Horizon Zero Dawn

I don’t know if I can say something about this game that would do it justice.  I didn’t even know it existed until I happened to see some comparisons between it and other games that were released around the same time (and the answer to ‘which should you buy’ is ‘why not all of them?’), but then I saw the main character was a female with a bow who primarily uses stealth and I was like “well… I guess it was made for me.”  I suppose we have Katniss Everdeen to thank for the “badass female with a bow” trope becoming more popular lately but as someone who always picks the archer when it’s available (even when it suuuuuccckkkksss), I’m pretty excited about this trend.

If someone were to take all of my favourite games and blend them together, the result would probably be something similar to Horizon Zero Dawn (HZD).  Post apocalyptic, stealth elements and tactical combat, collections and crafting, good dialogue and interesting characters, a plot that holds a lot of mystery and doesn’t let you down with the reveals… all it’s missing is terraformable terrain and economics systems to hit pretty much every one of my favourite games, so it’s probably not surprising that I loved it.

I had expressed some interest in it after reading a little bit about it, and I happened to be sick and confined to the couch, so my husband brought it home for me.  I spent the next 2.5 days piling tissues around the couch and binging through HZD until my wrists hurt from holding the controller.  My husband watched the first couple of quests and then decided he would play it after me, and it was brutal to not be able to talk about the plot points as I went through it (I had to settle for repeating “Oh my god it’s so good…” and he kept repeating “Well hurry up and finish it so I can play it, then.”).  He’s playing through it now, but he’s on very hard difficulty and dallying around doing all the side quests so it’s going to take forever *shake fist*.

For those who like a challenge, the combat offers plenty of ways to be creative.  I had it set to the easiest (“tell me a story”) mode, so I spent the majority of the game sneaking around being a backstabbing goddess of invulnerability… but even on the easiest setting I had to use tactics, set traps, duck into cover, and learn the weak spots of the enemies in order to expose their weaknesses and go in for a critical hit.  Being on easy mode meant I could be sloppy and just be like “fuck it” and flail away when things went wrong.  My husband is playing on very hard and when things go wrong it means he is swiftly dismembered and gets to start the sequence over againI expect a lot of cursing on some of the later bosses.

What did I like about HZD (besides everything?):  It’s got pretty standard open world gameplay (go to places, unlock travel points, collect plants, find quests, clean out the map of points of interest) but the world itself is interesting to explore.  You start out as an outcast, which is a well-done version of putting the player inside of a protagonist who doesn’t know much about the world, in order to learn along with them (not facepalm inducing like ‘amnesia’).  The main plot point is Aloy trying to figure out why she was outcast as an infant, so she works her butt off to earn a way back into the tribe and get some answers.  As a player, you’re just as invested in discovering those answers as she is, and the writers did a fantastic job.  The world feels real.

What really won me over was the writing, by far.  I loved the story and I’m still thinking about it a week later.  I went onto the wiki and re-read all the data points.  The plot zags when you expect a zig, and even though some elements may play out the way you expect, there are enough flourishes that it will still surprise you.  As the ending sequences played out I was watching it and trying to rank it against my favourite games of all time, and I was sitting there thinking “It’s REALLY REALLY good, but it hasn’t really made me cry yet, so I don’t know if I wou—… … … fffffffffffffffffffff okay I’m misting up now.”
I think my “story enjoyment” final ranking would be just above Mass Effect, but not quite to the level of Last Of Us.

So we’ve established that I love the game.  How about Criticisms?  I really only have one, but it’s kind of a big one.  The game spends a lot of time hyping up its strong female characters.  I have no problem with that—more games need to have badass, yet realistic females that have more depth to them than just their badassery.  When I think back across the characters you meet, though, I can’t think of a single male character who isn’t pathetic in some way.
The ironic thing is I can’t tell if it’s intentional or not.  The cast of characters includes (I presume quite deliberately) a hugely diverse cast of races and cultures, and yet every single accomplished character is female.  Every named male in the game is either a failure, or outright evil.  Many of the males who are failures need females to solve the messes they’ve made.  Many of the males who are outright evil are thwarted by females, and solely females.  Even among the scientists, the ones with the most screentime and the most showcased roles are females, except for the one who programs the questionable content, who is, of course, male.  Avad seems to be a strong male character on the surface, until you dig deeper into his story and find he’s actually obsessed with his (female) Military Captain.  That’s a pretty minor character point in the grand scheme, but if you were to apply some sort of reverse Bechdel test to the game, it would go back to a fail right there.  Meanwhile, there is precisely one female in the game I can think of off the top of my head who could be considered pathetic or evil… and it’s made abundantly clear that she’s just misguided and following her own values.  And even she comes around in the end.

I’m not sure if I would call it misandry, and I’m certainly not certain if I would call it intentional misandry, but it’s skirting a line that I think needs to be balanced a bit more.  It is ENTIRELY possible (if not preferred) to have a strong female protagonist without shitting all over males while you do it.  The whole “mother earth” theme is pretty strong throughout the game, so maybe it’s intentional, but if “males ruin earth, females save earth” is intentional subtext, that’s pretty lame, to be honest.  I’m hoping any sequels, should there happen to be some, will rectify the imbalance by continuing the trend of badass females but also mixing in badass males to balance them, along with some pathetic evil females to balance out the pathetic evil males.

That niggling detail aside… I love this game.  Once again I lament the existence of exclusivity contracts.  Everyone should have access to this game on whatever platform they choose, because it is a masterpiece of storytelling that needs to be experienced.

 

Dark Souls I and II

We spent probably close to 200 hours obsessively playing the first two Dark Souls games this month, and now I feel like I should tell you about it.  Normally I try not to bother writing about mainstream games (unless there’s something to bitch about), but I misunderstood the Dark Souls games and now I feel like I should try to ensure no one else makes the same mistakes.

I bought Dark Souls I a looooong time ago, when it first came out on Steam.  I spent a fair amount of time fighting what I called ‘the first boss’, which was getting GFWL to fucking work.  Once I got past that ‘boss’, I spent a fair amount of time on ‘the second boss’, which was getting the actual game to work by installing player made patches to fix all the bits and pieces that the people who ported the game over from console didn’t bother to do.  (The second ‘boss’ was much easier than the first ‘boss’.  Fuck GFWL.)  Then I ultimately died to ‘the third boss’, which was getting the controls to work.  There were TOO MANY BUTTONS and I kept swapping shit when I didn’t need to and jumping backward when I didn’t want to and… it was hard :(.  I was so exhausted from fighting the first and second ‘bosses’ that I didn’t get very far with the third ‘boss’, and I didn’t get very far into the game before wandering off.

My second attempt at Dark Souls went much better.  I made it all the way to the actual second boss of the game and spent some time dicking around trying to farm up souls and get some items before trying to actually fight it.  Which is about when GFWL took a big steaming shit and the game stopped working entirely.  Frustrated, I uninstalled the game and put it in a Steam category labelled “Broken because of GFWL >:(“.  It remained there for years.

Then they talked about GFWL shutting down and removing it from games that were fucked by it and my ears perked up.  And then they decided not to do that and I sighed dramatically and closed the “Broken because of GFWL >:(” category again (which was starting to collect more and more titles…).

Then I discovered that they had FINALLY.  FINALLY. actually properly removed GFWL from the game and I reinstalled it.  My husband reinstalled it at the same time (he had gotten much further than I did, but didn’t actually finish it).  THIS time the game worked beautifully, all the online integration was smooth, I still had to install the fan patches to make the graphics pretty but that was all smooth sailing as well, and because I didn’t waste 20 hours getting the fucking thing working, I was able to finally commit the controls to muscle memory.

And then we binged.  We binged so much that my forearms got sore from holding my shield block button.  And then the Christmas sale happened and we bought Dark Souls II, which my husband had actually already bought, but now it had the Scholar of the First Sin version which was all updated and shit so he upgraded to that too.  We completed Dark Souls and jumped straight into Dark Souls II.  And we binged.  Like seriously, my wrists are probably fucked from holding this controller, now.  But we “finished” the game, in that we completed the main story but there’s probably another 30 hours of DLC for us to go through still.  We are now very much looking forward to Dark Souls III, and we’re super pissed that Bloodborne is not coming to PC.  We cannot co-op when it’s on a console (unless we buy two PS4’s, I guess, buuuuuuut…), and the co-op together is what launched the games from “really good” to “fucking amazing”, so there’s not even any real point for us to buy it.  Shitty.

We had a really good combo going, for both games.  I went super-knight, with high melee and armor, and my husband went super-caster.  I was all “fuck magic” (mostly because I didn’t want to have to swap another button around…) and he was all casty explody.  So we’d team up for bosses, I’d piss them off, and he’d blow them up.  It was very effective.  On bosses that were difficult to melee, I’d just dodge the entire fight and try to keep it distracted away from him.  On bosses that were resistant to magic, I’d beat the shit out of them while he mostly tried to stay alive.  Good times.  Without the co-op I’m not sure how far I would have made it into the game.  The boss fights were challenging, but knowing you could team up and make it easier made even a hopeless fight seem worth tackling.  We only really stalled out on a couple of the bosses, and mostly optional ones that we tackled before we were really ready (we abandoned one of the DLC bosses in Scholar, which we DEFINITELY were not ready for.  But at least now that we’re at the end of the game we can just port straight to it and give it another whirl).

Dark Souls has a reputation of being incredibly difficult and frustrating, and I think it’s been misconstrued.  It’s challenging for sure, and the co-op helped a lot with that, but I was MUCH more frustrated with Diablo 3 than I was with Dark Souls at any point.  In Diablo 3 I was continually getting fucked by randomness that I had absolutely no control over (wrong kind of rift that you have no chance of winning?  Welp lose that keystone I guess).  Nothing felt random in Dark Souls, and I was far less frustrated as a result.  I died a lot, but I could always see exactly why, and learn from it, and then come back and try again.  It was kind of interesting because I am far more patient than my husband, so I was willing to creep forward and scout, and wait out the enemies to attack them, and I ended up doing far better in combat than he did.  But he was far better at memorizing the layouts of the levels, so I’d focus on the monsters and traps and whatnot I was dealing with and then get turned around and be annoyed because I couldn’t figure out where to go next, and he’d zip through the level and forget that there’s a monster around that cor—oops you died.  In some of the particularly terrible twisty layouts (Sen’s fortress, or Blighttown with the god awful toxic shit) we’d just co-op to make the exploration smoother.  I’d deal with the monsters and he’d guide me through the place so I didn’t get lost.

At first it seems super punishing because you lose all your collected souls (which are used as experience and currency) when you die, but you only lose them if you cannot collect them again.  In reality, you really only truly lost the souls if you were reckless.  I found it very easy to position myself so that if something went wrong, retrieval would be easy.  And often I didn’t even care.  You quickly progress to a point where the majority of your souls will come from boss fights and victories, and any you manage to preserve on the route there are just a bonus.  My husband referred to it as “exploration mode” and “farming mode”.  When you first bust into a new area and you have no bonfires lit, you’re in exploration mode and don’t even bother worrying about the soul counter.  Once you have them all lit, you can clear it out a few times and build some levels if you want.

One of the things I was really hesitant about when I started the game was the PvP aspect.  Other players can invade you and kill you.  But they can only do that if you are human.  The only time this was an issue was in a certain area we were trying to co-op in (you must be human to summon your buddy, which leaves you open to attack).  Also, it’s not even such a big deal if you die in pvp.  You don’t lose anything except a few minutes of time to run back to retrieve your corpse, and once they hit you once you’re no longer human, so you can’t be hit repeatedly.  Unless you’re trying to summon your friend in a high pvp area… then it’s pretty irritating.

The summoning your friend aspect could really have been smoothed out, though.  We had a LOT of issues with it in Dark Souls I.  We’d sometimes have to reboot the game a few times to try to end up in the same invisible ‘lobby’ to be able to see each other’s summon signs, and sometimes it was frustrating to get it working at all (ok I was wrong, Dark Souls did frustrate me quite a bit… but it wasn’t the god damn gameplay that did it :P).  Also, once you kill a boss, you cannot summon each other anymore, which meant we screwed ourselves out of co-op on a couple of exploration areas by doing things out of order, which sucked.  I really wish they had made it smoother and let you summon your friends preferentially, especially now that it’s integrated into Steam.

Dark Souls II DID improve the summoning aspect.  I was worried at first because they tightened the summoning restrictions.  In the first game you must be within a certain percentage of each other level-wise (usually ~15 levels worth).  In the second, you must be within 10 levels and a certain ‘soul memory’, AND they added restrictions for how long another player can be in your game, solidifying the “I’m just here to help with the boss” aspect and making it less of a co-op exploration experience (although you can now summon each other at any time, even if the boss is dead… so they both tightened and loosened that restriction).  But then they added a nifty little ring that lets you choose a god, and then you can summon anyone nearby who has chosen that god regardless of requirements (and also prevent people who have not chosen them from picking you up randomly, which was far more of an issue in II than it was in I, due to much higher player counts I suppose).  The ring made coordination MUCH easier, and the lobby problem seemed to be resolved in II as well.  The only issue we ever had summoning each other in II was the day the servers crapped out, which we finally figured out when we realized we weren’t seeing messages anymore either.  It could still be done a lot nicer, but at least they made it less horrible to summon each other.

The other thing I really disliked when I first went into II was that it seemed to punish you for dying.  This is DARK SOULS dammit.  Why the fuck would you punish the player for DYING??  In II, when you die you lose a % of your health pool permanently, and on top of that, the monsters can be permanently killed.  In the first game you always had the option of just going back and farming an area to regain the souls you lost.  In II, you could kill monsters, take their souls, and then die and lose them with no way to get those souls back.  They would leave your game forever if you failed to retrieve them.  This was stressful to me.

BUT.  As before, it ended up being not nearly as bad as I imagined.  Just like in the first game, the majority of your souls come from bosses, not farming.  Being able to perma-clear an area actually ended up being a really NICE feature because you could spend 10 minutes clearing out that annoying asshole monster that fucks you every time, and then never have to deal with it again for the rest of your playthrough, which could be a strategy for clearing out a tough combo in an area.  And the health thing was a non-issue, because we were playing co-op.  Going human or helping another player restores your health pool completely.  It was less of a punishment for dying, and more of an encouragement to step out of a solo game and help other players.  Even if you hate playing with others, the humanity restoring items were everywhere, and you can burn them to prevent people from invading you if you were super worried about that.

The Dark Souls games are unique, which is a difficult thing to claim nowadays.  There have been a few attempts at copying it (all of which my husband has jumped upon, and then quickly abandoned), but they utterly fail at capturing the magic.  Also the games are GORGEOUS.  Even in the first game which has kind of shoddy graphics, there are plenty of places you just look around and go “Wow.”  The second is even better.  And what I’ve seen of Bloodborne is incredible (too bad I can’t play it >:(.  Fuckers.)  They really accomplish something with their graphics and I am impressed.

Very excited to require wrist surgery once Dark Souls III comes out.

Xenoblade Chronicles X (First Impressions)

It seems a little silly to say “First Impressions” when I’m 50 hours and 10 chapters in, but this is Xenoblade so all my work thus far means I am finally allowed to start the story.

You may remember, or you may bother to scroll back far enough through my blog entries to notice, that I really really really fucking loved Xenoblade for the Wii.  One of my top games of all time, primarily because the story blew my mind.  I loved the characters, I loved the world, and the gameplay was merely okay but it was still cool.  The ending.  So good.  So naturally Xenoblade Chronicles X was a day 1 purchase.  I bought a Wii U almost solely for this game (also Mario but that’s a given).

Xenoblade X is… disappointing so far.  It’s still got a lot of potential and I’m eager to actually get this story rolling because they have me intrigued, but god damn can we get on with this already?  I’ve been playing for 50 hours and I’ve only really advanced the story once.  The rest has been what is essentially a tutorial.  That said, there are SO MANY FUCKING MECHANICS in this game that you NEED 50 hours of tutorial to get acquainted with all of them.  Is that a good thing?  … depends.  If you’re super into customization and tinkering with optimizations then you’ll like the systems at play here.  My husband finally gave in and abandoned Fallout 4 to start playing after watching me upgrading a million billion different things to optimize my team.  He loves that sort of shit.  If you’re just in it for the story, then I hope you’re patient.  I’m patient but this is really starting to test my limits.

The game feels like it is trying VERY VERY HARD to be a single player MMO.  If you enjoy MMO style gameplay and exploration, that might even be a good thing, but if you don’t enjoy MMO style dragging out of story and objectives… weelllll…

It’s even got online components.  Sort of.  You join a division and then certain tasks contribute toward your division getting points, and then everyone in that division gets goodies.  Not exciting goodies, but goodies.  And you feel kind of like you’re part of something, I guess.  You can also hire other player’s characters to join your party and come help you with stuff, and next time they log in they’ll have goodies waiting for them from that, too.  There’s also chat and achievement announcements and stuff but the very instant it popped up on my screen I fled to the settings panel and shut all of that shit down because fuck that.  Who the hell thought that was a good idea.

The problem is, almost nothing happens for 50 hours.  The game starts, the story is literally nothing but “Earth was destroyed and we’re on Mira now.  Go learn about Mira.”  You run around and explore shit (and the world is FANTASTIC to explore, with big epic creatures wandering around and cool formations and stuff), you learn about the factions within what remains of humanity, you find some cool stuff on the planet… annnnd nothing really groundbreaking happens. There’s a little blip of coolness in Chapter 5 that ups the ante a bit, but you need to get to Chapter 8 before shit starts happening, which is somewhere around 30 hours in.  I burned myself out on side quests in the first Xenoblade so in this one I skipped them all and rushed to unlock the story quests, wanting to dig into the story before I exhausted myself this time.  Turns out if you’re not level ~35 by Chapter 9 you get your ass handed to you repeatedly for an hour before you go hire a max level player to clear it for you (*ahem*.  Not that I speak from experience or anything.)  Now I’m kind of stuck.  I’ve almost unlocked the next chapter, but… maybe I should level a bit more first?  But… ugh.

See, the problem is, and this is fucking stupid: Once you take an affinity or story mission, you cannot take another one.  You’re stuck on that quest until it’s done.  And you cannot drop it.  I learned this the hard way early on when I took an affinity mission that led to a continent I had not explored yet (and therefore did not have a travel point to).  At a certain point in the game you get flying which would make travel there simple, but I was pretty far from that, so I looked up how to get there the old fashioned way.  Turned out the answer was to spend 40 minutes swimming across the ocean, and then run past a whole bunch of level 50 monsters until I got to my level 20 quest zone.  It was pretty awful.  But hey at least the game has auto-run?  :/

There are many questionable design decisions like that in this game.  Things that unlock before you’re ready for them are somewhat forgivable, but locking you into them is kind of shitty.  Even more shitty is the lack of options for sound and music volume.  If you read any review on the internet they’ll have mentioned this already, but, the music volume is really loud, and the music often contains spoken lyrics that are sung at the same volume as the characters who are speaking in a cutscene.  Fuck off.  NO music volume slider?  Really?  And then some of the music tracks are simply unbearable.  I will tolerate pretty much every kind of music except rap, and there are (at least) two rap-like tracks in the game.  One is the track that plays the entire time you’re in the main city which is a significant chunk of the game.  The other is the ground-combat track.  Which is a significant chunk of the game.  And they wouldn’t even be bad tracks if it weren’t for the inclusion of lyrics for god knows what reason.  WHY would you include lyrics.  You can listen to instrumental music for hours on end and barely notice anything but atmosphere, but if I hear that fucker singing “ON A WHOOOOLLE DIF-RENT PLAN-ET” during combat one more fucking time… at least the city track is just an irritating series of grunts and moans that you can largely ignore, even though you may be doing it with your face in your palm.  “YEAH YEAH.  HONH HONH.” I’ve turned the volume on my TV down to almost nothing, which really sucks because the REST of the music is absolutely phenomenal.  Although, there is also a different track when your Skell takes flight, which overrides whatever music is playing in your current zone (so needless to say, once I unlocked flying I started flying everywhere in town – but I probably would have done that anyway because flying), BUT, when you land on the ground it goes back to the zone track.  So if you do a lot of hopping around it’s actually really fucking annoying.

In summary: the sound designers for Monolith need to be fired for their monumentally bad decision making.

But ALSO.  I HATE the party management in this game.  HATE it.  You can have 4 peoples in your party at a time.  Certain quests require you to have certain people with you.  Certain quests require certain people to be with you and like you.  You can boot people out of your party at any time, that’s not an issue.  The issue is getting the fuckers back into your party.  As soon as they leave your party they fuck off to their preferred locations in town and you can go there to ask them to join you again.  The little tablet screen gives you a checkmark to let you know where they hang out, BUT there are plenty of other things putting checkmarks around which mean you have to click on the checks to see which are for characters.  AND, completing segments in town can trump the checkmarks and you’ll no longer know which symbols hide character locations.  AND.  Even when you can see the checkmark, the character location changes based on time of day.  AND if you’ve unlocked certain events, they’ll fuck off to somewhere new and wait for you there.  Will you know that until you hunt around for them and waste 15 minutes of your life?  Probably not.  I know it’s great to have characters out there using the world and things changing based on time of day is cool and MY IMMERSION and whatnot, but would it really be so awful to give me a selection screen to add them back in from wherever the fuck I want?  Make it from the barracks console only or something, I don’t care.  Or at least a menu where you’re like “I want this person” and it goes “Okay, they are currently located at…”  This system is irritating as fuck and it makes me skip affinity quests that require me to shuffle my party.  That is not good design.

