Saturday, January 03, 2004


Last Christmas Kate got me an X-Box, both as entertainment and as exposing me to the rich diversity of X-Box games in case I would have to go looking for a job at Microsoft in their games division. Despite having some friends who are extremely X-Box friendly (such as the Monkey King), it pretty much was occupying space - I pull the control out every so often, dink around with them a little, then put 'em back.

With my nephew's arrival, the X-Box has gotten a work-out. The afore-mentioned Monkey King lent me some of his games, and I played the versus versions of a number of them with JM. I come away with both more and less respect for the genre, seeing it though his 19-year-old eyes. John Michael has a Playstation and a Gamecube, so the X-Box was a new console for him.

His probable favorite was Max Payne, a violent shooter in which you're playing a cop seeking payback - Punisher without the skull-faced jammies. The various levels are short enough, and there is comic-book-style interludes to move the plot along. JM says its flaw is that its repetitive - move and shoot, and the solutions to all problems are through copious use of firepower and painkillers. I'm with him on that (Gunfight in a parking garage, Gunfight in a warehouse, Gunfight in an office building), but I do notice that some of the level design is quite spiffy (I particularly liked the lobby with the obelisk in it). JM blew through it over four evenings.

Also repetitive, and abandoned by him, was Crimson Skies. Despite its cool setting of odd planes and zeppelins (and the fact Uncle Jeff was a fan of the boardgame version), this left him cold, such that he bailed about the time he was doing the "Navajo Trials" - you can only fly through Navajo land if you perform three missions. Again, most of these missions were move and shoot of some type.

The best game for the pair of us was NFL Fever 2003. Here I started to make the transition from button-mashing (just hitting the buttons) to actually trying to hit the buttons in the right order to make the play work. It was from the start of the season, so we had Kordell Stewart running the Steelers, and the Seahawks were even suckier than they turned out to be. I managed to figure out how to do running plays - just hand off to the Jerome Bettis.

Also in the button-mashing catagory was Soulcaliber II, a fighting game that has pretty graphics and interesting characters (including the comic-book character Spawn). This is a good game for newbies/irregular players, since we're still at the level of "how did we do that?".

JM also fooled around with Oddworld: Munch's Oddessy and Knights of the Old Republic (Better known as KOTOR). He had finished the latter on his Playstation, and was comparing how the controls handled (OK). He also fooled about with the GT2002 Racing game, which was similar to his Playstation versions, though, in his words "more reality-based" (I suppose that means he crashed more often).

From playing with him and watching him in action, I'm coming to a conclusion that there are several layers of interaction in console gaming, much as in other types of gaming. The first level, akin to "Kick in the door and kill the monsters" in D&D, is the button mashing - hit everything and hope something works. The second level is getting subtle - knowing what the moves are and how the buttons work. The third level is anticipatory - from what you've seen in the design, you expect certain types of challenges and know how you'll respond.

All in all, its interesting. My faves turned out to be the ones with more (apparent) variables, like the sports sims. Or it could be that the football game functions more like the turn-based games I am comfortable with - plan, then resolve, as opposed to continually being on the move.

More later,