Boost, Baby, Boost!

I played a little bit of Halo: Reach this week. Just a few Daily Challenges, nothing much.

And that’s about all the gaming I’ve got to report.

Hang on a minute… that’s not right. I’ve been essentially glued to my beloved lounge this week doing pretty much one thing, and one thing only: Gears of War boosting.

The day after last week’s gentle introduction into the Gears boosting scene was posted, I applied for – and was accepted by – another boosting group. They kindly showed me the ropes, gave me hints, and were amazingly accepting; and that’s proved true of about two-thirds of the people I’ve encountered in these sessions. It seems that the community is happy to accept another into the fold once they’ve signed up to perform a silly feat (The Seriously Achievement); there’s a common sense of purpose, of acceptance. Knowledge is freely shared, there’s very little judgement, and everyone seems resigned to their fate – and is happy to just try and make the task as easy as possible to accomplish.

For those who don’t know, Seriously is a Gears of War Achievement awarded for attaining 10,000 online, ranked-match kills. Of course, it’s also renowned for being ridiculously fussy, too: various people have reported their Achievement being awarded at anywhere from 9,800 kills, all the way through to 22,000+. No-one’s quite certain what is counted and what is not, and the boosting community saves most of its compassion for those who are in No Man’s Land: 10,000 kills, no Achievement, and just plugging onwards, hoping that the sweet release of the Achievement toast will appear at the end of their next match.

But getting to 10,000 is the first hurdle and, when you consider the Gears team-based multiplayer gameplay, that’s a hell of a lot of playtime. Most three-hour sessions yield around 100 – 148 kills per player; I’m banking on this Achievement requiring one hundred sessions… three hundred hours.

I must be nuts.

But in my first handfuls of sessions, one colleague mentioned the concept of “double-boxing” – two Xboxes, two copies of the game, two Live accounts, leading to double the kills. “Hmmmmm,” I thought, probably out loud, “I have two Xboxes…”

A quick trip to JB Hifi the next day, and I had a grubby old copy of Gears in my hand for the princely sum of $25. Yes, that was a rip-off… but it was paid back almost immediately as I managed to drag my second account (or, as I like to call it, “my alt”) into the mix for an extra 148 kills. That’s three hours of my life back… money well spent.

But I remember standing in JB with that copy of Gears in my hand, excitement sweeping over me as I started thinking about all the double-Xbox opportunities opening up to me; and one game marched out to join Gears as the flavour of the week: Robotron.

There’s a solitary online Robotron Achievement remaining for me: getting to fifth on the online ranked leaderboard. Apparently, it’s dead easy to get if someone in the top five allows themselves to be repeatedly beaten by you; certainly, that’s how a large majority of the top fifty have attained their rank. But a few politely-worded messages to people in those lofty positions failed to garner a response (not even a “fuck off, child, do it yourself” chunk of ironic arrogance); so I thought I’d try to boost myself up there.

Two Xboxes; two accounts. Ranked matches. Lovely telly operating in side-by-side picture mode, allowing me to see the action on two screens at once (also great for Gears sessions when the cricket’s on). One account being pummelled by the other; 226 games later, I’m up to 1500-ish on the leaderboard. Hmmmmm. Needs more work.

So – I’m double-box boosting now. And I’ve got a session in about ten minutes, so I’ll sign off quick. But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that all is wonderful in Boost-Land; certainly, I’ve been stuck in misogynist, racist groups for three hours. I’ve heard such pearls as “I want to move to Japan to marry one of them Chinese chicks.” (“You mean Japanese women?” “Sure, they’re hot too.”) Apparently “sand-nigger” isn’t racist if you say it to an Asian-American. And some people, no matter how clearly you explain a task, will deem your experience as irrelevant and try to learn things the hard way.

But, despite all that, I feel a camaraderie with a lot of the boosting community; I imagine them walking through their days, seeing visions of the roadie-run from one side of War Machine to the other, fingers involuntarily twitching the motions, trying to get those three kills down in less than fifty seconds.

I feel their dedication, and I feel happy knowing that I’m not alone.


You know, when I get thoroughly sucked into a game, life gets a little one-dimensional. I get a little focussed, a little bit rabid, and pretty much everything else in life takes a back-seat. Anything that’s not involved in the game is simply in the way, an impediment to playing; it dominates my thoughts, and I often find that my fingers will involuntarily exercise themselves in anticipated execution of their functions. Such is the nature of my affliction.

My obsession lately has, of course, been Halo 3: ODST. My Solo Legendary run through the game was smooth as silk – if you ignore the plethora of grisly deaths along the way. But those deaths revealed some wonderful truths about ODST‘s balance; the checkpoints are frequent and sensibly triggered, and when forced back to a checkpoint there always seems to be another way around the problem. Getting mauled when running out of an elevator one way? Try the other! Forced back against the wall in an indefensible position? Push forward to open areas! Swarmed by enemies in the open? Fall back to confined spaces and create a choke-point! So many options are available to the player, and – unlike any other Halo game I’ve tried so far – the Legendary difficulty was an absolute delight.

Of course, that leaves the small matter of the Firefight Achievements; so I found a few like-minded souls and started forming a team of crack Firefighters. Well, “crack” may be too strong a word; one chap had distinctly “good” days (where he appeared to be a Halo ninja) and “bad” days (where he would frequently run into situations we urged him not to… and die). Many of the attempts on some Firefights with only three people ended in abject failure; some attempts died with the network connection (one with the score at 188k of the required 200,000). But, in the end, all the Firefights were done (thanks mainly to a lad in the US whose remoteness lagged the game just enough to allow slightly slowed, but still fluid, action), and even the brilliant Déjà Vu Achievement was earned. All that remains now is Vidmaster Endure… anyone know a team of three ODST ninjas who can carry my fat arse over the finishing line? :}

There was also a bit more Halo: Reach… there will always be more Reach to do. So many Commendations to earn, so many cRedits to whore… This week, however, was a bit special for me: I’ve just attained the rank of Commander. And I’ve just discovered that the “incremental” upgrades are now 50,000 cRedits apiece. Blimey.

