Dark Sun Worldwide Game Day Recap

While I might not be the strongest believer in fate, I happily recognize and accept serendipity when it occurs. I had signed up for the lastest Dungeons & Dragons Worldwide Game Day — to get players familiar with the new Dark Sun Campaign Setting supplement — with my local gaming group. As it turns out, I went to the wrong of the two venue addresses listed on the page. As luck would have it, there was another group there playing the same adventure (it is worldwide, after all) who had a seat for one more person. Not wanting to let me scheduled afternoon of gaming go by (thanks, Angela!), I jumped in.

It can be a mixed bag when going to a game table blind, but generally it is a good experience. This was a great experience. The individual running the table had loads of giveaways and free drinks arranged for players. The group I was gaming were friendly and eager to play off one another during the four five1 hours of gaming. I missed the chance to play with some old gaming pals of mine but making new friends is always fun for me and these are guys I hope to roll some dice again with soon.

WWGD Dark Sun

The ambushes just kept coming in this adventure. Dark Sun is a place where elves and templars are trouble, and we kept running into them.

As for the adventure itself, it was a good one. Sure it was the typical "You’re in a bar together in the village and are approached by someone offering gold to find something … " but it did capture some of the elements that make Dark Sun a unique setting and offered some nice opportunities for role playing. As a matter of fact, I a great opportunity to ham it up when my character lept into the dark pit ahead of the group and them climbed back up to report what he’d seen. I’d have gladly done so without the promise of real-world reward, but I got voted best role-player of the session and won a set of condition cards for it.

D&D Condition Card Set

Thanks to the group for voting me to get these cards; which I will be using in every game from now on in 4th Ed.

So, enjoyed playing Dark Sun enough that I’m going to (literally, as soon as click the Publish button) go pick up a copy of the Dark Sun Campaign Setting book. It’s like Dune meets Mad Max, but with d20s and I can’t wait to play some more.

Dark Sun Campaign Setting

Update: No, I wasn’t using "literally" in a figurative sense.

  1. As it turns out, Dark Sun can have some additional random encounters due to the nature of the setting. We ended up running an hour later than scheduled but it was no less fun and my terrific wife entertained the kids without once calling me to ask where in the hell was I at. I’m not sure I’d have had that kind of patience in her shoes, and she’s awesome for being so cool about it. And if you think I’m just trying to score some points; I can assure you she never reads this site. []

Steam on the Mac

While I think it’s great that Steam is finally available for mac users, I’ve still yet to benefit from it. I first bought Portal about two years ago and played it via Boot Camp on my iMac. It was just as wonderful as everyone said it was and I had a great time. Some time later, Parallels 4 allowed me to play it on a virtual machine. No longer needing to reboot was nice but the video was still a bit choppy. I would have never made it past some of the later levels if it had been that way in Boot Camp. Fortunately, Parallels has only gotten better with gaming and Portal looks and plays great on my iMac.

Portal On My mac

Ironically, a year and a half later, Valve releases Steam for the mac and gives Portal away for free to everyone. Okay, that’s not the ironic part; that’s actually really awesome of them. The irony is in that I can’t play Portal on Steam for the mac because my video card doesn’t meet some as-yet-unknown system requirements.

The Cake *IS* a Lie

It’s pretty clear this dialog box hasn’t been updated for the Mac port. Yes, there is a link there for “Show Minimum Requirements …” and no, it doesn’t do anything.

That’s right. Valve doesn’t know what the system requirements are and I can’t find them anywhere on their store/site/steam/labyrinth. But they know that my mac can’t handle it. Except that it has been playing this same game for over two years.

Let’s face it: my iMac isn’t that new. It’s over four years old now and is on it’s second video adapter. But, it still works fine and the video adapter is far from being a poor one1. So I can understand that it might not be able to play every game; especially not the latest. But Portal isn’t a new game. Portal is was released three-and-a-half years ago and it didn’t really push the limits of PC gaming hardware then.

The real issue in all this actually has little to do with Portal. I’ve already played it through three times over2. My issue lies in the fact that I have no way of known what the system requirements are for a game. I wouldn’t even know if I could play it at all until after I’d bought it. Even then, the message is so cryptic as to be useless. Is this something that is a true limitation or is it as arbitrary as having a “white list” of hardware? I don’t know, but I’m not going to spend a penny on a game until I know for sure I can play it.

Not that I have any time for gaming anyway, mind you.

