Monthly Archives: September 2015

Baldur’s Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast

Baldur'sGateTitleI actually played Baldur’s Gate (the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion, in case you’re wondering) well after Baldur’s Gate II and looking back, the original isn’t even in the same ballpark. Admittedly, that may be matter of having been used to improvements that weren’t in the original. But there’s no denying that said original had serious problems. For instance, I’ve never played any other RPG in which healing with items could be quite inconvenient (see Gameplay).

But it was the best RPG, right? Only among the Dungeons and Dragons games, which were… not good, for the most part.

Plot: 10 out of 10

What’s great about this game’s plot is the mystery. After creating your character under the D&D second edition rules (yes, I know what that means), you are told that you were raised by your foster parent, Gorion. You are suddenly told that you and Gorion have to leave home. Gorion explains that you have to leave home without explanation. When a mysterious, huge man in dark armor and his monstrous associates kill Gorion and you barely escape, a lot of questions emerge. These questions and others, particularly those concerning a complicated power play in the city of Baldur’s Gate, are answered.

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The aptly-named Noober keeps talking to you against your will. Could any players resist killing the annoying bastard?

A nice thing that would be built on as more of Bioware’s RPGs and action RPGs came out is the random conversations between the people you add to your party. Sadly, you can’t directly talk to them yourself in this one. That would come later.

I must admit that I really didn’t enjoy this story as much as I could have. Again, I played the sequel first and, thus, absorbed a lot of spoilers.

Graphics: 5 out of 10

Character models are a tad lacking, but the landscape is nothing less than amazing. The lack of variety in the dwarf, elf, and halfling models cost this category a point or two, though.

Sound: 8 out of 10

These Bioware-produced RPGs have great voice acting. Environmental sounds are also quite acceptable facsimiles of the kinds of places they are used in. If there’s anything this earlier western RPG does just as well as BGII and the many RPG brands that Bioware has trucked out since, this is it.

"You have a right to remain tasty, human. Anything you say may get an early bite taken out of you in court of instant executions.

“You have a right to remain tasty, human. Anything you say may get an early bite taken out of you in the court of instant executions.”

Gameplay: 6 out of 10

D&D is translated quite well. No complaints there. The combat and spell-casting systems also work well. I do have a complaint about how little info you’re provided with. Instead of being able to get a map that shows all the locations on the map you can go to, you have to go to the north/south/east/west edge of the current area to reveal the next place in that direction. That might not sound so bad, but there are dozens and dozens of places to go on the world map, so this is really inconvenient and, eventually, annoying. The important locations that don’t become available until you talk to a specific person aren’t exactly helpful.

Another bad thing is that the game is automatically unpaused when you go to your Inventory. Each character does have “ready item” slots that don’t unpause the game, but they’re only three each and don’t allow easy transfer of items from character to character. So your use of healing potions is fairly restricted.

One final pet peeve is that the AI of party members is troublesome. It’s stupid enough to mess up long walks that aren’t completely straight if you leave your people to their own devices. Needless to say, frequent pausing is necessary in battles, lest the micro-brains screw it up.

Could you even get fat on that light, horrible, medieval food?

Could you even get fat on that light, horrible, medieval food?

Bioware had to know that it screwed up, because BGII has a more informative world map and going to the Inventory doesn’t unpause the game. The former having occurred in the first place is understandable. The latter? I think not.

Challenge: 4 out of 10

This is without question Baldur’s Gate’s weakest suit. It’s just too inconsistent. Remember how I said that this game translates D&D well? This is also true for characters being extremely weak in the earliest levels. Unfortunately, the programmers didn’t recognize the ramification of this. As a result, It’s too easy to die at that point. Be extremely careful in the early portion of this game.

Before too long, the difficulty suddenly goes down. Well, if you went through most of the minor places. Otherwise, this part is modestly tough.

Compared to what you expect from fantasy stories, these odds don't look so bad.

Compared to what you expect from fantasy stories, these odds don’t look so bad.

In the later portion dominated by the city of Baldur’s Gate, the difficulty goes back up to the top all of a sudden. In particular, the final battle is one of the hardest in the history of RPGs. If you play in the original version with its experience cap, this is even harder.

This inconsistency is simply not how to do it. Baldur’s Gate doesn’t know whether it wants to have high or mediocre difficulty.

Overall: 6 out of 10

Despite being historically important to the western RPG sub-genre, this is not all that good a game. Truth be known, the pause-breaking Inventory alone costs this game a point. I do love Baldur’s Gate II, but the original just doesn’t have the magic that some think it does.

Blowing a near automatic nomination

BlowingNomination1Though not dominating the news the way the rise of Donald Trump has, looking a few stories down will reveal that Jeb Bush isn’t the only expected presidential nominee who’s getting serious problems. Despite beginning the year in first place for the Dem nomination by over forty points nationally and consistently beating all opponents in trial heats, often handily, Hillary Clinton has seen her comfort zone change dramatically as 2015 has gone on. A recent CNN/ORC poll and the recent statewide polls in Iowa and New Hampshire reveal that:

  • Hillary is in virtual ties with both Jeb and Trump (by contrast, Joe Biden has the overpowering leads Hillary once enjoyed).
  • Joe Biden is surging despite not having even declared… yet.
  • Bernie Sanders is tied in Iowa and winning New Hampshire in a landslide!
  • Hillary’s lead over Sanders has decreased by division tables.

