Tag Archives: entertainment

Call of Duty Double XP Weekend: A Rare and Bloody Treat

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When I text my wife and tell her that I can’t wait to come home and shoot people, she (usually) knows I mean I want to play “Call of Duty.”

I’m not very good. See, I don’t live in my parents’ basement, sans girlfriend, and live and breathe to prestige. I work, 45-plus hours a week, and I have a house and family with all the assorted encumbrances these things entail.

Still, when the evening grows late and after the kid is in bed, it’s nice to grab the ol’ Xbox controller, fire up the console and blast the hell out of some kids.

Call of Duty Black Ops 2 game image

Yee-ha!

It can be a frustrating and fruitless exercise. None of my “real life” friends play it, which is kind of odd given the popularity of the title, but my friends aren’t very hip about a lot of things, I guess. I die a lot. And I die in stupid ways. I fall off buildings and trip over claymores. I stumble across an approaching patrol of enemy players and lose my mind, trying to pepper them all in an ill-advised rain of fire that serves only to give each plenty of opportunity to fire a lethal shot at my skull.

But, I enjoy it. Every now and then, when I get the drop on someone who’s really good and they get soooo pissed that I killed them that they throw a tantrum on the opposite end of the audio feed, I just have to smile and call the evening a success.

This week, a new map pack dropped for the current title, “Call of Duty: Black Ops II.” There are not many game franchises that I follow, because 1) I don’t have much time and 2) they can be pretty expensive, because of adding shit like these map packs. I’ve already given you my $60 – don’t charge me again so I can run around on three or four new arenas.

That said, the new maps are actually pretty fun, especially “Cove,” which features a small desert isle-turned-battleground. It’s my own little Midway. It’s great.

In the weekend leading up to the dropping of the map pack, Call of Duty offered a “Double XP Weekend,” which is a really brilliant way to get players reengaged with the game. Let’s face it, running around and shooting people gets old after awhile, and giving people an incentive to drop your disc in the console after it’s been sitting on the shelf for a few weeks reminds them that it might be worth dropping a few more dollars to download the new maps.

Call of Duty Black Ops II medals

The medals you get when you prestige. See that one with the lightning bolt? Top row, second from the left? That’s the one I’m on now. See that one at the bottom right? Not gonna’ make it.

Now, I’ve “prestiged” only once before. To “prestige” (like I have to tell you if you’ve read this far), you basically reset yourself. As you play, you earn “XP,” or experience points, and “level up,” gaining a higher and higher rank and meaningless titles. I’m a brigadier general right now. Know that that means in the game? Not a damn thing. But as you level up, you unlock new weapons. And the better your armory, the better your chances of killing that little prick camping out in the corner and blasting you every time you walk through the door. (God, I hate that.)

Once you reach the top level, you can start over. This earns you “prestige.” Or it should; honestly, if you’ve earned the absolute top “prestige” rank, you’ve invested so much time in the game that most folks just feel really sorry for you. But, once you’ve reached the top, there’s not a whole lot of incentive to keep playing the game, either. So, either you “prestige,” or you move on to something else.

With the Double XP Weekend, I managed to make my way from ground zero up to level 42 of 55. Not bad. It took me a couple of months to make it to level 55 the first time, and about as long the second, when I first prestiged. But, Friday night, with Double XP Weekend upon me, I took a good, stiff drink of whisky (which I keep beside my own decanter set rather than having to sneak from my dad’s liquor cabinet like most of the other Call of Duty players) and prestiged again. Second prestige. Third time climbing the ladder. Another stiff drink.

Let’s do this shit.

You get extra points for headshots, for killing someone who’s hurting someone on your team (“Savior”), for killing someone who just killed someone on your team (“Avenger”), for killing a lot of people in a row (“Blood Thirsty”), for killing people in quick succession (“Double Kill” or “Triple Kill”), for stabbing someone in the back with a knife (“Backstabber”), for killing someone making a fatal mistake, like shooting someone while they’re falling off a building or aiming a rocket-propelled grenade at their feet and pulling a trigger (“Assisted Suicide”), and so forth.