The very wonderful Costume Quest got some DLC this weekend – and, aside from the fact that it doesn’t integrate all that cleanly with the game, and a slightly disappointing final boss battle – it’s still very wonderful. So much charm and humour is packed in there; make sure you try out all the new costumes’ battle techniques… the Eyeball is hilarious.

Finally this week, I started work on a massive project… a year-long project, I reckon. It’s name? Gears of War. Yes, I finally decided to start nabbing some of the outstanding Achievements in Gears… including (deep breath) Seriously, for 10,000 ranked online kills. Now, clearly that’s going to involve a hell of a lot of boosting; and my few experiences playing Gears online in the past had led me to expect the worst from the community. However, my first selected boosting session was an absolute blinder; once everyone got settled in, it ran like clockwork, with a comfortable rhythm and plenty of kills for everyone. Just the one Achievement so far, but the bedrock for others to follow… and a mighty mountain to climb. After all, I’m only about 1% of the way there…

HaloHaloHalo (and a little bit of Crackdown)

Just a really quick one this week (or fortnight, as the case may be), because I’ve been doing bugger all for the last five weeks while I’ve been off work but I’m heading into the office again tomorrow and I’m completely unprepared and I’m worried that my sleep pattern is all out of whack and stuff.

With my little writing exercise successfully completed, I thought about giving myself a nice little project for my remaining holidays: visit the folks? Did that. Finish populating The Moobaarn? Well, I did a bit of that. Have a nice relaxing read? Did a tiny bit of that. Resurrect one of my coding projects? Avoided that like the plague.

Play a shitload of Halo games? Oh, alright then.

But first, I wrapped up Crackdown 2 with a sizeable amount of multiplayer. Now, more will be written (hopefully) about Crackdown 2 later on, but the multiplayer components are definitely its strong points. There’s lots of fun to be had, even if it is derived from people who quit a game because their team is losing, then immediately search for another game… and get matchmade with, surprise surprise, the under-manned team they just left. Again and again and again.

So – Crackdown 2 off The List. And I looked at the vast amount of time I had off, and at the remaining multiplayer Achievements I had on the 360… and I thought I might clear a few of them up.

First stop: a Halo 3 boosting session, abandoned by its “host”. I’d already committed to the session, and had created a little spreadsheet of all participants’ required Achievements and cross-referenced them with maps and gametypes. Three hours later, everyone who joined in had every Achievement they required; I cajoled the group where necessary, kept everyone focussed, and reveled in their delight. And when the sole Achievement I required popped… well, I was pretty damn pleased.

But that left one Halo 3 Achievement outstanding: the Vidmaster Annual. Final level, Iron Skull, four players, all finishing on ghosts. My usual crew seems to have disbanded (or, more accurately, gained aspects of life that I’m too immature to indulge in myself), and I’d read a guide on Vidmaster Annual that had mentioned the Spartan I Project, who were “available for hire” (worry not – no items of value change hands).

So – one forum post later, and I’ve got a team, well versed in the art of this Achievement. And, with their guidance, it doesn’t take long before the Achievement pops – and it was a lot of fun, too, whetting my appetite for a Solo Legendary run through Halo 3. Instead, I started a Solo Heroic run, and got about three chapters in (on the road to Voi) before becoming irritated by the lack of friendly checkpoints.

And then the DLC for Halo: Reach was released. Cue a somewhat painful boosting session for that, with one participant continually whining that he wanted another specific Achievement… even after being politely told “no; set up another session for that”. Over and over. Still, Achievements were achieved, and another session wrapped up the last of my Reach Achievements… for now.

Finally came ODST. Now, my memories of ODST were not fond, but I found myself in a Firefight with another Aussie and a couple of Americans that went really quite well. We cleaned up a couple of Firefight Achievements, and then I thought (as with Halo 3 previously) that I might start a Solo Heroic run, just to see what it was like. But I slipped, and accidentally selected Legendary… what the hell, I thought, I’m going to play that eventually anyway.

So I started playing through the levels on Legendary. And bloody hell ODST is good. In fact, I couldn’t stop playing it all weekend – cricket and work-prep be damned! – and I’ve only got the final level to go before it’s done. Boy, knocking ODST off The List would make a pretty nice Christmas present…


Sure, I’m trying to write a novel and get other things in my house in order, but you’d expect that I’d be able to conjure a focused, concerted effort when gaming, wouldn’t you?


The week started promisingly enough with a direct attack on Halo: Reach. I was determined to reach the rank of Lieutenant Colonel this week, which I easily managed early on, and have occasionally returned to the game in order to whore cRedits to buy pretty armour trinkets. But then I got the wild idea that it might be a good move to distract myself by playing a little Halo 3.

Now, I love Halo 3. It’s a lovely game. And, starting a solo Heroic playthrough, it felt fantastic to be back inside Master Chief’s armour.

Until the first firefight.

That’s when I realised just how comfortable I’d become with Halo: Reach‘s control scheme… because there’s a few key differences between the games. There’s nothing like running up to a grunt to punch it in the head and instead swapping your beloved battle rifle for a plasma pistol. Where’s melee? How do I reload?

So: I was playing Halo 3 (badly). I’ve only got two Achievements outstanding on the game, so I thought I’d join a boosting party (via TA) to try and snaffle one of them. I find some like-minded individuals and am happily (or sadly, depending on your viewpoint of gaming as a hobby / lifestyle choice) sitting in front of the 360 at 1pm on Saturday.

