Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Too Many Games!

You know what I’ve often found?

See, I get a lot of video games at once, a lot of times. I find a video game, I like it, and I play it for a week, which isn’t much really since I don’t have a lot of free time. Then I play another game the next week, which I just got, then the same thing happens a third week. Its annoying, because I want to play all these different games, but I often don’t have the time to play all three, so I end up playing well… only one or maybe even none.

For instance, I got Zeus: Master of Olympus the same week my brother got Prince of Persia. I played both, now I’m playing neither. I admit I had already started to get bored of Zeus (it’s a good game, just good in smaller doses), but Prince of Persia… I could have played that for a good while.

What happened? I got Majesty II from Jacob. Its also an amazing game, I really loved Majesty and thought it was one of the most well thought-out and unique games to be released over the past few years. Majesty II, while not perfect, does a lot of new, cool things that I really like and keeps the formula pretty much the same.

I am not playing Majesty much right now. What happened? I found this amazing game called Battle for Wesnoth. What is Battle for Wesnoth? It’s a hex-grid, turn-based, fantasy, strategy game akin to a strange combination of Fire Emblem and Age of Empires or something.

See, like Fire Emblem, a unit that is gone is gone for good and that’s it. Units gain experience and can be carried over from level to level so you’re encouraged to keep units alive, level them up, and keep on powering your army through the game. But unlike Fire Emblem, you’re expected to lose units and its perfectly acceptable if you complete a level having lost a unit or two. So in that way its kinda like your standards strategy game where your units are expendable and the only thing important is a few key, powerful or important (like heroes) units.

Anyways, the game has a few pretty cool little features. I’m playing a campaign that gives me access to a variety of elven, mermen, and human (and probably other things later on) units. Elves move fast through the forest, have high defenses in the forest, and possess the ability to move fast through forests, also, most of their units can wield both a bow as well as a sword, often to almost equal results. Humans… humans don’t seem particularly amazing, probably balanced overall, but with access to high damaging mages. Orcs are really strong and have brute force (duh) and mermen fight good in the ocean… but bad everywhere else, they also have the ability to swim in deep water.

One of the cooler features the game has is a meaningful day-night cycle. Warcraft III had a day-night cycle but it didn’t seem amazingly important, but in this game it really is. See, certain units fight better at night than at day. Orcs, being chaotic, fight really well at night, gaining a +25% bonus to attacks (and defense… I think) at night, but a -25% during the day! Humans, being lawful, have the opposite. Elves, being neutral, receive no benefits but have no penalties (making the elves more versatile, not the usual “sting you with arrows, but bad at everything else” guys. Nope, elves have good swordsmen, good archers, decent healers, and decent cavalry).

Anyways, it’s a good, entertaining, Strategy/RPG game. Best of all? Its free. Legally, free, that is, not “Jacob gave me Majesty II on a USB and I didn’t ask any questions” free, no, legally-you-can-download-it-from-a-website-and-that’- what-you-are-supposed-to-do-free.

I’ll write more about both this and Majesty II at a later point, though I really should play Majesty II some more before I do that… haven’t gotten too far in the game.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Zeus and Prince of Persia

Yesterday I installed two games. The first one, Prince of Persia I hadn’t played ever, while the second one, Zeus: Master of Olympus, I hadn’t played in a very long time.

Prince of Persia is the newest game in the Prince of Persia series. This one takes a break from the Sands of Time story and introduces a new prince and a new setting. Personally, I like this game a lot more than any of the others I played. I played Sands of Time and while I was never very good, I really like the setting and the style and tone of the game. It was a light, somewhat happy story about a young guy out to save the world. I got stuck and never returned to the game (I do that a lot, actually) but I really enjoyed what I remember of the game. My brother won it, so that kinda made up for me not doing so, I felt.

However, I did not like Warrior Within, the second game in the Sands of Time series. The game was, in short, too dark. It had the cool factor going for it, I admit. But, in hindsight, it wasn’t nearly as strong as Sands of Time. The third game in this series, Two Thrones, I never even played, but my brother did and he liked it enough. He said it was better than Warrior Within, but it still seemed to operate on the same premise and just didn’t really didn’t make me want to play it.

However, this new Prince of Persia is just up my alley. First of all, it’s a whole lot easier. Now, take that for what you will, but I personally prefer a game that’s a bit easier. One of my frustrations with older Prince of Persia games was the fact that you could die rather easily if you messed up badly enough and it relied on a checkpoint system versus a “save whenever” system. This new game has a “save whenever” system. There are other things that make the game easier, perhaps too easy, I admit, but I’m really happy the designers chose this method for the newest Prince of Persia.

