Wednesday, September 11, 2013

About damn time. Doc talks at "40 going on 14"

For 20 years, I've known Joel, Mike and Pat. We've been through a lot, even if we haven't all kept in touch as often as we'd like. We met through performing on stage and playing D&D and Shadowrun in college, and lived in the same dorms and later apartments for years before marriage, moving away and the rest of it meant our respective paths diverged for a bit. In those years, at one time or another, we've all worked as comedians – stand-up, improv, internet radio, etc. We just never collaborated the way our friends and spouses always hoped we would. Until now.

From "A Midsummer Night's Dream," I'm far left holding a brick, Pat is dressed as a Lion next to me, and Joel is the blonde with the goatee on the far right. I have strange friends.


It is no secret here that when I am gainfully employed, I don't post nearly as often as I'd like to on this blog, or even to my Twitch/YouTube channels. I'm still out there experiencing geek culture, and still feeling the effects of my months being unemployed, but I post when I want to, not because I need to anymore. I've come to terms with that. I like these outlets to be a labor of love, not one purely of obligation, because the content is always better when I'm inspired, rather than required to create it. The collaboration I've found in this podcast, called 40 going on14... well, it is inspiring.

A few words to talk about the other folks on the podcast - Longtime readers already know Joel from his guest blogging here, but unless you already follow his own blog, where I have had the privilege of writing for myself, you might not know about his podcasting history. He was a part of The Awful Show, and is now one of the Undercover Unitards, bringing comedy and music to the internet weekly. He also does a more personal show, The Sunshine Happy kPants Hour (the "k" in kPants is silent.) Mike and Pat have influenced a lot of the events that inspired me to write here about movies, games and comics. Since college, we've shared trips to Gen Con, various roleplaying campaigns, and done comedy together whether on-stage or off. Pat has recently been doing stand-up back in his home state of Texas, and Mike was at the helm of another show not so very long ago called "TikiGeeks."

Mike and I at Ed Debevic's, back in our college days.



The podcast takes on elements of pop culture that we remember from when we were growing up, and seeing those things repeating themselves now that we are approaching middle age. For our first show, we all watched both Conan The Barbarian films (1982 and 2011) and ran them through the paces of what we all thought about them. It was a hell of a lot of fun to create, and I'm pretty proud of the finished product, especially for a first try. If you haven't tried podcasts before, but have a 30-minute or more commute when you might listen to talk radio... give us a shot one day out of your week. I think you'll be glad you did. I know I'm happy helping make it.
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Monday, August 26, 2013

The Origin of Forgiveness... A Humble Tale.


What would it take to get me to forgive? In much more serious circumstances than video games, I've asked myself that question hundreds of times. There are plenty of virtues I don't pretend to be particularly good at, but anyone who knows me well knows that I've got forgiveness on lock. I just can't maintain even the most justified of grudges for more than a year or two, and eventually I come back to that key question. What, if anything, would be enough to say "Okay, one more chance" to a person or organization? This isn't going to get any more serious from here on out, but I firmly believe in giving credit where it is due, as well as criticism where it is deserved. One company that I've had my share of bad things to say about online (like most gamers) is the real focus of this post. Electronic Arts, I think it is finally time to bury the hatchet.

I haven't knowingly paid for an EA game since Dragon Age 2.


It doesn't take a whole lot of detective work to find criticism of EA online. Virtually every practice that gamers hate about the video game industry has been practiced, if not pioneered by EA. Intrusive DRM, microtransactions, Day One DLC, Always-on Internet requirements (with failing validation servers,) incompetent customer service, churned out sequels to good games... the list of sins goes on and on. EA also has the particular quirk of acquiring much-loved studios and running their core franchises into the ground with terrible installment after botched sequel after failed launch. PopCap, Bioware, Westwood, Pandemic, Maxis and Bullfrog have all been butchered by bad decisions and worse press releases in response to criticism. You have to be pretty bad at this sort of thing to beat out Bank of America, TicketMaster and Comcast for Worst Company in America... twice.

