Saturday, November 28, 2009

Weekend Update

Here it is – and even on time: The Weekend Update. So, what will I be doing this weekend?

  • DVD to watch: “Torchwood” season 2
  • Book to read: nothing special planned
  • Game to play: “MCF: Dire Grove” and “The Sims 3”

It’s the first weekend of advent coming up. Christmas will be soon…

Friday, November 27, 2009

Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove

As I mentioned in the post about “Dracula The Un-Dead,” I’ve downloaded the newest “Mystery Case Files” game yesterday. I’ve been waiting for the newest game of the series for a while – since the end of “Return to Ravenhearst,” to be honest.

I’ll start with the bad news: I had to download new drivers for my graphics card, because I got kicked out twice by the game, claiming an access violation. Apart from that, I got kicked out a couple of times without any error messages, but those didn’t screw up my profile, the access violations did, forcing me to start over twice. On the other hand, I finished the game in less than 6 hours that way (earning an achievement for it), because I already knew most of the riddles.

What I like most about the newest instalments of the “Mystery Case Files,” though, is the change from pure hidden objects game into a mixture between hidden objects and adventure. Since “Return to Ravenhearst” there is an inventory with stuff to pick up (everything from a lighter to a ladder) and you move freely through a series of screens, picking up objects, solving riddles and finding hidden objects screens.

The graphics have been turned up for the new game, too. There’s so much snow floating through the scenes, you feel frozen simply by looking at the screen. The places look great – a lost village in the middle of a winter snow storm, a lot of snow, ice and frozen things.

But what is the story behind the snow and the ice?

Four missing students (who leave behind Blair-Witch-like videotapes) who went to Dire Grove to find out more about four Celtic relics. They learned the hard way that not all legends are just imagination – as will you, once you have to face down the banshee in the end.

The place you stumble into, the local bed and breakfast, is devoid of life – as is anywhere else in this area. The locals have packed up and left for the winter, the houses are locked or full of snow and ice. Apart from a couple of rabbits and squirrels, there’s nothing there to keep you company. Well, there is, four frozen students who are still alive despite the ice encasing them, and a banshee. But that’s not what I’d call ‘good company.’

I really like this new instalment of the “Mystery Case Files.” It was a good mixture between crime and horror and full of interesting things to do. Oh: and there was a Banshee. (I mentioned that already? Really? It was there, you know.)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Meet Countess Bathory

While looking through my older posts (and waiting for the newest “Mystery Case Files” game to download *add happy squeal here*), I realized I had mentioned the “Dracula” sequel, but never written a post about it. So here it is.

First of all I liked the idea of putting about twenty years between “Dracula” and the sequel. In the meantime, the world has changed (we’re in the 20th century) and so have the surviving characters from the original novel. Apart from Quincey Morris, who rarely features in the movies and dies at the end of the original novel, everyone is still around, even old van Helsing. The first thing the novel shows us, though, is that none of them came out unscathed. Dr. Seward has become a drug addict and a more or less professional vampire hunter. He’s obsessed with finding and killing all vampires – and with the memory of Lucy. He’s the first of the old characters we meet in the novel – and the first to fall prey to the new villain. Jonathan and Mina Harker are still married, but their marriage is anything other than happy. Mina, due to the blood she shared with Dracula, has not aged like a normal woman, she still looks young (and, as we learn later on, has an insatiable lust for sex). As a result of this, Jonathan has started to drink and keep away from her. In order to protect his son from the things he had to go through, he also has tried to bring him up very strictly, driving the young man away. Van Helsing is also still quite obsessed with vampires (though for other reasons) and lives like a hermit in a small room filled with books. His only contact to the outside world seems to be a delivery boy who comes by once a week with new supplies. Arthur Holmwood (Lucy’s fiancée) has married another woman, one he doesn’t love, for the simple continuity of his line. He blames the death of his beloved to the others of the group and has completely kept away from them (except, it later turns out, for Jack Seward).

But twenty years after the supposed demise of Dracula (and he’s not really killed in the novel, not the way all the others are), another evil rises its head: a new vampire, a female killer with a lust for women. Enter Elisabeth Bathory, a real historical character (like Dracula himself) and one of the few known female serial killers in history. (But as this is not a post about her – even though I might one day do one –, I’ll no longer talk about the historical character here.)

The first to meet the charming Countess of Blood is Jack Seward. He has gotten a tip he’ll find her in a mansion in Italy and only closely escapes her and her two aides (two women in white, one blonde, on dark-haired). But she gets to him in Paris, running him over with her coach (that has no driver, the countess controls the horses from within through her will alone). Quincey Harker is witness to this strange accident. Soon afterwards he learns about the big secret of his family through a letter Mina wrote in case she and the others fell victim to Dracula later on (they won’t, but that’s part of the story). He confronts his mother and storms out of the house, missing a last chance for a chat with his father – whom Elisabeth impales in Trafalgar Square not that much later.

