On Excitement for the LEGO Lord of the Rings Video Game

Though its existence has been known for weeks, today it became official with a press release and a trailer — later this year, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and TT Games will be releasing LEGO Lord of the Rings, a video game that transports J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic story of good’s struggle against the forces of evil into a world of colorful plastic bricks.

Let’s look at the trailer:

Oh, that’s amazing.  Oh, that’s awesome.

I was curious, most of all, to see what the LEGO Balrog would look like.  And then to see it belch&#8253 Yes, the LEGO video game humor is one-hundred percent intact. :)

The sets for LEGO Lord of the Rings are out; I saw them at Toys R Us two weeks ago, but I’ve yet to pick any of them up.  It’s not for a lack of desire.  It’s really down to money.  That’s what everything comes down to, sadly. :-/

In any case, on a brighter note, let’s take a look at the press release that announces the game:

Explore Middle-earth in an epic and thrilling LEGO videogame adventure for the entire family! Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, TT Games and The LEGO Group today announced LEGO ® The Lord of the Rings™, the latest addition to the wildly successful LEGO videogame series that brings to life the legendary fantasy saga by J.R.R. Tolkien.  The game will be available for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft, PlayStation®3 system, the Wii™ system, the Nintendo DS™ hand-held system, the Nintendo 3DS™ hand-held system, PlayStation ® Vita system and PC in Autumn 2012.

LEGO The Lord of the Rings is based on The Lord of the Rings motion picture trilogy and follows the original storylines of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.  Now the entire family can team up in pairs as adorable LEGO The Lord the Rings minifigures to experience countless dangers, solve riddles and battle formidable foes on their journey to Mount Doom.

“We are huge aficionados of The Lord of the Rings franchise and are incredibly excited to put our special LEGO family-friendly touch on this classic fantasy adventure,” said Tom Stone, Managing Director, TT Games. “We’ve taken what fans are familiar with and love about The Lord of the Rings films and combined it with the playful LEGO style, which makes the story and gameplay accessible to gamers of all ages.”

LEGO The Lord of the Rings takes players along on the adventures of Frodo Baggins and his unlikely fellowship as they set out on a perilous journey to destroy The One Ring and save Middle-earth.  Kids, tweens, teens and parents can traverse the Misty Mountains, explore the Mines of Moria, knock on the Black Gate of Mordor, and partake in epic battles with Orcs, Uruk-hai, the Balrog and other fearsome foes while harnessing the humour and imagination of LEGO gameplay to solve puzzles and explore Middle-earth.  Players will take on the form of their favourite members of the fellowship – Frodo the Hobbit, Aragorn the Ranger, Gandalf the Wizard, Legolas the Elf, Gimli the Dwarf, Boromir a Man of Gondor, and Frodo’s Hobbit friends Sam, Merry and Pippin – as they relive the most momentous events from the films.

Developed by TT Games, the LEGO The Lord of the Rings further expands on the partnership between LEGO and Warner Brothers, who recently launched the brand new LEGO® The Lord of the Rings toy collection. The line includes seven construction sets, such as The Battle of Helms Deep!

For more information, please visit: http://thelordoftherings.LEGO.com.

Though the press release gives my inner editor hives — I see places where and semi-colons and commas are desperately needed, and I think Middle-Earth is properly spelled with two capital letters — and I’ve little doubt that Tolkien would be appalled at its very existence, I am utterly and unexpressably excited for this game.

I hope the LEGO Lord of the Rings sets sell well.  I’m curious to see what the LEGO Hobbit sets will recreate and look like, and I’m hopeful for “expanded universe” LEGO Lord of the Rings sets based on, perhaps, Lord of the Rings Online or Lord of the Rings: War in the NorthSilmarillion sets are certainly out, and I’ve no expectation at all of sets based on The Last Ringbearer (though I suppose some of the Mega Bloks World of WarCraft sets would be reasonable facsimiles). ;)

As for the game, hopefully it won’t take me six years and five months to finish the game to my satisfaction as it did with LEGO Star Wars.  Hopefully.  Of course, I’ve not yet finished Lord of the Rings: War in the North yet, either; I’ve become stuck at the siege of the Dwarven fortress of Nordinbad.  Perhaps I’ll return to that this weekend…

One final thought.

