Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Y'know, I got a message replying to the post I made about getting to play Santa for my kids' elementary school that I thought was very insightful, so I figured I'd share.

It said "Hi txa1265 (Mike), I found your blog while doing some research on computer chair for kids. I like your blog, thank you for sharing the information and keep up the good work!.
I'll be back to see if you have any posts about computer chair for kids "

See what I mean? It's true - I don't have anything about 'computer chair for kids'. I have kids, I have a computer chair. My kids even use the computer chair ... with that amazing confluence of events, how is it possible I've gone this long without a single mention of 'computer chair for kids'?

I don't know ... but I glad I've remedied that now.

Friday, February 17, 2006

My Love and Hate List for 2005

Perhaps it is the scientist in me, but I believe that there is a natural order to things, that some things are better than others, and that this includes art, music and even video games. So while working on GamerDad's Game of the Year pages, I decided I had no interest in putting up a list of what I thought were the 10 best games of the year.

But why? Shouldn't the act of going through a process whereby some of your favorite games wouldn't get enough recognition to even be nominated make you want to get a list 'out there'? Ah, that word - favorites. That is the crux of things - because I believe that there are things that are objectively better than other things, but those things might not coincide with the things I like. I was actually much more interested in going through the things I really liked last year - and the things I didn't like. Instead of listing everything, I'll just highlight some of the best and worst. And in keeping with my recent rediscovery of 'In Living Color' late nights, I'll label things as 'Loved It' or 'Hated It' ... with the occasional 'meh' reserved for disappointments I had hoped to love. And of course, if I did the GamerDad review, I'll post the link.

GAMING: GameBoy Advance
  • Loved It! Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones - they aren't 'units' they're your friends ... this one had me totally hooked, and got me liking turn-based strategy games! My GamerDad Review

  • Loved It! The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap - so much fun, even if it is shorter than the last GBA Zelda game. Just captures so much of what is fun about gaming, is perfect for on-the-go sessions, and reminds us how the GBA is *still* a vital gaming platform.

  • Loved It! Final Fantasy IV - This game took me a bit to connect with, after coming from some mediocre handheld RPG's. But this is a gem, a very well done game.

  • 'meh' LEGO Star Wars - This is *not* the LEGO Star Wars you're looking for ... My GamerDad Review

GAMING: Nintendo DS
  • Loved It! Castlevania DS - truly excellent game in every way.My GamerDad Review

  • Loved It! Animal Cross: Wild World - not being a console gamer, I never did much with Animal Crossing on the GameCube, but thought it was cool. On the DS it is amazing, and I've completely connected - where the tasks in Lost in Blue can be a drag, here they are a blast! My GamerDad Review

  • Loved It! Advance Wars DS - ... just one more turn ... this was my first Advance Wars game (we got my older son Advance Wars 2 based in part on the GamerDad Review, but I never played). It is smart, charming, funny, engaging, challenging and just plain addictive.

  • 'meh' Lunar: Dragon Song - not bad, not great, not very interesting, but a few 'anti-player' decisions really drag it down My GamerDad Review

  • 'meh' Lost in Blue - jeez, let me explore the island for 5 minutes without dying of hunger! At the heart is a survival adventure with a lot of potential - but the routine and mechanics are really in the way. My GamerDad Review

  • 'meh' Goldeneye: Rogue Agent - this gets a 'meh' as an average of Love & Hate. I Love the gameplay mechanics, how I could pull off snap-turns reminiscent of NOLF and how well the game shows that great FPS are just waiting to happen ... and Hate how it came packaged in this mediocre game ... My GamerDad Review

  • Loved It! GTA: Liberty City Stories - plays like yet another mini-console port, but who cares! It is a blast! My GamerDad Review

  • 'meh' Untold Legends - like Sacred for the PSP, it is fairly entertaining, but mindless hack-n-slash only takes you so far, and the game never attempts to transcend it. That said, I already have the sequel on my wish list - I believe taht using the controls and battle mechanics they have, if they can insert an interesting ply and do *something* about the load times they can have a really good game. My GamerDad Review

  • 'meh' Lord of the Rings Tactics - dark and bland, but decent combat, this shows the underpinnings of a really cool game, but is weak in so many areas that it feels like a rushed out mess. My GamerDad Review

