On my birthday this past week I was 27 going on 15 even if society now officially declares me 28 years old.  As per my birthday tradition, I took the day off of work, ordered pizza that was a nostalgic throwback to a much younger me (Pizza Hut pan pizza with one topping - black olives - my same order from when we got those kid size personal pan pizzas when I was a kid), and I played video games all day while the Coke Zero cans piled up around me.  The day was magical and the next morning, I awoke and went to work daydreaming about my 2014 birthday.

If only eating cake regenerated my health as well. 

In the weeks leading up to my birthday I daydreamed of the games to play on a rare all-day gaming day.  Interestingly, I do not actually want to game 8-10 hours day everyday but on the occasional day that I can I am ecstatic for the opportunity.  With so much time for gaming, I was excited for time to delve into a story.  Typically I game for 60-90 minutes a day at 4:30 AM or at 9:30 PM and I am not particularly awake at either hour.  While trying to play games with a deep narrative and complex gameplay systems such as inventory management, crafting, and/or skill trees I begin drifting off to sleep trying to navigate how to play the game and once in the game I practically fall asleep listening to long winded but important sounding conversations that require more brain function than I can muster.   

Consequently, my day to day games are often more action oriented.  Preferring to play games with short term gratification such as demolishing aliens and nauseously experiencing the spaceship's gravity changes in Prey or a thug beat down in Batman Arkham City or the running footsteps in Mirrors Edge (not so much the combat sequences).      

So many titles to choose from and so little time!  Hip hip hooray for birthdays!

For my birthday bash I had a three game plan.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows in the early morning to celebrate the resurgence of the TMNT, Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition in the late morning/early afternoon to begin a new playthrough because I never finished my previous attempt, and finishing with XCOM: Enemy Unknown to end the day in a standoff against the alien invasion.  Alas, plans are not made to be kept.

My brand loyalty is to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I am a child of 1985.  The exact moment is unknown but in the early nineties TMNT hooked me and did not let go.  Like nearly all successful superhero franchises the story, once we look past radioactive green ooze, mutant animals, news reporters in yellow jumpsuits and human vigilantes in hockey masks, is about a family dynamic. 

Yes, TMNT: Out Of The Shadows is a marketing grab of a successfully revived franchise (I am explicitly referring to the Nickelodeon cartoon and the comic reboot) to both capture the imagination of a young generation drooling at the new TMNT cartoon on Nickelodeon and to convince the nostalgic late twenties/early thirty year olds to pull out their wallets.  On cue, I pulled out my wallet and then I put my wallet away. 

The picture is only blurry because the image is an action shot.  The purple smear on the bottom is exactly how the captions appear. 

I played the free demo, I knew that the game was an action game beating down the foot clan and with scaled expectations I enjoyed the game.  The problem?  The captions are unreadable.  Color coded captions are fine and even makes sense with the TMNT but with no outline or background the captions are utterly indecipherable and unusable.  I will not struggle to understand the basic game and thereby resent my beloved TMNT franchise.  I understand Redfly that you probably worked nights to roll out the game in time for the Xbox Summer Arcade 2013 but shame on the missed detail. 

I greatly looked forward to playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown, only desiring a clear headed gaming time for strategizing my defense against the alien horde.  Naturally, I bought the game for $20 dollars days before the announcement of XCOM: Enemy Within.  The fact that, for consoles, the expansion is only packaged at retail with the complete game for $40 stings a bit.  Note to self to remain suspicious of price drops, especially around big release opportunities such as the fall when the new generation consoles are available.  But I never got around to starting this game.  Why?

The densest most impossible to use radial wheel, each option simply takes us to more and more menus. 

In 2011 I bought my Xbox 360 with two games, Dance Central and Dragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition.  Looking back on my attempt at DAO I realized that I was unsure how to play the game.  After feeling unable to continue playing DAO, I bought and played Mass Effect instead which was a great introduction to modern day gaming.  In DAO way back in 2011 I rolled as a standard human warrior because I wanted a straightforward playthrough.  The turn based/action hybrid was beyond my gaming understanding at the time.  I struggled understanding the menus, the confusing combat and whether or not I was insane for not knowing how to use the radial wheel efficiently. 

I kept trying until I attempted to script my companion character's combat tactics for more effective help from the AI during battles.  I entered the wrong command and my party used every single health potion in my inventory while I was trapped deep in the Circle Tower.  I stopped playing and I was saddened by my failure.

The origin stories are an awesome appeal for multiple playthroughs.  Where else do we get a double elf wedding?

The buzz lately around Dragon Age Inquisition reminded me of my desire to play the Dragon Age franchise and of my failure.  On my birthday, I popped in the game resolute to approach the game with a new patience and understanding.  Not wanting to overburden my ability to navigate the obtuse menus I set up a rogue city elf.  A blend of my preferred archery and stealth but little reliance on spells because magic requires the most cycling through the menus. 

Dragon Age Inquisition, satisfying the daydreams of fantasy enthusiasts everywhere.  

With a new wherewithal, I figured out the "powers" mapped to my controller's front buttons, took my time in combat, and cycled through the menus with deep breaths equipping and selling the correct items.  I was and am now hooked.  The story changed slightly with my new origin story, I was not bored during lengthy conversations but engaged understanding now the purpose of enjoying the journey, and I am not going near the Circle Tower for a while.  All day I played DAO enjoying myself, only wanting to play more and building excitement for the release of Dragon Age Inquisition, even considering purchasing the game on my Xbox 360 rather than waiting for my upgrade into the next console generation.

The rediscovery of a previously difficult game is a gaming triumph.  DAO sat stacked in my gaming backlog, a sore spot because I wanted to enjoy the game but I was frustrated by my inability to "get it." 

As far as birthday gifts, I tend to buy the games that I want and have a ranked list in my head of the next game I want to purchase.  As nearly all gamers experience, while I have more than enough games to play, some never yet played, on gift giving occasions I still want more games just in case the sudden overwhelming need to play "that" game pops up.  Now, on holidays I give my girlfriend a list of similarly priced games and ask her to buy whichever game she thinks I should play.  I become psyched for a new game and am still surprised when I receive the gift. 

Nothing says "Happy Birthday" such as a macabre twist on Alice In Wonderland.  I always figured that Alice would get more done with a butcher knife. 

This year's list was $20 games and included Alice: Madness Returns, Prince of Persia (Ubisoft 2008), Metro 2033, Red Dead Redemption: Game of the Year, Final Fantasy XIII, and Defiance.  I was bestowed with Alice: Madness Returns which includes the original American McGee's Alice as well but I am too obsessed with DAO to pop in the game.  Maybe later I will play Alice: Madness Returns simultaneously with El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron for a psychedelic overload.

As always, thank you for reading and spending some of your time here.  I probably spend too much time writing these but I enjoy the process and I enjoy that there are those who read and enjoy the pieces as well. 

What games have you purchased lately?

What was your best gaming gift?

Do you plan to buy Dragon Age Inquisition on day one?  On the current or new console generation?