And speaking of the party system… I have almost no justification to even use the rest of the characters so far because they are all gigantic assholes who have invited themselves to my party without my permission – in fact sometimes expressly against my wishes as laid out by my dialogue choices.  FYI dialogue writers: Illusion of choice in dialogue only really works if it’s ACTUALLY an illusion, and not a thin smokescreen.  Now, the thing I loved about the original Xenoblade was the character development, so I know these characters will all have deep and interesting backstories and they’re all being set up as superficial assholes to make those discoveries even more rewarding… BUT… you’re laying it on too thick, guys.  Seriously.  If one more fuckface walks up to me and is all “hey you, you seem like a pushover and I agreed to do this thing but I don’t wanna do it because I’m a dickhead so now you’re going to do it for me” and then I respond with “no, fuck you” (or the closest Nintendo equivalent which is not nearly as satisfying) and then they go “ha ha you’re funny let’s go get my shit” and then I just get the quest with no further complaint… fuck off.  Or worse, the character who literally betrays you as an introduction and then *bing* they’re in your party whether you like it or not.  What the fuck.  At least have a little more of a transition there…

But secretly I am worried that the characters will not actually have deep and interesting backstories at all.  Because the writing in this game does not seem very solid at all so far, and I am not nearly as confident as I was in the writing of the first game.  Very worrisome.

But anyway, I’ve bitched enough.  How about GOOD design!  I really love how the Wii tablet is used for the game.  The touchscreen on it isn’t quite sensitive enough, but it gets the job done and in a cool way.  Bonus marks for being able to play the game like a handheld if someone steals your TV away from you (but that’s just a cool Wii U feature in general).

I already mentioned I LOVE the world.  The creatures wandering around are epic and it’s great to explore.  I like that the monsters aren’t sequestered in handy level-appropriate chunks and you can wander through a kaleidoscope of creatures and difficulties to get where you’re going. It would be less cool if A) you couldn’t port anywhere you’ve been instantly and B) getting randomly stomped by a level 90 actually had any consequences, but since you can and it doesn’t, the world is awesome.

I also actually like the combat this time around.  In the first game the textures were muddy and strategy was difficult because you couldn’t really tell what’s going on.  In this one it’s much easier to see what’s going on (with the exception of the camera being ass.  The camera is slow and floaty and made of ass.  But I said I would stop bitching…), AND they added the incredibly handy feature of a little readout telling you where you actually are located around the creature.  So when you’re trying to get off a side or back combo, you don’t have to look at the alien blob on your screen and go “is THAT its back?  No wait this looks like a tail so… no, maybe not…”.  It’s so simple it really makes you wonder why the fuck the original didn’t have one.  Also combat combos are really interesting with a ton of variety, not just with your character but with everyone else.  The combos are complex, but not difficult to understand, so it’s not hard to set everyone up with complementary skills and make sure you focus on the right sorts of power-ups.  At least… so far.

I’m really hanging in there because it feels like the story is about to take off soon, but… it’s getting to be a bit of a slog.  And even worse, I know I’m only half-way to the level cap.  So there might be some exp grinding in my future before I can even tackle the story quests.  I dislike that… but I’m trusting it will be worth it.  I also like that it doesn’t hand-hold, even though it makes things seem super obtuse.  It may have 30 hours of tutorial, but at least you need them.  It also kinda has that “old school EQ” charm of “This took a lot of effort therefore it was worth my time to do it”.  Effort Justification, bitches.  Please stop designing gameplay around Psychology biases :(

SOMA

Amnesia: The Dark Descent is my favourite game that I am too scared to play, so I was pretty excited when I discovered they were releasing SOMA, a similar style of game in a more sci-fi horror setting.  And it released just in time for us to be in a Halloween sort of mood, too!

The majority of the game takes place on a deep sea research station where you stumble from station to station trying to piece together what’s gone wrong and where everyone went.  It has a very Doom 3 sort of feel, actually, except you have no weapons to protect you.  In typical Amnesia fashion, the game has absolutely no combat, and you have to rely on careful movement to avoid notice, and occasionally running for your god damn life when you don’t.

Sadly it does not include hidey holes like the Amnesia cupboards, which were some of my favourite mechanics.  Sitting in a dark cupboard listening to footsteps and groaning outside and sllloooooowwwllllly opening the door to peek through a crack to see if it was safe yet was one of the things that really made Amnesia stand out, to me.  SOMA feels less interactive in that way.  Instead of being able to choose how fast or slow you want to open a door, most things are binary.  It makes sense since most of them are powered so it’s like connect power, open door, *whoosh* as opposed to turn handle, pull/push door in direction, but I feel like that was a loss.  A lot of the tension I gained from Amnesia (the brief amount I actually played it for myself as opposed to watching someone else, anyway) was from moments like peeking, or from dashing to a door in a panic and flailing away at it before realizing I had to pull it instead of push it and oh god I just wasted 5 seconds and it’s coming for meeee nooooooo pull pull open faster god damn you door nooooooo!  And not because of a struggle with controls, either. It just felt like I was fumbling with opening a real actual door because I was too panicked to think straight.

We chose to play SOMA (I say “we” but I suppose for the sake of accuracy I should say: I forced my husband to play SOMA because I was too chicken to do it myself…) on the big screen in the front room, for ease of spectatorship (and also fancier sound system), so he chose to use a controller from the couch.  I was pretty distracted the whole time by just how annoying the controller was to use, and I wasn’t even the one using it!  Every time he tried to interact with things I was thinking “This would be so much easier with a mouse”.  One of the most tense moments we experienced was entirely because the controller fucked us over.  We were repairing an elevator which was a fiddly bit of business, requiring you to put a piece here and then flip a bunch of switches in order, then close the button and activate it.  We figured out the sequence, but as he was putting the pieces together he was discovered by a monster.  The next few seconds consisted of us yelling things like “THAT ONE GOES THERE! FLIP THAT! QUICK CLOSE IT!” and then the elevator opened and he scurried in, only to discover he now had to push ANOTHER button to tell it where he would like to go.  He wrestled with the controller, with the damnable cursor drifting too high to click on it, now too low, and oops too high again, all while I’m yelling “CLICK IT CLICK IT CLICK IT!!!” and him yelling “AAAAAAAH AAAAAAAAAAHH!!!” each time the cursor drifted, and just as he got the cursor into the middle and clicked, the monster charged and we died and had to start the sequence all over again.  Had he been using a mouse we probably would have survived.  Moral of the story: controllers kill.

The game takes about 10 hours to play and has a lot of really good moments.  Some of the levels were really well designed, I thought. And some were… less well designed.  A lot of them are twisty and confusing, which is good if you’re thinking about it in a ‘oh no I am trapped in this horrible place’ sort of way, but it’s kinda bad when it causes you to lose momentum because it results in you wandering back and forth after you missed your turn and you’re not entirely sure where you need to go next.  But they absolutely nailed the atmosphere of most of the areas, particularly the underwater storm.  I just had an overwhelming sense of “oh fuck” the whole time we walked through that.  Atmosphere and dread is what these guys are good at, after all.

What they are maybe not so good at is story.  I enjoyed the story in SOMA, but I felt a few parts of it dropped the ball.  The protagonist comes across as pretty whiny, and there were a few philosophical discussions where I felt like the writers were imposing a viewpoint on the player that perhaps might not be true for everyone.  It still serves its purpose, though, and gives you some interesting things to think about whether you agree with the protagonist or not.  The game also serves up a number of choices along the way that do a good job of making you reconsider your actions.  The choices aren’t hardcoded into the story – in fact you may get tripped up by videogame logic at first and not realize they are optional actions.  Even though the choices ultimately mean nothing for the overall story arc of the game, I felt like they did a really good job of presenting them, making you think about them, and not beating you over the head with their presence.  Bravo on that one.

So in conclusion, SOMA is pretty good and you should buy it.  It’s a great atmospheric experience that sometimes also makes you think about yourself.  And who doesn’t love a game where you heal yourself by sticking your fist into an alien butthole?

Windward

This might be a bit confusing, but I am going to start this review by talking about a completely different game.  It makes sense – trust me.

Patrician is a game where you sail ships around and buy low, sell high, eventually raising your rank and amassing a massive merchant army that rakes in tons of income per trip, making you a magnate of the seas. It is often described by haters as a spreadsheet with graphics, but I apparently really love that sort of game.  I even have a whole “Trade” section in my Steam organization list that is dedicated to merchant style games. Eventually you can buy up land within the towns, corner the market on factories, depose all the mayors, drive all your competitors out of business, and start price fixing once you control 100% of a commodity. It’s slow, but it is oh so very rewarding to get angry messages from NPC mayors as you slowly boot them out of their towns and build your mercantile empire.

Windward is like Patrician, except with all the content removed from it.

I really would like to like Windward – I’ve already sunk 4 hours into it – but I just feel like there’s no point.  You can level up the towns by doing quests for them, or make cash with the typical buy-low-sell-high formula (which it conveniently(?) indicates right where to sell it on the commodity so no thinking will get in your way at all.)  You sail your little ship from place to place (100% procedurally generated which is nice) and buy low sell high, or run quests like deliver passengers from here to there… and then you amass some gold and buy a ship that has more cargo slots.  Cargo slots are the be-all-end-all because no matter what your cargo is, it takes up one slot.  You can’t adjust for the amount of, say, rice you can carry vs big ass bolts of silk or whatever, because they all take 1 slot and 1 slot only, so the bottom line per slot is everything.

It’s also difficult to trade across regions, I found.  These guys are willing to buy stuff at way higher prices than the guys in my starting area, but there is literally nothing for me to take back (yet, anyway).  It’s all the same goods, but more expensive.  I found myself abusing fast travel just to insta-port to a dock, buy goods, then insta-port back to the other zone to sell them all.  But once you’ve sold one or two to them, they don’t want it any more.  So you’re stuck with goods you can’t even sell at a loss.  Unless you create an instanced trading zone to unload it all, which feels kind of like cheating.

I can’t even go to the next region until I’m level 12, and just trading for profit is apparently more lucrative but less exp-generating than running quests all day, so it ends up feeling like a bit of a grind.  I was initially pretty excited about taking over the world in the name of the Exchange, but the level restrictions on areas are so cumbersome that I find myself losing interest.

I am worried that I will be forced into combat soon.  I keep avoiding the pirate-focused quests because I tried a couple fights and it just wasn’t for me.  I didn’t pick a combat faction, and the controls are kind of clunky (must keep a certain side of your ship pointed at the enemy, have to hit certain buttons to make things fire, etc.).  My worst experience came when I tried my hand at a smuggling mission and every single fucking ship in the zone apparently picked up immediately that I was carrying illegal goods, and they all chased me down in a gigantic pack and slaughtered me instantly.  Maybe there is a skill to not display a big blinking “HEY GAIZ I AM CARRYNG ILLEGAL SHIT OVR HERE” sign or something.  It was a little discouraging.  But the next zone is not at all controlled by my faction so I wanted to see how bad it was to capture towns and expand our influence.  I am worried it will be 100% killing pirates and not at all about trading.

I would like to like this game, but so far it feels pretty shallow, and mostly makes me want to play Patrician or Anno again, both of which at least have a “speed up time” button so that trundling from town to town doesn’t become tedious :/

The Talos Principle

I’ve been holding off on writing about Talos Principle because I wanted to get further in it and reveal a bit more of the story, because it’s one of those super mysterious “something reaaaallllly interesting is here and if you just get a little bit further you might get to reveal some of it!” sorts of stories, and it seems like a disturbingly large percentage of the time the reveals turn out to be complete balls.  But I am just loving this game so much that I am going to talk about it anyway.

The Talos Principle is a puzzle game, but it is also a journey into philosophy.  It wins my “Best Game Ever” award for two simple reasons:
1: The options screen has a “Motion Sickness” section where you can adjust things like FoV and turn head bobbing off.  These developers get it and I love them for it.  Game of the Year for that alone.
2: In one of the story snippets there is a burn on Twilight.  Excellent.

The premise is that you are a robot who has been dropped into a series of tests, which is all very Portal-esque, but instead of a sarcastic murderous robot you have a somewhat self-righteous god-voice by the name of Elohim (definitely not an improvement over GlaDOS, I have to say.)  As you venture through your trials you also uncover snippets of story that hint at the goings on outside of your own little personal rat-maze, as well as philosophical musings for you to think about as you go along.  Things like “How does someone know they are a person” or “How do you know you really exist”, alongside things like “Could a robot solve these sorts of puzzles or would it take a human mind to do it?”, where it all becomes very meta because in the game you are a robot and you are solving those puzzles but REALLY you are a human solving those puzzles right?? right?? so if you solve that puzzle that only a human could solve it does that mean a robot solved it or does it mean a human was still needed to solve it??? Or is it even talking about you at all????? Don’t play it while high or you might feel entirely too clever for yourself.

But actually mostly it makes me feel dumb.  But then I solve something and feel like a genius.  And then the next one makes me feel dumb again.  I was incredibly disappointed with how easy the puzzles were at first.  I was just going from puzzle to puzzle feeling like “…is this it?  Really?”  Sometimes a puzzle would be SO easy that I’d pick up the prize and then run back and forth for a bit wondering if I had missed something.  A lot of them take the same sort of logic too, so they almost get repetitive at times. The most disappointing part is when you get stuck on something for ages and ages and then finally you come across the solution and it is so god damn fucking easy and then you hate yourself for not figuring it out right away.

But then I ran into some of the hidden puzzles and my brain broke and I lay awake at night thinking about them.  Most of the puzzles are self contained, but the hidden ones require “outside of the box” thinking, and a lot of “outside of the level” thinking.  Most of them span levels, requiring you to break the fourth wall and figure out how to get bits from here to there, or how to cheat the system to get what you need to the area you need it.  In some cases it almost seems unfair, like, you can’t take items through the barrier so who would guess that you can shoot the fucking laser through it?!?!? (but then again, fair enough to catch me out on assuming that something would not be possible without trying it.  Fuckers.) There was one where I sort of figured it would be something pretty skookum, and I had an idea of what I would need to do, but I decided that I would be a horrible person and be lazy and not do it and just look up the solution.  I was reaffirmed in that choice when the description said “Hardest star in the game” and I was like “yep going to ruin this one for myself”, and I am kind of sad that I cheated but also I don’t think I would have figured it out otherwise.  It’s pretty epic.

And as I advance into the later worlds, the “easy” puzzles are less and less easy.  Every now and then I’ll bumble around in a level for so long that Elohim comes along and gently suggests I go to a different level.  Fuck you, God.  What kind of God is all like “Well if you haven’t figured this out by NOW you may as well just give up.”

You should buy this game.  It is excellent mysterious storytelling that almost makes me nostalgic for Myst, with a mix of puzzles that will make your brain hurt, but are not so tough that you need a walkthrough to get anywhere.  And also some philosophy crap that you may or may not enjoy. The world is beautiful and fun to explore, especially since there could be hidden mysteries or easter eggs around any corner or under any bush.  It’s just good old fashioned “I’m going to try this and see what happens” exploration fun, and it is highly rewarding.

Super Mario 3D World

We had a hankering for some Mario action so we bit the bullet and bought a Wii-U.  At least this way I will be prepared when the Xenoblade sequel arrives… plus it’s got delicious unique co-op options going on.  Mario 3D Word is one of them.

Mario 3D World is pretty typical Nintendo.  It’s essentially Mario 3 (the best Mario), mixed with some Mario World (probably the second best Mario), and then named after both of them with some stupid gimmicks thrown in so they can pretend it’s new.  Despite the recycled and snipped together name, the gameplay is really good.

Normally we’d “co-op” a Mario game by passing the controller back and forth once one of us landed in a pit, but 3D World has fully functional drop-in co-op where you’re both running around on the screen jumping on koopa shells and occasionally accidentally (“accidentally”) picking up your partner and throwing them into lava.  There are decent cooperation sections where you can both work together toward a goal – like when there’s a movable platform that requires more than one body to activate – but the game remains fully soloable as well (those same platforms can be activated with an item that creates clones of you.  It’s just easier with other humans to communicate with.  Until they pick you up and throw you off it, anyway…).  In most cases having a partner to work with to have someone’s head to bounce off of or have someone pick you up to chuck you to a goal simply makes things easier, but doesn’t change the dynamics immensely.  There are multiple characters to choose from, and they each have mild differences that make them distinct in ways beyond character models.  And yet they’re all balanced well enough that you can pick your favourite and not worry about the impact the changes will have on your game.  There’s also a small element of competition because it shows you a head to head score after every stage, but it’s 100% meaningless other than for bragging rights, which has the side effect of being not frustrating, either.

My biggest complaint with a 3D platformer is always going to be the camera, because fuck cameras that wander off or randomly adjust themselves in such a way that it changes the direction your controller thinks is “that way” and suddenly changes your perfect jump from “that way, onto the platform” to “that way, into that pit there.”  I did not have any problems whatsoever with the camera in 3D World, and that’s WITH a human companion running in the opposite direction and causing the screen to stretch and zoom out in order to accommodate both of us at once.  Nintendo may finally have this shit figured out, at least to the point where the camera is such a mild annoyance that you can forgive its small transgressions when they occur.

One of the amusing (yet pointless) features they’ve tried to add is the “Dark Souls” style communication system, where people can post pre-made stamps (which are one of the many collectables in the stages) for others to enjoy on their travels.  The game also lets you sketch or type small notes in there, so you may come across someone’s Mii standing on the map, or see a string of notes after you complete a level, which will give you an idea of what people think of things, or just admire whatever amusing stamp combinations they’ve come up with.  Most of them are something along the lines of “this is fun!” or “That level was really easy this is my score”, or “This game is lovely!” (I highly suspect that one came from someone’s mom), and sometimes it will be some really cool original art that relates to the stage you just went through… but every now and then some clever child realizes they can use the sketch feature to write swear words that won’t get caught by the filter, and you’ll see “BUTTHOLE” scroll past.  Heh henh hnhnheh butthole.  So edgy.  They must be moderating it pretty heavily though because “butthole” was the most egregious thing that wandered past in our travels, and that’s just statistically improbable.  I am suspicious about the extremely high positive comment ratio, as well… hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

The other problem is that the game seems really short.  Really short.  We’re on what appears to be the last stage after roughly 6 hours of messing around with it.  Granted that’s not getting 100% of the stars, but still.  We fucked around and died a lot, too.

I suppose the only thing wrong with Mario 3D World is that it is on the Wii U, where no one will get to play it.  Things seem to be picking up over in Wii land though, and I’m excited to check out some of the other unique co-op options available.  Hopefully I’ll wring some blog entries out of it yet…

Eidolon

I should really play Eidolon more before I try to review it but I bought the Hexcells pack in the Steam sale and every time I start playing that it magically becomes 2AM… so I should probably bang out some semblance of a review before I get distracted and forget everything about it.

An eidolon is an apparition, a ghost, a remnant of something that used to exist but now does not.  The game Eidolon has you exploring a “post-human Western Washington”, uncovering all the ghosts of what used to be Seattle.

The game has a sort of “walking simulator” feel to it, where you wander around (mostly aimlessly) trying to uncover the threads of the stories to figure out everything that happened.  This part of the game is actually pretty interesting, I felt.  You have a journal where you collect all your little scraps and you can choose which thread of the story to pursue next, or just see what crops up.

I’m going to go ahead and get this out of the way:  The graphics are not good.  You are not playing this game for graphics.  It’s actually a bit unfortunate because I’m usually in it for gameplay so I’m pretty tolerant of low graphics (especially in games that cost 5 bucks or so)… but these graphics often left me wondering if I was having some sort of rendering problem that was preventing textures from loading.

This is a wall, I think?  A green wall?

I think this is supposed to be a crumbled wall, but why is it green?  Moss?  Let’s say moss.

That wasn’t even so bad until I wandered back and forth around a “rock” only to discover it was supposed to be a car.  I think.

This is a car, right?

This is a car, right?  Or a rock with a windshield?

Yeah… low poly trees are one thing but that car, man.  But the graphics are not without their own sort of “paper cut-out” kind of charm, either.

But anyway.  Gameplay!  As I said, you wander aimlessly trying to uncover the stories of the past, which largely include the individual stories of people who existed around the time the city was destroyed.  How was the city destroyed?  What happened to the people?  Well, that’s the game!

The game does not hold your hand at all.  You’re quite literally dropped into a forest with no explanation whatsoever.  Your journal says something about being too far from the beacon so you’ll die if you get injured or starve, but it doesn’t do much to explain to you what any of that means.  Where’s the beacon?  Are you visiting the planet from a space ship?  Time travel?  A different part of Earth?  Do you need to find that beacon?? Things do get explained to you (and there are lots of really weird and interesting things to dig up) but you have to work for them.  It’s refreshing, really.  It’s nice to just sort of pop into a world and get your bearings the old fashioned way instead of having a tutorial spoon-fed to you for the first 20 minutes.  My biggest complaint in the beginning was that it was a bit TOO aimless… the world is huge and there you are wandering in circles in a forest with no idea what to do or where to go.  I finally tripped over a story chunk and it gave me some direction, but I felt like the game should have started me with something to follow at first since the map is pretty much literally the size of western Washington.  Then I discovered there’s apparently a bird showing you the way to the first bits of story, and also I am an idiot.

What you’re looking for are little blinky cubes scattered around the world.  White cubes represent new tools, and green ones represent story chunks to add to your journal.  Once you’ve got a story chunk there’s a selection of related terms listed below it, and clicking one will give you a light to follow in the general direction of the next story chunk related to that story thread.  Or, you can follow birds.  Apparently.  The blinkies can be really easy to miss, as I discovered while I was attempting to warm up to make an attempt to swim across a channel to one in the distance, only to turn around and discover one right beside me /facepalm.  I did notice that sometimes they’re easier to spot at night, because they pulse.  But then it’s night and also really dark…

There's a green blinkie on the left, surrounded by haunting skyscraper skeletons.

There’s a green blinkie on the left, surrounded by haunting skyscraper skeletons.  Also it is coastal Washington so it’s raining ALL THE FUCKING TIME in this game.  Realism!

