Welcome to the Black Lab where I discuss all matters of geek culture! Bonus topics include the angst that comes with being unemployed in this economy/being a struggling writer/being a newly married man/living in New York. Whew. Interested? Good. Then come on in!Ask me anything
So my parts finally arrived today and I’m pretty excited.
The final list comes to this:
•CPU: Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor ($223.79 @ Amazon)
•Motherboard: ASRock Z77 Pro3 ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($89.99 @ Amazon)
•Memory: Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($44.99 @ Amazon)
•Storage: Seagate Barracuda 1TB 3.5” 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($77.45 @ Amazon)
•Storage: Samsung 840 Series 120GB 2.5” Solid State Disk ($92.66 @ Amazon)
•Video Card: Gigabyte Radeon HD 7850 2GB Video Card ($194.99 @ Amazon)
•Case: NZXT Phantom 410 (Black) ATX Mid Tower Case ($99.99 @ Amazon)
•Power Supply: Rosewill Hive 550W 80 PLUS Bronze Certified ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply ($69.99 @ Amazon)
•Optical Drive: Lite-On iHAS124-04 DVD/CD Writer ($17.99 @ Amazon)
•Keyboard: Razer BlackWidow Ultimate Wired Gaming Keyboard ($79.99 @ Amazon)
(Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
(Generated by PCPartPicker 2013-02-06 10:28 EST-0500)
Unfortunately the price rose considerably from the sub-$800 list I had originally compiled. I ultimately decided on a different motherboard, video card, power supply, case, and optical drive. I wanted a more expensive case than the Raidmax because 1) I couldn’t find any reliable reviews on the Raidmax and 2) The Phantom comes with 3 fans, which I felt to be a plus in an apartment with a dog. I went with a beefier graphics card because I felt like it was an investment, but I wasn’t comfortable in spending more than $200. Lastly, the price was more expensive because I bought everything from Amazon so that I could have reliable shipping via Amazon Prime, plus their returns policy is amazing, which I consider a positive incase some parts need to be return (like a fried motherboard *knock on wood*), so I missed out on some cheaper merchants. Also, obviously, the Christmas sales are over so the prices rose.
Overall I’m very excited about my new rig. I can’t wait to start building it!
I bought a lot of games off of Steam over the holidays which I hope to eventually write about should I ever A) Find the time to finish them, and B) Actually get around to writing about them. One game that I’m currently enraptured with is Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3.
I have never played the original Far Cry, but I did give its sequel a shot. I didn’t like it. The gun jamming mechanic really made firefights frustrating. Stealth was difficult on account of the location. Everything was brown or black and it made pinpointing enemies from a distance almost impossible. So I hesitated in getting Far Cry 3 until I saw some videos and let’s plays online. I liked what I saw and it seemed like an FPS version of Skyrim in a strange way. These days I’m a little more budget conscious and would like to get more from my game than usual, multiplayer aside. So, when it dipped down in price, I decided to grab it.
Now, this might be an issue with my PC, but I’ve had issues with the game. Chief among them seems to be a problem with low ledges and doors. A lot of times I seem to get stuck on objects that are maybe an inch or so off the ground. It’s particularly annoying when I have to scale up the radio towers. Since that might be an issue with my PC (somehow? maybe?) I’m willing to let that slide.
What irritates me, however, is the looting mechanic. The amount of times I end up swapping weapons with a dead pirate rather than looting him is driving me slowly insane! For whatever reasons, the programmers made it so that there’s a really small area you must be in to loot a body, but a GIGANTIC area for you to pick up a gun. This became particularly problematic with one mission where I needed to loot a key from a jailer’s body. However! I could not manage this because his gun ended up right on top of him, forcing me to restart the whole mission. It’s not a game breaking problem, but it’s definitely distracts from my immersion level.
Also, I question the level up system. Why must I progress through story missions in order to gain access to more of the perk tree? If the whole map is available from the beginning (and I believe most of it is), then why can’t I spend my time liberating outposts and doing side missions only to come back to the story mission when I’m maxed out? I know that there’s an Alice in Wonderland theme running through the story, but I had a dozen skill points banked with nothing to spend it on because I hadn’t reached the appropriate story mission. Again, not a game breaking problem, but until I unlocked those skills I felt annoyed with every mission. ”Can I spend my points now? What about now? No? This one? WHEN, LORD WHEN? WHEN’S GONNA BE MY TIME?!”
