Backlog: Solid State Edition

Backlog - Solid Header Have any of you ever built a computer? Our niche readership is, I assume, proficient enough to upgrade RAM and swap out optical drives -- actions more basic than the Dell-buying general populace knows. A year-and-a-half ago I assembled an entire desktop out of disparate parts for the very first time. How rewarding it was! I imagined that it felt like restoring some rusted-out junkyard Z28 Camaro, which is what real men do.

And yet, I royally fucked my entire computer last week trying to clone my moving-parts hard drive to a swift solid state upgrade. Despite the wave of technical confidence I've been riding since birthing my PC child (sort of like Data from TNG, I suppose), a thin little drive crippled me. I have seen rock bottom, and it is unforgiving. But my dramatic tale must continue after the break.

In the mean time, let's check-in with Doug and Spencer! -- Aaron Thayer

Doug

In case you don't read Japanese, it says 'Mario and Luigi'

On my recent travels to Tokyo I picked up a couple gaming-related things. While I wasn’t about to go load up on oddities and rarities in Akihabara this time, I found (and was convinced to get) a few games and a new piece of hardware.

As I documented a while back, I’ve been trying to continue my Japanese study via the medium of gaming. Well, I’d put that game down for a long while, but one of my Tokyo purchases was the boost I needed to get going again. Tyler let me in that DSi XLs were going for all of $50 used at major chain stores around Tokyo. Now, since this is Tokyo, this means they’re basically shiny and perfect -- used stores have incredibly high standards. Because my old, white DS Lite began misbehaving on the trip, I saw fit to replace it with a new (to me) brown XL.

What a difference that screen size makes! Especially for a game where you’re trying to read on the top screen and write answers on the touchscreen. It’s a world of difference. I’ve begun to pack my new XL to school with me and study during the lunch break.

As well, I also have reason to jump back into more practical Japanese study. At one of the big used stores, Tyler and I went diving through the Nintendo handheld section and he found Super Mario Advance 2, aka the Best Version of Super Mario World. In-box, almost perfect, it ran me about $15. I never had an SNES of my own until I inherited one from a friend in college, but I did play the English version of this game when it was “new” on the Game Boy Advance. I knew SMW was fun, but that game was what sold me on its classic status -- it’s one of my all-time favorites. What’s more, the one difference from the original and Super Mario All-Stars versions of the game was crucial: the ability to save from the world map at any time. This removed the frustrating save system from the original.

However, that game is but a trophy on my collection shelf for now. The real game I’m going to start digging into with dictionary by my side is Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story. In Japanese the title is マリオ&ルイージ RPG 3, and you don’t have to be a Japanese scholar to understand that means “Mario & Luigi RPG.” At the suggestion of one of Tyler’s friends to play games in Japanese combined with the recycle shop trips, the gears in my mind started to turn -- what would be a good game to play? I thought of this particular title because I remember hearing that the writing was clever, the battle mechanics were fun and more interactive than most JRPGs, and considering it’s a Mario game, the Japanese level is aimed both at kids and adults alike. It’s like watching a Pixar film instead of trying to head straight to a serious drama or comedy -- the level of language is a bit simpler. I’m a couple hours in, but it’s quite fun so far, both from a language standpoint (Bowser uses a Japanese word for “I” that insinuates arrogance, which makes perfect sense) and from a gameplay standpoint. Who knew exploring the innards of Mario’s arch-enemy would be so fun?

Spencer

#givingdragonsthebird

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is an absurdity. I just want to get that out in the open, before I discuss it in any detail. It’s really, really silly.

Now that we’ve finished with blanket statements, I’m personally enjoying Blood Dragon. The overblown late-80's hypercolor style is executed pretty much perfectly between the visuals (think neon hellscape, with spare lazer tag guns shooting real bullets) and the cyberpunk electro soundtrack (by Aussie synthpop luminaries Power Glove, not to be confused with metal group Powerglove). There’s a lot of reused/reskinned assets and animations, but as Blood Dragon started life as a side project to the main title, the recycled bits are forgivable.

Aside the re-skin  the gameplay is pure Far Cry 3, which was very good to begin with. Honestly, it makes considerably more sense in the context of Blood Dragon than it did in the original - the over-the-top violence seems far better suited to the Mark 4 Cyber Commando than it does to the rich college party kid on vacation. The story, meanwhile, is nonsensical, made up of scraps from a dozen B-grade commando / cyberpunk / action schlock from the 80's -- which, again, is honestly perfect for the game. While I saw what FC3 was trying to accomplish with its “Alice in Wonderland meets Heart of Darkness” plot, I never really cared. I was invested in the game for the action,  the sheer enjoyment of its combat system and the emergent nature of the world’s gameplay.

