Solitaire’s a Game for One

“So, if you’re not currently watching movies almost nightly, what are you doing with your evenings?”

I’m glad you asked, mysterious sock puppet. I’m reading, of course – Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks, and being driven mad by the faux photocopied documents, almost impossible to read on my Kindle. But by and large, I am indulging that infrequently employed category on this blog, Old Men Playing Videogames.

“DANG you, PwnzNoobz666!”

This is where the “Old Man” part becomes a bit more than ironic posturing. I haven’t owned a gaming console in more than a decade, maybe two – that is now the province of my son. You get right down to it, I was never very good at most of them, anyway. My methodology in fighting games was “Flail away in all directions”. The other gaming trend that took over the market for a couple of years was side-scrolling shooters, and I did alright at those, but I found them more frustrating than entertaining. Don’t even talk to me about platformers. My interests were more with the Role Playing Games; the first videogame I ever finished was Legend of Zelda II: Link’s Adventure. I remain one of the only people I know who finished Final Fantasy VII.

So most of my experience with the newer, shinier videogames has been watching my son play or when I visit Dave and he forces me to play whatever Mario is current so he can laugh at my clumsiness. No, I still play what are known as JRPGs, still finding them entertaining until almost inevitably I hit the ridiculously overpowered End Boss and I walk away. Past that, I have largely aged into what is sneeringly referred to as a Casual Gamer.

My game is Solitaire.

“Memmmmmories… light the corners of my miiiiiind…”

It was almost impossible to escape the classic game of Klondike in the early days of home computing – it, like Minesweeper, was there to get people accustomed to using the mouse. There were many games marketed over the years with fancier, even customizable cards, more variations on the game. One of the first shareware games I actually bought – outside DOOM – was Solsuite, which has resided on every hard drive I ever owned. It includes what seems to be every variation of the game ever, and beating German Patience was my quest for several months.

But, as I mentioned earlier, I’m an RPG fan, so I wanted something a little deeper. And game designers stepped up. We’ll take these in (sort of) order played. I’m not going to mention the ones I hated – and there are several. All of these are available on Steam, if you are so interested. All of them employ the basics rules of the Solitaire variation known as Golf, where cards are played one rank higher or lower than than the base card, with no regards to suit. The order loops, so Kings may be played on Aces, and vice versa.

I suppose my modern era of solitaire obsession began with Rainbow Games’ Chronicles of Emerland, which I originally played on an iPad, and was delighted to find on Steam.

Emerland eases the RPG fanatic into it’s world via a tutorial administered by an ancient wizard. In a format with which we will become very familiar, each level consists of ten hands, with an option to immediately replay any hand with less than a happy outcome, and you are going to want to get as much gold as possible from each hand to buy power-ups in the game store – more undo’s per hand, more cards to your deck. Wild cards occasionally show up, and you can hold up to five for when they are needed. Longer strings of cards removed from the board give you bigger bonuses. Between each level is a brief hidden object game to break things up.

When you finish your tutorial level, the Wizard’s old disciple, Seth, shows up and announces he’s going to take over the world, as one does. His plan is to waltz though the four kingdoms, destroy the Amulet each uses for magic protection, and then raise a Lava Golem to dominate them. You – and your cards – have to get through all the obstacles Seth throws in your way, repair the broken Amulets, and defeat the Golem. Along the way you pick up a companion from each of the Kingdoms – a Knight, Elf, Dwarf and Merman. Each has special attacks that prove very helpful in cleaning up the hands where you have an annoying card or two left over.

The artwork is very pretty in Emerland; the characters have some limited animation, and are fully (and pretty well) voiced. I enjoy that the card layouts actually change in form through the various kingdoms. I literally have no idea how many times I’ve played this through.

That obsession was kicked into high gear by Grey Alien Games’ Regency Solitaire, which I had read about on Boing Boing. It’s basically the Masterpiece Theater of solitaire games, as we meet young Bella, whose family fortunes have been squandered away by her foolish brother Edward. He’s been snookered by that awful Mr. Bleakley, the scheming neighbor who hopes, now that her family is practically penniless, that Bella will be forced to marry him. The game will take you though a pretty entertaining story, as Edward gets in deeper and Bella meets Lord Henry Worthington, who is as handsome and decent as Bleakley is odious and treacherous.

