Not a real review: Fable Anniversary (Xbox 360)

Fable Anniversary

Fable Anniversary (Lionhead Studios) – beautiful, but buggy.

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I was ecstatic when Lionhead Studios announced Fable Anniversary last June. The original Fable – the game that sparked my interest in video games (beyond racing, sports, etc.) as an adult – turns ten years old this year, and remains one of my favorites. A long-hoped-for, remastered-for-HD version of my favorite Xbox game, originally expected to release less than five months after its announcement? I was 100% there.

Of course, it was pushed back to February, ostensibly so that Lionhead could add some final polish and make it the great remake that it deserved to be – and that its fans deserved, and craved.

I picked the game up on its release date (February 4), but I didn’t get around to starting it for a couple of days. Since then, I have put approximately 25 hours into it over the course of a half-dozen play sessions. I’ve spent my time in-game savoring the HD graphics, basking in the soundtrack, and exploring every nook and cranny of Albion. It’s wonderful to see the original Fable in its updated glory. The adventure can be completed in a relatively short amount of time, but I’ve been taking my sweet, sweet time, and I have no regrets about doing so.

The not-real review:

Graphically, Fable Anniversary is a pleasure, although this is expected: in the Xbox 360 era, we’ve already had Fable II and Fable III, which both look bright and colorful; Anniversary feels right at home when compared to those two.

The gameplay is faithful to the original, with the added option of using the Fable II controls. Personally, it’s a pleasure to play a 360-quality Fable game with the map on-screen again, and while the menu interface design has been updated, it still feels like old times, in a good way.

I won’t go into detail about every aspect of the game. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself, and I’m sure most fans of the original game would have a lot of fun revisiting Albion in Anniversary. Plus, this is not a real review.

However, I will note a handful of troubling issues with the game.

1. The original game’s “trade between shops for gold” “bug” – where a player can buy out a vendor, instantly increase that same vendor’s demand (and buy price) for items, and then resell those items back to the vendor for a profit, instantly re-lowering that vendor’s demand (and sell price), ad infinitum – made it into the remastered game intact.

It’s fairly obvious that Lionhead isn’t terribly concerned with the ease of gold-making in the series. After all, Fable II and III both had fairly simple, repetitive job systems that made gold-making a mindless afterthought after players put in a little bit of initial work. However, I would argue that this a broken system that needed to be fixed. They did fix it to some extent in Fable II, which had a much better “sale” system, but in remaining faithful to the original in this case, they trivialized several other systems. For instance, with basically unlimited gold, the use of Health/Will potions and Resurrection Phials goes from somewhat strategic (in the first hour or two of play) to completely trivial: when you’re sitting on 500+ Health/Will potions, you can use them like candy and it’s not challenging. Additionally, getting very good armor and weapons becomes simply a matter of opening up new areas (and thus, new vendors), with little-to-no real cost. And getting the “Choosing My Religion” achievement for donating at least 100,000 gold at the Temple of Avo (which also rewards a very strong melee weapon) is a drop in the bucket. There is no real choice necessary there (unless you deliberately choose not to make gold that way); instead of making choices have consequence, you simply buy what you need – even an achievement – while suffering virtually no effect on your overall gold balance.

2. The game freezes way too often, which is a problem. It’s happened to me more times than I’ve cared to count. On Sunday, for instance, I played for just over two hours and had to shut off/restart my 360 three times. The first time it happened was early on in the game, when I was halfway through the “Twinblade’s Camp” core quest. I was mollified when I realized that I could load from the latest checkpoint, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. I’ve had to hard-restart my 360 almost 20 times with Fable Anniversary, and even though Lionhead came out with a stability update a few weeks after release, I’m still having many of the same problems.

3. There are some annoying jagged edges in the game. The one that has annoyed me the most – probably because I’ve used it so many times – has been a problem where, if I run straight into a cullis gate (usually at the Heroes Guild), I can’t actually get onto it. I have to approach it in a semi-circular manner in order to avoid the jag, which is just a pain. There are some other ground jags, but nothing that has been as consistently frustrating as the cullis gate issue. Fortunately, we have the Guild Seal, and I’ve taken to using it almost exclusively for teleportation.