While other non-Tyler contributors to the site have soured on game violence, I never wanted anything but violence from Far Cry 3, and ultimately, the story was an unwelcome attachment - it insisted upon itself when I had no interest, because I had other games to play for engrossing, enjoyable stories. Blood Dragon realizes this, and makes no effort to push it on you. It’s there, and it’s pretty damn funny (I’ve laughed aloud several times per session, usually followed by “this fuckin’ game”), but it otherwise steps aside to make way for the music, the settings and the gameplay.

Really what I’m getting at here is that Blood Dragon is what FC3 should have been from the start.

I’ve been playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Needless to say, this has been a mistake. If I’m running my weekly stream (twitch.tv/buslords, every Monday night PST), then I’m bullshitting and joking and generally not paying much attention to the game. If I’m playing by my lonesome then I begin to ragestroke out almost immediately, a reaction I’ve had since approximately CS1.4.

Actually, this is a reaction I encounter when I try most games popular in the pro circuit. The caliber of multiplayer participants is notably higher than average, saturated with people who play constantly as they try to to either train, earn sponsors, or gain league rank. This is frustrating to my perpetually amateur level of involvement -- I’m not bad at games by any stretch of the imagination, but while I don’t mind a hard-earned loss, consistent stomping is uniquely disheartening. So while I’ve dabbled in a lot of such staples (Quake Live, CS:GO, LoL, Halo, DOTA 2, StarCraft 2), I never stick with them. Something about my pursuit of gaming is extremely transitory, almost served by the constant deluge of new titles. If a game forces a time investment, be it for advancement, practice, or what have you, I’ll sour on it immediately. Games that make no such requirement, meanwhile, are the ones I return to after months and years. Maybe this is a mental backlash against my time as World of Warcraft addict; maybe I just have trouble focusing. Either way, it makes this span playing "Internet Cops and Robbers With Guns" an anomaly more than anything.

On the topic of games I return to after time, it recently occurred to me that Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne turns ten years old in July. Admittedly, this occurred to me while I was playing a round of Moo Moo 3.9 with my housemate. Say what you will about nostalgia clouding one’s eyes, but there’s a reason I spent so much of my high school and early college years playing round after round of custom War3 maps. Though the maps themselves varied widely in quality, there were a lot of them thanks to the open map editing tools. Even today there’s always something new to try, meaning I can fall back on a decade-old game for new content when I tire of current titles.

Although publishers can artificially create long-term involvement in a game by doling out content updates and DLC at regular intervals, providing open tools for modding and map-making allows communities and devoted fanbases to take root. It’s part of whether games should be viewed as a good or a service -- and while it’s definitely a loaded topic, one can really see the advantage of the latter when you compare ongoing interest in older titles (think Team Fortress 2 versus Call of Duty, FreeSpace 2 versus X-Wing Alliance, StarCraft versus literally any strategy game from that era).

Build it, and they will come. Let them build it, and they will stay.

Aaron

Even as ghosts, dogs are assholes

I've learned my lesson, folks. When switching drives, experts (re: forum trolls and master-race PC users) will tell you to wipe everything and start clean. In my naivety I thought the cloning software would do the trick...and it did, more or less. But after seeing errant files all about the system and many integral programs still chained to my 2TB dinosaur I irrationally reformatted everything.

A furious bout of Googling helped me to reconnect my two drives to their proper SATA ports. And, for some weird reason, I panicked thinking Windows 8 was lost to me. See, I purchased a discount upgrade of Windows 8 Pro but only had a Windows 7 Ultimate installation disc on-hand. Some would argue that's where I should have stopped, because Windows 8 sucks. It doesn't -- not really.

But luckily Microsoft isn't as stingy with product keys as it used to be, and after searching my email archives I found my key and restored my computer back to its old self in about an hour.

In the end the upgrade was worth it. I learned a lot about stuff, and Skyrim runs better than I ever could have hoped.

Because outside of playing Skyrim for the 320th hour (I'm just now getting to the expansion content), I've only just cracked the book on Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon. Two hours in and I'm willing to call it the best game of 2013. The charm is infectious, which would be surprising coming from a non-Nintendo developer if it wasn't Next Level Games, which did an amazing job with the Punch-Out!! revamp. Everything about Dark Moon is crisp, hilarious and engaging. For the first time in recent memory a Nintendo game has recalled yesteryear's best Big N classics -- the pure fun of playing overshadows any 3D gimmickry.