Far Cry 4 is Getting Weird on Me

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I picked up Far Cry 4 from Amazon for about sixteen bucks.  I actually bought the disk.  It seems that lately I’ve been buying the download more and more often.  I didn’t even think I would like the game.  I’ve never been a huge fan of first person shooters but the huge expanse of Far Cry 4 (FC4 for the rest of this article) has kept my motion sickness at a minimum.

Things I like:  I think my favorite thing to do is hop onto the little one-man helicopter (although I discovered you can carry a rider when I played co-op online) and fly all around the land of Kyrat.  I like searching for treasure and the helicopter is the way to do it.  Another thing I enjoy about the game is the stealth.  It takes me back to my love of Sniper 3 except it is in first person.  I enjoy sneaking around and taking down enemies without raising an alert.  I am not always successful in preventing the alarm but I am either able to overcome or I perish.  If I die during a mission, the game is very generous with checkpoints.

Things I don’t like: As the title of the blog entry suggests, the game is getting weird on me.  The country of Kryat is a mystical land and has a religion similar to Hinduism.  Although the culture is fascinating, my character had to “worship” at a holy shrine.  I know I am not really the person in the game – I’m just me, but the game really pushed right to the edge about what is acceptable to me as a Christian to do.  You know, that whole “no other gods before me” thing from Exodus.  And now, later in the game I have come across two characters named Yogi and Reggie.  They openly smoke pot and initially my character refused the drug when it was offered.  However, when I played last night, my character accepted and went on a “drug trip”.  The colors of the game changed.  The music changed.  People changed into rhinos right before my eyes!  My character was terrified and ran through the terrain trying to escape real and imaginary enemies.  The last thing I want to bring up was the mystical trip to Shangri-La.  It was an interesting section as far as game play.  I had a tiger that I was able to use to attack enemies.  But the enemies were strange demon characters and I somehow was able to restore order to Shangri-La by ringing a few bells.  If only evil could be overcome so easily!

I’m going to keep playing for a while, but I may not stay with it if the game keeps weirding it up!

Shadows of Mordor – A Really Dark Game

I'm not very much fun

I’m not very much fun

I’ve played Shadows of Mordor for an hour and a half on my XBox One and so far it has not appealed to me.  I would love to be convinced otherwise.  I love Middle Earth.  I love Tolkien.  I dislike this game.  Why?

Reason #1: This is a really dark game.  I shouldn’t be surprised because the title makes it clear, but Mordor is not a setting that I enjoy.  There is no sun.  There are orcs and goblins all over the place.  There are humans who are bound in slavery.  I would much rather be sitting on a bench in the shire with pipeweed in my bowl.

Reason #2: This is a really hard game.  I don’t feel like there is a learning curve.  The only games I can think to compare it to are Demon Souls and Dark Souls – but those games were at least rewarding in their own way.  In Shadows of Mordor, I find myself failing again and again, but I’m not learning anything from it.

Reason #3: I don’t enjoy the controls.  Maybe I have played too much of the Assassin’s Creed series but I keep holding down the right trigger to run and climb.  In Mordor, it makes me sneak slowly.  The A button is the run button.  I am still getting used to the combat but it is just not enjoyable to me.  I have been told the combat is similar to the Batman games – but I never played any of those.

Reason #4: Stealth.  I am on one of the first missions and I have to be stealthy.  If I alert the guards they raise the alarm and the mission is over.  I don’t even really know how to do a stealth kill move.  I think it is right trigger – X.

Reason #5: I’m not sure how this really fits into the Tolkien worldview.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy always has a glimmer of hope, “That there is good in the world and it’s worth fighting for.”  In this game, I’m some guy who is a ranger.  His name is not memorable.  He is somewhere between life and death (since Tolkien was Catholic this part may actually fit in as a kind of purgatory) and revenge seems to be his motive so far.

So please.  All of you out there who may love this game.  Help me find something to love in it.  I want to like it because…Tolkien….

A Million Games Out There, and I’m Playing Plants vs. Zombies?

How long has Plants vs. Zombies been out?  At least seven or eight years I would guess.  And yet, instead of playing Halo – I’m playing PVZ.  Even more strange, I’m not even playing the main game!  I’m spending my time cultivating my little zombie Zen Garden.  Why is it so appealing?  Probably for the same reason people enjoy Farmville or Minecraft.  It is fun to build and create.  It is fun to make something that actually works.  I promise you, my real life attempts at gardening would never be so successful.

