StarCraft 2 review

I’ve now played StarCraft 2 for two days. I’ve finished five missions on the single-player campaign, and played a handful of co-op multiplayer games. If you had asked me to describe the game based on the Beta, I would have said it was just StarCraft HD. Higher resolution, more beautiful, some new tech, but the gameplay is identical. The single player campaign, though, is where this game really shines. The original StarCraft’s single player was essentially a series of levels that got steadily harder and had some story connecting them. The sequel turns makes the stages non-linear, introduces credits as reward for some stages that you can then use to hire mercenary units when you’re in a bind for near-instant help or spend on research to improve units, and secondary objectives in some missions allow you to earn alien research points you can use to improve buildings. The original game only had ten Terran missions, and I’m willing to bet there are triple that in this game. Plus there are probably seven hundred achievements.

The multiplayer is fun, but you kinda need to be a semi-professional to do well at it. As Splatta said the other day, that seems too much like work.

Diamond Age review

I wrote about the failings of The Diamond Age in a message to my brother a week ago. Now that I have actually finished the book, I can say that my problems with it are still valid. First, the good: I don’t think there’s anyone better than Neal Stephenson when it comes to creating a believable universe around a technologically advanced future. In both this and Snow Crash, his world is fully realized and–more importantly–socially complex.

But The Diamond Age clearly is affected by Stephenson’s ongoing scatterbraineditis in a way that Snow Crash was able to avoid. It’s actually a pretty clear progression from the great plot of Zodiac through to the spaghetti nonsense of Cryponomicon. He creates this nanotech-infused world, introduces us to a few characters and gets us to love them and root for them. Hackworth vanishes from the storyline, then Miranda, then Nell seems to be the central character. Then she disappears when Hackworth reappears and now we’re supposed to care about Fiona for a chapter or two. Then Carl Hollywood becomes a central character. And what ever happened to Dr. X? What’s up with the Fists? Oh, here comes the Mouse Army seemingly from nowhere (or more accurately 200 pages ago). The conflict that supposedly gets resolved doesn’t even begin to appear until three-quarters of the way through the book. And now that I think about it, I’m not sure what the conflict was or even if it was resolved.

I really wanted to love this one, especially since I liked the world so much more than the virtual reality world of Snow Crash. But at least in that book, there was more or less a single conflict, clear protagonists (one was even helpfully named Protagonist). When Stephenson writes sprawling epics, he forgets to put in a direction for the story to go.

PAX East disorganized thoughts

I’m still a little too tired to intelligently compose all of my thoughts about this weekend’s PAX East, but I’m going to do my best.

  1. Without a doubt, the best part of the weekend was the half a dozen times we trekked up to the room with a bunch of standup machines from the American Classic Arcade Museum. Brian tried to get anywhere at all in Dragon's Lair (and succeeded, I think). M and I played Frogger and Pong (both predate a "free play" dip, so you had to get free tokens from an attendant). We played a whole bunch of Flash Gordon pinball. The graphics on Asteroids are eye-piercingly bright. Ms. Pac-Man has legs and she chases furbees. Winner of the award for "game I never heard of before but loved": Omega Race.
  2. The worst part of the weekend was the Friday night concert. The concert itself, actually, not so bad. But we showed up about 90 minutes early for the line to get good seats in the balcony. And then what do they do? They force the people in the front of the line to fill in from the sides first. Guh. We argued our point and the excellent Enforcer agreed and let us move. But then the concert started like an hour late and I didn't want to listen to three hours of opening acts to get to MC Frontalot. So I listened to the Protomen and then told myself I'd see Frontalot another time.
  3. PC freeplay was fantastic. A couple hundred high-end computers all set up and networked and with a bunch of Steam games loaded up. We played hours and hours of Left 4 Dead 2. I think I might buy it.
  4. Console freeplay was also good, especially if you show up early. We went first thing both Saturday and Sunday, and was able to grab a game with almost zero wait. But by the time we left each day, there was a big crowd. Played some Boom Blox (which I was told by an passer-by is the "best Wii game"), and Little Big Planet.
  5. The expo floor on Friday: a madhouse, totally terrible. On Sunday: much better. Big ups to Slam Bolt Scrappers, a fun indie multi-player Tetris-inspired battle strategy game, and Split/Second, a beautiful racing game that gets the HUD just right (i.e. almost none at all).
  6. 3D displays were all the rage, especially at the nVidia booth. Worth it? Sometimes. Will they take off? Not sure. Raise your hand if you're looking forward to wearing special glasses to play games.
  7. Starcraft II was at the nVidia booth (or maybe just near it), but the line was about five people deep and it was clear that everyone wanted fifteen minutes with the game. They could have planned that booth better.
  8. Wil Wheaton was great. He mentioned Pandemic during his keynote, and implied that it was a fun co-op board game. We tried two or three times to get it from the library, and the one time it was available, I didn't take it because it's a 4-player game and we had a group of seven. Since then, I've heard two or three negative reviews so I'm not sure what to think anymore.
  9. We did get Bang! from the library, which was great fun. We also played a bunch of Fluxx (including the Monty Python flavor) and Munchkin Fu (ninjas) and Munchkin Booty (pirates) at the same time. I won a Munchkin silver piece when an Enforcer walked by just as we were packing up.
  10. The Hynes Convention Center is kind of a dump, and was clearly not big enough for the crowds. I hope they move it to the BCEC next year. PAX East has a three-year contract, but I think the two conference centers are managed by the same company, which would hopefully make moving it pretty easy. Update 29 Mar, 2pm: Huzzah, confirmed! PAX East 2011 and 2012 will be at the BCEC!
  11. Added 29 Mar, 2pm: The swag bags you got at the door in contained a really small (30 cards?! Really?) but playable Magic: The Gathering deck. Firstly, I hope the guy who came up with the pre-built Magic deck got promoted. Secondly, we were able to sit down in line and start playing four-person Magic games without having to try to remember the rules at all. There were several "riding a bike" similes made.