So the 28 days is up and I plunged back into gaming again. I played a bunch of different games and didn't get far in any of them before sampling something else.
Notes on Oddworld Stranger: There is a constant tension in the game designer. On the one hand, you want to make your character badass, so that your players feel heroic. On the other hand, if you make them *too* badass, nothing challenges them and it stops being a game. So on the Hulk and Superman side you're sitting there going "I sure am badass" but you get bored quickly because nothing challenges. (Or the game is heavily contrived so there actually is a challenge--Hulk can only smash through doors; all the badguys are armed with Kryptonite rays--and then you stop feeling like the Hulk or Superman.) And on the other side, you have Abe's Oddessey, where the main character is...well...a loser, and each screen is fraught with peril. Ever since I was a kid I preferred the games where you play losers. It wasn't interesting to me to just be able to shoot at something and blow it up. I preferred the games where you had to trap the badguy in the pit, or whatever. (Lode Runner, for example.) And Oddworld has always provided in that respect. But now, in a concession to the mainstream, they bring us a badass character. But they still keep that indirectness to killing. Yes, you can kill badguys, but the game is designed so it's more rewarding to actually lure them away from their friends, paralyze them, and suck them into your ghostbusters-like bounty collection vacuum cleaner. I love this. I read on David Jaffe's blog that he thought it was a cool game and lamented that it wouldn't sell; I agree, but have to point out that this is actually the most mass-market thing that Oddworld has done yet.
Notes on Dragon's Lair and Space Ace: I actually bought the PC versions of these, mostly because when I was a kid I wasn't about to drop that many quarters into the arcade machines, and I wanted to find out what I was missing. Turns out not much. Surprise: Space Ace actually does have some nonlinear choices. But I didn't care, and didn't get very far before I lost interest.
Notes on Achaea: Over on Terra Nova someone pointed out that the indy game scene is alive, well, and profitable, and Achaea is an example of that. So I gave this text-based-MMORPG a shot. It's supposed to have the most interesting politcal system in an MMO. But, it turns out, first you should kill a lot of rats. Click. You know, I'm sure it's a good game, but I'm just not an MMO sort of guy.
Notes on Halo 2: Halo is delicious to play. One adjustment to the core mechanics, here: no hit points anymore. No health packs. You've got the famous Master Chief shield and that's it. It's a good call, because now you can't get stuck at a checkpoint with insufficient health. And Halo and Halo 2 are beautiful worlds to be immersed in. You want to play because you're happy to be there. "You always take me to the nicest places," Cortana says when you emerge from a narrow gulch into an establishing shot of a beautiful canyon with waterfalls and rainbows. And I really dig the writing. Not only is the dialog punchy, the writing is pulling me along. I want to know what happens. Oh, and: you don't notice load times. You die, there's no "Quit / Retry", "Loading..." - it almost immediately drops you right back into the action. Makes it very hard to pull yourself away from.
On the moderation-management front, I'm more convinced than ever that videogames are truly addictive. Going without for 28 days was not enough to get over the cravings. They belong somewhere between caffeine and nicotine in the dangerous substances list.