Blue Line to Venus: The Subway Map in Destiny

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If you ever find yourself in the Ishtar Collective on the planet Venus sometime in the far future, you can rest easy that you have several mass transit options available, at least according to Bungie‘s new console game, Destiny.

Destiny Subway Map

A hybrid first-person shooter/role playing game with a shared online game space set in the future, Destiny visits several close-in planets during its twenty-odd mission story campaign, including a terraformed Venus where subway stations apparently don’t need to have names. Computer games, particularly shooters, often use subway maps as set dressing in order to suggest a deeper, wider world, creating an illusion of depth and breadth beyond the narrowly confined channels the developers want you to walk down. A subway map drives home the point that, though now gone, people lived and worked here.

Rather than feeling a sense of a wider world, though, seeing the map just confirms how small and lifeless the game’s world really is. The map serves as a metaphor for the game itself. There’s no subway station nearby to explore, no tunnel network to search through. (A later game level, set on Mars, does have a constrained transit station.) There are hints of more to come in Destiny, of detail under the surface, but it’s just not there. The game simply provides a series of set piece locales with a varied—and quite often beautiful—mise en scène in which to fight aliens and other players. An odd complaint, perhaps, to make of a game billed primarily as a first-person shooter, but it speaks to my slight disappointment with the game, as I wanted it to be a more engrossing and detailed exploration experience than it turned out to be. I was hoping for a faster-paced Fallout 3 rather than a Halo re-skin with random loot drops.

Fallout 3 Subway Map

Fallout 3 provides both a subway map (loosely based on the real Washington, DC, Metrorail map) and the ability to travel to quite a few of the stations via the subway tunnels themselves, but then it is a role playing game with shooter components rather than the reverse. Fallout’s structure encourages such exploration, whereas Destiny herds you from objective to objective. I can’t fault Destiny for not being the game I wanted it to be; I just hoped that the creators of the Marathon series could find a way to combine a cutting-edge first-person shooter with a captivating world that rewards exploration via something to find rather than new things to shoot. Marathon and its sequels, though purely first-person shooters, told a story to those willing to look for it in way Destiny, twenty years later, does not.

Still, I’m enjoying my time with Destiny, even if I can’t get hopelessly lost in the imaginary tunnels of the Venusian Green Line.

Kickstarting the Apocalypse: Wasteland 2 in Development

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These days, computer games that perform even tolerably well in the marketplace are all but guaranteed a sequel. Indeed, my current pile of Xbox 360 games is all sequels: Mass Effect 3, Gears 3, NHL 12, Fallout: New Vegas, Forza 4, and so forth.

But in the heady days of actual floppy discs, when loading a game on your trusty Commodore 64 took five minutes and Electronic Arts was amazingly cool, sequels were few and far between. So it comes as a welcome surprise that one of the finest games of the late 1980s, Wasteland, stands poised to make a return. If you ever wondered where the Fallout series came from, look no further.

Combat in the Wasteland

Brian Fargo, one of the original creators of Wasteland, is spearheading development of Wasteland 2, to be funded as a Kickstarter campaign. I spent hours and hours with the original post-apocalyptic RPG, both on floppy and later via the magic of emulators (when I finally finished the damn thing), and I call upon all true fans of the genre to pony up some cash and fund this game!

Perfect Start Syndrome II: Or Why I Haven't Gotten Very Far in Skyrim

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My copy of Bethesda Softworks‘ long awaited Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim arrived promptly on launch day, some ten days ago, and I’ve frolicked about this corner of Tamriel more or less every day since.

Skyrim on flicker.com by Joshua Livingston via a Creative Commons Attribution license.

You would imagine, then, that I’ve climbed every peak, slain a slew of dragons, quested until my coffers burst with coin gladly given by the fetch requesters and the life savees. After all that play, I must be a hero of awesome renown, with skills unmatched by any other.

Um, well, no, not really. But I have cleared Embershard Mine twelve times!

As I suffered with Fallout 3 (and to a lesser extent Fallout: New Vegas), I am burdened by Perfect Start Syndrome. Given that Skyrim is a huge sandbox of a game, with the main quest merely a suggestion for what to do with your time in the world (and without any annoying time constraints on putting the Big Bad Evil in its place), once you step out of the obligatory tutorial dungeon, the Sky(rim) is the limit. And sometimes, faced with such seemingly infinite freedom, one freezes. Perfect Start Syndrome claims another victim.

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Ice Hockey in Post-Apocalyptia

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Love it or hate it, Bethesda Softwork‘s decision to have every line of non-player character (NPC) dialogue in Fallout 3 accompanied by voice acting leads to a certain degree of immersion. From random townsperson to monomaniacal despot, everyone speaks. Even the two-headed mutated cows make noise.

Given the cast of hundreds, actors invariably voice multiple NPCs, often noticeably so. Too, the reliance on recorded dialogue means that once the dialogue is recorded, no late changes are feasible, and there are points in the game where I wish one NPC would acknowledge some huge event that took place in his or her life that was directly affected by my character’s actions. Even on big budget title like Fallout 3, there’s a limit to the voice acting funds, and I’m sure they had to decide to cut off dialogue trees at some point, where a non-voice acted title would have been able to add additional text branches to cover more permutations and outcomes.

Don't quit your day job. Because it's cool.

Still, imagine my surprise learning that the voice actor for an early antagonist (or protagonist, depending on your character’s moral inclinations) is . . . the announcer at Verizon Center for the Washington Capitals.

(Only the most minor of Fallout 3 spoilers follow.)

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Perfect Start Syndrome: Or, Why I Haven't Gotten Very Far in Fallout 3

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Bethesda Softworks released Fallout 3 about two weeks ago, and I really haven’t gotten very far at all in this post-apocalyptic role playing game.

The view, not new, from the Vault

It’s not that the game is difficult or perplexing, especially for a grizzled Wastelander like myself—I cut my teeth on Fallout’s spiritual progenitor, Wasteland, on my trusty Commodore 128. (Never could save that darn dog in the well, but I did clear out Base Cochise.) And the game runs quite well on my Mac Pro booted into XP, so it’s not any technical issue that has hindered my progress.

No, I haven’t gotten very far at all because I keep starting over. And I doubt that I’m the only one afflicted by this malady of free-form gaming: Perfect Start Syndrome.

(Only the most minor of Fallout 3 spoilers follow.)

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