  • Hated It! Coded Arms - crap controls, crap camera, bland environs, crap 'story' ... crap game. Unfortunately it is exemplary of action-heavy first-person shooters on the PSP, which is really too bad. My GamerDad Review

  • Loved It! Gothic II Gold - who cares if it is the collection of 2002 and the 2003 games ... this is the expansion's first US appearance, and it rocks! (review pending at GamerDad)

  • Loved It! Fate - family friendly, budget friendly, casual gaming friendly, but still cool for hardcore RPG-ers like me. My GamerDad Review

  • Loved It! F.E.A.R. - marred by bland environs, this still absolutely rocked. My GamerDad Review

  • Loved It! LEGO Star Wars - definitely falls in with some of my all-time fave Star Wars games! My GamerDad Review

  • Loved It! Disney's ToonTown Online - this is the family-fave ... my younger son it totally into it, and my wife even plays when we're not home (and she's a NON-gamer). My GamerDad Review

  • 'meh' Quake IV - great looking, but mediocre gameplay and weapons and a who-cares plot ... My GamerDad Review

  • 'meh' Serious Sam II - somewhat prettier retread ... not much else to say, except that I discovered 'Sam' when 'The Second Encounter' came out and simply adored it. My inability to get psyched about the first one or replay the second one much should have been a warning, but I still hoped this one would take it to a new level. It didn't. My GamerDad Review

  • Hated It! Dungeon Lords - definite candidate for least finished major game ever ... and while I don't support it as 'worst game of the year', it definitely carries 'biggest disappointment' My GamerDad Review

  • Hated It! Restricted Area - short, stupid and bug-ridden - this is the kind of game that starving cRPG fans pick up for all the wrong reasons. My GamerDad Review

  • Hated It! MetalHeart: Replicants Rampage - there is a clear difference between 'paying homage' and 'peeing on the memory', and this Fallout clone takes the latter path, showing you can copy a great game without having a clue what made it great My GamerDad Review

  • Hated It! Postal 2: Apocalypse Weekend - I admit to enjoying Postal 2 ... and I even replayed after finishign this to confirm I still liked it. I did - but this absolutely horrid expansion sucks all the fun, open-ness and any other positive qualities from the original. My GamerDad Review

GAMING: Mac gaming
  • Loved It! GeneForge 3 - There is something charming about the 'one guy in the garage' asapect of SpiderWeb software that is cool. But that isn't the draw - the games he makes are deep, involving and *long*. GeneForge 3 advances the series admirably, and I hope to finish it soon ...

  • Loved It! Avernum 4 - This game is a recent Mac release that I'm beta-testing on the PC (shhh!) ... graphics get a nice bump, and the mechnics are just terrific. As GeneForge is to single player games, so Avernum is to party based games.

  • Loved It! Ultima V: Lazarus - The 'mod' community can be amazing ... as a 'game' like this shows. This ~525MB file uses the Dungeon Siege engine to recreate and reimagine the classic Ultima V, and the results are quite amazing. The scope alone for this project made most assume it would never get done - let alone turn out so fantastic.

GAMING: Gaming Media
  • Loved It!Focus on the Family! - This year I saw more stuff - outside of GamerDad, no less - about involving parents with kids in video games, involved parenting in general, and about how important striking a balance in all things is to overall health and weel-being. Great Stuff!

  • Loved It!Forget Weird Science - this is *Bad* Science! - As a scientist and statistician I'm offended by 'fluff' science put out there to prove someone's point using a one-dimensional experiment. So I was glad that there was also a great move to debunk 'bad science' - like the 'Classical Music makes you smart' thing. Sure, *learning* classical pieces on piano has been linked to better analytical skills, but that is a simple matter of correlated cross-training. Sticking headphones with Mozart blaring on your wife's belly is not going to make the baby smarter.

  • Hated It!Video Games are Killing Our Kids!!1one - OK, it was the year of 'Hot Coffee'. The year of hysteria, where politicians and lawyers and so-called advocates we coming out of the woodwork to decry the evil gaming industry and the ESRB. While there are lessons to be learned by gamers, developers and the industry as a whole, I have yet to figure out why people are so much more outraged by poorly done pixilated simul-sex in a game for 17+ adults than they are about a game like Soldier of Fortune 2 where you can blow off someone's head, watch the blood pump out as they gurgle and crumple up and die. Also, the copy of Indigo Prophecy I got from eBay was from someone with the European import, so I got see the poorly done pixilated simul-sex ... and it makes the 'skinimax' stuff I saw late nights in college in the mid-80's look outrageously explicit by comparison.

