Elite Dangerous

It was getting late, and I was running behind schedule trying to carry well-paying tourists back to their destination. While they partied in the back of the limo, drinking and having a great time, I was stuck in the driver’s seat trying to navigate a strange route through increasingly perilous territory. With my eyes glued to the clock and my foot on the gas, I was already doubting my latest career choice, and this was only my second trip. Fighting the growing urge to dump my passengers in the middle of nowhere and scream off into the night, I took a deep breath, and pressed the accelerator forward.

It was right about then that I dropped out of hyperdrive smack dab in the middle of the gravity well of a massive star, and immediately things went to shit. Ah, the joys of a space limo driver…

Alarms rang in my ears as the controls in my brand-new Saud-Kruger Dolphin started smoking. The ship’s computer gently alerted me to a catastrophic temperature exposure. Suddenly everything stopped, and we were drifting.

Floating in space, with my cockpit panels shorting out and my temperature gauge through the roof, I glanced over at the cabin camera to check on my passengers, convinced that they were all cooked by radiation in their plush seats.

Still partying… Thank god for a decent shield generator.

As my shiny new Dolphin (now nicknamed Space Limo of Love, FYI) was relatively and slowly pulled toward a massive purple ball of gas, fire, and death, these guys are blasting music and falling over each other playing Twister.

“Anyone know how to find the escape vector from a purple giant star?” I yell over my shoulder, knowing well that they can’t hear me. A few calculations and a frantic discussion with the ship’s computer later, and we were burning away from the ball of death at speed.

Luckily for me, These guys didn’t even notice that they’d nearly died tonight, and tipped well.

My morning was much better. Less alcohol and near-total-annihilation, more relaxing and listening to some music while dodging gankers. The Space Limo of Love is fast. I mean, real fast. I had the techs put in a new power unit and upgraded the scanner so I can handle some tougher sightseeing trips.

In the meantime I ferried a cushy trip one system away that paid out over a million credits, so yeah it was a great morning. It wasn’t until midday when I picked up a few passengers headed to a nearby system that I ran into trouble again. It started fine, until I hit the jump button too soon and overheated, knocking us out of Supercruise and into the well of another star. It seems like this might continue to be an issue, so I might have to have a new shield put on.

The Star was easy since escape vectors are an old hag now, but not until I swung the boat around and saw our destination a good 30 minutes out from the jump point… I about shit. I was cursing the “damn bay full of prisoners” up one side of the galaxy and down the other, and hoping that if I kept leaning on the stick I could somehow will the Space Limo of Love (SLoL?) to travel faster than physically possible.

So lesson learned, check the distance on the next contract to make sure I won’t be stuck humming ancient Glen Hansard tunes and reading the same diagnostic menus over and over with a ship full of prisoners.

Funny thing happened when we finally arrived, I noticed that the prisoners were actually Aid Workers I’d just delivered to a war zone.

No wonder the payout was so low! Fucking charity right?!

So far I’ve played about 20 hours of Frontier Games’ massive online game Elite Dangerous, and already I’m lost in my space-geek imagination. After five years of Eve Online and a decade or two of X3: games, Elite is exactly the next best step in space sims.

Sporting a 1:1 scale map of the Milky Way Galaxy to explore, Elite Dangerous is an ambitious project. I blew my 11 year-old son’s mind today when I showed him the game map. I zoomed all the way out to see the swirling arms of the galaxy, then slowly zoomed back in and focused on just a few of the passing dots of light. When he finally understood that every single one of those dots contained a solar system like ours with planets and moons and a sun or two, he lost it, exclaiming that there is no point to our existence before returning to Minecraft.

Unlike most conventional video games, Elite doesn’t have levels or bosses, and in that sense is a lot like Eve Online, in what amounts to a strictly player-driven experience. When the game starts you are dropped in a space station in the middle of nowhere with $1000 credits to spend, a base-model Sidewinder, and the clothes on your back. It’s up to you to make your own fun in a the biggest sandbox I’ve ever played in.

The only game that comes close in scale is No Man’s Sky, which loses some the grandeur in its procedurally-generated, cartoonish landscapes and repetitive exploration. No Man’s Sky is to GTA III like Elite Dangerous is to GTA V. It’s bigger, it’s meaner, it’s less pixelated, and it’s got long, long legs. The developers have mapped out the game for the next few years, and only just recently introduced landing on planets and driving wheeled vehicles.

While I watch Star Citizen from afar with longing eyes, Elite Dangerous is the closest thing I’ve played to a perfect sci-fi junky’s dream come true. A completely intertwined galaxy with a fluctuating economy, an ever-changing war between human factions, and a mysterious alien presence on the edge of known space. While the learning curve is a little steep, the payoffs come fast. I quickly switched up the default control scheme to allow more intuitive play and I’m beginning to see a universe of possibilities in front of me.

I’ve run deliveries of goods and data from one station to another, I’ve sought out combat rewards, and I’ve made a small fortune from ferrying people around in my Dolphin transport ship, which came decked out with a passenger cabin and a sweet Flipper-esque hull. I don’t know how often it will happen but one lady I dropped off in 15 minutes and made 1.2 million, another few sightseers paid for a mobile party bus that only required me to show them beautiful stuff out the window. As I heap more credits into my bank account, I can’t wait to score a nice warship that I can use to mop up pirates or insurgents. I hear there is a nice income to be made for mercenaries in the Milky Way.

My only complaint is really only an inherent problem in all games of this type, and that’s the lack of focus that means that there is no way to manage your game time in any way. I’ve logged on to play for an hour and ended up online for three trying to find the right job or contract, or traveling across the stars just to find that one station selling an upgrade I need. As a father of two with a full-time job and a marriage, my window for gaming is later at night 90% of the time… and spending an hour trying to adjust my controls or hopping for station to station looking for a decent payday can leave me feeling unfulfilled. However that’s not necessarily the games fault, so like I said, any sandbox type game can swallow the hours quicker than you can spare them.

That being said, I would totally spend an entire weekend playing Elite Dangerous and having a blast doing it. I love a game that inspires me to write about it, that opens my imagination and lets me have unscripted fun. I just can’t make money fast enough yet, but the journey is always more fun than the destination anyway. Just ask my drunk tourists.

Elite Dangerous is on PC, PS4 and Xbox, with Oculus Rift compatibility that puts you IN the spaceship. It contains microtransactions and will continue to have paid updates over the next decade, at least. Elite is always online, and is playable on a solo server, a public one, or you can jump into a private group as well. The other day I scored the base game for a measly $11 on the PlayStation Store, and there’s also a $30 cumulative DLC package available as it’s been out for a few years

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Grand Theft Auto V for the Next Generation

 

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The term, “broke the mold” comes to mind when I think of Rockstar Games. No one does it like this anymore. Video game companies pump out title after title, sequel after sequel, year after year… Call of Duty has a new arcade shooter every November, as does Assassin’s Creed and countless other franchises. But not Grand Theft Auto.

You see, Rockstar has this crazy idea that if they spend years building and perfecting the best game they can possibly make, that the quality of said title alone will be enough to get them in the black. They spend six years and hundreds of millions of dollars making GTA V, and much to their investors’ delight, they were absolutely right.

Grand Theft Auto V was the greatest game of the last generation, and it’s about to make its Next-Gen console debut on Tuesday, the 18th of November. I imagine that right about now everyone at Rockstar Games has got to be feeling pretty good about themselves. Last September GTA V broke nearly every video game record there was when it launched on PS3 and XBox360, selling over $800 million in its first day of release and breaking the $1 billion mark just a few hours later. As of now, it sits just below Mario Kart and Minecraft as the most popular game of all time… And that was just on the two 10 year-old consoles.

