January 31, 2009

One of the Best Games You Haven't Played: Valkyria Chronicles

Well, my stuff finally arrived this week which is why my posting has been a bit sporadic lately, but I've finally gotten a good deal of my stuff unpacked (you know, the important things like my computer and my consoles). Today I also had the chance to finally finish Valkyria Chronicles, a task that had been long delayed by my Christmas break (where I had to avoid playing it so not to spoil the story for Rick) and my subsequent move. In fact, with the apartment hunting trip and then my stuff being in transit for almost two weeks it's been quite a while since I had the chance to just sit down and enjoy playing it game. It felt good, made this place actually start feeling at least a little like my new home.

As I said before, my chosen game was Valkyria Chronicles, and having just finished it I can say that that game is one of the best of 2008 at least as far as I'm concerned. It's fun to play, interesting, the story is good and told well, the characters are interesting and they have good (if somewhat predictable) arcs throughout the game. Overall, I think the game stands as a shining example of what made the Playstation and Playstation 2 great: variety. Instead of just being a home for first-person shooters and other action fare, Sony's consoles have always managed to have a whole host of niche titles appealing to a variety of different audiences, and I think that has been largely missing from this generation.

Unfortunately, to this date sales of Valkyria Chronicles have been abysmal (at least in the US), despite the game garnering relatively high praise from critics (86.6% on Game Rankings as of this post). There are a few reasons why I think it is possible that this game didn't sell well, though none of them are good in my opinion, and they make me worry for the future of the industry. The first and foremost reason is likely the complete lack of marketing for the title. I was semi-aware that the title was coming out, but had no idea what it was at the time and largely no interest. I only became aware of the game when Rick picked it up after it started getting high marks in its early reviews. Other reasons such as the game's very niche appeal (turn-based strategy) and exclusivity to the PS3 platform may also have contributed the game's low sales.

All in all, it just worries me that such a good game can do so poorly, while seemingly less deserving games can go on to sell millions of copies. In my opinion Valkyria Chronicles harkens back to the glory days of the original Playstation and games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Vandal Hearts. I wasn't as aware of the industry at the time, but I am pretty sure those games did rather well (I am certain of it with the former, not as much with the latter). This sad truth leads me to believe that I am somewhat on the outside of the mainstream, and that the games and genres that I love are slowly being phased out in favor of the next high-poly, in-your-face, action game on the block.

I don't mean to demonize action games, as there are plenty out there that I have enjoyed a great deal, even in the last year. What worries me is that the more popular, more successful console (I'm not counting you, Wii...we can talk about why you aren't a real video game console later) seems to cater almost exclusively to that demographic with very little else going on, and is often rewarded for it. I may be overreacting, in fact I probably am, but I was very pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed Valkyria Chronicles, and how much it tapped into a part of my video game psyche that I felt had been largely unused this generation. I just hope that Sony and the Playstation 3 are able to continue on this course and keep providing the interesting Eastern titles that they always have.

I suppose we will see before long...

January 28, 2009


Insomniac is taking everyone on a cruise to the Bahamas to celebrate its 15-year anniversary, and was able to bring a guest. I invited my friend Andy, and in talking about the company he had this to say:

I agree that the company seems awesome and I all I know is that they make good games and take me on cruises. If only there were more companies like that...

January 27, 2009


There's not much to say for today, as the day was pretty uneventful overall. I made good progress on my stuff at work and I think the team is happy with my progress. I got to have lunch with a couple of older GH alums that now work at Insomniac. I also found out that my stuff is finally being delivered tomorrow, which is just fantastic. Other than that it was a pretty normal day.

I did have one thought though - it's nice to be providing for myself once again. There's something empowering about knowing that your car, your home, and your food are all possible because your hard work. I am really grateful for all my family's support in following my dream, I'm just happy to know that I won't be relying on their generosity for the rest of my life. I also realized, I really like my job (I realize it's still early). I mean, I like what I am doing, I think I'm good at it, and I'm excited to keep doing it. That may sound funny to some of you, but it's a new experience for me to like my job, so I am going to relish it as much as I can.