GAMING: Special Awards
  • My Favorite Game! Castlevania DS - because it came out of nowhere and completely blew me away. I played the original Castlevania Adventure on the GameBoy in 1989 to the point that the theme is going through my head now. I have Circle of the Moon but just got it last year and never got too far. I read about this, but the perfect confluence of excellent gameplay and effective minimalist use of the DS features made this one a wonderul experience for me, better than I assumed.
    Runner Up: Gothic II Gold - that is my favorite game of the year, but since I've been in love with the core Gothic II since getting is in late 2003 it doesn't really count ... but even still I was amazed at how well they wove the expansion into the game.

  • My Biggest Disappointment! Dungeon Lords - there are some good things about this game - like the dungeons. The combat can be fun as well. That's about it. You hit the Elf 'city' of Arindale and you realize that the game is devoid of significant depth. Sure there are loads of *words*, but that doesn't define good dialogue ...
    Runner Up: Quake IV - for assembling a team whose work I love and pushing out something totally mediocre.

  • My Most Hated Game! Postal 2: Apocalypse Weekend - In a way this reminds me of Contract J.A.C.K. - just as that used the same engine and many elements from NOLF 2 yet sucked the fun out of it, so does this expansion. Four hours of unfunniness, of linear stupidity - and not the fun stupidity that populated Postal 2
    Runner Up: MetalHeart - for looking like they wanted to reward Fallout fans, but not having a clue what that should look like ...

  • Loved It!Pat Metheny Group - The Way Up - This is a truly transcendent composition. Everything else is just a bunch of songs in comparison - even some great stuff like the latest from Zorn, Dejohnette, Joshua Redman, Chick Corea or the release of the Miles Davis 'Cellar Door Sessions'. This is 68 minutes that takes everything Metheny has learned in 30 years as a major jazz player and composer, and brought it to bear in constructing a work of epic and sweeping scope the likes of which jazz music hasn't seen since Mingus in his heyday, that rivals the great works of Ellington and Gershwin among the American masters. The band has come together to the point where the only obvious 'solos' are from trumpeter Cong Vu. There were many really cool recordings put out this year, stuff I love and my family loves, but even bothering to mention them detracts from the full focus this work deserves. Yeah, it is that good. And just to appease the 'relativists' out there - I am saying nothing about whether or not you should 'like it' ... that is a matter of taste. My kids would never pick it out, but do at least tolerate it if I put it on. Just as you don't have to 'like' Beethovan's 9th, but any serious person would acknowledge as a truly great artistic achievement in the field of music. This is like that.

  • Loved It! Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith - we love this ... which is the great thing about taste - I don't have to justify to *anyone* that I like, so long as we stay away from discussion objective criteria! My GamerDad Review

  • Loved It! Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit - we had never been the big fans that many already were, this just looked great - and it was. An excellent story with great characters that makes for a very captivating film. My GamerDad Review

  • 'meh' Charlie & the Chocolate Factory - I am not objective here, Willie Wonka is one of my all-time favorite movies. This wasn't as bad as I expected, and while I have had objective arguments showing why this one is actually better - check back with me in 10 years and let me know who is watching this one regularly compared to the original.

MY FAMILY - sure, this is an easy and obvious one, but it is so fundamental that it bears mentioning. This was a year that saw Lisa's dad continue his slow decline towards death, a death that is long overdue but still unwelcome. A year that saw her mother get test results that made it seem almost certain she had cancer in her lymph glands ... and that were thankfully wrong. This year I had a shouting match with my parents because of how they have dealt with us - and particularly our kids. This year my brother within weeks abdicated his role as my older son's godfather and then tried to invite himself to the First Communion. And a year that had Lisa's sister sit on the Christmas gifts we had sent for a month before returning them to us with a mean-spirited and psychotic note. But through it all I had a wonderful wife and two wonderful boys, and we love spending time together. We spend way too much money and took way too many vacations and special trips, none of which I regret. So, despite all of the crap that has happened in our larger families, I am happy as I start 2006 because I'm terribly in love with my wife, and adore my boys.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

More from the Blizzard of '78

I knew I had some pictures I had scanned from slides my parents had in a box ... I dug them up yesterday just to look.

