Category Archives: Gaming


I should really be finish this linguistics paper off. It’s about hyphens. But it’s not going to happen tonight – probably in the morning. There are a variety of topics I could babble about in this post, and have been meaning to babble about, but the full-bore babbling instinct is out for repairs.

I could talk about my recent guilty enjoyment of a poorly-reviewed PC game, Scarface (which is a brilliant take, I think, on the movie of the same name – I’ve never played a game based on middleman-level cocaine distribution before).

I could talk about the persuasive writing class I taught tonight, which went well despite my repeated inability to pronounce the names of various OT prophets and the predictable failure of the laptop cart. The major ideas seem to have taken – that the gospels are a series of arguments that present four different perspectives on Jesus and the OT citation schemes that the respective authors use is not dissimilar to what they as students do when supporting their own arguments. Next time I’ll have a handout for everything instead of just half. There was way too much page-flipping. They kept up, though.

I could talk about my unrealistically optimistic view of the drive to San Antonio that I must do later this week for a conference. I hope the car holds out. I have a odd feeling it needs more attention than just an oil change and a wash. Nothing a garage on the way can’t fix if necessary.

I could talk about my new, more conservative approach to my doctoral studies. I have more or less decided to cut back some for sanity’s sake. Instead of sending out 3-4 papers this semester, I will aim for 2, and let the others simmer ’til spring and develop in presentations. This approach should allow me to swim to the shores of Christmas relatively intact. I was in danger of burning out. It’s still uncomfortable, but I no longer feel panicked.

I could also stop saying that I could talk about something and then start talking about it anyway, too, I guess.

Gratianus the Lily-Livered

So I’ve been replaying Total War: Barbarian Invasion again like I said I would, as the Western Empire, and aiming for 100% Christian conversion. Destroying pagan temples makes it so much easier to get the empire running smoothly before the hordes show up. I planned to get rid of all the pagan generals I had, too, but something weird happened.

I had 5 of them in a group with their heavy cavalry personal guard, sitting around in a forest in Germany waiting to get pummelled, and a huge Frankish army attacks the poor bastards at the end of a turn. It was about 2300 Franks vs. 244 pagan Romans. Those who were about to die were led by ‘Gratianus the Lily-Livered’ with +5 command, but about -11 morale for all troops on the battlefield as his traits included being intensely depressed, a craven coward, and tax adjuster for the empire. I figured I’d play it out, just to see him get slaughtered.

He didn’t. Gratianus the Lily-Livered WON. Halfway through the battle I thought I was channelling friggin’ Ender Wiggin.

The Franks came out in a huge line and I threw the 5 generals at the right end of it. They killed a couple hundred archers and spearmen pretty quickly – I thought ‘hey, this is going pretty good’ and then I saw the Frankish general’s cavalry and attacked that. All 5 units swamped and killed him in seconds. About 1200 spearmen were closing in, so I hightailed it out of there to the edge of the battlefield.

My 5 very lucky units were ‘very tired’ – one good charge by a fresh cavalry unit would have broken them – but the Franks didn’t have any cavalry to chase them with – just one unit, which was the new general, apparently. He hung back and took his time forming another big line, and sat on the far left flank. I had plenty of time to wait until the five were rested, and I waited a little more until the Franks got within javelin range. Then I had the five race around the end and run the poor Number 2 general down.

After that it was easy hit and run. They had 400 or so heavy infantry, but their morale couldn’t have been great after seeing the other 2000 guys around them get picked off unit by unit. When I finally charged the last 4 groups, they broke almost immediately.

What’s even crazier is that despite killing 2128 Franks with only 100 losses after being outnumbered 10 to 1, Gratianus didn’t even get +6 Command. I think the game should at least remove the ‘Craven Coward’ trait after a showing like that, especially when him and his personal guard, 44 strong, killed nearly 500 Franks by themselves during at least 8 charges.
Oh well. He’s my craven coward. We’ll see how he does against the Huns and the Vandals.

