Happy July 4th Old Man!

In the United States, this is a holiday weekend. At least as long as you were smart enough or at least able to take the Friday following the July 4th holiday off, which occurred on a Thursday this year.

July 4th is the time when we celebrate our independence from England. Sorry Chella, we like England and all, but if we never broke away we would all be speaking, well, English? Ok, but if we never became independent then we would be drinking tea. Well, ok, I do drink a lot of tea. But, we would all love soccer! And that is just not acceptable. So on July 4th we celebrate our independence from mother Soccer. Or England. Whatever.

The point is that there is a good chance that most people like myself are celebrating a long weekend. Well, except for the fact that The General wussed out on writing his column this week so I'm here doing a piece for the weekend. But I am sure The General is doing something important like getting beat up by cheerleaders or first graders or something. (See, when you don't write I get to make fun of you and you can't fight back. The infamous Ken learned this lesson the hard way.) By the way, you are ugly and smell bad. [Just kidding.]

Besides independence from mother Soccer, it also happens to be my birthday weekend. Turning the big 3-0 on July 6 was not too big a deal I thought. Then my friends got me a tombstone cake proclaiming that I was over the hill. I would have been offended except for all of them are older than me.

Ok, so what does this all have to do with computer games? Well, having free time this weekend I finally got to do something that is actually a bit of a rarity in my life. I was able to relax, sit back and actually play some computer games. And despite some minor drops over the past few weeks in the GiNDex, I am confident that the industry is in great shape.

I logged perhaps another 50 hours playing Bethesda Softworks' Morrowind, which I think puts me at 200 total and close to 1/5 of the way through the game. After upgrading my Matrox graphics card with new drivers – a painful process if there ever was one – the graphics look even better and more clear. I'm walking around Ald'Ruhn currently hoping for a sandstorm, because they look so cool now.

I also got to play several missions in the wonderful Warcraft III, and what an improvement a decade makes. I remember playing for hours back in 1994 with the original title and thinking at the time that gaming could not get better. It did. But then if you are reading this column you probably already know that. Anyway, Warcraft III has all the cool stuff I remember from the original including units saying silly things when you click on them like the human foot soldier yelling "don't ask, don't tell" when you touch him too much or the rifleman singing "don't shoot, shoot, shoot that thing at me," al la Violent Fems style.

The cut scenes in Warcraft III are simply amazing too, and when coupled with the ones from Diablo II, one wonders if that is the trait that Blizzard is trying to make their new trademark.

I also got to dabble in Age of Wonders II from Take 2, a turn-based strategy game whose only flaw is that it takes me hours to complete a single mission. Still, the graphics are some of the most beautiful I have seen, and I enjoy the strategic elements of the turn-based gameplay.

To top it all off, there is BioWare's Neverwinter Nights. It seems that switching from Interplay to Infogrames as publisher has not hurt the title, except for one little area. The promised feature of being able to import your Baldur's Gate II character into Neverwinter never happened. No big deal, but BGII has been sitting on my hard drive for years waiting for the big move.

Neverwinter Nights kept me up last night till four in the morning with its engaging storyline, with slight breaks to munch on cold hot dogs and potato salad leftover from a mini-cookout my wife and I had for ourselves. The gameplay is a bit slower than I am used too seeing in a real-time RTS, and if you want to have less trouble at the beginning of the game, take at least one level in Fighter. But I got by just fine and it was a heck of a lot of fun playing with the third edition rules on the computer.

This weekend let me remember why I got into the game industry in the first place. The ability to lose one's self in the game is simply amazing, and as quality increases this will only become all the more easy. I would make a poor rock star because I have no interest in drug or alcohol (other than an occasional glass or three of mead). My drug of choice is computer games, and getting a fix is easy.

If you are lucky enough to be free this weekend or any weekend, do yourself a favor and allot some time to play. It can be games your company makes, games other companies make or just something you think will be fun. It will be well worth your time. Lets not forget that computer games are first and foremost fun, and take time to smell some of the roses.

Now if you will excuse me, being an over-the-hill 30-year-old I apparently don't have much time left, and no fewer than five worlds need saving.

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