Monthly Archives: June 2012

The oil after midnight

On average during the week I get about an hour a day of gaming time.  As I tend to play MMOs where just getting to that sweet spot can take an hour or more, many of my gaming sessions feel rushed and somewhat unfulfilling (my cross to bear).  That’s why I have set aside Friday nights for my extending gaming time.  I tend to abandon all reason and stay up way past midnight most of these nights.  This tends to be long after my son and much saner wife have gone to bed.  It’s just me, my computer, and the small hours of the night.

Generally speaking, this tends to make Saturdays a challenge for me—energy level wise.  My son doesn’t seem to understand the “daddy’s tired” routine where playing keep up with a 5 year old can prove challenging even to a well-rested adult.

Every Friday I say I’m going to go to bed at midnight, but I never do.  When midnight rolls around (and believe me, I’m fully aware of the time), I always tell myself: “I’ll just finish up this quest and call it quits.”  But without fail, I always find something else to do.  My mind offers up: “Come on, it’s the weekend.  You’ve managed to make it through another week.  You’ve earned this time.  Enjoy it.”  And I always do.

However, there doesn’t seem to be much more than a blink or two between the time I stumble into bed late Friday night (read: Saturday morning) and when my son launches into our bedroom bright and early, bursting with energy and excited for what Saturday will bring.   That’s when I lay there, my eyes burning, my head humming, my previous evening’s exploits a mere memory, and tell myself that next Friday things will be different.  I’ll manage to get to bed earlier.  And I never do.

Babblings from an old portal master

Okay, here’s a dream I could have seen having not long ago.  I get called into a large game studio’s office and am asked point blank what kind of game I would have them design.  The sky’s the limit.  They’ll make whatever I want.  As several high level execs sit around the table ready to take notes I quickly suspend disbelief and start in.

First, I’d want a game that I could play with my son.  I’d want it to have the basics of most RPGs: character leveling, loot, hidden treasure, boss battles, power upgrades, a healthy dose of dungeon crawling, and in this case be co-op friendly.  The sky’s the limit, right?  I’d also like it to have several distinct classes all with their own abilities and skill trees and…

At this point one of the executives cuts me off and says, “Mr. Carter, this game already exists.  It’s called Skylanders.”

Holy crap.  They’re right.

My son’s college fund in a box

We’ve had Skylanders in our home for about 4 months now, and to be honest, I couldn’t be happier with the game.

I’ll admit the game struck me as a bit gimmicky when I first heard of it.   The base game comes with a portal of power which you need to plug into your game console.  You then take one of the Skylander figures and place it on the portal.  Within seconds a digital avatar of the Skylander appears in the game and you are in control of it.  Seeing this demoed in the store is one thing.  Playing it at home is quite another.  Once my Skylander was in the game and I started exploring things, the gimmick was gone and I was left to enjoy a very well-crafted RPG.

Certainly the game is also a money sink.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 gets you in the door, but if you ever want to play with more than the 3 starter Skylanders, you’re going to end up paying quite a bit more.   And certain areas of the game can only be unlocked with specific types of Skylanders.   So, if you’re wanting to experience everything the game has to offer, you will be spending quite a bit more than the entry fee.

Unfortunately, this did not work. Gravestorm, we could have used you, old friend.

Yet all of this is still a no brainer for me because here’s the thing:  This will be the game that goes down in our family record books as the one that made a video gamer out of my son.  Sure, it could have been Super Mario, Lego Star Wars or any number of other kid friendly titles available out there.  But his will be Skylanders–a very well done entry level RPG.  Already “hit points,”  “level up,” ‘boss fight,” and “legendary upgrade” are terms that have entered his vocabulary.  On several occasions I’ve found myself discussing the game and basic strategies with him while we’re in the car.   It’s been a trip (pardon the pun).  He has a Skylander poster on his bedroom wall with all of the (32) different Skylanders—something he stares at quite a bit when we’re in his room getting him ready for bed.

Indoctrination on my son’s wall.

