I know I haven’t been talking much about game design lately, which I should since I assume that’s what readers come to expect, but I am only human people. With the verdant expanses of Internet laid before me, I cannot help but share.

Grand Theft Auto 4 decided to end its game embargo against me on Friday and so I have been playing and enjoying it. No red ring issues yet, I hope that was a singular event. The game is playable, moreso than how I felt about its predecessor in San Andreas, although I’m pretty sure in that cause it was my fault. Get it? It’s a pun.

Anyway, what I am most surprised about with the game is not the depth of interactions in the city (I tried to steal a car while a guy was loading groceries in the back and he grabbed onto the door hanging on for a few blocks while I sped off) or the size of the city (which is an impressive technical feat, although there is some major pop-in, such as the case when I was running from the cops, spun out into an empty parking lot and a parked tractor trailer materialized above me, trapping me and my car).

I’m actually really impressed with the characters. While the story thusfar has been simple revenge flair, they are hinting towards something bigger. The characters make the game come alive. Niko is a bit of an asshole, but you can tell what he has been through, that he is just trying to live his life from day to day. Roman lives in delusions of grandeur to cope with the unreachable mythic American Dream. Brucie is rote comic relief, but believable. Manny is the kind of philanthropist that really wants you to know how great a guy he is.

I find myself doing the “just one more mission” trick so that I can meet new people. I’m not skipping cutscenes as I have in the past. Kudos to Rockstar for this. While most of the straight humor in the game is blue, when the rest of the world isn’t a shallow dick joke, you can come to appreciate it more. Yeah, the driving sucks, there is pop-up all over the place, there is too much running around, it doesn’t break much new ground insofar as the design, it took three days of crashing on the opening cutscene to finally get in and it certainly isn’t a 10, but it is definitely one of the more important titles of the year and deserving of accolades.

I’ve also been playing The World Ends With You this weekend. While the online videos made it look cringe-inducing (the word “Bling” is used many times, and it looked like a mindless beat-em-up with random  mechanics thrown together), I’ve found it to be anything but (terrible Japanese dialogue exempted). It is an extremely original action game, and I found the combat to be much better than that of Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword. One of the notable innovations is that you can level up while the game is turned off, which I thought was a nice touch. Instead of causing players to want to keep the game off, which I assumed would be the result, I instead want to fire up the game in the morning to see if any of my pins leveled up. A great, great game.

A game that has been introduced to me here at work is the sparse text-based sports MMO Goal Line Blitz. They seem to have a clever pay-for-items model that works well. I’m tempted if I can find a real team to sink some dollars into it. While there are a handful of areas that I would call design flaws, the overall experience is causal and enjoyable. It actually reminds me a little of a Parking Wars in that it is casual-looking and asynchronous, but hides a lot of depth and chances for collusion. If you are interested in football games (especially those free to play!), check out Goal Line Blitz. Maybe we can start a team?

Mark, don’t read this part. I broke our Rock Band mic stand last night. I’m not entirely sure how. I think it was just a shitty stand that had a weak point at the base such that you couldn’t lean on it too much. I do a lot of leaning. Anyone know how to reattach a mic stand pole to its base? I imagine glue, but I worry how weak it would be and how to get it to stand while the glue dries.