What could possibly make up for all those years of missteps and unabashed greed? Offering refunds on games purchased on Origin sounds pretty good, right? It is a start, and something that Steam doesn't do, but I'm not on board yet, there's still a lot of wrong to make right. How about participating in a Humble Bundle, and having most of the games in that bundle redeem on Steam? Nope, not good enough. Even with "pay what you want," the best of the bundle still uses Origin, and many people, myself included, don't want that on our systems, period. Even reasonable pricing and Steam redemption feels more like a P.R. stunt than a gesture of goodwill, and after all, they are still making a ton of money on the Humble Bundle, right? Well, actually... no. I left out a key detail. 100% of EA's cut of the bundle is going to charity. That... that just might do it. It might still be a stunt, but it is a damn good one.

When I first saw this, I wasn't sure whether it made EA better, or the Humble Project worse.


Mirror's Edge, Dead Space, Burnout: Paradise, Crysis 2 and Medal of Honor are all Steam redeemable and available for as little as $1.00. Dead Space 3 only redeems on Origin, but is also in the bundle before looking at bonus games. The "beat the average" games are Battlefield 3, Sims 3, Populous and C&C: Red Alert 3 – Uprising, though only the last of that batch can be redeemed on Steam. These are some of the highest-profile titles to ever grace a bundle, games that still have some profitability in them at prices much higher than a dollar (except maybe Medal of Honor.) Ten games, six charities. That covers a lot of recent disasters.

I'll even overlook the (recent) steaming pile that is Plants vs. Zombies 2, riddled with way, way too many in-app purchases. I'll forget about the debacle that was the SimCity Reboot. I'll even give the Madden Franchise a pass, despite the fact that it releases every year as a new game for what should, in any sane world, be a free or cheap annual update (an easy one, as I play very few sports games anyway.) I thought the whole Mass Effect 3 thing was overblown anyway, so let's throw that in there, done, gone, forgotten. This Humble Bundle stunt buys you one last shot to get back into my good graces... Dragon Age 3. That's the next game that I'll knowingly pay good money into EA's coffers to solidify redemption. Learn from the past, don't repeat the mistakes of Dragon Age 2... One. Last. Chance. Don't screw it up.


The Humble Origin Bundle ends on Wednesday, August 28th.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

E3 and the Next Generation of Consoles – My Thoughts

Another year, another E3, only this one is a biggun. Sony and Microsoft are about to release their Next-gen console platforms, and Nintendo's Wii U is already out, so the war is on. Only, I'm not sure I care. Don't get me wrong, like every other gamer out there, I read the briefs and watched the highlights of the press conferences. But I think back to the past twelve months, and I can't remember the last time I used my Xbox 360 as anything other than a DVD player or my Wii for anything but Netflix and the scale that comes with the Wii Fit channel.  My Wii bricked itself almost two months ago, and my feelings about that can be best summed up as "mild distress," and even that faded after a few moments.  I'm not gaming less, quite the contrary. It is just that the games I want to play are all on my PC, and they look better than the console version.

All credit to Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation for this... makes me laugh.

That doesn't mean that E3 won't affect me, or the countless others who have shifted to PC as their main (or even only) gaming platform. Many titles have a multi-platform release, and their development cycles take console hardware limitations into account. This means that after a new generation of consoles is launched, PC games get better looking too as the rising tide lifts all boats... and it means that my 4 year old Media Center PC probably won't cut it for the most technically demanding releases within a few years.  And despite all my posturing, it is likely that at some point I may break down and get one of the new consoles, if only to play that platform's exclusives. So, I'll run my thoughts down on them for you.

