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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Knights of the Old Republic: The Beginning

Yes, it's Jan. 2006 and I am just now starting KOTOR (the first). I appreciated being able to create my own custom character. The appearance of your character is limited to several standard models (not as flexible as I was hoping). I would have liked to have been able to select different hair color, eye color, clothing (if you've ever played with Tiger Woods' PGA 2004, you know what I mean). I chose the Scout class female character, and I name her "Standard Female No. 4" because that's who she is. I thought the scout class would be a nice blend, a middle-of-the-road choice. The other choices are Soldier class and Scoundrel class. Scouts are supposed to be explorers endowed with dexerity (good defensive skills), intelligence (hey, just like me!), and wisdom (hey, that's me, too!). Intelligence gives you more skills, and Wisdom gives you more Jedi powers (or so I gather from the game manual).

Next, I chose my character attributes: abilities, skills, and feats. Scouts are recommended to start with the following abilities: Strength=12, Dexterity=16, Constitution=12, Intelligence=14, Wisdom=12, and Charisma=10. Charisma affects your Jedi powers and persuasive talking abilities, and I didn't want to get short-changed there, so I changed what seemed to be a less important skill, dexerity, to 15, in order to change Charisma to 12. Scouts are recommended to start with the following skills: Computer hack abilities = 4, Demolition abilities = 4, Awareness = 4, Repair abilities = 4, and ability to Treat Injuries = 4. However, this combo left out Stealth ability, which I thought would be important. Thus, in the spirit of nitpicking, I dialed down Demolition to 0 (cause frankly, I didn't want to be sent to disarm mines that are about to explode) and dialed up Stealth to 2 (stealth is more expensive, and it's not an even trade). Scouts are also recommended to have the following feats: armor (medium), melee weapons (1), blaster rifle and pistol (1), flurry attack, rapid fire attack, implant, and critical strike attack (1). However, after extensive reading of the effects of each feat, I decided to trade critical strike attack for Caution which gives me a bonus in demolitions and stealth.

So what was the result of all this character twiddling?

The first mission has begun: I wake up half-naked. Some guy barges in my room, claims he's my bunk mate but I've never seen him before. He shows me where to get some clothes and weapons, cause the ship Endar Spire in under attack and I've apparently sworn some oath to protect it (I'm thinking, "Like fu-n I did", but I don't say so, it's a little early to go Dark-side).

When I started and heard that I would be going into battle right away, I was worried that my constitution was weak (equivalent to only 9 health points), and I thought about increasing my constitution level. But as it turns out, that was unnecessary because there were many available health packs in the first mission. By the start of the second mission, my Constitution increased to 13 (equilavent to 27 health points).

By the time I had escaped the Endar Spire and started the second mission, I had earned 2 new feats. I chose Gear Head, which gives a repair, computer, and security bonus, and Empathy, which gives a bonus to Persuade, Awareness, and Treat Injury skills. I had also earned skill points, which I spent on Demolitions=4, and Security=1 (which is necessary to open locked doors -- I didn't like the idea of having to rely on other characters to open them). I'm not sure that my initial choice of changing Demolition skills to 0 and Stealth to 2 made any difference in the first mission of the game. There were no bombs to disarm, and at one point when forced to activate my stealth shield, I was still detected by the AI.

The second mission begins Taris planetside, and I wake up dazed and confused. Especially, since I am apparently trapped on this planet with a dopey-looking guy named Carth Onasi. The main objective of this mission is to find Bastilla (a Jedi lady, who I'm thinking can probably look after herself, but I don't say so, cause that would seem to defeat the purpose of this mission). I wander around town talking to supply dealers, cantina lowlifes, and stuck up Upper City snobs. I am looking for someone who might know where Bastilla has landed in the Lower City slums. However, I decide I must take a break from the game at this point, since the secondary objective is apparently to put up with dopey Carth following me around and standing in my way, and I just can't take it anymore.

Knights of the Old Republic II: Awesome

Well, I finally had a chance to sit down with the brand new copy of KOTOR II over the past week.