4. On that note, I’ve also noticed some instances where, when attempting to use the down button on the d-pad (Guild Seal) to teleport, the game instead reflects that I’ve used either the right or left d-pad buttons, which means I use some type of expression (usually a fart, which I guess is hilarious in its own way), eat something I didn’t want to eat, or something to that effect. At certain points, that has been frustrating, particularly at times when I was some distance from the nearest cullis gate. Since the update, this seems to have toned down, although I don’t know if that’s just a coincidence.

There are other gameplay elements that aren’t the cleanest, but these bugs are the ones that have bothered me the most, because they’re particularly immersion-breaking and because I would think that, aside from #1, Lionhead would have been able to smooth out the game’s rough edges (bugs) with the extra time afforded them by the delay.

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In general, I’ve had a heck of a lot of fun playing Fable Anniversary. It’s been great to revisit the old stories, places, music, and choices. I’ve laughed a lot, and enjoyed the coziness of the game. At the same time, I’ve found myself getting chills during certain quests, even though I’ve done them before: the quest sequences where you a) find out Lady Grey’s secret at Grey House and b) fight through the graveyard on the way to Bargate Prison were, in particular, very cool combinations of atmosphere, music, and spooky situations.

Looking back at the original through this fresh experience, it’s easier to see how Lionhead took some big leaps forward from Fable to Fable II, with jobs, the vendor sale system, combat system, expanded pub games, and the social/Renown/relationship overhauls. While I still sort of want to look back on my experiences with the original and tell people that the first Fable was the best game in the series – and I do think that it’s still my favorite – I have a much greater appreciation for the changes in game mechanics that Lionhead made in the second game now. Fable Anniversary is great, and it’s a loving tribute to the original classic, but it also shows both its age and its limitations when compared to its newer brethren. As such, it generally deserves its decent-but-not-smokin’-hot review scores.

I would definitely recommend Fable Anniversary to fans of the original Fable, as well as fans of Fable II and III who haven’t played the original, if for nothing other than to experience the original story. Albion is rich with lore, and for those who never played it on Xbox (or never owned an Xbox), this is a wonderful opportunity to visit that era in its history.

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My experience with Fable Anniversary:

  • Previous Fable experience: played the original several times. Also played II several times, and III once.
  • General game thoughts: beautiful – and still a lot of fun – but also a bit buggy, and shows its age.
  • Graphics: not cutting-edge anymore, but generally on par with other 360 Fable entries.
  • System/game performance: generally consistent with the original, and very playable, but – again – has some unfortunately frustrating bugs.
  • Music: excellent, as usual – a game soundtrack worth buying.
  • Xbox Smartglass: I didn’t test the Smartglass features. Additionally, I didn’t feel like spending extra money for the premium features, and they aren’t totally necessary anyway (although from what I’ve read, they’re pretty cool).

Note: Not a real review is a new series here at Dischordant Forms, where I write about my experiences playing through various video games – usually older games that I can get at bargain bin prices (although this game is something of an exception in that regard). These posts should not be considered actual reviews, which are usually written by people who are both competent gamers and decent writers. These are simply my impressions, and the context in which those are formed may be vastly different from that of most other players/readers.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


Not a real review: Homefront (PS3)

I recently picked up a used copy of Homefront (2011, PS3). Since the game is more than two years old, and was neither critically acclaimed nor a blockbuster, I got it at a fairly rock-bottom price. This is especially good: I am not a big fan of first person shooter (FPS) games, and consequently, I’m not a very skilled shooter. Thus, I usually pass on such games, even when they’re in the bargain bin.

While there’s almost always a “fun” factor with video games, there was one specific reason that I wanted to try this particular game: the setting. To summarize:

Kim Jong-Un, leader of North Korea since 2011, unifies Korea in 2013 to form the Greater Korean Republic (GKR), which becomes a world power. Iran and Saudi Arabia wage war with one another, driving U.S. gas prices to $19.99/gallon. Economic unrest and hysteria ensue; the U.S. calls much of its military home. The GKR annexes several weakened Asian territories, including Japan. Eventually the U.S. dollar collapses. Avian bird flue kills 6 million people, forcing Mexico to close its borders to Americans. In 2025, the GKR detonates a high-altitude nuclear satellite above the U.S. and invades Hawaii and the west coast. At the time the game begins (2027), GKR occupies and controls virtually everything west of the Mississippi River (which is irradiated).  