Nintendo - 

Ok, this company is officially with EA on my list of organizations I won't support with my money until I see some serious changes.  Why, you might ask? Well, if you've been reading here recently, or following me on Facebook, Twitch or YouTube (you are a class act, and probably very successful with the opposite sex, so I totally suggest you go do that,) you know that I've started streaming my gaming daily, joining the ranks of YouTube partners and wanna be Twitch.tv partners. If I had in my list of games that I stream, any Mario, Zelda or other Nintendo properties, you might think the Big N would love a fan showing his support and wouldn't begrudge me the few dollars my ads might bring in.  You'd be wrong. Nintendo recently filed a content claim to seize the tiny trickles of revenue "Let's Play" content creators make with their games.  Anger your most fervent fan base, generate bad press and discourage free marketing... all for amounts of money that are insignificant to a multinational corporation. Good job.

YouTubers are promoting our products and earning literally
 HUNDREDS or THOUSANDS of dollars for doing so? As a multibillion dollar company, we've gotta stop that.

It is fortunate, then, that I have no interest in the Wii U as a platform. The console with controllers that act as (and frequently are used as) advanced handhelds feels gimmicky now. Most of the people who use them seem to be using them to cut the TV out of the equation entirely, whick makes the Wii U feel like a very, very expensive Game Boy/DS that has a "Base Station" you can't go too far from. Also, where are the games? Like the last few console launches, the lineup has been tepid at launch, and new titles are trickling out at a painfully slow rate. Nintendo has proven itself to be a company with its head stuck firmly in the past, making the same mistakes over and over again. As someone who was a Nintendo Fanboy and Nintendo Power subscriber from the very beginning, it hurts me to say that I'm done with them.

Microsoft - 

The other console I owned this generation was my Xbox 360. I suppose I've been a Microsoft console fan from the beginning as well, as I had the original Xbox as well. The internet is on fire at the moment with hate for the Xbox One, and I'm right there with them. Running down the reasons why is a pretty easy task, and most of it has to do with the console's hardware DRM. Locking down the Xbox One as a closed platform means you can't rent games or buy used without paying a special fee. Considering that rentals and used games comprised 100% of my 360 play in the last three years, already I'm out. Also, you can't turn the Kinect off, even when you aren't using the console, and the console needs to "phone home" using the internet once every 24 hours or you can't even play your single-player games. Internet based DRM, huh... how'd that work out for SimCity and Diablo 3? Traditionally, those schemes anger customers because the authentication servers go down and prevent legitimate paying customers from playing.

I don't think this one needs a caption.


Wait wait wait. I know, if you've been reading, you know how much I love Steam. Steam needs to connect to the internet, and I can't buy used or rent my games from there either. In fact, Steam itself is a form of DRM. Does that make my argument completely invalid? Nope. I've already committed to a platform that has many of the downsides of the Xbox One. Why do I need another one? I'm looking at the titles coming out, and I ask the question: "What can I do with the Xbox One that I can't do with my PC?" The only answer I'm coming up with is "Play Halo." Well, I don't care about Halo, so... that's that, then.

Sony -

So, traditionally, I've skipped Sony's consoles. I had a PSOne, and played on family and friends' PS2s, and even bought a game or two for them despite not having a PS2 of my own. I never even seriously considered getting a PS3. It was too expensive at the time, and I had my 360, PC and Wii already.  However, if I was getting a console in the next generation at all... it'd be a PS4. I'm not thrilled about PSN Plus adding a fee to play online, but they started the program of giving you free games with that fee (which Xbox Live is now copying.) No hardware DRM restricting used games, rentals, loaned out games, etc. No Kinect spying on you.  Actually decent looking exclusives announced at launch. And then there's the kicker: $100 cheaper than the Xbox One. I always try to get the most value out of my gaming dollar, and next generation, that dollar either stays with upgrading my PC, or goes to Sony.

Watching Videos of this and the Uncharted games makes me wish I'd just bought the damn PS3


It feels like this generation's console wars are over already, and the winner hasn't even released their product.

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

(Yet Another) New Beginning...