Expect I’ve got the dates wrong; it’s 1pm next Saturday.


I quickly find another boosting session starting later in the afternoon. Hurrah! In the meantime, I poke around TA some more, looking listlessly at my remaining Achievements… and I begin to think weird things. Things like, “I wonder if there’s any Australians who want to work on Perfect Dark Zero Achievements? Or Kameo co-op stuff?”

I poke around and find a likely name, and fire off a message to them. The Halo 3 session is a bust; the “host” doesn’t bother turning up. Then the chap I’d messaged about Kameo pings me back – let’s go, he says.

You’ve got to admire that enthusiasm :)

We played nearly three hours of Saturday for no result (well, all the Achievements we’re shooting for have zero GamerScore associated with them, so technically they’re all for no result), trying to obtain a Time Attack A-ranking on the first level. We failed dismally but, on the first attempt the next day, we romped it in. The next Time Attack fell soon thereafter, as well as a brace of Expert levels on co-op.

I’ve always sung the praises of Kameo – I think it’s a lovely little game, and these extra modes of play really work out well for it. As for Joe, my partner-in-crime… I doff my cap to you, sir, for putting up with a buffoon like myself. A couple of brilliant sessions so far, with more (hopefully!) to come.

Finally this week, I also started playing Braid again. I’ve no idea why. Blimey that Speed Run is going to be hard.

Reach for the Twin Sticks…

This is likely to be the first of a month’s worth of short, perfunctory posts. Mainly because there’s not a whole not new happening (or likely to happen) in the gaming corner of the moobaarn in the next four weeks, but also because I want to preserve my typing digits for NaNoWriMo, in which I’m participating for the first time this year (follow my progress here!)

Luckily, there’s no monster stories about Reach left to tell. I’m on the final cRedit grind on my way to Lieutenant Colonel, and trying to ease my progress by taking advantage of the cRedit bumps given when you receive a Commendation upgrade… which, in turn, has led to plenty of Checkpoint restarting and Gruntpocalypse. But I’ve also taken the opportunity to start playing with a number of Reach‘s other gameplay modes, including online Firefights with randoms. These have been, with one exception, a genuine delight: the firefight scenarios, with their infinite-life / infinite-ammo / fixed-time-limit options, lead to some downright silly, thrilling, seat-of-your-pants, explodey goodness.

Of course, the first time I played one of hese online firefights, I netted an Achievement (for scoring 20K in the game). This caused me to reflect on my GamerScore a bit more and, harking back to my stats on TrueAchievements, I realised I was getting close to a milestone: 94% of my possible gamerscore. And, knowing that Crackdown 2 and Halo: Reach DLC is incoming (with more percentage-mangling Achievements), this was my chance to set a new high-water mark.

The Halo: Reach achievement had left me with a mere 21 additional GS to hit the 94% mark; scouring my gamercard, I noticed that Geometry Wars Evolved^2 had a solitary 25 GS Achievement outstanding. If I could snaffle that, then I’d knock a game off The List, and clear 94%. Two birds with one stone.

Brilliant idea, huh? One little problem, though.

I’m shit at Geometry Wars Evolved^2. Bloody rubbish. I gave Smile a good old bash, and got nowhere near comfortable with it. Buggered if I know how I managed to complete Sequence previously.

It’s all so pretty and neon and… overwhelming. So, to hone my skills, I thought I’d drop back to the rustic Robotron 2084. And wouldn’t-you-know-it, I’m shit at that, too.

So – I’m no closer to nailing my 21 GS. I look further afield… Halo 3: ODST. One of the VidMaster Achievements in ODST has long been regarded as pretty straightforward, so I gave it a bash… and in less than thirty minutes, the Achievement popped. 25 GS, piece of piss. Welcome to 94%-land.

Of course, that led to me looking at the firefight score attack Achievements in ODST, but that’s a task for another month. Given it was November 7th today, I did pop in the Halo 3 multiplayer disc from ODST to chance my arm on the 7-on-7 playlist, hoping that the opportunity to snaffle my final Halo 3 multiplayer Achievement would pop up… that’s when I discovered that there’s 301 people still playing Halo 3 online, and they’re all ninja good. I got one kill, and that’s only because someone else softened up my target with multiple rockets.

So: the whoring in Reach goes on. And I’ve just written 500 words on this blog post that could have gone into my novel. There’s the odd oblique reference to gaming in my novel, you know… ;)


Last week I proudly rambled about ignoring any desire for retail therapy (aka impulse purchases); unfortunately, there’s a couple of titles that have been on my radar for awhile now that have caused my “buy now” button to throb with anticipation. Luckily, Vanquish deemed itself a non-buy, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn has been pushed into 2011 for PAL regions. Epic Mickey isn’t out for another four weeks, and that feels like a good Christmas / New Year reward to myself. But I have a List (another one) of companies for whom I grant myself a free pass; whose games I will buy Day One, sight unseen, without guilt. Double Fine is one of those companies; Costume Quest is their latest game.

Now, to be fair, I was planning to hold off buying Costume Quest for another couple of weeks (to bump the required Microsoft points purchase into the next credit card billing period – sometimes, I can think too small), but then I mulled on my gaming achievements of October – only one game completed (and what a shit game it was). That didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment at all and, knowing that Costume Quest was supposed to be a relatively short romp, I downloaded the demo to tease myself.

Within five minutes of starting the demo, I’d decided that I was purchasing the full version immediately. Yet such was the wonderful sense of humour and fun on display in the demo, I couldn’t tear myself away from it until it was done. The graphics are gorgeous, the sound full of subtle little bits of joy; the battle system is absolutely delightful and so wonderfully streamlined that it knocks the recently-caned Chrono Trigger into a cocked hat.

