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09
Dec
08

Holiday Gaming

The holidays are upon us. As we assemble with others for seasonal gatherings, video games are beginning to become a part of the festivities. So if you have a party coming up, here are a few ideas.

Wii is a natural party platform since it gets people up and moving. Even with the included game Wii Sports, you can have a homerun derby or similar contest with everyone getting a turn with the Wiimote.

Another idea are quiz type games such as Scene-It. The Xbox 360 version comes with four buzzer type controllers allowing four people (or four teams) to answer questions about movies. This game is a hit not only for parties, but also with a family or significant other. I gave this to my wife last Christmas and she, who had never played on the 360 at all, loved it.

For really livening up a party, get the gang back together with Rock Band. Four people can play this at once and it can be really entertaining just watching. Other music games like Guitar Hero and even American Idol are fun for group gatherings.

Bring a little retro to your party with older games you can download from Xbox Live or the Playstation Network. For those in their 30s and 40s, Pac-Man, Dig-Dug, and so forth can be a lot of fun to play. These are fairly inexpensive and you can have tournaments with these classics.

Video games can even be the theme of the party. Have several friends bring over televisions and their own game systems and set up game rooms throughout the house or party location. Rock Band can be head banging in one room while movie trivia is in another and sports in a third. The key is to pick games that partygoers are either already familiar with or can pick up quickly. Be sure have something for everyone. Zombie slaying is not for everyone. You can even make up your own games with a computer, digital camera, and PowerPoint. Trivia games about your guests can be a great way to start the evening. “Name that Baldspot” or “Which couple has been together the longest” are easy to put together and help everyone get to know each other better.

Have a great holiday season and please write to let me know how video games were a part of your party.

 

 

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11
Nov
08

A Veteran’s Day Guide to EndWar Infantry

 

Infantry play an important role on the battlefield of the future.

Infantry play an important role on the battlefield of the future.

 

Ninety years ago today the guns fell silent all along the trench lines stretching from the Alps to the North Sea. The War to End All Wars was over. Within 21 years, the world would once again be at war. The Treaty of Versailles planted the seeds of World War II. While wars continue throughout the world today, none have compared to the two world wars.

 

 

 Tom Clancy’s EndWar is set a hundred years after World War I ended. The units you can command are evolutions of the same units that fought during WWI. It was during this conflict that the tank and aircraft were first used in combat. Artillery and infantry both played a major role at the time. Even though modern tanks, gunships, and artillery are so much more advanced, in 2020, the soldier on the ground still decides the battle.

 

 Infantry is often the overlooked unit in EndWar. They are actually some of the most important units. There are two different types of infantry units: Riflemen and Engineers. Infantry are the only units which can secure uplinks and then upgrade them for supports. Therefore, you need to have these units in your force when you deploy to the battlefield. Following are some tips on how to get the most out of your infantry.

 

 Infantry are slow to move. Therefore, load them up in transports to quickly move them to their objectives. Transports also provides protection for your infantry since they are extremely vulnerable to all types of enemy attacks while out in the open. When your infantry are going to fight, make sure they are either in cover or garrisoned in a building. Buildings are great spots for positioning infantry. Both cover and buildings give infantry increased rate of fire and longer attack ranges in addition to providing protection.

 

 Engineers are excellent against all types of vehicles while they are in cover or garrisoned. They are also fast at upgrading uplinks Riflemen, on the other hand, are best used against enemy infantry—especially Engineers. With some upgrades, your riflemen can defeat any enemy infantry—even if they are garrisoned in a building. Riflemen can also secure uplinks fast.

 

 Infantry have some very cool upgrades. While Riflemen can get stealth suits and sniper rifles as well as the ability to deploy anywhere on the battlefield, Engineers can deploy minefields and deploy defenses around uplinks.

 

So next time you are fighting in 2020, focus on your infantry. If you use them correctly, keeping them in cover or garrisoned in buildings, and upgrade them, you will see just how effective they can be.

 

 

12
Aug
08

Tom Clancy Thriller? No, it’s the news

While the world’s attention was focused on the sensational Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing, Russian tanks were rolling into the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The Russians claimed they were protecting the ethnic Russians living in South Ossetia, a region in northern Georgia, from Georgian forces who had moved in to punish separatist forces. Let’s go back a bit to see how this all came to a head. When Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the people in South Ossetia shortly after tried to become independent from Georgia. Fighting erupted and finally Georgia and Russia signed a peace treaty where South Ossetia remained part of Georgia, but Russian peacekeeping troops remained. Russia also issued Russian passports to the people of South Ossetia, essentially making them Russian citizens.

 

What set off the recent conflict is that Georgia launched a surprise operation last week to restore its control in South Ossetia. This was all Russia needed to launch a full scale invasion with their forces that just happened to be at the border. In addition to driving the Georgian forces out of South Ossetia, Russian troops advanced into clear Georgian territory to capture the town of Gori which is located in the middle of the country along the main east-west highway. Furthermore, Russia captured Georgian military bases and sank a Georgian naval vessel. Russian aircraft bombed the Georgian capitol of Tbillsi attacking not only military targets, but also civilians.

