Max Payne, I Can Happily Say I Don’t Share Yours.

“Baghdad with g-strings.”

Max Payne in Max Payne 3, describing Sao Paulo.

Max Payne has scars as deep as the Grand Canyon on his face, and within his mind. If his name doesn’t provide you with an idea of the heartache of his life, read on. Max Payne has been the protagonist in the Max Payne series, with its third installment developed by Rockstar Games (of Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption fame), that takes its dialogue and cinematics right out of the pages of a Frank Miller graphic novel. The games are dark, gritty and full of blood, booze and pills – not a game I would suggest to someone who is depressed. Max Payne 1 and 2 took Max’s wife, infant child, and anyone that was remotely close to him. Max’s life encapsulates every bit of his destiny driven name.

Three bottles of pills (see red circle) for when Max looks like the guy in the chair.

Max Payne 3 is supposed to be a new start for Max, but we all know that is doomed from the start. Who wants to play a FPS [first person shooter] where the protagonist faces no adversity or threat to his life? That would just be Nintendo’s Duck Hunt. Sorry Max, but your life was only meant to be painful, and Max Payne 3 has yet to disappoint.

My favorite kills so far? Dropping these Jersey Shore knock offs with a smile.

A week ago I had no intention to exposing myself to what I knew would be a depressingly fun shooter. I required games that put the pace at my control. Like Max, I was searching for a change, a career change, and I was finally presented with the opportunity – sadly for Max, my new start will work out better than his. With the fortunate news I received last Sunday (from my future employer), and finally sunk in the following Tuesday, I was once again ready to embrace games that were frantically fun. I could once again wrap my hand around a FPS, like Max wraps his hand around his pistol.

If I were Max I would be less concerned about being killed by a bullet, and more concerned about dying from cancer, liver failure, or an overdose from painkillers. Max is constantly drinking and smoking in cut scenes. He heals himself in-game by popping pain killers that are generously spread throughout the environment. He is a mess. It makes me wonder if the Max Payne franchise wasn’t originally developed by the marketing department of large drug conglomerate. I can only imagine playing this game a month ago when I felt stuck in my lack of employment. I could have seen myself being tempted to raise a glass every time Max took a drink of his favorite cocktail (2 parts whiskey, 1 part painkiller and 2 parts cigarette). Now, I can enjoy the game and Max’s captivating depression, while enjoying a laugh and a Leffe.

Max’s future, if the booze, bullets and painkillers don’t get him first.

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Civ 5, Helping Me And My Society Survive.

I returned to Sid Meier’s Civilization V [Civ 5] over the last week, and it had nothing to do with the recently released expansion Civilization V: God and Kings. No, my return to this top-down turn based civilization game (where victory is achieved through research, diplomacy, expansion, economic development, government and military) was based on my desire to play a game that wasn’t frantic and could be enjoyed at my own pace. The beauty of turn based games is in their flow, which you dictate. What I was looking for (and found) in my return to Civ 5 was control, and the calming effect a turn based game brings – despite the constant harassment from the warlike civilization of the Songhai.

Pearls, Aluminum, Incense and Gold; yep, Genoa, you will make a perfect ally.

With the restart of my career potentially on the horizon, once again, I needed a game that could act as a sedative rather than a shot of adrenaline. With first person shooters [FPS] you are constantly on edge. The FPS experience is not relaxing, but an edge of your seat ride – it’s like you are Liam Neeson himself, in Taken. During times of high stress, where I am playing the waiting game, I find myself reverting to a turn based prescription. When things are a bit out of control, a game that places you as the leader of a civilization provides that dose of Stalinism that everyone needs.

The winning conditions of Civ 5 are within your control as well. One does not need to just kill the competition; culture and science are other routes one can take to victory. You can build your societies’ level of intelligence by focusing on education, or go greedy and go for the gold (non-Olympic style). Or, if you are like me, you can build a well-rounded society through education, capitalism and democracy; while you simultaneously mask your Manhattan Project.

Yes America, I do put a lot of resources into my education system (but even more into my nuclear program).

Civ 5 provides you with a game that allows you to dictate pace, victory conditions, and about as many aspects of building a society that you can imagine. When everything else is out of your hands, Civ 5 provides just enough control to help you stay regulated. It allows you to make decisions that impact your entire society. You control your political relationships with other empires and city-states. You control your economic rise and educational aspirations, and when you get bored with being decent, you can unleash your Manhattan Project on the Songhai.