In my last few published articles here, I'd stopped promising a brand new start, regular updates, and the rest of it, because I knew better. I started to feel like someone in a doomed relationship swearing "No, really, baby... I can change," no matter how obviously insincere it was.  I resolved to produce new content when I could, without forcing it. This, obviously, meant that I didn't produce much of anything at all in almost the last year.  So much of what I was interested in was something I'd already covered here, and I didn't feel there was anyone clamoring for yet another Minecraft article, weight loss update, Humble Bundle or any of the other topics I've exhausted here. I'm here to say that nothing has changed, and everything has.

...and I'm not just talking about dropping over 100 pounds, but
while we're at it, Hoo-raw.

I'll still be writing in this space, when inspiration takes me or when I really have something to say on a subject.  I have some new insights on a few different games, comics and films, as well as additional perspective on geek culture issues and challenges facing the unemployed or under-employed.  (On that front, I've returned to gaming/comic/hobby retail, part time at the moment, but I won't be renaming the site yet again.)  However, I need to rebuild and to set my house in order. Part of that is getting back to producing and sharing content for the people who have supported me so far. Those hopeful folks who are still checking in daily or weekly to see that the last update was weeks or months old, you are appreciated and have not been forgotten.

In addition to the new job, hitting weight loss goals and playing Magic Competitively (as alluded to in my last update here,) I still play video games. A heck of a lot of video games. For those who are more interested in sci-fi, tabletop, fantasy novels, TV and/or comic books, I'll roll out some new contents in this very space. This other thing isn't so interesting to you if you don't care about Magic or Video Games.  I'd  toyed with methods of producing content online beyond just blogging, and I noticed the sort of content I was consuming online had moved to something more audiovisual, whether podcasting or YouTube or Twitch.tv videos. Younger geeks often can't be bothered to read more than a paragraph (get off my lawn!) and video is the only way to engage with that growing audience.  I still have a message for those people, but the medium... that might need to change.



In the short term, I've launched a Twitch channel for streaming here, and have begun testing some "Let's Play" style content. It'll be a bumpy ride as I upgrade, purchase and replace hardware for this purpose, including a webcam, better mic and maybe a PC upgrade when funds allow. For the moment, though, I'm practicing playing games, as I do, with a running commentary (and learning no not hate the sound of my voice on playback.)  My best experiments in this area will go up on YouTube, and anyone who joins me on the livestream will be able to chat live, interact with others also watching the experience as I play games from my Steam Library, experiment with interesting Minecraft servers and play Booster Drafts on Magic Online.

It'll be a different sort of content than what I'm used to producing online, but one where I don't have to wonder: "Did I screw up and use a copyrighted image?" "Is anyone even reading this?" or "What am I bringing to the table that can't be found in a hundred other places online?" There aren't so many gamers this close to 40 and married making time to make this sort of content, and that's my niche. Maybe this'll be the next thing I try for a while and then lose interest in... but in the meantime, I look forward to producing this kind of show for myself, even if no one at all watches. Join me, if you like.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nearly Two Decades Gaming... My Experience With Magic: the Gathering.


Been a while, huh? I promised myself that I wouldn't write any articles here that I couldn't be sure would provide a unique or valuable perspective. There are lots of places to read about games, comics and geeky films/novels/TV online, that I pledged that I'd write when my opinion was relevant to folks who don't already know me well. That also came with "no promising blog updates if none are forthcoming." I've got a few ideas now, so in the coming weeks and months I'll be doing some writing, with no guarantees as to update frequency. What I've been up to since I last wrote is a return to a few geeky hobbies that I used to be into years ago, but not since until recently. I'll be writing a few articles on these subjects, but both topics (Collectible Card Games, especially Magic: the Gathering, and Miniatures wargaming, especially Warhammer) are too large for a single article. Gotta start somewhere, so Magic's up first.

I prefer not to think about how much I've spent on this game, but I can't say
I didn't get a good value for my money.

