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.

A Summer To Remember: Steam’s Summer Sale

The Steam Summer Sale has become more than just a period of epic low prices on quality games from quality developers. The Steam Summer Sale has become a bit of a summer sensation, the epitome of Christmas in July. Adding to the marketing hype this year was the later than expected launch date of the sale. The PC gaming community was already prepared to sink its teeth into the summer sales’ digital juices, the delayed start (compared to summers past) only made gamers salivate even more. My mouth runneth over, sadly my wallet doesn’t but I am thankful for the dishes Valve is catering.

Each year the sales get better. More games become available (with the addition of new developers and the games they bring with them), and the variances in the way the games go on sale increases. This year the Steam community has multiple sales scenarios pawing at their bank accounts. The usual daily deals continue to impress, as do the Pack Deals (discounts on a developers library of games). What really keeps a potential buyer coming back is the chance that the perfect game will have the perfect price, this is done through the Flash Sales. Flash Sales on the Steam page are short term sales on games with steep discounts (i.e. Fallout: New Vegas for under $5). In the words of Ron Popeil, “Wait there’s more.” This year Steam added the Community Choice pitch, where Steam users get to vote on the sale it wants to see next. Three games are listed with a corresponding discount, and based on the vote totals the next Community Choice sale is decided-it’s democracy and capitalism surprisingly getting along with each other.

What do all these discount variances amount to? Community engagement. Keeping your community interested in potential sales keeps them coming back, it’s page views with a bigger upside. It keeps your potential purchaser asking, “What’s next?” It’s working too. Sales figures are not made available but the impact of the sale has caused some angst with EA, who have complained about it cheapening the value of intellectual property, which means they can’t compete, and Steam is having another summer to remember. What EA? Your digital distribution application (Origin, still in beta) can’t compete with a distributor that puts PC gamers first (and has since its release to the public in 2002)? That shouldn’t come as a surprise. I think Valve’s Director of Business Management, Jason Holtman, put EA in its place with his tactful reply.

Valve was out front when it came to digital distribution and to stay there (as is the case for any tech company), they have to continue to lead the pack. More importantly they have to continue to put their communities’ interest inline with the interest of Valve/Steam. If they continue to cater to their community then the money will continue to roll in. With that being said, where’s Half Life 2: Episode 3?

The Road To Deliverance: Finding Fun And A Path, In DayZ.

Like many before me, my first few life’s in DayZ, a mod created for Arma 2 and its expansion Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead (from developer Bohemia Interactive), were short, and full of tension and wonder. Spawning on the shores of an open world island with a flashlight and a bandage makes you feel pretty vulnerable. Adding to the tension is the foreknowledge that the island is infested with zombies, out to feast on your body like a drug crazed Florida man. Dean Hall, the creator of DayZ, was inspired by his time spent with the New Zealand Army in Brunei, as part of a military exchange program between the New Zealand Army and the Singapore Armed Forces. Originally to be a training implement that exposed soldiers to the emotions and sensations of stressful situations [1], it has quickly become a game that invokes these emotions within gamers, myself included.

Dying regularly during your first couple of hours in DayZ is part of the games appeal and genius. The difficulty and intricacies of play is definitely far more advanced than the majority of your first person shooters; part of the games appeal and the reason it has received so much free social media marketing. The best way to learn how to excel is by experiencing. You can catch a handful of tutorials online that teach you the basics, but the lessons Dean Hall wanted to convey to soldiers are best absorbed by coming to the realizations on your own. The first time you sit on the outside of a small community calculating the risk to venture in and deciding your path that you will crawl to avoid zombie eyes, something clicks. You realize the balance between risk and reward, which is a constant companion during your time spent in DayZ.

The tension created by limited supplies and terror demanding music instantly grasps your attention the first time you spawn on a beautiful sandy beach. The first time you run unarmed squealing like a pig from a zombie, who heard you as you went from the noise suppressing grass to the echoing pavement, is exhilarating-and all this from a game still in alpha. You instantly relate to the actress in the clichéd zombie movie, who is running and screaming for her life. After you make your blood trailing escape though, the relation you have to the silicon beauty from movie-land ends.