Despite those problems, which I felt the obvious need to vent about, I’m actually enjoying Far Cry 3. I can only hope things get better as I move further along in the story.
I don’t think Portal 2 should have been made. There, I said it. Come at me, internet. Come at me. *hides*
No, seriously. I don’t. I recently finished the game and I’m going through the co-op now. Is it a good game? Yes. Is it fun? Yes. Is it everything one might want in a Portal sequel? Sure. That all said, I still don’t think it should have been made.
Warning: Spoilers for both games following the break…
Let sleeping GLaDOS’s lie…
Source: Portal Wiki
Part of this has to do with the joy of playing the first Portal. It was a short game, a jewel of minimalist design and story-telling, and a delightful surprise tucked away in Valve’s Orange Box. It was also an example of how versatile the Source engine was (or still is, I suppose). Portal set the bar high—too high for any sequel. It’d be like Ico or Shadow of the Colossus having a sequel. Could it be done? Yes, but…why?
Chell is a wonderful silent protagonist (I’d argue she’s better than Gordon Freeman). The slow pace of Portal, coupled with the minimalist design and sharp dialogue, made me feel for this lost soul in Aperture Science. As much as I laughed at GLaDOS’s taunts, I hated her as well. Her cruelty was so honed that you hardly noticed whenever it slid into you, or how deep the wound went until, at the end, I found myself grinning with maniacal joy as I dumped GLaDOS’s final personality core into the incinerator. I loved the ambiguity of the ending as well. Did Chell live? Did she die? Ultimately, it didn’t matter. She was free.
Pictured: Freedom (and Hoopy…the Hoop)
Source: Portal Wiki
The lack of freedom is what bothers me about Portal 2. Chell is dragged right back into Aperture Science and forced to run through test after test after test all over again. It’s masochistic! I know it would have gone against the grain, but I really felt that Valve should have integrated some sort of cutscene into Portal 2. I wanted to see some sort of reaction on Chell’s face to Wheatley, instead of the blank reaction. Come on. I know Chell is tenacious and mute, but she’s human, too. That bugged me, story-wise. It was hard to get invested in the story again, particularly as GLaDOS is crueler and more abusive the second time. Solving the new puzzles was fun, but the story…
Yes, we get to explore GLaDOS’s backstory, along with the backstory of Aperture Science, and that was fun and cool, but Chell is still the same, static protagonist and I hated it. They could have flipped the order around and have the co-op storyline take place before the single-player campaign so that, instead of Chell, it’s one of the cryogenically frozen test-subjects that’s the protagonist. It would have made no difference; GLaDOS’s would still be passive-aggressive and mean, but this time to someone new so the impassive reaction would be acceptable again, and Wheatley would still be an idiot. (Would there be plotholes in such a switch? Yes, but they could be ironed out. I’m not going to rewrite the whole Portal 2 script in this blog.)
The sole reason for this blog happens to be the Portal Testing Initiative introduced to Portal 2. Now the community is free to make puzzles however they want! Testing! Forever! Hurray! I like that. I like that I get to solve new puzzles in the Portal world. I like to have a reason to return to a game I enjoyed over and over again. Only, hey, guess what? The protagonist going through these fan-created puzzles isn’t Chell. It’s Bendy! (Who?)
And that’s why I feel Valve shouldn’t have done Portal 2, even though it’s almost as funny and enjoyable as the first game. They could have made a short DLC with Wheatley using P-Body and Atlas to set him up as “King of the Lab,” only to stumble upon the frozen test-subjects and inadvertently awaken GLaDOS. That then sets off the Portal Testing Initiative! Voila. Now fans can come back and play through endless puzzles with new toys like all the gels and light walls, etc! Chell? Well, who cares. Chell’s free. Dead or alive, she earned her freedom.
All right, yes, I know people would endlessly bitch and complain about Chell if Valve did that. It seems that we as a society have issues with closure. We don’t like it when shows or movies or games don’t wrap things up in a neat little package. This is probably because it can (and has) been done really poorly. But that’s what I felt when I played Portal 2. It was fun and cool, but Valve did it before (I also feel the same way about L4D2, though I have it, I mostly play the original L4D maps with new special infected), and they really should have just released the Perpetual Testing Initiative instead.
