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  • My February Obsession – Dragon Age: Origins

    Posted on February 8th, 2010 Simon 2 comments

    This winter I find myself obsessed with one game in particular, Bioware’s suitably epic “Dragon Age: Origins“.  By epic, I mean it’s truly “Lord of the Rings-ian” in scale.  DA:O is a deeply complex, story driven RPG for the PC and XBox 360.  For the hardcore enthusiasts, this is Baldur’s Gate 3 without the Dungeons & Dragons licensing to weigh it down, and instead contains some very creative writing to keep the story moving forward and provide a fresh perspective on hack & slash roleplayers.  Dragon Age is anything but predictable and has a handfull of major plot twists that will lead you to multiple endings.

    Welcome to the world of Felderen, one that is in critical danger of being overrun by an unending horde of demons called The Blight.  Your army is defeated and your friends and family are all dead.  Your mission is to raise an army by any means neccesary to battle back the cadres of undead and evil minions.  Along the way you will encounter all the modern RPG trappings:  Companions, leveling, spellcraft, looting, dungeons, crafting, and inventory management.

    You play the role of a young Grey Warden, a new initiate to a warrior tribe that is charged with the defense of the realm against the Blight.  There are six unique origin stories that setup the rich storyline.  Each origin is entirely unique but ultimately unites you with the same starting companions, albeit through entirely different means.  For example, starting as a Human Noble has you fleeing from your home castle as it is being raided by rogue mercenaries, while starting as a Mage has you taking on the trials of the “Harrowing” which is the final test that all mages must survive.  Origin tales lead the character to the first major battle at Ostagar where they meet certain defeat.  After the conclusion of your Origin, you are uncerimoniously deposited in Ferelden with a long list of quest options ready to explore.

    What you do from that point on, is what makes this game very compelling indeed.  Should you choose to seek out more companions, it will comfort you to know that you won’t be lonely on this journey,  you may recruit almost a dozen characters to join your cause, some of them are inherently good and righteous, and others are dark and evil to the core.  The world is ‘open’ but not exactly a ‘sandbox’ – you are not free to explore every inch of the realm (like in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion) but there are a large number of locations to visit on the main map.  More sub-locations open up as you visit each major city and discover new areas.  You won’t feel lost, but the maps can feel a bit claustrophobic sometimes, particularly when battling more than 10 enemies at once in some of the narrow corridors.

    Combat is strategic, and is conducted in realtime for all characters in the battle. You must always control one of your party in combat.  The rest of your party’s actions are governed by “Tactics” which are a set of commands that each member follows before doing something.  The use of Tactics in the game are what make the combat interesting and challenging, but they require a large amount of experimentation and trial-and-error to get the characters to perform at their best.  Rather than have your party constantly charge into battle, you can use Tactics to cast buffs, heals, and support your tank characters instead of attacking the closest bad guy.  Frequently you’ll be wondering why they are standing still, as it’s easy to set a command that they cannot actually complete due to one condition or another.  Don’t get me wrong, it sounds more difficult than it really is, there are lots of default tactics that you can quickly switch between and they all seem to be effective on some level.  Tactics are what make the combat unique and challenging, and is most of DA:O’s true appeal.

    The voice acting is another one of the game’s biggest attractions – Tim Curry, Claudia Black, & Kate Mulgrew.  Bioware never fails to attract some intriguing and talented voice actors. I’m a huge fan of all three Stars:  Trek, Wars and Gate – so an extended scene featuring Vala Maldoran (SG-1) and Captain Katherine Janeway (Voyager) was quite memorable.

    There are two final things that I find noteworthy.  First, your main character can have a romantic encounter with most of the main companions, and quite a number of NPC’s.  This trend began in Bioware’s “Mass Effect” and has appeared in all of their games since, and while there are no pre-rendered XXX cutscenes to be seen, the sexuality can be very overt at times and therefore this is not at all safe for a younger audience.  Secondly, and this is more of a warning for younger players,  DA:O contains explicit, over-the-top blood and gore that often covers your party from head to toe, even in the cutscenes (yes, the gore is persistent).  Almost all of the death animations are hyper-exaggerated to include graphic dismemberment with fountains of blood covering everything on the field.    I find this to be excessive and detrimental to the story pacing, but not enough to want me to turn off the option.