After your escape, you have to bandage your wounds before you bleed out. Find an animal. Kill said animal, if you have the means to do so. Gut it and cook it. Eat. Then worry about your next meal and not becoming anyone else’s. Oh, and don’t forget the threat posed by other players (bandits), they can kill you just as easily as thirst and hunger. DayZ is The Road combined with Deliverance, and you get to experience both hands on. And yes, that is fun.

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DayZ#Development

Discovering My Higgs Particle: Diablo 3 Set Items And Employment

Indiana and his farther found it in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Jason and his Argonauts found it despite the odds against them. This week, scientist may reveal they found it thanks to the Large Hadron Collider. So the evidence is there, that finding the impossible, is possible. Rather it is the Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece or the ‘God Particle,’ that which eludes us can be imagined in to existence, or actually discovered. So I am trying to do the same with what’s eluded me for over a year, the reestablishment of my career; and for a shorter period, a nerdy in-game item.

Also eluding me for a shorter amount of time, but almost as sought after, a set item drop in Diablo 3 [D3]. D3 has multiple levels of rare items and what seems to be the most elusive of them all, even rarer than legendary items, are level 60 and above set items (usually noted by their green appearance). Set items are items that when worn as a set, give you multiple bonuses. With another career opportunity narrowly missed last week I’ve started to place mental bets on which will appear first, a job offer or a level 61 set item in D3. After last week’s employment disappointment, and the release of lower-than-expected job numbers; I am leaning towards seeing a monster explode, leaving a greencolored item behind, before receiving an offer.

This gives all new meaning to someone ‘dropping’ their pants.

Each day I wake up, work out, and hop on the internet to network and search for career opportunities that I have a shot at. Each day I log into the Blizzard servers’ and farm D3’s Act I Inferno difficulty. Each day I cross my fingers for a phone call or email asking me to come in and interview, and that’s happened 20+ times. Each day I cross my fingers and hope for an elite pack to drop a set item, that’s never happened. I imagine both scenarios coming to fruition at night, it helps me fall asleep. I imagine a drawn out battle with a pack of uniques, with my nephalem valor at five, and at the battle’s crescendo a green item falls to the ground. “Hell yeah!” I imagine receiving a phone call after an extensive interview process, for a position I desire, and the hiring manager on the other end makes an offer. “F*ck yeah!” The level of my imagined responses do accurately correspond to which one I anticipate more, just in case you were wondering.

When I started this blog during March of last year, it was in anticipation of the financial situation of my old employer worsening. It was going to be a way to for me to stand out from the millions seeking employment, and it has worked. It is usually the first thing talked about in the majority of interviews. If it is not the first thing talked about, then it is the second. My blog, started in the hopes to aid my job hunt is that, and much more. It is a tool in my search for employment and for awhile now, a mental medication. It essentially functions like a therapist, who regularly gives me a prescription for PC gaming. As my green item and my career remain unfound, I put more time into my therapy and take my PC meds more often. Like Jason, I will continue to plow my field with a fire-breathing oxen, and pursue my ‘Green’ Fleece.

Enchantless: The Painful Companionship Of Diablo 3’s Enchantress.

The Enchantress from Diablo 3 [D3] is anything but enchanting. I’d rather face down the demons of hell and Diablo himself, rather than listen to her babble. Supposedly she and her “sisters” were put in a state of stasis by their leader, the Prophet, until the world of Sanctuary needed them. I honestly think the Prophet put them in stasis for 1500+ years so he would be good and dead by the time they were released. Playing the Monk solo requires the assistance of the Enchantress because her skill set matches so well with the Monk’s, outside of that she is just as painful to be around as a Terror Demon. Actually, a Terror Demon would be welcome company next to the Enchantress.

The Enchantress has a skill called Focused Mind, oh the irony.