(Watch the video of the opening sequence above for more detail.)

Ever since I first heard about the game, I’ve wanted to see this vision and story for myself. And so, it was into this world that I stepped when I fired up Homefront for the first time on Tuesday.

After the opening cinematic (see top), which set the tone for Homefront by getting the player up to speed, I assumed the character of Jacobs, a former Marine chopper pilot. I was captured, and was being transported to a re-patriation camp, when suddenly the bus I was on was attacked, and I was rescued by American resistance fighters Connor and Rianna. From there, I was running through abandoned streets and houses, shooting at GKR gunman, and… dying. A lot.

I played the game for almost an hour before I remembered that I had a scope. A scope! which I could use to train on enemies and actually kill them with some consistency, rather than waving my crosshairs around like I was in the color guard! I wanted to be angry at myself, but I had to smile instead. It’s been so long (years…) since I’ve played an FPS that I forgot about the scope. For an hour. Nice.

Anyway, once I remembered that I could use my scope, I started making some actual headway in the game.

One poignant event in Homefront came when, after killing a ton of enemies (and acquiring some beacons for a future mission) at the local detention center, we (Connor, Hopper and I) came to an abandoned baseball field, where the GKR was in the process of dumping American corpses into mass graves with a front-end loader.

Upon witnessing this unspeakable outrage, Connor lost his sanity for a minute, and with a stream of obscenities, started firing madly at the GKR – who outnumbered us quite thoroughly. Fortunately, Hopper kept his head and led us around the perimeter of the field/grave, where we managed to kill every soldier in the area and destroy two sentry towers, only to be approached by Korean choppers as we surveyed the mass grave. Connor’s solution? Well, we stepped down into the grave and pulled bodies over ourselves until the coast was clear.

That was a powerful experience: to see, to “participate in,” and to think about later.

At that point, I was about a quarter of the way through the game. I finished it on Wednesday, but nobody wants me to walk through them through the whole game here. Suffice to say that I enjoyed the sniping missions, stunk badly at the helicopter mission (it was probably the only really frustrating part of my game-play experience – being a noob and all), and thought that everything from that point through the Golden Gate Bridge gauntlet was pretty fun. The game ended abruptly, and I was left feeling like it wasn’t supposed to be over; like there should be more there, but there wasn’t – it was just over.

* * *

I wanted to play Homefront because I wanted to see the developers’ vision of America in such a dire circumstance. Obviously, I hope that such an event never happens, but my interest in alternate history scenarios was what drove my desire to try out this game.

Ultimately, while I wasn’t blown away by Homefront, I’m glad I took the time to play through it and experience the story for myself. The story wasn’t terribly long, and the graphics, music, and voice acting weren’t anything to write home about, but I still had fun playing it. I probably won’t ever play it again, but it was definitely worth the $5 to satisfy my curiosity.

* * *

My experience with Homefront:

  • Previous FPS experience: not much (“noob”).
  • Single-player thoughts: a very short, good-but-not-great game; interesting story premise (which felt unfinished); conventional FPS gameplay.
  • Multi-player thoughts: none.
  • Graphics: unimpressive, but serviceable.
  • System/game performance: no freezing or game-breaking issues.
  • Music: not a standout feature; typical, but still fit well with the game by my meager standards.

Note: Not a real review is a new series here at Dischordant Forms, where I write about my experiences playing through various video games – usually older games that I can get at bargain bin prices. Since I’m simply terrible at most video games, these posts should not be considered actual reviews, which are usually written by people who are both competent gamers and decent writers. These are simply my impressions, and the context in which those are formed may be vastly different from that of most other players/readers. 

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


Fable Anniversary is around the corner!

I first became aware of Fable when it was released in September of 2004 for the original XBox. However, I didn’t start playing it until March of 2006; in fact, it was the first RPG-classified game that I completed.

I can remember the first day I played it. I had bought it (Fable: The Lost Chapters) on a Sunday, and had that Monday off. I started playing at around 11 AM, and with the exception of meal and bathroom breaks, I played until past 2 AM that first evening. The soundtrack is amazing, and the game was beautiful and immersive in a way that I had never experienced before. As such, it was my first experience with putting that much time into one session of a game (but hardly my last).

