I've only ever bought one computer game on release day. That was Half-Life 2; I was working at the Social Security office at the time, and on that cold November day I used my lunch break to go to a game store and buy a copy. Full price. It sat in my bag all afternoon, and when I got home I couldn't play it because the then-new Steam service used to authenticate it had fallen over under the astoundingly huge demand. That game was POPULAR, in a big way. The next day, the load was less, and I was able to play, and the sheer beauty of the game, even on a video card which fell between "minimum" and "recommended" specs (and which, unlike the rest of its line, was unable to cope with the most advanced bling-mapping used then) blew me away. Combined with the most believable NPCs I'd ever seen in a computer game, the effect was almost complete immersion. I was reacting as Gordon Freeman, and the fact that I physically resembled his canonical appearance (goatee, glasses, and according to the first Half-Life a ponytail) was icing on the cake. In time, that particular install of Windows went irretrievably south, and I still hadn't finished the game. It had, however, been a wonderful experience up until then.
Roughly seven years later, I wondered why I'd picked up a dislike of Steam's conditions in the years between my losing my ability to use it and then. I checked, but found nothing more objectionable than most EULAs, and many terms more generous than that. So, I logged in once more (having astoundingly remembered the password to a service I wasn't using for a good long while!) and found that I'd lost my progress. The current version of Steam is exceedingly friendly; I not only have access to my games from any computer capable of running them, I have my preferred control setup, my saved games, and so on, backed up transparently to "the cloud", which is to say a space on Steam's servers. I could, if I so desired, go to any computer running Steam, log in, and play any of the games I own starting from any saved point within them. This wasn't available in roughly 2005 when I stopped using Steam.
Thanks to the generosity of friends, I was given gift copies (another new feature since I stopped using Steam) of Portal, an excellent puzzle game, and Half-Life 2 Episode 1, the abbreviated follow-up to Half-Life 2. I actually finished Half-Life 2 (for the first time!) prior to starting Episode 1; I wanted to follow the story. Around October, Portal 2 became available at half-price for a short while, and the LA and I (having both gotten Portal for free, by various legitimate means) decided to purchase a copy each. That put me back in the ranks of "people who own a game released in the current calendar year", a situation I last experienced in 2004.
And, recently, as part of a sale, Half-Life 2 Episode 2 went half-price. This is the second short sequel to Half-Life 2, and is distinctly improved over Episode 1 insofar as the difficulty curve is better judged, and the environments are less recycled-feeling. It's also introduced a new enemy type, and this enemy type does horrible things to the player's view of the screen. When its characteristic "warning" hits, the screen area narrows down into tunnel vision, colours are somewhat distorted, and there's a distinct faint noise. Somebody at the development studio has low blood pressure; the effects of the Advisor's psychic warning are almost exactly those of a blood pressure crash. I'm very impressed by the realism shown here, and at the point in the game I've reached I can't help but feel that Gordon Freeman must be nursing a very severe headache; it's hit him quite a lot.
In other recent news, I've been given a date for my oath ceremony; on December 14th, four years and one day after I landed in Los Angeles, I shall become a US citizen. I really did hit the fast track. Also, yesterday saw a follow-up appointment with my doctor regarding the x-rays of my lower limbs he recently ordered; it turns out, despite my having had painful ankles since I was about 10, they're fine; despite my knees being painful since my late teens, they're fine; it's my hips, which only really started hurting in my mid-20s, which are arthritic. I wasn't really surprised by the diagnosis; although the blood factors are only elevated normal, the extent and persistence of the pain indicated pretty clearly that there was damage, and it's something of a relief to have that confirmed. There are many good options for managing arthritis, and we're starting with the ones that have fewest long-term ill effects on the rest of my body, since I'm only in my early 30s. There's no cure for arthritis, and little prospect of such a thing ever being discovered, so I shall be living with it for a long time. I just hope the next set of hip x-rays is a long while away; I shall be learning from last time next time I need them done, and taking with me a designated driver and some powerful painkillers. It turns out that arthritic hips really don't like being placed in the positions needed for a good hip x-ray; for a couple of days afterwards, I was barely able to walk, and that only with the assistance of a cane and synthetic opiates.
It's been quite busy of late, all in all. I'm hoping for a slowdown, but doubting its likelihood.