No hidden object games here, though each level has three increasingly difficult objectives that must be met or you have to play the level over again. Between each level you can purchase power-ups in the form of decor for Bella’s initially barren ballroom, two of which do stray card cleanup. Regency also allows you to hold up to ten wildcards, and those will be essential for some of the tougher objectives. I haven’t played it as many times as Emerland, but it’s close.

Subsoap’s Faerie Solitaire is the one I’ve currently played the least, but that’s not a comment on its quality – for some reason, on my desktop, the game refuses to be centered in fullscreen mode. It plays just fine on my laptop though. You’re a young man who seems to have a talent for freeing captured faeries (through playing solitaire, of course). Exactly why these poor creatures are being captured has not yet been revealed. The main character has voiceover narration, and my producer’s heart mutters “Couldn’t this just as easily been a girl? Save the cost of the voice work and make it gender neutral?”

The design seems geared toward younger players, with whimsical, simple card designs. The default sounds seem rather loud, clangs and crashes calculated to create youthful laughter (or maybe I’m just old). Though the game claims its version of wildcards are “Rare” I’m finding them pretty frequently. There is no option for immediately replaying less-than-perfect hands, that is apparently in another game mode that has to be (pretty easily) unlocked. Perfect hands allow you to gather eggs for fantasy animals that evolve through other magic items gathered and experience as you play. And who can resist hatching dragons? It’s been fun, though not terribly challenging.

Anawiki Games’ Avalon Legends Solitaire 2 was my sole reason for existing for several days. It begins with a war between King Arthur and an army of goblins, which I guess was the plot for the first game (spoiler: it was not). While Arthur and his knights are off to Goblinland, it’s up to you, a druid with a deck of magic cards, to rebuild war-ravaged Camelot. Clearing cards uncovers gold, food and material, all things you need to create buildings, and depending on which you build, they will create more.

Avalon places each hand as a separate location of a pretty large map. It had been a while since I’d played a game with a manufacturing chain, and I soon realized I was cheating myself by wailing on the replay button immediately after a bad hand. By returning to the main map each time, I collected more material for rebuilding. Playing the hand again doesn’t replace the food or materials, but it allows you to score more gold, and as we all know, gold can solve a lot of problems.

I took the responsibility of rebuilding Camelot very seriously. and spent most every waking hour doing so – it was that much fun. I seem to have completed that about three-quarters of the way through the map, which means now I can afford some of the pricier power-ups in Merlin’s Tower. Wild cards really are rare in this game – you generally have to buy them – but it seems you can replay ANY hand whenever you want.

Let’s wrap up with something completely different, Raging Hammer Games’ Solitairica. Once more you’re up against some megalomaniacal villain – this time it’s Emperor Stuck – using only the power of Golf. Well, not only, as there are some intriguing overlays. You’re still clearing cards largely with no consideration of suits, but this time the suits do matter, because they charge up one of four attributes – Attack, Defense, Agility and Willpower. These power spells that allow you to clear cards faster, make better decisions or, as it says, defend.

This is what I was playing when Avalon Legends 2 sucked me in. The hands each represent a different enemy, and they are not defeated until you clear all the cards from the field. Each enemy is different in both attacks and defense, requiring you to constantly reassess your play style. The first field is eighteen enemies deep, and I don’t know how the game is arranged after that, because I haven’t gotten any farther than that. Challenging game, but highly entertaining. When a defeated enemy calls me a “Hornswoggler!” I know I’m in for a good time.

There’s more I haven’t even started to play yet – including a Day of the Dead-themed one – buuuuuut I’m also pretty sure you stopped reading a couple of games ago. Fine. I’m going to see if I can finally defeat the Sturdy Coin Swarm Expanding Bureaucrat.