Also, combat has been increased a hundred fold. Combos are now nice and easy to pull off and look properly cool. Instead of fighting multiple enemies at once and having to use a boring combination of mashing a dozen buttons to get a super attack, you fight one enemy at a time. Combos are also a lot simpler and make a lot more sense.

I haven’t played the game much, but it seems like a very solid game, and I hope more Prince of Persia games like it are released.

The other game I installed is called “Zeus: Master of Olympus.” A sequel, of sorts, to the game Caesar III, Zeus puts you in charge of an Ancient Greek city. The game features several large campaigns, mostly loosely based off Greek myths. The game has an awesome sense of humor and a very solid design at its root and makes for hours and hours of amazing gameplay.

Like other City Management games Zeus gives you the tools to construct a powerful city. The base of the game involves creating a powerful core city that can be expanded upon as the city grows. Build a small housing area, and then provide the houses with the essential services: food, water, security, health, etc. As more services are provided the houses will improve and demand more services such as culture, appeal, fleece, and olive oil. Improved houses pay more taxes and house more people, allowing you to further improve the city.

Anyways, while the game may sound really complicated, the designers have simplified it to allow players to quickly and easily manage their city. I think perhaps the most entertaining thing about the game is how carefully everything must balance in order to have a successful city.

One scenario I recently played requires me to create a colony for my primary city and then provide my primary city with tribute in the form of wine and lumber. I set up my basic city: farms for food, fountain, granary, agora (marketplace) and housing. However, I made a mistake and the worker shortage I had early game (not a problem, I thought because I would get more workers once my houses improved) meant my farms collapsed before harvest! This meant I had a food shortage for several game years and it took me some fancy doing to finally work through the food shortage, which lead to a labor shortage, which meant I couldn’t harvest lumber or tend my grapes, to finally win the level.

I think that is ultimately why I love Zeus. The game is a very simple, but solving the problems can really be hard. I move back to my old city and find I need 100 more workers (in a city of 2800 that’s really a small amount) but to do so I need to build more houses, which means a new agora, but this agora is too far away from my old granary and old warehouse that stores all my food, fleece and olive oil. So I build new ones. Then I run out of fleece, so I stop exporting fleece, but then I run out of money, so I stop importing wine, because I get enough in tribute, and slowly, slowly, I fix my cities infrastructure back to where it should be. Meanwhile I slowly build up to my current goal: summon Jason to slay the Talos and rid my city of the foul beast! (Doing so is not easy: Jason wants you to have quite the army! 2 companies of horsemen and 2 triremes, not to mention a LOT of food and some wine).

Anyways, I should get back to school now. Maybe if I work hard I’ll have time to play more Zeus! ^_^

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What are you going to do?

You know, I admit, I don’t really listen to a lot of “Christian” music. I didn’t start this post, however, to talk about that. I’ve spent enough of my time explaining why I listen to the music I listen to and why I don’t think it makes me a horrible sinner or heretic or a whatever.

I do listen to some Christian music, however. Despite my opinion that there is a severe dearth of Christian Artists showing true skill or talent, especially in the genres I prefer, they do exist. Two years ago, I invested in Demon Hunter, a Christian Metalcore band, and bought their (then) latest release, Storm the Gates of Hell. Demon Hunter’s music, at the time, struck me as hard, heavy, and aggressive, but in a good way. Since the day I first listened to Demon Hunter I’ve listened to heavier and harder music and I’ve sampled a good bit of music from nearly ever genre and subgenre metal has to offer. However, I’m still drawn to Demon Hunter for a lot of reasons.

I admit I’ve listened to bands that have more talent than Demon Hunter in terms of musical ability or prowess. However, Demon Hunter has improved as they have released albums. Listen to Demon Hunter’s very first album, or even Summer of Darkness, their big hit. Storm the Gates of Hell is miles above both, and while their third album did not receive a lot of praise from the fans, I believe, I think the album itself shows marked improvement.

But, for me, Demon Hunter’s musical ability never really mattered. Sure, I picked them up because they had a style I wanted to listen to and explore (Metal), but what hooked me wasn’t their musical talent, I could tell, when I compared it to other bands, they didn’t a whole lot. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they have talent, and especially now with Patrick Judge as a lead guitarist they strike me as a very solid band, but I still think other bands have shown more talent. What hooked me wasn’t their musical talent, but their amazing, amazing lyrics.

