Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Thinking about iOS: Part 1

Random pictures from my life go here.
Back in the Fall of 2009, I was living in Japan, theoretically to study Japanese but functionally to set my life in order and get some direction. Looking back on the experience, though these 12 months of my life were by all merit the best I've had, I wouldn't say now that I used my full potential in these months. Perhaps it is no mistake that it was at this time that I purchased my first Apple device, my iPod Touch (3rd gen) and was introduced to the biggest time waster of them all: iOS gaming.

Honestly, to me, calling iOS gaming a time waster isn't negative, despite the connotation. When you first get an iPod Touch or iPhone and start downloading games, you start to notice the little places in your life you never knew where there before as game-time possibilities. Not to keep steering my writing topics toward bodily issues, but when it is time to go to the bathroom there is no dearer friend than my iPod Touch. With my iPod Touch, I really started to understand the appeal of mobile gaming: though I have owned every major portable console since the original Game Boy, they have never been things that I have really brought outside of the house, excepting long car/plane rides.

This was my appeal at the time that iOS gaming really took off. Abroad, in another land, with no form of personal transportation and lots of time to waste at a very remote University. I imagine that others in the general population also found the appeal, because the market as grown ridiculously big. And I can understand why. The first game I played for any great length was Doodle Jump, a simple but addictive jumping game (My top score - 60,000). This game seemed right at home when purchased for $1, but the next game I really got into was developer PopCap's Plants vs Zombies, where I simultaneously learned the addictive and rewarding nature of the 'Tower Defense' genre. I believe after blowing about 50 hours into an experience I only paid $3 for, I began to realize the value in gaming on iOS devices.

In the 3 years since those first discoveries, my interest in iOS gaming remained, but my wallet remained mostly closed. I made the occasional purchase, and even found some games that I really love. The Cut the Rope games and Where's My Water? games remain some of my favorite one-screen puzzle genre hits, and are crazy popular for a reason. I downloaded the Angry Birds games like everyone else, but never found them to carry my attention for very long, as I always eventually got frustrated by their extremely vague scoring system. I think Zero Punctuation's Yahtzee said it best, "On some levels I can use just one bird to destroy all the piggies, tear down the building and erect a monument in memory of my fallen comrades with the debris and the game still gives me only one star. What the fuck do I have to do to impress you Angry Birds...?"

So, if you couldn't already tell by the games I mentioned, I really just coasted the top of the App Store charts, taking real notice of the games that really took off because I knew they would have something of some quality to offer me. However, it wasn't until I started listening to the TouchArcade.com podcast that my interest in iOS gaming really started to grow. I think I'll write someday about all of the podcasts I listen to and how they influence my thoughts and what media I've seen, but for now I'll just say that this podcast is one of the best ones out there: the cast is entertaining and insightful, without being annoying. This was my beginnings into iOS gaming, and because of the TouchArcade podcast, I've recently stepped up my interest in it quite a bit. I'll write some more about the next step I've recently taken in this pursuit next time, as well as some great/amazing apps I've found and can recommend you try out.

Story-time over!


Currently Playing: Fez (X360), Skyrim (PC), and iOS stuff I'll tell you about next time~


Thursday, October 4, 2012

I'm back! Let's talk about my intestines.

I missed me too!

Do you ever have something eating away in the back of your mind, that you keep putting off extensively?  Did you ever put it off for 7 months?  Probably?  Well that thing for me is this site.

So, now that I have the hankering to write again let me reintroduce myself... again.

I started this blog on the last stretch of my senior year of college with the intent to write once a week about video games for an entire year.  I made it a good 17 weeks, got incredibly disgusted at the poor quality of my written work, and then swiftly ended that project.  However, I never lost my desire to write or to pursue the path of writing - I just had to grow up a bit more, learn that failure is a part of progress, and continue to push through the challenges until I become a great writer.  Is now that time?  Let's find out together.

So, now that I've got that out of the way I'd like to talk to you about the time my intestines fell into my scrotum.  Too personal?  Even for myself, maybe, but I'm going to tell you about it anyway because I hope you may find it funny/enlightening.  