One of the first things I discovered was a fishing pole, which I promptly used to catch some fish, which I cooked on a fire.  Which leads us to the next part of the gameplay: survival.  Eidolon joins the ranks of the open world “don’t die” simulators, where you must feed and warm yourself or suffer the consequences.  These are some of my favourite types of games, and the addition of a super creepy post-apocalyptic world with stories to uncover just makes it better.  But I find the survival gameplay in Eidolon is somewhat lacking.  Food is everywhere, and you’re really in no danger of starving at any point (at least so far as I’ve gotten in the game.)  The only thing that has killed me so far is attempting to swim across a freezing ocean just to see how far I could make it.  (The answer was: really far).  Fortunately (?) dying has absolutely no consequences whatsoever in this game, so after dying in the ocean I merely popped up somewhere else at 100% and carried on my merry way.  I climbed a mountain (possibly Mt. Rainier??) and fell off a cliff and broke a leg (I assume.  It just said ‘wounded’) which later became infected and made me sick.  Being sick meant I would vomit periodically, which would drop my hunger levels, but I couldn’t eat to stop starving because I would immediately vomit and waste the food.  Because I was wounded and exhausted I moved very slowly, which was really pretty annoying because it’s not like you’re particularly zippy in the first place and those blinkies are really far apart, man.  I couldn’t seem to heal my infection, which meant I couldn’t stop vomiting, and I couldn’t heal my leg to move faster again.  I finally came to the conclusion that it would be best to just fucking die and start fresh (and move at a normal speed again), but dying turned out to be really god damn hard to do.  I needed to find another cold body of water to freeze to death in again because I was just too stubborn to starve to death, apparently.

So let’s see.  This game has really interesting stories to hunt down and creepy/fascinating sights to see, but you’re constantly hounded by a largely pointless survival system that will force you to abandon your story hunting to pick mushrooms (and discard them if you’ve had them for too long.  And may I just say I GREATLY DISAGREE that blackberries become “old” after one day, and furthermore that “old” blackberries are no longer safe to eat.  *shake fist*  Now, had you said mouldy I could perhaps see your point.), and periodically you will be arbitrarily slowed down with some sort of infection or wound that will prevent you from reaching your goal of finding more stories or interesting sights to see.  At which point the best solution is probably to just kill yourself and start fresh because there is no penalty for doing so.  This does not sound like a well implemented survival system… it sounds like a nuisance system that was included because they felt the game would get too much of a bad rep for “lack of gameplay” if all you did was collect story bits.  But on the other hand, it’s nice that it’s not such a strict survival simulator that you’re constantly losing any progress you made toward finding story bits because you starved to death or were eaten by wolves like in Long Dark (grr, fucking wolves).  May I suggest a toggle for “story only” vs “survival” mode?

Eidolon is certainly not without its flaws, but the world is interesting to explore and presents a unique setting that I’m glad to see they did some intriguing things with.  The map is apparently accurate enough that you can recognize landscape features, and there are lots of sci-fi and post-apocalyptic story surprises waiting to be discovered.  I recommend checking it out if you’ve been interested enough to reach the end of this review…

The Long Dark

I’m a sucker for survival games, especially if they don’t classify “survival” as “shoot enemies in the face”.  The Long Dark is a new (currently Early Access) game which is exactly that – you’re alone in snowy Canadian wilderness and you need to not die.

The game contains a number of systems to help enhance the survival aspects.  It tracks your calorie expenditure, cold, fatigue, hunger and thirst, in addition to general health and wounds.  There’s randomized weather, including windchill elements.  Carrying a lot of weight or running up a snowy hill will fatigue you faster and burn more calories.  There’s also a bit of a skill system, in that each time you do something like build a fire you’ll gain some skill and reduce the chance of failure (wasting precious matches :( ).  There’s also wildlife, including wolves which happily try to gut you if you go near them (which is not at all what a non-rabid lone wolf would likely do, but they have a disclaimer when you boot up the game saying they took liberties with the animal behaviour, so…)

Here’s how my first game went: Read more of this post

ArcheAge, OR “Endless /facepalms in Trion’s General Direction”

Let’s start at the beginning.  Once upon a time, I purchased a retail copy of “Rift”.  That’s right, I purchased a physical game, that came in a box, on a disc, not just a box containing a slip of paper with a key on it.  Times sure were different then.

I brought it home, installed it, and played it for a few months before I decided it was sort of the same old same old and if I was going to play the same old I may as well pay for and play the thing I was already established in rather than working my way up from the bottom again.  Many moons later, after everyone else came to that same conclusion, Rift went Free to Play and I logged back in again.  I proceeded to log many many hours in Rift, but I barely gained any levels.  Nope, I spent the entirety of my time running in circles collecting artifacts (those little shiny things that spawn on the ground) in order to complete all the achievement collections for no god damn reason whatsoever.  I just wanted to, okay?  MUST COLLECT SHINIES.  Because the game was free I guess I felt secure in the knowledge that I was at least not wasting much money to waste all of my time collecting artifacts (although I did eventually buy a couple more upgrades for my account…).

Because I had previously paid a lot of money for the full retail price of the game and subscribed for a while, my account had a decent amount of loyalty points and the Auction House unlocked, and I worked the AH to sell my duplicate artifacts.  I almost never actually spent gold on them (that would defeat the point of finding them, dammit), and as a result my character was carrying around literal mountains of cash.  We had formed a guild before we quit (before the F2P move) and I was the only one left… but I levelled it solely on artifact collecting quests (meant to be completed through team efforts with an entire guild) and bought all the upgrades (meant to be purchased through team efforts with an entire guild) with my massive pockets full of gold.  It was great.

I eventually got to the point where I’d have to actually do quests and level to be able to safely collect artifacts in the remaining zones, so I got distracted and wandered off, but the Rift icon stayed pinned to my Windows taskbar in case I ever felt bored enough to run around looking for sparkly things on the ground.

Just recently, Trion got the rights to bring “ArcheAge” over to North America.  I was actually really interested in this game because there is nothing in the world more exciting to me than a Harvest Moon MMO, and ArcheAge revolves largely around farming and trade. The game was F2P besides so it wouldn’t even be a big investment to get started!  My mouse would drift ever so close to the “Download and Install” button, and then I would read something about how griefing is pretty much encouraged and some asshat can come along and ruin everything you’ve worked for on a whim.  I’d stop being interested.  Then, some time later, I’d load up the page and my mouse would start drifting again.  Then I’d read something about how the everything is handled client side (in the year 2014 you created an MMO where everything is client side.  What.) and hackers are (surprise!) a huge issue, because it is remarkably easy to hack client side code.  I’d close the page again.

Then one day I was like “Oh what the fuck.  It’s free.” and installed it.

Red flag #1 is that it installs a rootkit called HackShield.  Supposedly this is to catch hackers and botters (which are plaguing the game as we speak, so how’s that working out for you?) but disturbingly it does not actually mention that it is installing this system at all (there’s no chance to bail during the install process).  I had no technical issues with it, but it’s a shitty practice.  (note: the system was chosen by the Korean developers and Trion didn’t have anything to do with it, other than not protesting it I guess…)

But anyway.  It immediately accepted my Rift credentials so I didn’t even have to make an account, and as soon as it was installed I was off and running around.

I played for a couple of hours over roughly two days and got to level 15, at which point I discovered it was next to impossible to continue without spending money.  You could continue but your life would be miserable.  And also the AH was locked and that’s like the entire reason I play these games, so I decided “eh, what the hell” and dropped $15 on a one month subscription, which would permanently unlock the AH for my account even after the other subscriber perks expired.  I figured 15 bucks was like 3 shitty Steam games that I wouldn’t bother to play anyway, and then I’d get a feel for how the game really was when it started getting more competitive and “griefy” at higher levels.

I spent the next 40 minutes finding some free land to place my new farm (you can’t place a farm unless you subscribe, although subscribing does not guarantee you will find land to place it on…), planting a couple crops in it (You can plant crops literally anywhere, but they mature in real-time (from hours to days) and aren’t safe from stealing unless they’re in your own farm.  Which you can’t have unless you subscribe.), then scoured the newly unlocked AH for good deals and ideas, getting an idea of what crops I should start shooting for in the future.

Before the first hour of my subscription had expired, I was banned.

I sort of stared at the message on the screen and then said incredulously “Apparently I’m banned now?”
“After you just subscribed?” my husband said.

I did some quick research and discovered false-positive auto-bans were happening to lots of players, some of them before they even made it to the tutorial NPCs in the starting area.  “Well too fucking bad this didn’t happen 40 minutes ago, before I gave it my fucking credit card information…” I lamented.

What’s worse… I discovered that it wasn’t just ArcheAge I was banned from.  It was every single game in Trion’s catalogue including my longstanding Rift account, Defiance, Trove, and any new game they may add to their library in the future.  I’d just like to emphasize that this was a first offense (if, in fact, there had been an offense… which there hadn’t.) for an account with many years of history with them and a fair amount of payment history, and the response was to completely block me from their entire library.  What the fuck, Trion.  Even more insulting: any account that had been caught red-handed in the recent high-profile cash-store exploits in ArcheAge only received a 24 hour suspension.

The email it sends you is wholly unhelpful.  No reason is given, it just says “This email is to inform you that your Trion account has been banned for a violation.”  It goes on to link to their support site if you want to “discuss the reason for the termination or request a reinstatement”.

When you’re banned, you cannot access their support site (including the live chat) because you need to log in, so the link in the email takes you to their FAQ.  You need to search within the FAQ to find out that you need to email a specific appeals email if you can’t access the site (they couldn’t bother to mention that in the email, eh?).  I sent an appeal to the email and received a canned message saying they were experiencing a “heavier than normal amount of traffic” (no shit) and that responses would be delayed, and then given a link to back to log into the site if I needed to view or change my ticket, which of course isn’t fucking possible if you’re banned (/facepalm).

I was sort of working on the assumption that there had been a problem with my credit card, since it happened so close to my subscription activation.  But it would still be ludicrous to outright library-ban someone for a payment bounce… and sure enough the charge came through, so the card had worked just fine.  I had mentioned in my ticket that I did not want to pay for a month of Patron that I had only received 40 minutes of, and two days later I received a notice from Trion saying my purchase had been refunded, so that’s nice, at least.  There was no response to my ticket about the ban, though.  The vast majority of stories of accidental bans ended with their accounts being restored, so I had faith that they would get around to righting things… it was just going to take a very long time due to the massive clusterfuck that was going on over there.

My trust was misplaced.  The next day I received a response which said “We could not find an account associated with this email.” and my ticket was unceremoniously closed.  I sent the email from the same email that was my account login, and they had to have been able to find my account to issue the refund, so… clearly my account exists AND they found it at least once for this very same ticket.  I attempted to log in again and found the same “The account you are trying to access has been banned” message, so it still existed (and was still banned).  I responded to the ticket to re-open it and gave them my email and personal details again, but they responded less than an hour later with the exact same message about not being able to locate an account, and shut it down again.  I suspect they didn’t even look, they just copy/pasted the original response.  I figured my mistake was probably asking for a refund and an un-ban in the same ticket request… so I opened a second ticket with a new incident number just to see if I’d get someone to legitimately look at it this time.

In the meantime I had been doing some reading and I discovered that apparently Trion had been issuing legit bans for afk idling in game.  I would like to wax poetic for a moment on how absolutely ludicrous that is.  Here is why:

One of the major reasons you want to subscribe (other than getting access to land ownership) is because the entire game revolves around labor points.  Labor works kind of like energy.  You need to spend labor points to do anything.  Anything.  Planting, harvesting, crafting, almost everything but combat will cost labor points.  As an unsubbed newbie, it costs 15 labor points to harvest something, and you gain 5 labor points every 5 minutes.  That’s one harvest every 15 minutes.  Labor points do not regenerate while offline.  So if you plant a bunch of crops (which costs labor) then log off, it’s quite likely you won’t have enough labor left to actually harvest those crops when you log back on.  Thus: afk idling.  Patrons get around this by getting double labor point production AND the ability to generate labor points while offline, which makes the game actually playable with some semblance of a life.  (Worthy to note, again:  I’m pretty sure the labor system was designed by the Korean company, not Trion.)

Here is why this is a stupid system:  MMOs are more profitable when no one is online.  Every single player that is online is using bandwidth, taking up server space, and cutting into your profits.  The ideal MMO (from a corporate standpoint) will have a player that pays a subscription who never actually logs in to the damn game, ever.  The labor point system is actively encouraging your least profitable group (the F2P players) to stay online the longest.

This is so incredibly ironic coming from a game that’s all about economic efficiency.  The mind boggles.  Even patrons are rewarded for staying online, because they get 10/per for online and only 5/per for offline (as opposed to 5/per 0/per for F2P players).  May I suggest a system where F2P players get 5/per labour offline, and patrons get 10/per?  Then people are still incentivized to become patrons (especially since they get like, 1.5x more labor cap besides) but they’re not needlessly wasting your resources to deal with your shittily designed system.

But who cares about labor generation when no one can play the fucking game, right?  It’s been two weeks since my last ticket and there has been no response.  I’ve been keeping my eye on the false-ban discussions and discovered that the whole “This email is not associated with an account” response is overwhelmingly common all of a sudden, and you know what?  Fuck this.  I’ve uninstalled all Trion games (including Rift…) and when they do unban my account (which I honestly do believe they will do.  Eventually.  With no guarantee it won’t just get randomly banned again…) my only action will be to log in and make sure there are no scraps of credit card information available tied to my account because I do not trust a company this incompetent with it.

What the fuck, Trion.  What the fuck.  I used to like you :/

I will leave you with this email that my friend sent to me:
byerift
———
Update: After a month of waiting for a new reply and updating my Trion support ticket, still without reply, I have joined a large number of other users and filed a complaint with the BBB. I listed my desired resolution as either reinstatement of my account and an apology, or an explanation of what rule I suposedly broke and why a first offence deserves a library ban from all titles. I don’t even want the damn account back at this point but I am not just going to walk away from this bullshit either. They angried up my blood :P

Update 2:  On the exact same day that the BBB let me know they had forwarded my complaint, Trion unbanned my account and gave me 2 months and 5 days of free time (funny how that works!).  The apology was the typical canned response of: “We have reviewed your account and verified that you were banned incorrectly. We apologize for this error and we will use this information to improve our reports system so legitimate players such as yourself are not banned incorrectly going forward. We are working our hardest to get rid of as many of the illegitimate players as we are able to, but unfortunately this means that certain times our reports can be too restrictive and catch legitimate players.”

… Which is really just a way of saying “Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette.  Sucks but what ya gonna do”, when the correct answer is “don’t shit all over your customers when you fuck up”.  I’m not upset about being banned accidentally by an algorithm.  Shit happens.  I’m upset that they banned a legit account from their entire library (if it had just been ArcheAge I wouldn’t be NEARLY as shocked by this whole situation, but my god the horrifying decision making that is on display here…), with no warning and no explanation (I didn’t even get the vague “significantly over the latency limit” explanation that some people have gotten… so I didn’t even get banned for lagging), for what would have been a first offence had there been one, and then when I jumped through their hoops to ask for my shit back they dropped the ball and were like “welp you don’t exist, can’t help” and it took five weeks and a BBB complaint before they actually got off their asses and looked into it properly. I didn’t even lose (much) land or anything because I hadn’t played the game long enough, but many of the stories involve accounts that paid for the multi hundreds of dollar limited edition headstart type shit who proceeded to lose all their land and accumulated goods due to the way the game is designed.  I can’t even…

I do appreciate that I didn’t have to fight for my refund though, and I thank their billing department for not being entirely incompetent.  I say that now, before I have checked to make sure there were no further charges on my card…

I will not be reinstalling ArcheAge.  I had briefly entertained the notion of trying the game again once I was unbanned, since I had assumed the compensation would be free time and hey that means I could unlock the AH without having to pay anything!  But that was back when I thought this would take at most a week to resolve.  Five weeks is just ridiculous.  Sorry Trion, you dropped this ball way too hard for me to trust you again.

—-

Just peeked at my BBB complaint status:

01/20/2015 Forward Consumer Rebuttal to Business
02/04/2015 No Response from Business re: Consumer Rebuttal

/golfclap

Year Walk

Year Walk made it onto my wishlist after a bunch of people recommended it as a super creepy and atmospheric puzzle game.  The general consensus was that it was too short, but still worth your time and money regardless.  Then it came on sale during the Halloween sales and I nabbed it.
tl;dr: Year Walk is a short and super creepy atmospheric puzzle game that is pretty short (~2 hours, unless you suck at puzzles and/or are unobservant) but still worth your time and money.  In fact it’s still worth your money at full price, because at ~6 bucks and 2 hours of playtime, I’d say 3 bucks an hour is worth the experience.  That’s how much I liked it.

The premise is… difficult to describe.  You’re not really given much background before you’re dumped into it.  The term “Year Walk” is based on a Swedish tradition that probably would be largely unheard of if it weren’t for this game.  All my information about it comes from this game and Wikipedia, and for all I know the creators of this game put it on Wikipedia, because this is the internet.  But basically, once a year (“Year walk” can also be translated as “Annual walk”) they’d go without food and water while locked in a dark room to deprive their senses, then leave at midnight to walk through the dark woods to the church to do battle with supernatural beings in the hopes of seeing the future.  The game follows that fairly closely, with a couple of other significant threads woven in that give the whole time-warping aspect a bit more substance.

You’re given NO guidance whatsoever, and honestly, I thought that was the most awesome part.  You meet up with someone at the beginning who’s all “You’re going on a Year Walk?  Don’t you know that’s dangerous?” and then you head out into the woods at night and wander aimlessly until everything gets fucked up.  I sent a series of emails to my friend while playing it which was basically just “This game is pretty cool and creepy. You should get it.”  “Wow.  What the fuck.”  “What the fuck.”  “What the FUCK!”  “Seriously you should probably get this.”

I will say you need a pad of paper nearby when you play, and there’s something a bit refreshing about that.  It’s been a while since puzzle games have respected their players enough to just leave them to their own devices, although some sort of in-game notetaking function would have been nice. There’s an in-game encyclopedia that includes the lore behind the legends and traditions.  You need to read it.  A lot of the game and guidance is concealed within the information that’s there, so don’t dismiss it as flavour.  A knock on the game is that sometimes it would seem like you should have all the information to solve something and you could dick around for ages trying to figure it out, when really there was another step first.  In fact, here’s a hint: When you first find the key, the next step is NOT to open the cemetery gate where the key very very obviously fits.  When the key vanishes after you find it it’s not because you collected it, it’s because it went somewhere else.  That was not obvious at all.

The other thing I will say is don’t cheat.  It’s really simple to look up all the solutions to everything on the internet, but the game is only two hours long man.  If you’re not going to get a pad of paper out and do it the old fashioned way you’ll probably be left wondering what the point was, because you missed the point.  Year Walk is a super creepy atmospheric game that respects its players to dig around and figure shit out, and the puzzles aren’t so hard that you need to Google them.  Check it out.

 

 

 

Remember Me

“Remember Me” was a game I mentally noted onto my wish list when it kept coming up in conversations about strong female protagonists, after the developers had trouble with publishers wanting them to change their game because their choice of protagonist was viewed as something that wouldn’t sell well.  Then it came out and got awful reviews and I was sad, and then proceeded to not buy it because fuck paying full price.  But then the occasional GOOD review kept cropping up, and then the game went on sale for 7 bucks and I bought it.  And I reallyreally liked it.

A brief premise is that the world has gained the ability to manipulate memories, primarily used to remove all those painful memories to promote happiness (much like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).  Behind the scenes, it’s becoming a bit more nefarious as well.  You’re introduced to Nilin, the protagonist, just as she’s sprung from the memory wiping facility mere moments before her brain is finished being wiped clean.  You spend the game learning who Nilin actually is (as she herself regains her memories, since the brain wipe was partially successful) and unravelling the deepest secrets of the memory manipulation business.

First up: the game has flaws.  Biiiiiigggg gaping flaws.  It makes sense why it got bad reviews, and it’s not because the main character has boobs but is not naked.  It is also not because she kisses a guy at one point (seriously I read that the kiss was one of the biggest sticking points in the whole publishing kerfluffle and I kept waiting for it to come up, only to discover I had already passed that point in the story and didn’t even notice when it happened).

No, it is because the combat is awful.  I mean, it could have been worse. But it’s not good.  I had it on the easiest setting and all the enemies still took fucking forever to beat up and it was just so fucking tedious, especially when you spend 20 minutes clearing out a wave of enemies and then oops here’s another wave have fun!!  I finally went to my usual fall-back, which is to fire up Cheat Engine and make myself immortal (the cheat engine script for this game has “undead” mode which is my favouritest invulnerability cheating – where you still take damage and can see how terribly you’re doing and completely forget that you’re cheating at all until your health bar goes to 0 but you’re not starting over.  All the fun and tension of playing without the annoyance of losing!).  Around 2/3 into the game I also turned on unlimited ammo for my biggest attack so I could just mow down the damn waves and get on with the story.  It still took forever to clear them out while using my most powerful attacks repeatedly at a rate that is in no way intended, on the easiest possible setting.  It’s not good.

The combat has some interesting ideas which might appeal to a micromanager.  It’s sort of similar to the Batman combat where you have chaining combos and dodges to keep your chain intact (and the animation is pretty fluid and sweet too), but you actually craft your own custom attack combos.  You can build your chains with things that do damage, things that heal you, things that restore your focus/mana, and things that reduce the cooldowns on your super abilities.  The further into the chain it is, the more powerful it is.  But you have to get the chain to that point without breaking it.  The special abilities are super important (in most cases you have to activate a specific one to advance the fight) so you want to be resetting your cooldowns, but you also need focus to fire it off, and you also need to be doing damage, especially since the enemies take roughly 11 billion hits to finish.  Later you end up with enemies that fucking hurt you when you hit them, so you need to mix in the healing ones too.

OR you can fire up cheat engine and just kill everything.  Like I did.  It really helped my enjoyment of the game!