Some say that none of this really matters. Hillary’s IA/NH problem is a matter of Sanders popularity with young, scholarly, fun-loving, progressive Democrats (once known as hippies). Beyond those states, Hillary will take over again as her overwhelming edge with blue collar, black and Hispanic Dems comes into play. That’s the theory, anyway.

But there’s two big problems with this. In the first place, Joe Biden is on record condemning the Confederate Flag as far back as 2007 and will most likely be running with the first black President’s blessing. Those kinds of things could very well give Hillary a rival for non-white voters. Second, the early contests tend to boost the winners and hurt the losers. Just ask Rudy Giuliani. National favorite among Republican contenders throughout 2007, he struggled nevertheless in the first few states. So he took the hits and focused on Florida. This strategy was good for zero states.

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I’ll bet reality killed some of this cockiness.

Also note how badly Hillary’s general election prospects have been damaged. That threatens even her standing with the party leadership.

So, yes, I’m believing that this is a real race now. The question is how the once-invincible Hillary Clinton became vulnerable. Here are the popular explanations.

It’s the email scandal, stupid! The preferred explanation of the right, this requires no explanation. Hillary deleted hundreds of emails. They may have been classified and may not have been. Because of how suspicious this looked (and the fact that Hillary was so slow to respond to the allegations, more on that later), her favorability ratings have tanked. Still, her ratings remain strong among Democrats, although less so than in the past. That is counteractive evidence.

I may as well state my position: I don’t know. Maybe there’s something to this. But we need real evidence. Of course, if they could prove it, Hillary would be done as a candidate.

It’s Hillary not being progressive. Hillary isn’t really the ideological heretic her opponents on the left say she is. After all, she has talked about income inequality and the advisability of corporate regulation. But the fact is that she has acted a tad too much like the race is hers to lose to the point where she avoids issues as much as possible. During the Trans-Pacific Partnership debate, for instance, it took a lot of prodding for her to say anything that hinted a position. That’s the idea, anyway.

The problem is that the biggest progressive rebellion against Democratic candidates lately is Black Lives Matter shutting down Bernie Sanders’ speeches. And believe me, there’s no comparing bitching on the Internet to that. So I don’t think that Hillary’s problem is just the base’s problems with her, either.

Couldn't the intraparty division have given us one Dem candidate who was before the Civil War?

Couldn’t the intraparty division have given us one Dem candidate who was born after the Civil War?

It’s anti-monarchism. People want fresh meat in the White House, or so some say. That would not be Hillary. Or Jeb, for that matter. But considering the longstanding popularity of the Clinton presidency, I am fairly skeptical of this.

It’s about populist anger. Partially connected to the last explanation, this one says that people have lost confidence in the status quo. This may be the most logical theory of these four. After all, polls have shown a majority of Americans believe this country to be on “the wrong track” for a full decade now. Maybe things are coming to a head.

All four theories have varying degrees of validity, but I think that something is missing. Something vital that, since Hillary is such a prominent figure, I’ve only seen one or two pundits touch on.

Hillary just isn’t a very good campaigner. I’m not even talking about how she’s not the most charismatic woman ever. No, she’s just not good at this running for office thing. How many have said that her blunders in 2008 pissed away another sure thing? What about how radioactively polarizing she was from 1993-1995 when her image was that of a co-President? Her later hands-off approach can be judged a consequence of the 1994 Republican Revolution, which many believed that she had caused.

The only elections she has ever won were to the U.S. Senate. And let’s face it, getting elected in the third most progressive state (New York) was no contest.

What’s her problem? For starters, she dislikes the press for how it jumped on every 1990s Clinton scandal, no matter how groundless (Whitewater, Vince Foster, etc.) and keeps her dealings with the media to an absolute minimum. This is why it took her so long to offer any response to the email controversy. Needless to say, this reaction was understandable but counterproductive.

The other thing is that she has a speaking style people just don’t like. Whether people find her to be “loud” or just feel threatened by how much she comes off as an assertive woman of action, she puts people off. She just does.

For those who think I just played the gender card, I give you The New Yorker's "power behind the throne" cover from 1994

For those who think I just played the gender card, I give you The New Yorker’s oh-so-tasteful “power behind the throne” cover from 1994.

So the harsh truth is that Hillary seems to be bad at running for President. Combined with all the above mentioned problems, it’s really no wonder that the outcome of the race for the nomination, let alone the general election, all of a sudden is up for discussion.

