Monthly Archives: February 2010

Ka-ching, ka-ching in BioShock

At the urging of Greg Noe, I popped BioShock back into the disc tray. It’s definitely a game that I’ve only ever been able to play in small chunks. Anyways, after dealing with the forests of Arcadia, I made my way to Fort Frollic thanks to Sander Cohen’s teasing and noticed some slot machines off to the side. Vaguely, I remembered there was an Achievement tied to them. Win a certain amount? Hit the jackpot three times? Not bothering to look it up, I gambled away $10 and on the very first pull, I kid thee not, I hit those magical 7s and unlocked the following:

Lucky Winner (10G): The player has hit the jackpot at a slot machine

If only it was that easy to get rich in real life, right?

Top 10 Worst Silent Lead Characters

Silent protagonists, from a design perspective, are a device used to get the player to empathize more with other characters. Draw them in, make them feel like they’re right there with everyone, making decisions and demands. It’s also a rather tiring aspect of many RPGs, especially JRPGs, but they do occasionally pop up in other genres. They can mostly be broken down into the following:

Mutes: They are characters that do no speak at all. No text, no voice acting…nothing. They are mimes in a dark, dark room. They are empty husks you move with the directional pad and never grow to care for.

Reactive: These are characters that often don’t get speaking roles, but exist for other NPCs to bounce ideas off of and/or look to for assurance/disapproval. Sometimes get involved non-verbally.

The Roleplayer: Silent only in voice, this leading character is one that the player builds through dialogue options, morale choices, clothing and weapons, stats, and so on. They “speak” pre-determined lines, but only if you choose so.

Some silent protagonists are better than others. Click the “keep reading” link below to see my take on the Top 10 Worst Silent Lead Characters.

Continue reading

Comparing Dragon Age: Origins with Summoner, Not Completely Crazy

I’m going to do something here that might have folks scratching at their heads, but it has to be done: Dragon Age: Origins and Summoner are pretty similar games. Yes, they’re both third-person RPGs set in traditional epic fantasy worlds, focusing on party-based battles, twisting plotlines, and a constant sense of so much to do. But they also both eerily pace themselves in the same manner.

In 2000’s Summoner, after the introductory prologue to get things started, main character Joseph ends up in Lenele, the City of the Gods. It’s a huge city made up of at least ten areas, and Joseph will spend a good hour or so wandering around, speaking to locals, and picking up a ton of miscellaneous side quests before you can even begin the main one.

In 2009’s Dragon Age: Origins, after the introductory origins story and battle at Ostagar, main character Grey Warden ends up in Lothering, a small village that, while not made up of at least ten areas, offers just as many (or more) side quests before starting the real deal.

At both of these points, I began to feel overwhelmed. The main quest has barely begun, and already I have a honeydew list as long as a broadsword. Suffering from gamer OCD, this is problematic. Anyways, let’s also take a look at plot synopses…

Summoner: Joseph’s goal, achieved through his newly regained powers of summoning, is to defend Medeva from the Orenian invasion and to defeat the evil emperor, Murod, by using rings to summon the ultimate creature.

Dragon Age: Origins: After completing their character’s respective origin story, the player encounters Duncan, leader of an elite group known as the Grey Wardens. Duncan guides the player to their destiny of becoming a Grey Warden, a group who dedicate their lives to the destruction of the Darkspawn, a force of demonic creatures that live underground and have at various points in history swarmed the surface of Thedas in movements known as Blights.

So, one game is about stopping an invasion of evil creatures, and the other game is about…stopping an invasion of evil creatures.

And look, Morrigan’s in both games:

I’m really not trying to harp too much on Dragon Age: Origins. I do like it so far, and it’s definitely going to keep me busy for awhile. Just feels like I’ve played it before, recurring pitfalls and all.

P.S. Woah, I even managed to last this entire post without making the joke that both game’s graphics are interchangeable. Er, whoops. Zing!

DSi XL releasing for $190 on March 28

Nintendo announced today at its Media Summit that the North American release date for its newest (and largest) iteration of the DS, the DSi XL, will be released on March 28 for $189.99. That’s about twenty bucks more than the current DSi. I’m still rocking the DS Lite and feel no immediate tug on my heartstrings to need this version. To me, the point of the DS is that it is small, extremely portable (like front pocket portable).

