Monday, March 02, 2015

The Official Chessasaur 2015 Playlog #3 - Let's Just Call This February

It's not that I haven't been writing entries this's just that I haven't finished any (yet).

In an effort to make sure that something gets out for the month, here's a rundown of February's gaming:

Apotheon Image Apotheon (PS4 / ~3 hours / Status: Abandoned) - Well, I tried. I really did. But as great as this game looks, I'm just not going to get any farther in it. I could have used an easier setting since I kept running out of health potions and decent weapons (they wear out!). There's also the usual (by now tedious) 2-D sidescroller level design trope that shows which direction you need to go, but, of course, you can't just get there directly. You have to go up or down (or both) before you find it. I will admit that the game wasn't too punishing (ie, when I died in an area, the things I'd destroyed and the enemies I killed didn't respawn) but overall it just felt too much like work. On the good side, it was "free" with my Playstation Plus membership and it will keep me from buying it from Steam.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask Image The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (N64 emulated / ~2 hours / Status: Abandoned) - I spent some time getting a bunch of old N64 games to work along with a USB adapter to use an original controller, but the experience is just too dated. Majora's Mask requires a lot of coordination in your actions during a 3 day cycle. Could I do it? Sure. Do I want to put in that much time? Uh, no. (In a shocking case of gross hypocrisy, I have to admit to buying the 3DS remake this last week. This is what I get for buying that Best Buy Gamer Unlocked membership. 20% off new games is a strong motivator when it's a game you know won't come down in price anytime soon. Well, at least I've heard that if I was going to play LoZ:MM, this is the way to do it.)

Angry Birds Epic Image Angry Birds Epic (iPad Mini / ~6 hours / Status: Active) - I think this may be the first year I spend a large amount of time pad gaming. I've usually been against tablet games because of the lack of decent tactile feedback, but there's something to be said for the ease of play and the quality of the visuals (iPad screens look gorgeous!). ABE is an amusing, light-weight tactical RPG in the vein of a Final Fantasy game, but with no reading! It's F2P, but I've already broken that and thrown a few bucks their way in exchange for some coins. Ah, it's a slippery slope, I know.

Dying Light Image Dying Light (PS4 / ~2 hours / Status: Delayed Purchase) - When I heard about this game, my excitement dwindled rapidly at the prospect of an open-world zombie game (something I dearly wish Rockstar would make!) coupled with a Mirror's Edge kind of parkour movement style. So, in true Smart Consumer fashion...I "rented" it from Gamestop. I'll admit that it was not love at first play - this game breaks a fundamental gaming law, namely that you press-AND-HOLD the Jump button! I was also annoyed at the idea that I couldn't just fight the zombies. However, to my surprise, I really started to like the gameplay and realized that fighting the swarms of undead wasn't an option and that I was okay with it. Much like some of the scenes in The Walking Dead, hordes of zombies are not something you battle on the ground even if you have guns (they tend to run out of bullets). I played through a handful of the starting missions and then decided that I'd rather return it so I could play it from the beginning at a later time (when it's cheaper, for example). Plus, I'm still way into...

Dead Space 3 Image Dead Space 3 (PC Origin / ~8 hours / Status: Active) - I'm still having a good time with DS3, mostly because I'm hoping Isaac and Ellie will end up together at the end. Yeah, strange reason to want to keep playing a third-person, survival horror shooter, but at least the game's writers should be happy. What I could do with less of is some of the silly "puzzles" they've thrown at me. One involved moving cargo out of the way of a ship-board transport. I thought I'd just use my kinesis power and move stuff or attach rockets like I did in DS2. No. In this one, I find a control panel that allows me to rotate two pieces until they can connect together like Tetris blocks - and they forgot to put into the PC version what the activation was to get them to pair! (It was space-bar, by the way.) Most of the puzzles I've found were obviously designed for twin-stick controllers, but I'm managing. Other than that, I still wish the weapons had more of a punch (even on Casual they are wimpy) and the lack of active save points has led to some annoyingly long game sessions.