The other legit bitch I see in a lot of reviews is that the game is linear.  That sort of thing doesn’t bother me too much because I usually play games like this to enjoy the story, but oh boy is it ever linear.  It is really a shame because the world is beautifully crafted, but there’s no opportunity to explore any of it.  There’s even an arrow showing you exactly where to go next.  I don’t mind the arrow because it reduces the chance of wandering in circles for 20 minutes because the fucking camera rotates away from the wall showing the ledge I want to jump to, but I agree it should be an option to turn the damn thing off.  What is with developers not giving options?  Is it really that hard to add some lines of code that say “if setting = No, then hide arrow”?

Speaking of options:  The cut scenes are littered with film grain and it’s awful.  I hunted around the internet for a way to remove the grain, but the only ways of fixing it were too involved to bother with.  Why.  Why would you ruin your lovely CGI movies with this shit?  NO ONE thinks this looks good.  It’s awful.  Especially in a game this dark.  The black is all littered with noise and it was grating.  On the off chance someone out there thinks this looks good, put it on the fucking options screen so I can turn it off but they can leave it on.

One last bitch:  Every single boss ends with a quick time event.  I don’t mind QTEs as a rule, but I hated these and this is a perfect example of why people have come to hate them in general.  It’s usually a combination of your kick, punch, dodge, or “use” commands, but the prompts are pretty short, the icons all kind of look the same, and if you’re in the middle of button mashing something you’ll almost certainly hit the wrong key and end the sequence.  It usually required a bit of trial and error to learn the sequence before I could end a fight.  A failure results in the boss shaking you off and usually suplexing you into the ground and booting you across the arena or something, and then you start over and have to take their last chunk of health off again before you can attempt the QTE again to end it.  The only way it could be worse is if it literally ended the fight and made you start at the beginning (i.e.: what Resident Evil 6 does.  I also hate those QTEs…).

Anyway, enough bitching.  Here’s what I liked about it:

The writing.  Okay mostly that.  The world was crafted well and even though there weren’t a LOT of details, they laid out enough of it that it felt immersive.  The whole amnesia mechanic felt like it was going to invoke every single cliche in the book, and other than being kind of a lame way of unlocking new abilities, they managed to avoid most of them.  I liked the characters and felt like Nilin had enough depth that she made an interesting protagonist (though she’s pretty much the only character with any depth, which is kind of a flaw…), and I was feeling actual emotions at some of the pivotal moments.  I really enjoyed the plot as a story.

The memory remixing is a really interesting thing.  It seems to be the thing that everyone universally likes, and I liked it because it was unique and kind of cool, but I also didn’t like it.  It’s kind of funny… I didn’t like it because it ended up being kind of tedious in that you have to play with things in trial and error to see how they affect the outcome (not to mention first you have to watch the whole thing to see the original outcome, then rewind, then fast forward looking for the nodes to modify…) so sometimes you’re watching the same lines of dialogue over and over again (especially when the stupid memory glitch WILL NOT let you fucking click on it before it scrolls past so you have to rewind AGAIN.  GRRRrrrrrr) and then you discover that was actually a bonus ending and now you have to rewind and try something different!  So ironically it seems like my complaint is that the memory remixing was too non-linear.  But really my dislike was quite minor and I mostly enjoyed it.  I liked it a hell of a lot more than the combat!  But where most people are complaining that there were only 5 or so remixing sequences, I was kind of glad it wasn’t mandatory to have one or two every chapter.  Especially since the ones they had in there were quite detailed and they probably would have let the quality slip if they were trying to cram them into every available slot.

I also liked the variety of gameplay they had in there.  They had batman-style beat-em-up, splintercell/asscreed style wall climbing and acrobatics, occasional puzzles (not very challenging ones mind you but they threw a refreshing change of pace into things), and then standard old school boss battles and ability upgrades.  None of it felt cheap to me and I enjoyed that they didn’t just have one style of game from start to finish, while also not really sacrificing any of their story to cram in something bizarre and out of place (not like, say, a fucking tower defence game in the middle of AssCreed).

The last complaint I see is that it’s too short.  I spent about 8 hours playing it, so it was fairly short… but I paid 7 bucks for it.  Remember Me was basically a good Sci-Fi movie that was turned into a game with shitty combat (which I circumvented by being a dirty cheater).  At $7 it cost less than most books, I enjoyed it as much as a book, and at 8 hours I possibly spent more time with it than I would have with some sci-fi books :P (at least at the pace I read…) so it was money and time well spent!  I enjoyed it and I recommend checking it out, as long as you are aware of the terrible combat beforehand…

How Not to Include Controller Support

Note:  The following events took place under the influence of beer, which may somewhat explain the difficulties I had, but in no way excuses them.

We started playing a diablo-like last night (which is kind of ironic given how much Diablo we’ve been playing, but it’s about to drop another big patch that will re-consume our lives so we decided to take a break until that happens).  I was mystified by the non-responsive splash screen until I saw the little “Press A to continue” at the bottom.  Ahhh it wants me to use the controller I have plugged in, that’s why my mouse is not responding!  … weird, for a diablo-like, but okay.

I carry on my merry way squinting at button prompts because none of them seem very intuitive and it’s pretty annoying.  A to attack, ok that makes sense.  Trigger buttons to move left and right in menus?!?  Wait which button is this new special attack I just picked up?  Oops shit just used my potions.  Well, I’ll get the hang of this eventually.

Then we finally get somewhere in the story and an item drops!  I… don’t know how to pick it up.  So I ask.

“uh, just click on it?”

“Oh.  I thought I had to use the controller!”

“I’m using the mouse… it’s literally exactly the same as Diablo.”

TO THE OPTIONS SCREEN.  Aha here it is under controls.  “Disable controller”

“The game must be restarted for this to take effect”

Mother.  Fucker.  Fuck it I’ll just figure out this controller.

We level up!  Time to spend a skill point!  Press this button to spend skill point, press that button to unspend skill point (it’s located above the other button, so it’s not intuitive in an “increment one” sort of way…) .  The skills are laid out in this annoying grid that didn’t make any logical sense… some of the skills are dependent on having points in other skills but the layout is just all over the place so I have to move through each box to make it pop up and tell me what it needs.  I end up accidentally spending points in the wrong skills trying to look at them to see what I need, but fortunately I can unspend.

Oh shit the companion levelled up too how do I get there?  Uhhhhh oh it looks like I can trigger-button my way through a couple different menus here.  Oh there are perks to buy?  And reputation points??  Where are those?!?  Damn there’s a lot of shit to spend, I didn’t see any of this before so I have a few points racked up.

A bit later I’m STILL doing fucking like, 1-3 damage despite levelling a bunch, and finally a new weapon drops for me!  Thank god, this was getting embarassing.  Okay pick up the weapon with trigger button, and now… hmm how do I make sure this is equipped?

“How do I get to the inventory?”

“Well… for me I press “I”… so, I dunno how the controller does it…”

fuck.  Scroll through the screens again.  Oh this looks kind of like an inventory?  Maybe?  I’m looking at only one item… is there a way to select a different item type?  Jesus what the hell who designed this shit.  Oh I have to use THIS control stick to select a different item type, kind of like a flyout wheel, except it has no cursor so it just selects whichever one is in the direction you press and you can’t just like scroll around the wheel, so it’s not intuitive or anything.  No, I don’t want that one, the one next to it.  No, not that one either.  God dammit select this one, it’s on a diagonal and I’m fucking pushing diagonal you fuck.

“Seriously I can’t figure out how to equip these guns.  Maybe I should just reboot the stupid game and get the mouse and keyboard back.”

“You’re kind of having a lot of trouble with it, so, yeah.”

*close game*

FUCK I forgot to go back into options and turn off the controller, which means it will default to controller again, which means I have to start the game, go into options, turn it off, turn off the game… fuck it I’ll just unplug the controller instead.

*unplug controller.  Start game.*

Well.  Now it is apparent why you need to restart the game to use the mouse.  The UI is ENTIRELY different (and exactly like Diablo…).  Oh look, when I press “I” it goes straight to the inventory screen, displays ALL of my items at once, and makes it intuitive which ones I am actually wearing.  Not to mention how much space I have left.  Oh look!  I can click directly on the skill type I want to spend points in!  OH LOOK, THE SKILLS SCREEN IS LAID OUT IN A WAY THAT MAKES FUCKING SENSE, NOW.

My god.

Having a controller option is reallyreally good, because choice is good.  But this.  Do. Not. Do. This.  Any of it.

The Wolf Among Us/Walking Dead (TellTale)

I just finished The Wolf Among Us, so ostensibly this post is about that… but in order to talk about it I must talk about TellTale’s Walking Dead game.  Both of the games are episodic “graphic novel” style games where your dialog choices can affect the outcome.  By “affect the outcome”, I more or less mean “affect how other characters view your character while the outcome takes place”, because there are very few “big” changes you can make in the storylines, but your demeanour can have a big impact on how each of the supporting cast react to things.  Some of the biggest impacts you’ll have revolve around who will make it to the end of the story with you, and whether they hate you or not.

Telltale’s TWD is pretty popular now so it probably doesn’t need a lot of plugging, but I would like to reiterate how good it is.  It’s pretty good.  I never read the comics that it is based on.  I almost didn’t buy the game at all because I loathe the TV show and all of its misogynistic bullshit convenience writing, so I like to pretend the show ended quickly when all of those characters were eaten by zombies and that no one is giving the show writers any more money by watching it.  la la la la la I’m not listeniiinnnggg.  In contrast, the writing in the game is really good.  Well, okay it’s just sort of good, but the interaction of the game makes it feel really good.

Except for the batteries puzzle.  I hope the asshole who wrote that was fired immediately.  It happens really early in Season 1 so I can only assume they made a misguided attempt to match the airheaded misogyny of the show, but were swiftly correctly by someone smarter.

Both Wolf Among Us and TWD are based on existing franchises, but I think TWD works because it’s given the world of the franchise and then set loose to frolic in it. There may be a cameo here and there of someone from one of their other eleventy-billion sanctioned comics or TV shows or games or whatever the fuck else they have now, but it’s not hard to take a zombie world and slap some random new people in it, then begin writing.  Those characters are fresh and the writers are free to work with them.

On the other hand, WAU is pretty constrained.  I didn’t read these comics either, but the characters in the game are (by necessity…) the main characters from the comics.  Right away the writers are restricted, because the characters have to match the personalities they have in the comics.  There’s little room to give the player a character with a personality they can mold and feel at home in.  They do a great job with Bigby Wolf and you get a sense of who he is even without any knowledge of the character beforehand, but it never really feels like your character the way the player characters in TWD do.

The game also has a deliberate time-period in relation to the comic: 20 years earlier.  Which is a huge problem right out of the gate because now we know all of these characters are still around 20 years later.  I did not know this when I started the game and the ending of chapter 1 was like “ohhhh shiiiittt this is going to be awesome”, but then I discovered it is essentially a prequel which sort of nullified all of those events.  It left it a bit bleh, to be honest.  TWD is great because anyone can die.  Anyone.  Those guys are fucked.  In WAU it’s like “This person could die here, if they weren’t in the comics 20 years later.  So.  Nope not gonna die.”  There are side characters who are free to die, but you don’t really care about them, and it just doesn’t have the same impact.  In TWD, your best buddy that you’ve helped through countless harrowing adventures could get snuffed at any moment, because that’s just how it fucking is in the apocalypse, man. (That said, I think they’re trying a bit too hard to manipulate emotions in TWD Season 2.  Tread lightly, guys.)

Then there is the additional problem of characters that seem kind of superfluous in WAU… probably because they exist in the comics so they should probably be in the game, even if there’s not much for them to actually do.  Fanservice doesn’t really do much if you’re not already a fan.

Also I feel like sifting through the clues of a “whodunnit” is kind of silly when anyone can look like anyone else using magic.  Literally anyone could be framed, which leaves a bit too much leeway for “gotcha” twists.  The actual story of WAU was pretty weak as a result, although the experience was still good…

Those things aside, the two games are fairly similar in terms of mechanics, if not setting.  You progress through the story, make some big reveals, make friends/enemies, and choose your story branches.  Action sequences take place through quicktime events, and they’re often quite scripted to match the story.  Some people probably hate this but I find it immersive.  Sure it’s annoying to mash Q as hard as you can and watch the other character begin to overpower you at a certain point anyway, but doesn’t it feel like you’re pushing back as hard as you can and still losing ground?  You can feel his muscles straining as he struggles, but you can also feel the futility…
My only complaint is that watching for the key prompts tends to take my eyes off the scene, which is too bad.  Fortunately failing them doesn’t cause too much hassle, either.  Often it’s written right into the sequence like a dialog choice, which is a nice change from “oh you missed that one.  Welp time to move you back 30 seconds and start ALL OVER AGAIN.”

If I had to pick I would definitely say that TWD is the winner of these two, simply for the reasons listed above.  The freedom the writers have to set events in motion (and break your heart…) is simply not possible with WAU.  But will I buy season 2 of WAU?  Certainly. (when it’s on sale…)

Splinter Cell: Blacklist (First Impressions)

First impressions is all I ever do now because I never finish games anymore… but anyway

I am a huuuuggggeeeeee old-school Splinter Cell fan.  I got into Splinter Cell and the original Thief games around the same time back in the early 2000’s, and suddenly realized that the stealth genre was made for me.  I think the SC games were the first “shooter” games I ever actually finished.  The first time I realized you could actually shoot out light bulbs with your silenced pistol was like holy shit this is the greatest thing ever oh my god.  I mean sure you have water arrows to douse torches in Thief so it’s not like it’s even an original concept, but dude, I just shot out the bulb on that guy’s front porch holy shit.  I dunno, I guess the water arrows pretty much exist for only that one purpose, where the light bulb thing almost felt like emergent gameplay at the time (even though it’s totally not).  It felt like I really had some control over how to get from one end of a room to another, and shooting a light bulb was just one clever option amid a myriad of not-necessarily-scripted options.  In Thief I always tended to club and hide all the guards, but Splinter Cell was 100% hanging out near the ceiling in a dark corner while an unsuspecting guard wanders through, oblivious to my shadowy presence.  Yessss.  Of course, it also meant I’d spend 8 hours trying to make it through a single mission without anyone spotting me, which was rather time consuming…

I played the shit out of the original, I played the shit out of Pandora Tomorrow, I played the shit out of Chaos Theory… and then they did that crazy thing with Double Agent where they released two versions of it and the PC version was the “bad” version, which left me paralyzed because I didn’t want the bad version, but I didn’t want to play it on a fucking console either…  sooooo I ended up not playing it.  I bought it on Steam a million years later but never did play it (damn you, Steam).  Then Conviction came out and that was just a clusterfuck of “You don’t stealth anymore you just kill everyone now” and I was like “what”.  (I bought that on sale too but also didn’t play it. Fucking Steam, man).  Then I heard Blacklist was a return to the stealth roots of the originals, so I bought it when it came up as a daily sale (Steam >:(  *shake fist*) and actually played it, this time.

The good:
It does feel like old school Splinter Cell.  I’m even ruining my life all over again by resetting it over and over again trying to not be seen.  The AI seems really impressive so far, which is either good or bad depending on how patient you are (stupid observant guards >:( ).  The controls are great.  It feels really solid, and there’s the occasional “No don’t run out from cover now you idiot” moment, but I can usually attribute that to me hitting the wrong key instead of some asshole context-based control fuck up.  (Have I mentioned I fucking hate the move to context based everything?  It greatly displeases me to have a button suddenly change its function because I took one step too many).  I was initially annoyed by the inclusion of a fly-out menu for my gadgets, but it’s got proper keyboard integration and it’s not getting in my way.  This is probably aided by me never actually using anything because I stealth past and then reset if I fuck up, so… as long as it works for me, I guess!  So far the controls feel fluid and I’m enjoying creeping around, and that’s all that really matters.

The bad:
The story.  Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.  I mean, it’s Tom Clancy.  And it’s not like SC really had sparkling writing before, but… it’s so bad.  Soooooo bad.  Also they’ve decided to cling to Sam Fisher as the protagonist, despite making him 20 years younger (as opposed to introducing a new 20-years-younger protagonist to carry the torch), which kind of invalidates the character.  He’s not actually 20 years younger – he’s still supposed to be past retirement age – he just looks and sounds 20 years younger and in the prime of his physical condition and not at all old and tired and past retirement age.  It’s dumb and they made a bad decision.  That alone drops it below the calibre of the originals, and that’s before I even started reading about some of the drama behind the switch in actors… I’m not sure I even want to know more.  The excuse of “We need someone who matches the build to do motion captures” really loses a lot of punch when you start wondering why motion capture effects the voice acting (especially since I don’t think the facial animations are really all that impressive and I doubt we would notice the difference in facial capture as much as we notice the loss of Michael Ironside…)…  but mostly I dislike the direction it takes the character.  He had a lot of heart as a grizzled veteran with a gravelly voice.  Now he’s just another “Commander Shepherd” generic 25 year old looking guy, oh but don’t worry he’s actually still old and grizzled.  See, grey hairs! …  Maybe I should just pretend nothing happened and go obliviously enjoy the gameplay (while skipping the story bits because it’s so bad).  New Sam is nowhere near as appealing as old Sam, and I even vaguely dislike him.  I don’t think that’s due to nostalgia, I think it’s because the character is a shallow, boring, action-figure shell.  It wasn’t exactly a deep character before so it doesn’t take much to lose everything.  A shame.  Fortunately the story is really bad so I have no desire to listen to his character interact with the other characters and I can just skip through the dialogue.  That… shouldn’t be a bonus.

But the gameplay is good enough to keep playing…. so far. I’ve heard rumors it gets more forced combat-y later which makes me frown, and it definitely seems to assume you’re just going to shoot everyone, so they missed the mark by a little bit despite the best intentions of the few designers who knew what they were doing.

I’m going to go shoot some fucking light bulbs.

Atelier Totori (early impressions)

I think I heard about the Atelier games in a “recommend a game” thread where they started discussing games where you collect and craft things.  Someone said the Atelier games were all about collecting alchemy ingredients from plants and monsters and then crafting them into stuff, and it sounded like a perfect game for me.  Then I discovered my husband had already bought one ages ago and didn’t like it… so I gave it a whirl.

This game is really… what’s the word… “kawaii”?  I’m not one of those people who despite anime, but this is like, sickeningly cutesy.  The main character doesn’t walk from place to place, she prances.  Every character arc seems to be some variation of “Oh no I messed up!  Tee hee hee “sigh” *sweat drop*”.  It’s getting old real fast, I gotta say.  So it’s not really a mystery why my husband dropped it like a hot rock… but I decided to stick it out and see if I could plow past the “tutorial” introduction cutscenes and maybe make some character development happen.  I’ve gotten my level 3 badge now (so still not very far, but going somewhere) and I’m starting to fear that maybe they’re not tutorial cutscenes.  Maybe this is the game.  :/

I’m really enjoying the base gameplay so far.  It’s pretty much as advertised: walk somewhere, collect flowers, beat up monsters and take their shit, then go home and mix them together.  You can take requests to create or clobber something then report back for cash, which you can then use to buy new recipes.  Creating/clobbering results in exp which makes you more successful at more advanced attempts.  It’s your standard addictive treadmill gameplay and it’s exactly what I was in the mood for.

Which is why it’s so annoying that the game keeps forcing this abysmal “plot” on me.  Everything I do seems to trigger a cutscene.  Not an interesting cutscene, just some sort of scenario with whatever character I walked past at the time.  None of these characters are interesting yet, and the game is trying way too fucking hard to be funny.  You’re not really that funny, game.  Stop it.

This happened just now:
Talk to request person – cutscene.
Since there was a cutscene, I got bumped out of the talk menus and didn’t get to turn in my request, so, talk to request person again.
Hand in quests, pick up new quests.
Go to shop to mix up the items the new requests asked for – cutscene of someone walking into my shop.
Make them go away, then actually get a chance to make the new items.
Go hand in items at request person – cutscene.
Ugh actually hand in new items now that cutscene is over.
Realize I have enough money for a new recipe book!  Go to store.
Talk to store clerk – cutscene.
Talk to store clerk again so I can actually buy the god damn book I came here for.

Maybe one of those cutscenes actually advanced some character development, for a minor character I don’t really give a shit about (the development was “This person is so cute that guys come and stare at her all the time but are too nervous to talk to her”, so it seems unlikely the story progression will change that a whole lot :/).  The rest seemed like complete filler/attempts at humour, but all it really succeeded in doing was annoying the shit out of me because it was impeding me from getting to any of my goals.

I want to play this game.  I want to collect items and mix them into powerful items and then go beat the shit out of gryffons or whatever, and then mix their livers into even more cooler items.  Shut up and let me play your game.

Maybe it’s not for me.  But I want to play it, dammit.  :/

Watch Dogs (First Impressions)

This is a verrrryyyyy early first impression.  I played the tutorial crap and did the first mission, then drove around and collected some check-in points.  But first impressions are the most important, right?!?

We got Watch Dogs for “free” with a new video card, which is convenient because I really really dislike Ubisoft and their disdain for PC gamers, so it meant I could try it at release instead of stubbornly refusing to give Ubisoft any money until it was dirt cheap on Steam.  (The greatest tragedy of the gaming world is that Ubisoft has the Anno franchise… alas).

I somehow managed to avoid the uPlay fiasco because I downloaded it (something I was apparently lucky to be able to do), immediately turned off cloud saving, then went into offline mode.  I did that because I hate uPlay and it fucks everything up far too often for me to trust it.  Well guess what!  It fucked everything up for everyone who stayed online.  I was able to go offline and play relatively unhindered, but it sucks for anyone who actually wanted to try the multiplayer invasion PvP stuff.  Of course, every time I boot it up, it whines at me about how I should really go online because I’m really missing out!  Ugh, uPlay.

But anyway.  Bitching about uPlay is low hanging fruit.  Instead, I will bitch about the game.