    I picked up this game in January at Electronics Boutique, trading in two titles (Call of Duty 4 and Civilization Revolution) and paying an additional $19.99.  Bioware has included a few nice rewards for being the first person to purchase the game, both of the rewards are free DLC in the form of a quest addon & companion (The Stone Prisoner) and some unique armor (Blood Dragon Armor, also works in Mass Effect 2).  You can get a further headstart for free, by playing and completing the mini flash game, Dragon Age: Journeys, which will net you a few more helpful items in your starting inventory.  I was so impressed with the ‘bonus’ items, that I also chose to pick up the additional DLC as well for 960 points, and I probably would not have done so without the incentives that came in the retail box.

    Dragon Age: Origins will soon have its own expansion in the form of Dragon Age: Awakenings which is released in March 2010.  This is a full expansion with which you can continue your adventure with your original characters from Origins in an entirely new area in Ferelden.   Bioware is quickly becoming famous for loading savegames from previous titles and reviving some of the choices you made in the new game (like they have done with the Mass Effect series) so it should be interesting to see some of the original characters and locations from Origins make an appearance or reference in Awakenings.

  • Help Desk Corner: Speed Up Your PC

    Posted on February 8th, 2010 Shawn No comments

    Welcome to a new section on My Gadget Game & Gizmo Obsession, known as Help Desk Corner. The idea just popped in my head this morning (which means I likely saw it somewhere else and have inadvertently stolen it.) This new section will contain helpful quick tips that you’d typically get from a support call to a help desk.

    Today, we will kick things off with bringing speed and performance back to your Windows PC.  If you had your PC (Windows ME, XP, Vista, etc) for a few years, chances are that it doesn’t run as fast as it did when you first got it. I’m going to show a few quick steps (with a reboot) that may help get a little spring back in your PC’s step. There’s nothing incredibly invasive with these steps, though I’ll throw out a disclaimer here. THIS TIP COMES WITH NO WARRANTY AND NO OBLIGATION FROM WWW.MYGGGO.COM. FOLLOW THIS TIP AT YOUR OWN RISK.

    With that disclaimer, I have done this step on several of my computers, and have either seen some improvement, great improvement, or just about the same as before.  I have not seen any adverse affects.

    To do this you should have administrator rights to your computer.  If you are using your PC at home, or in a small office environment, you likely are already running with admin rights.  If you are in a large network, your system administrator (or help desk) may have to grant you admin rights.  Try the steps below, and if they don’t work…you don’t have the necessary rights.

    1. Using MSCONFIG to remove unneeded startup applications. This may speed up your PC’s start up time.
      1. Click the Start button (on the lower-left of your Windows Taskbar).
      2. Choose “Run”. This will bring up the Run dialog box.
      3. In the Run dialog box, type msconfig and click OK. This will bring up System Configuration Utility with 7 tabs.
      4. Click the Startup tab. The Startup tab contains checkboxes to all the applications that automatically start when you turn your computer on.  Many everyday apps like iTunes, Adobe Reader, Skype, and Google automatically add themselves to Startup when you install them. They are started automatically, so when you want to run them, they open quickly.
      5. Scroll through the checked items in the Startup tab.
      6. Uncheck any application that you recognize and do not need running when your computer starts. Some suggested applications are listed below:
        1. QTTASK – QuickTime
        2. AdobeARM – Adobe
        3. Reader_sl – Adobe Reader
        4. RIMAutoUpdate – BlackBerry Desktop Auto Update Application
        5. iTunesHelper – iTunes quick launch application
        6. RoxWatchTray9 – Roxio CD/DVD burning quick launcher
        7. Skype – Skype quick launcher
        8. GoogleToolbarNotifier – Google browser, desktop, or other app quick launcher
        9. hqtray – VMWare quick launcher
      7. Click Apply to save your changes.
    1. Using MSCONFIG to remove unneeded services. This may speed up your PC, in general.
      1. In System Configuration Utility, click the Services tab.
      2. First, check the box at the bottom that says “Hide All Microsoft Services”. This will ensure you do not disable any critical services.
      3. Scroll through the remaining checked items in the Services tab.
      4. Uncheck any service that you recognize and do not need running. Some suggested applications are listed below:
        TIP: If you see a service that you do not recognize and question what it is, search Google for the name to determine what it is and what it is used for.

        1. Google Update Service
        2. Google Software Updater
        3. iPod Service
        4. Roxio UPnP Renderer 9
        5. Roxio Upnp Server 9
        6. RoxMediaDB9
        7. Roxio Hard Drive Watcher 9
      5. Click Apply to save your changes.
    2. After you have completed removing Startup applications and Services from System Configuration Utility, click Close to close the dialog box. This will prompt a a Restart.
    3. Click Restart. Your PC will shutdown and reboot. After the system restarts and you log in, you will be prompted with a dialog box informing you about the changes you made in MSCONFIG.
    4. Check the only checkbox in the dialog box, otherwise it will bring up the message everytime you reboot until you do check the box.