Little did you know Songhai, that I was saving the Manhattan Project just for you.

I Euthanized My Friend. Thanks DayZ.

“The needs of the many outweigh [the needs of the few], or the one.”

Spock [Admiral Kirk], Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan

From about 100 yards away, I shot him in the face. I killed my friend, and he asked me to do it. DayZ presented me with a scenario I’ve never played nor seen, in any other game. DayZ, once again, made me wonder if I could respond with the same murdering empathy that I demonstrated in game, in reality. Could I shoot a near and dear friend in the face when asked? Could I put Old Yeller out to pasture? What DayZ made clear to me that day was the answer was yes; but only because he was infected with a zombie virus whose cure was as likely to be found as the Holy Grail.

Tim (the above murdered survivalist) has started to acquire the role of the reluctant martyr within DayZ’s island of Chernarus. Multiple times he has fallen from a PvP (player versus player) encounter, zombie swarm and now, the zombie infection itself. Regularly dying is something any survivalist or bandit within DayZ can relate to. The differences with Tim’s deaths are they usually benefit the others. For when Tim dies, it’s habitually right before his friends scavenge his remains. Tim doesn’t die needlessly, for when his blood spurts to zero, he dies well equipped-and he makes sure you are close by before he does so.

Tim’s most significant death happened after he was infected (a random occurrence in DayZ; caused by either direct contact with zombies or a low body temperature brought on by the elements) with the zombie strain that persists in DayZ. After a desperate attempt to find the cure (antibiotics) at Berezino’s hospital, all hope was lost. Instead of taking every last zombie with him to the grave, he opted to sacrifice himself for a friend.

One is just as rare as the other, from a certain point of view.

Thanks to a recent patch my character had spawned in weaponless, without a backpack, and with little hope. Thankfully Tim’s near dead body was nigh, and it had one more trip to make before embracing the end. We met on a hill, and due to Tim’s infection his gifting of goods was done at a distance, so as to keep my character from being infected-a distant goodbye to a close friend.

Not wanting the zombie infection to take him, and become a shell of his former self, he asked me to do him one last deed in return for his. From a distance I raised my AK-47’s optical sight appreciating the irony that it had, moments before, belonged to the character I was now lining up for a headshot. Kneeling and looking down range I peered into his character’s black tinted aviator sunglasses which now, more resembled the sad eyes of trusted family dog. I pulled the trigger twice, and his body fell. Then Tim respawned, and our online adventures continued.

DayZ’s Frailty: Exposing Gamers To Helplessness

If you were standing over my shoulder this past Friday evening watching me play DayZ, you might have wondered why I was playing a game whose graphics appeared grainy, black and white, and seemed to be pulsing like someone’s blood pressure. You probably would’ve questioned why I would be so intensely enjoying a game were about every 30 seconds I would say, “I passed out,” then laughed hysterically with my friends via Skype. After some reflection, I too was asking myself these same questions, and I’ve come up with an answer.

DayZ was designed to expose players to emotional situations, and plays upon the responses to said emotional circumstances. DayZ is a realistic survival game where the lack of food and water are not the most dangerous elements, but they will kill you just as often as the other inhabitants of Chernarus (the island setting for Dayz). In most PC games the player has the majority of control over the environment, a complete understanding of who is friend and who is foe, and an idea of how to beat the game. In DayZ, none of these predetermined factors, which make up most video games, exist. The player is not the most powerful element in the game and alone, he will not survive.

So what makes not having complete control, or even the majority of control, over the game you are playing, fun? Firstly, you must embrace the fact you are at the whim of your environment. To enjoy DayZ you have to let go of the typical feeling, one usually garners from a video game, of being larger than life, and accept that you are just a small part of it. The fragility of your character in DayZ is a reason why it can be so enjoyable, but to appreciate this Mr. Glass syndrome you have to be able to immerse yourself in the world of DayZ-you have to care about the survival of your character and those of your friends.

Going it alone in DayZ means you will only survive for so long, you will eventually need help. When you’ve lost too much blood, your screen fluxes from white to grainy shades of grey and you pass out every 30 seconds; you’ll need someone other than yourself, to administer a blood transfusion. When your friend is crawling on the ground with a broken leg, from a lucky zombie whack or a bullet from another player, you’ll unselfishly give him your last shot of morphine (or maybe you won’t). It’s during and after surviving (or dying), in DayZ, that you can find humor in your character’s frailty, and entertainment in passing out.

