Game Reviews… of All Games I Ever Played

Video games have always been a big part of my life ever since I was… 7 maybe? Not spending as much time on them nowadays unfortunately, due to growing up and stuff, but games will always hold an irreplaceable position in the makeup of who I am.

I don’t know how different my life would be without games. IMHO, it’s one of the most flexible medium for artistic expression – building a virtual world for players to immerse in and explore, shaping their own experience to some degree, within the confines of the world dreamed up by the game designers.

Out of curiosity and nostalgia, I decided to try to list all the games I have played to date. Most of them are RPG (role-playing game) or RTS (real time strategy), since those are the types I enjoy the most.

This list only includes games I played significantly (at least 20 hours, most of them way more). Does not include games I only played briefly or tried, or at a friend’s place, etc.

Blue = highly recommended.

*inhale*

Age of Empires (+ The Rise of Rome)
Age of Empires II (+ The Conquerors)
Age of Empires III (+ The Asian Dynasties, + The WarChiefs)

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Middle Ages RTS. Well balanced. A lot of fun!!! I like AoE 2 the most because it fixes most of the control annoyances with AoE 1 (formations, etc), but not nearly as complicated as AoE 3 (which I believe is overly complicated).

PS. WAR ELEPHANTS!!!

Age of Mythology

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RTS. Don’t remember much about this game. Mythical giants killing each other.

Empire Earth (+ The Art of Conquest)
Empire Earth 2

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Very interesting RTS. It’s like Age of Empires, but with 15 or so ages. All the way from pre-historic age to space age. I still remember playing a multiplayer game with my bro – he resigned when I started shooting ICBMs at him when he was still in WWII age. Pretty fun.

Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VIII
Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy XIII
Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH ORIGINAL VII)

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MOST AMAZING RPGs EVER!! Fantasy setting. Magic, dragons, evil monsters, sad monsters, romance, epic-ly artwork, wicked humour, usually good character development, beautiful music… and most importantly, very well thought out and extremely touching stories.

FF VII is my personal favourite because of the totally f*@ed up story, in the most amazing way. Mind blowing. More thoughts (SPOILER ALERT FOR VII!!): http://matthewlai.ca/blog/?p=3

Full review of FF XIII: http://matthewlai.ca/blog/?p=652

The other ones are pretty good, too… with the exception of Crisis Core. Crisis Core was garbage.

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty
Watcraft II
Warcraft III (+ The Frozen Throne)

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RTS in fantasy setting. A lot more fast-paced than AoE series, which is why I don’t like them as much. More tactical (short term micro-management), less strategical (long term planning).

The SC 2 single player campaign is pretty fun, though.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Command & Conquer: Red Alert II (+ Yuri’s Revenge)
Command & Conquer: Red Alert III
Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars

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Modern/futuristic RTS. Pretty creative on the part of the game designers. Otherwise similar to Warcraft/Starcraft.

Baldur’s Gate (+ Tales of the Sword Coast)
Baldur’s Gate II (+ Throne of Bhaal)

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Very BIG RPGs, in scope. Set in the Forgotten Realms – a fantasy world, but more down to earth (if that makes sense) compared to most others. A world of humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, etc. Almost Lord of the Ring style, but less lore and large scale magic.

Pretty good story. Many side quests to explore, and side stories to discover. Lot’s of puzzles, dungeons, mythical creatures. A lot of interaction both between party members and with Non-Player Characters (NPC). Hundreds of spells that do all kinds of things.

These 2 are my all time favourite games.

Icewind Dale

Similar to Baldur’s Gate, but more linear. More dungeons and mazes. Very good music.

Didn’t like it as much as Baldur’s Gate because I think it lacks depth. Still pretty fun, though.

Civilization 3
Civilization 4

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Turn-based nation-building game, on the city level. Fairly complicated. Need to worry about economy, military, diplomacy, and fighting for natural resources etc. Computers are fairly predictable. Multiplayer is fun, but turns take too long towards the end.

SimCity 3000
SimCity 4

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City planning game. Supposedly fairly realistic simulation. Need to worry about things like zoning, road layout, power and water distribution, building schools and hospitals, transit systems (congestion, etc), budget management, and natural disaster response, etc. Pretty fun, but I got so good at it I didn’t find it challenging anymore. I stopped after building a few metropolis, and nothing was happening anymore.

The Sims (+… probably some of the millions of expansions?)
The Sims 2

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Life simulation game. Build or buy a house, and control a group of dudes and dudettes. Need to make money to buy furniture, etc. The funnest part for me was developing relationships with other people, and having them do weird stuff.

It was kind of fun back then? Gets repetitive pretty fast.

Diablo II
Dungeon Siege
Dungeon Siege 2

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Hack and slash games. Not impressed. I’m probably the only gamer on earth that doesn’t like Diablo II, but hey. I found it incredibly repetitive.