But don’t worry about what I think. The system will sell fine, it always has. This one is especially locked in for pure gold with the older generation that just can’t squint hard enough at their grandchild’s tiny DS screen. Here, Pop-pop, have a super-sized game system! And don’t forget your meds!

I’m just really scared that developers are eventually going to stop making DS games and only sell DSi XL games, cutting off an entire slice of the market. I wouldn’t think they’d do that, but who knows these days. With portable gaming systems bigger than your head, anything is possible.

Some early impressions for Dragon Age: Origins

Just crossed the ten-hour mark for Dragon Age: Origins. In ten hours, as an elf mage, I’ve done very little. Conversely, I’ve experienced a lot. I’m currently mucking about in Redcliffe, on a quest to storm the town’s castle and find out what is happening with Arl Eamon. It’s definitely turning into a great game, and I know in my heart of hearts that I will love it immensely, but I can’t help and nitpick because some of the issues I’ve noticed should most definitely not be there in a game of this caliber.

Right. Onwards to lists of things…


  • The world. Amazingly detailed even if it is more or less a mesh of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. And I’ve only unlocked…14%. Love the treatment of elves, as well as the Circle of Magi and their emotionless servants. The Codex can be a bit overwhelming at first, but it’s worth scouring for sure.
  • The writing. It’s sort of BioWare’s thing.
  • So much to do, so many options. And most of the time you don’t get to pick them all or go back and try another, which makes perfect sense. Some games are just more forgiving than others; not this one; your actions are yours. And even if it didn’t have the different origin stories, Dragon Age: Origins has plenty of replay value. The dialogue options are great and varied, the structure of quests have multiple outcomes, and once you get to Lothering it becomes a sort of choose-your-own adventure; I most likely won’t go straight to Redcliffe with my next character.


  • The inventory menus. They are deep and fairly organized, but still a bit of work to get through. Especially when assigning spells to the controller’s face buttons. It can be clunky, but it might just take me some more time to get used to.
  • Combat tactics. Have not set any of these up, but I want to. The problem? The interface is not very clear.
  • Why can’t a mage unlock treasure chests? I should at least be able to cast a magic missile on it.


  • At least three times during a cutscene, a character has completely walked through another character. Not even in a fantasy world like Ferelden should that be possible.
  • Also a cutscene complaint: with friendly fire, I accidentally set Alistair on fire with a flame spell, and then we hopped into a cutscene where, limbs ablaze, Alistair stood calmly and spoke without any realization that that horrible burning smell was actually him.
  • My character, Carys, likes to wear an enchanter’s cowl. It helps with his magic and/or willpower (I can’t actually remember at this point). Anyways, he’s definitely wearing it when running around town or doing battle, but the moment we hop into a cutscene…he is not. Yet if I changed his staff or robes, that’s been updated. I don’t understand this.
  • Nineteen things happening all at once, all of them going by in a blur of swooshes. So, say you just talked to a dude. When the cutscene ends, you get a bunch of pop-up messages that say “New codex entry!” “New quest!” “Quest updated!” “Items received!” “Alistair approves (+3)!” “Morrigan disapproves (-7)!” And then it’s all gone before you even realized what happened.
  • And the graphics. Sometimes they are pretty, most of the time they are not. Thankfully, gameplay makes up for them each and every time. I’m just surprised it’s not as polished-looking as, say, Mass Effect 2, made by the very same company.

Either way, I’m itchin’ to play more.

Nancy Drew and the Mystery of a Terrible Game

Recently, I borrowed two DS games from my mother’s collection: Hidden Mysteries Titanic: Secrets of the Fateful Voyage and Nancy Drew: The Mystery of the Clue Bender Society. Both have extremely long titles, and both are terrible abominations that I can’t believe got made and stocked at full price. Anyways, I breezed uninterestedly through the former-mentioned title, but got stuck with Nancy Drew and eventually just gave it back unfinished. Mom plans to trade them in for pennies and nickels.

Still, I have thoughts. Most of these end with question marks, such as “Why couldn’t they give a clearer hint here?” or “Is Nancy Drew really a complete fool?” or “What’s up with that one dude’s beard?”