10 to 1 odds was apparently what Caesar was accustomed to when he fought in Gaul, but this battle was in 370. The Franks should have been much tougher. Then again, the game is not a total stickler to historical accuracy – the ‘Total Realism’ mod, which I’ve been meaning to try, apparently addresses this.

A welcome if temporary return to laziness

I’m not going to tax myself this weekend, as the week was profitable. The Lasallian camp is done (great kids, I’ll miss them), my CE revision is sent, and the English department website is all but finished. Next week I have to apply a final coat to the website, and tackle my back-burnered article on Gospel metaphor, but those are tasks to worry about on Monday.

There is a dearth of good PC games available at the moment. I’ve been playing Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, but it only works on two levels – admiring the graphics (the draw distance is just gigantic), and watching my squadmates get lost. Concerning the latter, I thought the pathfinding in the first Baldur’s Gate back in ‘99 was bad. I’ve seen these supposedly crack infantrymen go the direct OPPOSITE direction I pointed them in so often that I have been sorely tempted to shoot them in the back of the head.

Ok, maybe not so much tempted as guilty. “Sir! I’m on your side! Agrrh!” Well, then act like it. I’ve had enough of your “Yes, sir! Moving! Moving to the destination!” while simultaneously pulling a Sir Robin and bravely turning tail. The funny thing is that they wouldn’t get shot in the back (by the enemy or moi) if they’d actually listen. I’m actively trying to get through the missions without any of them being killed. Half the time I just have them tag along a hundred yards back to mop up stragglers, as they’re too dense to do much else.

H, of course, just laughs. She hadn’t had this much fun watching me play since the merchants in Oblivion, whose establishments, just from the greeting sound files, all doubled as bordellos. “Would you like to take a look at my wares?” “I have the best prices in all of Tamriel!”

Perhaps I should go easier on Ghost Recon. The pace of the game is excellent. There is a good balance between realism (death is quick and sudden, ammo besides rifle magazines is quite limited, it’s tough to deal with suppressive fire) and fun (the squadmates really have to be nailed to be killed outright, the save points are not too far apart). And the squad is not completely hopeless. They use cover fairly well and the sniper can be really useful. I just wish there was a way to have the entire squad perform basic maneuvers, like “Everyone take cover!” or “Flush out that guy on the roof!” or “Leapfrog up the street.”

Total War

In between work I have been replaying Rome: Total War. I like the Barbarian Invasion expansion pack quite a bit. It allows you to attempt to prevent the collapse of the western half of the Roman Empire in the 4th century. The original game was set pre-Caesar Rome, around 90 BC, when the empire was in short pants.

When I first played the expansion, I tried the Western half and successfully held off the Huns and other assorted hordes, but it wasn’t until I tried playing the Eastern half of the empire in this last week that I realized I could destroy pagan temples in cities I owned. I’d played the entire (very long) Western campaign with a crazy mix of pagan and Christian cities that were always revolting, when I could have converted it all to Christianity by the sword. Stupid temples! I’m going to have to go back and see how much faster and easier I can salvage the West.

The game also allows you to command any of the barbarian factions, or the Franks, etc, but I find the concept of saving a collapsing, overextended empire more compelling. The first 5-10 turns involve some pretty ruthless cost-cutting and tense moments; do the wrong thing and half your territories will secede just as the Huns charge through the Alps to Rome, with the Goths and Vandals on their heels.

I haven’t played the Alexander expansion yet, but I’m not sure I’d enjoy it as much, as it apparently (and accurately) is more of a dash from Greece to Persia than a long, resource-management campaign.