The first murders bring out a character Stoker thought up, but never used, a Scotland Yard Inspector who investigated the “Jack the Ripper” murders around the time Dracula was last in London (the authors set the story a bit earlier than it is usually set, in 1888, at the height of the Ripper case. It also features Bram Stoker whom one of the group told the whole story and who made a book out of it, taking some liberties with the facts). The man suspects van Helsing (who is called to London by the group) to be behind the murders and follows him – which will, ultimately, also lead to his death. But neither van Helsing nor Dracula were the Ripper – Elisabeth was and she’s doing it again.

I will not recount the whole story here, but give you a few basics: Dracula isn’t dead, all of the characters from the original story will die (but not necessarily stay dead) and the end will open a chance for a sequel to the sequel.

What I liked about the book was the way it was written. Instead of returning to Stoker’s diary-style (which he only abandoned for “Lair of the White Worm” later on), the book is written in ‘normal’ prose and told from various points of view. Mostly, though, it is Quincey Harker’s point of view, as he is the central character, discovering the past and being in the middle of the current events. With this trick, the book is also quite readable and understandable for people who have not read “Dracula” (unlike me who did so several times in her life).

Elisabeth is a great villain, far more vicious and dangerous than Dracula ever was. And by adding her (mostly historical) background, the story gets even more interesting. In addition, there’s another villain hinted, one who took in and taught Elisabeth after her change (she is much younger, historically, than Vlad Dracula), one whom Dracula hates with all his heart.

The book is a deconstruction when it comes to the old characters, focusing on their flaws much more than on their heroic abilities. This gives them the depth they lack in the original novel, making them more understandable and, to a certain extent, more likeable than they were before.

I really advise you to give “Dracula The Un-Dead” a chance. It might not be a quick read – and some of it is quite bloody –, but it’s worth the time.


After a week of playing the new “The Sims 3” add-on, I can safely say that I like it very much.

The first two parts of the game also featured an add-on for travelling, but those were boring compared to the new one. You’re no longer just sending your Sims on a trip, but leading them through tombs and catacombs, finding treasures and meeting strange people wrapped in bandages (mummies? I haven’t seen any mummies … wait … oh, those are the wrapped-up people … silly me).

While ‘far away’ doesn’t necessarily apply to all vacation areas for me (I do live about one hour from the French border), the three new areas (China, France, Egypt) are interesting, well created and full of things to do and people to meet. The new areas fit with what you’d expect. The Chinese area is mountainous, green and filled with temples and other ‘historical’ sites. In France you have only slight rises, a lighter green and even a museum (with a crypt underneath). My favourite there is an old mansion you get to explore throughout a series of missions. In Egypt, there are no real hills (a few, serving as natural borders), you can visit the Sphinx and the pyramids, explore old graves and shop on a real bazaar.

There are mummies everywhere, though. In Egypt you’d expect them, but there are also some in France (underneath the Nectarium where you can make and buy nectar) and China (in the crypts underneath the Mouth of the Dragon). (Just for the record: there are mummies in China in reality, too. And they’re better preserved than the Egyptian kind.)

There are also new things to learn: taking photos with a real camera (not just the cell phone), creating nectar (the Sims equivalent of wine, since there’s no alcohol in the Sims world) or becoming a martial arts specialist.

By fulfilling missions for various people, you gain higher visa-levels, which means you can a) buy special stuff from one of the traders and b) stay longer. At the beginning, you can only stay in China, Egypt or France for three days, with the highest visa-level and a special permit you can buy, you can stay up to 18 days.

What I also liked much, is the possibility to create up to 5 cellar levels for a house. Before, it was only possible to create one cellar level (with a special trick, too). This means you can have up to nine storeys in a house now, four above ground and five below.

There are also some minor changes in game play on the whole, making some things a little easier (like emptying out a closet or bookshelf). And you can buy special displays for everything you bring back from the tombs, creating a museum of your own.

I really do like the new add-on and I’m currently on my way deep into the crypts below the Mouth of the Dragon (but I have to go to France first to get the right key-stone). I just hope I will be spared the Mummy’s Curse (because I don’t feel like a trip to Egypt to get rid of it).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Weekend Update

Here I am again, a little bit late, but not as late as last week. What can I say? Maybe “the first The Sims 3 Add-On came out this week.” Enough of an explanation? No? Well, it is for me.

  • DVD to watch: “Dexter” season 1
  • Book to read: nothing special
  • Game to play: “The Sims 3,” of course – Egypt, here I come!

It has been a nice weekend on the whole and I hope the next week will be okay as well.