IMG_0676Tuesday, when the long-awaited ball drops, and GTA V hits the streets for Next-Gen, the records will start falling just as quick. I’ll tell you right now that it’s going to be the biggest launch of a Next-Gen title yet. Never mind that a 4K-resolution PC version of the game will drop in January.

You might ask why I think that so many people will run out to buy a game that’s been out for over a year… And I’ll ask you a simple question in return: Have you played it?

If you’ve played GTA V (and you’re not one of the immature minority that lives to hate for hate’s sake) then you know why every single person that owns a PS4 or an XBox1, and is old enough, will absolutely buy this game. We’ve seen a few re-masters of last-gen games now, the highlight being Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, which I played through way too quickly over the summer, despite trying to take it slow and savor the sublime gaming experience that it is… But GTA V is something else entirely.

First of all, Rockstar basically rewrote the game from the ground up in order to bring us a fresh take on a familiar story: First Person Mode.

IMG_0638This isn’t just a gimmick where they put the camera on the 3rd person character’s shoulders, no, they scripted thousands of new animations for hands, guns, weapons, cars, planes, everything. Let me stress that: EVERYTHING. So on top of the 1080p 30fps graphics with Next-Gen textures and shadows, this new First Person Mode drops you, literally, right into the action in San Andreas. With a menu full of customizing options, we will be able to play through the entire Single Player Mode and GTA Online as a 1st Person shooter… Complete with designated grenade button and both 1st person and 3rd person cover mechanics. In fact, you can tell the game which order you want to play in. You can set it to 1st person when on foot, 3rd person when driving, and then back to 1st person for all of the rag-doll effects… Because there’s nothing as disorienting as being hit by a car in the 1st person. One second you see sidewalk, the next you’re spinning wildly through the air.

First Person Mode is a revolutionary step for Rockstar and for Grand Theft Auto, which has always been traditionally a Third Person Game. The design team has thrown down the gauntlet and directly challenged its only competitors, 1st Person games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Far Cry.

IMG_0691I’ve said since launch that GTA V is the be-all end-all for video games, simply because it has everything you could ever want to do with a video game all in one package. Now that First Person is coming to GTA, fans of other shooters will be able to set up their own First Person Only matches using the Content Creator. I can’t wait to see homage levels springing up in GTA Online… Since the creator allows you to basically wall off any portion of the huge map and turn it into your personal racing/shooting/flying playground, I expect to see themed jobs springing up constantly. it would be fairly simple to set up the same exact Battlefield: Hardline demo level in downtown Los Santos.

With First Person Mode, the games damage effects are over-hauled to a ridiculous  and disturbing, degree as well. For example, running up to a pedestrian on the street and socking them in the face produces actual feelings of guilt as the new 1st person mode and crisp graphics shows their reaction, pain, shock… The new hatchet weapon is particularly trauma-inducing when it gets lodged in the flesh of your victim and you see your character’s foot come up and brace the body while you yank it free. The expression on peoples’ faces, the blood effects, and the 1st person mode all make for a VERY hardcore GTA experience.

Along with the new First Person Mode comes a newly-designed and fully-functional interior for every vehicle in the game. From the working speedometer and tachometer in your favorite super car to the altimeter and artificial horizon dials in aircraft… Rockstar pulled out all the stops with this one. If you’re like me, and drive most of the time in “hood-cam” mode, you’ll love 1st Person driving. For those that are still weaving in and out of traffic in 3rd person, I expect many a T-bone collisions with traffic that’s just out of sight.

IMG_0688Rockstar has also announced, nonchalantly, that Online Heists will be coming in the first title update to hit the Next-Gen version. If you don’t know already, this is a REALLY big deal to fans. Rockstar originally intended for Heists (which are the best missions in the story mode) to be included with Online when it launched, however the unexpected popularity and a bunch of early hackers breaking the game caused multiple delays, and the release kept getting pushed out… Much to the chagrin of Twitter and Youtube commenters. Alas, a year and many delays later, it’s finally (almost) here. If nothing, I won’t have to listen to fanboys cry about how Rockstar personally let them down anymore.

This is the same GTA V you know and love, new and improved. The animal count has been raised to include many different dogs, cats, supposedly bunnies, and tons of others. Traffic, which is strangely scarce for a city modeled after Los Angeles, has been raised as well. Because there’s nothing like hitting an armored car, jumping on the freeway to get away, and running smack-dab into a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam. I mean, come on, this is L.A. right? Plus, all of the new DLC cars that have been released over the last year will be blended in with regular traffic… Which hopefully means no more, “I’m driving around the city and the same car is everywhere.”

IMG_0672There’s bark on the trees, needles on the cacti, leaves on the bushes, and dust on the wind. There are dolphins, killer whales, hammerhead sharks, and more swimming in the HUGE underwater portions of the map. There’s a new hatchet weapon as well as a new Railgun that causes thins to explode instantly if you can hit your target. There’s also a hundred-odd hours of music and original radio station chatter included… Which is alone one of the best ways to make GTA seem fresh: Change the damn music. Nothing gets more repetitive than the same songs over and over.

Rockstar has added a whole new level of detail to an already breathtaking game. When you’re driving on the back roads of San Andreas, and the sun dips below the horizon, lens flare shoots across the screen while lightning flashes in the distance, and soon only the car’s headlights are visible as rain pelts off the hood and fills puddles on the ground… For fans like me, this is a no-brainer. Grand Theft Auto V was the first game of a new generation, despite being constrained by the limitations of the last-gen consoles… Now, a year later, it’s finally here.

The last year has been warm-up. Spring training. I’ve spent hundreds, HUNDREDS, of hours playing GTA V… And now it’s time for the big game… Training wheels off… And many, many other sports analogies. If it isn’t clear, I love Grand Theft Auto. The freedom, the driving, the flying, the heart-skips-a-beat gunfights, everything. It has everything a video game about criminals in a fiction Los Angeles should have… Except for surfing. I’ll never understand why a game as researched and as developed as GTA V left out one of the essential elements of L.A. life: surfing. The ocean looks amazing on PS4, and I still can’t grab a board and hang ten.

But I can toss a brick of C4 on a surfboard and blow it out into the ocean. Or I can push a donut-shaped float out into the surf with the characters’ legs… Choices, choices…

 

Infinite

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“There’s always a lighthouse. There’s always a man. There’s always a city.” – Elizabeth Comstock, Bioshock: Infinite

It’s like a dream. No sense of time, no sense of how I got here, or what’s going on… But alas I find myself in a dinghy off the coast of Maine, accompanied by the strangest pair of siblings I’ve ever met. Stormy seas churn the water around the small boat while my two companions chatter away about things I don’t understand. Up ahead, the turning beam of an island lighthouse pierces the darkened sky. The brother keeps rowing while she hands me a small box, smiling. There is something about these two, a glow about them, as if they had their own source of light.

As she hands me the box, she states matter-of-factly, “bring us the girl, and wipe away the debt.” Inside the box I find a dusty old photo marked Elizabeth, a silver key with a cage on it, a few pamphlets and pieces of paper… and of course, a gun.

Where I come from, there’s always a gun.

IMG_0553The year is 1912, and I’m standing in the pouring rain, trying not to capsize the damn boat while I climb a ladder to the dock above. The chattering twins wave goodbye, resuming their nonsensical arguing over particle physics and quantum mechanics, and I begin to wonder if the things they’re saying aren’t, in fact, somehow important… Somehow vital… Like clues to a puzzle I haven’t seen…

I make my way to the roof of the lighthouse, but only a large glass door greets me, barring passage to the inner chamber. On the outside of the door are symbols I remember from somewhere, but I can’t seem to place them… Until suddenly it dawns on me, and I pull out the photo and turn it over. Drawn on the back are the same symbols, with hash marks next to them. I figure what the hell right? And I hit the symbols in time, each one sending out an organ-like sound into the dark grey clouds above… Each symbol a different note… Then I wait, but not for long.