Belching Balrogs! :)

On Waging the War in the North

A group of Orcs rushed down the rocky, snow-covered mountain trail toward my party.  My two-handed sword was held out in front of me, and as the orcs approached I swung.  The sword connected with the lead Orc.  He staggered under the blow, and my momentum carried him into the Orc immediately behind him, knocking them both to the ground.  The third Orc leaped at me, his own sword striking in a downward arc, but I dodged to his left and his sword struck the naked rock.  The two fallen Orcs disentangled themselves and attempted to crowd me, but I kicked out at the closest, knocking him off-balance, and then brought by own sword back in a downward slash.  The blade connected and, in a moment when time seemed to slow, the sword sliced through the Orc’s neck cleanly, beheading him in one fell stroke.  The Orc’s severed neck sprayed blood as the body fell lifeless to the ground, and the head rolled down the rocky path.

One Orc down, two to go.

I’ve been playing Lord of the Rings: War in the North, and that account describes many of my recent battles against the Orcs that inhabit the Ettenmoors to the north of Rivendell.

As I’ve mentioned recently, I was looking forward to this game, and it’s not disappointed me thus far.

It’s your basic dungeon crawl.  A bloody dungeon crawl — there’s blood and severed body parts everywhere — but still a dungeon crawl.  After playing the first chapter, in which your party of three travels to the ruins of the abandoned city of Fornost, the former capital of the fallen kingdom of Arnor, I likened the game to Angband, the ASCII-based dungeon crawler, but with an immersive 3-dimensional look.  Three chapters and six hours of gameplay later, I stand by the comparison — go someplace, kill baddies, find loot, kill level boss, return to base for repairs and to sell loot, get next mission.  It’s pretty straightforward.

The game has some camera idiosyncrasies.  I stopped at one point to admire the scenery of the Ranger outpost of Sarn Ford, and one of my party, the Elven loremaster Andriel, stopped right in my camera and my television screen was filled with her shapely bottom.  So, yes, I got scenery, but it wasn’t the scenery I was expecting.  And it’s sometimes difficult to control the camera; I had one fight where the camera got stuck in the leaves of a tree and I couldn’t see my character or the Orc I was fighting.  In that regard, an ASCII mode, a la Angband, wouldn’t be a bad idea… :)

The game has garnered mixed reviews.  Some people like it because it’s a dungeon crawl well-done.  Others dislike it because it’s a dungeon crawl and because the story is the very definition of a side-story; important things are going on in Middle-Earth, and you’ve been sent off to do something else.  (Yes, you can ask to join the Fellowship of the Ring, but it won’t happen.) The side-story-ness doesn’t bother me.  The Lord of the Rings is essentially a modern medieval romance.  Compare it to Malory’s Morte d’Arthur.  You get the “main” tale there, but there are other stories that aren’t told in Malory, it’s not the “complete” tale.  Yet when these stories are told elsewhere, they stand on their own merits and not on whether or not Malory brushed by them.  If Tolkien wrote the main story, then this is the equivalent of the Arthurian story that Malory didn’t tell.

For me, thus far, it works on its own.  I’ve played for about six hours; I’ve just finished the third chapter, the Ettenmoors, and each chapter seems to take roughly two hours to complete.  I’ve cleared Fornost of Orcs.  I’ve cleared the Barrow-Downs of the undead.  I’ve cleared the Ettenmoors of Orcs and defeated a rogue Stone Giant.  I’ve made friends with a trio of Great Eagles.  I’ve met the Lady Arwen.  The geography of the game doesn’t make a lot of sense, and there’s an inconsistency over whether or not the characters know Elrond, but those aren’t big deals.

Heck, I’ve even wondered how this could mesh with The Third Age, that rather dreadful turn-based RPG EA made for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 back in 2004.

It’s been fun and I’ve enjoyed it.  Five more chapters to go.

Here’s hoping I can loot some better swords… :)

On Anticipating the Next Lord of the Rings Game

For the first time in about five years, I am really excited about a video game.  Specifically, Warner’s The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, which is coming out next week.