This one shows our house from the street. It is already more than 24 hours later, the snow has compacted, and everything is completely closed and snowed in. In order there is my Dad, my older brother (would have been ~14.5) and me (almost 12). The covered car was a '74 Chevy Impala ...

In this one you can see a bit up the street, showing that even by the 8th, two days after the storm, roads weren't plowed. The 'highway' down the street opened that day, and the convenience store (Bob's) opened up as well. We would take a sled down the street to get stuff, and run errands for people who couldn't get out of their houses yet.

OK, this isn't the Blizzard, but me after Christmas just before ... note the M16-look alike (had forgotten that) and my fave gift from that year - VertiBird! It was a helicopter that flew in circles ... I remember that the first one I got didn't work, and my dad called all around (hot gift that year) and that Child World in Framingham said they had one and would hold it for him. We got there, and of course they didn't have any ... my Dad was *furious*! Upon yelling at the manager, they 'found' one held for someone else and I got it! Unfortunately, while I kept it, my attempts to rewire and get it working for my kids were to no avail ... it was just dead.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Dungeon Lords - The Original Review, In commemoration of the release of the 'Collector's Edition' for Dungeon Lords.

OK, this review is a mess ... yet there is something about it and how it represented my feelings that I just could never delete it - so here you go, read my schizo first draft.

What does it say when it is more dangerous to say “I like this game” in the official game forums than to crawl the dungeons full of Cacodemons and Minotaurs? What happens when a reviewer has such internal difficulty with a game that the two voices manifest themselves into a two-way debate instead of a direct review … I just hope I can control them …

Dungeon Lords (PC)

Mike: Dungeon Lords is billed as a Fantasy RPG from Legendary RPG designer D. W. Bradley, famed designer of Wizardry 5 – 7 and the not –so-famed Wizards & Warriors. As he stated in an interview regarding the game “We've built Dungeon Lords from the ground up to include all the classic elements of a great RPG, while striving to make it accessible to all sorts of different players. We’ve created a huge world with thousands of interactions, and spent a lot of time balancing puzzle intricacy and innovation so that there’s something for everyone.” How does having D. W. Bradley attached to the title impact your anticipation?

Mini-Mike 1: D. W. Bradley is not part of the mainstream, and hasn’t been since before there was a GameBoy … and since most players are still under 25, that makes attaching his name irrelevant except to game media geeks and people who miss the good old days of manually tweaking IRQ’s and memory settings …

Mini-Mike 2: That just isn’t nice. D. W. Bradley has an established history of deep stories and excellent dungeons full of challenging puzzles, and *that* is what he brings to Dungeon Lords.

Mike: OK, this isn’t starting well. Let’s talk about the story – the premise is pretty standard fantasy stuff. How well does it play out?

Mini-Mike 1: Cookie cutter – you are some sort of ‘chosen one’, and you have no choice but to linearly trudge through and save the world. What if *I* wanted the power – why should I have to save all of those people? No wonder they wanted to focus so much on the combat – the story is garbage.

Mini-Mike 2: I think it depends on whether you see the traditional fantasy story as hackneyed or venerable. I choose the latter. You know going in that you are the hero – no choice about that. You learn about the basics early on, the power struggles, the inaction and indecision, the subterfuge and deceit … and you have to work your way through it all to save the land from destruction. I think it is an excellent story augmented by excellent combat.

Mini-Mike 1: Fine, you like the story, but one of the inherent means of adding replayability to a game has been to allow players to choose good or evil paths, to choose sides. And while that may not make sense to have true good and evil paths, there is no active role for the player – you merely take on quests without option to refuse and your dialog is ‘listen only’. So you are really playing a story rather than participating in an evolving plot with twists and turns and intrigue. Again, the story is garbage, but I am willing to put up with a garbage story if I get some power to shape the outcome or at least the course.

Mike: Dungeon Lords is a Combat RPG, which basically means it is an action-RPG, but with an advanced combat system.