Much has been written about the first Fable game, so I won’t go into an explanation. Suffice to say that the information is out there if you aren’t familiar, and also that I played through it several times. I also played Fable II several times, although it took me a few years to get around to it – and felt that it was also a great game, although not quite as awesome as the first – and Fable III once. I wasn’t as into Fable III, having had some serious issues with the user interface, which I felt went several steps in the wrong direction (I loathed the Sanctuary – which I found highly inconvenient and cumbersome as a substitute for the menu system – although I know people who loved it). Beyond those, I haven’t played the other entries in the series – Fable: The Journey for XBox/Kinect and Fable Heroes on XBLA. That doesn’t diminish the love or the high hopes I have for the series.

Last year, Lionhead Studios announced Fable Anniversary for XBox 360, an HD remake of Fable including the The Lost Chapters bonus content, as a celebration of the ten year anniversary of that first game. From what I’ve read, the game will have not only improved graphics, but also a remastered soundtrack (which is awesome, and I seriously want to buy that soundtrack if it ever becomes available…) and even a couple of new achievements. At $39.99, the game is a bargain, although at $34.99, its accompanying strategy guide is not. (Note: I’m poor.)

I played through Fable II as recently as last year, because I do love that game, but I haven’t played through the first game in several years. I was toying with the idea of playing the original again before the remake arrived, but ultimately I decided not to, mainly because of a desire to have the game be relatively fresh for me when I do play Anniversary: had I played it in mid-January, it might not have had the same impact that it will have when I put the disc in, create my character and play through it for the first time in a long time. I want to savor the experience. I know that since I’ve already played it (and the other games), there will be some familiarity, but I’ve decided that this will nonetheless be the path to my best experience.

I don’t know my work schedule for next week as I write this, but I’m sure that I will be able to put some hours into Fable Anniversary once it arrives on Tuesday. It’s safe to say that I’m excited!

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


Reactivate

“And so our story begins…”

Fable II (2008)

“…again.”

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After months of hesitation and indecision, I recently decided to reactivate Dischordant Forms. While I’ve chosen to go ahead with this, I don’t have a great idea as to how it will go. I didn’t even have a first post (except this reintroduction) ready to go, but then Lou Reed passed away, and I decided to share some thoughts on that last week. The two posts I wrote ended up preempting – and upstaging – this one, in a big way. 

All I can say is… wow. Many thanks to Cheri Lucas Rowlands, who liked those posts and Freshly Pressed the second one. The result has been that I got more views, reads, likes, follows, and comments from that post than from anything I’d ever previously posted here! I’ve been blogging at WordPress in one one shape or another for over four years, never once daring to hope I could have the privilege of being Freshly Pressed, and the feedback has been awesome! Thanks to everyone who read and commented and so on – I can’t begin to express how fun it has been seeing everyone.

One of the great things about being viewed so many times is that I’ve been introduced to a bunch of great blogs in return. I’ve checked out many of the bloggers whose names have shown up in my Notifications tab, and that’s been fun as well. My reader is growing, and I couldn’t be happier about it!

At any rate, I started this post before Lou Reed passed, and so here it is, edited slightly in light of the fact that it’s now almost two weeks old…

– – –

Although I already have a (different) blog, I occasionally struggle with the topical constraints inherent in a topic-specific blog. From time to time, I feel the urge to write about a topic that doesn’t fit within the confines of that blog’s content. Usually, that potential post is never realized, sits rotting in the Draft folder, or is soon trashed. Additionally, there have been several instances recently where I’ve refrained from voicing opinions on that blog (or its corresponding Twitter account) out of a desire to “not rock the boat” within the community that that blog is a part of. This blog, being entirely separated from that one, represents an opportunity to speak my mind without reservation, outside that community.

While I’m technically reactivating an old blog after more than twenty months of dormancy, I plan on going about it differently – in essence, treating it in some ways as if it’s a new blog. And by that, I mean that, unlike my previous blogs, I’m not promising myself, or anyone else, anything.