I used to get excited about video games all the time.  I just had to have this or that or the other.  I’m struggling with examples — Crimson Skies, definitely; LEGO Star Wars most definitely — but there were many games I just couldn’t wait to get and play.

Then, after I left EB Games, I stopped feeling that way.

But no more.  A game has caught my interest, and I cannot wait to play it.

The Lord of the Rings: War in the North.

What has me so excited?  Well, just take a look at these videos

First, the original teaser trailer:

But what about the story?  You can’t have Lord of the Rings without some story.  Well, this gives you some idea of the basic plot outline for War in the North

Oh, that’s got to hurt, getting your head bitten off by a troll. :-/

Who is this Agandaûr, though?  And what does he want with Middle-Earth?

Ooh, Sauron’s top lieutenant, he is.  Sent to the Carn Dûm in the northern wastes.  Much like Far Harad in the south sent troops to Mordor and the Fields of Pelennor, Agandaûr is assembling an army in the north, to sweep south and crush Gondor in a vice grip.

How all this relates to J.R.R. Tolkien’s story (and Peter Jackson’s films)…

And who are you, the player?

I really hope you get to play at some point as the Great Eagle.  That’s pretty bad-ass.

I’m not sure about the trailer’s pseudo-“Requiem for a Tower” music, though.

Seriously, this game looks seriously awesome.  And, for a Tolkien-nerd, positively, enjoyably nerdtastic. :)

A little bit more than a week.  That’s all I have to wait.  Just a little bit more than a week.  I already have it pre-ordered.

There had better be a strategy guide…

And GameStop had best not sell me a gutted Collector’s Edition.  Otherwise, there will be words.

On Completing LEGO Star Wars

On April 6, 2005, I bought LEGO Star Wars for the Xbox.  (I also blogged about the death of Pope John Paul II and Tartan Day).

Today, September 9, 2011, I finished LEGO Star Wars 100%.  I built all seventeen minikit starship models.  I scored True Jedi on all seventeen levels and built the Tantive IV, which unlocked the level based on the original Star Wars.  (It tells the story of the film’s opening scene from Darth Vader’s perspective.  Kinda neat.)

The game is done.

Two thousand, three hundred, forty-eight days.

Playing through the game in the last week, I remembered why I didn’t complete every level 100% originally back in 2005 — the game is sodding difficult in places.  Take the “Defense of Kashyyyk” level, for instance; not only is acquiring all ten minikits almost impossible (you have to be downright lucky for two of them), but death happens so often on the beach that collecting all the studs is extremely unlikely.  (It was only the fact that I bought the Invincibility extra that I was able to score True Jedi on that level.)

Now that I’ve completed the game and unlocked everything, I feel like replaying some of the chapters in Story Mode, especially the final chapter, just so I can re-experience the slapstick humor of Darth Vader’s creation.  (Seriously.  When I saw Revenge of the Sith, I’d completed each chapter of the game, so I knew, at least in LEGO terms, how Darth Vader’s creation was handled.  Thus I found it ridiculously hilarious when I saw it on-screen, and I laughed hysterically in the theater.  I realize it’s hip to hate on Sith, but let’s be frank — it’s a dull, anti-climactic film that does nothing unexpected and does what it does do in the least interesting way possible.)

Will I finish LEGO Star Wars II in less than two thousand, three hundred, and forty-eight days?  I might be able to finish it to 100% completion by Valentine’s Day 2013.  Maybe… possibly…

What about LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars?  Well, I haven’t been impressed with it enough to want to return to it…

That said, I hold out hope for a LEGO Star Wars IV: The Expanded Universe.  I want LEGO Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic chapters, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Unleashed chapters, LEGO Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire chapters, and LEGO Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy chapters.  Ooh!  LEGO Star Wars: Dark Forces would be good, too.  That would be a lot of game, though; maybe The Thrawn Trilogy could be its own game, and it could have LEGO Star Wars: Dark Empire chapters, too.

Yeah, I’m being nerdly in my wish-list there, aren’t I?

