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 []