Crysis
Crysis 2 (+ Crysis Warhead)
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Call of Duty: Black Ops
Battlefield 3

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First person shooters in modern settings. It’s a genre that I recently (in the past few years) started exploring. Check back later.

Good stress relief at the very least, though. I spent a whole summer playing CoD4 online, and got pretty good at it. Anyone want to play?

CoD4 is my most recommended one in this category because I loved the single player story line.

Golden Sun (Game Boy Advance)

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Don’t remember much about this one. RPG. Some puzzle solving. Some magic. Was pretty fun I think.

Star Fox 64 (Nintendo 64)

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Flying and shooting game. It was fun back then… many many hours spent on this game. Funny dialogues.

Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)

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I believe this was one of the first 3D RPG. Endless fun! Lot’s of puzzles to solve. Requires quite a bit of creativity and good reflexes. Pretty frustrating at times. Countless hours spent here.

Story-wise, it’s pretty simple and you have probably heard it a few hundred times. Princess Peach got kidnapped by Bowser… Mario has to rescue him, for the 200th time.

Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64)

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Same as the Mario Kart on NDS (I believe the Nintendo 64 one was the original). Very funny racing game.

Power Stone (Dreamcast + PSP)
Power Stone 2 (Dreamcast + PSP)

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Power Stone… most amazing fighting game ever! Comical setting. Lots of props, etc. Also spent countless hours on this.

Caution: EXTREMELY addictive. If you have a few hours that you want to spend LOL-ing, this is the game to get.

It was the best Dreamcast game ever… too bad Dreamcast didn’t do very well. It was later ported to PSP, but I still like the Dreamcast version more because of big screen.

This is also the only fighting game I would recommend. I find other fighting games boring.

Star Ocean: Second Evolution (PSP)

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Don’t remember much. RPG. I think I liked it?

Full review: http://matthewlai.ca/blog/?p=93

Block Dude (Ti-84)

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Yeap. TI-84. I don’t know how I would have lived through Physics 11 without it. Beat it over the course of 2 months, playing only in my Physics 11 summer school class.

Pretty awesomely frustrating puzzle game.

… that’s all I can think of off the top of my head.

Yes, there are no MMORPGs on the list. I am a gamer with principles. No MMOs.

People Are Awesome – Religious Edition

December 18, 2012. Rain.

7th day in Hawaii.

Polynesian Cultural Center. Highly recommended if you ever drop by Honolulu. A lot of fun for a “cultural center.” Lots of demos on how Polynesians (Pacific islanders) do day to day things… like climbing coconut trees and making coconut milk.

But that’s not what this post is about. Now on to topic –

Near the end of the visit, we got an opportunity to go on a tour to the nearby Laie community – a tightly knit small community of about 8000, living their simple lives in a fairly rural region of the Oahu island, Hawaii.

It’s also where the Laie Hawaii Temple is situated – one of the oldest temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints, more commonly referred to as Mormons.

I did not expect the visit to be religious in nature, but it turned out to be my first serious encounter with religion in the past few years, and it was a pretty positive one.

Our tour guides were 2 (incredibly beautiful) young ladies in their early 20s, on a mission here in Hawaii. From what I understand, all Mormon adherents are encouraged to spend a few months/years spreading their religion somewhere else, working as missionaries (please correct me if I am wrong), and their mission is here in Hawaii.

They were also extremely nice and sincere people.

We could not get into the temple because of its sacred status, but they had a visitor center (first time I’ve heard of a church with a visitor center), and we got to visit the visitor center instead, because we are visitors!

It’s a huge and majestic place with a lot of open space, perfectly manicured plants, and water fountains. Inside the visitor center, there are plenty of posters, the bible translated to a gazillion languages, and a huge statute of Jesus Christ. The whole place is very clean, well lit, spacious, and warm.

Most notably, everyone we met in there were happy and sincerely welcoming. Almost welcoming to the point that it made me feel like their sole purpose in life is to be nice and considerate to people, with no agenda of their own. They were also very accommodating of different faiths and very unassuming.

I have a lot of respect for them.

I may not agree with their faith, but the people, are awesome.

That got me thinking about religion – what is religion? What is faith?

In this case, it’s a force that brings people together to give. It’s a set of shared values and beliefs that people choose to believe in.

Almost like a culture that one can choose to be in, instead of the geographic cultures we are born in, and are kind of stuck with for the rest of our lives.

That’s pretty neat, methinks.

Hawaiian Happiness

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Third day in Hawaii, and I finally found out what’s so strange about this place (besides the fact that all girls here are incredibly beautiful) – everyone is so happy!

Not tourists – of course they are happy. They are on vacation!