Note and LighthosueBehind me, above me, all around me, sound waves shake the foundation of the island as thundering blasts from some unseen horn seem to come from heaven itself. Deep red lights burst through the clouds with each thundering blast, shaking the glass panels around the top of the lighthouse. For a minute or two the music from the lighthouse and the music from the clouds seem to talk to each other, holding some kind of deafening tonal conversation…

Then, just like that, it’s over.

The doors open behind me, and I find a dubious looking chair has swung up from the floor. With nowhere else to go, I sit down. “Prepare yourself pilgrim, the bindings are for your protection.” A woman’s voice tells me as the doors clamp shut, an alarm blares, shackles spring out of the chair around my ankles and wrists, and all I can think of is what a fool I am for walking right into this obvious trap. I’m gripped with the realization that no one is going to pay my gambling debts, no one is going to offer me a way out. This is it. The Pinkertons have set up some elaborate trap for their number one most wanted ex-employee, and I stepped right into it. originalMy name is Booker DeWitt, shamed at Wounded Knee, the horrors of war, and the depths of the bottle. I gambled my way into the worst kind of debt, and now I’m going to die in some kind of electricity-chair trap. I close my eyes, drop the box, waiting for the end…

But then the building starts to shake… Like an earthquake I feel the lighthouse begin to sway in the black stormy sky. There’s a rumbling underneath me like a million fires, and for a second I think the lighthouse is collapsing as I open my eyes to see it begin to fall away through a small hole in the door. I stare at that tiny black hole, covered in the dark of the storm clouds, until suddenly a shaft of light blinds me. It’s not until then I realize I wasn’t falling at all, but flying. The rumbling was not the lighthouse collapsing, but some kind of engine beneath me.

Not a trap, but a flying machine, taking me high into a perpetually cloudy sky. The woman’s voice counts off the altitude as I rocket up past fifteen thousand feet, and the engines cut out. I brace myself for the fall, feeling my stomach drop, but it doesn’t come. Instead I glide down slowly toward the tops of the billowing white clouds, only to see gleaming white towers of brick, mortar, and stone.

IMG_0544This is Columbia, the mysterious city in the clouds that disappeared decades ago after its tyrannical religious leader, the “Prophet” Zachary Comstock, declared it the truer ideal of America and seceded from the Union… And the setting for Irrational Games’ 2013 blockbuster Bioshock: Infinite. A city that has shrugged off the shackles of modern American life for a utopia in the Clouds. Governed by the Prophet and his vast army of soldiers and mechanical monstrosities. Columbia is an ever-growing Eden in the sky. The last bastion of true American ideals as the world below descends into the chaos of the 20th century.

The_Flying_City_of_ColumbiaHeld up by quantum particles suspended in space (and time), a technology developed by the city’s brilliant scientist and co-founder Rosalind Lutece, Columbia is an awesome sight. Whole city blocks, squares, museums, theme-parks, even a floating beachfront all hang gracefully in the sun-lit afternoon, linked by a vast network of rails and gondolas that carry people and freight from one place to another. Columbia is breathtaking. A steampunk masterpiece of lush gardens, fairs, carnivals, and houses. Imagined by Comstock, funded by the US government, and held in place by Lutece’s quantum-levitation machines, Columbia was completed in 1893. Originally presented as a floating Worlds Fair, the enormous city circled the globe for years touting the supremacy of the United States of America… Before Comstock’s true vision of a modern-day Ark came to fruition…

IMG_0542The world of Columbia is one of the most original places I’ve ever explored, and when I say explored I mean ran through frantically while dogging bullets and mechanical soldiers sporting Gatling guns. From its floating city streets to its flying ships; from “super-powers” known as vigors that enable you shred through waves of oncoming soldiers to phonographs that scratch out a ragtime version of Tears For Fears’ Everybody Wants To Rule The World… This place is never quite as it seems.

Thanks to 2K and Irrational Games, Infinite (the third game in the Bioshock series) gives us one of the more imaginatively realized settings in video game history. A flying city where experimentation into quantum physics has allowed the upper crust to thrive amongst the technological marvels brought through from other dimensions and other times (getting the Tears For Fears song now?). A place where on the surface everything gleams of peaceful utopia… But just below the cobblestone streets and the green gardens lies a horrible truth… This American Utopia only exists if your skin color is white… A fact that snuck up on me during the first few minutes of the game when I found myself caught up in Secession  Day festivities that included an old-fashioned, all-American stoning of a bi-racial couple. Heavy topics like racism, slavery, inequality, and quantum string theory aren’t usually present in your average blockbuster adventure game. 

IMG_0550Nevertheless, Bioshock Infinite still manages to be one of the best I’ve ever had the privilege to play through.

A mission to save a girl soon turns into a fight to save the known universe as inter-dimensional travel and catastrophic powers threaten to rip apart the very fabric of time and space… And only one man, tortured by guilt for deeds he can’t remember and a past he can’t seem to escape, is the only hope for the future of mankind. With Elizabeth, in tow, Booker must battle the forces of The Prophet as a brutal civil war rages across Columbia. When she’s not tearing holes in between dimensions or fishing ammo out of thin air, Elizabeth is an entirely sympathetic character that exceptionally contrasts Booker’s anti-hero status.

Bioshock: Infinite is available on PS3, XBox 360, and PC. It’s even available for free for Playstation Plus subscribers, which is how I laid hands on this instant classic. Despite never making it far into either of the first two Bioshock games, Infinite got its hooks in deep from the first few minutes. Blending elements of sci-fi, mystery, steampunk, and fantasy together, this game’s plot is one of the better thought-out stories in recent gaming history… IMG_0546With a twist that will have you mulling over the implications for days, and an ending that will send you straight to the internet to find out what the hell just happened, it’s no wonder Infinite was voted third best game of 2013 behind Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us.

In fact, the only complaint I have about an otherwise immaculate game, believe it or not, is the insanely graphic and over the top violence. Normally I wouldn’t have an issue, but in this beautiful world of gorgeous backgrounds and suspenseful storytelling, it’s out of place. So much so that it detracts from the game itself. Yes it’s a video game, but do we really need to see Booker shoving his grappling hook spinning hand-thingy into bloody face after bloody face? 

I suppose it’s on purpose. A contrast. Something to show the hypocrisy and the brutal truths of Columbia in their own light… But as much as Elizabeth looks like Belle from Beauty and the Beast, it’s hard to turn around and pop a guy’s face off when she’s watching. It makes the violence more real and yet sterile and detached at the same time. Oh well… I don’t mind, but Infinite is something I’d love to show my son more than the first few minutes of. Irrational is limiting itself by succumbing to the bloodlust of its hardcore fans. Why not every once and awhile make a game where the evisceration of your enemy isn’t the hook to get people to buy it…?

Oh well, for a game that I downloaded because it was free and played because I remembered hearing it was great, I can’t believe I almost missed this gem. Most movies don’t get a plot this realized… Even if it starts to get a little dodgy at the end due to all of the multiple universes and time travel and what not… It’s still one of those rare games that manages to expertly use pacing, acting, setting, and storytelling to evoke real emotion. I found myself at the end of the game, knowing that my next button click would reveal the final twist and end the game, and I couldn’t do it. I found myself in the strange position of saying goodbye to a character in a video game… Because after everything we’d been through together, it just somehow seemed right.

Guess I should go back and play Bioshock I and II now…

IMG_0541Highest recommendations.