I know there will certainly be stressful, difficult times in the future, but I think the Guildhall has certainly prepared me for that. I think I could really be happy doing this for a long time, and that's still just incredibly exciting to me. Alright, I'll stop gushing, anyway things are quite good and soon I will have my TV and computer back and things will be great... :)

January 26, 2009

Bosom Bug?

Seriously? In an article on the Times Online, I found the following tidbit of hilarious (and possibly apocryphal) information about Lara Croft and I just had to share:

Her proportions are said to be the result of a design error, when Toby Gard, a graphic artist, accidentally increased her bust-size to 150 per cent of what he intended it to be. The error proved popular with the rest of the design team, and he was persuaded to retain her physique.

Priceless. Here's a link to the rest of the article.

Make a fool out of yourself

Well, this will be kind of a short post as it's already kind of late here. Things are continuing to progress well in my California assimilation. I am getting more and more familiar with my stuff at work, and today I participated in my first personal, social activity in California - a swing dance class. It was the third in a series of six, so I was a little behind the curve, but I caught up pretty well by the end I think, and it made me think about something...

Most of the times I can remember being nervous or scared in my life had nothing to do with bodily harm or some kind of mortal peril, no they were usually about me being incredibly embarrassed. This fear still plagues me even to this day, and I think the same could be said for a lot of people. I mean, most of us don't deal with actual physical harm on a daily basis, but I think many of us worry about saying or doing the wrong thing in front of someone and what their reaction will be. Often we worry about situations where the worst outcome is so minor that even if all of them went the wrong way the effect on your life would be pretty negligible.

My wiser, older brother once said to me "expect to do/say one stupid thing every day." Then, when you expect it's coming you'll be ready to deal with it, and not lament it when it happens. To be honest, when he first said it, I just thought it was kind of silly and anecdotal, but now I think it makes a lot of sense. It can still be hard advice to swallow sometimes, but I think there's a lot of truth in there. If you can just get out of your head enough to not think about what you look like to other people, I think you'd be a lot happier, we all would. I had a great time tonight at the class despite having no idea what I was doing and probably looking like a complete idiot. I was still embarrassed, but I don't think it affected me much, and I'll work on the first part in the future...

Alright, now it's bed time, night!

January 25, 2009

My New Old Life

Sorry, more internet outages kept me from posting for the past few days, though there isn't a great deal to report on. Work is getting better as I get acclimated to the team and the project and my technical needs get ironed out. There's an internal milestone coming up soon with some specific requirements so I think it should help me focus my efforts and learn some of the systems I haven't interacted with directly yet. I think that's about as much as I am allowed to say about work at this point but things are certainly going well.

My home/social life has been rather dull for obvious reasons, but I am hoping to change that in the near future. I am trying to get involved in a dancing class/group thanks to some advice from Sharon. I am also getting involved in some of the groups at work which should hopefully keep me occupied during my down time. Then, once my stuff arrives I can fill in the rest of my spare time with glorious video gaming.

It is interesting though. The time away from my electronic distractions has given me some time to get my life organized, and it's also given me time to think about where I am, where I used to be, and where I'm going. It's funny, the Guildhall is this strange dark period that now feels like it's completely in the past. I don't mean a dark period like it was sad or depressing or evil (well....maybe a little :P). I mean a period in my life where I was just so absorbed with my work that I basically let everything else sort of fall off my plate.

In the last week, I've been reconnecting with friends I haven't heard from in years, and that's really cool to me. I am terrible at keeping in touch with people normally, and with the added lack of contact from the Guildhall, I had assumed most of my previous relationships had all but faded away. It's nice to hear that people still have good memories of me and are interested in reconnecting with me. I guess it's probably just sort of the isolation of the new move...another move to another new place where I know practically no one. I suppose it's just nice to know there are still people out there that think of me, even if they aren't here.