Are video games art? It’s a subjective question. I’d like to think so. A good game can move me as much as a book or song or painting. Sure, my definition of art might be a bit broad, but that’s my definition. So, knowing that I think of video games as art, you can imagine how excited I was to hear that the Smithsonian would do an exhibit on the Art of Video Games!
Unfortunately, the exhibit itself was a terrible, terrible disappointment. By now I’m sure you’ve seen photos of the exhibit floating around. I know I have. The most famous of these photos are people playing either Super Mario Bros. or Pac-Man projected onto a wall. What’s that? You haven’t seen it? Well, I took a photo just for you, reader!
Only I took on of Monkey Island because I’m like totally hipster and focusing on the lesser known game. Ha!
Anyway, that’s really all there is to the “art” of video game. The rest of the exhibit is little else than a giant, flashy timeline. They’ve dug out pristine Atari, Coleco, and Intellivision units, and put those alongside the SNES, Dreamcast, and whatever else. They singled out four games to feature from each system and you can listen to a little bit about the games.
The lack of a crowd around the Dreamcast saddened me.
Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful history lesson. It was nice to see my childhood all lined up so very neatly. But that wasn’t what I wanted to see. That’s not art. I wanted to see the process a game went through. I wanted its guts laid bare for everyone to appreciate the solid work that goes into each disc or cartridge. I wanted concept art (“conventional” art), I wanted the art of the consoles themselves (“modern” art), I wanted to see how wacky some peripheries were—especially third-party ones. I wanted wall-to-wall screens showing some of the most emotional cutscenes FMV had to offer. I wanted informational videos detailing why it is that video games are art, like that PBS one explaining Super Mario Bros. as a piece of surrealism.
Watch Idea Channel: Super Mario Brothers as Surrealist Art? on PBS. See more from Idea Channel.
As someone who is beginning to study programming and code, I want to believe that. More importantly, however, I wanted to SEE that. Would it have been too difficult to take a large string of a game’s code, print it on a GIANT canvas in a variety of colors, then reflect that image with a screen of what that code represented? Because what is art or language if not the representation of something?
So the Art of Video Games might not have been my dream exhibit. I still see it as a step in the right direction. Maybe this will have garnered enough interest for another one. Do video games need validation from the artistic community? I don’t think so, but it wouldn’t hurt.
I’m not sure why everyone hates Mass Effect 3’s ending with such passion. I liked it. I like the series as a whole. It’s not a perfect series by any means, but remains solid, well-crafted, and enjoyable. I didn’t see any gaping plot hole in the ending, but it has been quite a while since I played ME2, and longer still since I played the original. Perhaps I have forgotten something?
I’ve tried my best to understand why such a vocal number of people seem to despise the ending. Is it a direct result of BioWare’s partnership with EA? The disappointing show of Dragon Age 2? Is it the day one DLC that they’ve already been doing for the past few games? I certainly didn’t see any problems in Mass Effect 3’s ending, but all I hear on the web is “plot hole” this and “plot hole” that, and calls for a complete rewriting of the series.
(Possible spoilers from here on out)
At face value, the Crucible does seem to be a giant piece of deus ex machina. It’s something never before mentioned in the series and yet promises to be the saving grace of all life in the Milky Way galaxy. But we’re introduced to it early–-the second mission of the game, in fact–-and we have a lot of time to think on its possibilities. Is it a superweapon like in Halo? Is it a dud? Is it a Reaper trap? The biggest question, however, is in regards to “the Catalyst,” this key component necessary to activate the Crucible.
Now, maybe I play too many video games, watch too many movies and TV shows, but right there I assumed Shepard was the Catalyst, and Shepard was going to have to make a sacrifice. It’s all right there in the name! What has Shepard been throughout this trilogy if not the catalyst? He’s been the one transforming the galaxy; he’s been at the eye of the storm at every Reaper incursion. So Shepard was going to die. I was at peace with that. This is a war, after all. A huge, galactic one. It didn’t seem possible that the whole crew could escape without dying?