**Update**: In preparing this blog entry, I looked over the above paragraph and, while the "complaints" about the puzzles were justified, I think that, overall, it doesn't convey the feeling that I have been getting from playing DS3, especially last night's session...which would be HOLY FUCKING AMAZE-A-BALLS!!! I mean this game has been good, really good! The first hour was better, action and setting wise, that almost all of Dead Space 2 put together. It really feels like I'm playing in a blockbuster sci-fi movie. (An Amazon review I saw said it was the "Michael Bay" Dead Space game. Fine with me.) But last night I played (spoiler alert) the part of the game where you fly this barely operational shuttle down to the planet where you hope you can stop the Marker's effects. If games get more exciting that that sequence, I don't know if I could handle it! Dodging space junk, mines, and keeping the ship on course, worrying about every little bump and bang. Then it catches fire! Then it starts falling apart! Just before hitting the planet surface, Ellie gets sucked out of the side! CRASH! After this fiery reentry and "landing", I'm alone on a freezing planet and have to run between piles of burning wreckage to keep from dying of the cold. Plus there's monsters chasing me, other wrecked ships that are falling apart around me, I'm trying to find Ellie, not die, following flares she's left in the snow (she's alive!!), and then this giant necromorph pops up from over a cliff and grabs me!! (I don't mind fessing up to a full-on shriek about that time.) More monsters, more cold, hide in a shelter, run through a derelict structure, avoid another giant necromorph grab (smaller shriek this time), find another shelter, run around it looking for the way in, getting colder, shoot monsters, keep running, Find Door, OPEN DOOR, IN!! When I finally got to this stopping place for the night (well, early morning), I realized that I was still vibrating from the adrenaline in my blood stream! That is something I've NEVER had happen in a game before! Only February and I might be playing my Game of the Year.

Nintendo - Wii U 32GB Console Super Mario 3D World and Nintendo Land Bundle - Black - Larger FrontThe Wii U is here! - Well, I actually bought it back in 2014 and it's been sitting in a box for all that time, but it's setup now. It took awhile before I felt I needed to get a Wii U, in the first place. But, over the YEARS it's been out, there are now some games that I want to play. The first one that got my attention was ZombiU, then Mario Kart 8, then...well, it's hard to say, but cheap game prices helped. The initial setup of this system was shockingly difficult. I mean, the Wii U is only one generation removed from the Gamecube, a system that required nothing more than power and a TV hook-up. The amount of updating that was required to get the U up to speed was embarrassing. Anyone who is not very tech savy (or patient) might never get it working. I haven't done any gaming on it yet, but I'm looking forward to at least getting to play through Earthbound on Virtual Console.

Friday, February 06, 2015

First Impressions #1 - Apotheon & Dead Space 3

Introducing a new segment on the Chessasaur blognet, "First Impressions" where I put down some quick thoughts about games that I've just started.

Apotheon Image Apotheon (PC) - I was looking forward to this one since I first heard about it last year. It's like playing a game that was painted onto a Grecian urn. In a word, the art in this game is incredible! As 2-D side-scrolling action games go, it's good, but there are some annoying control quirks - like holding up a shield toward an enemy, trying to back away, and flipping around, which exposes your back! Some of the combat devolves into almost Super Smash Bros kind of aerial flights and weapon selection can get a little cumbersome. There's a fair amount of voice work in the game and to be honest, I wish there wasn't. It would have been more impressive, I think, if it had been more like the old Lego games. Hearing American or English voices coming out of people and gods from ancient Greece just seems wrong.

Dead Space 3 Image Dead Space 3 (PS3) - Having just finished #2 and wanting to see what happened with Ellie and Isaac, I jumped right into Dead Space 3. I started on the PC (ie, Origin) and was doing fine until it instructed me to "crouch" with the X key. Crouch? There's no crouching in Dead Space games!! So, I abandoned that until I could work out a good alternative for the Fangpad. The next night, I decided to play the PS3 version (I have the disc and free PS+ downloadable versions), figuring that the controller layout might be easier to deal with.

