Smile and Nod

Smile and Nod: Oblivion, and the Second Chance

Russ Pitts | 17 Mar 2008 21:00
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Sometimes you get a second chance at happiness. Not often, and I wouldn't suggest you go around expecting it unless you're prepared for the laborious process of rebuilding your ego with careful applications of alcohol and one-night stands, like re-inflating a used car dealership's giant gorilla with a bicycle pump. But if you stay on target - for just a few more seconds - every once in a while, what was once wrong will become right. And that will be a joyous day.

This weekend I was given the gift of a second chance with one of the best games I've ever played. To get that chance, all I had to do was fire up one of the most frustrating games I've ever played and hope against all hope it had turned things around, cleaned itself up and turned over a new leaf; that the problems it and I had were things of the past and that I'd discover a whole new game underneath the old, a game that'd been waiting there all along, but had gotten lost somewhere along the way.

I didn't think it likely. After all, when you go back to the one you've left, even if it's put on a new suit, it's still the one you left. It's hard to forget the sleepless nights, the betrayals and the heartache. Turning over a new leaf, in other words, is hard when that little leaf is buried under a mountain of emotional baggage. But I gave it a shot this weekend and fired up Oblivion. My brother told me to, and while I don't always do what he tells me, I never pass up a chance to blame him for my misery. Best case: I'd actually enjoy myself. But if all else failed, I thought, I'd have a miserable time with the game and get to berate him for it later. This is called a win-win.

My problems with Oblivion stared a few weeks after it came out, when I'd gotten an Xbox 360 as a gift and picked up that game to revel in its next-gen awesomeness. Since my 360 was a gift, however, I was subject to the whims of the gift-giver and the availability of new hardware, which, in this particular case, meant receiving a hard-drive-less version of the console and the promise of an add-on hard drive at some later date. So my first few weeks with the machine were spent without the hard drive. Which meant my first experience playing Oblivion, arguably the most sought-after Xbox 360 release title, was of playing it without the benefit of hard drive caching. In other words: it sucked.

For those with no idea what that means, a quote from the makers of the game:

[blockquote] Oblivion uses the Xbox 360 hard drive extensively to cache (copy and reuse) game data. This is done to optimize all loading the game does.
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By "optimize all the loading the game does" they mean "make the game playable." Trust em, without this handy feature, it's not. I know. I tried.

Imagine playing the best game you've ever experienced and having to pause for 2-20 seconds every half minute or so while the game loads something from disc. I wish I were exaggerating. It's like trying to watch a movie in a theater in Ohio while the film's individual reels are delivered by courier, one at a time, from Los Angeles. On my evenings with Oblivion, I spent more time reading, playing crossword puzzles and doing my taxes than I spent playing the game. I created a sort of ad-hoc drinking game; every time a load screen came up, I'd take a drink. I remember little of these sessions.

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