The Definitive Grand Theft Auto V Review, aka ‘The Final Word’

Welcome back from winter break everyone!

Now that the dust has settled and the holidays are behind us, it’s time to get back to work. To kick off the new year I’m taking a second look at last year’s massive blockbuster:

Grand Theft Auto V.

If you want to skip straight to the meat and potatoes click here

LogoIf you’ve been stuck under a rock, GTA V hit the shelves last September to a record setting release. It made a whopping $800 million the day it was released, has sold nearly 30 million copies so far. It is quickly gaining on Mario Kart Wii, which holds the top spot as the #1 selling console game of all time at 34 million. Did I mention that Mario Kart Wii has been out for over five years? In the long-run, GTA V could sell as many as 50 million copies, if and when it is adapted for next-gen consoles like the Playstation 4, XBox One, or over to PC.

So far GTA V has shattered every sales record, brought Activision and Call of Duty to its knees, and cemented Rockstar Games and Take Two Interactive as the hottest and most respected game makers in the business. All of these records broken, sales made, and it was only released on two consoles – the XBox 360 and PS3.  Right now, both the XBox One and PS4 are selling like hotcakes at around 4 million each, people are adapting faster to this generation than the last. It only makes sense that Rockstar would capitalize on this fact. That’s almost 9 million next-gen consoles sold, of which I’m willing to bet 80% of whom would all run out and buy a Game of the Year Edition of GTA V come summer time… I know that I would personally slap down another $60 to set foot in a suped-up Playstation 4 version of GTA V and Online… But that’s a story for another press release.

Point being, Rockstar still stands to make even more money off of this masterpiece of modern entertainment, and you know what? They deserve it. GTA V is top-to-bottom one of the greatest achievements in digital history.

GTAVoclock logoPreface: My adoration for the Grand Theft Auto series is obvious… That being said, there are a thousand other sites out there that have put much more blood, sweat, and tears into the game… For instance, if you’re a GTA fan and don’t know about GTAVO’Clock, you’re missing out on one of the best Youtube channels around. ComputerandVideoGames.com’s extensive and sometimes exclusive coverage of this game is unmatched by even the big boys at IGN, Kotaku, or Gamespot.com… Don’t forget the hilarious antics of the GTA V Mythbusters on DefendtheHouse. All of these guys deserve props before I get started.

What follows is my version of a review that’s been written a hundred, if not a thousand times over the last four months so I’ll try to keep it fresh.nico LC

See?

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

This story began a few years ago, in the early 2000s. Somewhere off the East coast of a fictionalized America, with a man named Niko Bellic. Niko immigrated to this Bizarro-America on a freighter from the Balkans. Niko was a survivor, a soldier, a man with a burning desire for vengeance for a betrayal years before that brought him to the dingy shores of Liberty City in search of the one who wronged him. He also represented a fresh face for the Grand Theft Auto series, whose protagonists had until then been Americans. This allowed Rockstar to delve to an even deeper level of social commentary all wrapped in a hilarious vision of American society that they have committed to bringing us for some time to come. Through Niko and Grand Theft Auto IV, Rockstar introduced a gritty, realistic version of New York and the country, and a new direction for the series. A series that until then was mostly cartoon violence and sex with prostitutes in a open-world sandbox setting. grand-theft-auto-iv-pc-screenshot-liberty-city-night-skylineLiberty City was the real star of GTA IV, ask anyone who has played it. A technical marvel of game programming, a living, breathing city where a player could get lost for hours driving at high speeds through Times Square in a bus or gunning down bad guys with the game’s rough shooting mechanics. Despite the game’s obvious faults (“Hello cousin, want to go bowling?”), it, more than any other, was the one I always came back to play no matter how long it had been.

If Liberty City was a living, breathing city, San Andreas is a living, breathing world. This Bizarro-California is a massive, sun-soaked state complete with most of California’s major landmarks. Grand-Theft-Auto-VWhere fake plastic people compete for fake plastic lives in the spotlight, and everyone is looking for their big break at the hands of some other poor unfortunate. I’ve been down to LA plenty of times, they really nailed the feel of the place. Desolate and yet crowded, dingy and beautiful, heaven with an extra serving of hell. Los Santos and the surrounding state of San Andreas is an amazing place to be set loose in.

They story starts with a prologue set around the same time Niko stepped off a freighter in Liberty City. In the frozen tundra of the Canadian border region of America, three assholes try to rob a bank. Not the first bank to be knocked over by these particular assholes, it would surely be their last. Because as Grand Theft Auto V begins, we are dropped head-first into a firefight that kicks off as soon as the assholes leave said bank. Instead of the usual opening movie you see in games nowadays, it’s straight to the shootin…

And shootin we do good…

screenImmediately the new cover system (adopted from Rockstar’s brilliant shooter Max Payne 3) gives an immersion that was never available in a GTA game before. Bullets whiz by, ricocheting off walls and chipping away at the cover you’re desperately ducking behind, officers duck behind cars and move from cover to cover trying to flank you, and the sound of your assault rifle bounces off the walls of the enclosed warehouse entrance… It quickly becomes overwhelming. That is until you suddenly remember this is a GTA game, and all guns blazing is the law of the land.

Swapping targets, getting head shots, rolling between cover, it’s all a little daunting at first. While not as fluid and seamless as Max Payne 3 was, it’s exhilarating in the least, and third-person ass-kickin mayhem at its best. The three assholes fight their way across the snow-covered parking lot, turning cops into hot, steaming splashes of red in the never-ending white. 453428262Escape from the bank becomes a test of will that’s only dampened by the sneaking feeling that you can take a lot more bullet damage in this opening scene then you’ll ever be allowed to again. Well, outside of the Paleto Score that is.

Once you reach the getaway car you’re suddenly trying to steer a speeding truck down an icy road while cop cars whiz by in the other direction. A roadblock sends you careening down a snowy dirt road, trying to beat a train across the intersection. Well this being a prologue, it doesn’t work out. The truck crashes, two of the assholes get shot while the other, Trevor, reluctantly escapes into the blizzard. At the camera pans up into the falling snow, the first of many extremely well-done cut scenes recounts the aftermath of the failed bank robbery. A snowy grave-side funeral, a man in the shadows watches as a coffin gets lowered into a plot with his name on the stone. He is Michael Townley, aka De Santa, and he is just one of the three playable characters in Grand Theft Auto V.

Flash-forward ten years later to 2013, GTA’s Bizarro-version of Venice, Vespucci Beach, stretches for miles in the golden sun of the Los Santos sky. Ultraviolet rays beat down on bikini-clad girls and board-shorts wearing boys all playing in the sand as dogs circle their masters looking for thrown balls and above gulls caw in the afternoon air. The beaches give way to beautiful, rolling hills to the north, all covered by vineyards and farmland. Photo-1_7_14,-11.55.13-AM-27To the north-east is the Grand Senora Desert, a vast and arid landscape just begging for exploration. Beyond it, the Alamo (Salton) Sea dotted with trailer parks, meth labs, and oil derricks galore. From the sea to the mountains, to the forest and beyond. Every single day of the five years it took to make Grand Theft Auto V shows through in the way you are completely immersed in this world. A world that seems to teem with life. People, deer, dogs, cougars, birds, sharks, fish, and more burst from every corner of a map that goes from high mountain peaks to deep ocean trenches.

Photo-1_7_14,-11.55.13-AM-30I could spend an entire post writing about the way the sun sets over Mount Josiah, west of the desert. The way the day fades into beautiful hues of red and orange that stop you in your tracks more often than not… Or about the sudden thunder storms that bring much-needed rain to the baked hard-pan of this amazing landscape. How the lightning cracks like brilliant white fire in the night sky, sending echoes of thunder and light across the horizon. Rockstar has done so many things right, it’s almost impossible not to get lost in the dizzying display of colors and sound.