What surprises me is that there hasn’t been more done to exploit the LEGO Star Wars brand.  I’d love to write an illustrated LEGO Star Wars: The Novel for children.  I’m surprised that Dark Horse Comics hasn’t done anything with LEGO Star Wars.

Anyway.  LEGO Star Wars.  I’ve finished the game.  It’s over.  It’s done.

Two thousand, three hundred, forty-eight days.

Now, let’s hunt some orc! :h2g2:

On Books I Would Like To Play

When I worked for EB Games, especially toward the end, it seemed like every major movie property, and some television properties too, was becoming a video game.  James Bond, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, the Spider-Man films, etc., etc.

Books, though?  Actual printed books?  They weren’t really game fodder.

Comic books seemed easier to adapt to video games, like Activision’s Ultimate Spider-Man game, probably because of the visual aspect.

There were exceptions.  For instance, Vivendi had the Lord of the Rings book license while EA had the Lord of the Rings movie license, and Vivendi released a couple of interesting games that were totally unlike the movie-based games EA released at the times.  And I liked the Fellowship of the Ring game from Vivendi quite a bit, even if I’ve never finished it.

Or the Forgotten Realms game setting has spawned a number of video games, drawing especially on the novels of R.A. Salvatore.  But they weren’t straight-up adaptations of the FR novels.

But I have to wonder.

Would Fellowship have even happened, in the absence of Peter Jackson’s films?  I’m doubtful.  No doubt it’s easier to take a book, turn it into a film or a television series, and then turn around and turn the movie into a video game.

Was it always this way?  My memory for video games, honestly, doesn’t stretch back that far, but there must have been a lost golden age.  You wouldn’t think it likely, but somehow even F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby made the leap from the printed page to the 8-bit video game console.

Now I’m imagining a Farewell to Arms video game.

To be honest, the world needs more World War I video games; not only are there so many times you can retake Omaha Beach, but there are gamers who have logged more hours in the virtual-World War II than some of the soldiers served who fought in the real World War II.

I think science-fiction or fantasy would be easier to sell a game company on than an historical piece.

I’ve said before that I’d love to play a LEGO Star Wars game based on Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy.  LEGO Mara Jade!

I think that a Prince Valiant game could be really cool.

David Weber’s Honor Harrington books would work as a space combat game.

For that matter, you could go back in time and do a Hornblower “Age of Sail” game or a Sharpe “Napoleonic Wars” strategy game.

Honestly, what I think would be awesome?  An Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto-styled Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser game.  That would be seriously bad-ass.

Maybe not as bad-ass as The Great Gatsby, but there’s not a lot in life that’s more bad-ass than a man’s dissolution and destruction in the pursuit of his dreams.

On Old-Time Video Games

In 1982, my grandfather gave my family an Atari 2600, along with a half-dozen games (like Pac-Man, Combat, and a few others).

It was my first video game system.  It’s still around, in the attic of my sister’s house, along with a bunch of games, some of which work, some of which don’t.

About the same time, we got our first computer — a Timex/Sinclair 1000, though that may have been a year earlier.  It was an interesting, though rather useless, computer.  Using books of BASIC programs, I keyed a few games into the system and saved them to cassette, games like Wumpus.  I remember a bowling game, too, which I tried to interest my (other) grandfather in one day, though he wasn’t especially interested.  We bought a pre-recorded game for the T/S-1000 — Frogger — though I only ever got it to work maybe twice.  That was the problem with cassette storage, it didn’t always work.

Cassette storage vexed me with the next system I had — a TRS-80 Color Computer 2.  (This one is also in my sister’s attic.)

What was the first game I played on a computer or a video game console?  I don’t know, it was so long ago.  I know I played Wumpus and Wumpus 2 on those early computers.  I keyed in David Ahl’s “Super Star Trek” on the CoCo, as well.  At times, I miss those long ago days; there was something fun about keying a program by hand into a BASIC interpreter and seeing what it did. :) Hopefully, the end result would be worth it. :)

I loved Combat on the 2600, especially the later levels where you could fly jets or biplanes.  Especially the biplanes.  I also loved the tank levels, especially with the shells that bounced, because they would bounce everywhere.  And I have a great fondness for the Atari 2600 Pac-Man.