Diablo 3’s Release Gives Hope That One Dungeon Replaces Another

I play a multitude of games that focus on dungeon crawling. From Skyrim, with its plethora of dungeons scattered across its massive landscape, to the Legend of Grimrock, with one dungeon stacked on top of the other, I live to explore and pillage damp caverns of stone and rock. The great thing about dungeon crawlers there’s always the option to quit, there’s always an exit. For the last eight months though, I feel like I’ve been stuck in a dungeon with no option to quit and no exit.

Beautiful, but I want out.

I’ve been unemployed for the last eight months. My old company could no longer afford to pay me due to the decline of print, and the recession that is quickening its death. For the last eight months I’ve been crawling the same unemployment dungeon. In Skyrim, dungeons are littered with traps, monsters and magical rewards. The unemployment dungeon is littered with poor and few good job opportunites, a multitude of other (qualified) candidates and supposedly an exit… a job.

No exit, just stairs to another dungeon.

In the unemployment dungeon I have yet to find that exit. I’ve been close, a lot. With 15 plus first round and around five second round interviews under my adventure’s belt, I’ve seen the light that signifies my escape. Three times now I’ve been, what I like to call, a semifinalist for a position. I’ve been the companion that is left behind as the hero narrowly rolls under the falling wall. Now I feel a little remorse for all those hired hands that died during my adventures in Skyrim and Diablo 2.

You didn’t know Aliza but you did know she would die.

On the horizon is the release of one of my all time favorite dungeon crawlers. A dungeon crawler I used to go to computer cafes back in the 90s to play with my brother-in-law. A dungeon crawler that caused me to drag my step-dad and mom into the home office, to show them the in-game cinematics. A game I’ve been looking forward to since its second coming in 2000. Until recently. Blizzard’s Diablo series is set to release its third iteration (Diablo 3) on May 15th, 2012 and after my most recent near escape from my career dungeon, I was looking forward to it.

After receiving another letter in the mail this past weekend, informing me that my time in my personal employment crypt is not yet over, my anticipation for a virtual crypt took a hit. Diablo 3 lost some of its luster and importance to me as I read the HR letter filled with fluff. I’ve had this disease before but found the cure. This time around it’s different. My cofers are thinning and I’ve used all the potions available to me. As I write though my excitement for a game 12 years overdue rises, just like the games protagonist and namesake. My determination to leave my real world dungeon and enter a virtual one, is reastablished.

Lets hope the exit is just ahead.

Legend Of Grimrock: A Bit Of D&D, Without All The Work.

I’ve never been more excited to find a loin clothe or a pair of sandals in a game before. When I found a cloak for my rogue styled lizard man, Lando Calizardian, I actually yelled out, “Holy sh*t, a cloak!”. That is the kind of atmosphere Legend of Grimrock creates; items are not littered throughout its narrow dungeon hallways like they are in Skyrim, dead monsters don’t regularly drop magical items as they do in Diablo 3. In Legend of Grimlock, scarcity is in abundance, as is tension.

What's around the corner or down the next flight of steps? Legend of Grimrock keeps you scared and guessing.


Legend of Grimrock pays homage to the grid based movement games of the DOS era, and it does it very well. Almost Human Ltd., who run their offices out of the bottom floor of an apartment building, are the small Finnish based developers behind Legend of Grimrock. Almost Human have perfectly captured the fun of games like Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master, and sprinkled in the perfect amount of modern to make it appeal to today’s gamer.

Save often, not just at save crystal locations, because you will die often.

The grid based movement reminds me of another game that dictates movement via squares, Dungeons & Dragons. Many elements of the book based RPG game can be seen within Legend of Grimrock. The roles the four individuals, positioned in a 2×2 formation, are almost identical to the roles of my party members from past D&D encounters. The two individuals leading the way are boneheads with bats (swords, axes, or maces) who dish out punishment while acting as a shield for the more fragile individuals positioned behind them – they essentially act as tanks do in many MMO games or like warriors in D&D. Behind the meat shields is the aforementioned rogue Lando Calizardian, who is good with a bow and other projectile weapons (but can also be designed to be an effective assassin who is handy with a dagger). The final character type can almost be guessed is you have any experience with D&D. My green bipedal bug mage, Gandolf the Green, has the most potential for damage output, and the most potential to perish.

