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Re-Playing The Hobbit

This Saturday (September 22) was “Hobbit Day,” the shared birthday of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins.  I might not have noticed, but the marketing for the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey made a big deal out of it being “Tolkien Week,” releasing a new trailer and asking via their facebook page what people were doing to celebrate Hobbit Day.  Since it was a Saturday and I’m always up for a random reason to celebrate, (I once threw an elvish party on Orlando Bloom’s birthday, and an Australia-themed party on Australia Day which involved watching movies set down under), I decided to celebrate by eating second breakfast and playing the Vivendi Universal video game The Hobbit on Gamecube.

pic of video game cover

I may have slept in too late to have what could really be considered “second breakfast,” but it at least counted as “elevensies.”  And I did manage to play The Hobbit up to the “Riddles in the Dark” chapter, so I covered nearly as much ground as I predict the first film will.  Plus I was barefoot, so, it was a pretty good Hobbit Day.  Could have used more theme foods, but maybe next year I’ll have more time to prepare.

I was excited about re-playing The Hobbit because I remembered it fondly as my favorite video game, the first RPG that I played all the way through.  (I didn’t grow up with any gaming consoles, so until college I only played snippets at friends’ houses.)  In re-playing I discovered that it isn’t quite so perfect, but still very enjoyable, with the best video-game music I’d heard before I played Skyrim.  The game music for The Hobbit actually won “Best Original Soundtrack of the Year” in 2004.

The drawbacks to this game that I either forgot or didn’t recognize the first time I played include not having any maps to refer to, so if you stray from the courage-point-gemstone-led path it’s very easy to become lost for extended periods of time.  I guess Bilbo didn’t have a map for all of his burgling either, but I was jumping to a ledge so I could fight some goblins to get to the next save pedestal in a cave, and missed, sliding down the cave wall to a level below.  It took at least thirty minutes to find my way up again without a map or courage points leading the way.  It was extremely frustrating, and leads me to another drawback of this game-not enough save pedestals!  Maybe that’s just supposed to be part of the challenge, but you can’t save unless you’re at a save pedestal, and sometimes they are few and far between, meaning I had to keep re-killing the same goblins over and over and jumping up and down the same paths because I would die before I could reach the next save opportunity.  Also annoying is the fact that you can’t go back and re-play a level; when you get to the end of a level your stats tell you if you missed any chests, coins, or loot, but you can’t tell while you’re in the level if you’ve found them all or not and you can’t go back to re-play once you find out you’ve missed some.  (Maybe that is just another challenge and I’m too accustomed to relying on game hints).  Finally, the camera angles are super-irritating; they change in the middle of your movements and make it difficult to maneuver since the joystick direction depends on the camera angle.  If you’re in a corner it’s sometimes impossible to get the camera behind you to look ahead, and you have to sort of jump blind or at an awkward view and hope you don’t miss.

The things that I love about this game far outweigh the frustrations, (except in those moments where I am being defeated by some foe or falling off an edge, in which case I temporarily scream that it sucks, until I go back and vanquish the same foe or difficult jump and then I’m back to thinking it’s awesome.  So maybe I am not the most emotionally stable and rational person when I’m playing a game.)  I love that the tone is a light-hearted, yet at times dangerous adventure, just like the book.   The music does a lot to help set the tone, and as I’ve mentioned it is fantastic.  I love that part of the game is solving puzzles, sneaking around and “picking locks”, like a good Hobbit burglar.

picture of lock picking in game

To pick a lock in game, you have to hit the button as the moving pieces line up with the green. More difficult locks have more pieces to get right, and there is always a timer. Some locks are poisonous, and if you hit the button at the wrong time or run out of time your health suffers. Of course, those chests tend to have better loot.

I love that you can use your walking staff to sort of pole-vault into a long jump, and you don’t immediately drown if you hit the water.  (You can’t swim, but sometimes you can hop out or onto a rock if you’re fast enough.  If it’s too deep, you die rather gruesomely–poor Biblo struggles and then leans his head back, eyes closed, and opens his mouth when he drowns.)  I love that you can climb, up some cliffs if they have vines hanging, and you can hang on ledges by your fingertips and creep along them scooting one hand at a time while hanging.  I love that you get to use Sting as light in dark caves, and use the Ring to sneak invisibly past foes after you acquire it.  (The Ring has a time limit, which is good because otherwise the second half of the game would hardly be a challenge).  I love the choices in weapons–you start out with just your walking staff, but later acquire throwing rocks and the sword Sting.  The staff has a longer reach, Sting does more damage, and the rocks are a distance weapon.  Sometimes you can use flaming or freezing rocks for special attacks.