But the locals. I don’t think I have ever seen an unhappy Hawaiian.

Chefs, tour guides, store owners, bus drivers, pedestrians.

The energy and enthusiasm they have for everything is just amazing.

Today, while waiting for zip-lining, I got to talk to one of the staff girls for a little bit. An (incredibly beautiful) young lady in her early 20s. A local Hawaiian.

She was talking about how she is super excited about the Vegas trip she is planning, because it will be the first time she leaves the islands. For most of her life, she lived on a farm nearby, being (literally) a cowgirl. However, she cannot imagine moving to mainland, because she “[needs] to run around in the forests barefoot, and chase the cows”. That’s just who she is. Her world is full of grass and trees and mostly unpaved. Not a concrete forest. To her, the kind of concrete forests we live in would be prison.

Thanks to the touristy status of Hawaii and her job as the zip-line girl, she got to meet and talk to all kinds of different people from all over the world. One of the questions she gets asked all the time is, “people come to Hawaii on vacation, where do YOU go to on vacation?” and she always gets confused by this question, because to her, the concept of going to another place far away for vacation is a little strange because in her 20 or so years of life, she has not fully explored Hawaii, yet, and there’s really no need to go elsewhere for vacation.

She is also very happy.

Being content brings happiness, but I always thought it can only be found in communities that don’t have any connection to the outside world, because any connection to the outside world would bring jealousy, ambition, greed, and other emotions that stop us from being content with what we have. Hawaii proved that wrong.

Hawaii is a nice and technologically modern community that still believes in happiness through being content.

If the best coffee we can have at the moment is McDonald’s coffee, would you accept it as the best you can have at the moment and enjoy it as much as possible, or would you keep thinking it’s bad coffee because it doesn’t measure up to the best coffee you have ever had in your life?

… Then we talked about the sacred and mysterious Hawaiian island of Niʻihau – a totally isolated and very traditional Hawaiian community that is not open to tourists. Only residents and very few other people by invitation. They have no electricity, no internet, and only speak Hawaiian (rest of Hawaii speaks primarily English after “westernization”). Very interesting stuff.

On Photography

I find it amazing how much people are willing to sacrifice just to take pictures with their phones.

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We went whale watching today – a bunch of people got on a little boat, get shipped out into the ocean, and drove around hoping to catch any sign of these elusive and mythical animals called whales.

It was our lucky day – we got to see quite a few whales doing tricks and a few dolphins on the side while we were there. There was a lot of excitement and all that… but soon I realized it’s a lot more fun to observe people watching whales than actually watching whales, because the whales were just doing exactly what they always do on Discovery channel.

The people, though, were a lot more interesting. It seems like they were all well trained in the art of speed snaping pictures, and that’s the ultimate goal of their existence.

Every time someone calls out “WHALE!!!”, the tour guide lady would look for it, and tell us which direction to look over a loudspeaker. Then, everyone would simultaneously, before even seeing the whale, pick up their cameras from the lanyards, turn to the right direction, and look through the viewfinder, to find the whale.

Some of them snapped so many pictures that I’m not sure if they ever saw ANY whale with their naked eyes and not through the viewfinder.

I personally find it a little ridiculous. Why bother coming out at all if they just want to take pictures? Are the pictures they took any better than those on postcards?

If they are doing it for art I would understand. Photography is an art.

But I don’t think that’s what they were doing.

I am admittedly guilty of this at times as well – snapping pictures thinking somehow that little click of a button will capture memory and sensations more than a Google Images search would. I think we all over-estimate the power of pictures (for the purpose of memory-keeping, not art) when we take them, and should try to immerse in the moments more, and commit it to long term memory instead, which stores a lot more context.

PS. I was taking pictures of people taking pictures of whales instead of watching whales… but that’s for blogging – a worthy cause.

2012: People Are Awesome!

“One day more; another day, another destiny…”

Yet another year has gone by.

There is really not much significance in the concept of a new year – it just happens to be the date whoever designed the Gregorian calendar decided to start counting as day 1.

But for me, so many things in my life are coming to an end or starting a new chapter now, it almost feels natural to mark this date as the beginning of a new “year”. So many awesome things, awesome people, happened this year that I want to make a written record of the year, lest I ever forget if/when life ever becomes dark.

Here it goes! –

TL;DR: People are awesome!!

It’s definitely a year worth celebrating, but my 2012 wasn’t really my year. It was one of the happiest years of my life for quite a variety of reasons, but they all come down to people I got to work with, play with, fight with, have deeply spiritual and awakening talks with, and sleep with (… just kidding!). Those are the people I look up to, try to imitate, and openly or secretly admire. And them, I am grateful for.