And here I'm going to put in a new Pet Peeve - game makers have got to STOP putting multiple operations on individual controller keys! This is something I'm feeling is unique to console games since I haven't encountered it on a PC game (yet?). One example in this game is the R3 button (which is hardly even a "button" at all!) - press it once and Isaac crouches; press and hold and it's the directional beacon signal! So, if you go to figure out your heading and you don't hold the R-stick down long enough, you crouch and start moving at about half speed!

Anyway, part of me wanted to try to play it this way since I sometimes feel I don't get enough "gamepad" exercise, but while the Dead Space series looks like a 3rd person action game, it's really a cleverly disguised first-person shooter. This means that aiming is crucial in staying alive and not wasting a ton of ammo. For me, I've always had issues aiming weapons using thumbsticks, with the exception of Halo - for some reason, they just got it right. So, I'm going to have to go back to playing it on the PC, and I also want to compare some of the weapons. It seemed like the low end guns didn't have as much "punch" in the PS3 version as they did on the PC. I was playing on the same difficulty level (yes, Casual), but either I was missing A LOT or the bullets weren't doing as much damage.

What I will say is that I'm super impressed with the game so far and am really looking forward to playing more! As I'd hoped, Ellie and Isaac stayed together after the events on Titan station and now she's gone missing which gives him something to fight for. With all he's been through, she's probably all he has left. (The text log that's on the bed gives a little nod to the line in DS2 where Ellie says he owes her an eye!) Ironically, the lunar city Isaac is in looks like Neuromancer's Sprawl - something that the space station never did even if that's what it had been called. The amount of action sequences in just the first hour are better and more impressive than almost anything in Dead Space 2. I don't know why this entry got such low review scores (with GameInformer being a notable exception), and I hope it doesn't slow down, but so I'm far thrilled!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Official Chessasaur 2015 Playlog #2 - Dead Spacing

Dead Space 2 Image Dead Space 2 (PC / 15-17 hours / Status: Completed) - Well, my first game finished in 2015 was actually started late in 2014, but I did take a little break in the middle. Other than being, in my opinion, about four hours longer than it should have been, this was a compelling shooter (as in I was compelled to keep playing until it was over). I liked the improvements to the movement, object manipulation, and zero-g navigation, but there was too much "filler". Lots of corridors to walk down, rooms to check out, and elevators to take, but none of them were very interesting. The original Dead Space did a much better job of being creepy and giving you a sense of purpose in your actions. I will say that DS2 was better as far as what it did with the limited number of characters. Isaac Clarke actually gets to express himself (ie, talk) and the "relationship" he builds with one of the space station's survivor's, Ellie, was a welcome addition to the storyline. However, the whole "haunted by the dead girlfriend" thing just didn't work for me. Maybe it was because I was already fighting for my life from the necromorphs and all she did was scream at me. I think that if her visions had been more menacing, I would have been more affected when she showed up. Toward the end I thought she was going to be an ally, but that was short lived.

Since I was broadcasting/recording, here are a few clips from the game:

(Note: These could be considered SPOILERS if you haven't played the game.)

This might have been the scariest moment in the game! More of this would definitely have helped.

There were many unpleasant ways to die. This was just one.

There's no shame in running away from explosions!

And this is how it all finished up...and why I want to play Dead Space 3 now!

I want to close out with a couple of items. First, one of my favorite websites, Joystiq, went away on February 3. Of all the game sites I've followed, this was my favorite for the last 10 years. I'm already missing them like crazy. :(

Second, I found that Twitch is good for more than just broadcasting gameplay. It can also be a medium to discover really talented people. When I first saw him, he was playing to 18,000 viewers on Twitch's front page! For your listening enjoyment, I give you the incredible, Kyle Landry.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Official Chessasaur 2015 Playlog #1

Two weeks of 2015 gone already???

I tried to make "plans" for 2015 like I had for 2014 (ie, a mapped out playlist), but since that didn't work well, I decided that I'd keep it simple this year. I'll choose games to play the way I did in most of 2014 - something will peak my interest in one, be it a podcast, article, or fond memory. I am going to do a couple of "planned" things, however.

