Monday, December 31, 2007

Game Review: Orcs and Elves

Holiday blogging . . . ugh.  I'm waiting for the people I'm going to spend New Year's eve with to finish sleeping off their drinks last night, so I thought I'd throw a quick post up while I had the chance.
I received Orcs and Elves for Christmas for the DS.  It's a fairly interesting game.  Made by id software, the game is a first-person RPG, the likes of which I haven't seen in ages.  Think Doom, but with swords and a magic wand instead of guns and a chainsaw.

Like most RPGs, the main character doesn't speak . . . ever.  You're guided around by your talking magic wand, who speaks to the ghosts of dwarves for you.  If that sounds strange, then you may not enjoy the story.  It's pretty simple, but the draw is the gameplay, not the tale.  

The game mechanics are decent.  It seemed a tad easy, but I played it on the easiest setting to get a feel for it.  Like the older games by id, you can only look straight ahead, in one of four directions.  Each time you perform an action, either moving, attacking, opening a door, or drinking a potion, you use a turn.  Then all the monsters in the vicinity get to take a turn.  It's an interesting way of dealing with the awkward movement scheme, although it can prove frustrating when some monsters get more turns than you.

It's fun to play in a "throw-away" kind of way, but the game is short.  I'd say I put it to rest after somewhere around 5 hours of play.  I guess that's not terrible for a portable game, but I've come to expect a longer lifespan out of my RPGs.  

Gamespot didn't give it an official review, despite all their hype leading to its release.  If you wanted my opinion, I would give the game a 6.5/10.  There's no music during the game, the graphics don't take advantage of the DS (which is saying something), and the game is far too short.  However, it is redeemed by being fun and accessible, so I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good adventure game.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Game Review: Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations

I really don't play enough games on my DS. Then again, most of the library is pet simulators and Brain Age wannabes. For this reason, I was very, very excited when I found out that they were releasing a third entry in the Phoenix Wright series.

If you've played either of the first two, then you need no convincing to buy the third one. For the rest of you, let's recap:

In these games, you play as Phoenix Wright (the guy in the blue suit and red tie), a defense attorney who always seems to be taking on clients with desperate cases. You'll spend your time talking to witnesses, examining the scene of the crime, and gathering clues and evidence. Finally, you'll end up at trial, pressing those who testify and using the evidence to either expose their lies or to convince them to reveal more information. In the end, it's pretty much like a game of interactive Matlock; you always prove the innocence of your client by proving that one of his accusers is the real culprit.

If that sounds like a wacky justice system, that your client isn't innocent until you've proven someone else to be guilty, well, just roll with it. Despite the silliness evident in the system, the game is still incredibly fun and quite amusing.

The games were initially released for the Gameboy Advance, but were later adapted for the DS. In the first entry in the series, there was a special case which you unlocked which was made specifically for the DS version. It incorporated a lot of DS specific features and was the longest, most intriguing adventure to have shown up, period. Sadly, neither the second nor third games included any of these features, but the games were still fun all the same.

The third game is still loads of fun, but I have two criticisms about it. First, it's too short: In the previous games, you had to spend three days solving all of the crimes. In this entry, most of them take place in one day, two at the most. It's just gone too fast. Second, Phoenix Wright feels like a bit player in his own game. There are five adventures, and you don't even play as Phoenix for two and a half of them! How can it be his game if you only control him for half the game? Bizarre!

Don't let my criticisms stop you from playing it, however. These games are worth every penny. If you're new to the series, you should definitely find a copy of the first one, as there is no excuse for not having these games in your library. If you've already played the first two, then stop reading this and go buy the third!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Great Porn Debate

Last Wednesday, that legend of the not-so-silver screen, Ron Jeremy, came to UMSL for a debate on pornography with XXXChurch co-founder Craig Gross. For those not familiar with those names, Ron Jeremy is a porn star with thousands of "movies" to his name, while XXXChurch is an organization devoted to porn, either helping men to break their addiction to it or helping those in the industry leave it.

I'd wanted to go, but sadly it took place entirely during the class I teach on Wednesday nights. So, just as you'll have to, I had to suffice for The Current's article about it.

I wouldn't have thought Jeremy to be the philosophical type, so I wasn't expecting much. I don't think my expectations were entirely inaccurate; while he seems to have offered up some interesting arguments, it doesn't seem like anything new or particularly compelling. But then, I'm already fairly biased, and most articles of this nature tend not to do justice to the debates.

Something interesting has been brewing in my mind regarding porn and proof that it harms the participants ever since I heard about the debate. One of the most easily quantifiable proofs of harm to participants would be from STDs. I know California requires anybody participating in pornography to use a condom and be tested for STDs regularly, and I imagine that it's fairly standard for the industry either way. Still, there's a curveball in there I've been mulling over lately.