And to emphasize this, BioWare gives us a few sacrifices. Mordin, for example, sacrificing himself to cure the genophage (if you went that route). I instantly saw it as foreshadowing Shepard’s eventual sacrifice. Then there’s Thane, someone who, like Shepard, might have deserved a quiet, dignified death after so much fighting. Instead, he’s cut down in a fierce battle. There’s also a general tone in the crew–Chakwas wanting to break open their annual bottle early, Garrus speaking about dying and enjoying a drink in heaven. Yes, the paragon dialogue choices promise hope and encouragement, but that doesn’t mean it’ll happen. Shepard is simply trying to rally and encourage his troops in a hopeful way. Those words don’t remove the specter of death that hangs over each event.
So after our struggles, after the time-consuming quest to gather war assets (or galactic readiness, if you did multiplayer or iOS apps), we come to the climax. We meet the Catalyst who, as it turns out, is an artificial intelligence that lives within the Citadel. It controls the Reapers, orchestrating their harvest throughout the galaxy. It’s not unlike meeting the Architect in the Matrix: Reloaded. Here’s where people start to have problems. Here’s where the deus ex machina card starts to get thrown around.
By this point, the Prothean VI has already explained to us that the Crucible was not of their design. It’s actually been around for more cycles than we can guess. Possibly even of Reaper design, as most advanced technology such as the mass relays and the Citadel come from them. That should be a warning to us that the Crucible is not the convenient, conventional savior that we want it to be. Vendetta (the VI) even goes on to speculate how the Reapers are just as trapped in the cycle as the other races are, despite their overwhelming power. He points to some hidden master orchestrating everything.
So we shouldn’t really be surprised that the Catalyst is evil, right? I mean, who did we think controlled the Reapers? The Illusive Man? Anderson? Maybe Hackett. The Catalyst explains the purpose behind the cycle: to ensure the survival of organics. It became convinced that some day, synthetic life would arise to become the dominant intelligence in the galaxy, thus eradicating all other organic life. To prevent this, the Catalyst constructed the Reapers to harvest organic life, preserving the minds of billions each cycle, adding to a collective, organic intelligence. It was the most efficient solution, as less advanced species were then free to evolve in an endless cycle, one not so dissimilar to life and death.
Now, some people have problems with this. That’s fine. The Catalyst’s solution is quite problematic. However, this is not a plot hole. Gazing upon multiple possibilities, the Catalyst chose one that was easy to maintain and enforce. A compromise, of sorts. Organic life was free to flourish, to mature, and eventually be preserved among the Reapers’ collective mind. It didn’t care whether or not people would prefer to have their own bodies, their own minds, nor did it wish to be bogged down in endless debates, cycle after cycle, with such inferior races. So it made its choice, and for millions of years that choice proved acceptable. This chaos it so feared was continuously avoided.
That, I repeat, is not a plot hole. That is perfectly in-line with everything we know about the Reapers and their motivations. At first it seems like they kill everyone, transforming people into husks, but as Sovereign says: their motivations are beyond our understanding. And that’s true. The Reapers are so far advanced compared to the Council races that there’d be no point in explaining their intentions. If they marched right up to the Citadel in the first game and told the Council they were harvesting them in order to save them, collecting their minds but destroying their bodies to prevent a thing that hasn’t yet happened (as the Geth are symptomatic of the Catalyst’s fear, but not the singularity itself), the Council would have balked at such a notion! And why not? It sounds like a terrible idea!
But the Council, as we’ve seen through the games, is short-sighted, conceited, and less concerned with galactic issues than local ones. The Catalyst, on the other hand, claims to look at the bigger picture. It believes the singularity is a threat to all organic life. It believes that no promise given would be a certainty against its creation. After all, it only needs to look on the greed of organics, the schism of Alliance and Cerberus, to know that someone will do it for no better reason than “We can.” So, rather than debate, it employs Reapers to cultivate highly evolved organics. It thinks it’s so superior to all other races and acts according. That’s a force with their own agenda that’s disagreeable to our own. That’s exactly what a villain is! BioWare did a great job in crafting a villainous force. The cycle is not a plot hole, it’s a plan that follows through on the Reaper’s logic.
So what about the endings? The pick one of three options to determine one of three endings? Well, that’s a trite bit of gameplay formula. There’s no denying that. It’s a rather disappointing way of choosing the ending, rather than having it come about organically. Still, the options did give me pause. No, not to retch. Whether you want to destroy or enslave the Reapers, or bring about a new synthesis of life, each choice has severe repercussions in the Mass Effect universe. It’s a choice with a lot of weight, and, if you’ve invested enough in the world and characters, you really feel it.
