailed me asking if I actually really and genuinely DO the things I write about?  Now as I am a firm believer in full transparency it appears to me that the best way to demonstrate that I do, indeed, do the things I write about, I cordially invite you to verify that which I say!

You can accomplish this UN-style Trust but Verify policy by loading your favored Web Browser and pointing it at any of the following URLs:

You can also log into your Gamertag Account on Xbox Live (http://www.xbox.com/en-US/) then select the following:

  • Log In
  • Click the “Friends” Tab
  • Enter “Recnef” in the Search Box on the Friends Page

You are sincerely invited to “follow” me if you like but please do not send Friend requests (you can follow w/o doing that).  It is NOT that I do not want to be your friend mates, it is simply that I have run out of slots in the Friends Scheme and I cannot accept new friends.

I don’t want you to think I am ignoring your request but there is nothing I can do about it if you do send one.  Just saying.

Note: You will need to select View Xbox One Profile for the details on Halo: MCC…

Not only will you be able to verify my G and Gamerscore, but for most of the above you can see details on the different Achievements including data like the date it was unlocked, what it was worth, and the like.

Happily you can ALSO see my G in other games, and even compare YOUR status to mine if you like.  And how cool is that?

As you will quickly note, I do not speculate, but put into practice that which I write of!

The Agony of Decision – Little Slices of Improvement in Boom Beach

Life is full of little victories that are wrapped in large clinging blankets of boredom.  Luckily there is a mad angry midget with hand grenades taped to their bracers who shows up when you are least expecting them and does what they can to make life (please select all that apply):

(a) Exciting
(b) Frieghtening
(c) Terrifying
(d) Cloudy
(e) Require the assistance of an attorney
(f) Launch angry fathers into the room
(g) Misundertood
(h) All of the Above
(i) None of the Above
(j) Some of the Above – Pick what Works Best??

As a part-time rational adult (the details behind THAT little matter are part of a whole other story so you will just have to take my word for it for now) I recognize that my professional accomplishments fall outside of the norm.  When my wife sets up play-dates with other adults and we be social certain things tend to happen.

One of those things that invariably happens when we meet new people – or more often when I meet people who are new to me but who my wife already knows – part of the polite conversation involves them asking me what I do for a living, and then telling me what they do – always in that order.

The thing is I suspect that they already know what I do for a living – I am a writer – so what they are really asking is not so much what I do for a living, but how what I do for a living works.

When the person asking the question is female, their eyes tend to glaze-over as soon as I mention video games – no matter how I mention them.  If I happen to be in a reviewing frame of mind, Glazed Eyes.  Walk-through Guides?  Glazed Eyes.  Feature Pieces?  Yeah, glazed eyes.

Interestingly enough that is also true if I am in Techno-Geek Mode and share the details of that – but it is NOT true when I am covering Fashion Week in Manhattan.  Odd that.

But I am totally upfront about the fact that I am a whore, and I write where the money is.  Totally up front.

The odd thing is that the fact that I know things about fashion and particularly period fashion and haute couture has just the opposite effect on them – suddenly they are very interested in what I have to say about what I do.  Weird.

By they way, haute couture does not mean what you think it does…  A lot of guys think it either means high fashion or expensive bits of cloth masquerading as clothing – what it really means is high sewing, and is a French phrase that carries a lot more meaning in two simple words than English speakers are used to encountering in their phrases.

Now for guys it is a different story completely.  Their reaction is almost always an are-struck question like “Wait, so you get PAID to sit around and PLAY GAMES?!” and “You get FREE GAMES?!”

Here is the thing – and I hate to burst their bubble, but no, I don’t get paid to sit around and play games all day – I get paid to WRITE about games.  That whole playing part?  It represents only a tiny fraction of what I do and… Why are your eyes glazing over?

Boom Beach Business

One  of the games that I got paid to play and then write about is called Boom Beach – and it’s from the same code wizards – an outfit called SuperCell – who brought us Clash of Clans and Battle Buddies.  It is a mobile game of the battle sort, with hints of city-building and resource management.  In fact its game play style and cross-genre complication can easily be held out as a metaphor for video games journalism…

Here is the thing – under ordinary circumstances I download a game/app, play the hell out of it, then write about it.  Following THAT process, I delete the game, and never think about it again.  Unless an expansion is launched, in which case I then re-download the game and its new expansion, and start that process all over again.

In the case of Boom Beach something went wrong.  I never quite made it to the delete the game stage, and what is worse, I still spend 10 minutes or so playing it every day.

This has actually happened before…  Do you remember the app/games Camp Pokemon, SSG2 and Storm Casters?  Yeah I still play those as well…

With Boom Beach at least part of the reason I still play it has to do with the very time-intensive process of how you make progress in it.  By building and placing defenses, then upgrading them. I am still doing that!  And I might add, making pretty good progress at it as well!

My goal is to get all of the defensive weapons to Level 7 – I am not wuite there yet though – right now I have 4 Sniper Towers, 2 Machine Guns, and 2 Mortar at Level 7, but I still have other weps that need upgrading (A Level 4 Cannon, a Level 5 Cannon, Level 1 Flamethrower, and a Level 5 Machine Gun) which means I have weeks and weeks of 10 minutes a day to play yet before I am even close to feeling secure in my defensive position.  Just saying.

But it is those little slices of improvement that help get you through the day mates!

It’s progress that in the big picture has no meaning – but still, it IS progress.

It’s like my favorite George Takei line: “We’re Lost!  But We’re Making Good Time!”