Nancy Drew: The Mystery of the Clue Bender Society is evidently the second outing for the young, teenbop sleuth. I missed the first one…thankfully. In this one, she gets a mysterious letter from the shadowy Clue Bender Society, inviting her over for a visit to join their awesome club of super-detectives. Or something like that. Once there, Drew must find a stolen tome that may or may not contain crazy cult secrets powerful enough to destroy the world. I know, pretty heavy stuff there for a Valley Girl who is more at home when finding her lost cell phone.

Generally speaking, it’s a puzzle game. You might be inclined to say the game has puzzles, emphasis on the s. But it doesn’t really. The puzzles are just minigames: time-wasters, space-fillers, extra screens to tap at furiously, call ’em what you will. These minigames don’t even give you basic instructions; you’re thrown into the lion’s den and must tap your way out. Ultimately, there’s very little, hmm, clue bending in Nancy Drew: The Mystery of the Clue Bender Society.

And the writing…sigh. Having known them to be quite popular, but never reading much of Nancy Drew’s adventures, I expected a solid story with a whodunnit mystery. The writing, right from the get-go, is a trainwreck. Like, derailed and then flipped and then exploded and then anything that didn’t explode melted like that one dude’s face in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. My favorite “writing” moment (quick, turn on your sarcasm meters!) is when Nancy is meeting a friend in a local cafe. The friend gives her a device to pick up fingerprints and tells her to try it out on her coffee cup; Nancy does and then is extremely shocked and surprised to find her friend’s fingerprints on the mug. Like, oh my gawd! What…an…idiot. I almost want to know what Nancy’s SAT scores look like and if they are just a wee higher than my last bowling record.

Everyone meet Nancy's biggest clue-bending challenge: doors.

But there’s no guidance within the game. I’m not talking guided hand-holding, but there could’ve been more hints as to what to do next. Alas, a lot of time is spent going back and forth from room to room in the mansion, hoping you’ll find something new to click on to set things in motion again. You’ll get a bunch of items you may or may not use (e.g., her cell phone). And there’s an unneeded amount of rooms that have nothing in them. Unfortunately, I got stuck on a part of the mansion where every room offered nothing new, and I had no idea what to do next. My quest instructions said, “Find the tome.”

And now she never will. Oh well. Guess then it’s goodbye, world.

PURCHASE OF THE MONTH: Dragon Age: Origins

I was planning on picking up Dragon Age: Origins in January, but got so many great games to play over Christmas that it never happened. So the next plan was to get it in February, which was all well and good, but things got busy, and I only just sort of realized this weekend that there’s not many more days left in the month.

It’s amazingly deep so far, and I’ve only just started, having now completed the Elf Mage origin. The codex is marvelous, the magic is fun, and the voice acting strong. The only part I was surprised about is the…graphics. If you look out over the walls at Ostagar, the trees look absolutely ridiculous as they are basically flat images standing atop a texture-less “field” of brown. Maybe the darkspawn had something to do with that. Yet another reason to hate ’em, right?!

Anyways, it’s definitely my kind of RPG. All the numbers, dialogue options, and inventory managing warms my heart. I hope the mage was a good choice though; the magic spells does seem pretty potent, but there was a couple instances where I got knocked down and had to heal really fast or buy the farm. We’ll see how it all pans out…


Uniracers is a quirky if simplistic racing game, but above everything it was fun and fast. You might’ve thought you experienced blinding speed playing F-Zero at the time, but you were most definitely not prepared for this 1994 SNES release. It was, in fact, a glove-slap to SEGA’s speedy Sonic series (say that five times fast!), but Uniracers turned out to be more of a miss than a hit with gamers. A shame as it was a blast to play!

Judging by screenshots alone, the graphics aren’t too impressive…but they work for this kind of game. You control a riderless unicycle and move along multicolored circuit tracks, gaining speed, avoiding obstacles, and nailing as many tricks as possible, which leads to speed boosts and the chance for more trickery. There’s no plot to this madness, and that’s a good thing, but one does have to be careful of obstacles on the course. Hand/eye coordination is key here.