Garden happiness

Garden happiness

Yet here I am, adding water, fertilizer, and some music to make my little plants happy.  I want them to be happy because when they are, they produce lots of little coins.  So many coins that I’ve had to purchase a snail who goes around collecting the money.  It is not a very reliable snail because it frequently takes naps and I have to wake it up by pouring water on it.  I’m a pretty mean gardener.

There is something satisfying about taking care of something and watching it grow.  The same thoughts can apply to friendship, to parenthood, to your career, to your calling.  After all, according to Genesis, there was a garden from the beginning.  A garden can be a place of wondrous happiness.

“He – I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk.  Others – Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love” – Song of Solomon 5:1

VGT – Tomb Raider, Women in Video Games, and Creation Mythology

The modern Lara Croft

The modern Lara Croft

I’m currently playing the latest Tomb Raider.  It is considered to be a “reboot” of the franchise.  I suppose that it is a reboot in the sense that the game-play has changed since the original games, but it is still the engaging character, Lara Croft.  I still remember seeing the original Tomb-Raider for the first time.

Lara Croft from Tomb Raider 2

Lara Croft from Tomb Raider 2

It was back in 1996 and I had a job that involved travel and working in convention centers.  I remember walking past a booth and someone was demonstrating the game on a Playstation 1.  The game stopped me in my tracks – and not because it was a female character but because the game seemed so large and there seemed to be so much to explore.  When I finally had my own copy of the game, I didn’t mind that the controls were clunky and that the graphics were pixelated.

Almost unplayable by today's standards

Almost unplayable by today’s standards

Let me add here that as I was trying to get some shots from Tomb Raider 2, I could barely move Lara around.  I would jump to a platform and completely miss.

Beautifully rendered graphics

Beautifully rendered graphics

For the reboot that just came out, she is a younger version of Lara Croft.  She is inexperienced and just beginning to emerge as an archaeologist and a person.  The game has a cinematic quality about it.  What amazes me is how seamless the game plays.  If there have been any load times, I’ve barely noticed them.  Now however, I have a special appreciation of the fact that I’m playing a game that tells the story of a woman.  This is one of the rare occurrences in which a woman is not a sexual object in a video game.  Lara gets dirty – even bloody.

Lara discovers fire arrows can be fun!

Lara discovers fire arrows can be fun!

She fights hard and she never gives up.  Her purpose is truly a noble one – she is trying to rescue a friend who has been kidnapped by the game’s villain.  There seems to be a sense of character development as the game progresses.

I recently finished reading through the Bible.  Each time I read through the Scriptures I try to do it in a different way.  The last time I read the ESV version (English Standard Version) and I read each book in the order that they were originally written (to the best of our knowledge).  Now I’m on a new reading plan.  I’ve started reading from Genesis again and this time I’m reading the version from my formative years and perhaps my favorite one – the NIV (New International Version).  I’m reading a special archaeological version that is filled with footnotes and historical information.  So, perhaps like Lara Croft, I’m exploring the historical tombs and depths of the sacred page.

A piece of the Epic of Gilgamesh containing a flood narrative.

A piece of the Epic of Gilgamesh containing a flood narrative. No reference to the creation of woman here.

While reading from Genesis 1 and 2, I discovered an interesting fact.  The Bible is the only Near Eastern ancient text with a full account of the creation of woman.  This includes the Egyptians, the Hittites, the Sumerians – including the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh.

Is God a fan of tomb raiding?  Easter is a season during which many Christians focus on a different tomb – an empty one.  There have been many theories as to why that tomb was empty one Sunday morning over two thousand years ago.  Christians believe that a miraculous resurrection occurred.  I find it interesting that the first person Jesus appeared to was a woman, Mary Magdalene.  According to John 20, Peter and John were confused by the empty tomb and returned to their homes.  But Mary stayed at the tomb and wept.  Imagine her surprise when the gardener approached her and asked her why she was crying – only to discover that it was Jesus himself.  Talk about a good surprise.  She is the first person to tell the disciples – and the world – the good news, “I have seen the Lord!”  Have a great Easter weekend!

Rembrandts depiction of Mary and the risen Christ.  He painted Jesus holding a spade since she thought he was the gardener.

From Wikipedia – Rembrandts depiction of Mary and the risen Christ. He painted Jesus holding a spade since she thought he was the gardener.

VGT – Is Shigeru Miyamoto the Socrates of Video Games?

