Sunday, February 3, 2013

. . . Agent 47

Regular readers of the gaming side of my writing will be aware that I recently completed the Unofficial Walkthrough / Guide for game play in the title Hitman: Absolution, which is the much anticipated and long overdue next game in the Hitman video game series, but is also oh so much more than just that.

I say "oh so much more" for very good reason, because when you read between the lines and if you are even just a little familiar with that game series you will be aware that Absolution is not only the 5th game in the main series, but also presents the wrapping up of basically all of the plot, story, and sub-plot elements for the previous four titles in the series, being intended to provide a measure of closure for series fans as well as serve a more practical function: providing the tabula rasa that is required when a studio is about to embark upon a new and previously un-hinted-at massive change of focus.

In a nutshell, the Hitman series began with a pair of games that revealed in violent detail the origins of the character after which the series is named -- The Hitman who is a legend in both the underground organized crime community and the world-wide law enforcement communities, being widely considered to be if not an outright myth, then very likely a catch-all character who has been given false credit for the perfectly executed actions, contracts, and hits of a dozen or more different men, with the end result being what most experts in both communities consider to be a fraudulent and undeserved reputation for a man who probably does not exist at best, or the outright theft of many of the most spectacular hits of the past decade being wrapped like a mantle of reputation by a third-rate mechanic with no right to that glory at worse.

The truth of the matter is not the middle-ground rationalization that is often the case in such creations, because the truth is that every one of the legitimate stories is just that -- and most of the widely embellished stories based upon unsubstantiated rumor are also true and factually laid at the feet of the man who was responsible: the ghost figure known far and wide as The Hitman, and more intimately by the shadowy entity that serves as the broker for his special talents, The International Contract Agency (ICA) as Agent 47, the true identity for that ghost.

The Tragedy of Agent 47

With all good stories there is often a bit of tragedy and poetic origins behind the story, that foundation often being lost in the noise of the events or, more likely, never being known or shared precisely because the man who it is about chooses not to share it.  Such is the case with Agent 47, who has no real name; the product of genetic engineering in a secret lab in eastern Europe, 47 lacks even the comfort of some certainty that somewhere, somewhen, there was a man and a woman whose love or relationship spawned him.  Obviously not, since the only thing that 47 can legitimately write on a Mother's day card is "My Mother was a Test Tube" and on a Father's Day card, "My Father was a scalpel."

Starting with that lack of biological bonding, the legend that is Agent 47 cannot even lay claim to the origins of many a fictional and historical hero, since he was not born in a dark corner of the world and then raised in an orphanage, but rather was born in a well-lit lab having been created by the selective culling of organic material from a single female who provided an egg that was initially stripped of all of its genetic details, intended to serve exclusively as the foundation of organics that is required to create a human being, but as a neutral foundation, offering that human no traits or other biological links with the donor.

All of the traits, and in particular what was considered to be the important traits, such as physical capabilities, mental acuity, a lack of moral compass, and a willingness to use violence as a tool to attain the ends that he is programed to attain -- the entire exercise in leveraging the bleeding edge of genetic science was oriented towards a single goal: create the perfect killing machine in the form of a chameleon of a man whose entire focus was the art of the hit.

All of this was accomplished by a defrocked physician and scientist named Ort-Meyer, who it should be noted, used his own genetic materials as the underlying focus for the mental portions of the design for Agent 47.  In the end, while there were literally hundreds of failed efforts, the success with Agent 47 -- who is if you have missed the point that I have been hammering home all along a clone -- was not simply a lucky stroke, nor was his ending up in the employ of the ICA, but all of it, including the rather bloody exit by which he parted company with Ort-Meyer, was the results of carefully engineered and executed plans created by Ort-Meyer.  

Oh, there were a few bumps in the road, and it is pretty clear that Ort-Meyer was not expecting his creation to systematically assassinate every one of the men who contributed to his genetics -- including Ort-Meyer -- but that is material for another article, for another time.

You now have a pretty clear grasp of who Agent 47 was at the start of his career as the ICA's star hitman and special field operator.  It goes without saying that the first almost 30 years of his life were spent in a densely packed series of special training, and his perfect record of contract assassinations for the ICA speak to the success of those efforts, but there is on additional factoid that you need to know about Agent 47: much of the underlying cause for his success as a hitman is thought to be the result of the fact that he was intentionally created with an extra (47th) chromosome.