Mini-Mike 1: What you mean, Mike, is that Dungeon Lords attempts to grab a large audience by stealing ideas from commercially and/or critically successful games like Diablo II, Gothic II, and Jedi Knight II. And, like most combinations, it ends up as a jack of all trades and a master of none – or, rather, mediocre at everything.

Mini-Mike 2: No, what he means is that Dungeon Lords takes the old school RPG out of the impersonal Wizardry and Baldur’s Gate view, and puts it into a robust 3rd person view, while implementing a combat system much more satisfying than Gothic or Morrowind.

Mini-Mike 1: (barf) Do you really believe that last line?

Mini-Mike 2: No, not really.

Mike: Dungeon Lords offers players a vast array of character customization options, from race, gender and starting class, to secondary and tertiary classes and a wide range of skill specializations.

Mini-Mike 1: Hey, you forgot the appearance customization and choice of left- or right-handedness! Oh wait, those are in the electronic manual, partially in the paper manual, and partially in the game but not available. Add to that the fact that you can obtain new guild classes (for example, Sorcerer as a second-tier Mage class) without meeting any of requirements – oh wait, it gets better, the guild master will say ‘The Requirements are X, you meet those, would you like to advance?’ That one cracks me up every time!

Mini-Mike 2: Sure, there are limitations, but they are the window-dressing. Hair? Skin? Who cares! The character customization system is deep and complex, and while it allows you to create a character that is generic and has medium levels of all skills, the very well done class advancement system gradually increases skill specializations to aid you pursuing a path to power in a single area. And while there is no enforcement of class advancement requirements, since they are stated, you can choose to enforce them yourself. My only complaint with the skill system is that the ability to disarm traps and open chests is a necessity for all characters, as there are plot-critical items in trapped chests.

Mini-Mike 1: But ultimately everyone needs a sword and some serious hacking skills … and has to take on loads of intelligence to cheapen other skills and either dexterity or strength to make your melee skills worthwhile. So you have characters with lots of points guaranteed in three categories, lots of skills in melee and thieving – even if your intention is to be a pure spellcaster. This is the inherent problem in all games that abandon strict class typing and allow cross-class skills – the difference from character to character become nuanced rather than distinct. That narrows the reasons for replaying.

Mini-Mike 2: I actually played as a mage, admittedly a ‘BattleMage’ archetype. I found the spells excellent, and some of the spell effects visually stunning. But I agree that playing a mage is a difficult course – you get scant ‘ammo’, and it recharges slowly, and the camping options are also sparse. It is hard to imagine that the game was intended to be played as a pure mage.

Mike: Dungeon Lords features a large game world full of varied creatures and regions to explore. It also features towns where players get quests from NPC’s and several complex dungeons. How does this contribute to gameplay?

Mini-Mike 1: Ever get lost in the woods? Basically the ‘large game world’ is a bunch of aimless wandering between dungeons. Once in the dungeons, you will get lost so often, stuck so many times, and die while solving cryptic riddles so many times you will be longing to get lost in the jungles again.

Mini-Mike 2: While it doesn’t have any ice areas, the world is bigger than Gothic II, and there are lakes and swamps and jungles and dungeons, dungeons, dungeons. And Mini-Mike 1, you have revealed yourself for the shallow individual you are – you should be reveling in these dungeons, not lamenting that they aren’t yet another hyper-linear trip through a mindless FPS-like world.

Mini-Mike 2: It seems obvious, but bears repeating, that this game is called Dungeon Lords for a reason – because the focus is on the dungeon crawling. And that is where the best parts of the game occur – brilliant design, challenging puzzles, and a real need to think you just don’t see in games anymore.

Mini-Mike 1: Are you serious, or are you just some apologist fanboy? Am I supposed to be happy that I had to meander through an empty world with no journal and almost no NPC’s just for the dungeons? Why not just teleport me? I admit the dungeons are cool – they are the only thing that kept me from seeing if I could use the game disks like saw blades in Half-Life 2.

Mike: Dungeon Lords is touted as featuring a wide variety of quests you obtain from NPC’s throughout the game world.

Mini-Mike 2: The quests in Dungeon Lords are very satisfying, and not just the typical ‘go there, kill this, get that, return’ type. You typically are doing something with a good story behind it, which makes it more involving.

Mini-Mike 2: Interesting fact - there are no side-quests. WHAT?!?! I got loads of side-quests! No you didn’t – you got main quests, and guild quests. Nothing else.