Anyway, all that being said, it just reminds me how much I am ready to get back to my old life, in terms of meeting people and hanging out, and just living life, instead of being utterly absorbed in work. It feels good to be where I am, really good. I'm still waiting for the point where I have developed a sort of local circle of friends, but I know that will come in time, I just have to be patient (not my strongest suit). Until then, I'll do what I can to meet people, and do whatever I want to distract me the rest of the time.

Interesting anecdote, by the way. Or maybe not that interesting after you've lived in LA for a while, but Miley Cyrus (a.k.a. Hannah Montana) was getting take out from the Chinese place that I went to for dinner tonight. Everyone was making a fuss over it (and blocking the entrance to the restaurant), but I didn't even know who she was, I actually had to ask my waitress. I guess that shows you how tapped into celebrities I am. Still it was pretty neat, even if it didn't resonate with me that much.

That's all I've got, night all!

January 22, 2009


Sorry for no post last night, my internet was out *shrug*...

Things are mostly going well here in Burbank. I think I am getting acclimated to the new job pretty well and the whole team has been nothing but nice and helpful. Today I got access to the central repository so I can start making actual contributions to the project which is pretty cool. It's exciting to see the making of a real game from the inside. I can't really say much about the project, but I can say it's really cool and I am very excited to work on it.

On the flip side, today I got the unfortunate news that my mover was "delayed" so the current estimated arrival of my stuff in Burbank is now a week from tomorrow. Not much to really be done about it except sigh and whine about it a little on here. I am hoping the new estimate is conservative and my stuff will get here closer to the middle of next week, but I'm not holding my breath. Also, apparently the moving company will pay me for every day that their late, and seeing as I could use the money I can't complain too much. Though, I do look forward to getting back to my gaming once my stuff arrives. Until then, I guess I'll just be watching a lot of DVDs on the laptop and playing the handheld games I happened to bring along.

January 20, 2009

Day Two

Well, this is going to be a bit of a short one as today was pretty much just more reading, meetings, and paperwork. I am spinning up for my first actual work assignments so then I should actually have stuff to do at work, which will be nice. Until then, I am just trying to get familiar with everything about the project, at least as much as I can from reading through all the reference materials. That's pretty much it. Later!

January 19, 2009

Reflections on My First Day

Mmmm...another blog posting vacuum. I swear I'll get back to one post a day one of these days...

Anyway, today was very exciting as it was my first official day of work as a professional game developer. Admittedly, my day only really consisted of four things: 1) touring the studio, 2) filling out paperwork, 3) meeting the team, and 4) reading. As you can see I haven't actually done anything yet, but tomorrow I am getting meeting with my lead to start developing my task list, so I'm just trying to get up to speed for it.

That being said, it was still a very cool experience. By and large, I felt more nervous in the days leading up to today then I actually did today. As I talked to the team and made my way through all the scripting and design reference materials, I felt pretty confident (and excited) about my ability to do the work. Up until now, with the Guildhall and even Gearbox, working on games still didn't feel like a job. Like it was something I did and spent (a lot of) time on, but it didn't feel like I was actually what I was going to do for a living. Today, I think things finally became real, and that was a very cool feeling.

The other thing that was really exciting was realizing that my job was something I was proficient in and excited about doing. I heard once that one of the primary differences between men and women is that women define themselves by their relationships: mother, sister, friend, etc. and men define themselves by what they do: lawyer, doctor, game developer, etc. I'd never really though to closely about it, but it was something that always stuck with me for some reason and today I felt like I kind of understood it for the first time.

For a long time, maybe my entire life, I think I've been looking for some definition of who I am, I imagine a lot of people are the same way. For a while I defined myself by a relationship and who I was within the context of that relationship, and I was happy with that...until it ended. When it ended I think I kind of ended up being lost because I had defined myself through this over person, and now I didn't know who I was, so I started searching. I tried to continue on the path I was on, to be a mechanical engineer, but it wasn't long before I realized that that wasn't for me. Maybe it never was, maybe if I'd been searching for identity when I chose that path I would have realized it, but that didn't change the fact that I knew I wanted something else.