The 47th Chromosome

If it seems that I am writing about Agent 47 as if he were an old friend, the reason for that is really because in a way that is precisely what he is.  Well, if not an old friend than by all means a lengthy acquaintance with whom a great many adventures have been shared.  In fact that is the point of this piece, because I have just embarked upon the replaying of many of those early adventures in the form of the just-released new game compilation that has been called the Hitman HD Collection (a trilogy consisting of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin, Hitman: Contracts, and Hitman: Blood Money).

I will very soon be reviewing each game in the collection over at The Cape Cod Time's Game On review section, where I recently reviewed both Hitman: Absolution, and the new and related mini-game called Hitman: Sniper Challenge that was created as partly a promotional vehicle for Absolution, and those reviews have fomented the to-be-expected sense of nostalgia that one tends to reserve for events of a personal nature that while not really shared with others, still tend to have had a rather formative impact on you.

In the case of Agent 47 that impact was to instill in the gamer in me a decided respect for the stealth approach that can be used when playing shooter titles (whether they are intended to be stealth-based or not) and the result has been an interesting effect on my game play style.  It would be fair to say that the experience of playing as Agent 47 has had a lasting and interesting impact upon my general outlook and attitude when it comes to combat shooters in general, and the civilian mob/OC shooter in particular.

When a medical type speaks of the 47th Chromosome (normally humans have just 46) there is a very good chance that the conversation is about the disease known as Down's Syndrome -- largely due to the fact that the existence of that extra chromosome is thought to be the cause.  What you may not hear -- it is pretty unlikely -- is that the presence of a 47th chromosome does not necessarily always result in retardation or Down's Syndrome.  In fact there have been a very few isolated cases in which the extra chromosome actually served to enhance the human who possessed it rather than damage them.  Sadly that enhancement tended to be accompanied by some other undesirable side-effect, like the person lacking any moral sense or being inclined towards a career as a serial killer...

Of course those negatives did not prevent certain countries with strong military feelings to underwrite experimentation in the area of genetic science, with an eye towards creating super-soldiers by installing that extra chromosome.  The idea was, obviously, that they would experiment with it until they caught a breakthrough that allowed for a better understanding of how it does what it does, and how to get it to do desirable things.

Forget for the moment that to do this it was necessary to experiment on human beings, and forget for the moment that there are international treaties whose basic function is to prevent that sort of thing....  It happened anyway.  Hell, so does cloning, but nobody talks about that, do they?

It is rumored that the US has completed a long series of cloning experiments, and may be the second most knowledgeable nation when it comes to understanding how the process of cloning works.  You did note that I said "second" right?  The first would be Russia, or more accurately the former Soviet Union, who it is reliably reported had tremendous successes with developing a reliable system for cloning to the point that they could not only clone desirable organs with an eye towards transplants to extend life for individuals who were judged worthy of the great expenses involved, but the former Red State could also just as easily clone entire humans.  

It is even rumored that the ex-Soviet cloning programs uncovered interesting data about genetic memory, a subject that previously was spoken of in only the most basic and speculative of terms.  Today it seems that there is a wider acceptance that in addition to passing on trait-based data that is used as part of the blueprint for making a new human during the normal reproductive process, the mother also passes on a large amount of what is called foundation memory -- why hot is dangerous, the large collection of instinctual reactions to biological and animal threats, and a bunch of other low-level emotion-based reactionary types of information.

Basically the memory that is being passed on is not really memory as such, but skills, or perhaps more accurately reaction-based data, but also -- and this is where it gets interesting -- muscle memory.

It has long been thought that when one or both parents are gifted with expert skill in something like playing a musical instrument, any children that they have might also enjoy an easier process for the acquisition of similar skills.  While the Russians have not fully mapped out the genetic areas that are involved in this process, this exchange of mother-memory if you will, they were able to succeed in isolating and passing on the music part of it.  There is a rumor that they also have successfully mapped out some of the physical skills areas, including the sorts that are of interest to athletes who desire to compete at the Olympic level...

Can you imagine a generation of clones of Alexander Popov,  Anna Kournikova, or even Evgeny Plushenko?  I bet the Russians can...

