Playing Dungeons and Dragons at DragonCon 2016

Logo for Dungeons and Dragons

Before DragonCon 2016 I had decided that I wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons at the convention. Even though I played D&D in high school and went to a lot of conventions where it was played, I had never actually played at a convention before.

In the early 80’s I played Dungeons and Dragons with my friends at lunch and on the weekends along with a bunch of other role playing games (RPG). Most of those games are not played very much anymore, but D&D is now on its 5th iteration which has apparently brought it closer to the first version which is what I remember.

At DragonCon I got to play 3 sessions, 2 of which were great and 1 of which was kind of meh. So much in an RPG depends upon the person running the game, the Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master (DM), the player characters (PCs), and the module or adventure.

I tend to play “good” characters, with Lawful Good Human Paladins and Chaotic Good Elf Rangers being my preference, and in the convention setting that does not always work with the other players at the table. If everyone else is playing “not-so-good” characters like Warlocks, Thieves, Pirates, etcetera, a Lawful Good Paladin is kind of a stick-in-the-mud, which can actually be fun if the other players are into playing along, but it can also be really not fun if they want to play all serious. That last game at DragonCon was the latter.

Also keep in mind that I had not played since 1986 and never with anyone but friends. So at a convention with a hard time limit with a bunch of strangers was a very different experience.

D&D 5e is a lot like what I remember in high school, apparently previous versions, especially 3.5e, were a lot more complicated. Right now there are only a handful of books needed, actually you could play the game entirely for free using the Systems Reference Document (SRD).

If you are interested in playing D&D I highly recommend checking out gaming at a convention, it was a lot of fun and I was able to learn a lot about the fifth edition rules and how to play the game.

Make an Icon for Mac Yosemite

How to make a new folder icon for your MAME games is pretty easy with a handful of steps. This is the process I followed; there are other ways to do it using other tools. I used Preview, Adobe Photoshop, and Xcode’s Icon Utility.

Step 1: Get the Icons

I like JohanChalibert’s OS X Yosemite Icon set that he has posted on Deviant Art, but you could search around a bit and find many different icon sets that would be a great place to start.

Download the icon set, unzip it, take a moment to read the readme file, and then find the folder icon you want to use as a starting point, I used GenericFolderIcon.icns. Right-click the Icns file and open it in Preview.

Step 2: Export the Base Icon

Preview Inspector Dialog Box

Preview Inpector

Now that you have the icon set open in preview you can see that it is made up of 10 different graphics. By opening the Inspector (Tools > Show Inspector or Command i) you can see the details for each graphic, like the first graphic is 1024 x 1024 pixels in size at 144 dpi.

Right-click menu

Export As…

Right-click the “1” graphic and choose Export As…, change the Format to PNG making sure the Alpha checkbox is checked. I kept the default name of GenericFolderIcon.png.

Step 3: Editing the Graphics

Now I download the super large version of the MAME logo from MAME Dev. This is what I want to put on the front of my folder icon.

  1. Open both the GenericFolderIcon.png and the MAMELogoTM.jpg files in Photoshop.
  2. On the MAME logo in the Layers panel click the padlock icon to convert the background to a regular layer.
  3. Using the Magic Wand tool with a Tolerance of 12, Anti-alias checked, and Contiguous unchecked click the black background of the logo.
  4. Photoshop delete background image

    Delete Background

    Click the Delete key to remove that black background then Command D to cancel the selection.
  5. Photoshop adjust levels

    Adjust Levels

    Open the Levels panel (Image > Adjustments > Levels… or Command L) and under Output Levels make both sides “0” which will make the entire logo solid black.
  6. Photoshop pasted MAME logo

    Pasted Logo

    Then Select All (Command A), Copy (Command C), then switch to the GenericFolderIcon graphic and Paste (Command V).
  7. Photoshop resize MAME logo

    Tranform Logo

    Initially the MAME logo will be huge compared to the folder so you will need to transform it to fie. Transform (Command T) then while holding down the shift key to keep the ratio of the logo locked start resizing the logo until it looks good to you.
  8. In the Layer panel switch the mode to Overlay.
  9. Create an “fx” layer with an Inner Shadow, I like the settings Blend Mode: Mulitply, Opacity: 36%, Angle: 128, Distance: 9px, Choke: 0, Size: 21px. Play with it until you find something you like.
  10. Photoshop add fx to the logo layer

    Adjust Logo

    For my tastes the MAME logo is still too strong, I want it to more closely match the Apple Applications folder Icon. So back in the Layers I turn the Opacity of the logo layer down to 38%.
  11. Save that PSD file early and often so you have something to go back too if there are any problems or you want to make adjustments later.

Step 4: Saving the Graphics

For a complete Apple icon you need 10 images.

icon_16x16.png
icon_16x16@2x.png
icon_32x32.png
icon_32x32@2x.png
icon_128x128.png
icon_128x128@2x.png
icon_256x256.png
icon_256x256@2x.png
icon_512x512.png
icon_512x512@2x.png

The “2x” images are saved at 144 DPI while the others are saved at 72 DPI.

It can get a bit confusing at this point, but keep in mind that icon_128x128@2x.png is really 256×256 at a resolution of 144 DPI while icon_256x256.png is 256×256 at a resolution of 72 DPI.

  1. I make a Duplicate (Image > Duplicate) of the image so that I wont accidentally overwrite my full-sized PSD file.
  2. Photoshop image size 512@2x

    Image Size 512@2x

    In the Image Size panel (Image > Image Size… or Command Option I) adjust the resolution to 1024×1024 at 144 DPI.
  3. Then Save for Web (File > Save for Web… or Command Option Shift S) with the settings of PNG-24 and Transparency Checked.
  4. Click Save and in the Save Optimized As dialog box make a new folder naming it “MAMEFolderIcon.iconset”. The “.iconset” portion is important later.
  5. Name this first file icon_512x512@2x.png and save it.
  6. Photoshop image size 512

    Image Size 512

    Back to the Image Size panel adjust the size to 72 DPI Resolution and sized 512×512 (easier to make the changes in that order as adjusting the resolution will change the width and height). Resample should be set to “Automatic” or “Bicubic Sharper (reduction)”.
  7. Save this one as icon_512x512.png.
  8. Finished images for the icon

    Finished Files

    Now do that another 8 times adjusting the size and saving based on the file names above.

