Prank Me Hard: Skyrim’s Traps Are to Die For

Pranking, not to be confused with the lame meme planking, could be considered a science, or at least a skill. In your earlier years you start off with simple skill building hijinks that you play on your younger and more gullible cousins. You take that quarter proudly in your hands and roll in down the middle of your forehead to the tip of your nose. You smile with pride as you complete this monumental task and your cousins stare on in amazement and eagerness to prove they too, can pull off such a feat. You give them their own personal, prior prepared, quarter with pencil graphite generously applied to its edges and watch, with an anticipating and encouraging grin. As your overly trusting family member shows his superior quarter rolling skills you smile with him and then laugh hysterically at your marks “mark”.

That quarter prank is similar to the more common traps you see in the early quests of Skyrim. The bait, the untainted quarter, is a shade floating around a corner and your avatar eagerly following, to get that sneak attack bonus. The switch, comes when your avatar tries to round that same corner but fails to realize that shades are ethereal, but your avatar’s armored boots are not. Your boots clip the taut string strung along the ground, triggering the darts from the wall, bringing attention to your presence. As the shade turns you can almost see the younger, cousin teasing, version of yourself in its lifeless grin. You realize your are the over trusting cousin, with a line running down your face. You are the mark.

As you progress in Skyrim’s main quest line and/or explore more of its open world you start to encounter traps that mimic the pranks from your teens. The first time boulders and stones came crashing down on my avatar, after I walked through a trapped door, I instantly flashed back to my pizzeria pranking heydays. Boulders were replaced with buckets of water and the stones, with cups of flour. Instead of a bloodied Randy Stardust, leader of the Companions, I picture my boss, leader of the pizzeria.

As of this post I will be in the middle of my birthday week. Which, according to my girlfriend, means I will be getting a heavy dose of real world Skyrim traps. Did you know that workout supplements now come with extra steel? In the form of bottle caps? As of this post my girlfriend will also know that I am well trained in the art of pranking. Thanks to growing up devious, and more recently Skyrim, I consider myself a novice prankster – so I can’t wait for her birthday week.

Though the traps in Skyrim are made with the intent to harm, as will the ones to be used during my girlfriends birthday week, each new form of trap elicits laughter and memories from my past. Even when I notice a potential swinging set of spikes and announce “It’s a trap!”, I will save… and trigger the pressure plate anyways. With talk of new expansions to Skyrim already on the press’s and player’s minds, I hope they include the possibility to “fool your cousin”, in game.

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Tag! The Orc is “it”!

Randy Stardust, the Wood Elf, upon his horse.

Do you recall the games we played when we weren’t playing video games? Kick the can? Flashlight tag? Freeze tag or variations of it, like TV Tag? Family holiday gatherings always sparked these ‘All-American’ multiplayers, mostly because where the family gathering was being held didn’t have a gaming system (grandparents). I am not complaining. My memories of these spontaneous tag engagements, at a grandparents or aunt and uncles, are some of  the best memories from my youth. Many of these games were prompted to end with a call from famished parents wanting to start dinner, and wanting to get home. However, our games didn’t end until the last person made it to “base” and was safe.

If you have ever played a tag based game then you almost undoubtedly have seen or been involved in the car standoff. You know the car standoff, everyone has made it to base except for one individual and all that stands between them and safety is the person that’s “it” and a car. The two siblings/cousins jockey for position around the car, mirroring each others movement, always ending up opposite one another. Someone finally falters and is unable to match the other players pace and flinches, the person makes it to base basking in applause, leaving his sister in the dust.

I had this exact moment unfold in front of my eyes but, while playing the video game The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. I was thrown back to my childhood memories and was giddy. Yes, I was giddy. I squealed like a little boy playing tag, just making it to base. My Wood Elf, Randy Stardust (Randy, after Stan’s dad in South Park. Stardust, after David Bowie’s alter ego – the combination of the two sounding like a porn stars name.) had sneaked his way up a large stone flight of stairs leading to a ruined temple entrance. Randy was on a mission to return a ‘Golden Claw’ to a brother and sister owned trade house and the bandits of this claw had supposedly taken refuge in a ruined temple on a mountainside.