Furthermore, I’m not chasing anything this time. In this incarnation of Dischordant Forms, I’m going to eschew certain methods I’ve usually used to promote my posts and “rack up page views.” With experience, I’ve learned that attempting to emulate certain aspects of others’ blogs, or otherwise trying to make this blog appear cooler than it really is – things I’ve done poorly in the past – ultimately leaves me feeling dissatisfied.

In the past, I’ve taken to Twitter and Facebook to spread the word, but I don’t think I’ll be doing this with Dischordant Forms, at least for the time being. I’m also not going to pretend I’m some decent photographer, since I’m not; this doesn’t mean there will be no photos, but I won’t be bludgeoning readers with expansive sets of recent photos. I’m going without Tag and Category clouds, extensive blog rolls, Recent Comment feeds, and other such widgets. I’ve changed the layout and look of the blog to be much more sparse and basic than it was before. The aesthetic will likely be a living work-in-progress, but I’d ultimately like to keep extraneous information from overwhelming the sidebar.

There are probably few, if any, outside my family who remember this blog from the old days, and I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, it’s actually a good thing in the context of reawakening the blog after so long and treating it as a new one. There are a couple of reasons for doing this / feeling this way:

  1. I really like the blog’s name. I’m also generally bad at naming things, so, with that in mind, this one seems to be a keeper. But…
  2. I would like a lot of what I wrote in the past to be forgotten.

In mid-2012, I set the entire blog to “private,” and left it so until July of this year. During that time, whenever I revisited it, I found myself dismayed by many of my posts. For a while, I accepted that as something akin to “not liking the sound of one’s own voice,” but more recently I’ve come to understand that many of my posts were simply filler, and/or just poorly written or otherwise flawed, which is why I found myself dissatisfied with them, and with the blog as a whole. As such, over the past several days I’ve re-revisited almost all of them, setting roughly half of them to “private” – which is why it now looks like it’s been two years since I posted last, prior to last week’s posts.

In the process of looking over those old posts, I discovered several “I’m in a rut” posts that detailed my struggles to blog consistently with quality and diversity of topic. Interspersed with these were several articles about sports – most of which I’ve hidden for either lack of substance or poor reasoning – and video game design (also something I’m not very qualified to comment on in many cases). I understand that cutting large swaths of previous work from the public record is probably unorthodox, but cutting superfluous drivel made me feel better, so it is what it is.

Anyway, what I realized through that process is that there are things that haven’t and likely won’t change about my writing: I will learn as I write, and write as I learn. The naivete displayed in several of my older posts is cringe-worthy at times, but I can’t promise that that will entirely disappear. The truth of the matter is that I am a person with many interests, but no mastery over any particular skill or subject. As such, it’s likely that this blog will continue to accurately reflect that amateurism; it is my hope that it will reflect growth as well.

I have left some of the “better” legacy posts public, but I don’t intend to reference them much in the future. They’re generally harmless, but they don’t interest me much anymore, in and of themselves. However, they’re some of the better examples of my writing on this blog and its predecessor, for what that’s worth. The huge gap between posts in 2011 and 2013 sort of creates its own dividing line, and I’m fairly satisfied with that.

There is absolutely nothing concrete in the queue for the near future. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have any goals for this blog; on the contrary: there are, in fact, clear goals: 1) for this blog to be a canvas on which to continue to improve my writing; 2) for me to be myself in my writing, rather than trying to follow the leads of other bloggers.

When I made my first couple of blogs, I did so in the rough image of other bloggers that I admired. As a blogging novice, this had its merits, but it also became stifling and uncomfortable, “square peg/round hole”-like. While I certainly made efforts to express myself, and those were genuine efforts, they were also misguided to some degree. I’d like to correct that to whatever extent I can during this go-round.

There is the potential for positive growth as a writer about different subjects here at this blog. How much I take advantage of that depends on many things, with the primary factors being my own drive, ethic, and imagination.

I will probably write too much about music in general, and certain artists (*ahem*) in particular. I will probably write amateurishly about sports… and, occasionally, about video games. I tend to get into streaks with certain topics, but I’m feeling some self acceptance in that regard.

In closing, this blog has no format (other than that I tend to write long posts…). It is not comprised of the writings of an expert on anything, or of anyone particularly talented. It’s just a blog, and a blogger striving to better his writing.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. [2014 edit: I actually did make a Twitter account after all… you can follow me at @DischordantRuss.] Comments are welcome!