So umm, hey… What do you do for a living?

Frustrations of Modern Video Game Tech and other Wandering Thoughts

The world was a very different place in 1990. 

The Australia from whence I came — circa 1991 — No longer exists,

The two seemingly unconnected observations sadden me so profoundly and in so many different ways that I hardly know where to begin. 

It’s not simply a matter of fond and sentimental reflection upon better times — simpler times — or even just a lost national innocence, but then all of those apply…

This may appear to be a rather funny (funny as in “odd” not funny as in “haha”) way to begin a post about the Frustrations of Modern Video Game Tech, but then there you are… 

If you bear with me I promise that this will make a certain sort of sense; though I make not a single promise in the direction or the area of rational thought since this is more a combination of emotions that ebb and flow on a river of lost opportunities.  I am just saying.

Image

Sometimes the things we carry are ideas or emotions, and sometimes the things we carry are physical things; oddly I find that the intangible often weighs far more and is more pressing upon the soul than the tangible.

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that juxtaposes apparently contradictory elements, with its most common form involving a two-word combination of  adjective–noun; classic examples include barbed and often plunging notions such as Jumbo Shrimp, Living Dead, Mad Wisdom, or my personal favorite, Deafening Silence.

Queen Victoria chose as her Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who later due to his services to Crown and Country as Poet Laureate later became 1st Baron Tennyson with the agreement and recommendation of Prime Minister John Russell and the word (and Sword) of the Queen…  

While his tenure was one of the longest in the history of the position,it was marked by a string of passable but unexceptional works.  Every so often though (mostly when Tennyson felt events warranted the effort), a truly exceptional work would emerge.

Examples of the latter includes Break, Break, Break, Charge of the Light Brigade, Crossing the Bar, and Tears, Idle Tears.  

In addition to putting some very good words together in a fashion and with a pattern that was catchy, easy to remember, and nicely  expressed the emotions inherent to the story or events –Lord Tennyson enjoyed something like the fame of a modern-day rockstar — in fact it is fair to say that he was the Roger Waters of his day.   I do not flirt with hyperbole when I say that.

When the need was present, the Queen’s Poet Laureate happened to like the oxymoron as a tool of clarity — or not depending on how you look at it and what he wasn’t saying — a fact that can be no better illustrated than by the following line from his piece titled Idylls of the King:

And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true…

Yep, he not only made use of oxymoron, but he used TWO in that single short line!

I feel compelled to reveal something personal before I go on to reveal some things personal: I think in pictures, not in words.

When I think of you, I don’t see your name spelled out in letters inside my head, though I am told that a majority of homo sapiens have just that experience when they “think.” In place of that word instead I see your face, and what is more, I often smell you too.

While thinking in a mixture of pictures and words is very common – it’s estimated that around 65% of the humans presently alive on good old Terra do so – thinking exclusively in pictures (what is officially known as Visual/Spatial Thinking) is not common at all. 

That very uncommon — statistically speaking the estimate is around 4% of the world’s population — thinking process is what you might call a mixed blessing…   The Dutch call the phenomenon beelddenken and you probably will not be surprised to learn that elsewhere the phenomenon is known as Eidetic Memory (AKA photographic memory).

I said it is a mixed blessing because while some of the people who think in pictures like me are pretty much normal, a statistically larger percentage suffer from conditions like Autism and Dyslexia… Happily I don’t but I should probably be thanking God daily for that.

The rarer still phenomenon of eople who think in pictures and also experience (and define) olfactory symbolism as a familiar form of identification is very rare indeed. Of course it could also be the early signs of a brain tumor…  Sigh.

Corrupt Game Saves

Thinking for me is often something like an adventure due to the path that naturally forms to make the process happen – or perhaps to facilitate the thought path would be a more accurate way to express it.

For example this morning I discovered that my Xbox 360 would not load and play the game Splinter Cell: Blacklist.

After a fair bit of diagnostics the culprit turned out to be a corrupt save file — which meant I had to delete my existing save file in order to play the game.  Which meant I lost all of the progress that i had made up to that point.  And it was a lot of progress, believe me!

Confronting that situation caused me to think about previous similar events, which took me back in the movie projector of memory to Oz, then somehow that path branched to oxymoron, then from there to Tennyson, Queen Victoria, and a paper that I read not to recently about beelddenken and the thought that it would be nice if computers — and when I say computers I mean computers as well as video game consoles which, if you think about it, are really just computers you hook to your TV just saying…

Now I wish that my Xbox 360 could be my Huckleberry Friend — but I am afraid that she knows about the relationship that I am having with a new interloper — called Xbox One.  God forbid she learn about another new face in the crowd called PlayStation 4 – but they are kept segregated in different parts of the entertainment center so the chances are slim that they will meet let alone start comparing notes.

Was it Tony Soprano who gave a toast to wives and girlfriends, with the desire that they never meet each other?

The question that bothers me still is this: how can these game companies make such intense and immersive pieces of interactive entertainment, making use of the bleeding edge of the console platforms upon which they are coding for, and still somehow end up creating entropy in the form of games that randomly self-destruct in the form of corrupting their own code?

On the one hand the complexity of these games means that there is certainly potential room for that sort of problem, but on the other well, this IS what they do to create their revenue stream, so wouldn’t you think that this sort of thing would be quickly stomped on and corrected?  Well, if you thought so, then no, sorry, not so much.

Something to think about as I wander through the comics of my thoughts…

Cheers!

C