When I started playing the full game (around 10pm on Friday night), the grins returned immediately. Five hours straight before I forced myself to bed, and then the game reached out to waylay me on my way to the markets the following morning. Another couple of hours, and the game is done – everything collected, all Achievements snaffled. But that didn’t stop me from leaping back in and playing another 100% game (using the other character) almost immediately; that playthrough was wrapped up by lunchtime Sunday. Costume Quest, on and off The List within days – and thoroughly recommended.

(An aside: the Statue of Liberty’s “Anthem” special attack would have to rate as one of the most magical gaming moments of the year :)

The surprise for the week was a completely inexplicable desire to play Boom Boom Rocket. I’ve no idea where that hankering came from; it’s (essentially) a rhythm-action game, and I generally suck when rhythm is concerned – as evidenced by my performance this week. Playing on Medium, the best grade I managed was a B – and that was after many, many attempts – and venturing into Hard was a complete joke… the game was over in seconds as I battered away at my gamepad with seemingly scant regard for the colours I was supposed to be matching. The timing was askew, too. Needless to say, the hand-eye coordination needs a bit of work there.

The big effort this week, though, was the continuation of my solo Legendary run through Halo: Reach. Last week, I’d managed to get to the penultimate battle: a brute-laden firefight. I’d managed to shuffle a selection of around half-a-dozen potent weapons to that location – a fully-laden DMR, a plasma launcher, needler, shotgun, rocket launcher, needle rifle. All I had to do is choose which to take into battle… and the significance of that decision stymied my enthusiasm to do anything. But, walking home from work Monday night, I snapped – just get in there, I told myself, and do some damage. If it doesn’t work out, dig up an old checkpoint and try again.

I got home, backed up my current savegame to multiple memory sticks, and went in.

The first attempt didn’t go to plan. Covenant 1, petee 0. Ahem. Second attempt was a little better; got a few brutes knocked down, then went to trigger the secret ammo cache (such foresight!). Sure enough, a big block of blammo popped out… then landed face-down on the ground, completely inaccessible to me.

Ummmmm. Restart, try again.

The next attempt is much better; pop some brutes, cap some grunts, ammo cache accessible. I sit up top with my UNSC distractions, and they promptly walk in front of multiple streams of plasma fire and die. Prone and alone, I take cover down below… and there I stay for nearly three hours, popping my head out the door, maybe squeezing off a sniped round or two before being drowned in plasma and retreating to safety.

Seriously – nearly three hours. Check out the (very boring) stats yourself. That’s 39 kills, 9 deaths, 168 minutes.

But here’s the thing, though: from that tiny room, nursing every bullet in my DMR, I felt safe. I was alive. It was all manageable – I’d poke my head out, whittle down the enemy, and then retreat. Checkpoints seemed plentiful, and I felt like I was very slowly making progress.

Eventually, I kill the easily visible enemies – and some of Martin O’Donnell’s characteristically ominous tones start playing. “Hurrah,” I think, “I must be on the final wave already. That was surprisingly easy! Three hours well spent.” I keep up my ultra-conservative play, sniping from shelter with my DMR, and letting loose with my shotgun should brutes venture into my little hidey-hole. One by one the red dots disappear off my mini-map; I can still see the odd brute running around on an outcrop in the distance, but there’s only one enemy somewhere above me. I wait until I’ve got a checkpoint, then wander outside to check out the red triangle that distracts me from the bottom corner of the screen.

Oh shit. Hero brute. With a Gravity Hammer. Which he uses to flatten a surprised me.

Restart from checkpoint. Venture out again. He intercepts my run, mashes me up good. Third time around I notice that merely stepping out of my saferoom is enough to bring him running down to my level; then he’d either rush the room, or pace fretfully outside before returning to his rooftop position.

I hatch a plan. Lure, grenade, shotgun… Oh. Hero brutes have shields. Well there is a painful lesson learned.

On about the twelfth attempt, he rushes the room into which I’ve backpedalled, spraying shotgun shells. He lunges with his hammer, I dodge… and suddenly I’m halfway down a stairwell with two handrails between me and him. The AI doesn’t quite know how to negotiate the stairwell, and he looks to be running on the spot. I reload the shotgun and empty it into him. Reload, more shots… and then he’s dead.

And now I have a Gravity Hammer.

The checkpoint flashes up; I switch off the 360 and go to bed. That night I dream of Covenant slain and yet to face my wrath. Work couldn’t finish quickly enough the next day; I scoot home, back up the savegame again, then start my final assault. And now it’s easy; catch the enemy’s attention (an errant shot here or there, or just running out in the open), then beat them with the mighty hammer. Of course, there was another massive wave of enemies before the end of that section – my previous audio cue guesses were completely wrong – but, with Hammer in hand, I felt good. Strong. Legendary.

Checkpoint. Onto the final battle. The n00b combo (overcharged plasma pistol, followed by a UNSC pistol headshot) is… well, not second nature, but doable. It clears the room out, and there’s one last ultra-fast, ultra-shielded, ultra-angry elite between me and my objective.

He, too, gets stuck on the furniture. And dies by my hand.

As I executed the end-game sequence, I didn’t feel the same overwhelming emotional attachment to the game that I did when I completed the first Halo on Legendary (I had literally wept tears of joy that almost obscured those fleeting seconds of extra footage I’d worked to hard for, and had so yearned to see). But, as my Xbox popped up a “Achievement Unlocked – 2 for 275G”, I must admit that felt a little bit sad that the task was over.

Then I came to my senses. Never again… never again. There’s no need to put yourself through that again. No need to tiptoe through Nightfall, no need to launch an attack on the Corvette, no need to panic-run through Bugger attacks. Never again.