In this age of Windows and Linux and the World Wide Web, those 8-bit (or less!) days seem on occasion like such a simpler, yet more fulfilling, time.

On Taking to the Skies with Snoopy

So, how long have I had an Xbox 360?  Five years?

How much have I played it?

Umm.  I think maybe three hours.

Today I hooked it up, attached a network adapter, and signed up for Xbox Live.  Like I said a year and a half ago, I really wanted Snoopy Flying Ace.I’d never had an Xbox Live account, and getting one set up was a little problematic; Xbox Live refused to accept my e-mail address as legit.  A Gmail address that I don’t use, though, was perfectly fine.

I got through selecting an avatar, I got through adding Xbox Live points to my account, and then I made the purchase.

Snoopy Flying Ace will go down as the first Xbox Live Arcade game I’ve bought. :)

I playing through the training mission.

I wasn’t good at Crimson Skies, and my flying skills have not improved any in eight years.

I crashed my plane into ice walls.  I crashed it into the glacial surface.  I struck the water.  My plane was battered and bruised, and when it came time for a dogfight with two of the Red Baron’s henchmen, I had great difficulty in getting a decent lock on the Germans’ biplanes.  Fortunately, because it was a training mission, they didn’t fire back.

Still, it was great fun.  And I feel the overwhelming urge to listen to “Snoopy’s Christmas” by the Royal Guardsmen…

I don’t know why I’ve never really played my Xbox 360.  Considering the trouble I went through and suffered through to get it (the Xbox 360 launch still gives me chills just thinking about it), it’s surprising that I’ve never given the system any use.

But, for Snoopy Flying Ace, I imagine that I will.  Oh, yes. :)

On Civ-Builders and Authoritarianism

Yesterday, Andrew Sullivan‘s blog at The Atlantic linked to an essay at The American Prospect by Monica Potts on how civ-building computer games don’t really allow for liberal-progressive solutions to life’s problems.  Games like The Sims and Civilization model a rightward ideology, if not by design then certainly by practice.

There are many ways to out-compete other civilizations and win [Civilization], but the surest is to become a war hawk: I devote all of my resources, early on, to building a massive army — of warriors, then knights, then musketeers, then tanks, and then guided missiles — and destroy weaker cities, one by one, until they all belong to me.  Building a society on diplomacy and technological development sounds great in theory but takes thousands of years before I can reap rewards.  Again and again, I choose war.

I’ve mentioned this tendency myself; in practice, when playing Age of Empires III, I commit heinous war crimes and atrocities on a regular basis.  When building a civilization on New World shores, while competing with Napoleon and Frederick the Great, I don’t find a diplomatic solution.  I can’t find a diplomatic solution.  The game doesn’t allow it.

Civilization offered a number of different routes to victory, besides the military solution.  There’s a cultural victory — your culture is so superior that it takes over the world.  There’s the Alpha Centauri solution — your technological prowess is so great you send a colonization mission to the next nearest star.

Age of Empires III, which I love and still play, five years after its release, doesn’t offer, in its original version, a non-military victory.  (The expansion pack, The War Chiefs, does offer a non-military victory — if you hold all the trading posts along the trading route, you can start a timer to claim victory.) I did discover once, quite by accident, a largely non-military victory in Age of Empires III — build a wall around an opponent’s colony and starve the colony of resources, whereupon the computer gives up.  It was a time-consuming victory and, honestly, it wasn’t especially satisfying.

Age of Empires II offered the “Wonder victory.”  Once you had amassed a certain amount of resources, you could build a Wonder.  And if you completed the wonder and it stood for two hundred years (in-game time), then the game was yours.  Or you could collect all five holy relics and gather them in a monastery.  Again, if you held these for two hundred years, victory was yours.

I found, though, that I only turned to the Wonder victory when my military ambitions didn’t match the reality of the battlefield, my military options were all exhausted, or, more likely, I simply tired of the game.