See while Amon Amarth might have better guitarists, and while Alexi Laiho has shown amazing talent in Children of Bodom, both bands do not have what I can call “good” lyrics. Amon Amarth writes fun lyrics, singing about Vikings and Viking Mythology and the Viking Lifestyle. That kind of stuff, it appeals to a lot of people and I think it works really well for a lot of music. Music does not require some serious or deep message to provide entertainment at all. However, one thing I will say is that good, solid, thought-provoking, lyrics really hit me as something not a lot of bands can pull off. Demon Hunter, however, always amazes me with their lyrics. Ryan Clark (Vocals) and Don Clark (former Guitarist) have written some amazing, amazing lyrics. I think I’ve written about some of them before, and I know that you’ve probably seen some of my status on facebook quoting those lyrics.

Ryan Clark’s tone and his underlying message appeals to me the most in their lyrics. Much of the Christian music scene today, centered around the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement, doesn’t share the same tone at all. CCM artists sing about this loving, happy, God who’s gonna heal you and help you and save you. Now, granted, all of that has basis in Biblical Scripture and we need messages of hope, love and encouragement in a hopeless, loveless, and discouraging world. I also know a lot of these artists have a very special and powerful spiritual anointing to make the music they make. When Leeland, a CCM band, came to my Church they shocked me with not only their musical talent (Leeland Mooring can SING) but also their anointing to minister to youth. I mean, I really didn’t like their latest album at the time, but I would go to one of their concerts in a second after hearing them play. That one performance reminded me that the CCM industry still has a lot of talent and a lot of anointed musicians.

But see, while Leeland and bands like them have their place, I feel what Ryan Clark and Demon Hunter choose to discuss in their music simply does not get the same amount of attention into today’s world. While most CCM encourages and uplifts through “happy songs” Demon Hunter hits you with anger and brutality. While those words might strike you as inherently bad, I don’t think so at all. See, Demon Hunter displays anger, but anger at how far we have let ourselves fall. When Jesus saw the state of the Temple of God, filled with thieves, robbers, and men only interested in making a fast buck, he got angry and physical and he drove them out. Demon Hunter says the same thing. They sing in an aggressive fashion because well, we have reasons to be aggressive. We have reasons to display our anger at what Satan has done. There is no reason we should not be angry at the state of the world today, there is no reason that we should not be angry at certain men and woman who have made the world a worse place.

Unlike CCM artists, Ryan Clark doesn’t say, “don’t worry, it’s gonna be alright. Jesus is gonna save you.” Ryan Clark says “The world is messed up. It’s filled with heathens, with hate, with intolerance. What are you going to do about it?” Now, both messages are 100% true. Jesus does make things better, Jesus is a happy, loving guy. But you know what? Sometimes its alright to be angry, to tell the world it’s gonna burn in hell if things don’t change. I’m listening to a Demon Hunter song right now, Tie This Around Your Neck, and the lyrics really strike me as something that needs to preached more. “And in this reign the heathens will say: . . . Tie this around your neck FOOL! . . . I’ve heard every empty line, every curse, ever word that you redefine . . . won’t lie in the grave I will reborn, they say: . . . This around your neck FOOL!” Now, the song is aggressive, the song is hard-hitting, but these lyrics hit me as something that really needs to be said. We’re Christians, and as Christians we will be mocked, with will face trials, they’ll tell us to “tie this around your neck, FOOL,” but end the end, we win. We aren’t dead, like them. The Bridge reminds us the fate of those unbelievers, and how each and every one of them will die “helpless and alone,” when the rest of us are dancing with Jesus.

This is the type of music that I really appreciate. On one hand, Ryan Clark seems like some angry, dark prophet of doom, but that’s not the real side. See through the style, see through the “all metal is angry” and yes, you’ll still see anger, but Biblical Anger. Yes, you will still see proclaimations of doom and judgement, but these are, for the most part, almost direct quotes from scripture. Ryan is clear in his belief and his faith: God will punish the unbeliever. “Broken is the way you came, and broken is the way you will leave when everything is paid for!” As the song Fiction Kingdom recites. These are people who have rejected God and live happily and joyfully in their hateful, sinful, venomous lives.

If you ask me, this kind of music, these kind of lyrics, pick up on an aspect of the Bible not enough Christians talk about. I don’t see a lot of people singing or talking about what happens to the unbeliever. We have all these songs encouraging people to get right with God, but how many of them talk about the people who don’t want to get right with God? The people who enjoy mocking God? The people who will die calling out to pagan Gods or unbiblical theology? These people are dangerous. Sure, they may not threaten us with physical harm, but they threaten our minds and our souls with their poisonous words and ideals.