Let me just tell you about the sound…

I’m standing on the corner of Vinewood Blvd and Power St., and I’ve ducked out of the rain, into the safety of the nearest sunglasses shop, and everywhere I look I see Los Angeles. I’ve been to LA, I’ve walked the Hollywood streets and seen the wax museum, the adult movie marquees, and the endless lines of souvenir shops… It looks exactly like this. Vinewood and PowerAs the rain makes its way up Vinewood Blvd, car tires start screeching on the wet pavement and people begin covering their heads with umbrellas and newspapers. Soon the cursing starts, pedestrians swearing at the weather and grabbing cabs or ducking out of the rain like I am. It isn’t long before puddles are gathering on the stars’ stars that run up and down the sidewalks, and thunder can be heard booming in the distance. The rain makes driving a mess, and soon the sirens start echoing off the buildings while the rain hammers away at the concrete and metal that surrounds me. Car radios, car noise, and people… People everywhere… This is not a video game, this is something else.

Before long the rain begins to stop, the birds start chirping again, and like it never happened, the city welcomes the burning light of the sun. San Andreas is gorgeous from top to bottom, from the bottom of the ocean to the top of Mount Chiliad, to the barrio to the desert trailer park… Even in it’s most ugly form, Grand Theft Auto V is breathtaking.

Photo-1_10_14,-10.11.41-AM-1The city of Los Santos itself is bigger than the entire map of Liberty City in GTA IV, and even it is just a fraction of the entire map of V. In other words, this game is huge. Grab a bicycle in Vespucci Beach and head north. See how long it takes you to bike around the state. Trust me when I say you won’t make it… Somewhere along the way a stranger will stop you, often yelling for help. It can be a bachelor tied to  tree by his bachelor party friends, or a drunk couple who need a ride home from the bar in Sandy Shores, redneck America. Or maybe you’ll run into one of the game’s many armored cars, just begging you to toss a sticky bomb on the back. Or a dot-com millionaire who’s had his bike stolen, or a golf champion whose wife is tossing his crap out on the front lawn. Its little side missions like this that allow you to just pull back layer after layer of content in this masterpiece.

Photo-1_7_14,-11.55.13-AM-46Back to the asshole in therapy. Michael De Santa (aka Townley) is a whinging, self-obsessed narcissist who thinks he’s just a normal guy… He thinks that his former life of crime is as much a memory as the 80’s action movies he’s always watching to escape reality. He’s retired, he’s rich, and he’s miserable as he wastes the days in his own version of witness protection. How he got there, and why it’s not exactly a government-approved retirement is all part of the underlying mystery that plays out over the course of the game. See, Michael’s old partner, Trevor, the one who escaped in the snow… Well… He’s a psychopath… A methamphetamine-fueled psychopath at that… And he thinks Michael was shot and killed that day.

In a way, Trevor Phillips represents every person that’s ever found themselves lost in a GTA game. He’s the lurking psychotic part in all of us. He’s the middle finger we wish was an RPG in traffic. He’s the obscenity-laced tirade we don’t go on. He’s not the killer, he’s the weapon.

Trevor Phillips is also the funniest game character ever given digital life. His lines are hilarious, he’s always doing crazy, sometimes disturbing (RIP Floyd) stuff, and you can not count on his next move through the entire game. Photo-1_7_14,-11.55.13-AM-36See one of the moves that Rockstar decided to make when they went with the three-character-switchable game play model was to give us drop-in scenes. These little vignettes play every time you switch to a new character on a new(er) save game, and their purpose is to immerse the player even more and suspend disbelief. It works beautifully. Swapping characters makes the camera pan up into the sky and drop down on the guy you’re switching to. That guy is always in the middle of doing something, and more often than not, it’s hilarious. Trevor gets all of the good switches of course. You never know if he’ll be drunk and slurring on a rooftop, mid-heave of throwing a biker off a bridge to the cement below, or exposing himself to the denizens of Los Santos… And of course, Trevor gets all the good lines…

“I want him to be the kind of guy who understands that all the money in the world won’t save him from a nasty guy who thinks he’s an asshole…”

0_0Rounding out the cast of characters is Franklin Clinton, a young twenty-something gang banger from the ghetto trying  hard to break out of the old life of petty crime and into something bigger. While sharing a house with his aunt, Franklin and his buddy Lamar Davis are the center of GTA V’s beginning chapters. It’s these two miscreants that Michael runs into while leaving his therapist’s office down in a beach-side house straight out of Californication. There’s the obligatory “how-to” missions that get the story going, mainly following Franklin and his work for a shady tax-defrauding car salesman named Simeon. Between repoing whips and the occasional gun-fight with rival gangs, Franklin’s story introduces us to another of GTA V’s playable characters, Chop the Dog.

This time around, with the implementation of Grand Theft Auto Online, Rockstar has pushed everything into the cloud. Almost every aspect of your gameplay is tracked and compiled in their online Social Club. You can join “crews” of friends in GTA Online, check out stats, and even take care of Chop in a mini-game available on the iFuit (Apple jab) app that you can download on almost any smartphone or tablet. If you take care of Chop on your iPad, he’ll be a “better dog” in the game. This is my first complaint, the NEED to care for a virtual animal and the fact that failure to do so makes for an uncooperative pup in the story. Only insofar that he won’t perform stupid tricks, but still… There should really be an option for taking care of Chop in the game… For those without the extra tech or time to play another game to satisfy a dog (ewww).

021fcab68f8b4d0368a653d8a7b703a5Since I’m on the subject, I might as well roll straight into my main complaint, the car mechanics. Not the driving mechanics mind you, they are unmatched in any previous GTA or even racing game I can remember. (Except for the inherent problems with using a stick to drive a sports car at 200 mph) I’m talking about cars themselves. GTA V gives every character a safe house with a car park of some sort, and an extra four-car garage somewhere else across the city. On top of that, every character is given a “default” car. They’re not the best cars, in fact, they’re pretty crappy on the scale of cars in the game. They can be modded and tricked out to a degree, however, non hold a candle to some of the cars you can buy on your in-game phone’s browser or any accessible laptop. The default cars follow you around most of the time, but the problem is that Rockstar gives you the ability to buy $1 million super cars and then every time you start a mission it gets lost.

Well, it gets towed to the local impound MOST of the time, but sometimes it just disappears. This can be infuriating in a game based on cars, that’s set in a city where everyone drives cars everywhere, all the time. It’s impossible to buy a super car, go mod it out, and then use it practically. If you go start a mission, you’re ALWAYS using some sort of other mission-specific vehicle, or need something with four doors… Which the super cars don’t. Instead, you’ll finish a mission, then have to cab it to the impound every time to get your whip again. That means more often than not you’re driving to get the car you want to drive or you’re driving to leave the car you want to save. In GTA Online you get a 10-car garage and a for-hire mechanic that can deliver vehicles to you at any time, any place there’s a main road. Even more importantly, in Online your car follows you everywhere. Photo-1_7_14,-11.55.13-AM-14If you designate a car as your main car, it follows you after missions, everywhere. When you’re done raising hell you’ll turn around and your car is right where you left it parked. You can also buy insurance in Online, so when your million dollar super car explodes or launches into the drink, you can order another for a fee. Rockstar REALLY needs to bring these options to the single player campaign.