Mini-Mike 1: One thing I really liked about this game was the towns – there was a game called Revolution, which had a high level of environmental interaction, too much in fact, so that the player felt like a bull in a china shop, constantly knocking things around. Thankfully Dungeon Lords makes sure there are no nasty tables or chairs to bump into in any of the rooms … they even put out all of the fires in one of the major towns as a safety precaution. Very thoughtful.

Mini-Mike 2: While I loved the beautiful towns, the fact that they were essentially empty was very disappointing. Especially since the game features claim “Loads of personal quests and missions, featuring a world full of NPC characters to interact and bargain with, some who may become your ally, others who may be your enemy.” In reality, there are some guards and civilians in Fargrove to see that cannot give you quests, but aside from that, everyone you can talk to gives you a quest.

Mini-Mike 1: Another unique thing about the game I love is that they give you a ‘lite journal’ option – instead of wading through pages of completed quests and information, you get a few quests with a single line for each.

Mini-Mike 2: At this point I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or clueless. There is no ‘lite’ journal – the journal you describe is the only journal! And the journal has the distinction of being perhaps the worst I have ever seen in a RPG. Besides providing almost no information about a quest, it also provides no feedback as to whether a quest is a ‘just do it’ or a ‘do it and return’ or other type. In addition, when I was at the end of the game, I still had four quests listed in my journal – all of which I had finished many hours previously.

Mike: What other opinions do you have about the gameplay – such as the graphics, combat and enemies?

Mini-Mike 1: Imagine a world in which you are solving puzzles harder than anything in any RPG in recent years, and a continuous stream of respawning snakes comes to attack you every minute or two. The combat is thrilling and non-stop, but sometimes there should be a break. Fortunately, the enemies are all idiots, so they run at you just waiting to be taken out. Unfortunately they swarm you and can easily take you out … or at least really annoy you. The graphics for the game look decent – similar to Soldier of Fortune II, I would say. At least until you get up close. There are some things that look good from a distance but look more like 2D sprites up close.

Mini-Mike 2: I found the graphics quite pleasing – you won’t mistake the game for Half-Life 2 or Far Cry, but it is better than games like Gothic II or Morrowind or Neverwinter Nights. And I found the combat very well done. While it didn’t quite up to the lightsaber combat of Jedi Knight II, it came close. You can easily switch between ranged, melee and magic attacks, which allow you multiple strategies for taking out the swarms of enemies that inevitably arrive. As for the enemies, they were well done in terms of design, in particular I think of the enemies I regularly encountered during a ‘maze’ late in the game – they were really fun to battle. The AI did scale somewhat according to your level and the type of enemy, but largely they just swarmed you.

Mike: We have heard loads about how bug-ridden the game is – care to comment?

Mini-Mike 1: Let’s just say that the hundreds of spiders, bees and other pests are the least of your worries.

Mini-Mike 2: It is fashionable to bash on this game for being extremely buggy, but in the many, many hours I’ve played, across two computers, I have yet to have a single crash. Not one – that is better than any game I’ve played in a long time. There are bugs and vulnerabilities to crashing, things like allowing you to save in the midst of combat, but on whole I would say the game has more ‘incomplete’ stuff than bugs.

Mini-Mike 1: C’mon, how about the half-dozen reloads you did to get the messenger to land – see the pretty screenshot of where she liked to stop? Or how once you press the save game button there is no cancel? Or how the heraldries don’t show up or seem to work? What do you mean by incomplete?

Mini-Mike 2: Well, beside the things we’ve mentioned, the magic system seems incomplete, especially with regard to Rune and Celestial magic. There is the issue that the entire world seems empty and waiting to be filled with interesting characters to give the game some ‘color’. There is a death-and-revive system that seems to forget that most players, when given the chance, will hoard points for a while until the skills are cheaper as you gain a new class. There are just a number of things that point to a game not ready for release.

Mike: One of Dungeon Lords’ most touted features was the cooperative multiplayer. How has your experience been with that?

Mini-Mike 1: At first I thought it was going to be the same as single player mode except that you battle with friends or over the internet. After a while I realized that it was a quest of its’ own. You get advancement points for connecting, for getting a game to start, and for every minute you manage to play without lagging yourself into the side of a mountain.