Randy is not one for full frontal assaults, unlike his porn alter ego, so he sneaked his way up the mountain and the steps. Just peaking over the apex of the stony stairway he spied a bandit mumbling to himself about the cold, Randy happily put him out of his misery with an arrow from distance. Looking around, Randy overtook the last step and cautiously peered through the blustery snow that swirled and engulfed the temple entrance. As he moved to the entrance voices cried out and an arrow buzzed by his ear, bouncing off the pillar behind him. “Shit,” Randy’s pupetmaster said out loud.

Two hulking foes had rounded a corner of the temple exterior and behind them was a   supporting archer. Randy is not well suited for a confrontation of this kind so a little improvisation was required. The archer luckily stayed back far enough that his arrows were of little concern but the two massive brutes on a direct path to Randy were a different story. Like Legalos, of Lord of Rings fame, Randy loosed three  arrows in quick succession taking our the lead bandit, whose speed was his misfortune for the first and last time in his life. That left the most dangerous of the two surviving bandits bearing down on him.

All that stood between me and the mass of muscles, brandishing a giant polearm, was a sarcophagus sized stone. The stone, that was once part of an arch that sheltered worshipers from the weather, was now going to shelter me from my foe. As he rounded the corner of the stone I mirrored his movement in the opposite direction. When he changed directions so did I. It was then that it dawned on me, I was back in the yard of my grandparents playing tag. Instead of a car dividing the two foes, there lay a stone. Instead of my sister opposite me, there was an ugly, snarling, Orc, with a dentist’s nightmare overbite (not too different from my sisters appearance during her more awkward years).

When both are wearing glasses the similarities are uncanny.

In this car standoff both players are armed but Randy has the ability to reach out and hurt. While we jockey back and forth, I quick fired arrows into the Orc’s chest. As the Orc slowly drained of life, I flashed back to my grandparents’ hazardous driveway (it consisted of concrete that was poured over a century ago). I knew the battle was won when I looked across the car into the tired eyes of a loved one. There steps, in attempts to match mine, had become clumsy. Their frustration and exhaustion became obvious as they slipped on gravel and tripped on uneven concrete. One last “juke” and they would be too slow to compensate. Now, looking at my sister the Orc, I could see the same frustration and exhaustion in his green eyes.

Another arrow floated harmlessly overhead. I took my time lining up the next shot, knowing it would be the finishing blow. The Orc across from me swung in desperation from the other side of the stone. As the head of his weapon just passed the halfway point of the swings arc, an arrow to his head ended his life.

I took a moment to appreciate how an encounter in a brilliantly made video game had caused me to flashback to fond memories of my childhood. I quickly out shot the depth perception deprived bandit archer and safely made it to base, while being bathed in applause.

Skyrim's version of "base".

The Un-Elder Globes: Skyrim

I have yet to shiver in the rivers that run through the wintry landscape of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. I have not stared down a dragon in the hopes of stilling his soul. I have, however, imagined that all the dragons sound like Sean Connery. I’ve also watched a multitude of trailers and now, game play, and what has caught my attention the most since post release?

Before I go any further and reveal my mannerism, let me put in place a preemptive apology to my girlfriend. Amanda, I am sorry, they mean nothing to me. Even when I do purchase the game and I am immersed within their world and perhaps living with them, even sleeping with them, they are not a real threat. Okay, now that is out of the way…

So what have I noticed constantly in the Skyrim videos post launch? Boobs. Large, perfectly shaped, breasts. Yeah there are dragons and dual wielding of spells and weapons, but boy did they do a job on the pixelated perkies. It seems if a women in the world of Skyrim has a low cut blouse then they must also have a before-its-time push up bra or, at least, a c-sized silicone implant… or both.

As soon as I started to regularly notice the boobzilla inhabitants of Skyrim (and trust me it didn’t take long) I instantly started to make up in world excuses for their existence:

“In the frigid northern lands, that is Skyrim, evolution has adapted to provide women with insulating chest pillows.”

“Among the possible spell paths is, the less traveled, Cosmetic Spell Caster. He/She earns his living by enhancing the beauty of the women of the north, who suffer from the harsh winters, by offering his skills for coin.”

