Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tribute to video games - Part 5 Nintendo DS, Jumpgate, and yet another computer

At last, the long awaited conclusion to this dreadfully long and dull discourse on video games. I can just hear you readers cheering that an end to the torture is near. Deanna even said how boring part 4 was. One of the many things I love about my wife is that I can always depend on her to tell the truth, especially when I don't want to hear it. I will take brutal honesty over words that make me feel good any day.

I promise this will be my last post on video games for a good long while. I can't say forever because you just never know when the next great game will capture my attention so much that I'll have to write about it. But for now, rest easy, after this post I will not trouble you with video games for some time.

After Electronic Arts shut down Earth and Beyond I took another gaming sabbatical. There were a couple of computer games I played from time to time but I didn't spend anywhere near as much time as I did with Earth & Beyond. Both games were old in techno-years but still ran great on my computer and provided much needed stress relief. The first was called Age of Empires. The first version was published in 1997 but still highly enjoyable to play. They are up to Version 3 now with a bunch of spin-offs called Age of Mythology, and Asian Dynasties, but I'm perfectly content to continue playing the original. This is a strategy type game where you pick one of several civilizations like Greeks, Hittites, Egyptians, and so on. You have several different scenarios to choose from but most of them start off in the stone age with crude tools and weapons. With these you need to harvest or mine resources like timber, stone, gold, as well as provide food for your people by hunting, fishing or farming. Along with developing your civilization you have to construct an army and defend yourself and attack enemy civilizations who are doing the same thing. As you construct buildings and grow your population, you also conduct research which leads you to the tool age, bronze age, and ultimately, the iron age which has the most modern weapons and architecture. Each civilization has it's own strengths and weaknesses and architecture and clothing style to match whatever race you choose. You can play by yourself against the computer or you can play with up to 7 people over the Internet.

The other game along the same lines is called Rise of Nations. This one was developed in 2003 so it was a little newer. The races were more specific to countries that you could choose like the French, Irish, Russians, and so on. Also, the architecture and weapons were more modern. With Age of Empires, even in the most advanced Iron age, you were still fighting with swords and arrows. With Rise of Nations you get battleships and stealth bombers. The graphics and animation were also a lot better. When a ship's guns fired they would actually rock back and forth in the water due to the gun's recoil. Serious gamers appreciate this level of detail. Game play was about the same. You develop your civilization while attacking and defending against the enemy. I still enjoy both these games today though I don't get to play very often.

The kids were getting older and introduced to homework and activities like soccer and piano lessons. Our house was getting a little small for us and we made the decision to buy an acre about 3 miles North of Mandan and build another house. Before we could do this, we had to sell our existing one and move into an apartment for a time. So things were extremely busy and didn't allow for much gaming.

After moving and going through the process of home construction a 2nd time I once again renewed my vow never to do that again. The next time I move it will be when I am no longer physically able to maintain the house we are in now. We will pick a smaller place where someone else can take care of lawn mowing and snow removal. Then kids and hopefully grand kids can move us while we sit back and give orders. That sounds good to me.

We really enjoy our new home. They should almost let you build one house for free so you can see all the mistakes and things you don't like and then let you tear it down and build what you really want. We learned a lot from our first experience and are very happy in the new location.

About this time the Nintendo Wii came out but we decided against a purchase. The kids would have enjoyed it but what they really asked for were DS hand held units. They liked the Game boys they had gotten previously and wanted the new DS that had just come out. These little units made me a believer in hand held gaming. I still prefer the bigger consoles and PC games for myself but what I enjoyed about the DS is that they provided some separation between the kids.

The GameCube was given to both of them and they were expected to share and play together. I don't know what kind of delusion we were suffering from but it did not promote sibling love. Invariably, arguments ensued over what game they were going to play, who got to have which controller. (like it matters) and who was cheating or doing something unkind. Even after several time outs and game groundings later, the problem still surfaces on occasion.