Mini-Mike 2: I have been unable to try the LAN co-op, which I hear is loads of fun. I have made multiple attempts to play the internet mode using GameSpy, with very little success and no enjoyment. I’ve tried it on computers that I’ve played many multiplayer games with ease, but one behind a firewall I never got to connect, and the other at home I could connect but was very laggy.

Mike: OK, time to sum up and give a final score.

Mini-Mike 1: Dungeon Lords is an unfinished mess of bugs and an affront to gamers everywhere. It was delayed more than once, and a mess of a demo come out of nowhere … followed by another delay. What finally arrived was a mess that was obviously pushed out the door by the publishers – and seemingly against the will of the developers, who have made a good show of trying to get patches out and help gamers. Nonetheless, the game as shipped is missing significant features, others are a mess, and the gamer is left more afraid of hitting a game-killing bug than a character killing enemy. I finished the game, and liked a couple of things, and I can’t call it the worst game ever, but it is hard to find something objectively positive to say beyond – cool dungeons, awful game. My advice, stay away; my score: 2/10, 1 star.

Mini-Mike 2: While the lack of a map and character appearance customization is bothersome, and problems with the journal and save system are annoying, the basic game as delivered is actually quite deep and enjoyable. I put more than 60 hours into completing my first time through the game, not counting the approximately 15 hours I’ve already put into my second game and the couple of hours I’ve spent trying to get multiplayer to work. Once you sit down and start playing, it is grand fun and very challenging, and will keep you going for hours. I’m still playing, and it is hard to stop. I truly love the game, not for what it could have - or should have been, but for what it is. While my score doesn’t make mathematical sense, the excellence of the dungeons and combat and the great pacing of the story and advancement, makes me forget many of the issues and give the game a score of : 8/10, 4 stars.

Mike: Dungeon Lords could have been one of my favorite games ever. It derives much inspiration from two of my favorite games ever, and has a wonderful concept, setting and basic story. It has some of the best dungeons I’ve ever been through, and the combat is truly thrilling. But there are many, many problems, and several areas I find very disappointing. It isn’t a 2/10 game, in my opinion, but it is not an 8/10 game either. One score seems to be in step with those taken in by the hype of a game that would meld FPS and RPG in a whole new way, who are now rabid and vociferous in their hatred of the game; the other score reflects those so desperate for another Gothic-like game that they will fully embrace and love this game despite its’ flaws.

I am torn between taking an average and giving it 2.5 stars, or rewarding the excellent and challenging dungeons and combat with more of a ‘positive tilt’. On the one hand, I couldn’t stop playing, I really got into the difficult combat and puzzles and trying to make it through as a mage. On the other hand, I would only recommend this game to hard-core RPG lovers, and feel a number of caveats are in order when talking to anyone about playing the game.

My overall opinion is that as a fully finished game with working multiplayer it would be a worthwhile game to spend money buying. Not a classic, nor one of the greats, but a fun game and worthwhile addition to the genre. It has a good story, very good character development system, fun and exciting combat and excellent dungeon designs. But it is hampered by an empty world, missing or poorly implemented features, and numerous bugs and poor design choices. Some of these things balance out, and the excellent dungeons stand as truly remarkable challenges. But there is no excuse for shipping a game in this state – in a year with many unpolished releases this one manages to stand out. Therefore I am giving it a score of 6/10, or 3 stars.
28 Years Ago Today

The Blizzard of '78.

More than 4 feet of snow.

100 MPH winds.

High tides cresting 40 foor waves.

Dozens of homes and businesses wiped out instantly, hundreds badly damaged.

100 people dead due to every imaginable weather related cause.

I was 12. Old enough to shovel snow for several people in the neighborhood to help out. Old enough to be terrified watching the news showing the parking lot route 128 had become and waiting for my dad to make it home.

But young enough to enjoy the fact that we had a week off from school and that the roads were shut down. Young enough not to worry about being without power or phones for a while. Young enough that the '64 Impala that someone had run a red light and smashed into my Dad and brother two months earlier, which no longer had a driver window, which was totally covered to the roof with snow - I was young enough that it became our snow fort for the winter.

I very well remember the Blizzard of '78, but as a child ... I wonder what my memories would be had I gone through it as an adult?