One positive thing I will say about Watch Dogs is that the enforced tutorial was NOT onerous.  It did have the little popup tooltips telling you what buttons to press to make shit do shit, but it didn’t get totally in your face and force you to stop, or prevent you from playing with your abilities until it had painstakingly explained the controls to you (despite the controls being exactly the fucking same as every other game, because if they weren’t exactly the fucking same as every other game, you would be doing it wrong.)  Of course, it’s able to get away with it by not giving you any abilities to start!  But that is an acceptable compromise.  I did dislike how it sort of dictated where my first skill point should go, though.

The opening mission was decently interesting, and it really didn’t explain much to you at all.  Some people might even find it confusing, but I enjoyed it.  I’m getting sick of having every game handhold you through the opening minutes.  However I do feel like it needed a bit more exposition, if only to help the player bond with the main character a bit more.  You’re sort of dumped into this guy, you have no idea who he is except you may have an idea that he’s a hacker if you’ve heard anything about the game before, and you’re sort of scrambling around trying to figure out why he’s doing what he’s doing.  Why you are doing what you are doing.  We’re hacking a stadium to escape because… uh… we’re stealing money?  We hate these guys?  I’ve already forgotten why he was even in there and I was just playing it last night.  It’s the same sort of problem books run into when they give you no reason to root for the protagonist.  Why do we care?  He knows why he’s doing what he’s doing but we’re sort of tagging along in a clueless haze, trusting that we will also care about his success once we know the whole story.  The problem lies in keeping the reader/player interested long enough to become invested in the story… but I guess when you’ve got a 60 dollar initial investment into it you might be more motivated to plow on.

Once you’re out of there it dumps you into the world and you are free to dick around, or move on with the story.  I dicked around a bit, realized I had no idea what I was doing (I’m stopping crimes?  So wait, am I a badass hacker thief or some sort of Spiderman do-gooder who also occasionally steals cars and robs ATMs?), then moved on to the story hoping it would all become clearer.

It sort of became clearer… but it also became a lot whinier.  We’re clearly meant to empathize with this guy, but it’s so heavy handed that I think I made an “ngh” noise out loud.  The line: “*dramatic pause* But now I’m afraid of the silence.” was so… you’re just trying way too fucking hard here, jesus.  Instead of empathizing I actually started to actively dislike him.

My biggest complaint (so far) is with the controls.  I enjoyed the opening mission because it was very Splinter Cell-ish – hiding around corners, using gadgets to distract or incapacitate guards so you could advance without anyone detecting you – and my only complaint was that everything was done with the same gadget, which just had different contexts.  I was sort of hoping that would improve as the game went on, but instead I just unlocked more contexts for my gadget.  There are craftable doodads which might alleviate the problem, but I disliked how they’re all stuck on a god damn flyout wheel and feel very awkward to swap between.  I hate flyout wheels.  I have lots and lots and lots of keys on my keyboard.  I want to use them to make switching items quick and efficient.  I want to select which button does which skill so that I can place my most used items exactly where I want to access them.  Fuck your flyout wheel.

But mostly I hate the camera.  First, an aside – I dislike how everything is enforced third person nowadays.  At least give me the option of first person if I want it.  I prefer not having a third of my screen be taken up by my avatar.  The character movement is really awkward and clumsy.  I’m not sure if I can articulate it better than that… it just feels like it’s imprecise.  I turn the character around and he kind of wobbles and flails and then I have to fine tune the direction I want him to go in.  I think it’s related to the mouselook camera not picking up diagonals properly with the WASD movement, because it’s designed for a control stick instead of mouselook and they didn’t bother to optimize it for mouselook.  Instead of turning gracefully, he does an about-face when you try to turn with a key, probably because it’s directly translating your keypress into a flat-out controller stick movement instead of having proper keyboard control.

The camera as a whole just feels floaty and awful.  The reason I hate controlling cameras with controllers is because it feels floaty and imprecise, where a mouse can move a camera with speed and precision.  I have a high DPI mouse and just a tiny amount of movement can swing a camera around for a quick scan of an area, but also instantly stop on a target in the middle if I spot something interesting.  I like having that level of control.  But even with the settings at maximum, the camera in this game feels like I’m using a controller, i.e. floaty and awful.  It’s not so bad that I won’t get used to it, but it’s annoying knowing that it’s deliberately awful because it’s designed for a controller, and they didn’t bother to optimize their mouse option.  I HAVE a controller for my PC and I did try it that way, but the camera is just as awful, which makes sense because the whole reason I dislike it is because I hate controlling cameras with controllers.  My husband tried the Mouse/Keyboard route then opted for the controller, but is disliking it as well.  His comment was “My favourite open world games are ones with great movement, and this game has the worst controls.”

Once you get out into the world you realize it’s not Splinter Cell, it’s Assassin’s Creed with GTA cars.  They’ve even got “parkour” challenges, which is another fad I’m hoping will stop polluting games soon.  It makes sense in AssCreed.  It doesn’t even make sense for a hacker vigilante to be a ninja wall runner.  Of course, I tried climbing some walls and he huffed it up the side of a box like he was a 40 year old man with arthritis, so maybe it does make sense.

The camera continued to betray me out in the open world, and I actually came across something I really dislike about contextualized commands.  I was doing a mission where I was chasing someone down, and I tried to use my gadget to gadget his ass.  Just as I went to hit the button, the cursor popped over to a camera nearby instead of the target I was trying to aim at.  I didn’t notice in time and hacked the camera instead, which made my dude slam to a halt and changed my view to look through the camera as the perpetrator ran the fuck away from me.  Sigh.  Having buttons change their function in the middle of delicate maneuvers really does make it feel like an AssCreed game.

And there is camera bobbing while running.  >:(
No headaches yet though, so I will refrain from ranting.  For now.

I’ll play some more this weekend, possibly while drunk, and see if it starts to suck me in.  I’m not sure how optimistic I am though, given that my husband isn’t too impressed either.  His short and sweet review is:  “Feels like a game designed by a committee.”

—-

[edit] Okay I played a bit more and the gameplay is improving as I adjust to the still shitty controls (mouse sensitivity cranked up helped movement a lot but the flyout wheel is still intolerable and I’m going to neglect my craftable items because of it…), but the characters and writing hasn’t picked up yet.  I’m hearing it starts out slow and gets better so fingers crossed.  I really hate this guy, though.  ugh.  So far the only character I like is his asshole psychopath friend.

It feels like they tried to pull all the most popular gameplay parts of GTA and  Assassins Creed (open world, cars, exploding shit, theft, parkour, a plethora of collectables and unlockables to find in your spare time), and slapped the dramatic overtones of The Last of Us on top, presuming that would somehow make it even more successful.  It’s kind of like dumping the wrong condiments into a recipe and assuming that it’s a good condiment that worked in someone else’s recipe so it will make the dish better by default.  It’s really not working.

[Edit again] The entire point of a stealth game is that you have the option of solving scenarios with clever stealth mechanics instead of just running in with guns blazing (although ideally you could just do that too).  So why is it that I am constantly pushed into a mandatory gunfight scenario in this game.  I just did a mission where I successfully snuck past every guard and got the objective without detection, only to have my buddy go “Hey look there’s lots of Fixers coming sucks to be you!” and suddenly I’m shooting 30 guys and a helicopter, despite being completely undetected up to that point.  It was so scripted that it even reset the gun I was holding once I walked past the checkpoint.  This makes me irrationally angry and I don’t even want to bother with this shit.

Paper Sorcerer

It’s been a month since I’ve written anything, and it’s entirely because the Diablo 3 expansion consumed my soul.  (Bonus review: the Diablo 3 expansion is really good.  Really really good.  Really good.)  After spending an hour before work, several hours after work, and all day every weekend levelling characters and farming achievements, we’ve got almost 100% completion and I woke up this Saturday and didn’t feel compelled to immediately log into Diablo.

This dawning of a new day happened to coincide with the release of Dark Souls 2, and reading about that put me in the mood for some dungeon crawling (of a non-isometric format, anyway), but something perhaps a bit cheaper than Dark Souls 2 since it will come on sale one day so why pay full price, right?  (spoiler alert: we also bought Dark Souls 2 tonight so I wouldn’t sit around mashing F5 looking for new updates after this, either :P.  Stupid games being good and time consuming and stuff.)  I stumbled over a game on Steam by the name of “Paper Sorcerer” and decided it looked interesting enough that I bought it not on sale for a 5 dollar price tag.

It’s good and you should buy it.  Because it’s 5 bucks.  And good.  I like to support 5 dollar games that are also really good.

It’s an “old school” first person dungeon crawler style, with turn based combat, but the art assets really make it unique.  The premise is that you are an evil sorceror/sorceress who has been trapped inside of a prison book as punishment for terrorizing the land with your summoned minions.  You traverse the dungeons within the book, regaining your powers and re-summoning your monster buddies (who serve as your party), while seeking to break the bindings holding the prison together.  The art is all black and white hand-drawn style, as is fitting for book illustrations, but it’s done in a really excellent way.  Exploration is satisfying, and loot is interesting.  It’s also challenging enough to keep you thinking about strategy, both in battle action choices and in party composition and skill layout, once you’ve unlocked enough monster buddies to have some options.  I’m on easy (because I am a huge wuss) and I still find myself sweating through the last few turns of a battle here and there.  The enemies and encounters are static and there’s no grinding to speak of, so it all relies on your decisions rather than your experience points. I think the catacombs have random fights so you could grind to overpoweredness I guess, if that’s your thing.  I chose the ‘rob everyone blind to have lots of cash available to buy skills’ style of grinding, myself.  The story isn’t the main focus (fear not, you won’t be stuck scrolling through text for 20 minutes every time you meet an NPC), but the writing that is there is well done and interesting.  The music is honestly a bit bizarre, but somehow really enjoyable too.

My major complaint (and only complaint…) is that the interface is a little iffy.  It’s fully swappable between keyboard and mouse, but sometimes it feels awkward to use one or the other, making you feel like you should be swapping… which is awkward in itself.  (So it is probably safe to say the UI is somewhat awkward, huh.)  I also find it a bit tedious that there are a lot of superfluous menus to click through.  I suppose it retains the “old school” feeling of “it was easier to program it this way so you have to agree to this option even though it’s literally the only option that will ever be presented to you” (e.g. having to pick “all enemies/allies” for group effects that will never be cast on anything but the entire field…), but it would have been nice to modernize that a little bit.  I also find the inventory a bit cumbersome.  Things are a bit better if you remember to hit Q and E to swap between your party members, but equipping new items on them can be a real chore sometimes.  Click(or spacebar) on inventory, click on Sorceress, click on desired item slot, double click on desired item, click on accept, swap to new character, repeat… unless you forget to swap before backing out, which results in having to re-select the inventory and character again before getting back to item select.  None of it is streamlined, and sometimes I feel like just selling the items I’ve found rather than worrying about whether one of my lesser-used party members might benefit from it.

But it’s five dollars and worth well over twice that, crappy menus and all.  Check it out.

Rust / 7 Days to Die

Once upon a time there was a game called Minecraft.  It was a game where you could mine, and then craft things out of the things that you mined.  So the name was appropriate, you see.  And I thought to myself “This is all I have ever wanted from a game.  Why did it take so fucking long for someone to make it?”  And then about 8000 other games tried to copy it and all of them fucked it up somehow, so I honestly am not sure why such a simple formula seems so hard to pull off.  Let me collect resources and use those resources to modify the world I am in, and ideally give me a purpose for doing so, and I will start throwing money at you.

Today I am going to compare and contrast two games we’ve tried recently: Rust, and 7 Days to Die.  Both are Early Access with similar themes of “scavenge to survive”, and both borrow somewhat from the Minecraft formula with resource collection and base building and cowering from zombies that want to wreck your shit. (Sort of.  I’ll explain soon.)
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Resident Evil 6 (Co-op)

We had heard a lot about how Resident Evil 6 was terrible, but co-op makes everything good.  We played a pretty shitty game called “Dungeon Lords” for hours and hours because it was co-op.  So when RE6 came on sale we snapped it up.  And then we played it while drunk.

The first thing we noticed is that it’s really god damn confusing to try to get co-op started.  The game starts, asks you to fiddle with some graphical settings (which kinda seemed to be wrong.  It asked me to adjust the gamma until I could barely see a “6” that by default looked like it was lit up by a spotlight.  I have a new monitor so I wanted to make sure things were calibrated correctly.  Turns out the default gamma was spot on perfect, and adjusting it at all based on the visibility of the “6” resulted in a game that looks like some dimly lit faces floating around in a sea of black.  I changed it back to default pretty quickly.), then dumps you straight into an action sequence.  I assumed I had done something wrong and missed the co-op option and backed out of it, but no, there were no menus before that point.  You had to play through the intro bits to get to the point where you select a campaign, THEN you can choose co-op.  It was really odd, especially since the into bit stars Leon and then you could go on to pick someone else entirely for your campaign.
So we played the intro bits simultaneously, getting wildly out of sync due to fucking up quicktime sequences and having to redo bits, not to mention pausing to look over and see if the other person is ahead of you or not and then yelling “oh my god SPOILERS you’re RUINING THE STORY for me!”

I was playing with keyboard+mouse because I hate shooting and camera movement with a controller.  Mouselook forever.  I almost questioned my decision during the many quicktime sequences in the intro… I will reiterate: beer was involved.  But it felt really scrambly sometimes like shit would happen it would be all “HIT THIS KEY” and I’d be all “uhhh fuck what key is that OH SHIT R R HIT R R RRRRRRR whew okay survived” and then it would go “NOW HIT THIS KEY OMG OMG QUICK” and I’d be all “fuck what keys are those?!?!”.  Embarrassingly, it once popped up the icon to hit left and right rapidly to ‘shake’ something off and I flailed around trying to hit left and right on the arrow keys, when of course it meant “A” and “D” from WASD, which I had been using to move the whole time so you’d think that would be obvious.  But it didn’t say A and D :( (remember: beer.)  In my defence, I only did that the first time and I felt really dumb about it.

I almost picked up my controller, under the assumption that the quicktime events would be a little more natural since the game is all console-ized to expect you to hit those buttons… or at least the button flailing would be more effective having less options to flail at.  Then I glanced over at my husband trying to shoot something with his controller and went “oh yeah.”  Once we finally got together for co-op, I ended up doing most of the shooting while he stabbed things with knives simply to avoid having to aim with his controller.  Teamwork.

Now, about the shooting.  We only finished one chapter last night (of the Leon campaign) before we got too drunk to survive anything and gave up, so I only got to spend skill points once and I suspect that will help things immensely.  BUT.  I cannot quite adequately explain how angry it makes me to unload three shotgun blasts into a zombie face and have it not fucking die.  Why are the bullets so god damn useless!  I was doing flying kicks and drop-elbow moves simply to hoard my bullet stash under the assumption that they would be more effective than kicking a zombie in the nuts, but noooo… when shit goes down and I pull out my gun I feel less effective.  Bullshit.  I also really disliked how my aiming reticule would float.  I originally thought it was some console auto-aim bullshit, but once I saw the skill list I decided it was supposed to represent my character sucking at aiming.  I’m not sure if I like the way it was implemented at all.  I’m used to games using a floating reticule that you have to wrestle with, but in RE6 I’ve got my mouse rock steady on the thing’s skull but the aiming dot is floating down to the middle of its chest.  Fuck you, dot.  Get back in the sights.

The rest of the game was pretty Resident Evil-like.  The writing… ahahaha the dialogue.  Let’s just say the characters are very insightful, and beer will almost certainly enhance the experience of making fun of their terrible lines.  We also spent a lot of time making fun of my character for apparently being incapable of opening a door without Leon, especially the time I stood there waiting for him and when he finally arrived and completed the co-op “open this door” chain, my character stepped back to let him gently push it open.  /facepalm. The co-op stuff was also really… “janky”, I suppose is a word.  Once, my husband went to the door and hit the “open this with your partner” button so it snapped him into standing there waiting, and then something jumped out and started nibbling on me right next to the door.  My character literally fell at Leon’s feet and wrestled it off, and Leon’s only comment was “Help me open this door, will you?”  Thanks Leon.  Thanks.  Something similar happened when I opened my menu to look at the settings (actually, looking to see if I could fix the wandering cursor problem that I thought was auto-aim) and it completely neglected to inform me that a quicktime event was happening.  I was run over by a train while looking at my cellphone, which could probably be some sort of social commentary if it wasn’t more likely to be terrible programming.

The primary complaint I’ve heard about this game is that it’s got too many quicktime events, and not enough freedom.  That’s pretty much entirely true.  Quicktimes don’t bother me, but it’s very on rails.  In the intro sequence you can’t even walk in a direction other than forward, which is kind of the point where you say “so why isn’t this just a cutscene, then”.  I don’t really have a problem with playing an interactive movie because co-op makes it awesome, but I can see how it might be annoying in single player since it’s not like the writing is amazing enough to carry it.  It can definitely feel very limiting, too.  We walked past some corpses that you KNEW.  YOU KNEW were going to attack as soon as we picked up the doodad we were going for, and my husband flailed away with some melee attacks but nothing happened.  “If these things come to life when I can’t kill them now I’m going to be pissed” he said.  Guess what!  They attacked.  At another point we had to “split up” so I could open a door for him, and I pushed a block out of the way to get to the door to unlock it.  I got turned around and went back instead of jumping down (beer) and my husband was saying “no no you must have had to push the block THIS way so I can climb on it!”  I found the door just as he said that and he followed up with “oh yeah.  It wouldn’t have given you a choice in what direction to push it, anyway.”

We’re still going to play it, and we’ll probably enjoy it because co-op… but RE6 definitely has a lot of flaws that drop it pretty far below its predecessors.  And sometimes that bar isn’t all that high to begin with…

Racing (but mostly ranting) (Subtitles and Tutorials rant)

This ostensibly began as a review of Dirt 3, but really I’ve played ~5 minutes or so and can’t really comment on the gameplay all that much.  This review will probably end up being something else altogether…

I recently went on a quest to find a decent PC racing game.  I love Gran Turismo and Forza and the like, but in order to play those I have to move to the couch, adjust the input on the TV to the appropriate console, find the controller, make sure the god damn disc is in the drive… I wanted to have something on my PC so I could be like “Hmm I want to race cars today” and click an exe and *poof*.

I picked up Test Drive Unlimited 2 in the winter sale on Steam and spent several mindboggling hours with it, marvelling at bad design decisions in controls and terrible voice acting during story cutscenes.  The story was added in to make it sorta-kinda like a Grand Theft Auto world, I presume, and the open world was kind of interesting to me, but the story was largely unnecessary and kind of dumb.  It didn’t add anything – the story is “you are a racer trying to make a name for yourself and become a champion”.  Well no shit, what else are you going to be doing in a racing game?  I suppose there could have been curveballs later that make it pay off, but I gave up early for a couple of reasons.  1) The controls and UI were awful.  I could have gotten used to them but simply navigating menus was painful and that’s kind of a bad sign in a game that also expects you to have dedicated buttons for fucking turn signals and stuff.  2) There were no god damn subtitles.  I am not deaf, but I quite often have the sound low or off while other things happen in the room.  I also read a hell of a lot faster than you talk.  A racing game (particularly one with a terrible story) is a perfect place to buzz through the subtitles and advance the cutscenes to get back to actually racing cars like I wanted to do when I installed this damn thing.
If you’ve played Dirt 3 you probably know where I’m going next with this review…
Last but not least, 3) The game requires you to create a separate account to log into their servers (something that deserves its own rant entry in the age of Steam), even if you only intend to play single player.  Once you’ve done this, it sits there and connects to the server making absolutely sure there have been no updates.  Connecting to the server takes an abominable amount of time.  The last time I decided to give the game a whirl, it sat on connecting for about a minute, and then I shut it down and uninstalled the game instead of waiting for it to connect.  Sorry guys, this is the age of instant gratification, and you failed.  I could have gone to the couch and played Gran Turismo in that amount of time!

Then I picked up Dirt 3 in the Humble Weekly Sale.  It was a timely sale, coming immediately after I dumped TDU2 into the trash bin.  It was very promising – it’s not quite Gran Turismo but I like rally racing too, and the graphics are very shiny (which was another thing TDU2 didn’t really have going for it…).  It also starts up immediately instead of fucking around with servers for two minutes.  All thumbs up so far!
(Actually it required me to install GFWL despite GFWL being dead, so that was kind of a thumbs down… but they’re still in the process of excising that particular tumor so I let it go.)

I started out in Dirt 3 like I typically do – my headphones were plugged in but sitting on the desk beside me while I listened to something my husband was doing.  The game kept hanging on me and I couldn’t figure it out.  It was clearly still running but all the button mashing in the world wouldn’t work.  Finally the icons would highlight again and I could advance.  What the hell is going on here?  It cannot possibly be loading anything for that long.

Then I saw it.  A speaker icon in the bottom left corner.  Oh no.

I picked up my headphones and confirmed.  Yup, some douche is talking to me the whole time the game is “frozen”.  There are absolutely no subtitle options anywhere in the settings.  There are absolutely no ways to skip the dialogue.  What’s WORSE: the dialogue is basically “In this event you want to race your car around the track.  The goal is to come in first.  You come in first by racing your car around the track.  In order to race your car around the track, push the button that corresponds to the gas pedal!  Coming in first means you win the race.  You want to win the race – winning is the whole goal of the race.”

I want to strangle the entire design team responsible for this nightmare.  This unskippable, non-subtitled, redundant nightmare.

I have two rants here:
For one, they’re completely leaving deaf people in the cold.  You’d think you’d be safe playing a fucking racing game and not having to worry about missing dialogue even if the dickheads responsible for design neglect to include subtitles for you, but now you’re stuck staring at a completely fucking useless speaker icon for several minutes, while some douche explains that the point of this racing game is to race cars.  It’s infuriating to me and I have the option of actually listening to the fucker.  I can’t imagine how annoying it is if you’re literally just staring at the screen waiting for a chance to continue.