Gandolf the Green is my mage and potion master.

With these four individuals (preset or completely customizable), who are pardon of their crimes once they are dropped off at the top of Mount Grimrock, you must make your way through a maze of monsters and traps on your way to freedom. If you are in need of a dungeon crawler cure then Legend of Grimrock is the perfect potion, just watch your step.

Trap doors; get used to seeing them, and falling down them.

The Engagement Is Off: Breaking Up With The Old Republic

Obok hasn't aged well under the pressure of monthly payments.

I’ve been hesitant to commit, then I rashly got engaged. I sunk hours of play into my relationship with The Old Republic [TOR], now I’m calling it off. I purchased the game, paid the monthly subscription fees, then I realized I was not happy. I was no longer satisfied being in this costly relationship. The newness of our accord quickly wore off, and all that remained was the constant grind that constantly cost me $15 a month.

The first month passed. The newness of BioWare’s, well done, story arcs dried up like a Tusken Raider corpse sitting under Tatooine’s twin suns. Each time I launched Origin, I would hover my mouse over the TOR launch icon, just to move it away. Obok Stillsky’s bounty hunter blood no longer boiled for dangerous contracts, and my thirst for the Dark Side had been satiated . The only contract I was concerned about now, was the one I had with Electronic Arts.

Blizz, I knew you the least but I will miss you the most.

I never was a Massively Multiplayer Online [MMO] fanboy but I couldn’t resist  the lure of a well funded and developed Star Wars iteration. I realize now, that I will probably never be a MMO regular. TOR had all the makings of an MMO I could enjoy, and honestly it is a well made game but its biggest problem, for me, it’s an MMO. Some of the fault lies with me and the types of games I enjoy playing, which are anything but a MMO. One issue that I take no blame for is the soon to be archaic subscription model, that less and less MMOs are using.

The pain of me leaving is too much for her to bear; she can't stand to look me in the face.

Paying for a game, then continually paying for it on a monthly basis, is and will forever be foreign to me. With great games selling for $15 to $60 (not excluding superbly priced indie games that go for cheaper) that provide 100s of hours of game play, I have trouble justifying a $60 down payment in addition to monthly fees. The subscription model for MMOs are going the way of print and my experience with TOR was my first and last venture into this dying business model.

Not even a free TOR Tauntaun pet will bring me back.

Syrian Style Shogun

Total War: Shogun 2 has been a fun gallop. I’ve managed to spread my empire over half of Japan and just recently, I’ve drawn the attention of the Emperor himself. Attention is putting it lightly, I’ve drawn his scorn. The remaining clans have allied with him and in one turn, they’ve all declared war against me. This has not taken me by total surprise; I’ve crushed one clan after another under my daimyo’s (and his heirs’) samurai shoes, turned once free peasants into rice producing slaves and taxed the populous almost to the breaking point. Just like Bashar al-Assad, I’ve had it coming, and I most definitely deserve it.

My acclaim among the Japanese clans and the Emperor himself has gradually grown, demonstrated by the expansion of my lands and the in-game notoriety measure. My populous has made regular, feeble, attempts to overthrow my rule but my “peaceful” occupation of each newly conquered province has been resolute. My my daimyo’s rule is one dictated by sword and seed. A sword to keep the people inline and the seed to keep them fed and docile. I give them enough of the sword to fear me, and enough rice to appreciate me. This method has worked from one heir to the next but over time the cold winter of revolution will eventually grow into a spring. Even in a virtual Feudal Japan people rise up against a tyrant and allies align behind them, so should the same be done in the real world.

During my daimyo’s expansion I’ve made temporary packs and promises with other clans, only to break them when it benefited me and strengthen my grip on my provinces. I’ve sent messages of poetic pleasure to other rulers, putting their fears at ease, just so I can encircle them with my cavalry. I’ve opened trade and channels of diplomacy with western worlds with the promise of change at home, only to give my superior military time to entrench itself, and attack those who even peacefully oppose me. In this virtual game, the European traders are quick to sever their ties and their financial support when my legitimacy as a leader is obviously a fraud.