Thoughts on the death of an online acquaintance

I was privileged last week to hear from one of my old friends that I met playing WoW a couple of years ago.  He was, for a while, the leader of the guild that I joined in 2009, and we still keep in touch from time to time.

He and I are also Facebook friends, and I shot him a FB message a few nights ago.  He responded with a text message to say hello, and then proceeded to let me know that someone I had known in WoW, and someone who used to be a personal friend of his, had died.

This person had led a guild that most of my former guild (the guild I was in when Icecrown Citadel was current) had been a part of during The Burning Crusade.  There was a guild split due to several raid-team-based disagreements and personality conflicts, and after they split, I joined the splinter guild.

This is the guild I was a member of when I truly learned how to play WoW, got my first raiding and PvP experience with, and killed an expansion end-boss for the first time.  In all, we were pretty successful during Wrath of the Lich King, and as far as I know, the old guild has floundered and struggled ever since the split.

I said a few paragraphs up that I had known the guy, but I really didn’t.  While we had a few interactions, he was, to me, just the pally who led the old guild, the guy who caused the problems that caused the split, which occurred before I was in the picture.  He was an acquaintance.

On the other hand, my old guild leader had known the guy personally, living in the same town and working at the same company.  They had been friends up until around the time of the guild split, as far as I know, and then had lost touch for the most part.

He and his co-workers were shocked.  Hearing about the death of someone you know is a mind-blowing experience, and he was doing what he could to find out details of how the guy died, although as far as I know he has had no success.

I was shocked too.  Sometimes the idea that an in-game character is an actual person can make one think strange things, and one of the things I thought about in the hours after receiving the news was that this guy was dead, but his WoW characters still exist.  They will never log in again.  You can still look them up on the armory (for now, until six months of inactivity kicks in), but the progress has stopped for eternity.  He has disappeared from the game.

Yes, it’s a weird set of thoughts, but they happened.

I had a similar set of thoughts once about a blogger that I followed.  The guy was a young man just out of college who wrote a chess blog and was looking for a job.  I followed the blog for several months when, one day, I read what became his last post.  It said something to the effect that, “I’ve got a degree, but have been writing this blog without being able to find a a job for a year, and my parents are tired of me living here, and I don’t know what else to do. So this is goodbye.”  It was eerie – blunt and final – and then that was it.

And with that, he disappeared into the ether, for all intents and purposes.

I read his post weeks after he wrote it – this was at a time when I had several hundred unread posts in my reader – and it was haunting.  Where did the guy go?  Is he still alive?  Did he eventually find a job and a place to live?  The negative possibilities scared me, given what he said when he stopped blogging.  They bother me to this day.

Anyway… back to my friend’s former WoW-playing friend.

I thought about other things, too.  I thought about how my friend may be feeling, wondering if he wishes that he could have rebuilt that bridge.  I know from conversations that we’ve had that he was concerned for the guy – he had lost his job, was 40 years old, and was living with his parents.  He was into drugs, etc.  And now he’s gone, and there’s no going back from that, in so many ways.  No way to bring him back, no way to mend fences, no way to make a difference in the guy’s life.

I also thought about how the guy had spent the last few years of his life just playing the game every single day.  He didn’t have an occupation, wasn’t married, didn’t have much of a social life.  Working his way towards nothing.  Not bettering himself.

Sobering thoughts.

* * *

I’ve tried to let some of his former guild-mates know what happened – I have a couple of other friends who knew him, and I knew they would want to know.  It kind of freaked me out, and the responses I’ve gotten have been similar to my own.  I didn’t know the guy, but I’m still saddened by his death, sad for his family and friends, and for him.

I know this piece rambles a bit – hopefully it’s somewhat coherent.  Feel free to leave a comment if you have something to share.  If you have a blog and haven’t posted for a while, I’d like to encourage you to write a short post and let your readers/followers  know that you’re still around.  Sometimes people complain about “sorry I haven’t blogged, but I’ve been busy/bored/uninspired” posts, so don’t make it an apology post – just write in to say hello, tell us something that you’re working on or something funny that happened to you recently.  Chances are, there is someone out there that will be happy to know what you have to say.

Also, now is never a bad time to call or write to someone you haven’t communicated with in a while.