As the icon graphic gets smaller you could change it up to keep it distinguishable from other icons. Instead of using the full MAME logo you could use just an “M” or you could darken the logo, or anything else you can think of.

Step 5: Building the Icon Set

I am using the Icon Utilities tool that comes with Xcode. There are a lot of icon tools out there, the App Store is full of them, but I happen to have Xcode installed and decided this was the easiest way for me to create the finished icon set.

  1. Open the Terminal app and change the directory to where you have the MAMEFolderIcon.iconset saved. For me that was cd /Users/dnelson/Documents/Folder\ Icon\ Post/
  2. Then run the Icon Utilities app “iconutil -c icns MAMEFolderIcon.iconset

And BANG! You have your very own MAMEFolderIcon.icns icon set.

Step 6: Put your New Icon Set to Use

Find the folder you want to give your new Icon Set to and get ready for the magic.

  1. Select the folder, click on it once, than then Get Info (right-click and choose Get Info or Command I).
  2. Drag-and-drop the new icon set

    Drag-and-Drop

    Now drag-and-drop you new icon set on top of the folder icon at the top of the Get Info dialog box.
  3. Folder with new icon set

    Updated Folder

    And you are done!

It is a tedious process, but it is nice to have custom icons like this, especially for folders in the Doc. This process will also work for making icons for your game launching files.

Easy Launching of MAME Games in Mac OSX Yosemite

Sometimes you want to be able to launch a game by double-clicking an icon rather than going through MAME’s interface or using the Terminal. This method has the added benefit of letting you easily launch MAME with various options.

We are going to write a small shell script, save it as a command file, and make it executable.

If you have followed the directions in my previous post “MAME on Mac OSX Yosemite” you can follow these instructions exactly, if you have made changes or modified any steps, keep that in mind while working through these steps.

First off we write the shell script.

  1. 1. Open the Documents directory and create a new folder named “MAME Games”.
  2. 2. Open Applications > TextEdit and click Format > Make Plain Text
  3. 3. On the first line of the document enter “#!/usr/bin/env bash”. This is known as a shebang and tells the computer that we want to use the Bash shell to run our script.
  4. 4. Then for readablility’s sake skip a line and enter “cd ~/Documents/mame” on the next line. This changes the directory to your mame folder inside of your Documents folder.
  5. 5. On the last line enter “./mame64 robotbwl” which launches the MAME application and loads the Robot Bowl ROM.
  6. 6. Now save the file naming it “Robot Bowl.command”. The filename extension of “command” tells Mac OSX that this is a Terminal shell script.

We have created our script now we have to give it permission to be executable.

  1. 1. Open the Terminal app and end enter “chmod +x ~/Documents/MAME\ Games/Robot\ Bowl.command”, this modifies the permissions of the “Robot Bowl.command” file by adding the Executebale for everyone permissions to it.
  2. 2. NOTE: The back slash “\” in the code escapes the spaces in the directory path and file names, without those back slashes the code will not work.

That is all there is to it, you should now be able to double click on the Robot Bowl file to launch MAME and the Robot Bowl game.

Options

Now we are going to create a file that will launch the Robot Bowl game with the screen much brighter than normal. This can be really handy if you have a screen or a game that is dark.

  1. 1. Copy the Robot Bowl file we created above and name it “Robot Bowl Bright”. By copying the Robot Bowl file the copied file will have the original’s executable permissions.
  2. 2. Open the Robot Bowl Bright file in TextEdit and add the brightness option to it by changing the last line to be “./mame64 robotbwl -brightness 1.5” and save it.

Now launch the new Robot Bowl Bright file and you can see how much brighter it is, the background has become gray. Hit the Escape (esc) key to quit and launch the original Robot Bowl file and you should see that the background is black when launching the game from that file.

In the docs directory there is a config.txt file that contains many other options you can use to configure your launchers. The ones you will probably use most often are the joystick options.

The Dock

To make launching games even easier you can drag the MAME Games folder onto the right-hand side of the Dock by the trashcan. I don’t like the default view of folders in the Dock so I right-click the folder and choose “Display as Folder” and “View content as List”. Now I can click the folder in the dock and choose a game from the list.

You could get creative with this and have a different folder for different types of games or with different options enabled for the games.

MAME on Mac OSX Yosemite

Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator (MAME) is a free and open source application used as a reference of the inner workings of arcade gaming systems. A side effect of this is that MAME can be used to play old arcade games if you can find the games. MAME uses data dumps from the Read Only Memory chips (ROMs) that were used in the original arcade games.

You can download the ROMs of some games from the mamedev.org website. I am going to use Robot Bowl as an example.

You will have to use the terminal app and the console to get MAME working, but it is very easy following the steps below. You will also need admin privileges on the computer, this is not absolutely necessary to run MAME, but that is how I am going to cover it here.

These instructions are for SDLMAME version 0.156 64-bit which was released on November 28, 2014.

Lets get started.