Wait a minute… “Data Pads,” you say? Of which over half only appear in Legendary?

Sign me up!


This post could be incredibly short and sweet; I could just say “last week, I played Reach, ground Chrono Trigger into the dirt, and checked out a couple of demos on XBLA”. And whilst that is factually correct, it’s the periphery and the detail that holds all the interesting stuff.

This week is the first week in ages where I’ve felt the need for a bit of retail therapy; the opportunity to try something new. That’s been something I’ve been resisting for much of this year (with notable weakening of resolve around Portal and After Burner Climax) but by and large I’ve managed to stick to my guns – I had a List (surprise, surprise) of stuff that I really cared about, and desperately wanted to stick to it. I even managed to strike one off that List (Vanquish, which – much to my disappointment – was too much Gears of War, not enough P.N.03). Lately, though, trusted chums have been banging on about Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and the demo (despite reeking of the shiny-Unreal Engine) felt interesting enough to warrant a buy. I managed to suppress that urge, only to have an inexplicable yearning for Borderlands (nearly a year old at this point), which was recently released onto XBL. Again – I bit my lip, buried the urge, and decided instead to try and satisfy my wanderlust by dabbling in a few missed XBLA demos.

First up was Darwinia+ – and it’s fair to say that, despite looking and sounding lovely (like a Proper Computer Game), it’s not my cup of tea at all. I can imagine what would transpire should I buy that: I’d toddle about ineffectively in-game for a dozen hours, before resorting to a guide to help me dominate. And that doesn’t feel right; although I love the fact that Introversion have put out a game that’s polished just the way I like it, it’s not really fair to subject myself to guilt and anguish if I’m not going to get on with the game.

On the other hand, Costume Quest ticked just about every box imaginable. Gorgeous audiovisuals, wonderful sense of play and humour, and the opportunity (hopefully) to grind away at a (hopefully) shortish quest. Double Fine’s latest is on the Must Buy List (yes, yet another List)… but something else has to be finished first.

And this week I invested all my time in the same games that I’ve been playing for… well, pretty much the last month. My second Chrono Trigger playthrough (and first on my intended 100% Save File) was completed, with a thumb-numbing bit of grinding that managed to drag my character levels into the 90s, and one character to Max. That allowed me to clean up the last of Spekkio’s forms – part of my 100% quest – and a New Game + for the second playthrough is coming up soon. But that’s all fallen by the wayside…

…because my Solo Legendary run through Halo: Reach has consumed me. This time last week, I had just started struggling through the Sixth Mission (Long Night of Solace), otherwise known as the Space Mission. Now – spoilers beware! – I’d really struggled with a number of sections of this level when playing on Normal and Heroic, and Legendary was wiping the floor with me… so I was very, very, very nervous about tackling the Corvette sections. Of course, they had to wait until I learnt how to survive space combat on Legendary… who knew the flip would be so shield-protectingly effective?

So – I eventually landed on the Corvette. Two Elites floated up to greet me and my Sabre pals and obliterated us. Oh, OK – learn where they appear and deal. A couple of attempts and I’ve got my melee-dash-melee down pat; two dead bad guys and no ammo wasted. Perfect! …hang on, where have my offsiders gone? Oh, they leap into the ship (and a nest of nasty Elites) once the two up top have been vanquished? Bummer for them… and me. Restart from checkpoint. Do it all again, follow my chaps down. We don’t stand a chance – there’s crossfire opportunities a-plenty for the Covenant nasty-pasties, and even when I stick to the high ground, the sheer weight of numbers means that I don’t stand a chance.

Off to the Interwebs. What do other people say? “Give one of your colleagues your rocket launcher,” someone recommends. But I don’t have a rocket launcher…

Restart level. Grab rocket launcher. Space battle. Re-jig my melee-dash-melee path when I can’t palm the rocket launcher off to the closest friendly due to another poor weapon choice. Drop down into the room… and we’re still hammered. Even from my lofty “safe” position, I’m still slaughtered, and my rocket-powered friend is completely ineffective.

Hmmmmm. Teeth are ground.

Interwebs. “Don’t forget the Bubble Shield” …what?

Restart level. Grab rocket launcher. Grab bubble shield. Space battle. Further refine my melee-dash-melee because… well, I had to forgo Sprint for the Bubble Shield. Finally, all is in place…

Lambs to the slaughter. Again.

Deep breath. Try it again…

I drop down to my usual vantage point, and the enemies seem to have been expecting me; volleys of plasma come from multiple directions and my health is shredded. I erect the Bubble Shield to restore my health; the Covenant’s eyes collectively light up as they target the Shield, barely affording it enough time to replenish my health before it collapses. I’m crouching to avoid their fire, wondering how in the hell I’m going to get past this… when I hear it.


My UNSC buddies – they weren’t yet dead! Apparently the bubble shield had distracted the Covenant long enough for my men to float to the ground floor; two had made it, and the guy with the rocket launcher was lighting the room up.

It was beautiful.

Of course, they eventually both perished – but the damage had been done. A few headshots from me had helped thin the numbers out and, bounding up to safety when my shields were down, I managed to whittle down the rest of the opposition. That next Checkpoint was a relief.

I pushed on. The odd death here and there was expected, usually as a result of trying to rush the enemy. Slowly, I learn about the need for patience. I clear the way for Jorge to meet me; I collect a new group of cannon fodder soldiers and move on. They die quickly, but I’m through the room… and suddenly I’m facing the area that I dread, the Corvette Control Room. I get a checkpoint; I duck back to the dashboard, copy my save file to another device. There’s no way I want to risk having to do all that again.

