Warhammer 40k: Space Marine demo

I got a chance to play the demo for THQ’s new third-person shooter, “Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine,” today; the game is based on the Games Workshop tabletop game of the same name (well, sans the “Space Marine” part, anyway) that’s been around for the last few decades.

You play a Space Marine, which is a guy in a big armored suit, armed with a “bolter” (your standard big, future-y firearm) in one hand and a chain-sword (sword with a chainsaw in it) in the other. Your mission is to chop through huge groups of Orks to achieve glory for the Imperium, whatever that entails.

The demo drops you into sort of a port area, and you have two primary objectives: first, you’re supposed to deactivate a crane that the Orks are using to try and move a gigantic laser cannon into an area they control elsewhere on the map; once that is accomplished, you get a radio call from a guy who can let you into a huge manufacturing facility, and you have to meet up with him. Once you meet him, the demo ends.

The map isn’t wide open; it’s big enough to explore a little by going a few yards off of the one path through the zone, but for the most part you just follow the only path through the zone, kill bad guys along the way, and reach the objective points indicated by big glowing blue gauntlets. You’ve got two sidekicks, who can assist in mowing down the waves of enemies you’ll face, but there are no protection mechanics; they were never in danger of being killed that I saw, and you don’t have to worry about drawing fire from weaker-armored teammates or worry about healing them.

There were maybe four major encounters in the demo, all following the same mechanic – you and your teammates survive an opponent who uses vastly superior numbers to overwhelm you. There were three types of opponents in the demo – normal Orks, similarly armed to you with a bolt-gun and an axe for melee; Squigs, very small fast-moving opponents with only a melee attack; and bigger Orks who only have a melee attack but hit exceptionally hard and have a ton of health compared to their much-smaller counterparts. There were, I believe, only three of the bigger Orks in the demo, serving as mini-bosses for the final three significant encounters.

The encounters ranged from maybe around two dozen opponents for the first encounter to probably a couple of hundred, coming in multiple waves, for the fourth. The mechanic for defeating them was similar every time — fire your bolter into them while backing away while they charged, then open with a melee sweep attack once they were in range, then find individual opponents to kill with normal melee attacks, switching back to the sweep when overwhelmed or back to the bolter when you’d managed to open some distance between you and the Orks, then back to melee when they closed the gap.

I could actually see the game getting old in a hurry; it was fun and satisfying in short bursts, but I don’t know about spending at least a dozen hours playing through a single-player campaign on the full game. Bolter ammo ran out too fast (eight shots between reloads, which you would chew through quickly; ammo for reloads was infinite, which made me question the need for such a dramatically-limited clip capacity) for that to feel like an effective weapon. It did, however,  seem like it’d probably be possible to upgrade that gun’s capacity later, just based on how the game’s UI was laid out. Control-wise, with “aim” and “grenade” buttons right on top of each other at L1 and L2, respectively, it was painfully easy to fat-finger the grenade key, leaving you without. Also, the fight mechanic of “back away from the crowd while shooting, then switch to melee when you get overrun” would get tiresome. In essence, each of the primary encounters in the demo could be defeated that way, even the two that featured a mini-boss type mob that was only apparent because it was taller than the others.

The biggest problem in the demo was the camera; it didn’t re-orient itself fast enough when you were in combat, so I’d spend a lot of time looking at my shoulder doing sweep melee attacks against off-screen mobs until the camera would fix itself and I could actually see what was going on. Then I’d do a barrel-roll on the ground into a group of mobs, and it’d be messed up again. It didn’t seem game-breaking in the demo; just more of an annoyance.

Also, the game is rated “M” for extreme violence, but it’s actually pretty tame; the blood effects on bullet and sword hits are completely over-the-top, but other than beheadings enemy bodies didn’t seem to be destructible in any way (i.e., I didn’t ever notice that you could, for instance, shoot off legs and hands), and once dead corpses just lay there on the ground in a pool of red pixels, either with or without their heads. THQ clearly cut a corner on those graphics, since with the sheer number of opponents on the screen at any one time, coding and displaying unique corpses for each probably would’ve taken some work.