  1. Visit http://wiki.mamedev.org/index.php/SDL_Supported_Platforms and click on the URL for “Apple Macintosh OS X Intel” with a build target of “MAME”. Curretly that URL is http://sdlmame.lngn.net/
  2. Follow the instructions at the top of the page and install the “SDL runtime library
    1. From the SDL website download SDL2-2.0.3.dmg or the latest version.
    2. Double-click the SDL2-2.0.3.dmg file which will mount it as a drive.
    3. Open the Terminal application Applications > Utilities > Terminal
    4. Enter “open /Library/Frameworks” into the terminal window, this will open a window for the Frameworks directory
    5. Drag the “SDL2.framework” file from the SDL2 window into the “Frameworks” window, you may be prompted to enter an Admin username and password to authenticate your desire to modify the Frameworks directory. Click “Authenticate” and then enter an Admin Username and Password.
  3. Back at the SDLMAME page click on the “SDLMAME v0.156 64-bit” link and save the file to your computer. I am placing it in the “Documents” directory.
  4. Double-click the zip file, when finished you should now have a folder named “mame0156-64bit”, now rename this folder “mame”, keep in mind that case counts so make sure the folder name is all lower-case.
  5. Open the “mame” folder and take a look at the contents
  6. Over in the Terminal app, enter “cd ~/Documents/mame” and then “ls -al” to double-check that you are in the right directory
  7. Now to create the MAME configuration file enter “./mame64 -createconfig” this will create a “mame.ini” file in the “mame” directory
  8. Now to get a ROM visit the mamedev.org website and the Robot Bowl game at http://mamedev.org/roms/robotbwl/
    1. Click on “I understand…” and download the game to the Documents/mame/roms directory
    2. WARNING: ROMs are saved as zip files and they should stay zipped. MAME will handle unzipping them and using the contents inside. If you use a web browser that automatically unzips files when you download them you will need to change that setting to preserve the original files.
  9. In Yosemite the keyboard does not use the function keys on as F-1 through F19 the way other operating systems do, they are assigned all kinds of other functions. You can hold the “Function (fn)” key down everytime you want to use a function key or you can open the System Preferences > Keyboard and check the “Use all F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys” box. If you check this box you can use the “fn” key to utilize the special functions of those keys. That is my preferred method.
  10. Now to launch MAMA and give Robot Bowl a try
    1. In the Terminal enter “./mame64”
    2. Use the arrow keys to select “robotbwl Robot Bowl” and tap Enter
    3. You may see a screen warning about using ROMs that you are not legally entitled to play, give it a quick read and know that you have been given permission by H.R. Kaufmann, president of Xidy, the original ROM images for Robot Bowl have been made available for free, non-commercial use. On your keyboard the left then right arrows to move on.
    4. Then you may see a message that there are known problems with this game. The sound emulation isn’t 100% accurate. Click the left then right arrow keys again to move on.
    5. Now the game should be playing its attract animation of a stick figure coming out to bowl.
    6. Tap the “Tab” key to bring up the in-game configuration menu and choose “Input (this Game)”
      1. NOTE: I prefer not to change the “Input (general)” controls from the default. By keeping the general defaults tutorials and other help I may use in the future will work without me having to translate which keys to press.
    7. Controls
      1. This is really cool, when you look at the input controls for a specific game, it shows ALL of the control options for that game making it very easy to learn how to play that game and re-configure the buttons and controls for it.
      2. For Robot Bowl the default controls are:
        1. 1 Player Start: 1
        2. Coin 1: 5
        3. P1 Left Button: Left arrow key
        4. P1 Right Button: Right arrow key
        5. P1 Button 1: Left Control key or mouse button 1 (left mouse button)
        6. P1 Button 2: Left Alt key or muse button 3 (right mouse button)
        7. Hook Left: Z key
        8. Hook Right: X key
      3. You can use the arrow keys to navigate to any of these and change them by tapping the Enter key then tapping the key you want to use; you can have more than one key assigned to a single control.

And that is it; you now have MAME up and running on your Mac OSX Yosemite computer.

You can find a lot more information about customizing MAME in the ~/Documents/mame/docs directory, especially in the config.txt file.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

I really like the Borderlands series of games, they are the right combination of first-person shooter (FPS), customizability, and goofy humor. The mechanics have always been good and it has been much more fun than frustrating.

The story lines in the Borderlands series do tend to be thin, this is not epic story telling by any means, but there is a story and it stays pretty consistent throughout the franchise, and I really enjoy it.

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is the third update to the franchise. There are 3 main games, Borderlands, Borderlands 2, and now Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. But each of these have a lot of downloadable content available that greatly extend the gameplay.

So far I have made my way through The Pre-Sequel with Nisha bringing her up to level 50 and now I am working my way through with Jack from the most recent DLC.

These games are solid fun if you enjoy FPS and the skill trees give you the opportunity to play the game using many different styles of play.

My only real complain right now is that the Mac and PC updates are not in sync so as a Mac player am having a tough time to find groups to play with. That is very frustrating as Jack is the perfect team player and should be most enjoyable with a full group. I think a group of 4 jacks would be a blast.

I rate Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel an 8 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone looking for a fun FPS to play.

Hitman Absolution by Eidos

I was looking for a good shot’em-up and realized I had bought Hitman Absolution from Steam on sale a long time ago and hadn’t played it yet, and even better I could play it on my iMac in MacOS instead of booting into Windows Bootcamp.

I have played most of the other Hitman games and liked some more than others. A couple of them have been really awesome. I clearly remember a scene in an opera house where I was forced to harm a police officer for the first time in any of the games, that was really hard for me, I almost stopped playing the game because of it. But after dying and restarting the level for what felt like 100 times I was able to complete the mission without killing any cops. Knocking them around a bit is ok.

In Hitman Absolution the only mission that came close for me was in Chinatown with a ton of witnesses and a chase that led to me wearing a furry suit.

The gameplay was ok but not great, I took a couple of week long breaks while playing it and coming back to it I had to re-learn a lot of the controls. Keyboard and mouse all the way.

The story line was not very interesting to me, definitely the worst of the series. I feel like the core of its problem is that to much time and money creating infuriatingly long cut-scenes instead of honing the gameplay. The cut-scenes ruined the game for me, I feel like I spent 25% of my time playing the game and 75% watching boring cut scenes.