Eirena, the Enchantress, is met in Act II right as you set out of the city of Caldeum. From there forward you are cursed with her presence. It is true, you do have the option of venturing forth with the Scoundrel or the Templar, but Eirena’s Focused Mind skill (unlocked at level 30) truly benefits the Monk class the most. The skill provides Eirena and all her allies with an increase in attack speed of 3%. It is a shame you have to put up with hours of painful dialogue just for a 3% gain, but at least you don’t have to buy her dinner. By the way, who just eats larass bread and sweet wine? Someone with an eating disorder, that’s who.

The poor Templar. Through the sludge that is the dialogue exchange between the Enchantress and the Monk, we find out that the Templar, Kormac, is in love with her. I’ll give it to Kormac, the Enchantress does have a well rendered body. She also knows how to accent that body with very little clothing. Let me take a moment to recognize the fact that I am talking about an inanimate object. The point is less about her digital beauty and more about an opportunity missed by Blizzard to create more atmosphere in a game that, at times, suffers from cartoonish influences. The hirelings in Diablo 3 could of been a great source of quality lore, that could of been used to create a darker atmosphere to counter D3’s vibrant art design-that’s more befitting of a Care Bears episode. Instead we get a love struck, virgin, Templar; a womanizing Scoundrel, that is most likely a closeted homosexual; and an Enchantress that reminds me of a freshmen sorority girl, after having her first beer… ever.

Turn it all the way to 11 0.

It’s not as if the developers of Blizzard didn’t recognized that their final product was missing the grizzly and evil atmosphere from Diablo I and II. Hell, they put in a secret “Pony Level” called Whimsyshire as a direct mock to the negative feedback they received from the Diablo community in regards to D3’s art design.

I do understand that D3’s art design will age well, so in the long run the D3 community and myself will benefit from it. I also realize that you can adjust the voice dialogue volume to zero in the options menu, what I call the Enchantress fix. Also, I hope that ring I just sold in the Auction House for 3.825 million gold, was the Templar’s engagement ring.

Selling his engagement ring means I’ve saved Kormac’s life twice.

InfernKO! Farming Act I In Diablo 3’s Inferno Difficulty.

Any boxer worth his bath salt knows you have to stick and move against a stronger opponent; with the martial arts based monk, the same concept applies when farming Act I in Diablo 3’s Inferno difficulty. Any elite packs you come up against will challenge you for your title of Middleweight Champion of Sanctuary, and all of them cheated during their weigh in. Act I, at the Inferno difficulty, is no sparing session, that was Act I through IV of the Nightmare difficulty. Act I Inferno is where you take your knocks, cold press them, and come back for more-this is where Diablo really starts to test your micromanagement and capitalist abilities.

Putting Dargon down is a neccesary bout to getting that title shot against the Butcher.

Every encounter with a unique or special is like a Hagler vs. Hearns bout. In some cases you may determine that you are not evenly matched like Marvin and Hearns were, and decide to restart your quest to find the Butcher. There are encounters against elites in Inferno’s Act I that are similar to Spinks vs. Tyson, you are over matched and under equipped to meet the challenge. Of course you don’t realize you are in no position to win until you’re on the canvas and your equipment is in severe need of repair.

Vortex, Arcane Enchanted, Plagued and Molten; my Spinks like Monk never stood a chance.

The reward for kiting away at a group of specials really does payoff,  unlike a Don King promoted fight. Nephalem Valor is a game mechanic that doesn’t come to the ring until your character hits level 60. After each defeat of a unique or special pack you gain Nephalem Valor (up to five), and with each increase in valor comes an increase in gold and magic find. It is a game scheme that markets directly to those who are shinie obsessed. Making a Butcher run with your Nephalem Valor at five, guarantees that unique magic items will drop when he is KOed (it doesn’t guarantee they will be good, that’s still random).

Nephalem Valor at 5, now is the time to KO the Butcher.

You will need those guaranteed magic drops while you farm Act I. Getting very far past Act I Inferno not only requires plenty of actions per minute, it also requires superior gear. You may get lucky and find some of that gear during your Butcher runs but eventually you will need to rely on the Auction House. Rather you use the Auction House to hawk gear, buy it, or both-you will need it to be able to compete in the other three acts (unless Blizzard implements some much talked about changes).