I’m being ripped apart by nerves now; I’m thoroughly amped, jittery, unable to sit still. To help soothe my nerves, I decide to watch one of the many Legendary walkthroughs on YouTube (I really enjoyed HaloReachTutor’s video). And it is calming, leaving me with a good idea of what was to follow.

Namely, death. Mine. A lot.

Still, eventually the game takes pity on me. The principal Elite in the room winds up watching me from the opposite side of the map; he seemed content just standing there (as opposed to dashing about looking to kill me), so I took the opportunity to shoot him in the head. Repeatedly. He didn’t even move when I whittled his shields down to expose the fatal head shot.

Phew. Easier than expected!

The trek back to Jorge was tense. I’d started nursing weapons – dragging a stockpile of arms along with me, covering any eventuality – and a few of them came in mighty handy when I was set upon in the next room. I return to the hanger, help Jorge out with his fight… and then the final batch of Elites arrive.

I run. I run like a chickenshit scaredycat. I run for the “safe” room, where “usually” the Elites don’t follow… I’ve already hidden a sniper rifle there, but just as I get to cover…

…a plasma launcher?

Ducking back for the plasma launcher almosts costs me my life, but it was well worth it. Two of the Elites noticed me in the “safe” room, and started coming towards me; Jorge saw fit to shoot them in the back. The Elites, obviously miffed, turned to accost him… and, ever the opportunist, I globbed them with lots of explodey plasma.


Bear in mind, that action took over five days, I reckon. The anticipation of that level had terrified me, and now it was done. To say I was relieved would be quite an understatement.

…so I pushed on.

The next level, Exodus, also has a few fearful memories, but another visit to YouTube found the Beginner’s Guide to Legendary, which demonstrated easy solutions to several of my pain points; better still, they were solutions that were easy enough for me to implement. Far from being a feared level, Exodus ended up being the easiest on my Legendary run to date.

The next mission was a bit more of a headache; again, I was terrified at the thought of I intended to ease my run by taking advantage of the Grunt Disco easter egg to help me get through the big Hunter face-off; unfortunately, you apparently need to access the hospital before the nightclub for the easter egg to work… and it was then I discovered that the objectives issued in the Eighth Mission come in a random order.

Which meant I got to do the Bug Run first. I mapped my route, timed my run, then threw the whole plan away because a Bugger saw through my active camouflage and started shooting, leading to a lot of very tense hide-and-seek before I escaped. The hospital eventually became my final objective, and was a nightmare – ammo was at a premium, and I managed to knock off the final jetpacking Elite with my last DMR bullet. Apart from that, New Alexandria was pretty straightforward.

Then came The Package, ending in the monstrous defence objective. Again, the Beginner’s Guide pointed out the best approach which made the task a doddle, to be frank. Which just leaves The Pillar of Autumn.

Oh god.

I spent most of today playing through this level, nursing weapons across vast distances (only to have them disappear when I turn my back), getting slaughtered by the three Elites just before the Hunters, but now I’m perched just before the penultimate battle: the firefight standoff with the Brutes at the landing pad.

And I’m absolutely shitting myself. I struggled here on Normal, barely made it through on Heroic (mainly due to a surprise attack which turned very bad for the attacker and netted me a Gravity Hammer), and none of the walkthrough videos I’ve seen look even remotely doable to me. I’ve got no Noble team-mate to lean on, I’m jittery as hell, and I can’t sit still long enough to even trigger the first wave; nervous energy has decimated my ability to even start. The backups have been made, and all I have to do is start. Push through it. One kill at a time. Checkpoint.

…that’s tomorrow’s job. Right now, I’m just scared.

Yes, this post could have been incredibly short and sweet; instead, you got me blathering about Reach for over a thousand words. Thanks for reading this far! :P

I Love A Good Grind…

After last week’s aggressive chunk of negativity (which I like to think was cathartic), I’m going to tap out a few words on something near and dear to my heart… something I often forget about until I realise I’m knee-deep in its clutches, having a rollicking good time: grinding.

Because I love a good grind-fest.

I’m currently focussing my gaming time on two gorgeous examples of great grinding: Chrono Trigger and Halo: Reach. The former, nearing the end of a second playthrough, has seen me level up from a relatively comfortable Level 35 to the mid-70s, exploiting the hell out of a couple of well-known EXP-farming spots exposed in the late-game sidequests.

Now, some people may think that running through the same areas over and over and over and over and over again, using the same button presses to dispose of your foes, with no variation in the proceedings from one iteration to the next… well, that would be boring, wouldn’t it? And there’s a part of me – a tiny little part of me, mind – that may (when the repetitions climb into three-figures) agree with them.

But the payoff… oh, the payoff. Running into battles with not a care in the world about the offensive/defensive abilities of the party. Caring not a jot for the fine-tuning of equipment. Being able to run into an otherwise tricky fight and beat the living shit out of your opponent…

Yes, I am a bully. A big, grinding bully.

I love games that give me the option of trading time for talent. Chrono Trigger gives me the ability to waste an hour or two on a long flight, or half-watch the news while playing, or catch up on e-mail during the predictable successful-battle celebrations… all while my EXP is accumulated, and I march steadily forwards to becoming an all-conquering tank. Now, I know that there’s no real requirement in levelling up that much (apart from the OCD stat-maxing that must be done… but hey, Chrono Trigger requires at least twelve playthroughs, so I’m not sure EXP accumulation is going to be a problem); but the feeling of power associated with being that over-levelled is undeniably intoxicating.

That trade-off – time versus talent – must be a bitch to get right… if indeed it is even considered. I’d love to think that it is a focus for game designers; certainly something like Ocarina of Time is moderately challenging if you’re just playing through “normally”, a doddle if you collect as many additional Heart Pieces as you can at any given point in time, and a major challenge if you’re attempting a Minimal Run. The very idea that the game can be satisfying on so many levels is fantastic.