All this really means is you have to adapt, and fortunately Rockstar gives us plenty of options. Garage issues aside, if you’ve got a car you really enjoy driving? Just make sure to park it in your garage before you head out for a mission. Problem solved. The call-a-cab and skip-the-ride routine still works for instant travel anywhere on the map. Need to do a mission? Catch a cab, boost a car, etc. Want to go for a nice Sunday drive? Get your good car out of the garage and cruise, just don’t forget to put it back.

“I’m not sure shooting people online counts as networking.”

maxresdefaultWhen Franklin’s boss Simeon sends him on a repo into the classy side of town, things get interesting. A simple sneak-in and drive-away turns into a confrontation between Simeon and Michael, who recognizes a tax fraud scam when he sees one, and doesn’t take too kindly to Franklin’s boss ripping off his son. Michael wrecks the dealership, causing Franklin to lose his job. Soon the two develop a mentor/mentee relationship, and before you know it the missions, and the mayhem, begin rolling in. When their antics draw the attention of the news media after a daring day time heist, somewhere in the desert a psychopath sees a ghost.

Let me take a minute to talk about the glowing center of Grand Theft Auto V… A series of complicated heists that require set up, materials, disguises, planning, etc… All of which you’re in on most of the time.Grand-Theft-Auto-V-heist-plans Whether it’s Michael’s brainiac buddy Lester calling out options for sneak attacks or the great Trevor Phillips himself scrawling marker on a Vespucci Beach condo’s wall, heists are always set up beforehand so you know what you’re getting into. Due to the massive popularity of GTA IV’s mid-game bank heist, Rockstar wisely chose to make these heists the backbone of GTA V. This gives the game structure that it lacked before. A unifying theme that ties the whole game together. There are a half dozen major heists, and any of them are more fun that any of the missions from previous games in the series.

Some of them are lifted straight from the movies that so prominently inspired GTA V, especially Michael Mann’s cops and robbers in LA classic Heat. Like the dump truck smashing the armored car or the downtown Los Santos shoot out at the end of the game that spills from block to block as waves of cops try and stop you from escaping with the loot from the last heist. Even little things like names, characters, the way the game looks or the way Michael’s wardrobe so closely matches Robert DeNiro’s from the film. It’s a good thing, trust me. If you’re going to rip off a movie to make a video game, you could do WAY worse than Heat.

Michael-gta-v-robert-de-niroHeists are supposedly coming to GTA Online some time in the next month or so, which means even more planning, teamwork, boosting getaway cars, buying/stealing supplies… All kinds of good times. It’s what Online is truly lacking at the moment. Something to link all of the random crap together.

The jewelry store heist has Michael enlist the help of Franklin and Lester to help him knock over a Rockford Hills shop in order to pay back a ruthless Mexican mob boss that Michael pissed off in a fit of mid-life crisis rage. After rounding up disguises, an exterminator van, and some handy knock-out gas, the boys raid the store with the help from hired goons. These goons you either meet throughout the game like Packie McCreary from GTA IV or other characters will introduce them, like Trevor’s meth-cook but level-headed buddy Chef. On the way out, before the daring underground dirtbike race, Michael mouths off to one of the guards outside… Spouting, “You forget millions of thing every day pal, make sure this is one of them.” A line from the prologue, and one that goes out on the evening news.

We first meet Trevor Phillips while he’s balls-deep in Ashley, the on-again/off-again tweaker-girlfriend of Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and the Damned’s protagonist Johnny… They’re obviously doing meth and having a good old time in the trailer park when Trevor sees a news report that sends him over the deep end he’s been circling for quite some time. In one of the few cameos from previous games, a now meth-addled Johnny comes looking for his girlfriend just in time to get curb stomped by Trevor in a fit of homicidal rage. Our first five minutes with the man and he’s already cornholed a tweaker and stomped the brains right out of a prominent GTA series figure.

Needless to say, Trevor is the man.

From time to time the choice to swap characters will disappear while the game steers you in a particular direction in order to hurry the story along. Taking over Trevor for the first time is one of those moments. While Michael and Franklin hide out in the wake of the jewelry store heist, Trevor decides to ride the wave of homicidal rage, taking out the local competition in the meth and guns trades. In a blaze of gunfire and bile, Trevor wipes out the drug-dealing Lost Motorcycle Club single-handedly before he sets his sights on the Aztecas, who control the local gun running. Along the way he goes to war with a rival clan of redneck meth cooks and pisses off a Triad mob boss looking to get into the meth biz. Once Trevor Phillips Industries (also Incorporated, Enterprises, and many others… the inconsistent name is a running gag in the game) secures the black market operations in Blaine County, Trevor finally gets the lead he’s been looking for and grabs his juggalo tweaker buddy and heads for the city, recanting a bit of he and Michael’s past along the way.

Trevor’s arrival in LS marks the end of Grand Theft Auto V’s first act, and the beginning of a long and kick-ass story that takes our heroes from high-altitude hijackings to underwater break-ins. The tension between Trevor and Michael builds, all the while you’re never really quite sure who is playing who, or who is undercover and who is making moves to take over the town. Wrapped up in a government conspiracy, the three amigos must put their differences aside in order to pull off that one last score…

Grand Theft Auto VGTA V is an amalgamation of every type of game out there, from racing game to shooter, from tennis to golf and all the places in between… There’s even a hunting game, a darts game, a parachuting game, races on sea, in the air… More content than any other console game I’ve ever seen. It’s engaging, well-paced, and absolutely hilarious. I’ve never laughed at a game as much as I did while following the antics of these three idiots… Hell as much as I STILL DO every time I play.

Then there’s the layer below the game itself, the movies you can go to the theater and watch, the  24-hour television, radio, and internet programming to distract you, the alcohol, marijuana, prostitutes and strip clubs. The pier has a roller coaster and Ferris wheel for pity’s sake. There is so much fun packed into every inch of the map, you’ll find it hard to focus on any one thing at a time. I often find myself having to choose what I want to accomplish ahead of any play time in order to commit myself to getting something done. Otherwise I’ll spend hours driving in the country side, catching massive air from sand dunes, bicycling, bmx jumping, breaking into high security military compounds to steal tanks or jet fighters… And these are all a la carte… Let alone the hours of mission running, Online play, or race/deathmatch creating you can do. The story is complex and multi-layered, the voice acting is the best I’ve ever heard, and the technical wizardry at work that lets this beauty run so well on a 7 year-old machine makes GTA V my favorite game of all time.

Never have I seen a game that is worth SO much more than the $60 I paid for it. It’s almost unheard of for me to STILL be committing unhealthy amounts of time to a game that’s been out for four months. I have barely touched the Playstation 4 sitting in the house because of one reason: I can’t play Grand Theft Auto V on it.

Until then I’ll be slumming it with the PS3 and having a brilliant time doing it.

Highest possible recommendations.Photo-1_7_14,-11.55.13-AM-55

Even in the Future, it’s Decisions, Decisions: (Eve Online 1 Year In)

eve_chart_revelations-4096Let’s talk Geek for a few minutes. I’ll try and keep it entertaining for those that just sighed heavily.

In another life I’m an industrialist from the future. Let’s say about 26,000 years in the future. I don’t have time to catch you up on the details, but basically humans live in a galaxy called New Eden… There are 4 races of humans who are always declaring holy wars, positioning politically, and at each others throats… All in the name of the mighty dollar… So what am I saying? That not much has changed.

Anyway long story short: Like I said, I’m an industrialist that means I take raw materials and manufacture things for sale. I’m new here, which is to say I graduated from the prestigious Caldari Naval Academy about a year ago.  You see, long ago the ability to clone ourselves made us immortal. You ever see Battlestar Galactica? We’re kind of like the Cylons, when we die our consciousness is downloaded into a clone, and we keep on trucking.