The year was 1993, and I was at my third Gen Con (which would be my last one with my father and younger brother, as I started college that fall,) mostly there to play D&D. I registered for various events and seminars, but everywhere I went in the Milwaukee Convention Center, the scene was the same. Everywhere there were people sitting at tables where there was no event scheduled, or even on the floors playing a game I'd never seen before. It was some sort of card game, but each player had their own deck. Magic didn't need word of mouth in those first few days, people were too busy playing it on any flat surface they could find with anyone who had a deck to bother evangelizing. I headed to the hall and picked up a starter deck and a booster pack of Magic cards, what we'd now call "Alpha Edition." I didn't actually play Magic at Gen Con, there wasn't time to figure out the game and attend my scheduled events, but I looked over the curious cards and read the rules.

College was a great time to be a gamer, at least for me. I quickly found a gaming group and was playing D&D and Shadowrun as often as I could (which was a little too often to keep up my studies, especially once I moved into a dorm room.) When one of the guys in the group got a job at a game store in early 1994, he brought Magic to campus with him. Some of us had a few cards, had maybe tried it, but with Revised Edition and The Dark, it blew up big that spring. Through the rest of that first year and the summer that followed, we played a LOT of Magic. Some of us quit in frustration at the release of Fallen Empires (a set so bad that nearly 20 years later you can still buy unopened display boxes of packs for well under retail,) but we all got back in for Fourth Edition in the Spring of 1995.

If only I'd kept this, I could now buy a used car.

I attended a few tournaments, as I was playing one of the early dominant competitive decks, a red/green deck based around a card combination that could end the game on Turn One with a lucky draw. My "Channel Fireball" deck won its share of games, but when key cards in it were banned, I found myself unable to stay current with purchasing the cards to build a new competitive deck. I tried a few other tournament concepts that didn't do very well, but it was pretty much back to "kitchen table" magic for the next few years. Once the college friends started to get married, move on to jobs and such, playing magic at all seemed expensive and not really worth it except on the rare occasions that we all got together and felt like bringing out the old cards again. Money got tight, I sold off the expensive cards from my old tournament deck, and that was it.

Except it wasn't. When I got into games retail, I stayed away from Magic Cards at first. I remembered how expensive they could be. A friend I met at the store got me into buying pre-constructed decks as they released for a "buy this once and then put it away" kind of playing, and I did that for a year or two, maybe buying a booster pack when curious. A customer helped me trade for enough cards to make a semi-competitive tournament deck which I played and did okay with for a bit, until the mighty banhammer hit a key card in that deck, too. Back to the kitchen table. I kept the tournament deck together to dust off and smack people around with on occasion, but I bought fewer and fewer cards, with no real desire to have more.

My favorite setting in the M:tG Universe, it returning when it did seems like fate.

In the year immediately before the Hobby Shop I managed closed its doors for good, I briefly got back into Magic when I discovered booster drafting. We'd get together, draft a few packs and build decks and play a few rounds of swiss for a prize pool of about a pack per player split between the top 2. These small drafts were in the original Ravnica Block, and I loved the characters, the setting and the two-color guilds, I even read the novels. The 3rd set in the block came out, and we just never managed to get together for that last booster draft. I kept the packs, unopened, and put them away for years. I was pretty sure I was done, and for over six years, I was right.

Four months ago, two things happened. A friend (from that original group at college) posted to Facebook about playing Magic with his wife and daughters. Around the same time, my wife met a group of Magic players at the college where she's returned to finish her degree. We started talking about the game, dug out my old collection from the 4-5 different boxes and closets it had been scattered to... and just like that, I was back. I learned about the current tournament formats, got my friends into EDH (also known as commander) and started working on a tournament deck, learning what parts of my collection still held value. Magic is regarded as a rich man's (or woman's) game, but I've done okay on relatively little money, and I'm a tournament player again. The specifics of that journey are best left to a second article.