The first is Throw Back Thursday (ie, #tbt). I don't know why or how this got started, but it's a Twitter thing. People usually post old pictures or scans of ticket stubs for nostalgia's sake. For me, it will translate into playing an old PS2, Xbox, or Gamecube game each Thursday.

The second doesn't have a name really, but I think it might be like Facing Gaming Regrets (#fgr?). There are some things in my gaming past that I'd like to revisit, and take on in light of having more experience and a better gaming setup. My first two Regrets are from Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2 and Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.

DF2 was, for me, the first time I played an FPS that was more intricate than Doom. At the time I didn't have a lot of experience playing a keyboard oriented shooter, and there was no Fang Pad back then. I did okay in the game and was really enjoying it until the first Jedi "boss battle" where you had to use Force powers. I just got completely stuck and gave up. Time to go back and try it again, thanks to it being on Steam.

Oblivion represents a different issue. Up until I played it, I had never stopped playing an open world game unless I got stumped by a career ending mission (GTA: Vice City and San Andreas, I'm looking at you, guys). I've started Oblivion at least 3 times and each time I get sidetracked to the point where I have never even gotten to the first city! With so many open world games I still want to play, I think I need to go back and really concentrate on the main missions of Oblivion to give me some kind of mental discipline.

Even without "plans" in place, I've still been doing a bit of gaming:

Dead Space 2 Image Dead Space 2 - I started DS2 before 2015 began and, to be honest, I had mixed emotions about it. On one hand, it's a major improvement over DS1 in a technical way - better movement, better zero-g action, and less frustrating object manipulation. On the other hand, the story (that others seem to think is so good), does very little for me. The environments, while gorgeously detailed (watched them closer on my saved videos), lack the scale of the first game. I'll try to finish this one, if for no other reason than it gives me a lead in to DS3.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D Image The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D - The imminent release of the 3DS Majora's Mask remake got me thinking I should finally give this one a try. I'm only a little ways into it and I have to admit I don't remember a whole lot, which is odd because I almost finished it on the N64. I played it back around 2000 and got frustrated with the final location where you had to do a series of "encore" battles. I'll have to see if I have more patience for it now.

 The Talos Principle Public Test - This was basically a demo of The Talos Principle and I can't say it made me want to run out and buy it (especially at its $40 price tag!). It took me about an hour to get everything I wanted to get out of it (ie, finding the three Tetris pieces and getting to the cathedral) and it just doesn't work for me. The puzzles are okay and the scenery is awesome (see pics below), but the philosophy/theology that you read and hear during the "game" seem out of place with such a simplistic game mechanic.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Twenty Fourteen - Closeout, Review, Best of the Best, and Future Plans

So, here I am writing about 2014 just at the beginning of 2015. And I promise myself I'll keep this short so I can actually get onto some New Year gaming and not dwell too long on the past.

First, the I played in 2014:

Uncharted: Golden Abyss Image Uncharted: Golden Abyss - Since I had some time away from my main consoles, I decided to give this one a try. On the plus side, it is an amazingly good looking game for the Vita. It's also a good Nathan Drake story. On the un-plus side, however, it's a lot like the other Uncharted game I played and it's sort of annoying to play. It was designed to show off the Vita features since it was a launch title, but seriously, when I have to swipe the screen a dozen times to get Drake to draw his machete to cut a piece of hanging cloth, there's something wrong. Sadly, I won't be playing this one into 2015.