More often, I turned to the relic victory because it was the more challenging victory to achieve.  I would often have to attack my enemies (and, occasionally, my allies) in force to gain the relics.  Once, I laid siege to an enemy’s town, just to capture two relics from his monastery.  He had an extensive fortification of walls and guard towers, and a quickly as I could demolish his walls and towers with my massed trebuchet attack he would rebuild them.  Only when his resources dwindled was I able to make much headway in my siege.  That was an epic victory, and songs were sung long into the Viking night that told of the deeds of that day.

A relic victory was satisfying to me in ways that a wonder victory never was.

In a way, a wonder victory always felt like a cheat.  I always felt that I didn’t win because I’d proven myself superior at building and managing a civilization, because I’d spread my domination across the worldmap.  No, I felt like I won because I took the easy way out.  That I won because I didn’t need to engage with my enemies.

There’s some truth to that.  If one build walls sufficiently far away from one’s town center and they fully wall off the town from anyone crossing his “territory,” it’s possible to build a civilization in peace, amass the resources, and build the wonder without ever having to fight more than one or two skirmishes.

Which doesn’t model any sort of medieval period I’m familiar with… ;)

Diplomatic solutions, though, simply aren’t possible in the Age of Empires games.  You can’t build a community and live in peace.  It’s not an option.

And this brings me back to Monica Potts’ essay.

It seems to me that the reason why conservative solutions to civ-building games are so easy — and so satisfying — is because of the authoritarian nature of these games.  You, as the gamer, are the only person responsible for making the decisions.  For the most part, you aren’t held accountable by anyone.  Yes, there can be dissatisfied workers in SimCity and your cities may break out in riots in Civilization, but these are easily handled — and they don’t deprive you of any real power.  (Democracy makes it more difficult to wage war in Civ, and for that reason most players never go to that political system.) You don’t need to compromise with your people.  You don’t need to build political consensus.  You don’t need allies.  You don’t need communities.

I don’t know how one would go about creating a civ-builder that encourages, or at least allows, a liberal, community-building mindset.

This won’t alter how I play Age of Empires, though.  It really is a satisfying to grind an enemy civilization to dust. :)

On the Medal of Honor Controversy

We live in an age of artificial controversies and manufactured indignation.

How else to explain the kerfuffle over the new Medal of Honor video game?  Medal of Honor has, for a decade now, been one of the top military first-person shooters, all set around World War II.  The first game was loosely based on Saving Private Ryan (indeed, I believe it began as a Saving Private Ryan game, until EA realized they could have a franchise on their hands if they ditched the license).  While the games always had a single-player mode where you had to play the campaign as part of the Allies, in the multiplayer deathmatch modes you could play on either the Allied or Axis side.  There wasn’t a story in the multiplayer mode; like all first-person shooters, the goal in the deathmatch modes was pretty much “kill or be killed.”

The new Medal of Honor game updates the setting.  Previous MoH games were World War II shooters, and let’s be honest — there’s only so many times you can retake Omaha Beach.  (Personally, I’m waiting for the realistic World War I FPS, complete with trench rot.  Or the Revolutionary War FPS with a realistic rate of fire — one bullet every three minutes.) The new Medal of Honor moves the setting into the present day, like Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and in the campaign mode the gamer is an American solider on a mission to rid the mountain passes of Afghanistan of Taliban insurgents.  In the multiplayer mode players can take the role of Taliban fighters.

In the United Kingdom, Defence Secretary Liam Fox wants the game banned.  It won’t be for sale at GameStop locations at American military bases, either.  The reason?

Fox:

It’s shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban. At the hands of the Taliban, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands. I am disgusted and angry. It’s hard to believe any citizen of our country would wish to buy such a thoroughly un-British game. I would urge retailers to show their support for our armed forces and ban this tasteless product.

Military spokesman Major General Bruce Casella:

We regret any inconvenience this may cause authorised shoppers, but are optimistic that they will understand the sensitivity to the life and death scenarios this product presents as entertainment.

Their issues seem to be 1) that you can kill American and British soldiers in the game and 2) in reality the Taliban are really really bad people who kill civilians.

