Total War: Shogun 2 – Learning While Bleeding.

I’ve slowly immersed myself into the world of the Samurai as of late. Steam, once again, had my number and that number was $7.50, the great sales price for Total War: Shogun 2 [TWS2]. The Total War series involves large map, turn based, micromanagement of settlements/city states and beautifully detailed real-time game play of large scale battles involving hundreds, if not thousands, of units at once. Like most of the Total War games, developed by The Creative Assembly and published by SEGA, it is full of information pertaining to the period it is set in. TWS2 is played out during Japan’s feudal period (1185 – 1868) and it contains enough Samurai swords and deaths to satisfy the blood lust of any future Matsudaira Naritsugu.

During the three or four hours it took me to play through the tutorial campaign I spent just as much time, if not more, reading about all the different clans from this period, than actually controlling them. The micromanaging aspects of games has always come easy to me but when it comes to the real-time battles, I think a common peasant from feudal Japan could out play me, with one hand planting rice. I am like General Custer, who gets wiped out at Little Big Horn, except the odds are actually in my favor. Thankfully, the Total War games provide you with an auto-resolve option when facing a real-time battle and in TWS2 I use it regularly. About the only time I don’t choose the auto-resolve option is when the numerical and technological odds are so stack in my favor that even I, General Incompetent, can squeak out a victory.

One of the most entertaining and rewarding game play aspects of TWS2, for me, has been the use of special agents that can move around the map and perform special tasks. A Monk, or Missionary, unit can put a newly “acquired” population at ease or insight rebellion, a Meske can bribe opposing generals and manage settlements and a Geisha can spy in enemy territory and assassinate important individuals. My favorite agent, however, is the Ninja. Perhaps I’ve watched The Last Samurai to often and consider the Ninja the Samurai’s nemesis (which is not true but fun to fantasize about) and I use them against opposing Samurai armies as frequently as possible. The Ninja’s ability to assassinate and sabotage make him a very useful ally in the quest to conquer a new territory. What better way to prepare for a castle assault then ordering your ninja to open the gate?

TWS2 brings the eastern version of Medieval Europe into my hands and makes it available to play with. Feudal Japan was a time of bloodshed but also a time of philosophical advancement, literature and honor. Thanks to TWS2 I am able to enjoy war gaming in safety, open my mind to the copious amounts of knowledge and broaden my appreciation for the additions this far eastern culture provided – as long as no one sends a ninja to assassinate me.

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Mountains Of Change: Skyrim’s Ability To Vary.

For over 153 hours my Wood Elf, Randy Stardust, picked locks, sneaked and killed from afar in the world of Skyrim. Randy took the reins of both the Thieves’ and Assassins’ guild, conquered Alduin (the main foe of the main quest line) and crushed the Stormcloak rebellion as an Imperial Legate. In short, Randy was a bad ass. There was no foe, nor group of foes, in the world of Skyrim that could best him. Randy saw the blood of his enemies and sadly, many of his friends run underneath his Dragonskin boots. His heart had grown cold and dead due to the amount of death that followed in his Dragonborn wake. He had quietly been searching for an end and this week, he embraced his death.

Randy was not defeated by any virtual foe. No dragon can clam fame from his demise. Randy just simply lived too long, in my mind. I had grown tired of Randy and his exploits. I had grown tired of killing my foes with an arrow from the shadows. I was tired of serving the Imperials that had almost signed Randy’s death warrant just as he was born onto the Skyrim landscape. No, Randy met his demise because gaming is one of the best deterrents to monotony. Randy died so another could live, and overwrite his saved game files. Born is Kegels Grip.

One of the last pictures of Randy Stardust.

Kegels Grip is almost the antithesis to Randy Stardust. An Imperial with a hatred for his own kind (they were going to hang him for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time) and a thirst for magic – Kegels desires power and an Imperial to use it against. Preferring to stand out in the open rather than skulk in the shadows, Kegels would rather dual wield spells while encased in armor than pepper targets from afar. Kegels is a battlemage and one of the best examples of the amount of variation today’s games can bring to today’s gamer.

A very green Kegels Grip.

Kegels Grip not only represents my inclination towards humorous word play but my appreciation for the level of variance one can pull from well designed games. Entirely new quest lines are at my fingertips because of the path I have chosen for Kegels. Past enemies are now friends and friends are now enemies. New adventures present Kegels and myself with new rewards. Within the first hour of Kegels life new locations, within Skyrim, were highlighted to visit – even after spending 153 hours exploring the world as Randy Stardust, may he rest in peace.

Part Emperor Palpatine, part Dragon, all Kegels Grip.

The ability to reinvent yourself is not unique to PC gaming but the ability to do it so quickly, is. It may be the end of Randy Stardust but in his death, appreciation for creation and change would not be as evident. In many ways Randy’s death helped enable the creation of Kegels avatar. Randy provided a standard to completely run away from so even in his death, parts of him live on in Kegels Grip. Gaming is a platform of constant change that one embraces rather fears. The ability to change with excitement in a virtual world makes it easier to accept change in the real world and embrace it as well. Here’s to change, both virtual and reality based.

Quality Created Marketing: Blizzard’s “Unintentional” Boon From Flexible Release Dates

Blizzard’s policy of not releasing a game until it is polished and absolutely complete has worked out for both Blizzard, and for their game buying fans. With each games’ announcement, the online community explodes. Free marketing abound! With each delay of a Blizzard release, free marketing abound! When the game finally hits the hands of its wanting fans the level of anticipation has reached the same height of a Protoss Carrier.

Per Blizzard's Diablo 3 website (FAQ section).

For Blizzard, this practice of releasing games only when things are perfect has been awarded to them due to the money they’ve generated via World of Warcraft [WOW]. It also helps that each game they release, that has an extended development phase, is an award winning, financial success. With ample cash on hand, Blizzard can stretch out their development, alpha and beta phases. Many other gaming companies can not afford the luxury of having a negotiable release date, and in the case of Blizzard, the release date is not just negotiable but very flexible.

What was originally just the practice of giving its gamers/fans the most faultless iteration of its next game, Blizzard has created a marketing strategy original to the gaming industry. The constant delay and changing of release dates has now turned into a buzz machine for Blizzard. With some of the most appreciated and accepted games in the PC arena (Diablo, WarCraft, WOW and StarCraft) it’s understandable that Blizzard wants to get each release right. I do not think the delays in release are intentional but obviously Blizzard is aware of the storm it creates every time it even mentions another delay.

You can find the devil on Amazon.

When subscribers for WOW started to fall off slightly and Blizzard stock started to bleed (both happened in late 2011), I wrongfully predicted that Blizzard would, for the first time, hurry a release. I thought the pressures of share owners would finally put the squeeze on Blizzard and they would release a game before they wanted to. I am happy to be wrong. Perhaps Blizzard share holders have some faith and understanding of what makes Blizzard, just as polished as its games.

Once again, a Diablo 3 release date announcement is expected soon. Once again, the internet and gaming media are a buzz. Once again, Blizzard gets some free marketing. Once again, I am drooling at the opportunity to personally rip Diablo’s horns from his head.