When they each got their own DS with their own games, oh the blissful tranquility that ensued! You did not hear a peep out of them for hours on end. Silence was truly golden. This is why we were in no rush to go out and get a Wii. The kids were and still are perfectly happy with their DS games. But I imagine when the Wii 2.0 or whatever they decide to call the next generation of Nintendo consoles we'll have to break down and buy one. But, of course, not until after the initial madness ends and prices start to come down. Every new system seems to follow the same game plan. They get released at astronomically expensive prices. They sell out. Nobody can find them for awhile. They come back, possibly sell out a few more times, but eventually there gets to be a surplus on the shelves. Then the deals start coming out. That's when we usually make the purchase. All it takes is a little patience. In the meantime, you scout the territory, find out what games people seem to enjoy playing, so you can make, hopefully, the most informed decision in your gaming purchases.

Even after we moved into the new house, there was definitely a lull in my gaming. There was no cable service in our area, which meant Internet service was also limited. The wireless options were kind of expensive so we got a Satellite dish and actually went back to slow dial-up for a time. Then Extend America came out with some very attractive pricing for it's high-speed wireless with free installation so we were back to broadband Internet once again.

After getting the faster Internet and a little more discretionary time I again delved into the world of MMORPG's. Looking for another space game I selected Jumpgate. The graphics weren't quite as good as Earth & Beyond, but the gameplay was much improved, especially flying the spaceships. It was more of what you would expect flying in space to be like. Left, right, up, and down mean very different things in zero gravity. If you get moving in one direction it's not all that simple to move in another direction. It also makes shooting and actually hitting other ships more difficult. The learning curve was pretty steep. Many times I crashed into asteroids or space stations because I couldn't fly the ships. But once you mastered control of the thrusters and guns, it was enormous fun. I had to be careful. I was determined not to make the same mistakes as the last space game where I was playing way too much and isolating myself from my family. I really had to restrict my game time. There have been a few sporadic incidents but I believe for the most part I've been successful.

Last year, our government gave us an Economic Stimulus check. Well, if the government is going to be generous enough to give us some money, we might as well do our patriotic duty and spend it. So we bought a new computer. I'm still getting used to Windows Vista, but I'll manage. Strange how the older I get, the more resistant I am to change. I know for a fact I didn't used to be this way. Now I do enjoy the consistency when things manage to stay the same.

I am eagerly awaiting the new release of this game called Jumpgate:Evolution, a project that's been several years in the making. It should be released for closed Beta testing any time now. As an original subscriber, I'll get to play ("test") the game for free for a period of time. From the reviews it seems as though they've kept everything that is popular with the original version and have added or expanded on some things players have requested. And the graphics are truly stunning. "Out of this world," you might say. I can't wait until this gets released. But I'm still determined to make sure the game doesn't take over my life. Computer games will hopefully always remain an amusing past time and a form of stress relief. They would never be able to replace the love and companionship of my family.

There you have it. My history of computer games over the years. I do apologize to drag all of you along for the ride. Rest assured, I intend to keep my promise and not submit another gaming blog for very long time. Thanks again, for putting up with me.


BismarckMandanBlog said...

Vista? Ugh. I have to admit, I love Windows XP. In fact, I run it in a window on my 10GB, 8-core Mac!

My workstation at home is an XP box I built around a brodcast audio/video editing card, identical to the one I used for NBC. I had written a review of some features of the card nobody else was using, published in TV Technology Magazine. The manufacturer of the card contacted me and later on gave me a discount on a system of my own. I've been using it ever since. But since it's set up for video and graphics, I've never bothered tweaking it for gaming. It seems the PC games always want the latest and greatest PC hardware, and I have to make sure my PC is compatible with the AV card.

There's talk of us getting a Wii at work, so that'd be pretty cool. It would definitely make lunch hour more interesting!

randymeiss said...

Yes, XP was the one operating system Microsoft actually got right. We've got several machines at work running Beta's of Windows 7 and it's a significant improvement over Vista, but it's still not XP.

Your other comment about PC games wanting the latest AV hardware was spot on. That's one of the reasons why I continue to play games that are old. They are fun, they work, and I don't need to buy a new computer every year to play them.