Two Weeks Without Games & Rocks

I've spent the better part of this week trying to convince Kristin to get some sleep, but to no avail. She came home from school on Saturday with a rather deer-in-the-headlights look on her. When asked what was the matter, she simply told me she had 5 papers to write before we leave for South Korea on Friday morning. In case that wasn't bad enough, one of the professors waited until Wednesday evening to tell the class what the topic was. As of Thursday morning, another professor has yet to reveal his mystery subject. So each night, around 1 in the morning, I began talking her into going to bed. Force was threatened on more than one occasion.

Yesterday I woke up at 4:15 to find the other half of the bed empty. She woke at 4 to get more work done. I can't tell whether I'm more concerned for her health and sanity or because she's starting to make me look bad.

Yeah, I know I know, "what do you mean starting?" Very funny.

As dumb-luck and Murphy's Law would have it: Puzzle Quest: Galactrix finally released yesterday on XBLA for the equivalent of $20. Why do the games I'm always most excited to get release the week I'm about to leave on a trip? It has happened far too many times. From what I can tell, it seems to be a deeply engaging puzzle-RPG hybrid just like the original game in the series, yet this one has a space-theme instead of your standard fantasy realm with knights and elves. I played the first game on the DS and was wondering if I would miss the point-and-tap controls on the XBLA version and the answer is... drumroll, please... sometimes. The shortcomings of the Xbox 360 controller's D-pad have been widely discussed (Cliff's Notes version: it's utter crap), but it wasn't until playing Galactrix that I realized the Control Stick isn't the most accurate tool either.

Maybe it's me (it probably is) but I would recommend to everyone about to play the game on the Xbox 360 that they pause a moment before pressing the A Button to confirm a move. If you're anything like me, the gem you want to swap won't always be the one you select -- even though you clearly believe you pointed right at it.

The new Gears of War 2 maps and title update have succeeded in giving the group I play with incentive to eject their COD4 discs and return to the dark side that is third-person shooting. If only for a night or two, then it was straight back to COD4. As much as I absolutely do enjoy playing Gears 2's multiplayer mode, it's the only game that I've ever experienced any sense of lag in when playing online. And that's not hyperbole, it really is the only game I notice this with. And the 8 or so guys I play with regularly all say the same thing. It's also the only game I know of whose title updates and glitch-fixes get immediately hacked and exploited upon release. I don't know if it has to do with the Unreal Engine or if people just have certain affinity for exploiting Gears 2, or what. But there have been three "title updates" now to fix myriad glitches, hacks, and exploits, yet the jerkoffs among us still find ways to cheat. Name one other game this happens in? Time's up. You couldn't, could you? Me neither.

The latest title update added a rather simplistic XP leveling system. In short, you get experience for kills and downs, lose some for deaths and for quitting and you level up. You don't actually gain anything with reaching a new level, well nothing aside from the sense of pride you feel when you show the world how large your e-penis is. Mine's currently a 16 out of 100. Despite it being said to require 7,000,000 XP to reach level 100, a few of Xbox Live's premier douchebags found a way to hack the system and level up instantly. This is a good time to let you know that it's very difficult to average more than 800 to 1000 points per match. Note that I said average there. As much as I would like to place all of the blame on the jackasses who exploit games and cheat their way to a larger Gamerscore, I can't help but wonder if any of the code for this game is bullet-proof. I've been to Epic multiple times now and I've seen how hard the devs and designers work. That's why I wonder if it's the Unreal engine -- something ain't right for one game to be so heavily glitched & exploited.

The XP needed to level up is only attainable through Public matches which tend to be the most laggy. I wonder how many levels higher than me my friends will be by the time I get back. Right now we're all somewhere between 12 and 25. Again, the number only indicates how little sunlight you see, err, how much time you spend playing Gears 2. There are Achievements at milestones for 5, 15, 25, 50, and 100. I'll never see 100 and probably won't see 50 this year. Then again, the newest map pack -- Snowblind -- is pretty awesome. They remade Fuel Depot, one of our favorites, and finally included the Courtyard map that shipped with the original PC version of the first Gears of War game. There are also two others, Underhill and Grind Yard.

As much as I'm looking forward to going to South Korea tomorrow, I'm going to really miss rock climbing. Kristin and I have been going twice a week now for nearly two months now and though my hands are completely torn up, we're both really enjoying it. Kristin got a little frustrated the other night because I had a minor breakthrough and was able to do a few trickier (albeit, beginner) routes that she couldn't. She admitted later to hoping that bouldering would be something that she would finally excel at over me, but it wasn't too happen. She's doing really good, and gets better each time, but she has a bit more of a fear factor at work against her and my longer arms and height make a lot of the routes easier. Not to mention I just have more upper body strength.

I went to Stone Gardens yesterday alone for the first time after my dentist appointment. I spent an hour or so upstairs in "the cave" and was very happy to finally a ceiling route that Kristin and I have been trying for over a month. It was all in the feet. It's only rated V1 (out of a scale of V0 to V12) because the holds were really big and not too far apart, but I wasn't even close to getting it last week and yesterday I did it on my second try. I also came within one hold from getting a V1+ too.

My brother said a lot of the V0 and V1's that he saw at Stone Gardens would have been V3's at the place he climbs in at Boulder, CO so that makes me feel a little better about struggling with what, mathematically at least, is "the easiest" route in the building. I should add that they do have a number of VB rated routes for total first-timers too. For the past month I would focus mainly on the V0 routes and try one or two V1's per night. Sunday night, I solved four V1 routes (none I had seen before) and then yesterday I almost got that V1+ and was actually able to start a V2 that I tried just before leaving. A lot of times even figuring out how to get on the wall to start a route is really hard.

Anyway, I know I'm going to miss the climbing while we're away, not least because I'm enjoying the increased muscle tone in my shoulders and arms, but also because I don't want my hands to fully heal and get soft again. I'm trying to get them nice and calloused and not climbing for 2 weeks isn't going to help that.

Posts will be few and far between while I'm in South Korea. I'm not bringing any blackberries, laptops, or netbooks. I'm sure we'll pop in at a cyber-cafe every other two or three days to check email and maybe post something short, but those who know me IRL will likely find it easier to get a hold of me through Facebook than on the blog.

Have a good couple of weeks. See you back Stateside on the 21st.

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