Indicators for which direction you were taking ranged damage from didn’t seem to be in place, either. If they were there, they weren’t terribly apparent.

The graphics were decent but nothing Earth-shattering; nothing about them surprised or disappointed me. It was pretty much what I expected a game like that to look like. But it certainly didn’t have that “oh, man, just sit back and watch” feeling of something like, say, “L.A. Noire” or even “Dragon Age II.”

Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe is pretty interesting, but it’s hard to know from this very brief demo if this game’s a worthwhile way to explore it. There’s a jump-pack mission on the demo I’ll try out later, too, mostly so I can know I played it and then delete the demo. This doesn’t feel like a “buy” game, but a rental at best, or maybe a “too cheap to pass up” type deal if it’s ever on clearance at Target.

Adventures with electronic textbooks

I’ve had some maddening experiences this week acquiring text books for the one course I’m taking that has texts.

One of the texts was very easy to obtain; the publisher has a reader, I downloaded the reader, bought the book, synced the reader to my account and it downloaded. Pretty easy. But, the reader doesn’t have an iPad version, and at this point in our technological evolution it seems a little ridiculous to have an eBook reader solution that doesn’t work on iPads. They’ve been out for more than a year, there are half a hundred million of them in the world and they’re not going anywhere. Write an app, get it done.

The second book was a pain. First of all, it took forever to find the electronic version. It wasn’t available at the publisher’s website through the same reader software as the first text, although a Google search showed that courses at other universities that used the book in the fall semester last year indicated that the same edition was available online last year. So I had to get it from Barnes and Noble, which had a Nook Study version — which, oddly, is different and entirely separate from its Nook reader. So, I needed a Barnes and Noble account, I needed to download a new reader app separate from the Nook app I already had, and then discovered that, like the publisher’s reader, B&N doesn’t have an iPad version for Nook Study. So, I downloaded Nook Study and installed it, then synced it with my B&N account to download the book. That reader then immediately wanted my Adobe account credentials, for some reason, so it could decide how to render the book in the reader, or something like that. It made no sense.

So, to boil this down — I have one class that has two texts. Each of those two texts is segregated in its own proprietary reader, meaning I need a different program to read each book. Neither of the two readers has an iPad version, which means I’m stuck reading in one window and tabbing over into what I’m writing, instead of having the iPad off to the side. And for one of the texts, I couldn’t get an electronic version of the text through the publisher of the actual book (although all indications are that the same edition of the book was available through the publisher last fall), but I could get one through Barnes and Noble as a rental — but not in B&N’s Nook reader, which means I now have *two* entirely separate book readers from Barnes and Noble.

It’s madness, honestly.

Comic review: “Cobra Civil War: Snake Eyes #4”

Cobra Civil War: Snake Eyes #4
IDW Publishing
Street Date: Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011
Cover price: $3.99

Cover A: Robert Atkins, with colors by Simon Gough
Cover B: Agustin Padilla, with colors by Simon Gough
Written by: Chuck Dixon
Pencils: Robert Atkins
Inks: Juan Castro
Colors: Simon Gough
Letters: Shawn Lee

Snake Eyes’ incursion into Vikrim Khallikhan’s mountain base comes to a bloody conclusion, the Cobra Commander contest loses its first candidate, and the Joes must quickly regroup and change their focus to the mysterious virus that felled Duke in G.I. Joe #4.

This issue dives right in to the battle between Snake Eyes and Khallikhan’s agents, Slice and Dice, previewed in the previous issue, and that fight rages on for fully half of the book. It’s a quality fight, with Khallikhan watching from afar via his base’s security cameras, talking trash over the intercom the entire time. It’s a strong conclusion to what has been an outstanding first story arc in Snake Eyes’ standalone book; there has been plenty of action, and plenty of opportunity to learn more — and question more — about Snake Eyes’ nature and his relationship to his teammates and enemies alike.