I considered game development at that point, but only in sort of a "wouldn't it be cool if" style of idealism and no real plan for reaching it. I knew I didn't want to be a mechanical engineer so I started looking elsewhere and that's how I ended up at Capital One. I have no real complaints about Capital One as a company. The people I worked with were smart, hard-working, nice, wonderful people, the hours were good, the compensation was great, and the perks/benefits were fantastic. But it was clear to me I wasn't an "Operations Analyst," and so I began searching, which is how I found the Guildhall.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on my experiences at the Guildhall as that has been discussed at length in the last 300+ posts, but I don't remember ever being so challenged in my life. I also don't ever remember being so driven, and that was when I first started to feel that I might finally be on the right path. I don't mean to overstate this as I realize it was only my first day, and I am sure the next year will be plagued with plenty of doubts and complications. I just want to say how powerful I think it can be to find what you were meant to do.

Sorry for the long reflective story, not sure if its actually interesting to read, but it was interesting for me to type, and it helped me think and reflect on things so too bad. Besides there's not a whole lot I can say about work anyway. My first day was very exciting, I got to meet a lot of nice, interesting people on my team and I even got to sit down with Ted Price for a little bit and talk about the company. The best thing I can say is I am really looking forward to seeing where this all goes, it should be one hell of a ride...

January 15, 2009

Moving Day!

Well, pretty much all my stuff is gone, so now I need to spend the next hour or so finishing cleaning my apartment, so I can be ready to take off early tomorrow morning (my plane actually leaves just over 11 hours from now). After that, I'll probably be off the internets for a while so I'll see you all on the other side. Later!

January 14, 2009

Packing Day!

Hey all, not too much to report on today. The movers came to pack up all my stuff so I am now sitting on my couch surrounded by the boxes that used to be my PS3, computer, and other entertainment items. Lately, I haven't done much other than prepare for the move, just trying to make sure I don't forget anything major and have to live in a hotel for a week while my stuff makes its way to California. I'm excited and a bit nervous to start the new job, and now I am just waiting for things to start. That's pretty much all that's going on right now. I will probably lose the blog for a little while as the internet in my new apartment will not be hooked up until next Tuesday. Hopefully, I can find somewhere nearby to connect to the internet and figure out basic things like the nearest grocery store, and stuff like that. Alright, well, that's all for today!

January 12, 2009

Ready for Roots

This will be brief as it is already late and I am tired. Just thought I would give you all a brief update on things. The moving dates were confirmed today. Movers are coming to pack my stuff on Wednesday and pick it up on Thursday and I am scrambling around to try to get everything organized. Everything is rolling very quickly and it's making me the slightest bit uncomfortable. I am looking forward to the new job and the new area, but I hope this is my last move for a while, at least my last major, cross-country move. I'd like to settle down for a bit, develop a consistent circle of friends, maybe have a stable relationship for a while, you know, all that good stuff. Anyway, I'm hoping I find all that sooner rather than later, but for right now, I am just hoping I don't forget anything major for the move...

January 9, 2009

Relocation & Stuff

Hey all, I guess it's been a while, and I realize I've been saying that a lot lately. Once I actually get a little settled in California, I think I should be able to resume my regularly scheduled posting, or at least I'll have to come up with a new excuse. I am going to keep tonight's post a bit brief as I am rather tired since I stupidly stayed up until about 4:00 A.M. playing the World at War multiplayer and then had to wake up for an apartment survey (for the movers) at around 8:00 A.M. I am stull working on getting back to a normal sleeping schedule. I think I am still set to Guildhall time, plus all the flying around to different time zones hasn't helped any either.

I've spent most of the new year enjoying some of the best games from last year and preparing for my upcoming move to Burbank. I was in Michigan until the 4th then I came back to Texas for about a day before flying out to Burbank for an apartment search which I just got back from yesterday night. The trip went really well, and I managed to get a lot of stuff done in preparation for the move. The apartment finder service that Insomniac set me up with was great and found me a wonderful apartment in a good area at a reasonable price (reasonable for Burbank anyway). I also managed to buy a new car (if you are familiar with my old car, you probably understand why) and a new fridge for my apartment (oddly enough, most apartments in the Burbank area don't have fridges included). I will endeavor to include pictures of my new diggs (apartment, car, and fridge) when I arrive in California and probably again after I am more settled and unpacked. Everything is coming together and it looks like I will be moving to Burbank as early as next Friday.