Also Available on Amazon:

Chronicles of Emerland

Regency Solitaire

Faerie Solitaire

Avalon Legends 2

 

How We Hurted Ourselves III

After a day of attempting to recover from Friday’s debauchery – a day which included a show of my own and the realization that I wasn’t really hungry until 4PM – We casually drifted together again at Dave’s. The rest of the sausages and pork tenderloin were cooked, as Dave remembered something he had realized Friday night: Rick had never seen Mortal Kombat.

Well, now I guess you don’t need to see the movie. Rick’s screams were remarkably similar to those produced during GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

I think Paul W.S. Anderson get s a raw deal, personally. If I made lists, I wouldn’t be putting his movies in the Top Ten, but they always entertain me, and frankly, that’s all I ask of a movie: enlightenment or edification would be nice, certainly, but I’m largely there to forget my cares for a while. And Mortal Kombat is a not-so-guilty pleasure; Anderson was asked to make a movie out of a video game that is pretty much different flavors of punching and kicking and pulling out spines, and little else. Mortal Kombat is pretty much what would happen if a bunch of kids got together and decided to play Mortal Kombat even though they didn’t have any consoles. You know, play-acting, like I did with my friends when we played WWII decades before Castle Wolfenstein was invented. Rules for the tournament that comprise the movie are improvised on the spot, as required by the plot – which is also improvised on the spot.

So Mortal Kombat is essentially a spiritual companion to GI Joe: a big-budget, loud, but essentially empty visualization of an adolescent/childish pursuit. Prime material for this sort of gathering.

In retaliation Rick insisted on more Pink Lady & Jeff. Did I mention Paul finally made it tot he fest? Paul finally made it to the fest. He was in time for me to hit my 20 minute limit on Jeff Altman, and for Dave to start his next shot across our bows. He admitted that he had never seen it, then hit play, fading back to relish what he hoped would be our cries of dismay and agony.

Oh yeah, the only time Nancy and Ronnie actually made a movie together. Unlike what you may have been told, Hellcats of the Navy isn’t a bad movie. It’s not a particularly good one, but it’s no Dondi. Ronnie plays a WWII sub commander who makes a tough call and leaves a man behind during a mission. As luck would have it, the luckless sap was dating Ronnie’s ex-girlfriend (Nancy) which makes his demise suspicious, to say the least. So he spends the rest of the movie trying to regain the respect of his second, Arthur Franz (as usual, playing a non-commissioned dick), disobeying orders to win the war, blah blah blah. Paul and I were actually enjoying it, but it does get very talky and long-winded in the second act, and Dave actually asked for the return of Pink Lady & Jeff. Yes, he regretted that.

Our actor contingent finally made the scene after their Sunday matinée, and lucky, lucky them, they were there for the return of Mie and Kei and (shudder) Jeff. I had been asked to put on the episode guest-starring Jerry Lewis (double shudder), but I screwed up under the tender ministrations of Dr. Vodka and instead put on the un-aired sixth episode, which featured Sid Caesar, Red Buttons (both on their second eps) and for music, Bobby Vinton and Roy Orbison. Oh, and Byron Allen. This was C-list heaven.

There was a hypnotic awfulness about the show that held people spellbound, and we actually got through the entire episode. Paul had started out lobbying for a “70s TV Night”, which he quickly reneged upon, especially after the Bobby Vinton Medley of His Hits. The casual racist humor which runs through the series absolutely blossoms during a sketch in which Sid Caesar plays Pink Lady’s father, complete with gibberish Japanese. One wonders what the girls thought of this, though they handle it like pros. Frankly, after only a week of this crap, they were probably just trying to make it through their six eps and get back to their sold-out stadiums.

This was really bewildering to those of us – well, only Dave and I, perhaps – who liked Caesar and knew he was funny:

The other amazing thing is, that, I believe alone of all the featured hot musical guests, Roy Orbison is actually onstage with Pink Lady. Most of the others – Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick, Blondie – will give you a blank stare if you ask them about the time they appeared on Pink Lady & Jeff. It usually came down to Mie and Kei struggling through “An naow – Cheepu Trikka!” aaaaaand we cut to a video. Which wasn’t too bad, except that you usually saw the same thing on The Midnight Special a week or two earlier.