Uniracers offered two player, split-screen action, which was always a hoot, and the ability to minimally customize your cycle was a welcomed addition. What I remember most though is the frenetic music. It was bouncy, it was laden with kooky sound effects, and it was perfect for zooming through corkscrews and doing three backflips in a row.

However, I never did get to race against Anti-Uni, the last challenger for the game’s final circuit. It seems this cycle had a few tricks up its metaphoric sleeve, causing the track to go invisible or the game’s controls to reverse. Sounds like fun!

I doubt we’ll ever see this series reborn, but if so, the Nintendo DS is the perfect spot for it. You could steer the cycle with the D-pad and then manage tricks with the stylist. Wouldn’t be too hard to do actually, but I’m not going to hold my breath on this one.

In the end: Uniracers, I miss you.

GAMES I REGRET PARTING WITH is a regular feature here at Grinding Down where I reminisce about videogames I either sold or traded in when I was young and dumb. To read up on other games I parted with, follow the tag.

Blowing up Megaton ain’t so easy

The Power of the Atom quest in Fallout 3 gives the player three choices: blow up Megaton, defuse the atom bomb, or ignore it altogether. During my first playthrough as a wholesome, good-natured chap fresh from Vault 101, the answer was easy. I defused the atom bomb in the center of town and, as a reward, got a shack to keep all the cool stuff I found out in the Capital Wasteland safe. Throughout the game, Megaton was my hub. I returned there often to both sleep (and get the “well rested” bonus before adventuring) and sell extra gear. The citizens would give me things now and then, and I truly felt like it was my town, my home. I couldn’t imagine playing Fallout 3 without it.

And now I have to.

I’m working on my evil run and actively avoided completing the quest for a number of reasons: first, I wasn’t finished with The Wasteland Survival Guide quest; second, my lockpicking/sneak skills were not high enough to get me into the sheriff’s house to snag the Strength Bobblehead; third, I was pretty good throughout the game at not picking up every single item, but eventually started getting weighed down by too many weapons and pieces of apparel that I didn’t want to give up. So finally I was able to pickpocket Lucas Simms, bust into his home, grab the Bobblehead, and then…I got caught by his son trying to steal a skill book. Asdfghjkl. Now the whole town hated me immensely, over a book, too; bitter, I ran straight back to Tenpenny Tower to press a button. The button. The one that will completely change the way I finish Fallout 3.

I watched the mushroom cloud until it faded away, until there was nothing left but discolored sky and the wind whistling below. My prize? Some caps and a very nice pad in Tenpenny Tower. I then bought the love theme, which puts a heart-shaped bed smack in the middle. It doesn’t feel right. I’m a horrible soul. And I haven’t gone back to the crater once known as Megaton, but I’ll have to eventually if I want to complete The Wasteland Survival Guide quest. I appreciate the irony there, that that quest is still available after detonating an atom bomb, but I’m not looking forward to seeing the destruction I helped create.

Alabama college shooting suspect also roleplayed

Last week, Amy Bishop Anderson, a University of Alabama biology professor, killed three faculty members. According to, she also enjoyed playing Dungeons & Dragons, that popular dice-and-paper game sponsored by Satan himself.

Y’know, it always depresses and bothers me to see games (both video and boardgames) as a blaming post for these sorts of acts; I mean, I bet this woman also liked eating a certain type of pizza and had a favorite movie she could watch over and over, but these have yet to be highlighted as driving forces for her horrific crimes. Because if they were, well, I’d like to think most people would go, “Um, that’s stupid.”

But Dungeons and Dragons has a lot of stereotypes. Basement dwellers, Cheeto-tinted fingers, bad skin, horrible social skills, the creation of new smells, intense fights over dragon loot, loneliness, and so on. Some might apply, a lot might not. I’ve met people throughout life that I would’ve never guessed played D&D, and to some extent think that some people have trouble believing that I play it, too.

I could really say a lot about murder and linking games to it because the topic, sadly, comes up all the time. The debates will never end, and there will always be those that strongly believe that Grand Theft Auto IV taught them how to hotwire the neighbor’s car and then run over a prositute. Not mental unstability, no. Yet I only have one point: it’s not about the game, it’s about the person.