Retribution_ThumbnailThis is handy in combat. And let me tell you, the galaxy is a rough place for a miner. When I got out of the Academy I got myself a small cruiser with a big cargo hold and I slapped a couple of mining lasers on it. I sat in that thing for hours nervously watching my back, waiting for someone to fly up and mess with me. Pirates are everywhere, and they’re not the singing and dancing kind. They’re the blow your ship to hell and scoop up whatever salvage they can find kind of pirates. The worst of the worst simply because in New Eden, everyone is immortal… Why not be a ruthless bloodthirsty warrior? There’s a profit in it.

After the cruiser I moved up to an industrial ship, then eventually a mining barge, until finally I trained long enough to learn how to fly an exhumer. Now I sit and grind away, clearing asteroid belt after asteroid belt of their precious resources. Then I learned I could take those raw materials and instead of selling them, I could get a blueprint and build something. So built I did. I build guns, ammo, equipment, everything under the sun. Then I found shipbuilding.

For the last six months I’ve been building the biggest ships in the universe, the capitals. I started with a small project and I’m slowly working my way up. These things sell for billions of dollars, and while I might spend a few hundred million on minerals, I’m still pulling in a profit.

3331Now I’ve crossed the Rubicon. I’m halfway through the build on a ship called a Rorqual… and I’m in over my head. You see, this ship is no ordinary one. It’s a capital industrial. It has the ability to use a special fuel to jump from one place in to another without the use of jump gates. Plus it can store other ships and clones inside its massive hull. It can take a small mining fleet, jump out to dangerous low-security space (where all the good mining is) and deploy a space station, a mining fleet, and a huge force field.

From there the fleet of exhumers goes and mines, brings the ore back to the Rorqual, which compresses it and stores it in a special hangar. Rinse, repeat. Then the Rorqual can jump back to high-sec, drop off the ores, and jump back. When the system is clear, everyone loads back into the Rorq, and jumps back home.

This is called Jump Mining… and it is a complicated, lengthy, and extremely profitable thing to accomplish. The only problem is you can’t do it alone… and dealing with other people in New Eden is a total pain in the ass. They’re egotistical, they’re aggressive, they never listen, and they flake out. This is the way of the world.

So the question becomes: do I keep it? or do I sell it? This is the chance to start my very own mining corp, to lead missions to dangerous places in search of the mighty dollar. I’d have to recruit, train, hire protection, I’m talking serious work for a guy who only likes to engage on the shallowest level possible.

Decisions, decisions…

X-tended Terran Conflict 2.0 Brings Modding to a New Level

xtc_wallpaper_argon_1600x1200

Let’s talk fans. Not the plug-in kind, but the obsessed kind. There is a level of fanaticism out there that goes beyond fan fiction, beyond long hours spent twiddling away with whatever the focus of the obsession might be. In the world of video games, that level of commitment has a name, and it’s called Modding. Modding is when you take the original code of a game and tweak it, re-write it, add-on to it, and re-release it. This can take weeks, months, years to do, and the bigger the game, the bigger the task.

XTC_Release_1_12After 4 years of blood, sweat, and tears (and apparently a consensual, adult relationship with an office coffee-machine), X3: Xtended Terran Conflict 2.0 has been released to the masses. Do you like learning curves served in healthy portions with your Space Combat Simulators? Then this game is for you. XTC is one of the most beautifully built “unofficial” games I have ever seen. From the ground up, it is filled with gorgeous solar systems, gigantic space stations, and absolutely killer ship designs.

x3screen00018The basic premise is, way in the future mankind exists in a universe with many other races. The galaxies are linked by star gates that allow instant travel between solar systems. These gates are always popping up as they were built millions of years ago, and we’re only finding them and turning them on. Now Pandora’s Gate has been found, a new link to an unkown portion of the galaxy, “the expansion zone.” Of course everyone is hot to settle the zone and exploit it for profits and resources. When you load the game you have many options on how to start out, as there are at least a half dozen different playable races in this game, everything from the human Argons or Terrans, to the aquatic-planet based Boron. the profit-based Teladi, holy crusading Paranid, or war-mongering Split… These are just a few of the different species you can start as, or run into the during the course of the game. Either way you cut it, you start out with a ship and a dream. Plopped down in the heart of a newly discovered galaxy, this expansion zone is being swept up by the different races for their own reasons (the strongest of which is always greed).

FXTC_Release_1_16or the first few days, maybe even weeks of playing, it’s all about learning and exploring. As you fly through different “jump gates” to map different sectors (fully contained solar systems with planets, suns, resources, etc) you come into contact with all manner of pirate, military, and friendlies that want you to go here and shoot down this, haul this over to there, keep pirates off of this transport ship, or give rides to passengers needing to get to other places in the galaxy.

Of course this is all based on your “notoriety” with each race, which can be bad simply based on the color of your skin or the genes in your DNA. The Boron are at war with the Split, the Pirates are at war with your wallet, and the Terrans are at war with everyone else (go humanity!). If you want to get your notoriety up, you’ve got to grind away these missions… Cause the point of this whole thing is to stockpile $ and create an empire..

news_2006_08_24_003The economy of the X Universe is all-encompassing and fully functional. There are space stations that need “energy cells’ in order to produce their products, so you need to buy a freighter to go get some energy cells at a low price, and sell them to a factory that is willing to pay higher. Profit, period. This example is repeated throughout the galaxy. Someone ALWAYS needs raw materials, and YOU’RE the one who can bring it to them, or they’ll get it from some computer-controlled “other guy.” This is how the second stage of any X game unfolds, at first it’s all flying around and exploring, then it’s moving on to trading and expanding.

XTC_Release_1_10The ultimate goal is to get your notoriety up enough to be able to purchase more items from the different races. Cause at first, if they don’t like you, you’re shut out at the door- they won’t even let you in their solar systems, less dock at their stations. In order to fix this, you’ve got to be crafty.

This is empire building in an elegant, grass-roots kind of way. You have the ability to work away building up a fleet of transport ships, and eventually enough cash to start building space stations of your own. The stations can produce anything from energy to weapons to shields to food for the masses… Or if you’re a crafty space pioneer, you’ll hook a bunch of stations together to keep the intermediate raw materials in-house. For instance to build weapons you need a few things, silicon, energy, and a food source for the workers (simplified of course), and each one of those items needs intermediate products as well (to mine silicon you need energy, to produce “energy cells” you need special crystals that are made from silicon and a food source… See where I’m going with this?)

XTC_Release_1_01If you connect enough space stations, you get yourself a self-sustaining space factory pumping out profits. One of the more lucrative business opportunities is the production of more illicit forms of entertainment. Mainly booze and weed. Space Fuel and Space Weed are highly profitable products, but if you’re caught with them in your hold in 90% of the galaxy you’re at least getting your cargo yanked… And possibly getting shot down by pirates who want your goods. If you build a space-still in the wrong race’s territory, they’ll send giant capital ships to blow your station away.

destroyerne4While you’re grinding away at missions and flying materials around the galaxy earning profits, there is a threat hiding out there in the unexplored sectors of the expansion zone. No one knows where the zone goes, exactly, so no one knows what else might be out there, waiting in the dark. You see, thousands of years ago Artificial Intelligence was born, and machines were built to fly out into space on their own to “terraform” found planets, and ready them for colonization. Well as things go, those machines eventually evolved beyond their initial mission, they learned how to build themselves… and disappeared. They are known as the Xenon, a race of terraforming machines that see biological life as an anomaly to be eradicated. That can put a damper on your space-exploring fun if you go through the wrong gate. And who knows… Maybe there’s another threat out there in the darkness of space. Something even more terrifying than a genocidal race of machines. Watching the races, studying them as they expand, colonize, and lay claim to the new areas of space.

galleonxq0This is just some of the complexity of this game. Xtended Terran Conflict is frustrating, it’s buggy, and it’s imperfectly perfect. Made by fans for fans, this is truly the best of the best here. The team behind this re-invention deserves all the kudos, pats-on-the-back, and lots and lots of good booze sent their way…  This game is awesome. Dive in and say goodbye to your social life… And do yourself a favor, stay as far “south” as possible. Good hunting!