While I am not sure that the folks over at IO were completely unaware of those programs, it does make for interesting speculation and an amusing notion that they were more than just a little aware of them.

Either way, when I get to the point of writing the game reviews for the new HD Trilogy you should consider yourself invited and encouraged not only to read them, but to play the games.  While they are not fully remastered (that is to say they have not been redone, but rather have been converted to run on the new platforms and in HD quality) they do offer you a chance to step back in time and experience these games in much the same way that we did a decade ago, and that is certainly worth the cost of admission...

I have to go now, there are contracts to be completed...

Friday, February 1, 2013

. . . finishing a pile of video games?

Mieux vaut faire, et se repentir, que se repentir, et rien faire...

This morning is one of those rare occasions when circumstances have forced me into a temporary pause as I wait for what amounts to a significant set of technical difficulties to be resolved before I can resume my normal frantic work load...  

This really is an unusual situation; made even more so due to the pressures that are on right now to turn out product such that any delay at all that can be removed generally is, and quite rapidly, but there you have it.

In the midst of experiencing this unexpected down-time I discovered that my thoughts have naturally turned towards other unrelated subjects -- actually it would be more accurate to characterize those thoughts -- such as they are -- with a flavoring of unguided randomness.  That is fair enough I suppose, and it does describe what is happening -- as things I could be doing to fill in the time constructively flit past among other seemingly random thoughts and observations, and then my eyes seem to naturally stray towards the game shelves that line the far wall in the room that I like to think of as "The Place it All Happens!"

OK that is more than a little gratuitous and self-serving, and more than a bit on the misleading side as well...  Obviously the room of which I speak cannot be The Place that it All Happens, because if it were, so much would be going on there that no work would get done.  But it is the place where most of my work these days actually does happen; the place were my computers and video game consoles are; the place where writing happens, where game play happens, and where wit abounds.

It is a well-organized place, though that was not always the case.  In fact if we hop into the Tardis and jump back to September 2012 you would be seeing a very different room indeed, one that was largely equipped with a mixture of cast-off office furniture and makeshift shelving and that -- I can say this now -- largely was a depressing sight.  

Artists imagination of what the place it all happened in previously looked like but not really...
You see in September of 2012 my wife decided that the time had come to organize my world, and what that translated to was (A) lots of drawn plans on legal pads with fabric samples stapled to them even though no fabric was actually involved in the remodeling, and the floating of various proposals regarding what the modern and well organized games journo needed in their modern and well organized life; and (B) what *I* might consider desirable (the latter, it should be noted, being strictly an optional element to this process).

Decisions were made; IKEA was consulted; and in the dark of night on a cold and rainy weekend in early October of 2012 a crack team of Ninja infiltrated my workspace and, in practically the blink of a mortal eye, packed everything into boxes and moved those boxes into an adjacent room.  Ninja can operate like that, it is part of their Ninja magic.

This particular group of Ninja Warriors was lead by a Ninja who looked suspiciously like my wife, only you know, my wife in a Ninja costume, which really was kind of sexy in a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sort of way... 

The leader of the Ninja was assisted by a team of other Ninja who I suspect were wearing cleverly constructed costume disguises that had a remarkable almost surreal appearance of my two children; in fact these disguises were so good that they actually fooled my two dogs! 

Now granted, fooling Charlie is not all that hard; he is a Beagle-Husky mixed breed who is about as smart as a bag of hammers...  But fooling Calvin?  That is saying something!  

Actually I should probably make some effort to explain why that is so, since you, lacking any context here, are forced to simply take my word for it.  Well, there is the exclamation point, that probably helps a little...  I could also add some emoticons to help communicate disbelief and shock?  Let's try some...

There are a number of blah run-of-the-mill generic emoticons we can use I suppose, you know the ones that everyone uses when they want to insert easier to grasp emotion to an idea or situation (hence the "Emote" part of Emoticon part) such as  >:O stunned shock, or good old :-O regular shocked, but those do not really feel like they add the right, um, je ne sais quoi...

Do not panic, we still have options available... Let's see...

Horizontal Shock - oh, I rather like that one!

 The equivalent of Horizontal Shock in Japan

 Well d'accord, take your pick from the last two above as those really work...  So you need to decide which one you like best or feel is the most expressive of the idea that having a subtle mastery of the art of disguise that is so far advanced as to fool my dog Calvin warrants one of these, either or both of these actually... 