Since this is Snake Eyes’ book and we know the book continues, the outcome of his battle with Slice and Dice isn’t necessarily a surprise. The fact that Vikrim Khallikhan is shot down in the blink of an eye, however, was.

Khallikhan’s death is a serious letdown. It goes down like this — Helix basically appears out of nowhere and guns him down; there’s no buildup or suspense involved in the killing whatsoever. In one panel, he’s talking trash on Snake Eyes as he has been for the bulk of four issues, promising his death and the death of Scarlett, and in the next panel Helix shows up with guns-a-blazin’ and apparently shoots him in the back (more on this in a minute…). It was an all-too-abrupt end to a non-toy Commander contestant who had been fabulously developed over the course of this title.

Still, there’s plenty to love about what’s going on in this issue. Chuck Dixon elevates the relationship between Snake Eyes and Scarlett to a whole new level, and through the comforts of modern technology we’re treated to what may well be the first-ever actual conversation we’ve seen between the two. It’s a fantastic scene (which could have been improved only had Atkins drawn Snake Eyes with an iPad instead of some generic tablet :), and does much to solidify the special relationship between the characters. The questions about their relationship from earlier in the series are all answered here; Snake Eyes clearly cares deeply for Scarlett, to the point that knowing he has her support provided him extra motivation to win his battle in Khallikhan’s fortress. In fact, the talk between them essentially swings the pendulum back in the polar opposite direction; after reading the exchange between the two, it seems legitimate to wonder why Scarlett had concerns about their relationship. Perhaps Snake Eyes just needs to spend more time on Yahoo Messenger to reassure her.

Iceberg’s successful escape with the injured Alpine is almost relegated to sidebar status; it’s a solid action scene, but is overshadowed because its bookended by the Snake Eyes fight and the strong relationship-developing scene between he and Scarlett.

The ending of this comic is pure G.I. Joe cartoon throwback craziness. Somebody we thought was dead is actually not dead, finds something completely ridiculous and gives us a hint that we’re in for what could be a pretty entertaining revenge tale coming in the future. This ending is the kind of thing that makes G.I. Joe fun, and keeps it from being just a straight military comic.

The creative team for Snake Eyes #4 remains basically the same as it has been for the entire series so far; Robert Atkins provides pencils for the entire issue after Agustin Padilla provided some backup last time out. With this group having been together for awhile, it’s becoming apparent that they’re hitting their stride with this book. Robert Atkins’ work on the fight scene between Snake Eyes and Slice and Dice can only be summed up as “fun” – starting from Slice’s improbable airborne attack on the opening splash page and running all the way through a fantastic off-screen kill shot delivered by Snake Eyes to end the battle. Then, Snake Eyes gets a completely over-the-top six-kills-in-a-single-panel shot during his escape from the mountain that’s just enjoyable to look at to pick out the different details in each part of the shot.

Khallikhan’s corpse shot is odd, though; he’s standing when Helix enters the room, hunched over the monitor where he’s watching the fight, and turns to look over his right shoulder to see Helix coming before she guns him down. But his body’s slumped over the table like he was sitting and shot in the back. It’s an exceptionally minor nitpick, but the sequence seems a bit off.

Atkins also provides some nice background details to give us a hint at what may be coming in the future; there seems to be a lot of construction on the G.I. Joe ship Stennis, and a “99” in the background of one panel indicates that it may not be called the Stennis for long.

Simon Gough’s colors are great, especially during the ninja battle. He uses a lot of red and orange to highlight weapon strikes, and it helps provide focus to the action. There are a lot of other little details that Gough helps sell; spittle flying from Khallikhan’s mouth, flecks of blood around tears in Helix’s uniform, etc.

Only two covers this month – Atkins’ Cover A and Padilla’s Cover B. There is no retailer incentive.