Shogun 2’s Japan has jointly risen to resist me but they will most likely end up at the end of my sword or knee deep in my rice fields. Other in-game countries will not get that involved outside of slap-on-the-hand trade embargoes. The game is not designed to be that encompassing, to include game changing actions from foreign powers, but our real world is. Thankfully my daimyo’s source of trade does directly benefit “his” people, in that they do get fed, but in our real world oil doesn’t go down well with with a cup of saki. I will eventually squash all those who oppose me and conquer all of Japan. I wont feel bad about it because it’s a game, and not real. What does trouble me however, is people’s lack of ability to distinguish between virtual tyranny and reality.

Skyrim: Books And Wolf-Copters.

*** SPOILERS BELOW***

After hearing, “You know, if you have the aptitude, you should join the Mage’s Guild in Winterhold.” about 100+ times during my first play-through/character of Skyrim, I finally did so. My second character, Kegels Grip, made the journey to the Mage’s College as an aspiring young destruction mage, with delusions of grandeur and plenty of aptitude. Upon his arrival to Winterhold, the importance of books became abundantly clear. In the world of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, books are almost as important as gold.

In Skyrim, books are a source of lore that dates back to previous Elder Scroll games and provide a historical perspective of key individuals, guilds and locations. They also have the potential to provide details to a location that could contain untold riches and most importantly, the ability to increase your talent in one of the 18 skills that are tied to leveling up. Books are a pretty big deal, they are also fairly well written and interesting. Those familiar with the series will enjoy a bit of nostalgia while browsing the, at most, 10 page books. Books in Skyrim can also provide you with clues on how to unlock a tomb and provide the player with a bit more immersion to his virtual surroundings.

No other guild puts as much focus and care to their books like the Mage’s Guild. It was during the Mage’s Guild main quest line that I was introduced to new areas (Fellglow Keep) and encounters. Even after 160+ hours with Randy Stardust, my first Skyrim character, I was still being awed by the vastness of Skyrim through Kegels Grip’s eyes. What better reason to be tasked with a quest in Skyrim, a world of dragons and literature, then by the Mage Guild’s librarian and his need to have some books “returned”.

Fellglow Keep, not much to look at from the outside.

Fellglow Keep was a fortress that I had never visited, despite its close proximity to Whiterun and other key locations in Skyrim. Fellglow Keep’s exterior is by no means as architecturally amazing as many of Skyrim’s other fortresses and ancient tombs, but its contents were. There were obviously wolfs lurking within the keep’s rooms for howling could be heard bouncing off the stone walls.Also within this fortress were a magnitude of rooms, jail cells and villains. Who would be interested in books from the Mage’s College? Mages of course! Fellglow was like an alternative school for mages. It housed conjurers, raising skeletal dead, and each kind of elemental mage you can think of. Interspersed within the alternative learning center that is Fellglow Keep, were imprisoned vampires used for experimentation and most entertainingly, target practice. One thing Skyrim gets right, that everyone can agree with, is how it properly mistreats the Twilight kind improperly. In Skyrim, everyone hates vampires.

How all those who "sparkle" are treated in Skyrim.

So after killing mages in vast numbers and freeing, then killing vampires, I ran into a memorable occurrence. After 170 hours of playing through Skyrim I still have moments that cause me to laugh out loud and Fellglow Keep was not a disappointment. Upon entering a dungeon, with levers controlling the jail cell doors setting dead center, I caught a mage off guard and unleashed a unrelenting spurt of electricity his way. As he fell just short of the levers I realized his intentions. The howling I heard for the last five minutes were originating behind the cell doors the unfortunate mage was attempting to open. Behind those bars were two wolves, who would of gladly ran distraction as their master shredded me with magic.

With the opportunity to toy with my would be killers, I placed a lightning rune in front of their cell door, prepped my most powerful fire spell and then, “Open sesame.” Almost at the exact moment that the first wolf tripped the lightning rune I unleashed my dual wielded fireball, hilarity ensued. The lightning rune lifted both the wolves off their feet and my fireball  propelled them even further, causing them both to spin like howling helicopters, right at me. I had the best seat in the house and just as the flaming wolves careened towards Kegels’ face the flame killed them and they slid across the floor, still rotating.

The wolf-copters alone made the journey worth it but after defeating a conjuration mage in a hard fought magic battle, were I cheated by ending it with a sword (that’s the punishment for overdue books), I was rewarded back at the mage college with… more books. These books however, all increased magic skills after reading them. In Skyrim, books are a pretty big deal and it pays to be well read.

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.