On a Double XP Weekend, all that is doubled. Rather than 100 extra experience points, you pick up 200. For some of the big ones, like being the first person to kill somebody in a match (“First Blood”), you can pick up 1,000 points. That really helps you rank up pretty quick.

And this particular weekend, my obligations were few. I didn’t have anywhere I really had to go. The grass could wait a week before I mowed it. It didn’t take us more than a couple of hours to clean the house. The wife and kid weren’t terribly needy. So my opportunity to sit and kill loser teenagers over and over was pretty abundant.

Making the past weekend even better was that they allowed players to use one of the more popular maps exclusively.

Nuketown 2025

Nuketown 2025 — bringing war to the suburbs.

Typically, the maps rotate, and you can play on one no more than twice in a row, and even then only if a majority of the people who you’re playing with vote for it. But “Nuketown 2025” was available as an option to play over and over again all weekend, and that map is fantastic.

Nuketown 2025 is a made-to-scale museum piece of 1950s suburbia. It’s a cul de sac, with two houses set on opposite sides that you can run through, complete with garages and back yards. In the middle of the cul de sac is a bus, that you can’t go in, and a moving truck that you can. These provide cover and an obstacle for the house-to-house fighting in which you will engage. It’s a very fun – and very popular – map.

While they made the map available so you could play it to the exclusion of all the other maps, the powers that be decided they would not allow you to play one game on it exclusively. There are all matter of games you can choose to play in multiplayer, from the ever-tired “Team Deathmatch,” in which you are assigned a team and randomly pitted against another team and the one with the most kills wins, to “Demolition,” which requires a bit more strategy to seize and destroy a couple of pre-assigned points on the map.

Another game that I rather enjoy is “Domination.” Three points, marked by flags, are designated on the map. Your team must take and hold a majority of these points for a majority of the time. Points are awarded to each team based on how many points they hold and how long they hold them. For instance, if your team takes points A and B, you accrue two points while the other team, holding C, accrues only one. If you take all three – and hold them – you achieve “domination.”

On Nuketown 2025, two of the points are in the back yards of the two houses. Easy enough to hold and almost impossible to take, since the players “re-spawn” in the back yards – that is, when they die, they get dropped back in the game there almost immediately after death. And they’re not going to let you just sit down under their flag and take it for your team.

The point of contention for Domination in Nuketown 2025 is Point B, invariably located almost square in the middle of the map, just behind the open box truck in the cul de sac. The fighting around the point is frenetic. Grenades are thrown, buildings are strafed with fire, bombs are planted and the whole damned thing is just a disaster. It’s great. Really.

But this weekend, another player and I hatched a plan over our headsets. We changed up our weapons. He chose a light machine gun – a powerful but awkward and unwieldy weapon that is actually my usual weapon of choice; it has a lot of bullets, can be pretty accurate at a distance, and is pretty lethal at close range. I chose a shotgun firing a magnum slug. In close quarters, assuming I get you with my first shot and don’t have to pump it or reload it, you’re a goner.

Black Ops II Nuketown 2025

“Point B” is just behind the box truck in Nuketown 2025. Taking and holding it is the key to victory — and it’s bloody damn impossible.

First, we took B. That took an awful lot of dying, but we did it. Then, we charged into the back of the box truck. Near the bottom of the ramp off the back was the point we had to hold. To take it, one of their players would have to hold a position beneath the flag for several seconds – an impossibly long time when everyone around you is trying to kill you, and you’re faced with the prospect of being unable to move, lest you lose the point you’re trying to hold.

My new friend put his back to mine and covered the doors on either side of the back of the truck, including one that enabled him to plug anyone who came out of the enemy’s house or around through the side yard.

As for me, I just sat there with my shotgun and blew the shit out of anyone who tried to take my flag.

Now, one neat thing Call of Duty does in multiplayer is, for a second or two after you’ve killed someone on the opposing team, your audio and theirs are connected. Now, typically, through your headpiece you can only hear the conversation among the members of your team. But for a second after scoring a kill, you can hear the exasperation of the deceased and even offer your own auditory condolences.

