Persistant buggers

Happy Winter-een-mas!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 | 02:55 PM | by
So it's here. The first day of the celebration that gamers have been anticipating and preparing for all month. Winter-een-mas starts today! I hope you've all got your game systems warmed up.

Last year, for the seven days of Winter-een-mas, I paid tribute to seven different game developers that have had some impact on my life as a gamer. This year, I am going to pay tribute to seven of my favorite games of all time. I'll be posting them in separate newsposts each day, so stay tuned.

The first episode of the Ctrl+Alt+Del Animated Series is launching next week, on February 1st. At that time the 12-month subscription fee will also go up to full price. So this is the last week for you to sign up for CAD Premium at a discounted rate.

Signing up for CAD Premium not only gets you the animated series, but also access to exclusive forums and lots of cool stuff. The current subscribers just got seven new wallpapers, and the first look at the cover artwork for the third Ctrl+Alt+Del book!

If you're eagerly anticipating the release of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion as much as I am, you might want to watch this "making of" video. Devouring related media is reported to help ease the pains of waiting.

I've made all my travel arrangements to attend E3 this year. I'll try and schedule at least one fan-meet like I did last year, once the event gets closer.

I've heard this year they're cracking down on the "booth babes" and the skimpy outfits they wear, and all I can say to that is "good". The rules are nothing new, but apparently this year they're going to make an extra effort to enforce them. More power to 'em. It's embarassing to be around. A bunch of sweaty tech nerds drooling over and prodding at these girls.

All in all, I'd like to see gaming companies attract attention based on the merits of their product, and not how many pairs of tits they can place directly adjacent to their kiosks.

On Friday I'm heading to Boston for Vericon. Hope to see some of you there. As I mentioned before, I'm not bringing any merchandise. This isn't a "come see me sit behind a table and buy some stuff" convention. This is more of a "Hey, I'm going here to hang out, do a few panels, and play some video games. Wanna come hang out too?" convention. I'll try and keep a sharpie on me at all times, so I can sign whatever you bring for me to sign.

Aside from Digital Overload (which isn't really a convention, it's a LAN party) Vericon is the only publicly accessible convention I'll be attending this year.

Speaking of Digital Overload, we've just hooked up with a computer rental company in the area! So if you wanted to attend, but were reluctant about lugging your computer from a distance, now you can rent one! The rental company will deliver and pick up your equipment from the convention center, so all you have to do is show up and have a good time!

Winter-een-mas 2006 Video Game Tribute: Day One

Wednesday, January 25, 2006 | 05:13 PM | by
You've probably heard me talk about it here and there. I mentioned it in one of the CAD books, it was mentioned in the comic strip once. I know I've mentioned it on the front page from time to time. I couldn't possibly pay tribute to seven of my favorite games of all time without mentioning Metal Warriors.

Developed by LucasArts and published by Konami, this game hit the SNES in 1995 promising a whopping "16 Megs of Stellar Mayhem!". What it delivered was one of my favorite multiplayer games of all time.

My best friend and I found and rented it on a lark from our local Blockbuster. We had no clue that over ten years later it would still be one of our favorite games. We even went so fas as to concoct an elaborate story which in which we'd explain to Blockbuster how we "lost" the cartridge, because we couldn't find the game for sale anywhere nearby, and we were too young to drive.

This game was so fun, that some nine years later I would pay well to acquire this game on eBay, and then seek out and purchase a Super Nintendo for the sole purpose of playing this game.

And it has nothing to do with the single player mode. Don't get me wrong, the single player mode is entertaining, what with it's classic side-scrolling destruction and ever-so-cheesy "animated" cutscenes. But I'll be perfectly honest with you, I never played past the second level in single player. It just wasn't the purpose for owning this game. Not with such an incredible multiplayer experience.

Let me set this up for you, if you've never played the game before.

Imagine this: Two giant robot mechs, chosen from a lineup of half a dozen, each with their very own unique weapons and powers. They all have some sort of shield, they all have some sort of melee weapon, and they all have a cannon of some sort.

These mechs enter various maze-like arenas in split-screen action. Around the arenas are teleporter pods that will generate random power-ups. Advanced weaponry, missiles, mines, bombs, increased speed and health.

The mechs battle to the death, and as they take damage it becomes visible on their outer shell. And on the brink of death, all of their weapons are disabled, leaving them as a defensless flying heap.

Now you have two options when you are reduced to this point. You can take your mech and flee. Frantically try to avoid destruction while you zoom around the level praying to the mechanical gods above that one of the teleporters will generate a health pack that will restore you to full functionality.

I cannot begin to tell you how many atrocious profanities my best friend has created in moments of sheer rage, as he's had me done and defeated, on the ropes, only to watch a health powerup happen to spawn just as I approach the teleporter. And as I, now with my mech at full health, turn back on him, my pursuer, for some sweet revenge.