Atkin’s Cover A is solid; a spent clip falls away from Snake Eyes’ Uzi, still smoking, giving an indication that somebody was just on the wrong end of a firefight.

Padilla’s Cover B is awesome; it’s a moment-in-time captured from Snake Eyes’ fight with Slice and Dice. Lots of nice detail here; ink spatters to provide grit, some tears in Snake Eyes’ uniform, the dragon detail on Slice’s sword. Padilla has been doing strong cover work on the B covers for this series so far, and this is no exception.

G.I. Joe: 0 (Total: 32)
Cobra: 14 (Slice; 6x Snow Serpent; 6x Viper; Vikrim Khallikhan) (Total: 53)

No Joes were harmed in the making of this issue; Oda Satori presumably retains his lead in the Cobra Commander contest with 11 kills and destruction of The Pit. Vikrim Khallikhan has been whammied and is the first candidate eliminated from the contest.

Newsarama has a lengthy preview of Snake Eyes #4 at http://www.newsarama.com/php/multimedia/album.php?aid=44000.

Grad school underway

I’ve been sitting on the couch tonight with my laptop working on homework for the first time since 1995.

I have assignments in each of my two courses.

For one class, I had to post a bio of myself on the D2L (Desire2Learn) message board for the course, and then have to post a response on the bio posts of everyone else in class. So far, 11 of the other 21 students in class have posted bios; some of the responses were easy based on what was written, but for a couple of them I really had to dig for something to say. This will be an interesting project. I also had to post in a discussion topic about the economy’s impact on sports.

For the second class, I’m supposed to write on the role of an athletic administrator in motivating coaches or staff. I actually started with this and didn’t get very far – it’s an incredibly vague topic, and I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around it. Kids are asleep now and Mel’s heading out to meet a friend for a bit, so I’m going to put something on Netflix for background noise and take another crack at it.

I’m also trying to get a feel for the D2L system. Initially, I don’t like how it feels completely isolated from the rest of the Internet. For example, I don’t see options to set up notifications via email or Twitter or anything; I’ll keep exploring it to try and to figure out some of those intricacies. But in essence, this doesn’t feel any different than posting on the forums at any number of blog sites out there. Using this sort of mechanism for learning is going to be an interesting experience.

Adventures in grad school

Last week, I got admitted into graduate school at Winona State University. I am going to pursue a master’s degree in educational leadership with an emphasis in sport management. I’ve been thinking about graduate school for a few years now, and some events at work have led me to the conclusion that “sooner” rather than “later” would be a good time to finish.

Things haven’t gone totally smoothly; I sent two emails that went unanswered asking for an adviser (but once I was finally connected with her, things have gone very well), and I learned that only the elective courses for the sport management component of the degree program are available online — the core courses in educational leadership are interactive television delivery and are not online yet. So after talking to my adviser today, I decided to stick with the courses that are online right now and just try to wait it out until they get the core courses available totally online in a year or two (the timing of that would actually be good, but that just means it’s going to take a long time to finish this degree).

And, today was the first day of classes — but I didn’t get any information about how to find or begin the process of taking the two courses I have enrolled in (I’m sure the information is out there somewhere on their website if I’d hunt for it, but nothing has been sent directly to me which seems like an oversight). With that in mind, I decided to send notes to the two instructors of the courses I’m taking, just to say “hi, I’m in your class, I’m excited to get started.” One wrote back, saying hello and that “the course is up on D2L.”

Which is great, but I haven’t yet received login credentials for D2L, or even heard how to get them – in fact, had I not taken the initiative to email the professor, I wouldn’t even know the course was on D2L at all. I was able to research how to acquire D2L credentials, and I’ll be following up on that tomorrow.

I know this entire thing has been a last-minute, thrown-together situation (it was barely a week ago that I was even admitted into the program), but so far it hasn’t been a buttery-smooth experience by any means; it’s been a pretty mixed bag, but with the exception of the one person who I emailed twice and still haven’t heard from, the people I’ve dealt with have been great. I’m hopeful things will continue to improve once I am actually taking the classes.