Update: I did find some system requirements at the bottom of the Portal product page. I suspect I just didn’t look there (despite it being the obvious place). As you can see, I did find some mixed messages. The clearly state that Mac requires a GeForce 8 card or better, which is both unfortunate and still confusing. In the meantime, I downloaded the demo for Torchlight, which plays just fine on my mac (if a bit sluggish when a lot of enemies are on screen). I’m hooked and will cease to complain about Portal.

Update 2: I just downloaded an update for Portal. I now get an error message with data for my OS and graphics card. The link to minimum system requirements for the game also now takes me to the product page system requirements section.

There have also been a number of reviews and news pieces for Steam on the mac which have pointed out that a lot of my issues are due to the fact that Mac OS doesn’t take full advantage of the graphics hardware (poorly written or older drivers) when compared to a Windows machine. This partially explains my issue. However, the virtual machine doesn’t have native access to the graphics card (as evidenced by the fact that the graphics card is displayed as a “Parallels Graphics Adapter” and not the actual card. Still, Parallels does taught better graphics support and I have no doubt they have squeezed every ounce of performance they could get out of Windows for VM gaming purposes.

On a somewhat related note, Steam for mac seems to not play very well with Spaces on my iMac running OS X 10.6.3. It seemed to leave pop-ups, tool tips, or something on other Spaces when it wasn’t in focus, and would then try to jump back to those at odd times. I finally had to turn Spaces off just to prevent me from screaming at my computer any more.

  1. It’s an NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT []
  2. That 6 hour figure you see above doesn’t really seem correct to me; I’m not that fast of a gamer. []

Portal Gets a Mysterious Update

Also in the surprise-to-me-release category, Valve released a rather strange update to their 2007 hit Portal today. Though not much in terms of gameplay was added, the ever-present radios placed throughout the game now seem to have some sort of significance. Carrying the radios to various points within the level unlock a new game achievement. What’s more, the radios begin to broadcast various signals such as Morse code, data transmissions, etc. Some very crafty gamers have found that this is actually a rabbit hole leading to a out-of-game alternate reality campaign. Portal remains one of the most amazing games ever and if this is the how Valve chooses to start a marketing campaign for a sequel, then this bodes well for the future of the game. Here are a couple of screenshots I took while exploring some of the new game features:

Updated: It looks like Portal 2 is official (this December) and it is likely coming to the mac, too.

Much More Fun Than You Might Think

So, you might have picked up that I’ve been on something of a fantasy kick lately. One thing that I’ve considered doing off and on for several years now (Okay, ever since I got out grad. school – whatever) was picking up role-playing games again. I played them a lot as a kid and loved every minute of it. They appealed to me on so many levels: tons of maps, loads of math & tables, and open ended stories.

I ended up find a group on MeetUp.org who run some 4 hour games, once a month; most of which were aimed at beginners and people getting back into the game. This sounded like a perfect fit. Saturday evening, I broke out an old Player’s Handbook and created1 a pretty basic character for myself. I was never very good at coming up with fantasy character names (I once named a rogue character Robin Stealer. Subtle, no?), but I know of a group that is great at it: Ikea. So, I named my first level, dwarf fighter after a very tasteful and modern coffee table (Ramvik, if you’re curious).

Sunday, we all drove down to Murfreesboro to the comic and games shop. I got a seat at the D&D table while Angela and Ainsley looked around briefly at some comics. They then took off to tool around the mall while my game got underway.

Now, I suppose on some level, the seven people around the table fit exactly the description of D&D players you likely have in mind right now: white males sitting indoors on a perfectly nice sunny day. However, despite that general stereotype, these were a fairly diverse lot: a grad. student, a downtown lawyer, a high school math teacher, a father and his son – who had recently gotten his dad back into gaming, and the father of a 1 1/2 year old (who seemed happy to get out of the house and play a game with adults). What’s more, they were all outgoing and fun personalities. While the game ran a bit long (even at five hours, we didn’t quite finish); a good bit of the time was spent joking around. Instead of dice and pencils, we could have just as easily had poker cards and chips in our hands.

Other than the fact that I ended up losing my voice by the end of it (as much from all the laughing as anything else), I had a really great time. So much so, I plan to make it a monthly event. Angela said she might even join in for a game in the future (by the way, there are females in the MeetUp group, just none happened to be playing this past weekend).