Okay, that does it for games I played in 2014. Now some quick notes from a year ago:
  • I considered that Batman Begins was the best game I played in 2013
  • My Steam library count was just over 600 (It's nearly 900 now!)
  • I wasn't in a hurry to get a PS4, but I got one before January was less than 2 weeks old!
  • I thought I'd get a Wii U when it got to $200, which is sort of what happened if you count a free game as $50 off

Here are the games I played during 2014 in more or less the order I played them in (I'm going to leave out demos and games in RED are ones I finished):

  • Call of Duty 2: The Big Red One (PS2)
  • The PS2 Capcom Collections
  • The Wolf Among Us (PC) - 2014 Playlist
  • Kingdoms of Amular: The Reckoning (360)
  • DmC (PS3)
  • Killzone: Shadowfall (PS4)
  • Resogun (PS4)
  • La Mulana (PC)
  • The Stanley Parable (PC) - 2014 Playlist
  • Transformers: The Game (360)
  • Splatterhouse (360)
  • Afro Samurai (360)
  • Mario & Luigi Dream Team (3DS) - 2014 Playlist
  • FTL (PC)
  • Spelunky (PC)
  • Ghostbusters: The Game (360)
  • Thief (PS4)
  • inFAMOUS (PS3) - 2014 Playlist
  • Battlefield 4 (PS4)
  • The Walking Dead: Season 2 (PC)
  • Broken Age (PC)
  • Mercenary Kings (PC)
  • Titanfall (PC)
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS) - 2014 Playlist
  • Final Fantasy 7 (PS1)
  • Final Fantasy 14 (PS4)
  • Dead Nation: Apocalypse Edition (PS4)
  • Monument Valley (iPad)
  • Finding Teddy (PC)
  • Hearthstone (iPad)
  • Diablo III (360/PS4) - 2014 Playlist
  • 3D Ultra Mini-Golf Adventures (PC)
  • 688(I) Hunter Killer (PC)
  • 9th Company: Roots of Terror (PC)
  • Afterfall: Insanity (PC)
  • Mario Golf: World Tour (3DS)
  • Vanquish (360)
  • Device 6 (iPad) - 2014 Playlist
  • Lego: The Hobbit (3DS)
  • Stick It To The Man (PC)
  • Tearaway (Vita) - 2014 Playlist
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order (PS4)
  • The Walking Dead: Season 1 (Vita)
  • Limbo (Vita)
  • Thomas Was Alone (Vita/PC)
  • Lone Survivor (Vita)
  • Air Conflicts: Secret Missions (PC)
  • Air Conflicts: Pacific Carriers (PC)
  • Alan Wake (PC)
  • Unit 13 (Vita)
  • Persona 4 Golden (Vita)
  • Valiant Hearts (PC)
  • Alan Wake's American Nightmare (PC)
  • 140 (PC)
  • The Adventures of Shuggy (PC)
  • Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3)
  • P.T. (PS4)
  • Luftrausers (PC)
  • Sid Meier's Ace Patrol (PC)
  • Murdered: Soul Suspect (360)
  • Alice Madness Returns (PC)
  • Watch_Dogs (PS4)
  • Paranormal (PC)
  • Defiance (PC)
  • Aliens vs Predator (PC)
  • Destiny (PS4)
  • Murasaki Baby (Vita)
  • Clock Tower 3 (PS2)
  • Cold Winter (PS2)
  • Road Not Taken (PS4)
  • Pix the Cat (PS4)
  • How to Survive (PC)
  • Alien Isolation (PS4)
  • The Evil Within (PS4)
  • Lords of the Fallen (PS4)
  • The Binding of Issac (PS4/Vita)
  • Fantasy Life (3DS)
  • 4 Elements (PC)
  • Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa's Rampage (PC)
  • 7 Days to Die (PC)
  • Paranautical Activity (PC)
  • Transistor (PC)
  • 8BitBoy (PC)
  • Dead Space 2 (PC)
  • Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Vita)

Breakdown by platform:

  • PC: 36
  • PS4: 17
  • PS Vita: 9
  • Xbox 360: 7
  • Nintendo 3DS: 5
  • PS2: 4
  • PS3: 3
  • iPad: 3
  • PS1: 1

(The high number of PC games is due to trying out a number of cheap Steam games.)

