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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The Strategy Club

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In honor of the recent start of school in much of the United States, behold this scan from a Virginia high school yearbook I recently picked up at a library book sale. Harking from the 1979-1980 school year, this thirty year-old assemblage of wargamers and role players looks much like a gathering of the faithful would look today, though we’re a bit older, wiser, and jowlier.

Maybe not the Breakfast Club, but definitely the Strategy Club!

The Strategy Club!

The Strategy Club met every week to organize wargaming sessions. They had refought the great battles of history (on paper and game boards, of course). They adventured through the deepest underground labyrinths and bravely fought fantastic monsters.

Read through the ironic lens so common today, the club description could be seen as cutting and snide, perhaps, but I’m more inclined to see the descriptive text as a valiant attempt by a non-hobbyist to understand and explain just what these lads were up to in the science classroom every week.

I wonder if there are many similar clubs dedicated to wargames and role playing games in high schools today. As with any hobby, wargaming circles tend to ask where the “new blood” will come from and bemoan the “greying” of the hobby. In my own experiences with Fine Local Game Stores, I’ve seen plenty of younger gamers, but seldom involved in what we would consider board wargaming, focused instead on collectible card games and fantasy/sci-fi miniatures gaming.

How to get them interested in the intricacies of cardboard and combat results tables is a valid question. I think the best approach is not proselytization but rather approachability. Smiles and a willingness to interrupt a turn to answer questions at a game store go a long way towards converting kids from cards to cardboard. Not that there’s anything wrong with cards, of course.

A Voice Indie Wilderness: Jeff Vogel on Gaming

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I’m not sure when the transition occurred, but back in the proverbial day, the name for games produced by small companies and sold online via unlockable demo was Shareware. You downloaded the demo on your creaking 22.8k modem, played until you got to the dreaded Shareware barrier, and then either ponied up the money to keep going or moved on to some other game.

Now this self-same business model goes by the name “indie.” Whatever. It’s still Shareware to me and, I get the sense, to Spiderweb Software‘s Jeff Vogel as well.

Spiderweb has specialized in single-player computer RPGs since 1995’s brilliant Exile, a game that had a literal Shareware barrier blocking off the majority of the map from exploration until you paid to unlock the rest of the game. And it was worth $25 fourteen years ago to keep going, no question.

Avernum 5 Screenshot

Is it worth that much today, when you can get older big-budget games with installations spanning multiple CDs for $10? Jeff Vogel’s new blog, The Bottom Feeder, takes on these questions and more:

I can’t compete on price with old classic. Nobody can. To expect me (or anyone) to match price with a handful of old games is completely ridiculous. Can’t happen.

But my games have an advantage. They’re new. Go ahead and play the old classics, or at least the ones you haven’t played already. Go play Fallout or Planescape: Torment. They’re SWEET.

You’ll be done soon enough. And, when you are, I’ll still be here.

Admittedly, I’m not completely objective here. I beta tested seven Spiderweb games and even got a NPC named after me in one of the Geneforge games—talk about niche geek cred! Jeff and his small team at Spiderweb produce huge games, with amazing amounts of text and great storylines, for Mac and PC. On a cost-per-hour basis, these games are bargains.

As gamers, we need games like these to continue being produced, so check out them out if you haven’t already.

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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$10k Gaming Table: Dice Not Included

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Tired of playing on an old television box covered with discarded tablecloth? Ready to roll the dice on a table made of real wood rather than on some odd, discolored melamine surface the neighbors threw out in a rainstorm?

Well, for just shy of ten thousand dollars, The Sultan can be yours:

The Sultan gaming table, from http://www.geekchichq.com

I think every gamer, whether a role player or a wargamer—minis gamers are, of course, a different breed, just wanting as much flat surface as they can get, upon which they pile their meticulously crafted trees and mountains and crumbled building ruins—has dreamed of the ideal gaming table. When cost is no object, we conjure up tables with built-in counter trays, cat-proof covers for games in progress, and of course, drink holders, since never should a beverage have greater gravitational potential energy than easily soaked game equipment. People spend large sums on such frivolities as pool tables and ping pong tables, so why not a dedicated gaming table?

The people at Geek Chic understand that need, apparently, and seem to have thought of everything, including:

Two Dice rolling trays, lined in your choice of velvet and capped with pointed rubber to ensure randomness of throws. Rubber is removable to give you the option of using bay for storage.

At $9,650 delivered and installed, The Sultan isn’t for every gamer, or even for many, and at that price, I might opt to have a custom-built table tailored for my specific needs instead, but it’s good to have benchmarks, and to have proof that this dream, that all gamers share, can be made real.

(Image from Geek Chic)