Ah, back in school. This is going to be very interesting.

Insanest of insane garage sales

During our garage sale run this morning, we ran across this place that had boxes of stuff in the driveway. Usually we don’t stop at “dig through boxes” sales, but we did at this one simply because there was so. much. stuff.

Everything in the boxes was a quarter. Or, you could take one of their boxes, empty it and fill it back up with the stuff you wanted – for a dollar. We found:

* seven Playstation 2 games for the basement
* a Dora the Explorer swamp playset that looks like a huge rock T-Rex head that’s going to be the new home for my Dreadnoks
* A huge four-piece foldup black plastic play base for some sort of battle game (Bakugan or something); each of the four pieces is maybe a square foot, so it’ll be a fantastic base for *something* in my toy lair.
* an old Star Wars Comm-Tech chip from the late ’90s, since you can never have too many figure stands
* a loose Star Wars Galactic Heroes X-Wing Pilot helmet
* some random 3 3/4″ scale rubber cowl that’ll look cool on a Zartan figure
* about two big handsful of random Legos
* almost two dozen Peek-a-Blocks for Millie
* a Nintendo 64 cartridge
* a Gameboy cartridge that we’ll give to Megan
* a bunch of shirts for Helen and some jammies for Millie
* a wedding dress to add to Helen’s play clothes wardrobe
* dozens of Polly Pocket outfits and a couple of dolls
* a Barbie Vespa scooter
* random dollhouse parts
* three board books for Millie
* a bunch of other crap I can’t even remember without looking at our loot pile

…all for two bucks. It was ridiculous.

In other news, I figured out what is wrong with our pool pump; the plastic sheath that provides friction between the big magnet on the propeller and the engine disintegrated, so the propeller got stuck inside the motor and all the blades broke off. Today’s mission – see if there’s someplace in town to buy a replacement propeller. It’d be way cheaper than buying a brand new pump. The water is in such great condition, but I can’t get the sludge off the bottom. Stupid, stupid sludge.

Off week

This has been the second consecutive week without a new G.I. Joe comic to review; I need something to write about. I have a topic in mind, and might work on it at home tonight.

Not much else to report; work’s keeping me pretty busy this week with fall startup activities. We had our office’s fall startup presentation yesterday afternoon, where we talked to the people in attendance about what we do and how to access our office’s expertise on a variety of subjects. I talked about social media, our hometown news program and our licensing and royalties program; it went pretty well, I think. I get a sense that the campus is finally starting to take a more serious interest in social media on a broader scale, and I hope I can take some of the things I’ve learned while running our Facebook and Twitter accounts and help other departments on campus find their respective voices online.

A lesson in the value of paying attention to your audience

I’m having an experience with a Twitter follower I wanted to share. I have student writer positions to fill, and earlier this summer while clicking around on new followers for Bemidji State’s Twitter feed (@BSUNews) I found an incoming freshman who was blogging about her college choice experiences and the process that led her to decide to attend BSU. Her blog was well-written; I need a writer; I contacted her. She emailed me with a note that reflected the quality of her blog, and I sent her a big description of the job I need filled. If she’s interested in the gig, then she will rightly be able to say that her blog got her a job on campus.

The advice here is two-fold: One, for students: if you’re going to blog, treat it seriously. You never know who will look at it. Two, for institutions: spend some time learning about your followers. You can’t do comprehensive research on everyone, obviously, but it could be well worth your time to find out a little bit about your audience. They could be a resource for you.

Chris Pine

Chris Pine, originally uploaded by AndyBartlett.

Finished my copy of a photo of Chris Pine out of Details magazine tonight. I’m really pretty pleased with how this turned out; I’m starting to see some real improvement in my work, but I realize I’ve still got a long way to go. Big step forward with this piece, though.