Just some further random impressions I’d like to share:

  • Drop in co-op play is brilliant—anytime anywhere.  It’s that easy.
  • To be honest, this is a game I would enjoy playing by myself, but seeing how excited my son is to play, I generally only do so with him.  Heck, Daddy’s got his hands full trying to keep up with the games on his own list.
  • Kaos, the smack-talking uber bad guy is a lot of fun and elicits some priceless smack-talking from my son as well.  What a joy it is to sit next to your child on the couch while he’s yelling, “How do you like us now, you giant poopy doody face?”  That’s my boy.
  • The game’s difficulty slowly ramps up throwing basic puzzles, a few mobs and the occasional boss fight your way,  and before you know it there is enough challenge to give even the most seasoned veterans a  run for their money.

If you’re looking for a video game to play with your child, where the basics of RPGs are introduced in a family friendly way, I can’t think of a better choice than Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure.

Dunland doldrums

Orthanc…already?

I’m in a bit of a rut on the gaming front.  I’m currently playing Lord of the Rings Online and making some progress through the latest expansion, Rise of Isengard, but the content—at least so far—isn’t really keeping my interest.  I consider myself to have a high tolerance for rote quests, but for the past 7 levels (my warden is currently at 72) that’s pretty much all I’ve found to do.  The Dunlendings need my help, and at first I was happy to provide it, but after running countless errands for a third village and now being sent on to the fourth, I’m running out of steam.  To supplement this I’ve been working through the epic story quest, which is a bit more exciting, but even it has left me wanting.

I’m usually a sucker for sidekicks in games.   I was hoping the ability to summon my skirmish soldier in the landscape would add some excitement to the questing, but what I’ve found so far is that almost every quest has been painfully easy to complete solo.  Adding a skirmish soldier makes it almost laughable.

I’ve also been hearing quite a bit of negative feedback concerning LotRO’s next expansion, Riders of Rohan, and how they don’t seem to be offering much bang for your buck with their various preorder options.  This kind of thing doesn’t usually affect me, but this coupled with my less than enthusiastic impression of their current expansion, and I’m finding myself starting to look elsewhere for something to do with my game time.  The mounted combat of Riders of Rohan certainly sounds interesting, but I’m not sure I’m going to be there to find out.  I won’t be preordering the expansion.  That much is for sure. 

Speaking of sidekicks, I’ve just ordered Dragon’s Dogma for the Xbox 360 and am hoping a little change of pace and scenery will give me something to look forward to playing again.

Weeds

A yard man’s yard

My father was a yard man.  That was his thing.  Every bit of free time he had he spent working in our yard.  It was his sanctuary.  He’d mow the grass twice a week, water the yard every other day, and the result: a well manicured, deep green Bermuda carpet, was the envy of many a homeowner in our neighborhood.  We were allowed to play in the yard, but for things that could potentially harm the grass (like tackle the man), we had to go elsewhere.

My yard

My son’s father is a gamer, not a yard man.  A good bit of my free time is spent in front of a computer, not a yard.  Our yard has patches of dirt littered throughout it, and  in many places more weeds than grass.  It is the envy of no one; the eyesore of many.   My son doesn’t seem to mind though.  He enjoys taking his Nerf sword and beheading the weed stalk monsters every chance he gets.

What I wonder is this:  Did I in some way rebel against my father’s passion?  And in this very same way will my son do the same thing with me?  I really have no clue, but this unsettling idea has crept up in my mind on several occasions.  Maybe my son will turn into a yard man himself. 

Future father:  [opening the back door] Hey buddy, come on in and play some LotRO with your old man.

Future son:  Ah, gee Dad.  Not right now.  I’m just getting ready to edge the grass.  And then I’ll need to fertilize.

Future father:  Don’t you want to grab your champion and run Stand at Amon Sul with me?  For old time’s sake? 

Future son:  Is that an offensive or defensive skirmish?

Future father:  Offensive, but we could run a defensive one if you’d prefer.

Future son:  What’s the point?  I’m already at level cap, and I’d just as soon wait until Fall of Sauron comes out.  Anyway, they say it’s going to rain tomorrow.  I’d better get this yard fertilized.

Future father:  You’re not my son.  I’m taking away your yard privileges.

Future son:  Whatever Dad.

I certainly hope this is not the way things play out.  I’m very much looking forward to having a gaming buddy in the years to come.