After 20 years, Magic proves to be one of those games for me... I never really quit, I just go into periods of remission.
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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Disney acquires LucasFilm, new Star Wars Films Starting in 2015.

I may not write as often as I used to, but considering my interests and areas of expertise, now and again a story comes up that absolutely cannot be allowed to pass without comment. This is one such story. The media giant The Walt Disney Company has been snapping up or producing geek-friendly properties for a while, with a recent buyout of Marvel Comics, their publishing of the Percy Jackson teen olympian series through Hyperion and a general increase in science fiction and fantasy on network programming (They own half of A&E and all of ABC Television.) Today, they dropped a bomb on geekdom. They bought out LucasFilm and ILM for just over $4 Billion USD and are getting straight to work on cranking out new Star Wars movies.

"I've got a bad feeling about this" jokes will be EVERYWHERE in a day or two.

Reactions have been immediate and scattered. We're not prepared for this. The automatic knee-jerk reaction to a huge media conglomerate buying a beloved property and making something new out of it is supposed to be fear and disgust, but this is Star Wars. More importantly, this is Star Wars without George Lucas at the helm, which is something geeks have been praying for in the "never gonna happen but wouldn't it be nice if..." category.  Every geek is going to have to face something that we may secretly dread. We're going to have to judge new Star Wars films based on their own merits, and confront the possibility that we might not just be able to blame George Lucas if the franchise moves on past being something we can enjoy, and we just plain... hate the new stuff, trapped in our dreamy memories of the originals. Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

Lucas will be kept on as creative consultant, but the new films will have LucasFilms' Kathleen Kennedy (I'm calling it now, this is a name that in a few years will be thoroughly idolized or vilified, spat like a curse in geek circles) at the helm. They are in active development for a new trilogy, with Episode VII to release in 2015, and beyond that, Disney plans to continue making a new Star Wars movie every 2-3 years until people stop paying to see them.  They know there is money to be made whether the hardcore Star Wars fans approve or not, and so long as that is true, there will always be a new Star Wars. Maybe, just maybe... that's a GOOD thing.

Hey, even if it turns out bad... an Evil Empire ruining the franchise is TOTALLY Star Wars,
so... there's that.

Hear me out. I am tentatively excited about this announcement.  Maybe the new films will be great, maybe they'll be crap. We know that without George Lucas running the show, even if they are crap, they'll be crap for different reasons, not because one guy decided that his creation wasn't bigger than him after all, and it'd be his way or not at all. Even if the new films are bad, there's an opportunity there for new Expanded Universe fiction, new video games, all sorts of properties that traditionally make the most money by being satisfying to US. Those properties are way more likely to be developed and put in the hands of someone capable of doing them right if there's a new film coming up to tie them into. No matter what they say today, geeks are going to go see every one of these films, and more science fiction is pop culture means one thing for sure...

There is gonna be sexy cosplay in 5 years of characters that don't even exist yet. Nice. Best Blogger Tips
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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

XCOM: ...and Now. (2012 Firaxis.)


I meant for this follow-up article to follow within a few days of my profile on the 1994 original. However, when I got the new XCOM on launch, I realized something. There would be dozens of articles within days of launch written by foks who had put a handful of hours into the game and written to hit a deadline. I knew after a few minutes playing that I was going to be into XCOM for some time to come, and the best way to talk about it would be from someone who had sunk enough hours into the game to consider themselves a veteran. In the last two weeks, I've sunk nearly 85 hours into this game, making it the second-longest played game on my Steam account, beating out Borderlands which I played weekly with friends for months, sometimes staying up all night. Early this morning, I finished the game in the manner it is intended to be played: Classic Difficulty, Ironman mode. I now feel qualified to talk about it.

XCOM has the guts to do something new.
 Instead of eventually beating the game being a matter of persistence, you can sink dozens
 of hours into a game of XCOM, and lose. Planet is taken by the aliens, Game Over.