Inferno will give more punches than it takes, but if you can properly protect your glass jaw with the right equipment, you will start to reap the pay per view profits. You may throw your hands up in frustration, drop a handful of f-bombs and suffer from what I call Inferno red eye from your bouts in Inferno. Once you pick yourself up off the canvas a couple times however, you will be tested and hardened, and ready to be a contender again. Eventually you will have the right combination of  skills and equipment to put the old one two on any of Inferno’s beasts, and not lose part of your ear in the process.

A Game That Gets Better Each Time You Beat It, Diablo 3

Goreshot The Immortal, a unique Colossal Golgor that had a mortar attack ability and shielding, was right at an entrance/exit in Act 3 during my Nightmare play through. He was not alone, he had minions, and though each of his minions had far fewer hit points than Goreshot, they shared his abilities. Together they formed an almost invincible force that slayed my enchantress companion, my summoned “Water Guy”, and my level 43 monk, Dalei Camel. Then they did it again. And again. After my third death, I had finally whittled away Goreshot’s hit points to the point that I was able to take him and his minions down, and I loved each and every failure leading up to that point.

Playing through Diablo 3 on normal difficulty is pretty uneventful. The challenge you receive from monsters that are uniques and specials, in the normal difficulty setting, is limited. It’s not until later on, in Nightmare difficulty, that you start to strain to defeat specials and uniques, and that’s when Diablo 3 really starts to be fun. I will admit, playing through Diablo 3 on normal difficulty was disappointing at times. I was never worried about what was in the next room, or around the next corner. Even when the reinvented Butcher made an appearance, I was not frightened like I was in Diablo 1. When I faced the Butcher during my Nightmare play through I was on edge. As I near him again now, in Hell difficulty, I am both looking forward to and dreading the lines, “Fresh meat!” As Diablo amps up the difficulty, it equally amps up the fun.

The level of difficulty is not the only thing that changes in Diablo 3. As you progress, and the creatures you face become more dangerous, the quality of the items dropped, improve. As you face down that fourth special monster, after already defeating three of them, you are not only anticipating his death but the items that drop because of it. In normal difficulty the items that dropped were usually not going to immediately replace the ones you had already equipped but as you progress in difficulty the items that drop become better and more rare in appearance. The reward for busting up a unique monster amps up with the difficulty of the game. It keeps you wanting more, even after dying over and over.

The true test of Diablo 3’s replay value and design quality will not be established until the last difficultly level (Inferno) is defeated. If I keep coming back for the battles versus specials, uniques and bosses, and the shinies that follow their demise, then I will know that Blizzard once again got the recipe for click and reward right. I will also, by that time, actually believe I am nephalem.

Yes. Yes I am.

Down Goes Foreman, I Mean Diablo, And Other D3 Musings

**************** DIABLO 3 SPOILERS BELOW ****************

Diablo 3’s Witch Doctor shakes like he suffers from Parkinson’s. In one hand is his weapon, in his off hand is his wanga doll, both of them are constantly moving. The Witch Doctor is the Michael J. Fox of Diablo 3[D3]. His comical movements add some much needed humor to a plot line and atmosphere that can be, at times, dire. By the time you make it to Leoric’s Manor and delve into its torture chamber depths, you realize D3 is just as dark as its predecesores. The only thing that takes away from the fear that one feels as he or she ventures through the dungeons of Diablo are the in-engine story cinematics.

The games Act transition cinematics (major cinematics play when a player progresses from one Act/Setting to another) are some of the best I have seen and are a testament to Blizzard’s creative ability. The end game cinematic, that follows the slaying of Diablo, is gorgeously rendered and beautifully scored. It’s a cinematic that is befitting of the death of Diablo. Diablo, a character that is the series namesake and its main protagonist, deserved the cinematic given following his death. It’s the juxtaposition of the in-game cinematics and the in-engine ones, that makes it difficult to immerse oneself into the games story.  Most of the in-engine cinematics are forgivable and not so terribly important to the overall game play, or the game’s story-there is one exception however.