With the time I have had to spend on games, I've been playing a little bit of everything. I've been making my way through Gears of War 2, Far Cry 2, Resistance 2, CoD: World at War, and Endwar. In addition, I've been playing a fair bit of my DS and PSP on my various flights lately, mostly the Final Fantasy IV remake (DS), Lock's Quest (DS), and Yggdra Union (PSP). I've pretty much been keeping to my "tourist" gameplay approach lately, playing whatever strikes my fancy for as long as it does. Though that may be what led me to play World at War multiplayer for around 5 hours, during the wee hours of the morning. Oh, I also played a lot of Civ IV: Colonization during the first few days of the year, while Rick was conducting a marathon of Lost Season 4 in preparation for Season 5. I picked up a number of games on sale during Steam's big holiday sale early into 2009.

At this point, I should probably say something meaningful about at least one of the games I am playing, but I seem to keep using all my good material on long phone conversations with my brother instead of here where all of you can enjoy it :P. Since I have been playing it so much recently I will discuss my experiences with World at War as of late. I didn't really look too deeply into the reviews of this game when it came out some I am not sure what the overall all critical response was, but what I had basically heard was that it was a World War II version of Call of Duty 4 and I think that is pretty much accurate. The game has the same gorgeous graphics, silky smooth frame rates, stop-and-pop gameplay, and addictive multiplayer. The biggest difference I have seen so far is in the narrative of the singleplayer campaign.

Similar to the narrative of a movie-licensed game, World at War bounces around short storylines or vignettes that fit into the overall framework of a story that viewer is already familiar with, in this case World War II. This is sort of a throwback to the storytelling from the original Call of Duty games, but in my opinion I would have preferred to see something a bit closer to Call of Duty 4 than Call of Duty 1, 2, or 3. While Call of Duty 4 had you bouncing between characters and the narrative certainly had its faults, there was an overall story that was being told and characters (both heroes and villains) that featured prominently in it. I think the franchise certainly has room to grow as far as storytelling, and World at War is a step back in this regard instead of a step forward. Also, I recognize a different company made World at War (Treyarch), but as long as both companies bear the Call of Duty title, the games will be compared whether they like it or not.

That being said, I think World at War is really very good, and my critique of the narrative approach in the campaign is my only real complaint at this point. Both the single-player and multiplayer levels are well crafted with plenty of jaw-dropping set piece moments during the campaign and excellent flow in the multiplayer maps. The multiplayer mode is almost identical to the one featured in Call of Duty 4, though the new 'War' game type is a welcome addition to the mix, and a good old round of 'Capture the Flag' can certainly be fun though it does feel a bit out of place. In addition, as you might expect the rifles and sub machine guns of World War II feel a lot different than their modern counterparts, which gives the actual gunplay a unique feeling when compared with Call of Duty 4.

I should also note I am playing the PC version of the game as opposed the 360 version (where I played Call of Duty 4) or PS3 version which may be contributing to the "unique" feel. In my opinion, since many of the weapons are single-shot or only effective in very short bursts, accuracy is of even more paramount importance than it was in Call of Duty 4, which makes the game feel more appropriate to the PC. That being said, I have greatly been enjoying my time with the game especially the multiplayer. It's not clear to me whether that's because the game truly offers something different or I just haven't played CoD4 in a while, but either way it's an enjoyable experience...despite being another World War II shooter. :P

Well, there are my basic, scattered thoughts on World at War. As I continue to have free time to actually play games, and I am increasingly unable to talk about anything I am working on, I anticipate this is the direction the blog will take, at least during the longer blackout periods where I can't reveal even what title I am working on. I hope my random musings on games and the industry continue to be interesting or at least amusing. For now, I must sleep...