So my Chrono Trigger grinding is pressing all the right buttons, so to speak; but what about Halo Reach? The obvious grindable benefit in Reach is for the accumulation of cRedits, used to buy additional armour and gain rank. The armour adornments are purely cosmetic – there’s no additional protection afforded by one piece over another – and the rank has, likewise, no impact on either single- or multi-player gameplay… but, when you discover the correlation between rank and cRedits, it all gets a little bit addictive.

Or maybe that’s just me ;)

Now – I’m no great shakes as a Halo player. Yes, I’ve completed the original Combat Evolved solo on Legendary, but I used many cowardly practices that would make hardened veterans scoff. Certainly, my ongoing solo Legendary run through Reach has seen me leave most of the killing to the rest of Noble Team; my thankfully-completed run through the Fourth Mission saw me notch up a mere 55 Covenant kills. Amongst many, many restarts.

So – I’m not going to attain rank through my inherent skills. But I can gain rank through… erm… time served.

And my time served is spent playing one of the Score Attack modes in Reach‘s many playlists: Gruntpocalypse. In particular, Gruntpocalypse on the Corvette map. Because, over the course of ninety (yes, I just counted) games so far, I’ve nailed that particular process. Sprint ability; run for ammo. Scoot to top of ramp. Headshots as Grunts emerge from doors, stairs, doors. Clean up, wait for “reinforcement” announcement, run for ammo. Rinse, repeat… 970-ish cR for twelve minute’s work.

And, after those ninety games, there’s still plenty to learn, and plenty to surprise me. The different intonations of Grunts when they’ve got you in their sights; the way you can drag the reticule whilst firing for a better chance at a headshot. And the repetition has even helped my in-game skills somewhat; dropping back to help a friend on Normal this evening was a real joy, with my precision skills making me far more useful on the battlefield of Reach than the scaredycat of old.

Of course, to hit the (rumoured) top rank of Inheritor I only need an additional 19,758,126 cR – which is only around 20,370 more games of Gruntpocalypse on Corvette. Now that is a grinding challenge.

Lastly this week, I just wanted to sing the praises of three gamers I met during a Crackdown 2 session this weekend. We gathered using TrueAchievements‘ party support to wrap up some of Crackdown 2‘s trickier multiplayer co-op Achievements; focussing on a common goal, we nailed the immediate problem, and then the group started cleaning up other outstanding Achievements. This resulted in me wrapping up the current batch for the game (though I’m reluctant to strike the game from The List just yet, with additional DLC incoming), and a great wodge of progress for other players, too – it really was a wonderful session, with a great bunch of strangers gathering to be helpful. So thanks again to lordmaster andy, LitaOsiris, and hatchywatchy – for reminding me that not everyone on LIVE is a mewling teenager :)

Back From The Dead… Again

Nearly three months it’s been since I last posted here. Three months.

But there’s an excuse for my absence.

A really, really good excuse.

…erm, not really. As you might have gathered, my gaming mojo had been flagging a bit back then; in fact, August was the first month in over three years in which I didn’t knock something off The List. There was a fair bit of emotional hullabaloo going on as well, which sapped away any enthusiasm to get into The Zone. A significant amount of work-related travel didn’t help, either… but it did help me out with the first game I’d like to have a little blather about: Chrono Trigger.

Now, Chrono Trigger always seems to get mentioned as one of the greatest games of the SNES era and, given my new-found love of grinding out RPG success, I figured this would be right up my street. It sat in the shrinkwrap for over a year before finally being chucked in one of my resurrected DSes – and initial impressions were favourable, with lots of running around and chatting with cute characters in their beautifully pixellated world. Levelling up was a delight, the battle mechanic (when switched to the wussy Wait mode) was really nice, and – apart from the mute and anonymous nature of Chrono himself – there was plenty to like about my expanding party of protagonists.

But about halfway through the game, it all became a bit too much. Sure, I had probably played 15 hours in four days, but it suddenly felt too twee, and actions too obtuse; I began to miss things. Exits became obscured from my view, actions that should have been obvious were invisible to me. Suspecting burn-out, I gave the game a break, returning a few weeks later (on another work trip) to finish it off. But the initial delight didn’t return, so my feeling towards Chrono Trigger is a reluctant “meh”.

Of course, there’s no way that Chrono Trigger has been struck off The List yet; after all, I’ve merely finished the game with all characters levelled up to the high 60s & low 70s (mainly thanks to a red-eye flight to Perth offering the opportunity for much bleary-eyed farming in one particularly button-mashy level). But I’ve taken to referencing this FAQ as my Chrono Trigger bible, and I’m aiming for a Level 3 (of 5) Perfect File:

LEVEL 1: (Only one playthrough required, no New Game +)

  • Beat the game and unlock Ending #1 and #13.
  • All sidequests complete.
  • 100% Treasure found.
  • Have a complete Bestiary list, excluding Magus at North Cape.
  • At least 1 of every item in the Inventory.
  • Learned all Single, Double, and Triple Techs.
  • 200 Silver Points at Leene Square.
  • A Doppel Doll and Poyozo Doll for each character.


  • Everything from level 1.
  • All characters at Level 99.
  • Defeat Spekkio’s most powerful form, the Pink Nu.
  • Have a complete Bestiary.
  • Unlock all 13 Endings.
  • 100% Extras. Everything unlocked.


  • Everything from level 2.
  • MAX stats for every character.
  • 11 Cats in Crono’s house.
  • Get a Perfect Score of 2371 while racing Johnny at Site 32.
  • Defeat ALL of Spekkio’s forms; Frog form included.