Taken 3

Taken3TitleLiam Neeson as Bryan Mills
Sam Spruell as Oleg Malankov
Maggie Grace as Kim Mills
Forest Whitaker as Inspecter Frank Dotzer
Dougray Scott as Stuart St. John

Taken 3 a mix of spy action and the the old “I wuz framed” concept. That’s really all you need to know. Review over.

Still there? Fine. I guess I’ll be thorough.

Our story has former CIA operative Bryan Mills’ wife getting killed and because the police discover him near the body, they think he did it. Meanwhile, he goes through issues with his daughter.

Taken3A

I think that endangering your own daughter may be one of these issues.

Our first big problem is is the acting. We have an Irish star who finds an American accent too difficult to speak. So forget the great performances from the Star Wars and Batman movies. Here he can’t act. Similarly, Sam Spruell bombs as the bad guy because he’s a Brit who can’t do a Russian accent very well. Does Maggie Grace pull off her performance as Bryan’s daughter? I guess, but no more. Of course the cliche nature of the “you were never there for me” dialogue isn’t helping matters.

Taken3B

Signs that leave your legs exposed are great hiding places because… BECAUSE!!!

Speaking of dialogue, it’s cliche all around. There’s lots of hero/villain and philosophical talk that has been done better and more subtly elsewhere. “Why do you have to be so damn honorable?” Bryan is asked at one point. It’s a “he’s a hero, dammit” message from the writers.

As for story, this is one of those action flicks in which you really can’t think too much if you are to enjoy yourself. Don’t ask yourself why Bryan never thinks of trying to beat the case when the evidence against him isn’t the strongest in the world. Don’t ask why none of the calls Bryan makes are traced by the cops (Bryan even talks to head investigator Frank Dotzer at some point). Don’t allow it to occur to you that this must not be much of a hero when he tortures people to get information and blows up pursuing cops who are only doing their jobs. Don’t think about Bryan still standing trial for torture if not cop-killing. And don’t ask why Dotzer says at the end that he knew Bryan was innocent all along, when everything Dotzer had been saying and doing suggested the opposite.

Taken3C

Of course, “I knew it all along,” are famous last words, regardless of consistency.

Of course, by that point, you have forfeited your intelligence. The better choice is to not see Taken 3.

Overall: 3 out of 10

10-Yard Fight

10-YardFightTitle

Can 10-Yard Fight be fairly reviewed? It’s an honest question. As one of the earliest football-inspired video games, 10-Yard Fight excludes concepts as basic to the sport as play calling, sacking, or even decent passing.

On the other hand, this is a NES port of an arcade game released in 1983.  What could really be expected? Arguably more, as those concepts I mentioned above would be a part of later NES football games, but probably not in any as far back as 1983.

Plot: N/A

Graphics: 4 out of 10

The look is mostly bland, plain, but not too bad. Well, except that the team units are weird. They come in three horizontal sets of three. Yes, only nine players. There doesn’t seem to be a tight end or halfback. My guess is that this game was coded by Japanese people who don’t know anything about football.

10-YardFight1

But they did get first downs right. Props for that!

Sound: 2 out of 10

Like so many of the earliest NES sports games, this one has no sound, just generic sound effects. That is not acceptable. Donkey Kong had music, for Christ’s sake!

Gameplay: 5 out of 10

On offense you begin each play as the quarterback. You can either run, make a side or forward pass. Again, there is no halfback, so the quarterback both passes and runs. Side passes are preferable because forward passes tend to be picked off. If you pass, you can run with the one who got the ball (the ball carrier always wears different clothing from everybody else). That’s all there is to offense in this game.

Defense is even more limited. Everybody seems to be a linebacker. As such, all defenders rush through the offensive line to reach the quarterback or wide receiver, depending on whether the defense passes or runs. Because everybody moves slow and the quarterback can pass almost immediately, true sacks, although not tackles for losses, are almost impossible.

Speaking of slowness, Beyond the limited and inaccurate way football plays are done here, the fact that everybody moves very slowly makes it a tad difficult to get excited.

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Of course, a pileup will get your attention no matter what.

On the other hand, despite all these problems, the controls actually work quite well. The gameplay may not be very fun, but it is competent.

Challenge: 1 out of 10

This game may be a bit of fun with two players, but the computer is way too easy. There are five difficulty settings: High School, College, Professional, Playoff, and Super Bowl. Even on Super Bowl, the computer can’t maneuver around defenders. As a result, I typically hold him to -1-3 yards a play. When I’m on offense, I typical get a first down on first down. As a result, I slaughtered the computer twenty eight to nothin’ on Super Bowl. Why? Because he’s so easy. Maybe I could strive for fifty-six. Other than that, there is no challenge.

Plus, what you play for is a humiliating. mistranslation. Very NES of 10-Yard Fight, though.

Plus, what you play for is a pathetic mistranslation. Very NES of 10-Yard Fight, though.

Overall: 4 out of 10

10-Yard Fight may be one of the earliest football games, but it’s far from a classic. Lack of sound, extreme slowness, inaccurate representation of the sport, and the fact that the computer is a piece of cake make this one not worth going back to. Or going to at all if you, like me, never played it as a child.