For two, I know how to play a god damn racing game, you ass.  I don’t begrudge the inclusion of some instructions, it just makes me angry that they are mandatory.  A friend of mine linked a blog entry that talked about design decisions in modern video games.  I remember the old days of wading into a new game, getting over my head, then referring to the manual to figure out how to play.  Manuals were exciting!  I still have my old NES manuals and they’re considered collectors items, and people know how to play those games!  Nowadays manuals are extinct (if you’re lucky you’ll get a slip of paper pointing out some of the controls).  Instead, gamers are treated like children who must have their hands held through mandatory tutorials, because god forbid they miss the tutorial and become confused.
And in Dirt 3, not only are there mandatory tutorials, but you can’t skip through the instructions.  Because god forbid you accidentally hit a button and miss the instructions that the goal of the race is to come in first.

It really is happening more and more.  Think of a game you’ve played recently that didn’t have a shoe-horned tutorial in it.

Some games pull it off smoothly – Anno 2070’s campaign is literally all tutorial, progressing slowly from scenario to scenario until you’ve unlocked and used every feature in the game.  It makes sense from an in-game point of view, and introduces all the features to new players without any risk of overwhelming them.  It was mildly annoying to me because I played an unhealthy amount of Anno 1404, but you have the option of going straight to an open game if you want.  Of course, the achievements are to complete the tutorial err campaign to unlock more scenarios so you probably have to go do it at some point, and the longer you delay the more familiar you will be with any new game features and the more annoying it is to have them “taught” to you.

Some games literally will not let you play until you complete it.  Hearthstone annoyed the shit out of me by having an extremely limiting tutorial that was mandatory before you even got to look at the menu screens for regular game play. What’s worse, there were multiple scenarios that took about an hour to get through.  An hour before I could even enter the main game.  It was so linear that I literally could not play a card that it did not tell me to play.  The game only gave you the cards it wanted you to play, so you could just watch a video and have the same damn experience… but in one sequence they must have messed up because I actually had two cards I could have played.  I tried playing the other one, just to see if I could.  It lightly slapped my hand and said “nuh uh, you need to play THIS one.”  I tried just ending my turn rather than following directions (The Stanley Parable was made for people like me), and it incredulously exclaimed “But you still have a card you can play!  This one!  This one right here (not that one NO you can’t play THAT one didn’t you listen??)”  NOT playing the card was a completely valid strategy in that situation I will have you know.  But it wasn’t in the script, so I couldn’t proceed until I followed directions.  It was much like being in some sort of fascist regime and it made for a bitter and resentful start to my Hearthstone experience.
(Incidentally, Hearthstone ALSO had no subtitles, and I was all geared up to write a rant about that… but they patched them in the very day after I got into Beta.  Bullet dodged, Blizzard.  Bullet dodged.)

Look, I know there are stupid people out there who will smash the screen and then cry because nothing worked the way they expected to, but I’m getting very tired of having my intelligence insulted.  Bring back optional tutorials.  Bring back manuals with pretty artwork.  Bring back the ability to skip shit I don’t want to sit through.  If the gamers cannot understand how your game works, then one of two things has happened:  They did not read the instructions, or you created a game that’s hard to understand.  Neither of those things should be solved by enforced hand-holding that alienates the people who actually do understand how your game works.

Assassin’s Creed Black Flag (First Impressions)

This is kind of cheating since I haven’t really played much of it yet, just the prologue stuff, but I already have some things to say so why not.  I was looking forward to this title because I’ve spent way too much time playing the the AssCreed games.  I played the first one and enjoyed it, until I got to the ending and said “What the fuck” and immediately filed it under a Steam category titled “The Ending Sucks”. It was sorta-kinda redeemed when I played AssCreed 2, aided significantly by the fact that AssCreed 2 was an amazing fucking game.  I put so many hours into it.  And then I immediately went from that into Brotherhood which was similarly amazing because it was the exact same game except polished up to be even better.  By the time I was done Brotherhood, Revelations had come out… but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t play more AssCreed yet.  Plus, none of the new mechanics in Revelations really appealed to me.  The tower defense stuff was kind of dumb (I don’t like tower defense in the first place…) and it annoyed me that bomb making took a centre stage spotlight because it meant finding chests was no longer exciting, because all of them held bomb parts now.  Plus Ezio, while still badass, was really old and his facial animations seemed kind of weird to me and enh I dunno it just didn’t appeal to me in the same way.  I figured I would play it one day if only to wrap up the Ezio story, but I never really got around to it.  AssCreed 3 came out and I had no desire whatsoever to play it.  I’ve never been interested in history, and I’m not American, so running around in a forest during the American revolution was wholly uninteresting to me.  Then the reviews came out and they did not inspire me to change my mind.  I didn’t even try a demo of it…

And now I can be a mother fucking pirate oh my god yes.  Whoever is picking the settings for these games, feel free to stand up from your desk right now and announce “Nailed it!” to the office.  I’m saying this without actually having played much of the game, mind you, but I am trusting that it continues to be as awesome as it seems so far.

It also looks amazingly shiny on my computer.  So pretty.  The water makes me want to go swimming.

Quick warning: I rant in this next section.  It is a rant that will probably seem very familiar, and yet no less irrationally angry or profanity laden.  Proceed at your own risk.

My next comment is for the guys in charge of the camera.  You.  Yes you.  You added camera bobbing to Assassin’s Creed and did not add a way to disable it.  You fucking assholes I fucking hate you.  I hope you get fucking fired and never work in this industry again.  Jesus christ it makes me so fucking angry oh my fucking god why.  There was no fucking bobbing in all of the previous games.  I merrily ran around and climbed shit and assassinated people without bobbing for many hundreds of hours and had no headaches or nausea.  It is a THIRD PERSON CAMERA.  IT DOESN’T NEED TO FUCKING BOB.  I HATE YOU ALL.  Is it supposed to enhance immersion by making me go “wow these ships are so real that I actually feel kind of sea sick!” because that’s a STUPID FUCKING THING TO ADD TO YOUR GAME.  I don’t even care if you want to add camera bobbing but let me fucking turn it off.   WHY IS THAT SO FUCKING HARD TO FIGURE OUT.  WHY CAN’T ANYONE IN THIS STUPID GOD DAMN INDUSTRY FIGURE THIS SHIT OUT.  FUCK YOU.  There, I feel better now.

After all that profanity, I will add that the bob isn’t too bad.  It’s enough to give me a headache and probably make me limit my play sessions (which sucks in a game I will probably want to spend 200 hours in, if it’s like the previous ones…) but it’s significantly less worse than Tomb Raider was and I might be able to adjust to it.  I object to that fact that I need to adjust to it at all when it’s completely fucking unnecessary, though.  Fortunately it’s only at its worst when you’re sprinting and jumping, and since this is an Assassin’s Creed game, you don’t do a lot of…….. oh.

Moving on… there are a couple other comments I wanted to make too.

As I said, I skipped 3, so the intro to 4 is my first real experience with “Forest Parkour”.  It gets a resounding *shrug* from me – it’s certainly not as exciting as climbing on historical monuments, but I also don’t hate it as much as a lot of the internet seemed to for 3.  Maybe it’s improved since then.  What did annoy me, though, was looking at a cliff covered in lovely climbable looking ivy and branches and launching Edward at it, only to have him scrabble at it like a cat that just tried to leap up a slanted window.  There were very few walls that you could not make an attempt at climbing in the cities, and when you weren’t going to be able to make it it was pretty obvious due to the lack of features on said wall, so you’d circle around and look for a window or board that looked grabbable.  I found it really hard to determine which cliff walls were climbable or not (any rock climber could climb this shit, come on man) and spent a lot of time experimentally hurling myself into them until I finally just gave up and started looking for obvious paths.  It felt a lot more restrictive than I am used to in AssCreed.  Also Edward was unable to climb up an absolutely perfectly square three-walled “chimney” that any idiot (presuming said idiot was a remarkably in-shape assassin) could have climbed up using mario-style wall jumping or just shimmying.  Even Sam Fisher can do this shit!  Maybe I can buy that as an upgrade later or something but it was VERY disappointing.  Shame on you Edward.  You pussy.

Camera headaches aside, I am very excited to sail around finding treasure maps.  I’m liking the characters so far (they have plenty of time to piss me off though) and I’m looking forward to obsessively collecting shit again.  Unless there are feathers.  Fuck those feathers.

FORCED

You know what I’ve always wanted?  I’ve always wanted the raid fights from World of Warcraft, but for 2-4 players.  Something that requires a lot of strategy and coordination, with specific roles for each team member, but without the need to collect and manage a group of 25 or more competent team members.

That game is FORCED.  We’ve played it for about 3 hours and only made it to the second set of challenges, but I already feel confident enough to recommend it.

The premise is that you are gladiators dumped into a ring, and you must battle through a series of challenges.  You can choose one of four roles/classes, then proceed into challenge chambers and try to succeed.  Succeeding at a challenge involves your standard “kill shit that is attacking you”, “avoid things that will kill you” (I accidentally referred to a giant spinning death beam as a “Lurker Beam”.  Sigh.  If you don’t understand that then, well, good.), as well as the novel mechanic which is passing an orb back and forth. The orb will activate switches which do various kinds of things (heal you, kill enemies, blow shit up, etc.), it might activate blocks which need to be pushed onto switches, or various other kinds of goals. Each encounter has three objectives: Succeed, succeed really fast (time attack, usually requiring a high degree of coordination), and a sort of “achievement” style challenge which can be anything from “do this perfectly” to “do this crazy shit that no sane person would attempt”.  Each time you complete a challenge you get a gem, which is used to unlock abilities, perks, and keys to bind things to.  I had originally thought that beating the chambers was fairly easy and that the real challenge of the game would be to complete all the extra challenges.  Then we had our asses kicked repeatedly in chamber 2.

People keep saying it’s an ARPG/Diablo clone, and I can see why because I also thought at first it was going to be a WoW/Diablo game (in fact… I think their own site refers to it as a Diablo style game)… but it’s actually not much like Diablo, aside from having a third person isometric camera angle and shit to kill.  There is no loot or experience.  The only progression comes from completing challenges and unlocking more abilities.  The real challenge is all on you as the player to execute the encounter correctly, and the advanced abilities only make that marginally easier by giving you more playstyle options that might better fit your comfort zone.  Basically, if you enjoy beating a challenge for intrinsic reasons (because it is challenging and then you can tick it off the “done that” list), you will love this game.  If you enjoy beating a challenge for extrinsic reasons (because it drops shiny items), you might wonder what the point is.

I also don’t see how this game will ever be fun to play with random groups.  My god, the ways you can fuck over an encounter… I can see this game ruining a number of legit friendships when they’re actually putting in effort, nevermind random internet assholes trying to grief things.  One tap of the space bar calls the orb to you, which calls it off-course from wherever it was going before.  A lot of the orb objectives require precise timing and aiming, and we screwed the encounter over so many times simply by losing track of which character was ours amongst the swarms of monsters.  Much cursing was heard.  And that’s on the second chamber with only two people who are physically in the same room and can yell instructions to each other easily.  I can only imagine it gets worse at higher levels, never mind with 4 people accidentally hitting space… and maybe some of them aren’t on voice chat… and then that one asshole keeps doing it on purpose…
Yeah.  Play this game with friends.  Very good friends that you aren’t likely to want to strangle.

The really unfortunate thing is that the game is suffering some launch issues, and I feel like that, combined with the misinformed “just another ARPG” vibe people are getting from it, will really hurt its reputation before it gets off the ground.  The netcode is apparently a little shaky, and the developers couldn’t afford to have dedicated servers for it.  The result is that the host has a perfectly solid game, but there are some pretty gnarly lag spikes for most everyone else.  My husband and I are in the same room and he was still having some connection issues (LAN doesn’t appear to be an option either…).  I’m really hoping they can iron it out or get some dedicated servers up before they lose rep.

My one legit complaint with it is that the camera gets in the way a lot.  The camera follows the orb, so when you and your buddies split up, it just zooms out so that you can still see everything.  Except you can’t really see everything and sometimes it messes you up.  Cameras are such a difficult thing to do correctly… it’s really only an issue because the game requires so much precision.  The other issue is that I found it really easy to lose my character in the mobs of monsters, or lose track of which character was mine on the screen (something that happened to both of us frequently, and it’s really bad because you’re like “Oh if I call the orb now it will hit that pillar perfectly!  … why is it going THAT w…, oh FUCK.”).  We were both on sinus decongestants at the time which probably wasn’t helping, though…

The game is fairly unique and I really want to support co-op endeavors like this, plus the developers themselves have a pretty awesome origin story and I feel like I want to support these guys.  The first review they list in their trailer literally says “Fuck your game!”.  What other evidence do you need!  Buy FORCED.

Card Hunter

I am going to promote a game that, judging by the server status, needs absolutely no promotion… you fuckers are going to try it and make it harder for me to get online to play >:(.  But oh well.

Card Hunter is a free to play browser based game that I suppose you could call an MMO.  I’ve only been playing the single player content because I am anti-social like that, but there’s a multiplayer aspect as well where you go PvP and get extra goodies.  The game is a callback to old school basement board games, to the degree that the whole background narrative is an amusing… tribute?  parody? of those days.  The gist of it is that you’ve gone over to your friend Gary’s house to play the game.  He’s a novice GM and using his brother Melvin’s game set, so his brother hangs around in the background trying to “teach” him how to be a good GM (while also making sure his precious game pieces are not abused, no doubt). It will be amusing to most, nostalgic to some, possibly insulting to a few… but those few will probably be too busy analyzing the rules of the game itself looking for flaws.

The actual game is well presented.  You have a three character party and you complete modules to collect loot which gives the characters more cards to work with.  Having no weapon equipped means you get shitty attacks, but when you find a nice axe or club you get some appropriate slashing or bludgeoning cards.  Better weapons give you better cards.  Same for armor and accessories, and then things like boots which give you more movement cards to work with.  On top of that, your characters get experience for completing a module and levelling up gives them the standard +HP, but will also give them some more basic cards, as well as more slots to equip items in for a different array of cards.  Each module is pretty straight forward… you go, the GM goes, and you try to kill each other.  Matches are won with victory points which so far means “kill each other”, but some modules do add in some twists like victory squares which award a point for controlling it at the end of a turn, so there’s potential for modules that aren’t just same-old same-old.  There are a lot of mechanics like LOS squares and squares which have attributes (acid attacks can lay down damaging acid squares, which you can cleanse with the right cards), or you can get levitate style abilities and just float over them.  It’s a bit frustrating to draw a fistful of armor cards and have to sit there passing while the enemy has its way with you, but that’s due to shitty gear/card selection and should improve as the characters do.

I do have a few complaints about the UI that will hopefully be ironed out eventually.  One of the complaints is just that it’s pretty laggy right now, which is something that will improve with time.  It does mean sometimes you sit around waiting for an action to take place, though, which highlights some redundancies in the UI that probably won’t be as annoying when it’s fast.  Whenever you play a card, it zooms that card so you can see what it is.  Makes sense right, you should know what card the enemy is playing.  The problem is, it doesn’t show it very long, so even when you don’t know what card it is, you don’t actually have time to read it… which means we’re just kind of wasting a couple seconds pausing the game to flash cards around.  And it does this for every card, even yours, and even when it’s something you’re going to do a lot like “walk”.  Every single time you walk, you select the card, you select the square to walk to, it pauses, it shows the card, it puts the card away, and then your figure moves.  Again, probably only annoying because the server lags a bit and makes each of those things take a few extra seconds, but it feels like it could be trimmed a bit to make it speedier.  It seems like the purpose of this is so that when a card counters what is played, it can pop up and show the counter, but it would be nice if they could show that when a counter occurred instead of every single play.

My next complaint is that the isometric view actually makes selecting the figures difficult sometimes.  When they’re close together, the figure it front will hide the health indicator of the one behind it.  The health is displayed elsewhere, so it’s not a huge deal, but you have to be very careful when trying to shoot the really injured guy behind the not so injured guy.  I’ve wasted a lot of attacks on the wrong target because of misclicks.  Worse is when you misclick a heal because the bad guy was standing in front of your about-to-die character /facepalm.

Worse than that (because at least misclicking is totally my fault…) is that the game tries to “help” you.  It’s mostly an issue with LOS.  So many times now I’ll click a heal intending to save the wizard or warrior who’s moved up around a pillar, only to realize I’m actually one step out of LOS of him.  But the game goes “There’s only one target in range so you must mean this one!” and uses my heal on whatever is in range, instead of letting me try to cast it on the thing which was not in range to realize it is not in range.  If it hadn’t done that I could have backed out of the heal, used my move card, and then hopefully saved him on the next round… but now my heal card has been wasted because the game is “helping”.  It may seem ironic to complain about streamlining immediately after complaining about how the card-showing process is not streamlined, but at least waiting for the card to show doesn’t result in a loss.

I’m finding it pretty fun so far and I hope there’s plenty of content to go through still.  I am finding I quickly reached a point where the wizard is the most important character in the party, just because all the monsters now attack from two squares away which makes my warrior completely useless unless there’s plenty of pillars to pin them on.  I just bought him a rapier that can attack at two squares so we’ll see if that helps, but wizardly OPness might be a balance issue to watch out for.  I haven’t taken a close look at the microtransactions yet… I saw some cosmetic stuff and I know if you sub you get an extra loot item at the end of a match, so those are both cool but not “Pay to win” and I approve of that.  I glanced at the cost of subbing and didn’t really find it appealing, though (I think it was like 10 bucks a month which isn’t too ridiculous, I guess).  We’ll see how much fun I continue to have.  I do like to support F2P games, but only if the prices seem reasonable for what I get.  I mostly dislike the idea of paying for benefits which immediately dissolve as soon as I stop paying.  The game appears to have optional “treasure hunt” missions which offer better loot, and if they can be unlocked and stay unlocked I might donate some cash that way.  Then again, you only get the loot once, and it doesn’t seem to be a random item… so it’s kind of like paying for an item that you have to do work to access.  Nngh we’ll see how this goes I guess.

Dungeon Village

Dungeon Village is an android game by “Kairosoft” that I avoided for the longest time because it costs about 5 bucks.  “Five bucks for a PHONE GAME???  Fuck no”, I said.  Then one day I got bored and downloaded the “lite” version, and gameplay ended like maybe 20 minutes later, and I bought it immediately.  It has been stealing my soul ever since.  *shake fist*

You place buildings, then increase the quality and appeal of those buildings, which attracts people to your town.  Those people then buy stuff from your stores and go out and beat the shit out of cute little blob style monsters, then come back and buy more stuff from your stores, and then you upgrade the stores and give them gifts so they can beat the shit out of stronger cute little monsters, and occasionally you pay them money to go into a scary dungeon and bring back fancy things to sell in your stores (right back to them…).  The more they visit your stores the more your stores level up, and the people themselves level up, and there’s even a jobs system.  Later you start mixing ingredients into a cauldron in order to create new items.

It’s such a simple god damn formula.  Envision all of those things as a progress bar.  There are lots of little progress bars to watch, and it’s fucking awesome.  Why aren’t more of you creating progress-bar-watching games for me, dammit >:(.  I played it for my entire lunch break yesterday and my phone limped home with about 14% battery life left (oops…).  I’m currently at a point where I need more income, so I just spend all of my money on building enhancing items every cycle, and one day I will be raking in the dough, man.  Apparently the most efficient way of making high income is to delete all your buildings and then place certain ones in places where the dudes have to step on them and therefore spend money, but fuck that, I have lots of little shops and they will be the best fucking shops ever.

Also the heroes have pre-set awesome* names like “Lance Alot” and “Seffy Roth”
(* only awesome for about 20 seconds)

There are a few flaws, of course… like how your adventurers don’t really buy equipment upgrades at your shops, buy they do re-buy what they already have.  So the best strategy is to give them gifts of super expensive equipment, and then they’ll go buy it over and over again.  … yeah, I don’t know either.  At its heart it’s pretty shallow too.  It didn’t take me very long to get to four stars, and the only reason I’m not 5 stars right now is because I refuse to cheat at raising my income.  But I also peeked at a wiki and there are a fuckton of jobs and things to unlock, which apparently carry over into new towns you make once you’ve unlocked them once, so it’s not like it doesn’t have any content for 5 bucks.

I would write more but “Gilly Gamesh” just maxed out his Archer class and I need to pick a new job for him to work on.  This game is good at wasting your life.  You should probably check it out.

Papers Please

To be fair, I have only played this game for about an hour, and I lost terribly, but it was enough for me to drop the demo and go buy it full price on Steam and start again.  I bought a game on Steam that wasn’t on sale.  It’s only 10 dollars, but still.

Papers Please is a unique indie game that simulates being a border guard in a communist country, trying to regulate who is legally allowed in and who is a terrorist that is going to blow your shit up.  Meanwhile, you’re making pennies a day (okay, dollars… but not MANY dollars) and you have a decent sized family that is freezing and starving to death.  Do you stop this guy’s wife from crossing the border because she has an invalid passport, or do you take the bribe and hope it’s worth it in the end?  Bear in mind, make too many mistakes (even intentional ones) and your pay is docked, which might mean you can’t afford food tonight.  If your bank balance is negative your ass is in jail and your family will be deported to their eventual doom.  Plenty of people want your job, you know.

The actual gameplay is probably something that will be considered tedious to some people.  A person walks in your booth and hands over their papers, you inspect them and decide if they’re legit.  If you see a discrepancy you highlight it and the game starts an interrogation, from which you can decide if it’s actually legit, if they should be rejected, or if they should be arrested and detained for suspicious behaviour.  A lot of the discrepancies are obvious, assuming you watch for them – expiry dates that have passed, names or serial numbers that don’t match, pictures that don’t match, even genders that don’t match.  Some of the trickier ones are watching for incorrect issuing cities (who the fuck is going to memorize all these city names and the countries they’re from!) or incorrect seal logos.  You have a handy dandy reference book, but you’re paid per person that’s processed so you don’t have all day to leaf through that thing, man, move move move your kid needs some medicine!