HPV.

Not the traditional "cauliflower penis" variety, but the cervical cancer-causing strains. I'm sure I'm misinformed somewhere in here, but here's what I think I know about the disease:
  • It can be transmitted without showing symptoms
  • It can only be tested for after symptoms have appeared in women
  • There is no test for it in men, currently
In addition, I would add that condoms are of questionable efficacy in preventing transmission, but I'm uncertain about that mark. A lot of the articles I've seen on HPV lump the wart and cancer causing strains in together, and it seems like they would behave slightly differently when it comes to transmission. Can condoms prevent transmission? Can it be spread via oral sex? I'm uncertain, but so far as I've seen, the answers seem to be "maybe not" and "yes."

Anyhow, the point of this is to point out a big danger such a disease poses to people in pornography. Ron Jeremy probably has it, but he'll never be able to know for certain. For the women he gives it to, they'll never know they have it until it's too late to do anything about it, and in the meantime they are capable of spreading it around to others. On top of that, if condoms don't effectively protect against it, then there's no safe way to be in porn and avoid it.

Which, if you've read my paper on pornography and the First Amendment, this seems like causus belli (is that right?) for making pornography illegal; speech that causes direct harm is not protected by the First Amendment.

Of course, I welcome comments on this. I more than likely have things wrong on some count here, but I'm curious where people think I actually did go wrong.

Game Review: Super Mario Galaxy

One complaint about the Wii that hasn't changed is that the number of quality games has not increased at a very fast pace. While the Wii library of games is growing, most new games are made by third parties, and those third party games tend to be poorly made, or at least poorly take advantage of the Wii's capabilities.

The upshot to this criticism is that when Nintendo makes a game for its own system, it does a bang-up job of it. With Super Mario Galaxy, they really hit the mark.

Of course, the plot really needs no introduction. Peach is kidnapped, save her from Bowser, blah blah blah. Okay, you don't play Mario games for their innovative stories. You play them because they're typically platformers of phenomenal quality.

Where do I start? I guess the control scheme deserves a mention. It's a bit difficult to get used to in the beginning; it's unusual to be controlling characters on a spherical surface, and the lack of camera control can be frustrating in rare occasions. However, after you get the feel for the controls? Man, does this game feel right. Smooth, accessible play that anybody could pick up and go with. The new features are integrated in nicely, too, like Bee Suit Mario and Boo Suit Mario. They're fun, though they do feel a little gimmicky.

Every level feels like it was crafted just right. The graphics are simply stunning, and the music evokes something while you're playing that you just don't get from most games. I really couldn't praise this game more.

There are two features I should mention, though. One is the two-player mode. Throughout the game, you can use the wii-mote to pick up "Star Bits" on the screen, and then fire them off at enemies. Since this can be a bit distracting while playing, a second player can take up a wii-mote and take over this function for the guy playing as Mario. While this seems like I nice feature, I can't help but think that it's not very fair to the second player. There just aren't enough enemies affected by the Star Bits to make it a very fruitful role, and otherwise all player two will do is wave the cursor around the screen trying to pick up Star Bits. Wee!

The other feature involves stat tracking. Each level keeps track of how many stars you've found and the highest number of coins and Star Bits you picked up in each level. You have the option of posting this information to an online message board, which other players can view, though I haven't looked at it yet myself. I wouldn't complain about this kind of feature, as it's one of the things that people seem to like about the XBox, but these things always leave me feeling so pressure. I don't play these games to unlock every last nook and cranny hidden feature, so the idea of having other people's scores as such staring me in the face does not strike me as being too appealing. Yes, you completed the game in a perfect manner. Good for you.

Those things aside, this game is bound to become a classic. If you own a Wii, there is no reason to not own it. It's fun to play, it's a joy to watch, and it's accessible to gamers of many levels without being too simple for more advanced players.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Advertising Corn

Sorry about the quiet around here. One more exam and I should have a master's degree. Awesome, huh?

Random thought from watching television: Why do crop companies advertise on television?

During The Simpsons' normal premier slot last night, I saw an advertisement by DeKalb about their corn, how superior it was, and how farmers should plant it. I can't help but wonder if this is an effective use of advertising dollars. A commercial during this primetime slot seems like it would be expensive, and how many farmers would be watching? They're not exactly a huge chunk of the population, so they're going to be a proportionally small chunk of The Simpsons' audience. At least, I assume they would be.

Then again, I have no idea what the most "efficient" way of advertising to farmers would be. Any ideas?