I’m currently at a stage in the game where I’m trying to sneak past and/or fight goblins, and it made me realize how differently I think of the same “type” of creatures within different stories.  In The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, goblins are the enemy, they’ll kill you if you don’t kill them.  But in the Harry Potter universe, goblins run the wizard bank Gringotts.  They have an uneasy history with wizards, but they aren’t goons grunting around in caves.  And in The Hobbit, there’s a whole company of heroic dwarves, while dwarves are hardly mentioned in Harry Potter.  There are several dwarves in The Chronicles of Narnia, but I don’t remember any goblins.  It’s funny how some fantasy elements are universals, but still re-defined in each story.

To give you an idea of what gameplay in The Hobbit looks like, here’s video of someone playing part of the first level, “An Unexpected Party.”  The music for this part in the Shire might be my favorite in the whole game.

I expect there will be new Hobbit video games made in the next few years to go along with the movies, but I think I’ll always prefer this version.  Despite the drawbacks, it’s truly a delight to play.

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This Is Why I’m Unproductive

So, the reasons I haven’t blogged in over a week are twofold: one, it was Christmas and I was out of town at various family gatherings.  Two, Skyrim.  Yes, I got Skyrim for Christmas, and it is just as good as everyone has been saying, so much fun and also completely addictive.  I mean I’ve been playing for hours and I really haven’t accomplished much of the main quest.  I haven’t even encountered any dragons besides the first one yet.  But it’s awesome.  It’s like a giant, immersive, choose-your-own-adventure book.

You get a printout of this map with the game. This can go up on my wall right next to my Maurader's Map.

You know, books and movies let you travel to and experience other universes and worlds, and as a kid (oh okay and totally as an adult, too), I liked to imagine I was in all my favorite book-worlds after I’d finish reading.  Narnia, Hogwarts, the American pioneer frontier, Middle Earth, outer space, fair Verona, a house with green gables, an Arabian palace, a London orphanage.  I would become enamored with the world the characters inhabited and want to have my own adventures there too.  That’s what is so compelling to me about Skyrim–there is so much freedom to choose the path your character takes, so many rich interactions, so many ways you can really almost live in the game.  Would you rather take the time to gather your own materials and make your armor and weapons, or do you want to collect gold and just buy them?  Do you steal, or do you only take what you can legitimately?  If you’re confronted, do you fight, talk, bribe, or persuade? Do you join the imperials or the rebels, or neither?  Do you stick to the paths or roam the countryside?  Take a bridge or swim?  (I love that you can swim!  It’s so annoying in video games when you can leap and wall-kick and somersault but water is instant death.)

My character is a Wood Elf named Sapling.  I decided she’s a vegetarian, since she has power to control animals and she would rather commune with nature than consume it if possible, so I make her eat a lot of cheeses and nuts and I sell any meat she acquires.  (But she totally killed a giant spider with a battle axe, which was awesome).  I was starting to worry that the game wasn’t going to let her be healthy without eating slabs of meat because other characters kept telling me I looked ill, even after I had rested.  Then I thought maybe it was because I was carrying too much, (I’m always teetering on the brink of “carrying too much to run,” partly because my wardrobe is gender-stereotypically overstocked.  I feel like I need one of everything, just in case, even though I know if I really need something for a particular quest I could always go get it.)  But sparse googling (I feel like it’s cheating to look up too much) tells me that maybe I have a disease and should take a curing potion or pray at a temple, so I’ll try that.

I kind of want to buy some elf-ears to wear while I’m playing.  I will almost definitely braid my hair like Sapling wears hers at some point.  I love that Col. Tigh (Michael Hogan) from Battlestar Galactica is one of the voice actors, (although that bastard tried to have me executed!)  I love the music.  I love that there are entire ballads about the history and heroics of Skyrim that you can request from minstrels at the Tavern.  I hate that archery is so hard, but I love that every time I die I get to try again.  (I die a lot.  I got attacked by these bandits and they killed me about 20 times in a row before I managed to defeat them.  They were such jerks!)

I’ll try not to let it take over my life.  I’m actually pretty proud of myself for not having played it yet today, (if you don’t count the hours after midnight that I was up playing it last night…), and I have lots of other things I want to do, things I want to read, things I’m in the middle of writing, movies I need to watch and analyze, craft projects I need to finish.  But one can only do so many things with each free evening.

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