    That is it.  Hopefully, you have seen some improvement in your PC’s startup time.  Also, hopefully you will notice some overall performance improvements in your system.  The above steps most benefit older computers that have limited memory (RAM and disk space).

    If this helped, didn’t help, or you have other suggestions for future Help Desk Corners let us know in comments.

  • New Games Expected at PAX East

    Posted on February 4th, 2010 Shawn 2 comments

    Did you get your 3-day pass for PAX East before they sold out this week?  If not, there are still a few single day badges left.  Are you wondering who is going to PAX East?  Go here for a partial list.  Are you wondering what events are going to be at PAX East?  Go here for the up-to-the minute unofficial schedule.

    Are you interested in what games are expected to be demoed (and possibly playable) at PAX East?  Now we have a possible list that has been posted on the PAX East forums.  Sure, it’s rumormill at this point, but I’d put it in the very probable category.

    The games are listed in order of current release date. Soonest at the top. SOURCE

    • 2K Games:
      • Mafia II
      • Spec Ops: The Line
    • EA
      • APB
      • Battlefield: Bad Company 2
      • Dante’s Inferno: Trials of St Lucia
      • Skate 3
      • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11
      • Medal of Honor
      • Crysis 2
      • Dead Space 2
    • Harmonix
      • Green Day: Rock Band

    • Microsoft
      • Super Street Fighter IV
      • Lost Planet 2
      • Alan Wake
      • Dead Rising 2
      • Fable III
      • Halo Reach
      • Micorsoft Game Room
      • Natal
    • Nintendo
      • WarioWare D.I.Y.
      • Monster Hunter Tri
      • Super Meat Boy
      • Sin and Punishment 2
      • Metroid: Other M
      • Epic Mickey
    • NVIDIA
      • Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
      • Dark Void
      • Resident Evil 5
      • Alan Wake
      • Crysis 2
    • Rockstar Games
      • GTA IV: The Lost and Damned (PS3)
      • GTA IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony (PS3)
      • Red Dead Redemption
      • Max Payne 3
      • Agent
    • Sega
      • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Rise From the Ashes
      • Mega Man 10
      • Yakuza 3
      • Iron Man 2
      • Valkyria Chronicles 2
      • After Burner Climax
      • Alpha Protocol
      • Resonance of Fate
    • The Behemoth
      • BattleBlock Theater
    • Turbine
      • Turbine Next-Gen MMO Project
    • Twisted Pixel Games
      • Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley
    • Ubisoft
      • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 4
      • Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction
      • Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
      • Tom Clancy’s HAWX
    • Wizards of the Coast
  • RB: DLC 02/02/10 – Country Pack 03

    Posted on February 1st, 2010 Simon No comments

    Sadly, it’s a short post this week.  Tuesday is almost upon us again, and that means more DLC for everyone’s favorite music game.  If you were waiting for the rest of the exclusive Country tracks from the 2009 “Country Track Pack” disc, then your wait is finally over.

    • Kenny Chesney – “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”
    • Willie Nelson – “On the Road Again”
    • Rascal Flatts – “Me and My Gang”
    • Montgomery Gentry – “Gone”
    • Trace Adkins – “Swing”
    • Sara Evans – “Suds in the Bucket”

    If you already own GH:WT then you have likely already played “On The Road Again”, which is arguably the most recognizable track this week.  Someone out there must be buying these tracks but it sure isn’t me.   Anyways these tracks are available tomorrow.

    There are some interesting rumors circling about next week’s DLC.  It would appear that we are being treated to a new setlist from Rock Band alumni,  “The Who”!

    Next Week’s Predictions: Master studio recordings of  “You Better, You Bet”“Love Reign O’er Me”“The Seeker”, “Magic Bus”.

  • Slacker Rock Band Station: Petty, Country, Metal and more

    Posted on February 1st, 2010 Shawn No comments

    [ad#post-banner-ad]
    Let’s start February off on the left foot, with a Slacker Radio Rock Band radio station update.  This week you get more live Tom Petty, the rest of the Metal Track Pack (minus Bulls On Parade…sorry it’s not on Slacker), the rest of the Country Track Pack, plus a couple from Blue Öyster Cult. (see Simon’s post for the details).

    Direct link to Rock Band Station on Slacker.com
    [ad#post-banner-ad]

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