The original KOTOR was, all things considered, probably the best game since Alpha Centauri; it really gave you the feeling of being a small band of adventurers exploring space (and saving the universe in the process). I haven't had as much fun playing a computer game since, well, playing through the legendary Star Control II way back when there was one continent and 286s ruled the earth. In KOTOR, you had the opportunity to explore places in the Star Wars universe that we hadn't seen before with spectacular 3D graphics. Throw in an astonishingly well-written plot, the excellent voice acting, and the ability to choose between multiple story paths while interacting with well conceived NPCs and you really do get a masterpiece.
So, as you can tell, I really liked KOTOR, and therefore have high hopes for KOTOR II. I'm just a little ways into the first mission, but so far it seems that KOTOR II is just as good as the first game. I really like the minor interface and gameplay tweaks that the new developers put into the game. Probably the best thing about the new game, however, is the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality that the new designers at Obsidian clearly took to heart. They didn't incorporate a brand new graphics engine with outrageous hardware requirements or change the game into an FPS; they just provided more of the same. Which in this case is A Good Thing.

Juliraptor Now Online

Hi, there! This is J-Raptor.

Like BNG Possum, I also enjoy computer games when I can. I'm a bit behind due to the fact that I didn't realize time was passing me by so quickly, so I'm still playing a lot of older games. Some games never get old, no matter how many times I play them. The best example is Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. I am a big fan of multiplayer games with friends and family across the country, but I like a wide variety. Alpha Centauri is a great multiplayer game, and the expansion pack comes with a faction editor so you can create your own computer opponents. This is great stuff!

In general, I look at games from the view of an average person, with little spending money to make upgrades every month or to buy giganitc gaming rigs. Currently, I have a Pentium 4, 2.5 GHz Compaq with 512 MB RAM and a sparkling new video card, the Radeon All-in-Wonder 2006 Edition (256 MB). This card replaced the factory-installed nVidia GeForce 4 MX420 (64MB). You may laugh at these specs but they were excellent when I bought the computer in 2002. I was very impressed with Compaq for providing an affordable system at a great price (no they don't pay me, but they can if they want...). My last computer before that was a Sony 166 MHz, with a 1 MB 3D-accelerated graphics card that was state-of-the-art in 1997. So this was a big step up! This will probably be the last upgrade I make to this system. I hope it will get me through a few more years, but I'm gonna have to start saving up for a new system before 2010 because new games are going to require processing speeds in excess of 2.5 GHz. Fortunately, I have a huge backlog of older games to get me through these tough times.

I haven't noticed a huge change in gameplay since I did the graphics card upgrade. Actually, because the All-in-Wonder TV component requires so much boot time, that it really bogs the system down at start up. It takes up to 5 minutes just to get my desktop up and ready to go. This can be an annoyance. I tried hiberating the system when I'm done for the night instead of a full shut-down, but even so, sometimes the TV player will not display TV signal correctly -- requiring a restart anyway. In fact, sometimes, the TV signal will not display properly if I just exit and reopen the TV player -- requiring another restart. So far, this has been the only annoyance with this card. The main gameplay difference I noticed with the new card was the ability to dial-up in-game graphical settings from "Normal" to "High" (I still can't get to "Highest" in most newer games). But since I'm in denial about the fact that it is the year 2006 already, most of the older games I play run great!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Welcome to Space Race Victory!

Well, I finally decided to make the plunge and switch over to Blogger. I had been keeping a rudimentary blog over at the 1UP.com domain, but the 1UP.com interface is primitive and therefore kind of a hassle. Then I heard about the “Blogger for Word” add-in and decided enough was enough, so here I am.

The title of this webpage is a reference to both the “Space Race Victory” of Sid Meier’s timeless classic, Civilization, and my lifelong interest in space exploration and development. Although in principle I have many hobbies—model rocketry, model airplanes, fine scale modeling—because of the pressures of a busy and satisfying job the only one I get to do with any semblance of regularity is PC Gaming. On this webpage, expect a lot of discussion of computer games and a few occasional tidbits about space exploration.

Since people will ask: My personal system (upon which I do 95% of my gaming) is a Dell Inspiron 8600c with the "Dothan" Pentium 715 chip and the ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 (M10 core) . For what its worth, its Windows Game Advisor rating is "Chug." That's OK, though, because I appreciate story and gameplay a lot more than snazzy graphics.