For a 2012 game played on a Late 2013 27” iMac the graphics were impressive, at full resolution the game was smooth-ish with good framerates that only slowed noticeably when there was a lot going on.

I don’t remember what I paid for the game, but if it was in the $10 range I am happy with it, but will probably never play it again.

I rate Hitman Absolution a 4 out of 10 and only recommend it to people who are playing their way through the franchise or for game developers to learn how not to do it.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

I burnt myself out trying to learn to many JavaScript frameworks, build tools, unit testing, Debian eccentricities and BeagleBone Black programming so I decided to take a break and play a video game. Steam was having their summer sale and Skyrim happened to be a great deal. I bought "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Legendary Edition" and have been playing it for a couple weeks now.

Back in 2011 when The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was released I remember reading and hearing from a lot of friends, acquaintances, and internet personalities who played it and talked about it for weeks on end. So my interest was peeked, but I didn’t have time or the desire to play it then.

The world of Skyrim is amazingly large. I was shocked by the sheer size of it. The developers have a done a great job making traveling from place to place very fast and easy. You can walk, run, take a carriage, ride a horse, or if you have been to your destination before you can "fast travel" to it. When fast traveling even though you get there very quickly the time in the game passes as though you had walked or ridden a horse that same distance, so the sun may be down or the shops may be closed.

Time plays a really large roll in the game, night and day is a big deal and change a lot of what is going on. Vendors are only available between 8am and 8pm, vampires are roaming around in the dark, werewolves are prowling the night, thieves and assassins abound.

Indulging in the role-playing aspects of the game I have tried to do my usual straight-and-narrow play through. When playing old-school pen-and-paper games I enjoy being the paladin, in this game I played a Wood Elf with a strong right hand wielding a sharp sword and bow for fighting at a distance.

Anything is allowed in this game, there are opportunities to be a goodie two-shoes (how I play) or to be a total scoundrel, there are even rewards for both. You can even choose to be a cannibal by completing a quest, personally I ended that quest short with an arrow to her head as soon as possible.

I really enjoyed the dungeon crawling, bandit fighting, dragon slaying, vampire hunting, and exploring Skyrim. I did not enjoy all of the bugs, dead ends, and lack of help in the game.

No matter how hard I tried not to, I ended up going to The Elder Scrolls Wiki and The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages to figure out what was going on and how to work around bugs in the game. And man there are a lot of bugs, I pity the people who are playing on Playstation and Xbox machines where they do not have the luxury of entering console commands to fix things.

Now I am 135 hours into with my Wood Elf Bowman and having a great time with it. I have played through most of the main quests that do not require me to do anything that would tarnish my good guy reputation. I have not been a werewolf , an imperial or stormcloak soldier, or a vampire. I have adopted 2 orphans, have nice houses in Whiterun and Solstheim and have built a wonderful lakehouse outside of Falkreath that I call home.

I am level 99 out of 100 with a single-handed weapon and around 85 with the bow. Enchanting and Smithing are both at 100 with lots of perks that have allowed me to construct some awesome dragon armor and weapons with tons of helpful enchantments that have made all but the toughest opponents easy to set right. I started out the game kind of wobbly and found it very hard, I had to rely on a lot of potions and scrolls to stay alive, but with my crafted armor and weapons I now only carry a handful of healing potions and no scrolls at all. Dragonbone arrows with a paralyze/health absorbing bow is an awesome combination.

Before I stop plying Skyrim I plan on getting married, buying all of the available hold houses, building the other 2 available country houses, and clearing more of the dungeons and mines in Solstheim.

I am playing Skyrim on a 27" iMac running Windows 8 in Bootcamp. This computer is so amazing, the mSATA drive is so fast that I rarely got to see the loading screens, which was kind of annoying because the loading screens contain a lot of information that adds to the game… hahaha, first-world problems abound.

From the publisher:

EPIC FANTASY REBORN
The next chapter in the highly anticipated Elder Scrolls saga arrives from the makers of the 2006 and 2008 Games of the Year, Bethesda Game Studios. Skyrim reimagines and revolutionizes the open-world fantasy epic, bringing to life a complete virtual world open for you to explore any way you choose.

LIVE ANOTHER LIFE, IN ANOTHER WORLD
Play any type of character you can imagine, and do whatever you want; the legendary freedom of choice, storytelling, and adventure of The Elder Scrolls is realized like never before.

ALL NEW GRAPHICS AND GAMEPLAY ENGINE
Skyrim’s new game engine brings to life a complete virtual world with rolling clouds, rugged mountains, bustling cities, lush fields, and ancient dungeons.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU PLAY
Choose from hundreds of weapons, spells, and abilities. The new character system allows you to play any way you want and define yourself through your actions.

DRAGON RETURN
Battle ancient dragons like you’ve never seen. As Dragonborn, learn their secrets and harness their power for yourself.

I rate The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim a 9 out of 10 even with the bugs and dead ends, the overall experience is just that good. I recommend it to any who enjoys fantasy role-playing but also first-person-shooter fans.

Metro: Last Light by 4A Games

I played the first Metro game, Metro 2033, and thought it was pretty good so when I saw Metro: Last light on sale at Steam I decided to give it a try.

The Metro games are based on books written by Dmitry Glukhovsky; which I have not read. After playing both of these video games I will probably not read them… It is not my kind of story. I am not really a big fan of the Horror-Survival genre but somehow I have found myself playing a few of them.

Metro: Last Light was ok but nothing great, I am surprised that it received Gamespot’s Editor’s Choice Award in 2013. I guess there weren’t that many good games in 2013.

In both of the games I was seriously annoyed by all of the cut-scenes and times that I was not in control of the character. It felt like there was very little time spent playing with a lot of time just watching, BORING!