Your other option, should you be having no luck obtaining a health recovery, is to eject from your mech. That's right, you can eject your pilot from a mech. He is equipped with a little jetpack and a pea-shooter. Now the jetpack is pretty swift, and you can use it to zip around the level in the hopes that you will find a new, unspoiled mech to operate (some of the levels have additional mechs just tucked away for this very purpose).

The pilot's gun, however, is a mockery of your current predicament. I would hope I don't have to explain the effect (or lackthereof) a hand pistol would have on a twelve-story metallic monstrosity. This holds true for the game. No one has ever actually taken down a mech with their pilot's little p-gun, but the option to try is there if you feel like your last moments should be spent in a defiant kamikaze blaze of glory.

Of course, a sporting opponent, seeing his enemy mechless and flying around on his little jetpack, would also eject and engage in a pea-shooter duel between the two pilots. Of course, this opens itself up to a classic backstab murphy situation in that the original pilot could then take over his enemy's abandoned mech, taking advantage of honor and integrity to squash his benevolent opponent.

Some of the mechs are absolutely worthless. This adds to the gameplay when your mech is destroyed, and the only available option for your survival is to jump into the seat of the spider mech, which sticks to every surface it touches in a most annoying manner.

Nowadays, Metal Warriors is the only reason I own a SNES. And I imagine that in another ten years we'll still be hooking it up every so often for some hardcore 16meg robot duels.

Winter-een-mas 2006 Video Game Tribute: Day Two

Thursday, January 26, 2006 | 03:56 PM | by
There are some games that stay with us not just for the graphics, or the gameplay or the bonus levels, but because of the memories they generate. For me one of those games is Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast.

For me this game is iconic. It will always hold a special place in my heart. And not just because of the game itself. It was a good game, don't get me wrong. It oozed Star Wars, and had the best lightsaber battling to date.

But it was with JK2 that I first got into the video game modding scene. This game and working on various aspects of mod teams, the community that I became a part of, the friends that I made, that's what makes this game special to me.

I think it's safe to say I fell in love with JK2 right away. Well, no, scratch that. It wasn't until Kyle gets his lightsaber back. But after that, all love, all the time. I'm a fan of Star Wars, as most people are, and Jedi Knight offered the chance to swing a lightsaber like never before. It would score walls (which was a big deal in graphics 4 years ago), occasionally cut through limbs, it was great.

After I finished the single player mode, I was looking to continue extend the experience beyond what was offered in the retail box. So I went looking for mods, extra levels, whatever. That lead me to the LucasArts forums. I started posting there, learning the techniques needed to extract the texture files from the .pk3's the game uses.

My first official "skin" was an attempt at Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness). I was working within the limitations of a pre-existing model, but it turned out rather well (for a first attempt). It got a lot of positive feedback, and I was hooked.

I created a few dozen reskins of the game's various characters, each one getting better than the last. I learned to use textures and art to bypass limitations of the models, to achieve things the polygons wouldn't allow.

It was soon after that I happened upon a fellow forum member, Antonio Perestrelo, a.k.a. Bloodriot. he was a modeler interested in creating a Jango Fett character, and he needed a skinner. Over the next few weeks we worked back and forth, and turned what had originally been planned as a Jango Fett model into a collection of Mandalorians. Jango Fett, Boba Fett, and we created 4 completely original characters with different colors as well.

It was the first Jango/Boba Fett model available for JK2, and it was huge. This was my big creative outlet before starting this webcomic. I was known for being a skinner before I was known for being a webcomic artist.

It was such an awesome feeling to jump into a multiplayer match and see people using the characters we had brought to life.

So where do you go after you've tackled the most notorious bounty hunters in the Star Wars galaxy? Well, Darth Vader was already being worked on by another talented modeling/skinning team. Antonio and I decided we wanted to start making our own custom characters, and then use them to create a whole new single-player campaign.

We would tell the story of a Jedi and his fall to the dark side during the old republic. And thus "Project Tyrion" was born. The name was a tribute to George R. R. Martin, whose books I had just recently discovered, and whom even today remains my favorite author.

I skinned a Jedi and a Dark Jedi version of Tyrion, and it was the last model we would complete. Our lives got busy and we had less time to devote to working on our project, until it finally faded away.

Some time later I would go looking for another creative endeavor to pursue, and end up drawing Ethan and Lucas, and the rest is history.

But I can't think about the most influential games in my life, the games that have brought me the most entertainment hands down, without thinking about Jedi Knight 2, and the community I was a part of for the summer of 2003.

Vericon Details

Friday, January 27, 2006 | 08:27 AM | by
I'm on my way up to Boston for Vericon. Here are the details I have about where I'll be and when.

On Saturday, from 1:30pm to 3pm I'll be doing a panel with the other webcomics present. You can come ask me questions, pick my brain about whatever.

