Sunday, December 7, 2008

Miscellany: Maine and Red Alert 3

First, sports, then video games. Your one-stop-blog for anything I'm interested in.

Huskies 3, University of Maine 2 (OT)

In a game where NU was lucky to make it out of the second period tied, Louis Liotti (!) managed to double his career goal output with his third and fourth career goals, including the game-winner in overtime. Said game-winning goal was an incredibly ugly goal, possibly a centering pass gone awry. Maine goalie Scott Darling badly misjudged the puck and had it bounce off hip and into the net. It was really, really ugly, but that didn't matter to the crowd of 4,600 or the Huskies, who piled on top of Liotti at the end boards beneath the Doghouse.

The game was dominated by Northeastern in the first, dominated by Maine in the second, and neither team appeared to be on the ice during the third. NU bucked its usual trend and came out on fire, but wasn't able to light the lamp until just over a minute remained. An ugly goalmouth scrum led to Wade MacLeod's fifth goal of the season and cheers from a generally listless crowd anticipating finals and other such misery.

During the second, Maine's Will O'Neill was ejected with a 5 and 10 for hitting from behind, creating a 5 minute power play opportunity for the Huskies. Liotti put the puck neatly into the upper right corner of the net for the 2-0 lead, but that was the end of good Husky hockey until overtime.

Maine scored two goals, one off a huge but generally unavoidable Thiessen rebound, and the second during a 5 on 3 power play created by a stupid, stupid David Strathman 5 and 10 hitting from behind call that left the Huskies down a man on defense for the rest of the game.

Regardless, the teams ended the second period tied at 2, and would play uninspired hockey through the third before Liotti's overtime goal and the subsequent tossing of brooms onto the ice. This is the first time NU has swept the season series from Maine since the inaugural year of Hockey East, 1984-1985.

The team has a long layoff before their next game vs. Western Michigan at the Dodge Holiday Classic on January 2nd.

C&C: Red Alert 3

The Command and Conquer Red Alert series has long been the only series of PC games which I've been able to play and not get bored with after a couple months. Red Alert, even in its terribly clunky original DOS version, was a game which taught me the fun that comes with Allied battle cruisers shellacking enemy units and Tesla coils zapping opposing engineers.

Red Alert 2 was a game which built on the basics of RA1 while combining newer units and a better interface. Interestingly, my alliance switched between games, abandoning the Allied cruisers of RA1 for the Soviet Apocalypse tank of RA2. Following the acquisition of Westwood Studios by Electronic Arts, my hopes for a third installment diminished. EA is absolutely horrendous with nearly everything, so I was rather surprised when an Amazon pre-order link for Red Alert 3 emerged a few months ago. I hesitated, for reasons named below, but eventually purchased the game, complete with "Premier Edition" tin DVD case and bonus discs.

Let me begin by voicing my discontent with EA and their stupid, stupid choice to ruin software by sticking the crappy (and easily circumventable) SecuROM "copy protection" to, among myriad titles, RA3. This is the only game I have bought or will buy that has this asinine rootkit "protection" scheme. For those of you not familiar with SecuROM and how it sucks, Wikipedia has a nice summary. I contemplated pirating the game, or at least downloading a cracked version and purchasing a legit disc for the serial number, but decided I'd have a better chance suing EA than fighting off their lawyers.

The game occupies 10 gigs of hard drive space. When the original Red Alert came out, most computers didn't have 10 GB hard drives. Software bloat is a problem, from Windows to games, and I don't believe for a second that there's no way to write code that doesn't use 10 gigs on what's essentially a two-dimensional game.

With that said, the gameplay:

I'm a little disappointed. Maybe a lot disappointed, depending on what happens over the next few months as patches and modifications are released. My biggest issue comes with the Skirmish setting, generally viewed as the most fun way to play Red Alert. In RA2, an option was available to turn off superweapons, essentially forcing the AI to play with some modicum of strategy and preventing the complete destruction of a base with a single click. That option is gone, and the results are damnable. "Support powers" further add to the misery, enabling the annihilation of an enemy with a few keystrokes. It's dumb, but it wouldn't kill the game if there were an option to turn these things off. Judging by what I've been reading, theres a general clamor for a checkbox to turn these functions on and off.

Second, the camera is nigh useless. Too close to the ground at even the highest setting, zooming in provides one with a very close-up view of, say, the ass of an armored bear. The camera is clunky and pointless, and, knowing EA, is eating up system resources better spent on motion rendering.

Speaking of motion rendering, the game is unplayable on reasonably high video quality settings. Units and commands slow to a crawl as the system tries to keep up with the game. At the lowest quality settings, the game runs like it should but looks like crap. This machine is well over the reccommended system requirements and I'm still forced to look at green pixel blob "trees."

Other features, like the regenerating shroud and new ore-mining system, I remain undecided upon. The shroud situation is probably a net positive, as it forces the player to extend his base, but at the same time, defensive fortifications can't be built around lookout posts, so they are constantly subject to demolition. The new ore system is weird. It's good in that it prevents ore trucks from ever really having to drive anywhere, but bad for the same reason. And it sucks that the ore pits become barren as the regenerating shroud prevents the ore trucks from finding a new pit.

Why the hell don't Apocalypse tanks have anti-air capabilities anymore?

Even with these issues, though, the game is the same sort of fun as its predecessors. Tesla coils are back to being deadly anti-personnel and anti-vehicle weapons, building on water is an excellent new element, and the game still features the same hokey voice acting which made the previous games so endearing.

Currently, the best way to play this game is probably online with the understanding that neither player uses superweapons or powerups. Without a patch, it will soon be the only way to play.

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