Lessons learned from 2014:
  • The blog looks better than it did when I started the year - images of games and embedded videos are a definite improvement.
  • The daily notes method that I started with was too tedious. I'm glad I gave it up.
  • My 2014 Playlist of Games was more or less useless. I played less than half the games I chose and none of the major titles.
  • I should get back to playing Kingdoms of Amular. I miss Raven!
  • For better or worse, I started streaming this year. On the good side, it's cool to broadcast even if I know nobody may be watching. The point is that someone could be. Sort of like the lottery - you can't win if you don't play. There's also the chance to catch and preserve some fun event that happens in the game I'm playing that I can highlight later. On the bad side, it adds another time-sink to my already limited schedule. It can also influence my decision to play one console or another. I can easily stream from the PC or PS4, but I don't have the 360 or PS3 connected to a capture device - I'd have to move consoles and/or cables around - so I'll be less likely to play games on those systems. Honestly, the whole streaming thing is still "under consideration" at this point.

But enough of that....Now, it's Award Time!

My Favorite Games of 2014 were:
  • Alan Wake - It was a game that just pulled me in and wouldn't let go, even when the story went into over-weird mode.
  • Valiant Hearts - A short game about four people and a dog caught up in The Great War, released in the centennial year of the real conflict.
  • Stick It To The Man - Rarely does a game impart such a feeling of happiness! This game just kept me smiling the whole time.
  • Kingdoms of Amular - A complete surprise of an action RPG that gave birth to it's own personality - Raven!
  • Murasaki Baby - A Tim Burton-esque journey through a twisted world holding the hand of little girl searching for her mother. It was short, but I fell in love with the little tyke. :)
  • Alice Madness Returns - A mesmerizing journey through incredible worlds...with unfortunately, a so-so game system.

And, my Most Disappointing Games of 2014:
  • The Walking Dead: Season 2 - While playing as Clementine sounded like a good idea, in practice it killed it for me.
  • Titanfall - It could have been so much more than just a multi-player shooter.
  • Destiny - See comment for Titanfall...and add in that they screwed up the Moon's gravity!
  • The Wolf Among Us - I just didn't care about the story or the characters.
  • Alan Wake's American Nightmare - How was this even related to the first game??

So, overall not a bad showing for the year. I completed 9 games and three of those were what I would consider "major titles" (Ghostbusters, Alan Wake, and Uncharted). Onward to 2015!

Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 Play Log - Blowing Off Steam, Deader Space, and Shutting Down 2014

Okay, first off, this is NOT a condemnation of Steam. I am very happy with the service and use it for nearly all my PC gaming. (The only thing I get a little worried about is having an inventory of nearly 900 games that are dependent on a single login!) What I'm doing here is listing games that, while they sounded good and the price was attractive, just didn't work for me. Hey, it can happen with any game, but there is a certain permanence when it happens with a digital download game - in short, I'm stuck with it.

 Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa's Rampage - This is a cheap, stand-alone expansion of what could best be called a janitorial simulator. Your "job" in this "game" is to cleanup Santa's workshop after he's gone "postal" and murdered all the elves. The concept of this - lots of Christmas gore - was a lot more interesting before I started to play it. Cleaning up even elf body parts just isn't fun.

 7 Days to Die - I'll cut this one a bit more slack as it's in Early Access, but still my initial playtime with it, while short, just consisted of running away from zombies, checking junked cars and trash for items, and then dying. It's got to be deeper that that, right?

Paranautical Activity Image Paranautical Activity - I bought this before the developer decided to do something really dumb (ie, threaten to kill the head of Steam, Gabe Newell) even if everyone knew he was kidding. Well, ya know, the fact that you can't buy this game on Steam anymore is exactly no one's loss. It's low-res crap, to be honest, and a complete waste of time. Sorry, guys.

 Transistor - I probably shouldn't have bought a game from the same company whose first game I didn't like, but I was never known to be particularly bright. Yeah, I didn't like Bastion, and guess what? I don't like Transistor either. Not as annoying (the narrator is less "hip"), but the combat mechanic isn't anything I want to learn how to do well.

 8BitBoy - To the developer: Congratulations, you made a game as a tribute to your fond memories of the "good old days" of video gaming. Not bad, but we could have done without the depressed gamer/Tron rip-off at the beginning. Also, it's just another platformer.