Directly after that, from 3:15pm to 4:45pm they're bringing us over to a local comic shop called The Million Year Picnic where a table will be set out for us to sell swag. I'm not bringing any merchandise to sell, but in the next hour I may see what stuff I have here around the office. If I can find some cool artwork, or some posters sitting around, I may bring it along to give away to people that show up. Either way, you can still come by and we'll sit around and talk about video games, or comic books, or whatever.

On Sunday from 1:30pm to 2:30pm I'm interviewing George R. R. Martin. You heard me correctly. I get to have a one on one with the man himself. If you have a question for Mr. Martin you can try and get it to me at the con before Sunday, and I'll try and ask him for you.

Inbetween all of this I'll be hanging around with the other webcomic artists, or playing video games with people in one of the console rooms.

I'll be trying to post my Winter-een-mas gaming tributes from my laptop over the course of the weekend, so please bear with me.

There was a neat WEMas article in the Florida Alligator. There are some other newspaper articles readers have scanned in, I'll try and post sometime soon. I'm off to Boston. Have a great WEMas weekend!

Winter-een-mas 2006 Video Game Tribute: Day Three

Friday, January 27, 2006 | 08:56 PM | by
The game I chose for day three of my little personal tribute is a game that many of you may have missed. The reason for that is because it was an Atari Jaguar exclusive.

Aliens vs. Predator was easily my favorite game on the Jaguar. In fact, I would reckon it was the best game the short-lived console had to offer. Doom was good, but by that point Doom had already been on PC's. AvP was where it was at.

Back then the graphics were amazing. You got to play as the Alien, the Predator, or a lowly Marine, and each had their own strategies, strengths and weaknesses.

Most of my memories of this game involve playing as the Marines. My best friend and I would always play by switching off the controller between us, as we advanced through the levels.

Now, in this sort of company, a human is nothing more than a meaty plaything. A few attacks and you're toast. We must have woken the neighbors on more than one occasion with screams of "Into the vents! Into the vents!!" as we tried to escape a barrage of aliens. Because Marines could duck into air vents, but the aliens weren't smart enough to swallow.

Or when we'd wander over to the airlock that lead inside the predator's ship, a dark and creepy, almost organic, environment. And all would be quiet, the lights out, when suddenly we'd hear the predator's signature mandibular clacking. Or even worse, he would taunt us. "Come get some". We most certainly did not go "get some" In fact what we got was the fuck out of there.

Playing as the aliens was a fun adventure. You could infest marines, and then when you died you'd respawn at the last "egg" you created. It was great going around impaling people on your barbed tail.

The Predator was a whole different experience though. Unlike the Marine and the Alien, the Predator was armed to the teeth. You had a shoulder cannon, wrist blades, the disc, and your "combi stick".

Now, the Predator had a cloaking device, which you could activate to sneak around undetected. You could slaughter your enemies while cloaked, but kills in this manner didn't generate any honor points.

In order to generate your honor points, which were the meat and potatoes of a Predator's lifestyle, you had to kill your prey uncloaked, and if I recall correctly, using a melee weapon. This made for some pretty challenging gameplay.

We had the most fun with the Predator's shoulder cannon though. For instance, on one occasion we were on a section of the ship that was essentially one very, very long hallway, separated by a series of doors.

So we went through and opened every single door from one end to the other. We stood at one end, and at the far end was an unsuspecting Marine. And we would face the down the hallway, the far end obscured by darkness, and just fire one shot from our cannon.

And then wait.

And we would time how long it took from the moment we fired this massive plasma fireball, until it had traveled the full length of the hallway when we finally heard the Marine scream. I think it was a good ten or fifteen seconds. It was a long fucking hallway.

I can't say I have many fond memories of owning a Jaguar. In fact, I mostly recall anticipating games that never came out. But I can honestly say I am happier for having owned this little gem of a game.


Sunday, January 29, 2006 | 12:11 AM | by
So I need to do a tribute for today, but I'm going to postpone it. I had such an amazing day at the convention today. I have a lot of stuff to jabber about, but I'm going to save it for Monday.

But as if that weren't enough, tonight was pretty awesome as well. My sister, who is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, took me to the Berklee College of Music's 60th Anniversary Concert. It was held at the Wang Center in the theater district in Boston, and it was completely sold out. And with good reason.

The event was hosted by Bill Cosby, with perfomances by Herbie Hancock, Gloria Estefan, Michel Camilo, Juan Luis Guerra and most incredible of all, Paul Simon. With a full orchestra and a medley of Berklee students and alumni, it was a three hour exploration of music like I've never heard before. It was incredible.

At any rate, I am pretty exhausted, so instead of writing a WEMas gaming tribute this evening, I'll catch up with two tomorrow. I don't really imagine that my little gaming flashbacks are so important to you that any of you will get upset at having to wait an extra day for one, but I just felt that I should give you a heads up anyway.