Thanks for reading.


Fable 3’s overhauled, oversimplified UI

I started writing a review of Fable 3 a few nights ago. Unfortunately, this has led me to a little bit of a conundrum, in part because I haven’t finished playing it yet.

I only started the game within the past week. I have some issues with it, which is what prompted me to begin my draft the other night. However, since spending a bit more time playing, I’ve come to a point where I am feeling less sure of some of my criticisms. I’ve begun to enjoy the game a little more. I’m also not sure if I want to finish playing it.

I know, I’m not making sense.

While attempting to not make my unfinished post obsolete, I will say that my biggest all-encompassing issue with Fable 3 is the oversimplification of the UI. Included in my list of complaints:

  • the UI itself (bare – clean as a whistle)
  • the amount of useful player-character information available to the player (less than ever)
  • the menu system(s) (almost completely discarded in the redesigned model)

There is no map – unless you go to the Hero’s Sanctuary, where there is a map enabling fast travel, quest selection and property management. There are no health bars – you take a health potion when you are told to, essentially. There is no quest log, job listing, or sale information. There is no inventory menu – you access different types of inventory (clothing, weapons, items) by visiting various rooms within the Sanctuary. The extensive menu of options for NPC interaction has been reduced to almost nothing – and this includes vendors.

Fable has always been an especially easy game to play. While the series has occasionally presented players with challenges, they’ve usually been rare (combat-wise) or silly (“become completely pure/evil”). During the first two games, I found that the biggest challenge was getting accustomed to the menu system – particularly in combat with Will spell choices – but I’ve also been willing to admit to some personal clumsiness with regard to using a controller. However, in my opinion the developers threw the baby out with the bathwater with this overhaul.

To some degree, I guess there’s an element of charm to it. It’s kind of cool that they used the Hero’s Sanctuary as a home base. As such, it’s a neat experiment. And, as I said, it’s my opinion, so others may feel differently.

However, I personally like knowing how much health I have before I take a potion. I like making decisions about which food to eat and which potion to take. I like interacting with vendors: yes, I do feel that the menus in the first two games were clunky (it was a pain to buy or sell multiple items in Fable 2, for instance), but I was hoping that those issues would get sensible fixes in the newest game (add a “buy/sell all” option). I like having a map on my screen, particularly when I’m learning my way around the cities (Bowerstone is larger than ever). I like being able to pick up multiple quests and set my target quest via the menu. I like being able to choose from a wealth of expressions when interacting with NPCs. And so on.

Before I played Fable 3, I was hoping that they would solve the menu issue by making menus accessible in separate ways – a combat menu, an inventory menu, a quest log, etc. I would think that these would be feasible options, particularly because the combat is not very complex. What they’ve done instead has me just shaking my head… I seriously, honestly just don’t know what to say.

I’m frustrated with the game’s simplicity, although I’m aware that it’s really just not what I’m looking for. What has kept me playing so far has been my interest in seeing the world and the progression of the story – Fable has always held my attention in these areas. The graphics are wonderful, the scenery is beautiful, the music is great as always. The combat is generally better than previous versions of Fable. However, I’ve reached a point where I’m not sure whether I’m going to finish the game. I’ll see how I feel about it.

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A fun story about MLB: The Show

I have a stack of games sitting next to me at the computer. Almost without exception, none of them are current in the sense that they were released at any time recently, or are hot topics around the gaming sphere. However, over the next several months, I will probably spend most or all of my my gaming time with games out of this stack.

Last weekend, I unwrapped MLB 09: The Show and started a new “Road To The Show” (RTTS) player – an lefty-hitting, right-handed outfielder named Mike Mills. He’s named after Mike Mills of R.E.M., although he looks nothing like Mills in reality: the game doesn’t allow for medium-long, curly blonde hair and dorky-cool glasses, so he’s just a white guy with short hair and a mustache – he actually looks kind of like Wally Backman, which I’m fine with.

This game is just under two years old; however, I’m not spending any more money on baseball games for a long time. I bought the game the day it came out, and I’d like to get some value out of it since I’ve been remiss in not playing it until now. Fortunately, I’m enjoying it, so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

* * * * *

I like RTTS mode because it allows you to create a player and level him like you would in an RPG. You start off as a rookie in Class AA-ball after your first spring training, and work your way up through the system, training and honing your skills as you go.