It might help for us to begin at the beginning with respect to Calvin, who is technically a Dachshund.  That breed was famously described by H. L. Mencken as "a half-dog high and a dog-and-a-half long," being the equivalent of a fusion of the dog version of a Ninja combined with a Samurai in the Canine world; though oddly shaped they are also brave, bold, fierce, and often reckless, being not only instantly willing and ready to take on badgers of any sort, size, or disposition, but to follow said badgers into their underground lairs if that is what it takes to assist the wily and dangerous beasts in completing the sense of destiny that requires meeting its maker! 

Ballads have been written about these dogs; legends abound; and all the cool kids are friends with one.

The important point here is that in general Dachshunds are always alert, have perfect night vision, and can smell a fart in the sealed and pressurized cabin of an airplane 30,000 feet above them while standing in the mixing room of a perfume factory AND tell you what the person committing that felonious act of aerial flatulence ate for breakfast!

To say that the typical Dachshund makes for a superb watchdog is to dally in gross understatement, and this particular Dachshund, in addition to being a certified Teckel, also has somehow become convinced that he is a Pitt Bull in a Dachshund suit! 

This is all very important for you to know so that you understand just how skilled and clever these Ninja were to have fooled Calvin into believing that they were in fact my children and therefore entities to whom he feels a familial obligation not to rip their limbs off and eat them – they being members of his immediate pack as far as Calvin is concerned -- or at least the clever Ninja somehow managed to convince Calvin that this was so after he encountered them in the Restricted Zone.... 

I am utterly convinced that this must have been a crack team of Ninja – perhaps even the greatest Shinobi to ever emerge form the best Ninja University of Japan, because they simply could not have actually been my children – hell we cannot get them to wash dishes or make a sandwich for themselves, there is no way they were convinced to dedicate an entire weekend to secretly redecorating my man cave! I am just saying...

Ninja Team responsible for the redecoration you see behind them... Pictured are, from left to right, Ninja disguised as my son Peter, Ninja disguised as my daughter Autumn, Ninja disguised as my wife Yvonne, and totally fooled Dachshund Calvin, who is wearing his favorite costume from his favorite video game, and looking good doing it!
Bearing in mind that this crack team of Ninja interior designers somehow managed to pack up my entire work area, move the boxes into another room, paint all four walls, construct and deploy a rather attractive set of organizational structure in the form of IKEA's Expedit series of Entertainment Center organizational units, install all of the various and sundry audio/video kit along with the various gaming systems that includes an Xbox 360 slim, PS3, PS2, SNES, N64, GameCube, Wii, and populate the shelves with the wide selection of video games that makes up my game library, as well as the various items that I seriously consider my memorabilia collection but everyone else insists upon calling PEZ Dispensers...

 To accomplish this, in addition to packing everything up they somehow managed to destroy my old desk (they could not Ninja it out through the door without dismantling it since it was put together in the room after its much smaller boxes were carried through that door) -- along with the ancient and mismatched el-cheapo fiberboard shelves -- and remove them from the premises without tipping me off to their actions.  

OK, not tipping me off was probably the easiest part of this well-executed and super-secret plan to deliver on the promised Father's Day, Birthday, and Christmas gift all rolled up into one...  But still.

Where was I?

Oh yeah!  In the midst of experiencing this unexpected down-time I discovered that my thoughts naturally turned towards this very large selection of video games that I played in order to review them but that, naturally enough, I was not able to play completely or complete to my satisfaction due to the pressures of the sacred schedule...   I know this due to the fact that the games occupy a special shelf among the many shelves that make up my personal game library, a shelf that is theoretically designated the "I have not played that title fully to my satisfaction just yet which is why it is on this special shelf rather than being alphabetically filed among the rest of the games...  

Not only are these games physically separated from the other games, but I need only glance at the official Games Played List via Xbox LIVE and note the titles that have gaps in their Achievements unlocked listing to know which is which...  Oh come on!?  I cannot be the only one who judges game play completion based upon Achievements, right?  Right?!