Greek philosphy and video games.  Can there even be a connection?  As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I’m taking a Christian Thought & Greek Philosphy course at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and I can’t help but to find connections (if and when possible) to my fascination with video games.  Keep in mind, I’m not going to document anything or give references – I just don’t have time with work and class.  Writing this blog gives me the opportunity to pour back out whatever knowledge I may have gained in my studies.  So, if something doesn’t sound right or add up, please be sure to comment and set me straight.

A bust of Socrates from the Louvre

A bust of Socrates from the Louvre

Socrates was an early Greek philosopher who didn’t mind asking a few questions.  In fact, that’s just about all he did.  He questioned everyone about everything.   This constant asking of questions could be very irritating and I can imagine that his foes would get frustrated by his technique.  But he had a purpose.  He would plainly state, “I know nothing” and then through his questioning process (now known as the Socratic method) prove that his opponents were no experts either.

The condemned Socrates preparing to drink poison

The condemned Socrates preparing to drink poison

My wife told me that in law school the professors would use the Socratic method in the classroom.  She saw grown, intelligent people reduced to tears as the professors would ask question after question – proving that the students know nothing and that they need to begin again.  It sounds like the teachers were acting like jerks!  I don’t think Socrates necessarily acted like a jerk.  He seemed to ask questions in a gentler manner, but he did find himself in some serious trouble later in life.  You see, there was rioting in the city and the culprits were youth who claimed to be students of Socrates.  Therefore Socrates was arrested and put on trial for his life.  His main defense?  He claimed that he didn’t know anything, so how could he teach anyone anything?  How could he even have students?  It was a unique and compelling argument but the verdict did not go his way.  He was sentenced to die by poison.  Although Socrates never wrote anything, his legacy and his words were carried on by his students (most notably Plato).  But wait, I thought he said he didn’t have any students!  Sometimes philosophy just goes around and around in circles!

The creative Shigeru Miyamoto

The creative Shigeru Miyamoto

So why do I think that Shigeru Miyamoto may be the Socrates of Video Games?  First of all, few can question the amazing mind and incredible creativity of Nintendo’s most famous employee.  Not only did Miyamoto create the Mario franchise, he also made Star Fox and the Legend of Zelda.  What are some of the others?   He has always had the ability to look at game concepts in a new and exciting way.

What made the connection in my mind, was an article I once read in Nintendo Power back in 2010 or 2011.  I have a boxful of the NP magazines and I searched for the article but was unable to find it – so I’m working on this from memory.  It was an interview with Eiji Aonuma – who some say is the creative successor for Miyamoto at Nintendo.  In the interview, he was talking about the game Skyward Sword and how Miyamoto came in at a certain point in development and “upended the tea table”.

Great, the game's done.  Oh no!  Here comes Miyamoto!

Great, the game’s done. Oh no! Here comes Miyamoto!

I can only imagine being a game developer and thinking that I’m working on a great idea.  Then in comes “Mr. Mario” and he starts asking questions.  Soon all my plans and ideas are reduced to nothing as Miyamoto starts to give feedback and take the game concept in a completely new direction.  Who does he think he is?  Does he even know how hard it is to program?  Actually, he probably does.  But it seems clear that he has a purpose and he wants to make the best game possible.  (By the way, whether or not Skyward Sword is a great game is up for debate)

I found it interesting that Aonuma’s view of the process was not negative and in fact he thought it was a necessary ritual in the game design process for Miyamoto to come in and turn that tea table over.  It is often good to stop, reduce it to basic ideas, and then start again with renewed focus and energy.

Perhaps his bust will one day be in the Louvre?

Perhaps his bust will one day be in the Louvre?

So Miyamoto, in that small way – may be similar to Socrates.  As far as I know he has not been the cause of any riots.

 

VGT – Thankfulness

I may not have many video game references for this post.  I do plan on adding a new post soon as I continue to explore my TRS-80 Color Computer 2 and some of the games I have for it.

But as I write this morning, I am feeling so thankful.  I’m not entirely sure what brought the feeling on.  Perhaps it is because the sun has been streaming through the windows while I’ve been reading.

Maybe it’s because my men’s group has been revisiting The Shack.  If you’re not familiar with the book, it was a very popular Christian novel that came out back in 2008.  Some theologians praised it’s originality while others warned that it threatened orthodoxy.  I’ll let you judge for yourself if you would like.  It’s an inexpensive book and I recently purchased it for my Kindle for $3.99.

A picture of the shack from the book cover

A picture of the shack from the book cover

To summarize the story, the protagonist (Mack Phillips) has suffered a terrible loss – the kidnapping and death of his young daughter.  Three years after the tragedy, he receives a note in his mailbox that seems to have been sent to him by God.  The simple note invites him to spend the weekend with him at the shack.  This shack is the same remote building in the woods where searchers discovered the torn and blood covered dress that his daughter had worn.  Mack decides to go to the Shack and there he has an experience that forever changes him.