Are you disappointed that Shepard doesn’t survive? That, unlike Halo, there’s no final eulogy for him as there is for the Master Chief? Did you want closure for all the friends you gathered along the way? Maybe see their faces on the Memorial Wall? I can’t fault you for that. I wouldn’t have minded that sort of ending either. But to get that ending after the choices provided, after the information presented, would have truly ruined the game.
Maybe you wanted some final showdown, but showdown with who? Hackett says time and again that conventional warfare will not succeed against the Reapers. It’s hammered into you at every stage of the game. The Turians will lose Palaven, even with the Krogan’s help as Garrus advises the Primarch to pull out the fleet. The Asari lose Thessia. Earth is subjected by the Reapers. No one fleet, even composed of the entire galaxy, could compete with the Reapers’ advanced tech. The Protheans lost a war of attrition with the Reapers. It won’t work.
So the Crucible’s existence is justified according to the plot. One weapon with the power to stop the Reapers. Conventional warfare won’t work, and the Reapers won’t discuss an armistice. Maybe it is a deus ex machina. Maybe it’s weak writing to put your characters and story in a corner where they need a device like that. But it’d be just as weak and trite to make the game where killing one person stops a whole army.
To win the war, the Crucible enacts a galaxy-wide transformation by overloading and destroying the mass relays. For all three endings, this is true. This is not Halo where the rings will continue to float on in a dormant state after use. The Catalyst is quite clear on this. Whatever choice your Shepard makes, you are severing the galactic ties that you’ve struggled so hard to build. The fleets that flew to Earth? They won’t ever return to their homeworlds. Wrex might never see Eve and his Krogan clutch, Jacob might be forever cut off from Brynn and his newborn girl, Samara might never see her last daughter, and Miranda might never see her sister. Depressing, yes? Makes you feel as though everything you’ve done to rally this fleet seem futile?
Except by fostering better interspecies relations, you’ve actually helped them. They’ll be forced to coexist now, on whatever system they happen to inhabit. If you hadn’t done all of that, if Shepard hadn’t done all of that, then not only would defeating the Reapers have been impossible, but so would rebuilding. This is emphasized in almost every conversation with Hackett and Anderson, with Wrex and the Turian Primarch, even among the Quarian admiralty. Shepard, and by extension, you, brought the universe together for a single purpose. You showed it was possible. You gave everyone hope.
And, if you managed to get the synthesis option, hope is what you’re left with.
Hope has been the prevalent, universal theme throughout the Mass Effect series, whether you were paragon or renegade. Hope is what I had when I saw the Stargazer and his child. Yes, it might have been nicer to see more of our crew over the three games, but with the Stargazer and child we still get closure. Life goes on. The war was won.
According to Kotaku, Nintendo will slash the price of its much touted 3DS starting August 12th from a pricey $249 to a much more reasonable $169. In addition, a new Virtual Console store will be available so that people will be able to download and play classic GBA games.
All this means that the 3DS finally looks appealing to me. Not the 3D aspect, that I couldn’t care less about. It’s a fad. It will forever be a fad. Does 3D really heighten the immersion we, as gamers, should already be feeling when we take up the controls? I don’t think so. Not unless we’re in those huge arcade machines like Afterburner.
With movies it’s much less so of a fad. When done right, as in James Cameron’s Avatar, it truly does add a whole new dimension to the experience. But watching a movie is such a passive experience. It’s not hard to slap on a pair of 3D glasses and sit back for a good show (unless you already happen to wear glasses, in which case the experience is a nightmare—trust me). Playing a video game is far from a passive thing. We, as gamers, tend to move quite a bit while playing. It’s a visceral thing. That’s why the Wii and the Kinect are less silly. It makes sense (theoretically) that motion control would be a more immersive aspect. From a practical standpoint, motion control gaming still has a long way to go.
Despite that, the 3DS is a solid handheld that still boasts an impressive library of titles. That alone makes me want to pick it up. I don’t think handhelds are dead. Smartphones haven’t killed them yet. Playing anything other than a simple game like Angry Birds on an iPhone is something of a pain. D-Pad, buttons, even the DS’s stylus all offer much greater precision than the iPhone’s touchscreen. So, with that said, I’m now looking forward to retiring my old, trusty DS in favor for the next model thanks to it being somewhat affordable.