Last week I was at the beach, and as with most trips to the beach, I got a chance to sit back and do a whole lot of nothing. I ate a bunch of food, swam a lot, played a lot of Summoner Wars and generally took some time to let my brain breathe. I’m not going to lie, it has been a stressful year. My dog died in January, both of my kids have various learning difficulties that we’re working on getting sorted out, I’m still trying to figure out what my games writing life looks like in a post-GameShark world and I can’t find a Transformers Prime Vehicon figure to save my life. A vacation was just what I needed.
I didn’t figure anything out while on vacation, didn’t try to, really, but I did come away from Hilton Head with a few observations. Lucky for you, I’ve decided to share them. Unlucky for you, they’re in no certain order. Such is the brain of the recently vacated: jumbled as all get out.
One of my favorite things to do at the beach is to go out in the water and just stare off at the horizon. I could do it for hours. There’s something about being in the ocean and being allowed to be insignificant that’s very freeing. In my life, I am not insignificant. I’m not saying I’m the most important person on the planet, but I am one of the most important people to an extremely small subset of the planet. Honestly, I don’t think I could handle being any more important than I am. I don’t know how public figures do it. Being important to people is cool, but with it comes responsibilities. I can’t flake out and decide to skip town for a couple of days. That would be bad. To the ocean, though, I truly am insignificant. It will roll me over, drown me and spit me out without paying any mind to who might miss me. I have no responsibilities to the ocean. I can just be a dude, floating along, alone with his thoughts.
Except I wan’t alone with my thoughts. I was with my son. I love my son, but holy hell, the dude can talk. I have not seen Alvin and the Chipmunks 3: Chipwrecked, yet I can tell you everything that happened. I have not played LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean for the DS, yet I can tell you every character’s special abilities. I can also tell you my son’s favorite character (Will Turner), his favorite choice of armaments (one sword, one pistol) and his favorite ship (The Black Pearl). In between ribald tales of sea criminals and singing vermin I was quizzed relentlessly on the various Pokemon I have come across in my decade plus of playing the games. Have I owned a rock type? Yes. Which ones? I don’t remember. Have I owned an electric type? Yes. Which ones, I don’t remember those either. Have you owned a rock type? As I said before, yes. Which ones? And so on and so forth. We held court on the differences between the Pokemon show and the game, why you need a balanced team, whether or not an evolved Pokemon is more powerful than an un-evolved one and why Ash’s pikachu is better than normal pikachus. That last one was somewhat thorny as it leads into the delicate topic of Pokemon animal husbandry, a discussion I did not want to broach with my nine year old.
It’s hard to explain to a child that you want to be left alone to contemplate your own meaninglessness, so I took part in all conversations. Occasionally I’d take a break and go ashore to help my daughter catch fishes in tidal pools. We didn’t catch anything, but I didn’t have to answer any questions about Ghost Types I’ve Met While Yachting, so all in all, I considered our little fishing trips a success.
When we weren’t frolicking on the beach, we were frolicking at the pool, which meant that I was in the midst of several games of Summoner Wars. I know that my wife wished that I had played less while we were gone, but hey, it was my vacation too, so I felt OK with playing more than the usual amount. I didn’t stop any family activities to play, nor did I let the game dictate our schedule, so in my mind, it was all good. I know that she wanted to talk more, but I’m sorry, you can only comment on the intricate, Dickensian subtext of Alvin and the Chipmunks 3 before wanting to swear off communicating with other human beings for the rest of your days. That being said, I’m not a total moron. After the first comment I made sure to talk more while playing.
I think that part of her irritation comes from the fact that she knows it’s all her fault. She convinced me to get an iPad and then gave it to me for my birthday. I know that I’m in the minority on this one, but the last X-Files movie is one of my absolute favorite movies. In it, Scully wants her old Mulder back, so she gives him the one thing that will bring him back: an X-File. Mulder being Mulder, does what he’s done with every X-File, he turns it into his life. The result is a hurt Scully and a confused Mulder. Why would she give him this if she knew how he would react? It’s because she wanted him back, just different, just a little less. Well, I am Mulder and games are my X-Files. You give me one, and it’s going to be my thing, totally and completely. You give me an iPad and fill it with awesome games and I will play them. I can’t do less. I’ve tried. In the end, right or wrong, I always go back to being me.
That being said, Summoner Wars, annoying bugs aside, is very quickly becoming one of my favorite games. It has layers, but is easy to get into. The dice rolling adds a deliciously random aspect to careful planning and strategy. As much as I’ve enjoyed it when I’ve been able to pull off a successful attack, I find the moments when I realize that I’ve stumbled into a very well placed trap even more thrilling. When those jaws fail to snap shut due to a poor roll, even better.
While we’re on that subject, I don’t know if poor dice rolling is a dwarven racial penalty or what, but Crom’s bones, those guys can’t roll dice to save their lives. Literally.
When I first started the game, I played every race and got my ass handed to me in short order. Master Barnes suggested I pick a race and stick with it, which I’ve done, but I’m back to feeling those other races tugging at me. There’s just so many ways to play and explore and fiddle with custom decks, that I’m not sure I can resist tinkering with the entire machine. Of course, that fiddling will be at the expense of my W/L ratio, so I need to keep that in mind. Maybe playing with the dwarves and the goblins will have to be enough. With a record of 9-12, I’m pretty happy with how well I’ve been doing, but I know that there’s so much more to learn, a lesson I take in nightly when I waste event cards or stubbornly hold on to champions even though I have no chance of summoning them. The learning, she is slow.
Finally, upon returning home from vacation, I finally finished Amazing Spider-Man and saw the movie to boot. The movie was completely unnecessary. It did nothing to redefine his origin or add a new twist on things. In fact, in many ways, I think it made things worse. The performances were very good, though, especially from Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield. I’m somewhat torn on whether or not I want them to make another one. I certainly would like to see those actors reprise their roles, but the canonical nitpicker in me doesn’t like seeing the Spidey universe continue down this road.
As for the game, having completed it and wrung 975 points out of it (screw you and your 700 comic book pages, Beenox), my opinion from the half-way point still stands. I can honestly say that I have never seen more open world busywork than in this game. Sure you could pick flowers in RDR, but with that flower picking came the risk that you might get mauled by a cougar or a wild boar. Later in the game, it was worth searching for flowers simply to see the hilarious random encounters kicked off by the glut of bears. In Spider-Man, there is no such humor or menace. Late in the game, I spent almost an hour doing nothing but swinging over to sick people, physically or mentally, take your pick, and then bringing them to the appropriate care facility. That’s it. Nothing attacked me, nothing came after me. I just played taxi for more than two dozen people. Sure, I didn’t have to do it, but why offer an activity if you don’t plan on the player doing it? Well, whatever. I’m done with it, got 975 points for my troubles and am back to flying around Gotham City looking for gold bricks and citizens in peril.
So that’s it, my trip report. My wife and I are heading to Chicago this weekend and that should effectively put the stamp on this year’s vacations, planned and slightly less planned. I’m sure she will be happy to know that I won’t be playing Summoner Wars quite as much. Probably not, though, as I’m forgoing it to play Heroes of Ruin. If you need me, I’ll be down in the basement with the FBI’s most unwanted.