See Ryan Clark recognizes as a Christian he has volunteered to fight in a very important war.
I know some people might not realize this, but there are powerful, powerful beings out there, physical and spiritual, who will stop at nothing to destroy God and his disciples. Ryan Clark knows this, and his music, since the beginning, serves as a call-to-arms of sorts. His music attacks the philosophies of the pagans and the unrepentant, in the bridge of the World is a Thorn, the title track to their latest album, Ryan screams:

“This is what you try to sell me?
Subjective Nothingness!
Pull Your sickness from my throat
Let me breathe the truth
Let me breathe the truth!”

It's words like that that motivate me to push forward, sometimes. I can look outside my window and see injustice. I can read my email and read about injustice. Everyday my newspaper reports the injustices that happen in Bangladesh.

I live in one of the most corrupt countries in the world. I live in one of the world’s most unlivable cities. More than one third of the nation cannot read or write, and many of them do not possess the means to support themselves. Injustice. Everyday people in Bangladesh, let alone the world, suffer.

Yes, actions have consequences and yes, these people suffer because of the mistakes they and those around them make, but at the same time, these people have been kept in bondage by the Forces of Darkness.

Now, I think most Churches recognize Satan exists, and he plays some sort of role in opposing the Church, but I wonder, do people realize the level of activity of Satan and his servants? Do people realize the true powers of Hindu Priests? Of Buddhist Monks? Muslim Imams? Secular Humanist Philosophers? I can think of specific instances in my life when I have come under direct and very powerful demonic attack.

I think, in my experience, people don’t realize the amount of power the forces of darkness have. I don’t want to make Satan or his servants out to appear more powerful than they are, because God does, in the end, have absolute power, and I do admit many of the problems of our world stem from simple human sinful nature. But make no mistake that demons actively attack Christians on a regular basis.

Christians can do fine in their safe, happy lives, usually. Go to Church, put some money in the offering bag, listen to a nice sermon about being holy, go home, eat dinner with family and take a nap. That kind of life appeals to us: safe, content, simple, devoid of fear, darkness, or despair. But what happens when we go out of our safe, comfortable lives and move into something more dangerous? What happens when we find ourselves face-to-face with the stark, harsh, realities of life? Poverty, war, hate, violence, racism, corruption, what do we do about them? Do we lose our faith? Do we say, “God couldn’t let this happen!” Europe experience two World Wars and the deaths of millions of people to stop power hungry politicians and hate-mongering tyrants. One of the results of this war was Europe abandonment of its Christian Faith. Supposed Christians could not imagine God could unleash such devastation upon mankind.

People don’t know how to answer the Hard questions, they don’t know what to do when confronted with abject poverty, abject hatred, and abject corruption. They sit in their house and they despair, they lose their faith. A friend of mine told me a story about a man once. This man said he was originally a Christian, but a verse in the New Testament confused him. This verse said to “pray without ceasing.” He didn’t understand how he could pray without ceasing. What did the man do? The man became Muslim because Muslims are only required to pray 5 times a day. Now, this man was probably never a strong believer, and he is an extreme, I admit, but I think we can extrapolate something from his fate. If we don’t explain the Bible, if we don’t understand the Bible, if we are not firm in our faith, the enemy will rip that faith away from us.

Ryan Clark recognizes all of this, and that draws me to his music. Ryan takes the state of the world seriously. He recognizes what we need to do, he knows we need to take the fight to the enemy, preach in the streetcorners and tell the world about Jesus. We need to fight against the evils of this world and stop the devil right where he stands.

So now, the question I ask myself, and I ask everyone else is: what are we going to do? Are we going to sit here and do nothing while the forces of Hell, the Forces of Darkness, run rampant in our streets? Are we going to hate those who hate us? Are we going to be selfish and not share with those who have less? In the midst of this war, the most important war in the history of mankind, are we to sit idle as mere bystanders?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am not. I’m not going to sit quiet while evil men and their demonic allies destroy people, families, cities or nations. Ryan says, “Stand beside us, die to fight us, Storm the gates of hell!” I think I’d like to join him. I think that storming the gates of hell sounds like a great idea and that not enough self-proclaimed Christians have fought long or hard enough to storm those gates.

Small Note: I decided to edit this one a little. It means I spent more work on the actual details instead of just writing something ideas down and throwing it out there. Hopefully you can tell.