To top it off there were no guns in the game that really excited me, they were mostly ok, but nothing special at all.

In 9 hours I played through the entire game at Normal settings and I really do feel like I spent as much time passively watching cut-scenes as I spent playing.

The graphics are gorgeous though, I played it on a Late 2013 27" iMac with very high settings and it was smooth and beautiful throughout.

From the publisher:

It Is the Year 2034.

Beneath the ruins of post-apocalyptic Moscow, in the tunnels of the Metro, the remnants of mankind are besieged by deadly threats from outside – and within. Mutants stalk the catacombs beneath the desolate surface, and hunt amidst the poisoned skies above.

But rather than stand united, the station-cities of the Metro are locked in a struggle for the ultimate power, a doomsday device from the military vaults of D6. A civil war is stirring that could wipe humanity from the face of the earth forever.

As Artyom, burdened by guilt but driven by hope, you hold the key to our survival – the last light in our darkest hour…

I rate this game a 6 out of 10 and only recommend it to the desperate.

Farcry 3 by Ubisoft

I really enjoyed the first 2 Farcry games and this third installment is the best of them all!

According to Steam I spent 68 hours playing through Farcry 3 at the Normal difficulty level and unlike most games it felt like a lot less than that. It felt like I blew right through it even though I completed almost every side quest and collected most of the Runes and Letters. I look forward to playing it through later on a harder difficulty level.

The most enjoyable aspects of the game for me were the challenge of taking over the Pirate and Mercenary held encampments. I would scout them out then formulate a plan which would work perfectly about half the time, the other half the plan would fall apart spectacularly leaving me to deal with multiple waves of bad guys and even helicopters a couple of times. Good times 🙂

I didn’t like the scenes where all of my control was taken away or when the graphics were played with to give the impression of being drugged or in a rage… those just didn’t work. Also, climbing the towers got kind of old, the twitchy jumping and climbing became very tedious.

For around $30 I think Farcry 3 is a great game and with its low system requirements I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a FPS fix.

I bought this game on sale from Steam and played it in Windows 8 using a MacBook Pro in Bootcamp.

From the publisher:

Far Cry 3 is an open world first-person shooter set on an island unlike any other. A place where heavily armed warlords traffic in slaves. Where outsiders are hunted for ransom. And as you embark on a desperate quest to rescue your friends, you realize that the only way to escape this darkness… is to embrace it

I rate this game a 9 out of 10, very close to a 10 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone who love first-person shooters.

Call of Duty: Black Ops by Activision

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cover ArtI bought this game from Steam and played it in Windows 8 on a MacBook Pro.

I love me some Call of Duty. Most of the games in this franchise have been very good even if a little bit mindless. Solid shoot-em-up entertainment. I am sorry to say that Black Ops does not rise up to that level, in fact it falls WAY short.

I finished the entire game in 7 hours and feel very ripped off.

COD has always been a "rails" driven game, meaning that you cannot wander about freely but must follow a prescribed path to complete each mission, but in Black Ops that rail is ridiculously thin allowing no thought and very little tactics by the player. Most missions have to be completed in very specific ways. That gets old very fast.

I should have read the reviews on Amazon before buying this game, and you can bet before I buy another COD title I will be reading those reviews closely. I think the only reason it currently has 2.5 stars at Amazon is because someone paid for positive reviews at some point.

From the publisher:

Call of Duty: Black Ops is a first-person shooter with stealth and tactical play aspect that puts players in the role of a shadow soldier fighting in a variety of historically representative fictional Black Ops missions of the Cold War era. Created with the input of actual Black Ops soldiers from the time, the game mixes traditional Call of Duty tactical shooter gameplay with new gameplay options designed to expand the players’ experience. Additional features include extensive multiplayer options, along with new vehicles and explosive new weapons.

I rate this game a 1 out of 10 and do not recommend it. If you can pick it up for $5.00 and are a fan of the COD series then give it a try.

Tomb Raider: Survival Edition by Square Enix

Tomb Raider Cover ArtI bought this game on sale at Steam and played it in Windows 8 on a MacBook Pro.

I remember first finding the PC video game Tomb Raider in 1996, I was hanging out with a friend and I had just download the demo and was eager to give it a try.

We were immediately mesmerized, at the time most games were based on comical over-the-top characters doing wildly fantastical things that no human could ever do, except jump or climb. But here was a game with a female lead with a realistic name that could not only jump and climb but she could jump high in the air and draw a pair of pistols and start firing at the same time. Wow, that was amazing.

Tomb Raider is now “quot;old hat”quot; we have had many games based upon the character, some were good and some were absolutely awful. I have only played 2 or 3 all of the way through, but I have always like the mechanics of the game.

This new Tomb Raider is one of the better ones.

Laura is young and just starting out, the game is supposed to show a progression of her life from college student to hardened survivor and tomb raider. But for me the transition is so fast that I missed it, the character goes from being timid to using a bow to kill bad guys in the blink of an eye. So the story is a bit flawed, but the game play is pretty good.

There are a LOT of cut-scenes in the game and a lot of times that you cannot look where you want to look, the game takes over and will only let you view a very limited area. Also there were many times that I felt like she was on a rail that I could not escape from, that really killed the overall feeling of freedom that most of the game had. That frustrated me, but it did not ruin the game.

It took me about 21 hours to complete the game with a 90% complete score which I am very proud of.

After finishing the game, I played multi-player for about an hour, getting a game going was frustrating with very little feedback on what was going on, how may participants were required for each type of game, nothing at all to tell me which game types people were playing, really just a mess in trying to find a group to play.

After awhile I finally got into a match of “quot;Rescue”quot; with a group of around 8 players, and it was ok, but not great. And again, much of the interface was really confusing. There were multiple people asking how to do certain actions because it is far from obvious how to do them.