After watching this episode, many bitter tears and recriminations – and Rick whining “But what about the Jerry Lewis episode?”, it was decided to spend the rest of the night playing Beatles Rock Band, moving eventually to Rock Band 2 and Dave’s neighbors asking him to turn that crap down. I eventually get talked into picking up the bass guitar for a few songs (though only on the Beatles and only on easy – the playlist on Rock Band 2 is a litany of “who?”s from me)(weirdly, I think i would have done better on DJ Hero, but I’m probably fooling myself), and that’s how the evening wound down. Alan actually outlasted me for stick-around-itude when I leave around 1:30.

I’m going to be shooting at the Houston Hot Sauce Festival tomorrow, so I took Monday off, allowing myself a bit of a sleep-in. Next time, of course, we won’t be pretending that we’re younger and able to pull off such feats as this; Mrs. Dave will be back, with a concurrent return to reason, I presume. I am also going to enjoy pointing out for some time that there was a marked lack of R-rated naughty flicks during this golden opportunity. Ronnie Reagan indeed!

And there’s still that Jerry Lewis episode of Pink Lady & Jeff, just waiting out there in the dark, like Jason at Camp Crystal Lake.

Yet I’m Not Mad.

Oh, Tumblr, you minx. I thought you were over that little flu.

Set up my queue this morning, with no problem. First poster fired off as scheduled. Come to work, finally pin down an interview, check my Twitter feed… oops. Should have been at least two more auto-posts in that time.  Attempts to force a publish meet with the dreaded “Maintenance” page. Finally, get through, and now we’ll see what happens.

I don’t want it to look like I’m complaining; hell, Tumblr costs me nothing, and it’s something I enjoy doing. I’m sure I’m not going to see much of that attitude when I eventually journey over tot he message boards of City of Heroes, which is, after all, a paid service. The game, not the forums.

A long-awaited expansion, Going Rogue, went live officially yesterday.  Yeah, there was much bemusement when Palin’s book of the same title came out, a year or so into the game’s development. The big draw here is to take your hero or villain through a falling/redemptive arc and have them fight on the other side, or even enter a gray moral ground. That’s something that has been asked for as long as I’ve been playing the game – at this point, over five years – so, as you might imagine, the floodgates opened.

I had pre-purchased the expansion some time ago, as it allowed early access to a couple of the new character types in the existing game. The temptation to make a whirling dervish double-pistol wielding Chow Yun Fat hero was too tempting… even if he did wind up looking like Black Dynamite. SO I (and others like me) got an extra day to frolic in the new city zones, an alternate dimension dystopia called Nova Praetoria.

Well, last night… the evening of the first official day… I tried to log on to find some emergency maintenance going on. When I did get one, the mapserving was frequent as the server farms groaned under the load. I eventually logged off earlier than I had anticipated, but this is old news for me. The same thing happened during other hotly anticipated expansions, and I see no real reason it to change. The system of tubes is gonna get clogged, you know?

But I’m sure there will be many dire threats to ragequit on the forums, blah blah blah. That is also the nature of the System of Tubes, and since I can’t change it, I might as well enjoy it.

Motion Control Sickness

Yeah, I’m about a week late embedding this, but I find it hilarious, and it distills perfectly my feeling about the newly announced motion controls for game consoles: motion control is nice and natural for some games, but for the most part publishers are shoehorning motion control onto games that don’t reward it, like the current fad for 3-D in movies that were not intended for same. Like nailing a homemade wooden spoiler onto a car thinking a) it looks badass, and b) you will get better gas mileage, when neither is true.

Please note: not my car.

I should just shut up and let Yahtzee speak breathlessly:

Or at least I would if I could get WordPress to embed a video from that site, so go go gadget Tumblr blog!

Maaaaaaaaagic Colors

“I guess I really overdid it today, huh?”

“Ooh, what a surprise!”

Life with the convalescent who refuse to be convalescent. Heavy sigh.

Anyway, though I’m not as heavily into the videogame scene as I once was (found one game I really like, and just stayed there), I was excited to see Boing-Boing’s story this morning on a new game coming from the developers of Rez, Q?.  It’s called Child of Eden, and it seems to have the same sort of tunnel-vision game play Rez had, only much, much prettier.