Despite Chrono Trigger‘s New Game+ option, straight away I see I’m in trouble: my Level 60+ characters preclude me from fighting most of Spekkio’s forms, especially the tricky-to-encounter Frog form. You can guess what that means, can’t you? Yep – let’s start again. Save slot number two, 14 hours in, Level 30-ish, and at least a third of the game to go. Again.

And then there’s the small matter of the other 11 endings. Progress will, obviously, be ongoing; a short game this is not.

After a completion-free August, I felt the need to get something done, to make some inroads into The List. I decided that the early part of September would be devoted to the belated conquering of my final Texas Hold’em Achievement: the Tournament Expert. Now, I’m rubbish at poker, and had been royally (and repeatedly) trounced by the penultimate tournament AI last time I’d attempted this; but a dig around my beloved TA yielded a simple solution that I followed in an extremely disciplined and cautious manner. Except for that rash All-In which could’ve cost me everything. Lady Luck, however, granted me a free pass that time, and a couple of hours on a dreary Saturday saw me clear Texas Hold’em off The List.

Then, harkening back to my Resolutions for 2010, I thought it time to tackle one of the non-current-gen platforms; I opted for the Dreamcast and ChuChu Rocket! I’d already cleared all the challenge mode puzzles and played a bit of multiplayer with a mate last year, so a couple of evenings saw off the solo puzzle levels without much incident. In fact, I probably spent more time trying to get the software to back up my VMU running properly on my laptop.

But the latter half of September, of course, was devoted solely to Halo: Reach. Tragically, work saw fit to send me to Perth on the day of release; as fate would have it, that’s where I was also stranded for the release of Halo 2. And Halo 3. (And Rez HD, but that’s another story). So I picked up my pre-ordered copy on the way to the airport; arriving home at 10:30pm on a Friday night, I fired up the 360 before I’d even dropped my backpack.

I drank in the loading visuals, listened to the familiar-yet-new extended tones, then set about building up my avatar – as usual, mauve was the go-to colour, “M000” my call-sign. I started playing.

Now, I loved the original Halo. It was the first console game I every really played, the game that dragged me into the world of console gaming, and the game that convinced me that twin-stick FPSs could actually work. I loved the characters, I loved the story, I loved the feel of the controls and (in a move that separates me from most other fans of the game) I loved the repetition of it all. I loved The Library (and recall letting out a little squeal of delight when I first entered the Library-esque structure in Halo 2), and I loved retracing one’s steps through previously conquered environments. Somehow, that made the Combat Evolved world feel more real.

The immediate sequel disappointed me somewhat. The controls felt slipperier, the cartoon-ish graphic overhaul was offputting (oh, how I loathe the sights and sounds of the New Flood), and the humanised Covenant jarred. Halo 3 fixed the control issues and delivered a great game to-boot, but Halo: Reach… well, it feels like a big love-letter to the original Halo. From the solidity of the action, through the return visits to battle-torn environments, it really feels like Bungie returned to the original game, leveraging later works only where necessary.

My first playthrough was on Normal (a real departure for me, since I usually start on the Easiest skill levels and work my way up), followed quickly by a repeat playthrough on Heroic… and I felt a massive difficulty spike there, especially when I got to the penultimate battle. And now, since starting my solo Legendary assault, progress has slowed dramatically – I’m currently using the active camo Loadout to avoid fighting as much as possible, because I’m getting pulverised if I engage the enemy.

Of course, there’s the odd ally AI bug – on my first playthrough, I got stuck in a battle with two Hunters which took every ounce of courage (and two dozen shotgun shells) to overcome, because my Noble Team partner had buggered off somewhere to look at the scenery. Second time through he obviously pitied me, because he joined in the biffo and made the fight a whole lot simpler. But, on the whole, I’m absolutely loving Reach.

But there’s so much more to the game than that; the Commendation system is extremely addictive, and I reckon I’ve already played more online multiplayer against randoms than I have in any other game ever. It feels great getting involved in that part of the community early on (rather than being typically late to the party), and levelling up a Commendation (along with all the ranking credits associated with it) is immensely fulfilling. And whoring the shit out of Gruntpocalypse on Corvette will never get old… headshots ahoy!

The big problem with Halo: Reach is the requirement for completion. Sure, the initial set of Achievements seem relatively doable (assuming I can overcome Legendary), but it’s only to be expected that there will be a ruck of additional Achievements associated with the inevitable DLC. But there’s niggling little statistics like “Armoury Completion” and “Commendation Progress” that weigh heavy on my mind; and with the highest rank requiring twenty million credits of accumulated carnage, it’s fair to say that this may be a game that will forever remain on The List…

…which is a brilliant way to segue into Ballistic. Now, I hate Zuma-like games with all my black little heart, and Ballistic is Zuma‘s grandfather. I finally decided to give it a red-hot go yesterday, and dug out my old Samsung N501 Nuon (and the chunky step-down transformer I need to run the bugger) and hooked it up to my old CRT telly. And Ballistic looks bloody awful; chunky graphics which somehow manage to also have a fuzzy feel to them, accompanied by steel-drum “tunes” that grate after a handfull of minutes playtime.

And I still suck at the game itself.

Because the Nuon doesn’t support a save-state, and Ballistic itself doesn’t support any in-game passwords, to beat all 25 levels (twenty-five? that doesn’t sound like much…) I’ll have to do it without powering down the system; a worrying prospect when one considers the ominous buzzing of the step-down transformer. “Still,” I mused, “surely it won’t take more than a concerted weekend to bludgeon my way through the levels?”

Wrong. So very, very wrong.

A good four hours of concentration failed to get me any further than Level 3-1… the eleventh level of the game. There’s a reason I hate these games, and that’s because they hate me.

Which leads me into my final game for discussion: Astropop. But maybe that’s better saved for another post…