 

From my point of view (I have a degree in history and military history as well as teach high school history), Russia was just waiting for an opportunity to move into Georgia. This former republic has become very friendly with the west and the US is working with it to include it in NATO. Russia, which is becoming an economic power due to its oil reserves, has taken a back seat since the end of Communism and under the leadership of Putin, who by the way is no longer president, but still pulls the strings, has tried to regain its status are a world power with which to be reckoned. Other former Soviet republics are also leaning to the west. It appears that Georgia may be Russia’s example to the rest. Russian foreign policy has often been heavy-handed, especially when dealing with smaller countries. Now it looks like Putin is taking a page out of Al Capone’s tactics from 1920’s Chicago.

 

As for Tom Clancy, it is interesting that part of the premise of the upcoming game, Tom Clancy’s EndWar is that Russia, gaining power by exporting oil after trouble in the Middle East, starts World War III in order to regain its supremacy in Europe. However, with the US busy in Iraq and Afghanistan, will the west be able to support Georgia? Or will they let it fall to Russia just like France and Britain let Czechoslovakia fall to Hitler’s Germany (which also began as protection for ethnic Germans)? Time will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

22
Jul
08

Advertising in Games

In the late ‘80s, the movie Top Gun was released on video (VHS). Critics were upset because the video contained a commercial for Pepsi before the movie began. You may remember the F-14 Tomcat with the Pepsi bottle dispenser (it was a glass bottle as well). While the advertising may have been a problem for some, I did not mind it at all. In fact, I was glad for it because it allowed for the movie to be sold for a much cheaper price than other videos so I could afford to buy it. Before that time, videos were expensive and move people just rented them rather than pay the steep price for a single movie. By having Pepsi sponsor the video release, Paramount (I believe) was able to sell the video cheaper. It sold so well, that other videos dropped in price as well as studios realized that cheaper price means more sales as well as a greater profit.

 

The purpose of advertising is to sell a product. Companies pay media outlets to run or print their ads and that is where media makes a lot of their money. Television and radio shows are free (not counting some satellite and cable channels) because advertisers are footing the bill for you to watch and listen. Magazines and newspapers are about 60%-75% ads. Comic books used to be full of ads. When they dropped outside advertising, the cost of comic books went up. Therefore, according to this economic model, advertising makes media cheaper for the consumer.

 

Over the weekend my wife and I were watching Vantage Point (a great movie, by the way). Forrest Whittaker’s character uses a video camera during many scenes in the movie. Right away I noticed that from several different angles, I could see the Sony logo. I then remembered that the movie was by Columbia, a Sony Pictures studio. It is no coincidence that the video camera in the movie was a Sony. As you watch TV or movies, you will notice lots of product placements throughout.

 

Advertisements have been appearing in video games for a while as well. Atari used billboards in the arcade version of Pole Position, a racing game, to advertise their other games. So this is not new. What brought up the top of this blog was that I recently learned that some upcoming games will have dynamic advertising throughout. From what I have read, these might be billboards with real ads. If that were not enough, one of the goals is to destroy as many of these billboards as you can. Of course, if you are going to destroy a billboard, you will have to aim and look at it. This is taking in-game advertising a bit too far in my opinion, by rewarding players for looking at ads with points or achievements.

 

However, if the publishers of these games with advertising are including ads to make the game less expensive for the players rather than just pocketing the extra profits, I am willing to let it slide. Maybe advertising will make brand new next-gen games more affordable.

 

 

 

08
Jul
08

Where is multiplayer gaming going?

Multiplayer gaming has been around for over a decade. In the beginning, it was only available for computer games and even then you had to be extremely literate in order to connect and play with someone else. I remember playing Microsoft Flight Simulator with a friend. After calling each other and sharing IP addresses, when they had to hang up, and start up the modems. Several attempts later, we were flying together. Since there were no weapons, the game basically consisted of playing follow the leader in Cessnas.

 

First person shooters were the big multiplayer games that everyone wanted to play. However, they were basically limited to deathmatches where you just went around killing everyone else. For me, that was not very exciting. I longed for tactics and teamwork. The first game I played online that really included that was Battlefield 1942. There was no deathmatch in this game. You had to play on one team or the other and the only way to win was to work with your teammates. Plus you got to use vehicles so it was just awesome.

 

The next phase was coop gaming. Just like playing Contra or Ikari Warriors on the old NES, a campaign is more fun to play through when you are playing with a friend. Rainbow Six Vegas and Gears of War actually let you play the single player campaigns coop with a friend. For a lot of players, that really encouraged them to go online because some don’t really want to play against people they don’t know. Army of Two was designed from the beginning to be a coop game and is still pretty popular. Now massive multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft have become incredibly popular as they give players an alternate reality in which to live and interact with other players from around the world.