It is my sincere desire, now that I'm writing for this blog once more, to write about more than just video games because I have a lot more going in my life than that.  In fact, until Tuesday last week I had a little problem going for the last several months that I may have no more, and naturally it has been on my mind a lot.  

You may (but probably not) remember that I wrote a little bit about my workout program while I was living in Taiwan.  Well, let me tell you the part of that story which swiftly ended that.  I had been going to my gym regularly in Tainan City, and I loved it: my status as a foreigner meant that all of the Taiwanese staff and other gym members regularly recognized me and we had a good relationship going.  Going to that gym was a place of rest and comfort, yet it was also a place of progress and improvement.  I was making great strides on my body, was developing and seeing muscles I had never seen before, and confidently I was working almost every major muscle group in my body - arms, chest, core, legs.  What I didn't count on was the poor condition of my non-child-bearing hips.  
So jealous.
You see, on the inside of your legs are these little muscle groups which work to pull your thighs inward, or push outward - these are the adductor and abductor muscles, respectively.  Any dumb schmuck in a foreign gym filled with trainers who don't speak the same language as that gym patron could step up to a adductor-training weight machine and think, "Wow, these muscles I have are so strong I don't even have to start at a low weight, I can do half the bar already!  I must have naturally strong legs.  I'm also really handsome, and not at all a dumbass."

Do I need to continue?  In a hurry, quite suddenly I felt the sharpest of pains when I tried to run one day.  I took a rest, and sure enough, the next gym day came and once again I couldn't run without great pain.  Then, I realized I couldn't lift weights with my right shoulder muscle without great pain.  Then, I realized I couldn't lift my arm heigher than my head without great pain.

"Okay, so I hurt myself.  This muscle is in my abdomen so it affects my entire body performance.  Shit.  Oh well, I guess I'll just wait for it to heal and try not to get fat again in the meantime."  However, this pain didn't go away.  A few months later, after finishing my time in Taiwan and returning to the United States, I got sick.  Not bad sick, just a common cold.  But, the problem was that this made me cough, a lot.  I didn't think much of it, other than each cough was incredibly painful, but when those hurt muscles were given this added strain, it led to a whole other issue I could never have expected.

When it was all over, and my coughing had subsided, I noticed a lump where that muscle had been.  This lump extended from that spot on the front of my pelvis and extended, like a curious puppy making his way around my privates, from that pubic zone right into the warm open space that was my scrotal sack, pushing his buddy (my right testicle) out of position like an overweight man hanging over his seat on an airplane.  

"Hey!  What the fuck is going on?  Get out of there!"  Next, I noticed, if I applied some soft pressure this lump would subside, almost as if I was pushing some kind of foreign passenger back into the recesses of my abdomen.  "Hmm, I must just be super good at relaxing that muscle back down.  There is no way at all that this lump I feel that falls out of place is my FUCKING small intestine now poking out of me like a slimy tapeworm."  
I bet you really wanted to see this today.

Well turns out it was.  Now you know what it is like to discover you have an inguinal hernia.  For the next couple weeks after I realized what was going on with my body, I soon found out what happens when you work on your feet for 60 hours a week with an open hernia.  Bad things.  Nothing life threatening, just make your life shitty-threatening.

Last Tuesday I had the surgery to fix my hernia, and have been out of work for the last week because of it.  What do you do when you're out of work for a whole week?  Well, if you're me, you watch a hell of a lot of Dexter and play a lot of games.  Ironically, the only console game I played at all was The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game which I wrote about during my last period of writing.  But, I don't intend to write about that game again (most likely).  Instead, I have a big urge to talk about the system which is new to me (I only bought it about 3 weeks ago), but took up the majority of my time while I was healing.  So, next time, I want to talk about iPad gaming!  

Til next time~

Sunday, January 29, 2012

My Chinese New Year


This last week was Chinese New Year in Taiwan, so that meant no school, so no classes for me to teach.  I'm not really interested in travel right now, as I've only recently hit a point where I don't owe money to anyone, so I'm not in a hurry to blow my money on train tickets and hotels on the busiest travelling days in this part of Asia.  So, what did I do?

MUSCLES! (I worked out for 2-3 hours every single day)
Also, video games.