Changing gears at this point, I was looking at a "25 Greatest Sci-Fi Games of All Time" article and came across Dead Space at a respectable number 10. This got me to thinking about how much I enjoyed it and wondering why I hadn't tried the sequel yet. So, as I have it in probably 3 different locations (PS3, Steam, Origins), I decided to blast off into another horror adventure.

 Dead Space 2 - This is one of those sequels where you can really benefit from playing the original. I was only about 30 minutes into the game and I was already using my plasma cutter, the stasis effect power, directional beacon, and kinesis grab, while chopping up necromorphs into bloody chunks and stomping on crates - all stuff I was doing during the first game. There was little to no introduction to these mechanics for anyone who didn't play the first one. (The graphics look sharper, I will admit, but I don't feel the sense of scale that the I did in #1.) I can't really complain about the sameness, I guess since this is, you know, the sequel! I did find the following "tip" to be amusing.

And so, this another year comes to a close. I'll need to go over all my posts from 2014 - the first year I've documented all my gaming experiences. It will be interesting to see if it was worth the effort and what I will consider to be the highs and lows. In the meantime, I'm wrapping up the year with some tablet and portable gaming due to some family time. But time away from the consoles and computer is hardly a bad thing.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Christmas Truce

On occasion, I put stuff here that isn't about videogames. For better or worse, it's my online diary - open to all and, hopefully, preserved for (nearly) all eternity.

This year has marked the 100th anniversary of the start of what was called The Great War until another one happened, at which point it had to be called World War I. Man has done some pretty horrible things as a species, but it's very possible that nothing will every match the level of human suffering and waste of human life on such a scale as WWI.

After about five months of fighting, something amazing happened, something that made the Christmas of 1914 unlike any before or since - humanity stopped trying to kill itself. It became known as the Christmas Truce and I didn't find out about it until 9 years ago when my local paper published an article about a resident whose grandfather had been on the front lines in France on December 24, 1914. (This lack in my history knowledge was likely due to the fact that the US didn't enter the war until 1917, so it didn't make the textbooks over here.) Her grandfather was an Australian soldier attached to a Welsh regiment who survived the war and eventually moved to California where he died in 1929.

At some point after he moved to the US, Fredrick John Murray put pen to paper and wrote about his experience that night. It was the only record of his war service that he documented and the yellowed, faded original was kept private by his grand daughter, Gloria Tecca, until 2005 when she had read that the last living witness to the Christmas Truce had passed away that November. The paper published a photo of Murray along with the full text of his account.

Every Christmas since then, I take out my yellowed copy of that newspaper and reread his words. I've never been able to keep from crying when I do. There's a part of me that thinks this was modern civilizations's last chance at sanity and it slipped away. I know that's an incredibly naive way to think about life and war, but the Christmas Truce showed that even in the vilest of situations, men can still recognize each other as fellow human beings regardless of what color uniform they wear or language they speak.

Here now is my transcript of Fredrick John Murray's words. I have tried as best as I can to preserve the wording as it was set in the paper. Any odd English usage is likely because this was written in the 1920's.

Snow covered ground, wet soddened trenches, cold sleety winds, filth, dirt, vermin, and all the horrors of war. What a setting on the Eve of the birthday of the “Prince of Peace”. Attached temporarily to a Welch Regiment – for intelligence – how I wished myself back in sunny Egypt among my own wild Australians. But once in, you must play the game, and as the English Tommy would say, “We’ll go west – one place as another.”

Slowly the hours til midnight drifted away, all was so calm. And still, in our sector, it seemed as if the war had drifted away and that the trench and filth, and all the attendant horrors were only a dream. Occasionally in the distance we would hear the dull boom of a big gun, or see the trailing flash of a rocket in the sky. But in front of us all was still, nothing but the ghostly strands of our own and the German barbed wire, while between the two lay the ghostly strip of no-mans-land, scarce 100 yards wide.