Following this quests completion is one of the most befitting cinematics for the death of terror itself.

Deckard Cain has been a reoccurring character in all three of the Diablo games. He is the last of the wise Horadric mages who have spent their lives fighting back the Prime Evils. Throughout all three games he has provided valuable information to the player and the plot,   and more importantly (in Diablo and Diablo 2), he helped identify your magic loot. He is the wise old man that you would gladly give an ear to when asked to, “Stay awhile and listen.” Deckard Cain is/was the Yoda of the Diablo series. His death in D3 was a sad moment but the magnitude of his passing was lessened by the in-engine cinematic that portrayed it.

Deckard Cain receives an in-engine killing blow.

If any plot lines deserved the same cinematic treatment that was given to the Act transitions, Deckard Cain’s death was one of them. Instead of feeling like I just lost my Grandpa, Deckard Cain’s in-engine death came across like the death of a week old pet goldfish. I was sad, but the cartoonish visualization of his death cheapened what should of been a momentous event in the Diablo lore. Even in his death Deckard Cain was working to fight the Prime Evils. As he took his last few breathes he recrafted Tyrael’s sword, letting everyone know that, “The truth lies within,” just as Yoda, on his deathbed, lets everyone know, “There is another Skywalker.”  Deckard will be missed, despite his unceremonious sendoff.

Even right before his death, Deckard Cain continues his fight against the Prime Evils by making Tyrael’s sword whole again.

10 Minutes With The Devil: Diablo 3’s [Error 37] Release

Diablo is just as infuriating and conniving as he was in Diablo 1 and Diablo 2 but for the time being, it’s for the wrong reasons. After setting up my Battle.net account and installing the game, I feverishly anticipate the opening cinematics. It didn’t matter that I had seen the opening sequence at least a dozen times before, this time was different. This time I was watching Deckard Cain convey his worries to his niece Leah (smart move Blizzard, adding the h at the end will keep the Lucas lawyers away), while my very own copy of the game set in front of me. When Deckard Cain asks Leah, “You do believe me don’t you Leah?” and the sky falls down on them in the Tristam Cathedral, I quickly answer, “Yes.” That however, is where and when my belief in Diablo’s third coming… ended.

As soon as Deckard Cain states, “It has begun,” is when my fun with Diablo 3 concluded. After the excitement of the opening cinematic you arrive at the log in screen for Diablo 3. With my account already created and my email address verified, I input my user name and password. Error 37. Here begins an error that will live on in infamy, via internet memes, for years to come. Of course I cancel and try again. Error 37. And again. Error 37. Taking a breath I exit out of D3 and give it another go. Error 37. The message board on the right hand side of the login screen addresses the issues with logging in, and state they will be fixed by 1:30PDT. I rejoice for a bit, it is 2PM CT and well pass 1:30PDT. I try to log in again.

Internet memes, commence.

Error 75. That is the next error I am faced with after my most recent attempt to log in. My fears of Diablo returning with his minions are replaced with the realization that I will not be able to see them nor stop them for the time being. Diablo will go unchecked in the world of Sanctuary, not because I lack the courage to face him but because of his brothers, the real Prime Evils, Error 37 and Error 75. I understand it is launch day for one of the most anticipated games in recent memory. I understand servers will be under a lot of stress but you can’t help but feel a bit of hell fire on the back of your neck as you stare at another error screen.

One of the lesser known Prim Evils, Error 75.

Once the lava cooled in my veins, and I embraced the teachings of the Dalai Lama for five minutes, I returned to the login screen. This time I am rewarded with a box that puts a check mark next to “Connected to Battle.net server” then another by “Authenticated” then finally, next to “Retrieving Hero List.” I am logged in and ready to create my character that will push back the hellspawn spewed from the ass of the Devil himself. I create my Monk, Dalai Camel, and exit out. My battle versus the Devil’s minions will have to wait.

*On a side note. Read the brief description for the Barbarian within the Quick Start Guide. Who does the line, “Armored in thick plate and driven by rage, these primal fighters wish only to crush their enemies and see them driven before them,” remind you of?

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.