Anyway, I’m trying to create a player who can hit for average, has some power, can play adequate defense, and can steal bases like a madman. I love the stolen base; I was never a fast sprinter, and was never really that good at baseball, so I rarely had the chance to steal bases when I played – but, to me, it is one of the more exciting plays in baseball. In The Show, I like reading the pitcher, timing his delivery, playing around with different approaches to taking leads off the base, and so on.

There’s a weird problem that RTTS has in this regard: when you start off, you basically have to level everything, including your raw speed. This is not true to real life at all – usually, a player working through the minor leagues has the raw speed already, and works on refining his base-stealing skills and other fundamentals. Power may be a raw “stat” that can be increased over time in real life, but speed is either there or it isn’t at that point. This is not the case in the video game, so right now I run painfully slowly on the bases as well as in the field.

I’ve done my best to remedy this, ensuring that I put points into my speed-related skills at a slightly higher rate than other skills. However, at this point I’m almost a month into my first season at Class AA, and I’m still pretty slow.

I did steal my first base last night. I got on base against a right-handed pitcher who had a knuckleball as one of the five pitches in his repertoire, but in my at-bat against him he seemed to lean pretty heavily on it. I singled, and then watched as his first pitch to the next batter took f-o-r-e-v-e-r to get to the plate. I also noted that his delivery was painfully deliberate. So… I decided that I was going on the next pitch, whether it was a knuckleball or not, because of that slow delivery.

Just before the next pitch, one of the announcers said something like, “The guy at first is no threat to run, so he can really concentrate on getting the batter out.”

“Uh, yeah, right” was my thought, and as the pitcher committed to home plate, I took off. I easily beat the throw from the catcher, and stood proudly on second with my super-slow player’s first SB of 09: The Show. It was a fun game – for some reason, the knuckleballer was on the mound for six innings, and I had three hits, two RBIs and a stolen base against him.

As I play more games, do more training, “get faster,” and get on base more, I’ll start to develop a reputation for being dangerous on the base paths. That’s where the real fun begins – I’ll start stretching my leads, drawing more throws, attempting to steal third, and so on. Right now, I’m basically stuck on my base unless the pitcher has a slow delivery and a nothing harder than a weak fastball.

* * * * *

A funny thing happened last night.

In my first three weeks, I was a backup outfielder. This meant that I was starting every other game, and coming off the bench to pinch hit on the off days. As in the real game, this can be a tough assignment. It’s tough to get on base very often when you’re coming off the bench cold, even in a video game.

In spite of the erratic schedule, after three weeks I was hitting .375, so the manager was basically forced to play me every day. However, on the day before I was made a permanent starter, I was brought in off the bench… as a pitcher.

Yeah, I know, bizarre. But it gets better.

I haven’t played a baseball video game in a couple of years, and when I started this one, I went straight to RTTS, so I didn’t play any full-team games – this means that I didn’t get any experience with the pitching mechanics.

Oh well, I figured. We’ll see what happens.

It was the bottom of the fifth inning, and the leadoff batter, a righty, stepped into the box. The catcher called for a fastball, which I was grateful for. I reached back and whipped a fastball in there, hitting the low outside corner for a strike. Then…

I was pulled. Immediately.

The game was over, since in RTTS you only play the plays that involve you. I didn’t get to see how fast my pitch was, and I didn’t get credit for the batter, or for pitching part of an inning, or anything. However, amazingly, I got credit for the victory!

Yes… totally bizarre. So here is my career line as a pitcher: 1-0, 0.00 ERA (which is actually mathematically undefined), 0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 K, 0 BB, 0 Batters Faced.

It must have been a glitch.

The next day I was promoted, and I’ve been starting every day in my proper lineup position, roaming left field and batting third.

* * * * *

I read recently that the upcoming version, MLB 11, will feature a completely revamped RTTS experience that is more natural and realistic, which sounds awesome. It would be nice to be able to make a player that had good speed and fielding skills, and decent contact skills, to start with, so that I could have some tools to work with instead of starting out sucking at everything. Perhaps at some point down the road I will get a chance to try it out… but for now, I’m busy playing a game that most other baseball gamers were playing two springs ago.