I bet you have a list of games of that sort -- or if not a real list, properly written down, than at least a mental list, right?  Mind you my list goes back to 2008...  But here now enshrined for all to see (and constantly to shame me into doing something about it!) is my list of games that I need to finish playing:

    • Alan Wake (Last Played Jul '10 / 48 of 67 Ach)
    • Assassin's Creed (Last Played Jun '12 / 36 of 44 )
    • Assassin's Creed II (Last Played Jan '10 / 48 of 50 Ach)
    • Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (Last Played Dec '10 / 36 of 60 Ach)
    • Assassin's Creed: Revelations (Last Played Jan '12 / 45 of 69 Ach)
    • Batman: Arkham Asylum (Last Played Oct '09 / 31 of 47 Ach)
    • Batman: Arkham City (Last Played Dec '11 / 43 of 70 Ach)
    • BioShock (Last Played Sep '08 / 49 of 51 Ach)
    • BioShock 2 (Last Played Mar '10 / 31 of 68 Ach)
    • Bully: Scholarship Edition (Last Played Apr '08 / 36 of 38 Ach)
    • Call of Duty 4 (Last Played Jun '08 / 31 of 37 Ach)
    • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Last Played Aug '12 / 34 of 76 Ach)
    • Call of Juarez: The Cartel (Last Played Aug '11 / 42 of 50 Ach)
    • Civilization: Revolution (Last Played Nov '08 / 47 of 50 Ach)
    • Dead Island (Last Played Jul '12 / 41 of 58 Ach)
    • Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Last Played Sep '11 / 46 of 59 Ach)
    • Fallout: New Vegas (Last Played Oct '11 / 74 of 75 Ach)
    • Final Fantasy XIII-2 (Last Played Apr '12 / 27 of 31 Ach)
    • Forza Motorsport 2 (Last Played Nov '08 / 38 of 44 Ach)
    • Forza Motorsport 3 (Last Played Jun '12 / 48 of 50 Ach)
    • Forza Motorsport 4 (Last Played Aug '12 / 53 of 58 Ach)
    • The Godfather (Last Played Sep '08 / 56 of 58 Ach)
    • The Godfather II (Last Played Apr '09 / 40 of 41 Ach)
    • Grand Theft Auto IV (Last Played Nov '09 / 46 of 65 Ach)
    • Halo: CE Anniversary (Last Played Jan '12 / 36 of 55 Ach)
    • Halo 2 PC (Last Played Dec '11 / 1 of 41 Ach)*
    • LA Noire (Last Played Jul '11 / 59 of 60 Ach)
    • LotR: War in the North (Last Played Dec '11 / 25 of 46 Ach)
    • Mafia II (Last Played Aug '11 / 57 of 67 Ach)
    • Naughty Bear (Last Played Aug '11 / 13 of 66 Ach)**
    • The Orange Box (Last Played Jun '09 / 9 of 99 Ach)
    • Red Faction: Guerrilla (Last Played Oct '09 / 11 of 60 Ach)**
    • Risen 2 (Last Played Oct '12 / 53 of 56 Ach)
    • The Sims 3 (Last Played Jun '11 / 15 of 50 Ach)**
    • Skyrim (Last Played Jul '12 / 60 of 75 Ach)
    • The Witcher II (Last Played May '12 / 48 of 50 Ach)
      As a general rule these games can be neatly divided into two basic settings: titles with just a small handful of Achievements yet to be unlocked that require a complete second play-through at the highest difficulty setting or whose remaining Achievements are very complex and complicated and  require some dedicated game play, or are games that for whatever reason you did not have the chance to complete.  Either way each type requires significant time in play :)

      The games coded in green are of the former (being fully played titles with just a handful of Achievements remaining), and those coded in red being of the latter -- which is to say a game that was started but that, for a number of reasons had to be abandoned -- so resuming play will be almost like discovering them for the very first time!  Titles coded in Purple represent games that have received a significant amount of DLC expansion content since the game was played/finished and so have some newness to them to be discovered.

      The list and the color-coding  is mostly for my own reference, but I would be interested in hearing about your list of similar games and how many of the Green Coded titles you and I share...  Leave a comment listing which, right?

      Now if I use my free time wisely I should be able to knock one or two of these off of the list every month, right?  Of course that only helps if the Video Games industry stops making new games... But hey, one battle at a time!

      * This title was purchased purely for enjoyment / it is not a review or guide candidate.
      ** Title was originally played for review purposes on a different platform.