Awesome people, in more or less (definitely less) chronological order of my engagements with them –

  • Landlady and housemates in San Jose, California. It was my first time living by myself for an extended time in a new country (ok, fine, US is really not that different from Canada), and there was quite a bit of stress and frantically learning a lot of things by necessity and sometimes the hard way (what do you mean I can’t add ketchup to pasta?). My landlady and housemates were super friendly, and told me everything I ever wanted to know about San Jose. That made my life quite a lot easier. They are awesome.
  • Coworkers at NVIDIA. I had the honour of getting to know some of the most brilliant engineers in the Silicon Valley and probably in the world – through working at NVIDIA. Honestly, I wasn’t terribly excited about what I was working on there – it wasn’t the most intellectually challenging work. But the people. The people. They more than made up for it. It’s like finally finding people from the same planet I was from, and people that speak the same tongue. Late night discussions about algorithms, Starcraft, computer architecture, hacking electronics gadgets, jokes about circuits blowing up (can you imagine?), and weekend card game parties with carrots on the side… They probably all hate me now for always bringing carrots to parties, but for me, it was amazing. Love it.
  • My flight instructors – Rich Digrazzi and Erik Schmidt. Flying has always been my biggest childhood dream, and thanks to them, it came true. Knowing myself, it must not have been easy teaching me to fly. Thanks to being an engineer with a ridiculous enthusiasm for aviation, I tried to learn every detail of how airplanes work, in much more depth than required to get a pilot license. Even after the 1000th question, they still showed no sign of impatience (even when on a few occasions they don’t have answers), and encouraged me to ask more. Funny story – during the oral exam part of the practical test, the examiner asked me to briefly explain how airplanes fly. I gave her the whole shebang  from boundary layer circulation from the shape of airfoils and how it accelerates and decelerates airflow depending on angle of attack, to Bernoulli Effect. She looked impressed and confused. It was awesome. I’m also not the fastest learner when it comes to motor skills, especially since I couldn’t fly very often due to work, and always forget a bunch of stuff between training flights. Yet they never complained about having to sit through about 100 of my bad landings (I can tell they were stressed out… much more stressed out than I was :D). Even then, in the end, according to my designated pilot examiner, my flying is “gorgeous” and I should think about becoming a flight instructor. They are awesome.
  • Thunderbots. Last year definitely wasn’t our best year at competition in Mexico (and you have me to blame for that), but the people were definitely at their best… just not the bots, unfortunately. There was no blaming or finger pointing or swearing or sword fighting despite all that happened. Everyone was still so cheerful and hungry, and worked so hard to make the best out of what we had to work with. Especially the admin team that pulled the crazy shenanigan to get us the parts we need. 4 years with Thunderbots, and it was the first time I got to know everyone and their ponies so well. Truly amazing people and ponies.
  • San Jose Buddhist Judo Club. I’m so addicted to Judo that I couldn’t stand 8 months without Judo, so I brought my gi (Judo cloth) with me to California, and tried a few Judo clubs there. They were all very good, but I eventually decided to join the San Jose Buddhist Judo Club. It’s one of the oldest and biggest Judo clubs in the US, and have produced tens of Judo Olympians for the USA Judo team. Most amazingly of all, it’s run entirely by volunteers. They are just sensei that want to promote Judo because they love it so much. Highly skilled and very experienced instructors that truly care for their students. Learned a bunch of useful techniques (a gazillion foot sweep combos) and got to meet a US Judo Olympian!
  • EECE 474 group. For people not in ECE, EECE 474 is more or less the ECE version of the mech capstone course. Groups of 5-6 build robots that compete with other groups, and get marked on result and design decisions, etc. We had the most amazing group ever! A right mix of skills (yay for awesome mech design!), and everyone so dedicated. I’m so lucky to have had a chance to work with everyone. Such talents. First time we didn’t have to pull any all-nighter before big project due dates, in my 4 years in ECE. It’s slightly unfortunate that we only got second place because of a little glitch, but hey, **** happens and we still got 100% for the course… I don’t think I can complain about that. You probably know this already, but you are awesome!
  • My new friend that I got to have a long chat with recently. Seriously, where have you been hiding all these years :D. Just wanted to let you know that I learned a lot from you just by talking to you. That’s a lot of things I have never been exposed to or thought about. You definitely filled a void in my head. And an amazing poet to boot?! Love your writing even though I can’t untangle half of them :D. Your mind is a wonder :D.
  • My secret admiree. I’m sure you know who you are. Heck, I’m pretty sure half the world knows by now. It’s not very hard to guess. I didn’t try to hide it at all. I haven’t been romantically attracted to someone for a year or 2 now until you happened, so you should feel special :). It’s too bad that you are clearly not interested :(, but thanks for being awesome regardless :D. Moving on. This will become history as soon as my brain works out the how, and I have a lot of faith in it.

Happy Dec 12!