“A side quest quest of Skyrim is to find the source (possibly a dragon), for King Weiner, that provides its women with large attractive breast so he may use it for his own shortcomings in his land of New Yorkia.”

All that was fun, but the real reason that eye cleaving cleavage is so prevalent in Skyrim is because, sex sales. I was sold on this game way before the Breastimous Magnanimous spell was ever cast on me. The game is huge and it leaves plenty to the imagination (No. Not, “I wonder what she looks like under that leather armor.”) or more importantly, exploration. It is a world you will struggle to see in its entirety, even if that is your sole purpose of playing it. The game is its own world, that you will enjoy getting lost in.

I understand the need to immerse players of a game within their surroundings by providing them with ample amounts of visual fruit (see cantaloupes, watermelons etc.) when that said surrounding is a brothel or the lair of an enchantress; I understand this and expect it. On the dual wielding hand, not every women in a hotel, tavern or farmhouse has a set of ‘dragon eyes’ the size of Duke Nukem’s ego.

What makes this more frustrating as a gamer who wants gaming to be taken more seriously; as an industry of intelligence, made up of players of intelligence (See the publication Kill Screen’s mission http://killscreendaily.com/pages/who-we-are.) is The Elder Scrolls series has been embraced by women and men alike. I couldn’t get Amanda off my old PC after I introduced her to The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Both her and I have been anticipating the release of Skyrim and are now waiting for the right moment to purchase it. How many women gamers have been turned off by the YourTube boob views of Skyrim, passed on the purchase, and went back to playing Farmville?

Then there’s how video game news is covered. The industry must distance itself from the large breasted women trying to convince us they are actually informed about video games. What female viewer who is questioning taking up the hobby would decide that she wants to partake in an industry that covers news in such  way? Please stop insulting me by presenting your silicone talking head as an expert in the field of video game journalism. Yes, there are exceptions, where the woman is informed but they normally don’t rise to the top because of the following:

Yes, video gaming is dominated by us penis pushers and so are the themes of video games but think how much of a bigger audience a game would have it is just toned down the titties? I am in no way saying cut out the sexy that makes up 85% of females portrayed in video games but perhaps cut that down to 65-60%. In the process of cutting back on the racks, input some female characters that are more than just visually pleasing. Put some in there that are mud crab ugly. Put some in there that are attractive and intelligent. Put some in there that are as common looking as Jane Eyre and when the storyline matches, do put some in there with spell enhanced “attributes”. To their credit, Bethesda does this to some extent in Skyrim.

In a gaming economy that relies on having a large base of potential gamers wouldn’t it behoove a developer to not ostracise a potential segment? Lets take away the capitalist argument above. Shouldn’t creating games that could have mass appeal to multiple genders be done because it is the right thing to do? Because those who are playing the games are not just boner controlled morons, but evolved men and women who appreciate a fun fantasy game that doesn’t make them out to be walking hardons?

Dynamic Patching: Taking the Chastity Belt Off Stronghold 3

I have lead my villagers to victory in the face of the Jackal’s overwhelming numbers. Despite the Jackal’s better equipped and armored forces, my pitchforked armed farmers-of-death (peasants) and my archers in tights, have fended off his advances. I have enjoyed the first eight missions of the combat based campaign of Stronghold 3 but if there hadn’t been a timely patch, I would of waved the white flag within the first mission.

I would not have gotten up to this point in the military campaign of Stronghold 3 unless a major patch had come out a week after its release and taken the chastity belt off its game play. Prior to this patch’s release the game was one frustrating encounter after another. The real battle was not between you and the Jackal’s men but between you and the games glitches and bugs (Did you know wolves can climb ladders?). I was starting to believe the Wolf, the main nemesis of the Stronghold series, was going to defeat me before I ever met his men on the battlefield.

Thankfully Firefly Studios and publisher 7Sixty quickly realized they had a route on their hands and if they didn’t act quickly all their efforts would fall to the onslaught of negative reviews. 7Sixty made their publishing debut with Stronghold 3 and I can imagine that first impressions were something they wanted to go right – they have a lot of treasure and to a point, their company’s future invested in this games success. For awhile it appeared they too, would be defeated by the Wolf before they even stepped on the battlefield. Hope does remain for their success and this quickly released patch supports that hope for both 7Sixty and Firefly.