Oh, and the game itself? It was a fairly tough module, actually. Fortunately, we had a decent mix of a 7th level barbarian, a 3rd level cleric, a 3rd level rogue, a 1st level ranger, and two 1st level fighters (including my Swedish furniture namesake). I ended up dying at the end, but the DM allowed for the NPC cleric whom we were helping to resurrect my character out of gratitude after the fact. I think the DM felt bad since my character died on my first game and that I might not have enjoyed it. Quite to the contrary, I had had a great time and I was actually kind of glad that it wasn’t a cakewalk. I got to feel like I was working on a team trying to figure out a mystery.

As I said, I can’t wait until next time.

  1. I would have formerly said "rolled" instead of created, but there’s no rolling involved in character creation anymore – at least not in the method employed by this group. []

Five Fun Things Friday – Mid-April Edition

Oh, to have blogged in so long and only to come back with a measly list of fluff. Well, something’s better than nothing, right?

I’ve been on a rather rampant fantasy kick as of late:

  1. "Dungeons & Dragons" – That venerable fantasy RPG lost one of it’s founders last month. However, not to be stopped, a new 4th edition of the rules are being published in June. D&D has definitely come up out of Mom’s basement, showered, and decided that hanging out with some of the cool kids isn’t so bad, after all. This, along with the fact that nerds are now cool, might just make for a renaissance of table-top gaming.
  2. "Dragonlance" – When I was a kid, "Dragonlance" was the coolest D&D setting (at least to my pal, TJ, and I – he even had the campaign book). An animated film was released to DVD in January of the first of the original trilogy of novels. You know, the sort of the thing that every kid dreams about as they read fantasy novels at age 12? Ah, even at that age, I’d have understood just how bad this adaptation was. I was depressed but happened upon a fantastic graphic novel by Devil’s Due Publishing of the same series of novels made me almost completely forget what an awful film Dragons of Autumn Twilight was. I even picked up a new novel by the same authors, which so far has been quite enjoyable.
  3. Krull – Speaking of D&D and my childhood (the two of which are pretty closely linked), I learned from IMDb that the 80’s fantasy film Krull was originally to be the first official "Dungeons & Dragons" movie. I went back and watched it and too things struck me: A) it doesn’t really resemble D&D at all and B) it wasn’t nearly as good a movie as I remembered it being (Great way to start a career, there, Liam Neeson!). Then I realized that pretty much all movies based on D&D have been awful: Krull, Dungeons & Dragons, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. When a movie by the SciFi channel is the best of the back, that’s just plain sad. I think Wizards of the Coast should encourage a TV series, instead. Better yet: more graphic novels.
  4. Graphic Novels – Having read the graphic novel of Dragons of Winter Night, I went in search of more graphic novels to feed my endless need for scifi and fantasy. Oh boy, did I find them: Aliens, Predators, Aliens vs. Predators, Conan the Barbarian, G.I. Joe… okay that last one isn’t really scifi, but did I mention childhood nostalgia? Maybe that’s a better theme here. Anyway, I’ve been on a graphic novel kick and, despite it being a rather pricey habit, it has been very rewarding. A lot of these really represent some great comic book artform and I’ve determined are often my best hope for amazing fantasy visuals, gripping plotlines, and epic characters. They sure as hell aren’t to be found in any of the movies.
my fantasy audiobook collection in iTunes
  1. Audiobooks – Lastly, I’ve also been on something of an audiobook habit (more posts to follow on this subject). I was able to find some really great audiobooks by R. A. Salvatore and Michael Moorcock; two men who write about troubled anti-heroes with long, white hair. I even found audiobooks for that original Dragonlance trilogy I mentioned. There’s just one drawback to the audiobooks: I used to listen to these (along with podcasts) on my commute. Now that I hardly drive at all, it’s going to me forever to listen to them all!

Well, before you give me a wedgie and shove inside my locker along side my Player’s Manual, I should also say that I’ve been enjoying Season Two of The Wire, as well as all this fantasy stuff. Perhaps that explains it: I needed something whimsical and out-of-this-world to balance out the dark, gritty nature of a show like the The Wire. At least, that’s why I keep telling myself.

Happy Christmas, 2007

While it’s not exactly the reason for the season, watching Angela rock out to her new copy of Guitar Hero III – Legends of Rock (Wii) in her PJ’s is a pretty good reason to love Christmas morning. That kind of sums up the Christmas we’re having here in Richmond this year. We’ve been just relaxing, hanging out around the house, and enjoying Ainsley’s first Christmas. That includes playing lots of Nintendo.