Writing this on Sunday night, the last day before I go back to work tomorrow, my spoils of Chinese New Year are thus:
Zelda: Skyward Sword - 100% Completion!
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception - Finished on Very Easy (Just wanted to experience the story...)
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West - Finished on Normal
L.A. Noire - Started, currently playing

Of these games, I think I was probably looking forward to Uncharted 3 the most, yet it is the one which left the smallest impression upon me.  Maybe after Uncharted 2 being one of the greatest gaming experiences I've ever had, anything short of that in the third one fails to sink in.  There was nothing in it as amazing and exciting as the opening scene from Uncharted 2, nor any level as memorable or exhilarating as the moving train sequence, either.

I really enjoyed Skyward Sword, for many reasons I can get into later (a full review is most likely forthcoming), but strangely Enslaved: Odyssey to the West was the game that captivated me the most.  On reflection, I agree with a lot of the points that Michael Abbot mentioned in his thoughts on the game (http://www.brainygamer.com/the_brainy_gamer/2011/01/enslaved.html) but I don't share his overall opinion.

In Enslaved: Odyssey to the West you play as man named Monkey who has recently been captured by a slavers' airship in the future, and after making his escape he is forced into slavery again by a fellow escapee who wants him to help her escort her back home.  The setting appears to be hundreds of years or so into the future, after a war has left the world in ruins, but with a brilliant twist that makes this game much more appealing a world than any Fallout game, or similar game set in an apocalypse.  You play in a variety of locations (most notably post-apocalypse New York City) which, devoid of a populace, have been reclaimed by nature in every nook and cranny.  There is a special kind of feeling of running and jumping through abandoned, crumbling architecture while surrounded on every sides by colorful greenery and nature.

The main antagonists that monkey will face are a variety of combat droids, and unlike other games with close-quarters melee combat, the camera sits just as close to Monkey as it does during the exploration, instead of taking an overhead view of the action.  This aspect of the game, which can allow for your enemies to fit in cheap hits on your back has been justifiably noted as an annoyance that takes away most people's enjoyment of the game, and I must admit that at first I too found it odd.  However, there is a counter for this: though this is a limiting factor in the fights, it also added for me a greater degree of excitement and investment in the battles.  As Monkey pounded away at the enemies in front of him, in my heart I was pleading with my adversary, "Blow up now! Blow up now!  They're right behind me!"  After a successful and stressful fight, the camera often shows your final hit breaking through the enemy as it crumbles into pieces, with a close-up on Monkey's strained and enraged face.

Due in part to my own involvement from the camera being right up in the action, as well as the brutal nature of Monkey's fighting style, I found myself getting more into each of the fights in this game than any game in a long time. Right now I wonder, what would it be like to see Kratos this close, to watch him really putting every bit of himself into the fight just the way Monkey does...  It's a nice thought for me.

My last thought on the game I talked about in my Twitter.

"Playing Enslaved is like playing God of War without a protagonist who is unchallenged."  I don't care how many swords Kratos digs out of his chest, or how many times he has to climb out of Hades after dying again and again.  Nothing in any of those games has made me feel as triumphant as frantically busting up the mechs in Enslaved.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I've got a twitter for this blog if you happen to be on there.

Check me out at https://twitter.com/#!/GamesBrained


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Skyrim - My beef!

Last week, I finished The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on my PS3.  I had to wait until Christmas to receive it, as I didn't want to go through the expensive process of shipping the game all the way to Taiwan.  For clarity, when I say I 'finished' Skyrim, it means I finished the main quest, and all of the quests in the big four factions (Companions, Mage's College, Thieves Guild, and Dark Brotherhood).

There are really some incomparable moments in Skyrim.  It is truly a remarkable game, but in many ways I think I favor The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  Not in terms of combat or graphics or sound design... in these categories, Skyrim trumps Oblivion in every way.  However, today I want to go into detail about something that had the potential to ruin the game for me.

Okay, so here it is.  Level progression in Skyrim is terribly rigid, and borderline broken for any but the most generic path characters.  Sometimes people like to slag off the Elder Scrolls series because they have scale-able enemies.  This means that as your character levels up, higher level enemies befitting of your character's level start to appear, and the weaker ones disappear.  Enemies that always appear regardless of level, such as rats or bandits, will power up as well in order to match you.