I appreciate well-done tunnel-vision games. Rez was certainly one – the clip below reminds me why I wish these guys had done the cyberspace segments in Johnny Mnemonic (that’s the way cyberhacking should look), and the Playstation N2O was a nice try:

but you were better off spending that money on Crystal Method CDs.

The pimp daddy of them all is Tempest, and the modernizations Tempest 2000 and Tempest X3 were fantastic.

That’s all I got. Being pulled in too many directions at once today to be as pedantic as usual.

Was there a point?

That last post got very scattered, yes, I know. There was a point I had intended to make in there when I started writing, and it all got buried. That point was – while I was talking about the quality of the speakers in the Nintendo DS – I was struck by one instance in particular.

I’m still playing Etrian Odyssey II – Heroes of Lagaard. As you know, I’ve typified it as an old school dungeon crawl (which I lurvs), where the lower screen is used to map the dungeon as you travel through it. In this particular labyrinth, you start at the bottom and work your way up, and it has become so overgrown that it is a forest into and of itself – no stone walls or caverns. Seasons seem to change with every five levels or so, and when I got to the third stratum, where it is perpetual winter, there it was, captured with perfect fidelity, one of my favorite sounds in the world: the sound of boots crunching in snow.

Yeah, yeah, I know, you folks in the more Northern climes, like my pal Ken Begg in Chicago, are doubtless sick to freakin’ death of the sound, but as a lifelong Texan, it remains quite exotic to me. I seem to make it to Chicago every two years or so to visit snow (and Ken and B-Fest), and on the rare occasion that snow does not coat the ground… man, I miss that sound.

And since we are speaking of Etrian Odyssey II and my time-wasting activities: I finally got past the twin bosses that were giving me so much grief and continued to advance into the game. At this point, I am starting to mess with the makeup of my party, so here comes some gaming geek stuff. If you’re not interested, well, there’s some links over to the right. See ya later.

Lagaard allows a party of up to five characters, and by and large I’ve been pretty traditional in the makeup. There’s a jack-of-all trades warrior (called a “Landsknecht” here), a tank – high hit points, high defense, decent damage (called a Protector), a “War Magus”, so-so damage but some great healing and buffing magic, a dedicated healer called a Medic (fancy that) and a Gunner. Yes, a character with a gun in a fantasy game. It happens all the time. And once you start leveling a Gunner’s attacks, that character starts kicking ass without bothering to take names.

I’ve been using the War Magus as a backup healer, but that’s really only utilizing half his potential, as many of his special attacks do extra damage to targets that another character has placed a status effect upon – a monster that has been stunned, or had Sleep or Fear cast upon it.

What this means is I should be leveling up a Hexer… a character whose sole function is to cast Curses upon opponents. Yet, so far, I am not. (Though if the Hexers attacked with canes, and were called Curmudgeons, nothing would stop me from fielding a party of five of them)

Minor digression: Lagaard has some attacks, both on the player and opponent side, that “bind” various portions of the target’s body. A Bind on the head lessens accuracy and damage. A bind on the arms prevents the fancier, higher-damage-dealing attacks and magic. Bind the legs, there is no escaping (and that’s card I’ve had to play several times).

Minor digression 2: After a certain number of battles, each character is able to perform a Force Skill. If you’ve played Final Fantasy, you’ll recognize it as a Limit Break. A devastating attack that costs no points to perform. For the Gunner, it’s a Riot Gun, for the Landsknecht it’s All Out, which deals heavy damage to every target onscreen.

Now that you have that information, I can try to tell you about what is distracting me from that Hexer I seem to think I need. Cuz I’m leveling a Dark Hunter.

From the website:

“The Dark Hunters of High Lagaard are similar to those found in Etria; they can still work with either whip or sword to focus on bindings or status ailments, respectively. The key difference comes in their ability to set potentially deadly traps: in High Legaard, Dark Hunters can react to either physical or magical attacks, no matter what weapon they use.”