 

While earlier systems had multiplayer capability (the Dreamcast had a built in modem), connecting was still tough. Then Microsoft introduced Xbox Live when they released the Xbox. Though it cost a fee to play, and still had some bugs, by the time the Xbox 360 was released, Xbox Live was a must. Players who had never even tried multiplayer got to see just how fun playing with or against other players could be.

 

As for the future of multiplayer gaming, it is coming before the end of this year. Ubisoft is releasing Tom Clancy’s EndWar. The main game is focused on multiplayer battles of up to eight players on two teams. At the start, you join one of three factions (US, Russia, or European Union). You are then on that team. If you change teams, you lose all the upgrades and experience your units gained, so it is best to stay with one faction. What really sounds interesting is that the world is divided into territories. Each day there will be set battles you can play. Whichever faction has the most wins for that territory during the 24 hours, wins that territory. Then the battles for the next day are determined based on the previous days results. A game keeps going until one faction completes its objectives such as capturing an enemy capitol or something like that. The concept looks really innovative, so I will be looking forward to playing EndWar this fall.

 

 

01
Jul
08

Patriotic Gaming

Since this is the week of the Fourth of July, America’s Independence Day, I thought I would discuss a topic with a patriotic theme. It also goes along with my current project—Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway. As we celebrate the birth of the United States, we can remember those brave men and women who made our freedom and liberty possible.

 

There are many games out there that let players take the part of an American fighting man in a variety of conflicts. However, the most common is World War II. In addition to having a good time, players can actually learn some military history as they play titles such as the Medal of Honor or Call of Duty series. Battlefield 1942, while not a historically accurate, let players re-enact major battles from WWII using not only infantry and tanks, but also planes and even battleships! From the naval point of view, while Battlestations: Midway provided an opportunity to command fleets of ships and squadrons of aircraft, a decade earlier, the Great Naval Battles series by SSI did the same but with more strategic and simulative gameplay. Then of course there are the air games such as Blazing Angels of recent release. However, veterans of computer games will remember Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe by Lucasarts and Microprose’s Aces of the Pacific. Finally, there are the RTS games such as Company of Heroes and the older but more tactical Close Combat series.

 

While all of these games are great, none is more immersive than the Brothers in Arms series. It is like playing through the HBO series Band of Brothers. While I was writing the strategy guide for Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood, I had the opportunity to travel to the Gearbox offices in Plano, Texas. I was impressed by the amount of detail and history that went into their games. As you are in the game walking down a street, that is what that street looked like in 1944. You are not just playing a game, you are experiencing history from the point of view of those who made it. Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway follows this same pattern. While some new features have been added to make it even better than the previous releases, the game still pulls you into the storyline and gives you a first person history lesson on what the 101st Airborne paratroopers went through during Operation Market-Garden in September of 1944 as they tried to secure the bridges over rivers in Holland.

 

Though Hell’s Highway won’t be out until later this summer, honor America by playing a patriotic game of your choice. Even if you have to wipe off the dust before you play it, pay tribute to the good ole USA by playing.

 

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July. (for our French readers, have a great Bastille Day later this month.)

 

 

24
Jun
08

4-D Video Gaming—Part II

As I mentioned last week, I have been impressed by Disney’s Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters at Disneyland. There are similar attractions at Disney World in Florida as well as at Disneyland Tokyo. Disneyland just opened Toy Story Mania at Disney’s California Adventure. Therefore, in order to keep all of you readers informed on the latest in video gaming, I made the trek down to Anaheim along with my family to check out this new attraction.

 

Despite a record breaking heat wave in Southern California, and long lines, I finally climbed aboard the ride vehicles. Four people ride two by two, back to back. Each person has a cannon which is fired by pulling a cord and then releasing it. Riders don 3-D glasses and the vehicles stop in front of large screens where they play a variety of games. All of the games are based on carnival style games. Therefore, you will be shooting darts at balloons, launching rings at Little Green Men and rockets, firing balls at plates, and even shooting targets in a wild west town along with Woody.

 

Targets have different point values with those farther away and moving worth more than the larger and closer targets. Yes, I did say farther away. The games are 3-D, so your projectiles have to travel across the screen to get to the targets. Now you may be wondering what is the 4-D I mention in the title of this blog. That is what makes this attraction even better. When you throw a ring around a rocket, it takes off past you and a blast of air hits you as it goes by. Some of the targets are water balloons, and when they pop, you feel a splash of water.

 

Finally, each vehicle contains a video monitor located between each pair of riders. It displays your score for the current game, your total score, and even your percentage accuracy. Since this is the newest attraction, the wait for it is usually at least an hour or two depending on the day and time. If you get a chance to visit the Disneyland Resort, be sure to try out Toy Story Mania. It takes video games to a totally new dimension.