Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The parable of the cave

More seasonal gripes! Look, I love vitamin D as much as the next guy – I really plan on enjoying a few months free from the bio-emotional chemistry of a frustrated, undernourished, under-laid cave goblin – but I need stability. Gamers, back me up on this, that this is basically your nightmare scenario:

It’s a cold, dark, rainy early spring day. You don’t have anywhere to be or any clock to punch, no work that needs doing that you can’t rightly or wrongly blow off for a few more days. You have responsibilities – a sick pet, say – that require you to stay home and keep the Leon’s No Money Miracle warm. You have an Xbox 360 and a copy of Oblivion you’ve barely played – sure, the clock says 120 hours, but a lot of that was from falling unconscious without turning the ‘Box off. You grab the sticks and settle in, all temporal and heavenly signs pointing to an auspicious day of killin’ and stealin’, your mind forming that special Zone that allows a master such as yourself to suspend, fakir-like, most physical and cognitive functions so as better get “in the game”…

…and then, around 2 p.m. the fucking sun comes out and it’s suddenly the nicest day ever, and your friends want to throw the Frisbee around. And all you can do is stare at them glassy eyed, shrug, and continue cursing our beloved hydrogen-fusion reactor for making it impossible to see what’s going on in the goddamn evil temple. Where’d that ghost go? Shit! Turn up the brightness! Close the curtains! Shit!

Man, I love swearing; it makes me feel like a real big man. Anyway, that’s what happened the other day, and aside from one buddy who is honestly happy just to sit there and watch me go through the RPG motions, endless inventory-fiddling and all – seriously; it’s weird – my entire legion of concerned wellwishers subjected me to Jr. High levels of teasing until I finally consented to power that shit down and drag my unshaven, unshowered carcass out into the ultraviolet to drink beer (real beer) and check out girl’s bums (real girls; real bums) out on the sundowning porch. Though I didn’t really adjust in time to properly enjoy the afternoon – after eight-odd hours of Oblivion conversation you can’t really deal with people who aren’t wearing dialogue options on a sign around their necks – I did get enough sun (and enough beer n’ bum) that some clarity returned and I was able, for a moment, to allow myself for the first time to think negative thoughts about the greatest, most beautiful, most immersive videogame ever created. To wit:

  • The leveling system licks Gary Gygax’s balls. Scaling all enemies to player level is supposed to maintain a hot challenege level throughout the game. What actually ends up happening is that characters who don’t level with math-nerd precision get eaten alive. It kills what little “role playing” Oblivion offers: my sweet-talking seductress poisoner had to spend three days out of every nine working the heavy bag and repairing breastplates to level her endurance high enough so she wouldn’t be skeletonized by the first rat that came along.
  • The touted “radiant AI” makes NPCs just smart enough to be the dumbest game dudes ever: “You are the only hope for the Empire, hero!” [hero accidentally tries to ride guy’s horse] “Die, thief! Die!” Everybody in Cyrodil is a knee-jerk robot moron.
  • The gorgeous visuals can only temporarily gloss the fact the setting is tired and boring. Oblivion’s predecessor, Morrowind, offered a world of organic architecture, crazy flora and fauna, alien hierarchies. Oblivion offers the cover of an airport-newsstannd fantasy novel, occasionally relieved by death-metal album art.
  • You can only move and place in-game objects (as when trying to decorate your home base) with a telekinesis spell, and even then it’s like you’re a Special Ed student at Jedi school.
So, yeah. New word on the street: Oblivion sucks and I barely (like 3-4h a day, tops) play it anymore. I’m reading the Bible instead! Did you know God didn’t snuff Onan ‘cause he (Onan) was jerking off? It’s true! God destroyed Onan because Onan refused to bust his (Onan’s) nut inside his (Onan’s) dead brother’s widow. True story!

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