The strange thing is, I just finished reading the terrible tragedy in chapter four, in which Mack is going through his awful time of loss.  Yet I find myself feeling such thankfulness, and even a fullness of joy.  Some of you know that I went through a time of loss and sadness myself.  It’s when I look back and reflect on the past few years that I can start to see that God has been my constant companion through it all.  Through the times of brokenness and the times of restoration, I worship him.  He knows what suffering is.

Thankful for a creative space

Thankful for a creative space

Perhaps I’m also feeling thankful because a friend sent me an email because he would like for me to learn a new song.  He not only sent me a youtube link, but also sent a PDF with lyrics and chords.  I have been a casual musician for many years and I play both piano and guitar.  I love to sing and play worship songs.  I enjoy leading small groups in song, especially on a retreat or camping trip.  The song is called 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman.  Here is the video below.

It’s the final verse that gets me:

And on that day when my strength is failing

The end draws near and my time has come

Still my soul will sing your praise unending

Ten thousand years and then forevermore

I’m just so thankful for all the good that there is in my life.  I’m not talking about material things.  I’m talking about people, I have family and friends everywhere.  I have a joy in the deepest part of me and a clear conscience when I go to sleep at night.  I have people like you who have taken time to read whatever I may write in my blog.  I’ve been discovering that there are more of you who think like me, people like Zachary Oliver and his website www.theologygaming.com  There are others too, but Zachary has been doing a great job of pulling us together by creating a Theology Gaming Group on Facebook and even starting a Podcast.  Good things are happening.

VGT – Unplugging and Going to Africa

On the Tooth of Time at Philmont Scout Ranch in 2008

I write often about how important it is to stay connected with the real world.  Sometimes you  have to turn off the game systems, turn off the TV, and embrace life.  I love adventure and I’ve had some experiences (especially with the Boy Scouts) that I will never forget.  I’ve been down rivers in canoes, kayaks, and rafts.  I’ve climbed hills and mountains.  I’ve hiked for miles in secluded forests.

I’ve also been on some adventures that stretched my faith to the limit.  I have been on short term missions trips to Argentina in 2001, and Senegal in 2011.  These experiences were so incredible because you’re just putting yourself out there, into a situation that is completely out of your control.  You’re just trusting God, your team, and your host organization that everything is going to be OK.  That’s really what faith is – giving up the idea that you are in control and trusting someone else.

Ted in Senegal – 2011

This November 1st – 8th I am headed back to Senegal on another trip.  My church has a partnership with a village called N’Djemane (sounds like Jemawn) and we have been privileged to to serve and work with this community for the past several years.  In the beginning, our leaders met with the village elders and those told us what their needs were.  We were told they wanted clean water, medical care, and to have a church of their own.  Since then we have provided a well, several medical clinics, and helped them to build a small church building.

Hanging out with the kids

However, the real highlight of the my first trip in 2011 was spending time with the people of the village.  There must have been a hundred children there and they loved my finger puppets.  I didn’t know more than a few words of their language – Wolof, but I was able to somehow communicate some simple shows that made them laugh and laugh.  I kept the finger puppets in my pockets and the kids would come up to me and just tap my pocket, hoping that I would bring out the little toucan, mouse, and tiger.  We also brought beach balls which were a huge hit.  Those kids didn’t have electricity or any kind of electronics, but they were just so happy.  You see, it’s not stuff that makes you happy.

I also connected with a young man named Thierno (sounds like Chair-no).  We went through a “namesake” ceremony in which I took his name and he took mine.  I am Thierno and he is Ted.  I am looking forward to seeing him again and it will be great to be one of the namesakes who went back a second time to the village.

You can get more information about my trip by going to http://charlottetosenegal.com/   You’ll see my picture on the home page making a little girl smile.  If you want to be a part and make a contribution you can go to http://charlottetosenegal.com/mission-trips/november-2012-ndjemane/ and find my picture about ten people down.  There is a Paypal link.

This trip we will go back to the village and keep doing what we’ve been doing.  Plus we’re going to lead a workshop with some of the Christian leaders on the book of Genesis.  I’m leading one of the teachings on Abraham and his son Isaac.  It should be very interesting and fun!

I was there when the well was turned on for the first time

I encourage you to get out there in the world.  Take a chance and try something new.  Adventure can be found just down the street or on the other side of the world.