So many of the reviews I read and listened to did the same thing. Spent a few sentences talking about what a good game XCOM is, and then the rest of the review talking about flaws, many of which were just design decisions they didn't personally understand. Make no mistake, there are a few bugs here, and they frustrate, especially in a game with permadeath and a mode which does not allow you to reload saves when something unfortunate happens. However, even in its current state, XCOM is a triumph. Turn-based strategy is a genre that is mostly found in niche titles or older games, with the notable exception of the Civilization series. XCOM has the potential to change all that, with a big-budget, slickly produced title that modernizes the gameplay and provides modern polish.

The game is, like the original title, about running a global organization to combat an alien invasion against a foe that outnumbers, outguns, and strikes without warning anywhere in the world. They start with weaponry that can kill a human or destroy a building, while the best soldiers in the world with our finest technology can only kill one of their weakest number with concentrated fire, assuming they don't panic before doing so. What provides hope is the strategic and tactical command of the leader of XCOM (you) and the researchers and engineers who take bits of alien technology and study and replicate it in order to develop new weapons, armor, ships and techniques for turning a bunch of scared rookies into a force capable of striking fear into alien hearts. Turn by bloody turn, difficult choices are made, and the tide slowly turns from barely surviving to kicking the aliens the hell off our planet.

You can customize everything about a soldier except their assigned class, Country of Origin, and gender. I named this squad after characters played by myself, my wife and friends in tabletop RPGs over the years.

In the strategic layer, you need to manage limited resources to build up the base, get satellites covering most of the globe, research and develop the tech for the soldiers on the ground, build and arm craft to shoot down UFOs and manage global panic to keep your funding in place. The game is played through the tactical missions, but won or lost based on the strategic layer. The missions are usually "find and kill all the aliens," but sometimes there will be a VIP to escort or locate and protect, bombs to defuse or civilians to protect. The pace of the game is careful and deliberate, with risky play resulting in failed missions, wasted resources and dead soldiers who need to be replaced with raw recruits. The best and worst turns of the game are when you make a minor mistake, exposing a new group of aliens to your squad's position, and your soldiers are at risk, even if they have advanced equipment and abilities.

Every soldier is assigned a class on promotion from being raw recruits, and as they participate in missions and kill aliens, they level up, gaining more powerul abilities. You can customize the soldiers, they gain nicknames automatically, and it hurts to lose a leveled-up soldier knowing it was your fault. That's going to happen. I lost surprisingly few soldiers in my successful Classic Ironman game, but two of them were Colonels (the highest rank) with dozens of kills each, and they died in the same mission on two subsequent turns. Each soldier can move twice, move and fire, or just fire their weapon without moving. Certain special class abilities or weapons require you to stay still, and others end your turn as though you had fired a weapon. You make hard choices. Save India, Canada, or Russia? Reload now, not knowing if you should instead get that soldier ready to fire on an alien you can't see? Try to outflank the enemy and risk alerting more to your position, or take a risky 35% shot and feel maybe like you wasted a precious action?

The result of poor planning, squad panic, rushing forward too quickly, or just plain bad luck.

Having played a bit with the multiplayer (point-based, competitive mixed squads of humans and aliens on static maps) and beaten the game on Normal and Classic Ironman, albeit with two wins out of thirty games attempted, I don't think XCOM is quite done with me yet. I might not take on Impossible difficulty with any degree of seriousness, but Firaxis is committed to long-term support, especially with a game that has done so well. Reviews have been nearly universally rave, and DLC is planned, with the first post-release content announced yesterday. A subplot focusing on China with custom maps and new missions will be the focus of "Slingshot," with a Chinese gangster available as a hero character, and the possibility of early access to a powerful endgame weapon as the reward. With more DLC planned, and the inevitable expansions and sequels, I feel bad. So much death is coming. Aliens, poor squaddies, and a whole lot more of my free time.
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