So, as the other team tried over and over to take B, I sat with my slug-shooting shotgun and one-shot killed them, then screamed into my headset, “STAY THE FUCK OFF MY LAWN!” and “YOU DAMNED KIDS BETTER GET OFF MY PROPERTY!”

Oh, it was great fun!

However, now the weekend is over, and I am nigh too close to the top. I’m on level 44 of the 55 I need to reclaim my perch, and when you’re not very good, the climb is slow-going. Probably, by the time I get back to 55, the new “Call of Duty: Ghosts” will arrive in stores.

I sure hope it’s got a magnum slug-loaded shotgun and a box truck in it.

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That One Red Envelope that Leaves Me Conflicted

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Netflix

Why must you make me choose?!?

It’s something we’d discussed for a long time.

Subscribing to Netflix had been a spur-of-the-moment decision. We had just got our first laptop – a third-hand MacBook G4 – and set up a wireless network in our first apartment. The laptop was there, the ad came on the television for a free trial, and we were bored.

That was, of course, during the days when boredom was possible. We didn’t know how good we had it.

I became a voracious consumer of DVDs at first. Movies I hadn’t seen in a while, movies I’d always wanted to see, movies Netflix thought I should see – updating my que was a constant adventure. Oh, the wonder of getting that little e-mail letting me know my next title had been mailed, the sacred ceremony of unsealing the envelope, then slipping the just-watched disk back into its sleeve and peeling away the protective strip from the adhesive and readying it to go once more back into the post!

When streaming became available, I was smitten. I would sit in front of my old desktop Dell on nights when my wife worked and watch the documentaries and old black-and-white films that she hated.

Later, after we moved into our house, discovering that my new laptop had an HDMI port on the side was earth-shattering – now, we could hook this right up to the television in the living room and stream movies on the big screen! And then, finally, the streaming service came to the Wii – first, you had to use a special disk, and then later with an application installed on the entertainment system.

But, through the construction of the house, Ashley’s pregnancy and then being alone rather often with a newborn/infant/toddler, use of Netflix waned. Several times, with bills getting tight, we contemplated cancelling our account. We scaled back the number of disks we could have out at a time, from three to one, and now we face still another cut.

Netflix has raised their prices.

A jump from roughly $10 a month to $16 a month seems slight, even if it is a 60 percent increase. And the reasoning behind it is clear – because they can.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Netflix would make more money if they actually stuck with ‘flix on the Net. In other words, if they didn’t have to pay to keep up with and mail all those disks, their overhead would plummet and their margins would soar. Possibly, more money in pocket would put them in a better negotiating position with studios, which could bring more content to their streaming service faster.

I’m for it, but I still don’t trust it. Comcast – my cable company upon whose wires I am uploading this blog – is acquiring NBC and a handful of cable channels with it. That’s a big deal. And they have exclusive rights – along with other cable and satellite providers – to show movies on pay-per-view before they get to go on Netflix’s streaming service. So, anything that’s just out is another $5 I have to pay to see it on top of what I’m already paying to not watch Netflix.

It’s agony. On one hand, it’s an absurd expense, small though it is. Just $16 a month, but for a service I use infrequently. But also, there’s the comfort of knowing it’s there. There’s the dream that I’ll one day be able to come in from work, eat a little something, and settle in to watch a movie. Hasn’t happened in the past three years, with the wife working until after 7 p.m. (or getting to work by 7 p.m.) and a kid who’s more entertained chasing me around the house than by watching that movie I’ve been wanting to see.

There is a cost/benefit ratio that applies to entertainment. How long will I be entertained relative to how long I worked to earn the money that is buying that entertainment? Will the intensity and duration of the entertainment be worth the cost of the ticket? Am I purchasing an experience or trying to kill time that would be better spent elsewhere?

Ten bucks a month is worth the cost of admission, to have something on hand that will show me television shows and movies and things, especially now that my daughter is getting old enough to enjoy watching them.

But is $6 a month worth what I must pay, if not to watch a movie, for the comfort of having that red envelope waiting for me atop the DVD player, ever patient, for days or weeks or, hell, months, until I have the opportunity to settle in and watch it?

The reason I may scale-back (or cancel) my Netflix membership will likely not be because they hiked prices, but because they’re forcing me to make the decision at all.