Overall, I feel like I got my money out of the game and I may even go back and play it a little more at some point.

From the publisher:

Tomb Raider explores the intense and gritty origin story of Lara Croft and her ascent from a young woman to a hardened survivor. Armed only with raw instincts and the ability to push beyond the limits of human endurance, Lara must fight to unravel the dark history of a forgotten island to escape its relentless hold.

I rate this game an 8 out of 10 and recommend it to fans of Lara and first-person shooters.

Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep by Gearbox Software

Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon KeepI have been playing a lot of Borderlands 2 lately and my favorite place in Pandora has been Dragon Keep.

After you and the merry band have defeated The Warrior you all sit down to a game of " Bunkers & Badasses" together… haha.

So basically it is a first-person-shooter inside an old-school role-playing game full of orcs, dwarves, dragons, wizards, and even a unicorn.

Full of humor, action, violence and a touch of compassion Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep delivers a solid 10-20 hours of great Borderlands game play. The ending of last quest tears me up, the developers have done such an amazing job bringing these characters to life and the performance by Tiny Tina is absolutely fantastic. This is the best downloadable content released after a games initial release that I have ever played.

Now if I could find a multiplayer group to defeat the raid boss with everything would awesome!

From the developer

Sorcerers, Wizards and Crumpets, oh my! Join vault hunters, old and new, in Tiny Tina epic quest of revenge and redemption. Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep, the biggest and most inspired add-on content in Borderlands history, features a game within a game, as Tiny Tina takes on the role of Bunker Master in a game of "Bunkers & Badasses". Travel through a dark and ever changing world of castles, dungeons and magic forests as you fight off skeletons, orcs, dragons and more. Explore side missions and answer riddles as you roll your insight stat to gain new and amazing loot. Join with friends to save the queen and restore peace and order to the world once more.

I rate this DLC a 10 out 10 and HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who plays Borderlands 2.

I bought Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep on Steam and have been playing it on my MacBook Pro. I have also reviewed Borderlands 2.

Borderlands 2 by Gearbox Software

Borderlands 2I bought Borderlands 2 on Steam and play it on my MacBook Pro.

I have been playing Borderlands 2 for a long time now and have mostly been loving I, there have been some parts of it that really frustrated me and I am beginning to get burned out on it again.

After 250 hours or so of playing I have completed the main storyline 5 times, played all of the downloadable content, completed almost every quest available at least once, and have leveled up a Sniper to 52 and a Commando to 64. My current plan is to get the commando up to the highest level, which is currently level 72.

Lately I have been playing a lot more multiplayer. It is a great way to level really fast, it is not uncommon for me to gain an entire level every hour-and-a-half or so even at levels as high as 60+. But it is really hard to find a good group, there are so many "Squids" that just run around drawing agro and dying that all sense of fun is drained out of the game.

Some of the most fun I have had recently has been with a group of mixed characters all within a level of each other that work closely together as a team. With one such team we completed the last couple of quests of Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep and it was amazingly fantastic.

One part of the game I have missed out on so far is group raids. There are a bunch of them in the game but I have not found a group to do any of them with.

From the developer:

Borderlands 2 furthers the distinct blending of First Person Shooter and Role Playing genres to create the true evolution of the Role Playing Shooter. Team up with up to three other players for four-player online goodness or go old-school with two-player split-screen couch sharing mayhem as you spend hours leveling up your character and equipping them with one of the millions of badass weapons. Borderlands 2 features a new visually stunning array of procedurally generated guns, shields, grenades, artifacts, enemies and more. Choose one of the four new character classes to be taken through a carefully crafted and connected story to all new and surprising environments across the living planet of Pandora. Make new friends, arm them to the teeth and fight alongside them on your relentless quest for revenge and redemption.

I rate this game a 9 out of 10 and think that 250+ hours of playing a game is crazy!

Crysis by Crytek

I bought a bundle of Crysis games from Steam while they were on sale and am playing them on a MacBook Pro using Bootcamp and Windows 8. It was developed by Crytek and published by Electronic Arts.

Crysis was released way back in 2007 and at the time it really punished the PC hardware that was available. It took a very solid gaming rig to play the game at anything other than its lowest settings.

I played through the single-player game of Crysis using an Apple MacBook Pro laptop with an Intel i7 2.3GHz processor, 16GB of DDR3 RAM, and an AMD Radeon HD 6750M with 1 GB of memory on Windows 8 Pro 64-bit. And even with all that hardware, unbelievable specs back in 2007, the fans on the computer ran at full speed even on the main menu screen, so it is still a punishing app.

The game played well though, I let the game automatically choose its settings which is always a nice feature, and the only time I experienced some stuttering was in the endgame when there were a lot of very large object on the screen at once.

I liked Crysis quite a bit, it only took me 11 hours of sporadic playing to make my way through the storyline, but for the most part it was a fun experience. I ran into some bugged places where I had to be very careful to avoid places where I would get stuck time and time again. Flying the “plane” was a chore for me, I didn’t like that part very much, but it was over fairly quickly.

As a straight-up first-person-shooter I liked it, but in 2012 there is nothing here I have not seen before.

Check out some screenshots I took while playing the game.

From the publisher:
Adapt to Survive — An epic story thrusts players into an ever-changing environment, forcing them to adapt their tactics and approach to conquer battlefields ranging from newly frozen jungle to zero-gravity alien environments. Suit up!

I rate this game a 7 out of 10 and recommend it as a cheep FPS fix.

Portal 2 Video Game

I really enjoyed the first Portal video game, it was a much needed break from the first person shooters I had been playing that were focused on violence.

Portal did not disappoint, the levels grew progressively harder as the game went on and the payoff at the end was spectacular. The GLaDOS song at the end of the game is fantastic.

Now we have Portal 2, I played it using Steam from Valve on a MacBook Pro. There were no slowdowns, frame-drops, or stutters during the game, and the audio was great.