When buying milk goes horribly wrong

Still up to my neck in work, but I thought I’d share a good link: an interview with the creators of Postal 2, a classic meta-game of a few years back.
A long, long time ago I wrote about why I like violent video games, why this doesn’t reflect poorly on me or anyone else, and why I don’t roam the streets looking for victims, but I think these guys have a shorter and better retort, which I will quote:

“…the “problem” with POSTAL is that it is too politically correct. What I mean by that is if you play POSTAL 2, what you’ll notice is that none of the missions involve killing anyone. They’re all simple errands like buying milk and cashing your paycheck. And if you look really closely, you’ll see that it’s always possible to complete an errand without killing anyone. You might have to piss in someone’s face and make a getaway while they vomit, but you never HAVE to kill them. We created a reactive environment where the player has some tasks to complete. How the tasks are completed is entirely up to the player. Just like in the real world, weapons exist, but how they are used is left up to the judgment of the individual wielding it. The game does not reward the player for being violent, unless you consider being set upon by police, SWAT teams, military personnel, randomly-armed vigilante bystanders and attack dogs is a “reward”… So the unfortunate situation for us is that what offends people is the concept of a game where you have free will and can choose, if you have that particular bent, to attack innocent bystanders. Apparently in the eyes of some, a game about free will is far more evil than a game bout murdering your way up the crime food chain…”

The unmentioned game is, of course, GTA: San Andreas, which is a fine game in its own right, but not as conceptually rich as the critique of society and violence that Postal 2 managed to pull off. For me, it was a puerile, juvenile, disgusting, and crass experience, but conceptually, it was spot-on and I had a blast. Wikipedia has a decent P2 page for the morbidly curious.

My favorite objective of all the mundane tasks in the game was to get eight signatures on a petition to “make whiny congressmen play violent video games.” This consists of going up to pedestrians with a clipboard and asking for signatures. Sometimes they say yes; other say no politely; others insult and threaten you. If you keep asking the same person, your requests get more and more aggressive – “Look, just sign the petition or I’ll follow you home and kill your dog,” and some devolve naturally into gunplay. It’s especially funny to ask people politely to sign while people that I’d doused in gasoline and set on fire for not signing are still running around and screaming.

What an idea – place the player in frustrating everyday situations, but leave firearms, explosives, and other instruments of mayhem within easy reach. And, of course, as the game progresses, the temptations to snap increase. All in all, a brilliant subversion of the FPS genre, with its crates and health packs and scattered weaponry. I have never even tried to get the “Thank you for playing, Jesus” rating which you recieve at the end of the game if you never killed anyone, though I am a little more mellow than I was several years ago. Perhaps I’ll try the nonviolent approach, which apparently requires the judicious use of a stun-gun and urine.

Catching up, Part II

It occurs to me that my “Catching Up” earlier was entirely academic and job-related. I should fill in some of the remaining personal blanks.

I’m still with H, and I mean “still” in its positive, amazing sense.

My birthday is in a few days. I’ll be 31, which is incredible. I feel more like 23.

The post-semester break has allowed me to catch up on PC gaming. I played Oblivion through (very good and very long), Godfather: The Game (more amusing than good) and Hitman: Blood Money (excellent, the best of the series). Right now I’m playing with Rise of Legends a little, though it’s hard for an RTS to keep my attention very long. The monster computer I built over the Xmas break (so Oblivion and FEAR would be playable) has run like a top, especially after I put a Zalman cooler in.

H and I have been catching up on TV, too. We’ve watched all of Twin Peaks and kept up with the new Doctor Who. I think Tennant makes a fine Doctor; he’s not in Baker’s class, but he’s up there. I’m also finally up to date on all the HBO series I like – I’ve seen all the Sopranos, Deadwood, Rome, and Carnivale. I’ve spent some time in the boards analyzing this last Sopranos season – I think it was brilliant, which appears to be a minority opinion. Perhaps I will write something up about that.

I also hit the comics again. I read all of The Invisibles, a really fine if quirky British comic, got caught up with Powers, and noticed there is still no Ultimates #11. Sigh.

I’ve restarted Novel #2 again. It’s better than before and the story seems alive once more. I’ve restarted it a billion times, of course, and I keep changing major things. You’d think after six years I’d have a better idea of major plot points, but it has a mind of its own. I think it may be that I’m trying to write a story that is inherently episodic in the form of a novel. The resulting fit is poor. At least I know I’m fully capable of writing a long-winded book.