However, I would point out that in the first Medal of Honor, where you could play as a Nazi soldier in the multiplayer modes, 1) you killed American and British soldiers in the game and 2) in reality the Nazis were really really bad people who killed civilians.

Why is it alright to play a video game as German World War II soldiers, but not play a video game as a Taliban fighter?

I would also point out that, insofar as the multiplayer modes are concerned, there is no storyline.  The goal is to kill and to survive; the face that you’re wearing in the game, the face of the person you kill, is really quite arbitrary.

Just because I like crushing Napoleon in Age of Empires III, for instance, doesn’t mean I have some genocidal streak when it comes to the French.  I have no animus towards old Boney; I just wish he’d man up and stop crying like a baby.

There is a point to be made that, perhaps, the use of a modern conflict is what makes the difference.  But Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has already gone there, and Nick Cowen of The Telegraph puts it thusly: “There may be a sensible debate to had about the merits of using a current, ongoing conflict as the subject matter in any entertainment format. But a ban is not condusive to this. A ban stifles any chance of reasonable discussion and simply maintains the status quo.”

I think of this — concerns over playing as the Taliban in a video game — and the outcry over the building of a Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan, and I wonder if the two are related.

Back to Medal of Honor.

First, it’s just a game.

Second, the people who are old enough to buy the game are going to know it’s a game.

Third, it’s not a Taliban recruiting tool.

Fourth, it doesn’t encourage terrorism, not does it offer even tacit approval of the Taliban and their tactics.

Fifth, it’s just a game.

I’m not going to play Medal of Honor; I’m not a fan of the FPS style, and it doesn’t interest me.  But that doesn’t mean that others can’t play it.  Or that governments and their agents should tell others that they can’t.

On the Upcoming Age of Empires Online

Age of Empires Online LogoTwo years after Microsoft shuttered Ensemble Studios, the makers of the Age of Empires real-time strategy game series, Microsoft has announced a new chapter in the venerable series —

Age of Empires Online

The game is being developed by Robot Entertainment, an outfit comprised of former AoE vets, and it’s to be played in a persistent online world through the Games for Windows LIVE service.

From Microsoft’s press release:

With more than 20 million copies sold worldwide, the Age of Empires series redefined real-time strategy games for Windows-based PC players. Now, the timeless franchise once again invites players to experience its rich storyline in new ways. Developed by Robot Entertainment, Age of Empires Online will invite players to create a living, growing online world, shared with friends and friendly rivals around the globe. Begin the journey with your own Greek civilization, and watch as it progresses from a village to an empire. Embark on quests along the way, alone or with friends, and immerse yourself in epic tales, quirky characters, adventure, history, and strategy. Together with the Games for Windows – LIVE service, Age of Empires Online delivers a rich, social experience that lets you play however you want — anywhere, anytime.

Marrying fresh features with iconic gameplay, Age of Empires Online offers something for long-time fans, newcomers, and everyone in between. “Age of Empires Online” will feature:

  • A persistent online capital city that lives and grows even when you’re offline
  • Cooperative multiplayer quests, trading, and a level-based system that lets you
    progress at your own pace
  • Fun, approachable style and storylines
  • Free-to-play experiences via Games for Windows – LIVE

Kotaku described Age of Empires Online as “look[ing] like Age of Empires started hanging out with Farmville, and the two got real close.

Maybe it is.  But I’ve never played Farmville on Facebook, so I don’t really know how this comparison holds up.  I do know that the art style for AoEO looks radically different than the art style for Age of Empires III; it’s a cel-shaded, deformed, and cartoony look.  Take a look at the trailer for Age of Empires Online and see for yourself:

I’m curious about the game, I’m glad to see that the Age of Empires franchise has not been left on the dustbin of history, but I’ll be honest.  It’s unlikely that I’d play this.  Playing games online has never appealled to me, and though I applaud the move in the series’ setting back to prehistory and antiquity (the setting for the original Age of Empires), the lack of an offline game mode is a turn-off.

I’m sure the game will be fun.  I’ve never not had fun playing an Age of Empires game.  But I’ll content myself with medieval fun in Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings and early-modern fun in Age of Empires III and lead conquering the online world to a new generation of self-styled military geniuses.