It took me about 50 hours to play through the game, there were only a couple of levels where I got stuck and spent more than 20 minutes trying to get past. There were also plenty of levels where I died a number of time, but death in Portal is no big deal, you start over in the same puzzle close to the place where you dies, you even get to keep a lot of your progress in many of them.

Another great feature of Portal 2 is that it is easy to create your own puzzles and share them with the world. There are tons of player created levels available to play and they are a great way to add re-playability to the game.

From the Portal 2 web site:

The sequel to 2007’s Game of the Year, Portal 2 is a hilariously mind-bending adventure that challenges you to use wits over weaponry in a funhouse of diabolical science.

Using a highly experimental portal device, you’ll once again face off against a lethally inventive, power-mad A.I. named GLaDOS. And this time you won’t be alone. Meet an expanded cast of characters as you think your way through dangerous, never-before-seen areas of Aperture Laboratories.

Break the laws of spatial physics in ways you never thought possible, with a wider variety of portal puzzles and an expansive story that spans a single player and co-operative game mode.

I rate this game a 9 out of 10 and recommend it to anyone who loves first person shooters and puzzle games.

Metro 2033 Video Game

I played this game on a MacBook Pro using OnLive and had no technical difficulties.

This first person shooter has a lot of problems, it starts out slow, takes a long time to get going, and then at the very end throws some odd control issues at you. It is definitely “on a rail” and appears to only offer one pretty flat story to tell.

Maybe its biggest problem is that it is trying to tell a story. It may have been a better game if there was more than one way to get to the end and something in all the dialog that let me know that the end was coming.

But for all that, it is not a half bad shooter and it is available for less than $10 when on sale.

From the publisher:

Set in the shattered subway of a post apocalyptic Moscow, Metro 2033 is a story of intensive underground survival where the fate of mankind rests in your hands. In 2013 the world was devastated by an apocalyptic event, annihilating almost all mankind and turning the earth’s surface into a poisonous wasteland. A handful of survivors took refuge in the depths of the Moscow underground, and human civilization entered a new Dark Age. The year is 2033. An entire generation has been born and raised underground, and their besieged Metro Station-Cities struggle for survival, with each other, and the mutant horrors that await outside. You are Artyom, born in the last days before the fire, but raised Underground. Having never ventured beyond your Metro Station-City limits, one fateful event sparks a desperate mission to the heart of the Metro system, to warn the remnants of mankind of a terrible impending threat. Your journey takes you from the forgotten catacombs beneath the subway to the desolate wastelands above, where your actions will determine the fate of mankind. Metro 2033 is a gripping, atmospheric first person shooter experience powered by cutting edge technology to deliver incredible visuals. Witness the everyday horrors of a broken society living in constant fear. Brave the darkness of the tunnels, where mutants hunt their prey and ghostly spirits lurk. Explore the desolate city-surface, trusting your gas mask and rifle to protect you from a poisoned world and the creatures that roam there. Steel your nerve and prepare to face the terrors that await.

I rate this game a 7 out of 10.

Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition

I bought this game on Steam and played it in Windows 7 in Bootcamp on a MacBook Pro.

There were a lot of crashing with the game initially; apparently the default install is a horrible experience full of crashes and blue screens for many, many players. It took a lot of searching and a lot of fiddling around to get the game to play for more than 10 minutes without crashing but eventually I found the right combination of settings and the game played great.

When the developers say that this is an open world game, they are not kidding. You can go almost anywhere at any time and while wondering around can be solid fun, later in the game I found it annoying. I would stumble upon things that were obviously a part of some quest but I had not found the guy that would give me the quest yet.

For example I found a violin in one of the Vaults (a place where people lived to get away from the radiation), it was definitely part of a quest as I had found nothing else like it in my travels, but I had no idea what to do with it or who could possible give me such a quest. With the help of the Fallout Wiki I found out where to get the appropriate quest and the game did a great job of giving me a good option to complete the quest easily once I found the right person.

That is one of the most impressive parts of this game, how it compensates for the user not following the main quest arc. I did all kinds of things trying to see how I could break the game and felt that I never did.

I really enjoyed this game and look forward to playing the next in the series, Fallout: New Vegas.

From the official web site:

Vault-Tec engineers have worked around the clock on an interactive reproduction of Wasteland life for you to enjoy from the comfort of your own vault. Included is an expansive world, unique combat, shockingly realistic visuals, tons of player choice, and an incredible cast of dynamic characters. Every minute is a fight for survival against the terrors of the outside world – radiation, Super Mutants, and hostile mutated creatures. From Vault-Tec, America’s First Choice in Post Nuclear Simulation.

I rate this game an 8 out of 10

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – The Game

I played this game using a MacBook Pro and OnLive. It took me 33 hours to play it through on the medium setting; I earned 2,050 of 5,000 points and 28 of 49 achievements.

I really enjoyed the original Deus Ex back in the day, at the time the idea of “augments” that allowed you to update your player as you went along was pretty unique feature of the game. In Human Revolution the augments are brought to a new level.

The only places I feel this game stumbled is in explanation for how certain augments function and the number an location of side missions. There are a few augments that I thought would be always-on but instead require activation. I felt like I did a LOT of running from place to place for no good reason, just lots and lots of running. Not so much that it ruined the game but enough that I spent some time being bored out of my mind.

Also, I was unable to find any side missions later in the game, they may be there, but I did not find them. I enjoyed the early side missions and really appreciated the extra cash, weapons, and augments I was able to earn and would have really appreciated more later in the game.