In Oblivion, this was handled very well, because you had standard stats (Strength, Magic, Agility, etc... the RPG staples).  This meant that if you had leveled your character up so much that you had 100 strength, you might conceivably begin to power up your agility or speed with your excess points.  If you had a perfect warrior, you could then easily redirect them to becoming a perfect rogue.  The skill system supported this.  At every 25 levels (if I'm remembering right), you would be given a bonus skill that naturally benefited your character, my favorite of which would be armor class abilities, which meant if you had spent time to level your Heavy Armor skill, you would soon be given the natural perk of having Heavy Armor weigh nothing on you - an amazing thing.

However, Skyrim does away with character statistics, and you only have your skill level per skill.  Your damage done with a one handed weapon is entirely dependent on your One Handed Weapons skill level, and 'Strength' has nothing to do with it.  When I first saw this change in Skyrim, I must say I really liked it.  It cuts one unnecessary aspect from most RPG games, and had me second-guessing why they were in there in the first place.  However, what Skyrim adds is a perk-system into each skill.  As you gain a level, you are given one perk point to put into a skill, giving you some special abilities akin to the leveling perks gained in Oblivion.  However, there is far too much depth in this system, in a way that actually hurts the player.

I decided, as I do in Elder Scrolls games, to play a jack-of-all-trades type character.  In a game where I can invest as many as 120 hours into a single save game, why would I want to split my time into three different characters, most of whom would have to do the same quests, have the same loot, making the differences in them irrelevant.  As you level your character down a particular path in Skyrim, you are pretty much forced to sticking to one combat path: Melee/Bows, Magic, and Stealth.  If you begin to level outside of your one chosen path, the enemies you start to face can become impossible.  This came to a head on my first magic/melee based character, when I found myself in an impossible battle with a snow cat that could one-shot kill me in my full plate armor.  Keep in mind I was playing on normal difficulty, and was not going to compromise and go down to easy for this one fight.

More aware of this system, I decided to restart my character, and went a full melee combat path for the first 30 levels or so.  For this time, things were good.  My character could wade in, exploit enemies power moves for a chance to bash them with my shield followed by a brutal execution animation.  As I reached the top level in my Heavy Armor, One Handed Weapon, Block, and Armorer skills, I really felt like the true dragon born, and unstoppable force decked out in my hand-made dragon bone armor.  But, I hit the cap of these skills and decided to save some of my perks for the magic and stealth careers.  However, in all, there are about 150 - 200 perks (in estimate, some single skills can have as many as 15-20 perk points in order to master).  In the entire lifetime of a character, you may receive about 80 points, or 50 for a normal player who wants to finish everything without getting too obsessive; a player like myself, for example.  But, given the limited range you can customize this character, I found that it would be impossible to ever reach any kind of worthy skill in any of the other combat trees.  So, in a game where you are pushed to create your character in any way you choose, why is this system so restrictive?  If you want to experience the true life of a warrior, mage, or a thief in Skyrim, you had better have a whole lot of time on your hands, and a tolerance for repeated material bordering on the obsessive.

Learn from my mistakes, dear readers.  Don't be deceived!  Play Skyrim like WoW, not Oblivion.  Otherwise you'll get double Elder Dragons laughing at the puny fireballs and electric blasts coming from your level 50 character, while you wish you hadn't left your god damned enchanted demonic armor in the closet at home.



Welcome back to Games Brained!  My name is Shane, and this is my life.  I am an English teacher living in Tainan City, Taiwan.  I have always had an avid interest in video games, though I loathe to call myself a 'hardcore' gamer.  In this re-introduction of Games Brained, I have decided to make an effort to not go things alone.  I, like many other bloggers and followers of video games want to make an impact in the community, and create an outlet to discuss my ideas and observations alongside others.

I hope you can enjoy reading my posts, I will be attempting to write something per week, be it review or minor observation, funny story, etc.  I don't want to focus only on video games and nothing else (a mistake I made last time), so let's just subtitle this blog: Life, love, adventure... and video games.