The core game mechanics of Stronghold 3 are strong. The additional elements added to the third game in this series add to the depth and fun of this game, when everything else is functioning correctly. The concept of needing a candle maker to stockpile candles for church services, to in turn increase the happiness of your populace, is a welcome addition to a game that thrives off what OCD game play. Having a sheep farm to produce wool so your tailor can provide you with clothes may seem tedious to some but to those who enjoy what I call step-to-step RTS game play, it is a joy. All these additions are welcomed but missed when the basic game mechanics are lost.

The improvements promised to us in the months leading up to Stronghold 3 are there. Firefly managed to cut back the problems with micromanage when it came to getting assigned peasants to do the tasks you, as lord and king, assigned them to do. Lumberjacks cut wood, farmers bring in hops for the brewers and those who work at the stone quarry get a good work out in the process of providing stone that will be used in their village’s castle walls. The physics engine does make crumbling wood walls fun to watch, even when they are your own. Dynamic housing that scales, visually and occupancy wise from large to small, based on the proximity from your main keep is a new challenge to your inner city planner.

Upon release I thought I was going to see the passing of the games fictional King, publisher 7Sixty and my desire to play Stronghold 3 within in a week. Instead, similar to the fall and rise depicted in the games military campaign, I was given renewed interest and vigor to continue my play through. During Stronghold and Stronghold 2’s heydays, digital distribution did not exist nor did automatic updates/game patches. Herds of nerds had to wait months and even years for game saving patches to be released and by that time it was too late, for the gamer and the company behind the game. Thankfully, during the age of digital downloads and daily updates, games with faults at release will live to take the throne again. If Firefly and 7Sixty continue to strengthen the castle walls of Stronghold 3 then it will still have the chance to fend off early critic attacks and receive the Abbott’s approval.

Battlefield Brosephs: Battlefield 3’s Real Fun Happens With Friends

To start off, Battlefield 3 is fun, beautiful and after 23+ hours of play it is still regularly revealing ‘ah-ha’ moments (No, its soundtrack is not a continuous loop of Take On Me). Speaking of its soundtrack; the audio is spectacular and when played while wearing gaming headphones with surround sound it will sometimes cause you to duck as the whine of an RPG careens overhead. The real fun comes though, when you are playing in a squad with friends and you all have mics.

No, this is not a visual depiction of the sweet sounds of Battlefield 3.

When you are in a squad with your mates, Battlefield 3 really opens up. With constant communication that helps shape the battlefield, you and your squad have shared vision. If a teammate is pinned down by a sniper but can verbally reveal the enemy’s location to you, not only do you get to pick up an easy kill, you also get to sarcastically say “Your welcome.” as you dispatch the harassing foe.

With four classes in the game (Assault, Engineer, Support & Recon) that naturally support one another, moments of patting each others back on the battlefield are the norm. As an engineer barraging a tank with rockets as it closes in on your squads location, it is a relief to know that one of your squad mates will be able to get ammo to you soon. Did you just take out two people in an ambushing squad and watched as your mates cleaned up the rest? No worries, your sacrifice will not be forgotten nor go unrewarded as one of your platoon members will defib (defibrillator) you back to life.

I am still up in the air on the server browser/social community that is Battlefield 3’s Battlelog but even though done in jest, it is still fun to Hooah! (Battlelogs version of Facebook’s Like option) a friends new rank. It is also fun to Hooah! every remote action that is listed on the Battle feed (similar to Facebook’s Recent News section) so your friends will be greeted/annoyed by a plethora of notices when they next long in.

An example of Battlelog's Battle feed and friendly Hooah! spamming.

So you can play Battlefield 3 unaided by friends, in a squad full of unknowns, where your death goes unnoticed and actually still have a lot of fun. If you truly want to appreciate all that Battlefield 3 has to offer then join up with your brosephs and kill together, revive together and give out digital fist bumps via cheesy Battlelog sprinkled with vocal Hooahs!