From the game’s web site:

You play Adam Jensen, an ex-SWAT specialist who’s been handpicked to oversee the defensive needs of one of America’s most experimental biotechnology firms. Your job is to safeguard company secrets, but when a black ops team breaks in and kills the very scientists you were hired to protect, everything you thought you knew about your job changes

Badly wounded during the attack, you have no choice but to become mechanically augmented and you soon find yourself chasing down leads all over the world, never knowing who you can trust. At a time when scientific advancements are turning athletes, soldiers and spies into super enhanced beings, someone is working very hard to ensure mankind’s evolution follows a particular path.

You need to discover where that path lies. Because when all is said and done, the decisions you take, and the choices you make, will be the only things that can change it.

I rate this game a 8 out of 10 and recommend it for any fans of first person shooters.

Red Faction: Armageddon

Recently Onlive had a special offer to play Red Faction: Armageddon and Homefront for the 4 day Thanksgiving weekend. I didn’t like Homefront very much, the violence was a to much for me, but Red Faction: Armageddon was more to my liking.

Unlike Red Faction: Guerrilla, this version of the game is pretty much on rails with very little chances for the player to choose his own path. This is partly explained by the change in location, Armageddon takes place mostly underground instead of on the surface.

I did enjoy the new weapons, a few new mechs, and loads of new mobs.

I took me 11 hours to play all the way through the game at a medium setting. I was able to acquire 2,275 points and complete 25 of 48 available achievements.

From the Red Faction web site:

Half a century after the Red Faction resistance and their Marauder allies freed Mars from the brutal Earth Defense Force, harmony on Mars is again threatened but this time by a lethal force shrouded in mystery.

When the massive Terraformer that supplies Mars with its Earth-like air and weather is destroyed, the atmosphere turns to chaos, super-tornados and lightning storms engulf the planet. To survive, the Colonists flee to the underground mines and build a network of habitable caves.

Five years later, Darius Mason, grandson of Martian Revolution heroes Alec Mason and Samanya, runs a lucrative business from Bastion, underground hub of Colonist activity. Mining, scavenging, mercenary work–if the job is dangerous, Darius is your man. Few sane people now venture to the ravaged surface, aside from contractors like Darius and the smugglers who run goods between the settlements.

When Darius is tricked into reopening a mysterious shaft in an old Marauder temple, he releases a long-dormant evil and unleashes Armageddon on Mars. As Colonist and Marauder settlements are torn asunder, only Darius and the Red Faction can save mankind. The battle will take them across the storm-blasted planet–and below it, to the very heart of the unspeakable threat.

I rate this game a 6 out of 10 and recommend it for anyone looking for a quick FPS on rails fix.

Trine, The Game by Frozenbyte, Inc.

I bought Trine as part of the Humble Bundle 3 and played it on a Mac using Steam.

I really enjoyed Trine, it is my favorite game from the Humble Bundle 3 package, it is the only one I have had enough interest in to play all the way through.

The game is a side scrolling fantasy game with 3 characters, a fighter, a thief, and a wizard. You use only one of the characters at a time to complete the puzzles, fight the bad guys, and make your way through the maze of world. And what a beautiful world it is.

I took a lot of screen shots, but none of them do the game justice. There is always something to look at, the static artwork is amazing and the animations are glorious. Looking at the screenshots on the Trine web site also fail capture the beauty of the world.

If you want to see a good representation of what the gameplay looks like check out some of the video in 720p on Youtube, they look great. The abilities of the players in the demo put my game skillz to shame, especially with the wizard, the idea of being able to make a plank that is falling then use it to run and jump over a gap is jaw dropping to me. After watching some of these videos I am eager to play through again trying to use some of what I saw.

From the game’s web site:

Trine is a physics-based action game where three characters allow clever solutions to challenges created by hazardous puzzles and threatening enemies. The gameplay is based on fully interactive physics – each character’s different abilities and tactics can be used to invent new ways to overcome obstacles and save the kingdom!

I rate this game a 9 out of 10, it would be a 10 out of 10 but the last level was beyond me without dropping the skill level to easy, and then it was to easy.

Games I’ve Been Playing

I was thinking about it this week and even though I am a casual gamer I have been playing a lot of different games. Between playing Steam games on both Mac and Windows, OnLive games on the Mac, iPhone, and iPad games I realized I have been playing a lot of different games. Here are my thoughts on some of them.

Trine

I bought Trine as a part of the latest Humble Bundle and play it on the Mac through Steam.

This is such a great side-scroller. You play the rolls of a thief with a bow, a fighter with armor and a sword, and a wizard with the ability to create and move objects. You can switch between the three party members at any time, only one character is on the screen at a time, to complete the tasks presented.

The graphics are amazing, the music is mesmerizing, the voice acting sets the mood wonderfully, and the challenges presenting are a lot of fun.

I am not finished with it, only played for 4 hours so far, but am really looking forward to finishing it.

Red Faction: Guerrilla

I bought this game as one of OnLive’s $5 Friday deals and play it on Macs.

I am enjoying this game, it is ok, and it was a good value at $5, but… it is not great. After about 5 hours of gameplay I am getting a bit bored at the repetition of it.

It is a first person shooter (FPS) with drivable vehicles and multiplayer support. I am playing through the single player campaign. The single-player story has you on Mars as a miner turned rebel fighting to free the planet from the rule of the EDF who treat the miners poorly.

For an FPS the plot is ok, the mechanics are ok, the weapons are ok, but I am finding the effort to get new weapons and upgrades tedious.

I am not sure I will finish this game, but I plan on playing it at least another couple of hours before dropping it.

iPhone and iPad

I am playing the usual games of Sol Free, Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Infinity Blade, ReBounce, Rage, and Azkend.

More than any other game though I am playing Zynga Poker. It is ok on the iPhone and very cluttered/confusing in a web browser, but on the iPad it is great.

Trine I rate a 9 out of 10
Red Faction: Guerilla I rate a 5 out of 10
Zynga Poker for the iPad I rate a 9 out of 10, on the iPhone a 7 out of 10, and in a web browser a 4 out of 10.