The interesting part of the game is in the background narratives.  Some people return over and over again, trying new tactics to get in.  Some people try to bribe you.  Occasionally a terrorist hops the fence and turns your guards into giblets.  Sometimes people slip you notes and ask for favours with regards to denying or approving a future passport.  Can your paycheque take the hit, or should you play it safe and risk retaliation from the seedy underbelly later?  Do you help the rebels try to free the country, or play it safe and try to keep your family happy and healthy with your steady (but shitty) job?

And if you’re not sold yet… you eventually get access to a full body scanner.  The game has a “nudity” toggle which confused the fuck out of me, but once I unlocked the scanner it all made perfect sense.  Bonus:  I confirmed someone’s gender with it!

Don’t get too excited though, the graphics are……… well, let’s just say not great.  It would probably be at home on my old Tandy 2000, with nostalgic CGA style cyan and magenta blocks.  The entire game is 37mb to download (lol) so yeah, don’t expect dazzling textures here.  I’m not complaining though – I enjoy pixel style graphics and it adds to the uniqueness of the game, but I know today’s crowd can be pretty fickle when it comes to things like that, so fair warning.  This is not a game you play for eye candy.

When I lost terribly, the game informed me that I had achieved 1 out of 20 endings.  So there might even be a decent amount of replay in this thing, too.  Unfortunately it seems like the beginning is pretty similar… the same people came through and asked for the same favours, the same terrorists hopped the same fences and blew up the same guards, the kid got sick on the same day…  I feel like it could be a bit repetitive to play a lot in close succession, but then again if you know who to accept and reject in advance you could save up one hell of a nest egg, if you’re that sort of “trial and error” gamer.  Of course, there’s also Endless Mode, which I have not tried, but I assume it will be truly random from start to finish.
[edit] So now that I’ve said this… I went and restarted and it actually lets you pick any day you’ve completed to start from, so the repetitive problem isn’t really a problem until you’ve finished all 20 endings, and by then you’ve probably got your 10 bucks worth. [/edit]

I feel like it’s unique enough that it’s worth the 10 dollar entry fee, but if you want to see for yourself, you can try the beta version as a demo: http://dukope.com/
The Steam version is definitely more polished with more events, and achievements, of course.  I made it to something like day 6 before just going and buying it on Steam – see how you do!

A Dark Room

This is an obscure one, but part of the reason I wanted to babble in a blog is to point out the obscure gems I trip over from time to time.  It’s a browser game called A Dark Room.

There are no fancy graphics here.  This is text, and on a good day some ASCII symbols.  You start out in a dark room (as perhaps you gathered, from the title) and your only real option is to start a fire and keep it going by clicking every so often.  After a bit you can go outside and start gathering wood to stoke it some more.  Every time you click it counts down, so impatient people probably roll their eyes and quit here, but the fun is just starting.  Soon a bedraggled traveller stumbles in and offers to start making traps and buildings for you.  Eventually you will have a whole village built up, with up to 80 people hanging out.  All the resource gathering is a bit slow in the beginning, but once you attract some people they’ll be doing the work for you.

Which frees you up to go explore the countryside.  At this point the game becomes something like a roguelike… there’s an ascii map and you have to watch your resources, making pit stops so that you don’t pass out.  “Dying” results in waking up in camp sans all the equipment you took, so it’s a setback but not the end of the game.  It’s more devastating when you find a haul of awesome goodies and then don’t make it back to camp.  Your exploration progress is not saved if you ‘die’, so a retreat back to camp to ‘save’ is often a prudent option.  You run around, clearing out nests of bandits who are holed up in abandoned towns, go spelunking in some caves, and explore old mining sites.

Then you find the spaceship…

I really enjoyed messing around with the game for a day or so, just leaving it running when I had to leave and coming back to find 35000 wood lying around in my stores because wolves killed all my people and then a bunch more migrated in to replace them and were set to the default wood gathering.  Good times.  It’s too bad I couldn’t make an account and log in from other locations, but the game isn’t really deep enough for a feature like that.

Probably my only complaint about this little time-waster is that I “won” (I think??), and there was no fanfare.  It just faded out and there I was, back in the dark room, stoking a fire and waiting for the builder to wander in.  All my progress erased, nothing to show for it, not even a blurb telling me if I actually did win or if I fucked up, or maybe this is New Game + and I should have kept going to see what was new?

I know nothing about this game.  I don’t know if it’s still being developed, I don’t know if it’s been sitting here for 20 years and I just found it now, I don’t know anything about its past or future.  I DO know it’s an interesting waste of a day or two, though, and you should probably check it out.

 

Xenoblade (Final)

It’s so good.

IT’S SO GOOD.

I could probably just leave it there, but no, I’m fucking serious.  Xenoblade is one of the best games I’ve seen in ages.  At first I was thinking “This is pretty much as good as FFX” since that was the last time I remembered being heavily invested in characters, but then it got better.  And then it got better.  And then it GOT FUCKING BETTER.  I kept thinking “This is so fucking amazing it cannot possibly get any better” and then it kept doing it.  And I was thinking to myself “This is super amazing but I’m sure the ending will be pretty cliche, but that’s okay because it’s really fucking good”, and then the ending surprised me.  Oh my fucking god.  It’s so good.  Game of the decade, sitting on the top shelf right beside FF6 and Chrono Trigger and Earthbound and all the other RPGs I have enjoyed more than anything else.  This game is already somewhat hard to find, so I am going to enshrine my disc for the inevitable day that it becomes a priceless rare collector’s item because it’s so fucking good.  I can’t believe how good it was!  I keep repeating myself but that’s because it was really good, guys!

Now for confession time – I didn’t finish playing it.  I put many many many many many hours into it and started feeling really burned out (I really dislike the real-time combat, which is the huge glaring flaw in the midst of everything), and then discovered that after all of those hours I was only just under half done.  But I really wanted to know what happened!!  But then I’d play more and be like “nnngh.”  But I REALLY wanted to know what happened!!  So I totally cheated and looked up a youtube channel that would show me all the cutscenes.  Watching the cutscenes loses a bit from the game, because a lot of the inter-character development occurs while running around or through cheesy heart-to-heart events, but I was already sufficiently attached to all of them that I was happy just seeing how the story ended.

The cutscenes alone?  ELEVEN HOURS.  ELEVEN FUCKING HOURS WITHOUT ANY GAMEPLAY OR SIDE QUESTS OR WALKING AROUND OR TALKING TO RANDOM NPCS.  ELEVEN. HOURS. OF STORY.

I watched all of it and it was the most epic movie I have seen since the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and at a comparable length too, huh).

Oh my god it was so good.

The worldbuilding.  The character development was good, but there were a lot of flaws with the characters that popped out at me.  They’re all so self-sacrificing and then everyone else in the group gets mad at them for being self-sacrificing and then they go “I’m sorry guys I didn’t want to worry you” and then they all go “TELL us next time – we’re a team!” and then next time they don’t tell them and it happens all over again.  There were plenty of character cliches at work under the surface too, but they were sufficiently buried that I felt it didn’t detract.  Also the romance got a little sappy.  But the worldbuilding.  This is a case study for excellent worldbuilding.  What an amazing world they built.

It really makes me sad that it was lost on the Wii, where the majority of people will not play it because they don’t own it, and the majority of those who remain will not play it because they think the graphics suck.  The graphics did kinda suck, but that’s because it’s a Wii.  I got over it.  It makes me even sadder that they’re supposedly developing the sequel as a Wii-U exclusive.  The console is already considered an abandoned husk :/.  I have no idea how they’re going to top this game, but if they DO, lost in the wasteland of the Wii-U library… noooooo… tragedy of the decade in the making.

This bears repeating: It’s really fucking good.  If you see a Xenoblade Chronicles disc, buy it.  If you don’t own a Wii, buy a Wii after buying the disc, solely so you can play it.  Or just put the disc somewhere for when it becomes a collector’s item because I am totally calling that right now.  Buy the disc to support the game and at the very least cheat and watch the cutscenes like I did, because you cannot miss this.

Starforge (Alpha)

This is probably a little unfair because I played, oh… about 10 minutes of this game.  Maybe there is a really good game buried under the shit I was exposed to in those 10 minutes, but it was enough that I made a pretty disgusted face and then uninstalled it.  I very deeply regret spending 10 dollars on this, and that was 50% off.  What’s worse, my husband bought it too because we played multiplayer.  That is 20 dollars wasted on this.  I feel bad for supporting it, but maybe they will turn it into not-shit game sometime soon.  I can’t get rid of the god damn thing now so maybe in a year or two it will be worth installing again.  I can hope.

First, a derail: I want to rant about this early access bullshit Steam keeps doing.  There are SO MANY games popping up on steam and you’re like “ooh this looks unique!” and then you click and find out it’s actually an unfinished alpha game that they want you to buy into so that it funds their development.  This is all Minecraft’s fault (and I admit to buying Minecraft as an alpha, but it was actually worth it back before everyone was fucking doing it), and it’s led to things like Kickstarter… but when you buy unfinished shit on Steam you get unfinished shit with no real promises attached.  I don’t so much mind the option – I bought Minecraft, and I even bought Towns on Steam, and both were interesting ideas that ended up developing in interesting directions that I would like to encourage, so I don’t regret funding them – but I hate that there are so many of them showing up on Steam and that they’re not sequestered to their own little section.  Sometimes it’s really tough to tell just how unfinished these things are when you buy into them and you have to rely on other people’s reviews before deciding to drop the cash.  I wish that more of these would give you a demo or something.

The game markets itself as a sandbox experience where you “gather resources, build bases, craft anything you want, and survive on an alien planet”.  That is exactly the kind of game I love, and exactly the kind of game I want to encourage more developers to make.  Not enough to drop 20 dollars on it (ahahahaha 20 dollars for an ALPHA BUILD what the fuck), but 10 dollars… if it encourages more resource/crafting/survival games, sure I can invest in that!

The problem is, that is not what this game is at all.  I suppose going by the words it matches that description, but I feel misled by this marketing, and that makes me bitter.

You collect resources – by grabbing boxes that drop on the ground and dragging them back to your base.  This is not Minecraft style resource gathering, this is shit dropping from the sky and you hoping to find the right box of stuff lying around.  I can’t even describe to you how disappointed I was by this.  If it had decent resource gathering I probably would have still been enchanted by running around looking for new stuff to exploit, but exploring was marred by giant oil drums appearing out of fucking nowhere and the realization that the landscape around me was really only there to provide a surface.

You build bases – with an incredibly shitty interface that was frustrating to use. The terraforming seems promising but, eeenh.  I spent the vast majority of my opening minutes hitting google trying to find a guide to the controls (because the game sure as fuck isn’t helpful).  Once I figured out how to open the building menus, the mouse control drove me nuts.  It’s a 3D world, and the mouse behaves like you would expect it to in an incredibly amateur engine from several years ago.  It floats all over, you have to wrestle it onto the square you want, and your camera is constantly getting in your way.
Bonus bitch: Head bobbing that cannot be disabled in game.  See The Bobbing Rant.  If I wasn’t going to uninstall you BEFORE, well…

You craft anything you want! – provided it’s in the incredibly limited list of things you can build, and you’ve dragged the proper resources into a pile next to your forge.  This is not like Minecraft style crafting, this is literally just select it from a list and it either goes *boop* ok you have that now, or *boop* you need to drag more resources over to here to make that.  It’s a little unfair since it’s an alpha and they’re going to add a bunch of shit (god, they better), but once I figured out how to open the build list… boy that was disappointing.  Not only that but there were no tooltips so I was building things in an attempt to figure out what the fuck that icon represented.  It took several clicks just to see what was necessary to build a thing so I could go find out what I needed to drag back.  This is like some sort of study in how not to design a friendly UI.

You survive on an alien planet – and here is what made me uninstall the game.  This is where the game showed its true colours.  I was expecting Minecraft, right?  You run around and collect shit, build a little base, expand your empire and build cool things, and defend yourself from alien fauna that probably wants to eat you.  I first played single player “creative” mode and it can probably be hammered into some facsimile of that, but the whole “surviving” aspect was pretty thin.  Creative mode seemed to be more about building things (one description said “test base layouts” for the other modes, which is telling) , except building things wasn’t very fun in its current state so it was more about running around looking at landscape and being disappointed by the ugly resource crates lying all over it.

When my husband and I tried multiplayer we tried the more survival-ish mode.  And it turned out to be just a crappy version of Sanctum.  Sanctum, if you’re not aware, is an amazing game that is like a first person co-op tower defense game where you have a core that you must protect from the waves and you build walls and towers to aid you in the destruction of the things that want to destroy it, so you coordinate your resources and weapon types to be an efficient team.  Starforge gives you a tank full of aliens (why do I have a tank full of aliens and why should I protect it?  It doesn’t explain) and a forge, and dumps you into a world where streams of monsters continually run toward you and try to destroy it.  You have to run back and forth dragging resource boxes to your forge and build defenses while these things come at you.  It’s like playing Sanctum with no pauses between waves, mandatory tedious resource collection, and shitty-ass controls.  It was not good.

I already regrettably wasted money on this so I will check in from time to time to see if they’ve turned into a GOOD open world collect-resources-build-shit survival sandbox, but I really cannot recommend it in its current state, and I kinda feel like Steam shouldn’t even be promoting it right now.  The content and UI are NOT worth the price it is asking, even at 50% off.  It’s not that the ideas behind the game are bad (and the implementations of them have time to mature), and I admire small teams of people who try to make ambitious projects into reality, but asking 20 bucks for this just seems greedy and I don’t think it should be encouraged.

The Swapper

And now for an impulse indie purchase: The Swapper.  I knew nothing of this game when I bought it.  That is why Steam exists – to make us drop a couple of coffees worth of money on random games.  I saw someone recommend it as “An atmospheric Sci-Fi Puzzle game with claymation graphics” and I was like “Sold!”

It’s a really good game and I absolutely recommend it.  The premise is that you are exploring a space station that seems to have come under some duress.  The puzzle part of the game comes when you discover a device that lets you clone yourself, and choose to swap to the new clone body or not (hence: The Swapper).  All the clones follow the same keyboard commands, so you can be “controlling” up to 5 of yourself at once, strategically placing them to walk where you want them to walk in order to depress switches, or get you to a new platform or whatever.

The atmosphere is excellent.  It’s got that perfect mix of creepy abandoned space station, claustrophobia, and a sense of wonder and reveal to keep it from being too oppressive.  The graphics are pretty neat too and give it a little something extra that deserves a mention.  Some love was definitely poured into the design of the game.

You uncover bits of the story by accessing computer terminals and listening to creepy recordings (keep subtitles on – some of them are pretty hard to hear).  As a bonus, you wander past alien artifacts which were brought on board, and start to learn a bit about those as well. I haven’t gotten very far in the story and I’m quite interested in what will be revealed.

Sadly, I’m not sure how much of it I will be able to reveal.  See, I kinda suck at twitchy platformy games, and I quickly ran into some twitchy puzzles involving swapping to bodies at just the right moment as they fall through space.  You can prevent yourself from dying by creating a clone close to the ground and swapping to it before you splat, or even climb high shafts by continually creating clones and swapping to them, leaving your old body to plummet to the ground as you gain a few more inches toward your goal (no morality problems here!  Nope!).  I was able to do these things, but… it was stressful.  And this is near the beginning of the game, so I can only IMAGINE the horrible and frustrating puzzles I’ll need to use it on later in the game.  I don’t think I’m going to be able to complete it :(.  Fortunately dying only sends you back to the last save point, which is usually a beam of light right inside the door of the room.  Unfortunately, I suuuccckkkk at this.

But you.  You do not suck at twitchy platformy games the way I do.  You should buy this game.  It’s got some unique ideas, the graphics are an experiment gone correctly, and there is a lot of love poured into it.  It deserves a look.

Organ Trail

Who doesn’t know about Oregon Trail, right?  If you don’t know what it is, you need to either spend some time in society, or get off my lawn.  Or possibly both.  Why, yes, I DID play it on shiny new Apple computers in elementary school!  Why, yes, I AM extremely old.  The best part of Oregon Trail was learning that “dysentery” means “pooping yourself to death” and then laughing when the character you named after your best friend died of it.  I mean, I guess it had some sort of historical knowledge value too, or something, and we were supposed to realize and respect just how hard life was for those pioneers… but mostly it was great seeing what horrible way your friends would die THIS time.

And now we have “Organ Trail”.  It’s a pretty clever … parody?  I guess it’s a parody… of Oregon trail, where instead of trying to migrate to the wild west, you’re trying to survive the zombie hordes.  All the basic gameplay elements remain roughly the same.  Instead of a covered wagon, you have a station wagon.  Instead of wagon wheels and axles you have tires and batteries.  Instead of oxen you have fuel.  Food works pretty similarly, but instead of shooting 7 oxen and then being mad that you can only carry like 3 squirrels of it back with you, you collect cans off the ground while running away from zombies.  And then a hobo randomly steals it all from you in a popup event where you can neither react nor do anything about it other than nod and carry on.

I was pretty excited for this game.  It’s cheap, it’s available for your phone so you can watch your friends break their legs while on the go, and if nothing else it should be entertaining because how do you fuck up Oregon Trail With Zombies, right?

I will tell you how you can fuck up Oregon Trail With Zombies.  You make it impossible to shoot zombies.  I got the game from the humble android bundle so I was able to activate it on my phone AND on steam to try both versions.  I uninstalled it from my phone within a couple minutes because I couldn’t even get past the intro trying to use the touchscreen controls to shoot.  How hard can this be?!?  Tap zombie shoot zombie!  But no, instead it’s tap screen, drag finger, watch your guy spin in exactly the wrong direction, wiggle your finger around to try to make him pivot, watch him spin uselessly until oh! oh!  he’s pointing the right way now!  FIRE!  YES I KILLED ONE.  Meanwhile, 20 more walked in off the edges of the screen and I’m totally and completely fucked.  Also I gathered no food while doing this.  And took severe penalties for failing.  Alright, fuck this, it HAS to be better with a mouse.  At least then I can drag the mouse cursor with more accuracy, right?  … It was a little better but it was pretty much the same story.  I ended up selling all my ammo to buy car parts and just avoided doing any jobs or events where I had to shoot zombies.  I avoided shooting zombies in the zombie apocalypse.  Sigh.  Surprise, I hit an event that wasn’t optional and ended up dying.  I suppose it would be possible to get used to it and get better at the shooting, but I have other games to play that aren’t ruined by stupid and frustrating control schemes.

It’s really too bad because it could be a fun little time waster, but until the shooting controls are changed or some kind of “I’m an idiot let me click on them to shoot them without aiming” difficulty mode is added, it’s just not worth playing.  I can’t even really give the game high marks for being unique because it is literally Oregon Trail.  With zombies.

The Last of Us

I’ve been trying to decide how to review The Last of Us.  It’s difficult to talk about without talking about the story, but I don’t want to talk about the story because I feel that you should see it for yourself.

TL;DR you should buy it.  At full price, even!  The Last of Us is absolutely worth it.  It’s somewhat short… it has about 6 to 6.5 hours of story in it, but the time you spend exploring and picking up collectibles with backstory will pad that out a bit without making it feel like it’s been padded.  It took my husband 12 – 13 hours to finish it, I think.  It was a marathon over two days so maybe more.  NORMALLY I would say that is too short for 60 dollars, but the thing is it’s really good.

In case you’ve been under a rock and have not heard of it, The Last of Us is yet another post apocalyptic “zombie-like” apocalypse game.  In this one, a fungus (based on a real one!  Cordyceps.  Which, incidentally, helps to thin out populations of ants when they become too numerous.  HMMMMmmmm) starts infecting people’s brains, which causes them to lose control of their actions and… start attacking everything (as opposed to climbing up a blade of grass and freezing to death like the real Cordyceps does, but y’know).  Infection spread through bites, yadda yadda, fungal spores mixed in for flavour… the military tries to take control and welcome to the zombie apocalypse.  When my husband was playing through it I wasn’t paying full attention, and I thought it was a pretty generic setting.  I was wrong.  So if at first glance it seems generic to you, take a deeper look.  There are definitely some cliches at play, but the writing and worldbuilding more than compensate for them.  The writing.  I cannot say enough about the writing.  Yes, the base plot has nothing terribly original going on in it, but the characters and the world they’re in.  Everything is lovingly crafted with high levels of detail.  I wouldn’t call it “scary”, but if you like atmospheric post-apocalyptic games, you must get this game.  Right now.

They did a masterful job with the characters – you relate to them immediately and they feel genuine, and at no point did I feel that they were shoehorning character traits in my face to emphasize them.  The character’s motivations are natural and understandable, even if you don’t agree with them, which makes every character strong and believable.  Ellie is one of the best crafted teenage characters I think I have ever seen in a game.  She’s vulnerable and terrified, desperate for someone with some permanence to latch onto, but at the same time teenage defiance keeps flashing out as she struggles to find some independence.  The voice actors do an amazing job of bringing the characters to life, too.  It’s one thing to have incredible writing but a wooden performance will sink it just as quickly.  I am so happy with the voice actors in this game – thanks for doing a good job, guys.  And the graphics don’t hurt, either – cutscenes are incredible, but I did notice a bit of stiffness in the animations when the characters were speaking while moving around the world.  One day we will be unable to distinguish CGI from live action, but it is not this day.  That’s an incredibly petty thing to nitpick on, but I just don’t have anything else to bitch about, dammit.