But wait, there’s more.

Force Skill: Bondage
Using every binding technique at its disposal, the Dark Hunter will bind an enemy’s head, arms and legs, rendering it completely incapable of acting in battle.”

Attacks that bind the opponents legs, arm and head, individually? They are called Shackles, Cuffs, and Gag. Higher attacks in the tier are named Climax and Ecstasy.

I’m leveling up a dominatrix.

The game supplies four possible portraits for each character, but I think this one says it all.

Did I mention this game is rated E – 10+ ?

I guess this may be the “Suggestive themes” alluded to in the ratings box….

God, I love Atlus Games!

EDIT: Now that I’ve gotten a chance to use it, the Dark Hunter’s Force Skill in-game is called “Dominate”, not “Bondage”, as it says on the site. I’m not sure if that’s more or less explicit…

—————-
Now playing: Haggard – Larghetto / Epilogo Adagio
via FoxyTunes

Bodies Electric

As everybody knows, I remain perpetually behind the curve. For instance, perhaps by this time next year, I will have finally seen The Dark Knight.

Which is why I am here to proclaim my love for the Nintendo DS.

Before I bought a used one a little over a month ago, I’d had very little time with one, but I distinctly recall reading the pre-release stuff and thinking, “Two screens. Huh.” And also recalling any number of NES peripherals that went unsupported and wound up on the Toys’R’Us clearance aisle. The Powerglove still looked cool, though. And dig that proto-Wii gameplay:

Time has, of course, proven me wrong, especially if the number of DS Lites I saw being pulled out while people were waiting in line at Disneyworld. Lots of kids, sure, but several adults, too.

The most remarkable thing to me – besides the actual utility of two screens – is the quality of the speakers on this dang thing. Little, tiny thin things, and they sound fabulous. At least one writer called them “surround sound”, and I scoffed… but the dimensionality of the sound coming from these things is awesome.

I picked up an affordable used copy of Final Fantasy III (the one that had gone untranslated for many years, for those keeping score). Uematsu’s music sounds very rich, even coming off a tiny chip. There are some things about modern times I wholeheartedly endorse.

Etrian Odyssey has gone by the wayside for the moment. There was sort of a story in there, but only released in small, puzzling droplets. SquarEnix excels at sort of thing, so I’ve been engrossed in FFIII’s story quite happily.

Also: when Etrian would eventually serve up a boss that ate my lunch, I would go out and grind levels until I was strong enough to take it on. In Etrian, I would think in terms of 10 levels or so. Final Fantasy, generally one is sufficient.

Viewing wise: Watched the first disc of The Wild, Wild West, Season One, and you can’t go home again. Love the steampunk spy gadgets, adore Michael Dunn as Dr. Loveless… but twice in two episodes we’ve seen Jim West turn women from the dark side by simply being Jim West and having smoldering good looks, thereby saving the day. I find I didn’t buy it with James Bond and Pussy Galore, either.

Hadn’t seen The Battle of the Bulge in many years, either, so thank you, Netflix. I liked it, but it still doesn’t beat Tora! Tora! Tora!, in my book. Though TTT seems equally crowded, it had a marvelous, semi-documentary feel. Bulge has a lot of extraneous material that could have been cut with no detriment to the story, and I really have my doubts about that final battle at the fuel depot. Still, good stuff, and it is wonderful to see the Cinerama moments, comparable to the roller coaster sequence in This is Cinerama, which did not translate at all during my first viewing on network TV, in pan-and scan. Blech.

Lastly, saw the first disc of the new version of The Andromeda Strain, which was one of my favorite movies because the science fiction is so darn hard. I had my doubts about this, as the travails of the scientists working inside the underground bunker of Project Wildfire has taken a back seat to thoroughly modern tropes like competing agendas of various government agencies (including the Office of Homeland Security, an unthinkable concept when Crichton first wrote Strain), a cocaine-addicted investigative reporter, and ground-level views of the unfolding effects of Andromeda. Taking the story largely out of the bunker has limited the pressure-cooker race against time feeling the original movie possessed, but darned if it ain’t still compelling viewing.