The X: Legend Continues With X: Rebirth

I’m talking revolution… One of the greatest space simulation games I’ve ever stumbled across, is about to be reborn. For those of you who know, the X: Universe is a fully formed universe whose mantra is TRADE, FIGHT, BUILD, THINK. Complete with interstellar trade, governments, militarism, and a complex economy, X:3 is a milestone in gaming. For years, German gamemaker Egosoft has been transporting players to a galaxy full of humans, aliens, pirates, peace, glory, war, and most of all: cash in it’s X: series. A fully explorable universe that players will either conquer, or get chewed up, and spit out by. Flying stealthy advanced fighters, to giant turret-filled destroyers, the X: games have brought the universe to your home desktop. Now it’s time for a rebirth.

Long after the events of the previous games, a  supernova renders all previous modes of interstellar travel useless, and the universe much, much “smaller.”

Even the Future has Light Rail!

“In the distant future, the X: Universe faces a period of profound and irrevocable change. While the universe stumbles towards an uncertain future, countless adventures await as new enemies rise in search of power.”

Space-Traffic!

Staying true to the “sandbox,” go anywhere, explore anything format, X: Rebirth brings us a revolution in one of the most popular and critically acclaimed space simulation games ever made. You enter the shoes of a new, brave young hero, who, along his unlikely female ally, will travel the universe in an ancient, battle-worn ship with a glorious past. Two adventurers, alone against the galaxy, the fate of the universe (indeed their very existence) rests in your hands!

Blade Runner Anyone?

From the looks of it, X: Rebirth, is changing (and adding) some serious changes to it’s fundamental formula. With the traditional “jumpgates” obsolete now, more emphasis has been put on interaction. Whereas before, the entire game was played from the cockpit of a spaceship… every indication now points to an out-of-ship experience for players. If you look carefully at some of the screen captures I took from the official teaser, you can see everything from “traffic lanes” in space to highly-populated stations. Even Egosoft has announced that a new interface is going to revolutionize the game. This has really got my interest peaked more than the other big 3 sequel releases this fall: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, and the ever-anticipated Uncharted 3 (seriously, if you’ve never played an Unchartedgame, go buy a PS3 and do yourself, and your life, a favor).

An interview with Egosoft’s Bernd Lehahn detailed

Q: “Why another X game? What happened to the “end of the X trilogy” statement?”

Open-Mouthed Galactica? 🙂

A: “Well that is still true. At least partially 😉 We worked on the old X games from 1996 until 2007. That was 11 years of development and 11 years mostly filled with adding features.
Adding features is pretty cool, as you have this solid foundation. You never have to start from scratch. We replaced the graphics engine twice, and we made many other big changes to the technology, but we were never at a point where nothing would work. That’s a very luxurious position for a game developer to be in.

Escaping Orbit

BUT (and it’s a big but), adding features to an existing game design has limits. Especially when we talk about the actual gameplay design. Adding so many features that were not originally planned for was a bit like building a higher and higher tower. You run into problems. Problems like a user interface that gets more and more complex and that’s rarely a good thing.

So in 2007 we decided we need to cut off that legacy and do a fresh start.”

The Rebirth begins this winter this Christmas… stay glued to TOOMBLOG for more details!

X3: A Universe, Open For Business

There is another galaxy (not so far, far away…) just waiting out there and I bet you didn’t even know it existed. I’m serious, it’s a universe where each planet is linked through a system of jump gates that allow instantaneous travel. In this galaxy live 5 different species, each with their own history and culture that has survived for thousands of years. The best part is, the galaxy is open for business.

When you first boot up a new game of X3:Reunion or X3: Terran Conflict, you have a choice whether you want to be a certain type of character. Let’s say a Teladi trader, or an Argon pilot, it’s up to you- and each pick has a certain amount of either $ or power (a bigger ship to start). From there the universe is yours. Either way you start the game, you’re going to be unknown in the galaxy… Especially in the sectors outside whichever you call home. Sometimes run ins with other races can be downright explosive, so it’s advisable to listen to any patrolling police officers or military presence you might hear hailing you when u jump into a new sector.

Map of Sectors

The thing about the X- Universe games, is that they are open for you to explore any avenue of the games basic point- money=power. Whether you decide to join up and fight the good fight, blasting away squadrons of pirates and ancient alien invaders known as The Ka’hK… Or decide to spend your time hunting down some of the many floating goodies in space- X3 has got all the epic space gameplay you can handle.

Save up cash early and buy yourself a freighter, begin to make some trade runs, get to know the galaxy. X3 has a fully-realized economy, where factors influence locally and universe-wide. There’s always a station or a mine that needs supplies and it’s up to you to find the best deals to buy, and where to sell those goods for prifitssss. Or there’s the less subtle route, hire some mercs to ride a suicide-mission in a shaky troop-transport long enough to board and capture a bigger ship, then hire more mercs and repeat.

Whatever tickles your space-flight fancy. As time goes on and you rake in the cash, you can buy bigger ships, huge TL tankers with compressed cargo-bays that allow for more freight. They also let you buy your own mines, solar-power plants, food processing stations, equipment docks, the works. You can even purchase special custom complex construction kits that allow you to hook stations together in order to minimize the amount of secondary resources it requires. It’s possible to build your own self-sustaining weapons factory, for instance, or if you really want to make money- and don’t mind attracting shady characters- then a space weed plant is for you! Or an equally profitable Space Fuel Distillery!

Any way you cut it, X3’s open economy and diverse universe is fun, fast, and dangerous. Join up with the military and fight the war against a new threat- the Xenon horde. X3: Reunion, X3: Xtended X3: Terran Conflict, and now at long last X3: Xtended Terran Conflict… Designed, written, built, coded, and animated by fans for the fans. I played the MOD of X3: Reunion, it added new story lines, new bad guys, and a whole lot of fun! This time the saints behind the last one have bled, sweat, and teared- to bring us X3:XTC 1.1, the best iteration of the X3 universe yet… and it’s completely done off the books! By a coolest group of people around- the mod team.

I’ve been flying the unfriendly skies of the latest installment, and so far (even though no story-mode levels are included yet, have to wait for the 2.0 update) so good. The universe is complex, new, and this time: ever-expanding. The plot takes place several years after the last game, in a new portion of space known as The Expansion Territory. Linked through the recently rediscovered Aldrin system, the expansion territory is huge, adding over 100+ new sectors as time progresses in the game. Also revamped this time is the ever-important Galactic News Service, which is now used to update the player on the progression of the expansion, the skirmishes in the galaxy, pirate hunts, and if you get neat enough ships, your name in print! Seriously thought, XTC is amazing so far. The artwork is brilliant, the music re-scored, each of the hundred plus sectors with a complete backstory and history. These guys have been busting their hump… and have put out a superior beta. I cannot wait for the official “game” release, to see how it all ties together in this ever-expanding galaxy.

Find your copy of any X3 game, and you will be addicted in no time. It’s a very different game than any I’ve played, sometimes a lot of the game can be waiting, programming, waiting for huge space battles to finish (if you’re a fleet commander like me, with eyes on taking over the known universe), and of course: making money. Thank you Egosoft for such an interesting universe to explore, and bless the mod team for making it the beautiful galaxy it is today. Until then, it’s your fleet versus mine.