Midnight had passed; softly there came to us the strains of music out of the German trenches. They seemed to be tuning their instruments. Then all at once there burst forth the triumphant strains of “The Soldiers Chorus” from the opera “Faust”. The Welshmen, taking it as a challenge, waited til the Germans had finished; and then there burst forth from our trench the battle song of Wales, “The March of the Men of Harlech”. How those Welshmen sang! It seemed as if the fierce fighting blood of old Owen Glendower flowed a fresh in every man’s veins that night.

We kept low fully expecting a fusillade from the Saxons for we knew – just as they always knew the troops that faced them. Instead of rifle shots, came a burst of applause from the Saxons as the Welshmen finished. Then, from the enemy’s band, came the strains of the music and their soldiers sang the words of that beautiful old German hymn, “Holy Night, Silent Night”.

As the Saxons came to the words, “Peace on earth good will to men”, our men, one by one, slowly rose til their heads were above the parapets. Each soldier seemed like a graven image, so calm and still they stood, til the closing words, “Christ is born indeed, Christ is born indeed”.

And then a sigh, like the dying of the wind, ran through the ranks of those rain soddened, weary soldiers. Their minds drifted back to their Welsh mountain homes, where they too sang those very words in scenes, where war and its horrors were unknown.

Then a voice from the Saxons called out, “Hey Welshmen, sing one of your Carols and we’ll play”. Then, while the Saxon orchestra played, the Welshmen sang “While shepherds watched their flocks by night”.

Oh God, how those rough Welsh miners sang. I have heard great societies in many lands sing, but never did I hear such pathos in words of a song as those men gave that night. Now the Saxons would sing one of their old folk songs, then the Welsh would respond with one of the beautiful quartets, so on they sang alternately while hours oh too quickly passed away.

And then there slowly appeared above the enemy trench, a small lighted Christmas tree laden with cigars and other Christmas joys. “Come over”, they said, “This is for you. We’ll be fighting enough in the future.”

Not to be outdone, one of the Welshmen filled a sand bag with tobacco, cigarettes, candy, and plum pudding and, climbing over the parapet advanced boldly to the enemy’s barbed wire.

There Saxon and Celt exchanged their gifts, wished each other a Merry Christmas, gave a hearty hand shake, and said good bye. As the Welshman dropped into the trench, one of his comrades asked, “What did you see?” Looking his questioner squarely in the face, he replied, “Nothing except barbed wire and a man.”

He had gone and been received as a friend, and the honor of a British soldier forbade that he should reveal what he saw.

All too quickly the night passed. Soon came the first faint glimmering of dawn in the Eastern sky that told us the truce would soon be at an end and we must again resume the grim role of war. Then, out of the enemy trenches, rose a huge fair haired Saxon, a living picture of the warriors of old, in full views of both sides.

There in a beautiful full tone, he sang the words of an old Methodist hymn, I had last heard years before, one Christmas Eve in far off sunny Australia. There silhouetted against the lightening sky he sang those beautiful words: “When Jesus was born in a manger and the shepherds came over to see and the angels proclaim that a Savior is born to a poor sinner like me.”

How strange the words seemed amidst those ghastly surroundings, “To save a poor sinner like men.” Yeh we whom He came to save were trying to kill our fellow man whom he also came to save. As the Saxon finished the last stanza, “He’ll save us and we shall be free,” he turned and slowly disappeared into the trench, just as the dull boom of the guns away to our left burst forth, telling us, grim Mars still ruled and that here the Prince of Peace had nowhere to lay his head.

Many moons has passed and many miles I’ve journeyed, through hospital bed, the rack and horrors of wounds and gas, peaceful voyage to sunny Australia again over the water to U.S.A. Here this Christmas Eve, under California’s reigns; where the troops of gay clad happy children romp and play in the toy lands of the great department stores while parents wish each other seasons greetings and good cheer.

         Yet through it all comes to me again, the snow covered fields of France, the barbed wire, the trenches, and filth and horrors of war, but above it all stands vivid before my mind, ever the figure of that blond Saxon giant as he sang: “To save a poor sinner; to save a poor sinner, to save a poor sinner like me. And the angels proclaim that a Savior is born to save a poor sinner like me.”