Beginning Rock Godess

As much as I thought I was pretty hardcore for having been able to rock Ainsley to sleep by playing a couple of hours of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, I was yet again shown up by Angela’s amazing multi-tasking skills. She was able to play Super Mario Galaxy while feeding Ainsley. There has to be several reasons why I couldn’t do that myself…

So, anyway, have a very happy Christmas this year and enjoy whatever holidays you and your family celebrate!

Nintendo Leaving Money On the Table

More than a year after the Nintendo Wii hit the market (did any ever actually ‘hit the shelves’?), there is only greater demand for the gaming console. As with everything on the internets, some theorize this is some conspiracy or marketing scam. Well, I’ve argued all along that it wouldn’t be a very good one. Seems that some analysts agree, estimating that the Big N of Japan is losing as much as $1.3 Billion in potential profits in lost sales. The only shining cloud is the general consensus that Nintendo refuses to sell loss leaders and still makes profit on every console, game, and accessory they sell.

Nintendo Trinity on the Wii

Last month’s release of Super Mario Party saw the completion of the latest generation of Nintendo’s flagship titles for it’s newest console system: the Wii. Along with the release title of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and this August’s Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Mario, Link, and Samus are all present on the Wii and in three of the most amazing games. Ever.

To be honest, I’ve not gotten too far in any of the games, having had the time and energy to only put a few hours into each one1. I have gotten fairly far in each and have played them enough each to comment on just how amazing each is.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princesrated a 95 at Metacritic.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was, of course, a launch game (and, like Super Paper Mario, a Gamecube port). In an admission of my lack of commitment to gaming, I still haven’t finished the game. All the same, it remains to be a wonderfully fun game and probably one of the best of the Zelda series. The control scheme is possibly the least like senseless waggling of the Wiimote of any Wii game yet. The spatial motions seem to make sense, which is good because there are quite a lot of moves to master in the game. Like almost all of the modern Nintendo games, this one has a great and intense story. This really draws the player in, but doesn’t really allow for casual gaming. As much as I wanted friends to be able to jump in and play around to see how great it was, this just isn’t a game and story that allows for this sort of thing. This game is an epic novel that rewards attention, time, and dedication; much the opposite of many Wii games.

Metroid Prme 3: Corruption

Metroid Prme 3: Corruptionrated a 90 at Metacritic.

As for Metroid Prme 3: Corruption, I am not really a fan of — nor particularly good at — first person shooter games2. But I mean wow. This game is so much fun due to its perfect balance of shooting action, exploration, and puzzle solving. It isn’t particularly difficult to explore and complete most of the tasks but I can imagine that to be truly fast and efficient this game would require a lot more skill than I have. Efficiency is something that the Metroid series has traditionally rewarded and I suspect that MP3 has that aspect in it. Also, this game really captures a lot of the exploration and back-track elements of the old-school Metroid games. In spite of the lesser horsepower in the diminutive Wii when compared to other 5th generation consoles and PCs, this game has beautiful visuals and amazing detail. I believe that this represents the greatest first-person shooter ever created.

Super Mario Galaxy

Super Mario Galaxy – rated a 97 at Metacritic.

The delayed Super Mario Galaxy was probably one of the most anticipated Wii games since the console’s release over a year ago. Having not had much desire to play many of the 3D Mario games, I found myself pleasantly surprised by this game. The controls and camera angles make playing the game very natural. Galaxy has some of the same nods to Mario games of the past that Super Paper Mario does, and even much of it’s humor (though with a few less cracks in the fourth wall).

These games represent the quintessential set on the Wii with respect to Nintendo’s heritage. Of course, you still have to consider Wii Sports as an important Wii game for its demonstration of the control mechanisms. However, the three games above, represent Nintendo’s advanced story-telling in combination with the innovative controls, as well as paying tribute to the characters that put Nintendo on the map.

  1. I had considered writing this article months ago, including Super Paper Mario as part of the big N Wii trinity; a game that I’ve come withing about ten minutes of beating (pathetic, huh?). However, SPM is kind of a platform/rpg hybrid and was seen as being outside of the true Mario legacy. That being said, it is an amazing game and loads of fun. Also, it could be argued that the Metroid Prime series of games aren’t really full-on Metroid games, either. Me, I’m just interested in some really great games, so I’ll not be too picky. []
  2. Although, I must admit that Bioshock and Portal look great and Halo 3 almost makes me consider buying a 360 – (but not really). I still can’t think of any reason other than "cheap Blu-Ray player" to want a PS3 []