Speaking of bitching… I hate bringing it up because I feel like a feminist when I do, but the female characters in this game are also fantastic and believable.  I really appreciate it when games go out of their way to flesh out female characters (and also clothe them…) so I feel I must give them another gold star for that.  I don’t usually put a lot of stock into the “Bechdel test” (in order to pass, the media must show two females speaking to each other about something other than a man), but I do find it interesting sometimes to see if whatever I am entertaining myself with at the time does pass it.  Not only do Ellie and Tess talk to each other, but Ellie and Marlene talk, and Marlene and Tess talk, and I don’t think any of them talk about men (unless discussing how to slay male zombies counts, I guess), so it passes multiple times.  Tess is just awesome and badass and I kind of want them to do a “prequel” DLC where we can watch her set up her smuggling ring or something.  Because I want more time with her :(

The only bad thing about this game is that it’s a playstation exclusive.  Not because I don’t like playstation, but more because it limits the audience.  Everyone should be able to play this game.  Everyone should be able to buy this game and encourage the creation of incredible games like this.  It should be on PC so that it can be on Steam and be in the summer sale that is about to start and then millions of people will buy it (and then never play it because that’s how Steam works) and then they can go create more awesome games with that revenue.  Also it should be on PC because fuck shooting things with a controller, grr.

I don’t think I’m even going to say anything more.  I don’t even care if you don’t have a PS3, go buy this game :P

 

Towns

[UPDATE] Apparently the devs have announced they are officially abandoning the game.  It’s too bad, but in its current state it is not finished and not worth paying money for, and in fact I would discourage you from spending money on something that is officially abandoned, lest we perpetuate the bullshit that is abandoning Early Access games.   You can still read what I used to think of it past the break, though :/[/UPDATE]

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Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider consumed a few days of my life, and now I am going to tell you about it.  I’m not sure that it really needs any kind of promotion, but I still feel like talking about it.  I paid 13 dollars for it and I feel guilty for not paying more (although apparently they didn’t even bother to count digital distributions when they calculated whether the game was a success or not, so, welp).  It took me just over 20 hours to 100% the game, but that includes all the time I spent running around aimlessly and trying to jump on/off things just to see if I could, and obsessively reloading because I fucked up a stealth kill and wanted to try again.

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Tomb Raider (The “Bobbing” Rant…)

I was very interested in the new Tomb Raider game when it came out, but I figured I have enough shit to do so I would wait for a sale.  Now it’s on sale at Green Man Gaming for 13 bucks.  Sold.  It probably means it will be 5 bucks in the Steam summer sale, but fuck it, 13 is a good price point.

I haven’t gotten very far yet, just through the tutorial section (at which point I can already say that the game should really be subtitled “Lara Croft has a very bad day.”), but I have a couple of things I want to say.

First: Holy shit this game is running incredibly well on my 5 year old computer that I am about to replace because the motherboard is starting to die.  Also it looks fantastic.  I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the game in that it’s just a series of quicktime events carrying you from cutscene to cutscene, but you know what, if it looks like this, I’m fine with that.  Lara is incredibly expressive, and the action events pull you in and make you jump.  And then you die horribly in brutal fashion, but it’s okay because it only sets you back to the beginning of the sequence.  So that you can die again.  It’s pretty awesome!  I’ve heard many complaints about that, too, but I’m mostly worried that it will become frustrating later on.  It’s not yet, though… but I would hope the tutorial sections wouldn’t be…

Second: The real reason I am writing this entry despite having spent about 30 minutes in game is because I need to take a break because the game has camera bob, and it’s not possible to disable it.

There are few things which make me as angry as mandatory camera bobbing.

The thing is, a large number of people (myself included, obviously) have issues with motion sickness when what your eye sees (lots of bobbing) does not match up with what the inner ear is detecting (not lots of bobbing).  Usually this is an issue in first person games where the camera attempts to emulate walking by bobbing up and down… except it never made any sense to me to do that because our brains compensate for the bobbing motion and we don’t really see everything bobbing up and fucking down while we walk, so why would you artificially emulate it?  Lots of people do not have motion sickness issues and do seem to like bobbing, though, to the degree that if you search for the easiest way to disable bobbing, you’ll inevitably find pages upon pages of people replying with “lol it doesn’t bother me just get over it lol” (except usually with worse spelling and grammar).  My issue isn’t so much that the bobbing is included – by all means include it if people like it and they feel it enhances their experience – my issue is that it is not offered as a mother fucking option that can be fucking TURNED OFF.  

That was probably unnecessarily harsh, but I’m getting really fucking sick of digging around in ini files to find the little line that says “head_bob = 1” and changing it to a 0, when you could put that fucking option in the settings screen so people like me wouldn’t be irrationally fucking angry at your shitty UI designers that should all be fired for not putting the fucking option there, assholes.

I did say “irrationally”, right?  Ok, good.

We include subtitles for the deaf (well… usually…), and colourblind modes for the colourblind (well… hopefully…), so why can we not include “no fucking headbobbing” modes for the bobbing impaired?  This is an important issue that must be addressed, guys!  Those of us who are going to vomit on our keyboards are being neglected by the game development community :(

I was actually surprised when I felt the familiar headache creeping in after 15 minutes of Tomb Raider, because it’s actually a third person game where you see Lara in front of you as you move around.  Usually if there’s an obvious thing in front of the eye (like Lara Croft’s huge boobs… actually they’re surprisingly mild in this game, come to think of it) the bobbing doesn’t trigger the “oh god our readings aren’t lining up ABORT ABORT ABANDON SHIP” reaction from the equilibrium system.  The camera shakes a lot, but it doesn’t really bother me so much in the cutscenes.  It’s a lot like watching a movie shot with shaky-cam (and motion sickness aside… why the fuck would you choose to emulate THAT of all things???) so if those kinds of movies bother you, the game might too.  The actiony scenes actually helped my headache ease off a bit because it’s more like the shaking is expected.  What brought it on in full was when Lara was staggering on a lovely grassy path in an otherwise calm scene, and the camera is swaying back and forth and jittering like the cameraman was dying of hypothermia on the deck of a sinking ship.  I can see Lara swaying, why does the camera need to be swaying?  I am not seeing this through Lara’s swaying eyes.  I do not need the camera to explain to me that she is swaying right now.  Why can’t I turn this fucking swaying off?  Fuck you.

Unfortunately, I also can’t seem to find any sort of camera sway options in the ini files.  It doesn’t look like there’s an easy fix for it.  The camera effects in the cinematic sections make sense, and I probably wouldn’t even want to turn those off… but just moving from place to place… uggghhh.  But I guess if they’re all part of the same programming it would be pretty hard to put in a way to disable one and not the other.  Still, I would like an option to disable it wholesale and deal with the decreased experience that not having a cinematic camera leaves me with.  Right now it’s a choice between having a decreased experience of having a splitting headache and nausea vs a decreased experience of having to take a break (and write an irrationally angry blog entry) every hour or so.

But the headache is easing off now so I think I will go see what hilarious end Lara will meet next.

Update:  I mentioned to my husband that I had bought Tomb Raider and he said “How big are her boobs?”
So I said “Pretty average, really.”
“I hate it already. Worst game ever.”

Neverwinter – Second Impressions

I feel like I have to comment on the absolutely masterfully managed* (*this is sarcasm) situation that Neverwinter has become.  You’ll find more and better details on probably every other site on the internet, but I feel like I should comment on it anyway.

I commented before that Neverwinter released as “open beta”.  They also promised they would not be doing any more wipes.  So really it just means “This is a full game launch and it’s going to be buggy as shit, so we want the Beta label as an excuse.  Also a year or whatever from now when everyone is sick of it and people aren’t playing anymore, we can “release” the “full” game and attract a new wave of suckers!”

It’s a great strategy, unless you actually need a beta period.  Beta exists solely to test and find bugs that will bring your game to a crashing halt, so that you can fix them and present a fully running game at the time you release it.  Open beta lets you test it with a huge wave of players, which is useful both in server capacity tests and also because the more players there are, the more likely they are to look under the carpets and find the bugs your disgruntled coders may have swept away and hoped no one would see.  Opening as a “beta” and then promising not to wipe anything just means that if you find an absolutely game crushing bug, you can’t actually fix it because you can’t wipe the damage away.

Guess what’s happened!  You’ll never guess!

A game crushing bug was found.  Well, several of them… like the ability for certain classes to one-shot anything in the game, or people to drop and re-take quests repeatedly to just collect the reward chests over and over and over again… but one bug in particular.
If you’re not familiar with it – Neverwinter has a free to play model where you can pay real cash for Zen, or you can earn Astral Diamonds in game and then buy Zen with those.  The auction house deals solely in diamonds, you can’t use any other currency on it.  Someone discovered that if you bid a negative amount on the AH, it paid you that amount.

Of all the things you’d think they would test in closed beta (or alpha…), anything that might possibly come in contact with their revenue model would be something you would expect to be near the top of the list.  Buuuuttt… nope.

What’s worse, apparently this bug has been known about for awhile.  I’m just going off internet posts, mind you, so god knows how accurate any of them are… but supposedly it was reported in closed beta and never addressed.  Then it was exploited for awhile awhile after release, until someone or someones finally got banned for it, at which point they spilled the beans and word got out.  The AH ground to a halt, items and Zen flew all over the place like party streamers, and the game was finally taken offline for an extended period.

Well, now what.  The game has just been brought to its knees, the diamond market is fucked, the zen market is pretty fucked (directly threatening the profitability of the game…), tons of ill-gotten gains are floating around out there… and you’ve promised no rollbacks.

They did some rollbacks.  Responses have ranged from extreme outrage to flat out cognitive dissonance of the “I paid real money for a lot of items on the Zen market the day before, and I seem to have lost them all and not been refunded, but it’s a beta so it’s totally expected and it’s okay because I can just buy them again!” style.  My personal response is more of a bemused incredulity.  Could this have been handled any worse?  I’m glad they did a rollback because jesus… but supposedly they’ve only really rolled back the period of time that the exploit explosion happened.  The exploiting that occurred earlier than that was not so widespread, and it was salted well enough into the playerbase that they can no longer track “dirty” transactions and separate them from innocent ones.  The problem is that it happened at all and to this extent before something was done.  Especially if it’s true that it was reported during early Beta…

As a token of apology, every character created before the disaster got some items in the mail, including some cosmetic thingys like a cape commemorating the incident, to some exp boosters and teleport scrolls which are kind of handy.  That was cool of them, but I’m utterly terrified of actually spending money on their market if this is how well things are being handled back stage…

I wasn’t personally affected by any of it because I hadn’t logged in for awhile.  I think I’ve gained my last five levels through crafting on the Gateway.  The gameplay itself just isn’t really grabbing me the way I had hoped.  Going through quests and dungeons is kind of fun with a group of friends, but then again few things aren’t when you have buddies to shoot the shit with on voice chat while fucking around in a game. We’ll probably go back and finish the levelling content, but… ehhh.

I bitched about it before but the game seems to be poorly designed for co-op.  Quests that are steeped in interesting lore are tedious in a group because of the way dialogue works in a group. I’m a speed reader so I can blow through quests solo and enjoy the writing as well, but in a group it’s like you have to choose between missing all the text or coordinating with everyone to discuss the story over voice chat (decidedly not the path of least resistance… and the writing usually isn’t interesting enough to bother :/).  A simple log that shows text you’ve missed would help a lot even if it meant people stood around uselessly reading it after everyone else is done and ready to go, but it’s so clunky right now.  All it takes is one hotshot who’s in a hurry and the quest dialogue is meaningless because they’ve clicked through it all.  Since the quests themselves are all variations of “go here, kill/get that”, the dialogue is really what’s needed to set things apart.  There’s rarely any branching quest decisions to make, and if the foundry is any indication, it’s because it’s not supported in the game design.  Quests are very linearly laid out in the foundry, which makes it hard to do anything unique.  It shows when the developers who created the tools can’t even do anything really interesting with them.

I really dislike the quest marker.  It can be turned off, but that means absolutely nothing when you’re grouped with random people because they haven’t turned it off.  Dungeons are completely wasted in Neverwinter… you can spend tons of time making an amazing location with hidden goodies, but it means nothing because every group will follow the sparkly line from start to finish and ignore everything else.  And since they’re conditioned to do that throughout the game, you can’t just disable it either or that’s immediately the least favourite dungeon and no one will do it.  We can hope that won’t be the case, but it likely would be.

DDO did it much better in that regard.  Your individual actions in a dungeon are tallied against a score sheet, and you got your reward at the end.  Exploring mattered.  Disarming traps mattered.  Killing huge groups of mobs only mattered in that you needed to not die because you needed to get to the end.  I really feel that it’s a better design for a group dungeon – give them objectives and have them to work together to succeed.  Not “This monster has so many hitpoints that you need a group of 5 to reduce them to zero”, but stuff like “the path is branching and we need two people to push a lever at this end and two people to push a lever at that end, otherwise the door won’t open”.  DDO was full of clever stuff like that.  Neverwinter is full of a sparkly line that everyone follows like they’re tethered to it.

Neverwinter is definitely a more casual game, though.  Assuming there aren’t more hilarious disasters (there probably will be…), it’s definitely a fun game to pop into and dick around with for awhile, especially if Foundry content gets enough upgrades to let players be creative.  It just feels so shallow right now, though.  It’s all such mindless combat so far.  I’m finding it unsatisfying.

—-

EXPLOITS UPDATE:

Apparently people discovered that almost anything in the game was susceptible to memory editing, meaning it’s all handled client side.  It looks like they’re scrambling to move it server side now, but… wow.  To their credit, Zen was handled server side, so someone over there has a brain, but how do you create an MMO that handles important game stats client side in today’s day and age?  They learned that was a bad idea twenty years ago before memory editing programs became common…

Neverwinter – First Impressions
Neverwinter – PvP

Neverwinter Online – PvP

I tend to try out the PvP in every MMO.  I don’t know why, because I never enjoy it (and I’m certainly not good at it, which may or may not be related), but I always do.  I did quite a bit of battlegrounds in WoW and really enjoyed working toward new pieces of equipment that ultimately didn’t really improve my pvp experience at all, but I guess there was that little kernel of “once I get some gear this will be fun” that I was foolishly chasing.  Neverwinter actually has daily quests to do the PvP, so I’ve done a few matches now.  I feel qualified to bitch about it.

First of all – this is low level PvP.  In every game (except Guild Wars, because they scale you…) low level PvP tends to not resemble max level PvP at all.  It also tends to be significantly less balanced because no one bothers to balance it the whole way across and they just tweak the end result where people will likely spend the most time.  It makes sense from an efficiency standpoint.  GW is the only game that’s really done things right, in my opinion.  Not only do they scale your character so they only have to balance one playing field, but for the battleground portion they literally give you a separate copy of your character that is max level, so you can properly choose pvp-oriented skills and gear, instead of having to juggle it all on your pve character.

Something that is debatable about GW is the rewards for pvp.  In every game, you get shiny new equipment for success, which ultimately makes you more successful. And… ultimately raises the bar of entry to a degree that is intimidating to new players.  GW removed that paradox by offering cosmetic skins for everything instead of actual power increases.  I always thought WoW should have done that, and they kinda did… arena armor had different coloured skins for more success, allowing for bragging rights without a positive feedback loop of getting better to allow for more wins to allow for getting better.  The problem was the base armor was still a huge increase over everything else, which meant you were still stuck in that loop of “Need gear to compete – can’t get gear without competing”.  When GW came along I was like “FINALLY someone does it right!!!”  … but then it sucked.  It turns out there’s not much incentive to keep grinding when your character is just as powerful at level 1 as it will be at 100.  I’m not really sure what the solution is!  The pretty princess carrot wasn’t interesting enough for me, but the “get gear be powerful” carrot makes the barrier to entry too goddamn frustrating.

But anyway, I was going to talk about Neverwinter!  I have yet to find a glory vendor that sells low level gear, so it would seem that I am grinding up glory to bank it away until level 60.  There is a daily quest that gives you diamonds as a reward for doing PvP, and there is a rotating event that gives you bonus glory for participating.  If you do well in a match, it throws a random green item at you.  If nothing else the diamonds are super useful (you can trade them for zen which is the bought-with-real-money funbux) so I figured I would be doing at least one match a day until the gear became available at 60.

To give you an idea of how that’s going, I just logged in and said “Oh no, the daily reset already?  Now I have to do another match…”

PvP in Neverwinter is pretty much the same as every other game.  A group of players are dropped into a map which has some points to control (by standing on them until they change colour) and they run back and forth killing each other until one of the teams reaches the magical score number that means “you win”.  Granted, it’s only shown me two maps so far at lower levels, but both of them were like that.  When you are below the level of the match, it “scales” you to the top level… but you get none of the abilities and keep all your same gear.  So you still suck.

The problem lies in the whole “killing each other” step.  I’m a melee character which almost always has range issues in pvp no matter what game it is, but in Neverwinter, attacking prevents you from moving. (edit: Specifically melee swings stop you from moving.  I know those silly casters almost never get to move, but at least they get to attack from range…). So, each fight goes something like this:
Charge up to enemy – swing.
Enemy walks away and is out of range within a step or two.
Move toward enemy – resume swinging.
Hit once before they move away again.
That’s assuming they don’t roll away from you, since everyone has a dodge move.  Except shield bearers who just kind of stand there attempting to block uselessly while you kill them anyway (I feel bad for them… maybe they don’t suck at 60.)

I tried a match on my baby cleric as well and it was somewhat similar.  She attacks from range, but being locked down during the attack(and heal) animation still ensured she had difficulty dodging away from attacks.  I’m pretty terrible at playing her in general and only played one low level match though, so it’s hardly a fair review.

The real issue is that, in order to counteract the whole “you stand still while attacking” thing, it seems as though they gave everyone tons of “daze” abilities.  Which is the same thing as saying “everyone stunlocks”.  Because pvp is the most fun when no one can actually control their characters.  Ugh it’s like a glass case display of every bad decision in every example of PvP I’ve played over the years.

They also don’t seem to have anticipated the afk masses.  Perhaps they thought the carrot of getting random unidentified junk for performing well would be enough to keep people from idling at the entrance, but the fact is you get more glory for losing quickly than you do for participating in the frustrating stun battles at the points.

I am starting to see more cleansing happening, so maybe things settle down later on… but that just means it becomes a matter of “whoever has more non-afk cleansers wins”.

~BONUS BITCH~ – When you exit the battleground, everyone stays in your group.  And then the game nags you to add them to your friends list.  It does this for dungeons too, and it makes me irrationally angry each and every time.  Especially if we queue as a group and then have to either kick everyone out, or disband and reform our guild group every fucking time.  So Angry.

I will say this though… it’s making me feel like logging back into GW2 to try and earn some more pretty princess gear.

—–

UPDATE:

I just learned that there are also some very powerful enchants which are essentially only able to be obtained by paying real cash (you can attempt them for free but there’s a 1% chance of success without purchased items).  The enchants are usable in PvP and quite likely will be gamechangers (stuff like passive chance to stun.  Because there just isn’t enough goddamn CC flying around).  It suggests to me that the PvP game has a good chance of becoming “pay to win” once people figure out it’s nuances.  Fuck that.

Neverwinter – First Impressions (PvE focus)
Neverwinter – Second Impressions

Neverwinter Online – First Impressions

FINE Denise – I’m playing it and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT.

We’ve been playing around with Neverwinter Online for two days now, I think, so things are still in that sort of “honeymoon phase” before you discover the horrible truths of bad design underneath.  I can lay out what I’ve seen so far, though! Read more of this post

The Legacy of Nakuthcatten

After my entry on Gnomoria, I realized that, even though I was enjoying the game, there was literally nothing it did that Dwarf Fortress didn’t do (and usually better).  My gnomes met a horrible fate that was likely precipitated by expanding the value of my fortress (attracting ne’er-do-wells) before figuring out how the military system really works, so I decided to start up a proper Dwarf Fortress and compare the two.

What follows is the telling of the fortress of Nakuthcatten, legendary Dwarf Fortress in the world of Udon Tamun. Read more of this post

Gnomoria

I am going to begin this entry by talking about Dwarf Fortress.  There is a reason for that – the entry is not mis-titled!  It’s a sort of two-fer, I guess.

Dwarf Fortress is popular enough now that you may have heard of it, but even then it is likely that you didn’t really play it.  It is a 10MB ASCII game.  That probably also doesn’t mean very much, unless you know a bit about ASCII games and roguelikes and you realize that most of the biggest ones are about 500kb.  10MBs is a really fucking huge ASCII game.  It is a game where you build a Dwarf Fortress (amazingly appropriate, isn’t it) and everything is lovingly coded, from pedantic details about geology to the physics of water which allow people to build monstrous aqueducts powered by steam engines, if they so desire.  The world takes a long chunk of time to generate, writing in backstories for all the civilizations that live there, and calculating where all the volcanoes and aquifers might be located. Every dwarf has a personality, forms relationships (friends, lovers, bitter enemies…), forms preferences for certain kinds of foods or shiny materials, decides whether to worship a god…  every body part is an individual unit which can be injured, healed, lopped off… and if your fortress is decimated by monster sieges, you can build a new one elsewhere in the world and send adventurers into the ruins to collect the artifacts you created in your time there.  It might be an ASCII game but it is making so many calculations that it will blow the mind of a lesser CPU.  It’s quite remarkable.  And it’s free!

But in today’s world of fancy graphics, most people don’t have the patience to deal with ASCII art, and control schemes where you press ambiguous keys which access more text which you may or may not understand the relevance of.  The Dwarf Fortress control scheme is particularly obtuse, and it is the biggest barrier to entry.  There was a beginners walkthrough that started with directions like “press x three times to move the menu to the right side of the screen so that you have a better look at what’s going on”, and even once you get to that point you have to figure out which characters represent grass and which ones represent werewolves that are going to fuck your shit up if you don’t deal with it.  Is that speckly square an open space, or lava?  Which key designates a storage space and which one examines an object?  Which key cancels a command?  Once you spend a few hours with it (particularly if you already like ASCII roguelikes) it all becomes muscle memory, but for a beginner, the assault of seemingly random coloured text characters is too much.  Some attempts at tilesets have been made, some quite successfully, but they’re working with someone else’s game and sometimes the hassles and bugs of interfacing different bits of code that change every patch are just too daunting.

Along comes Gnomoria.  Gnomoria is basically Dwarf Fortress, but designed with graphics!  I will be extremely impressed when someone manages to duplicate the scale of the original Dwarf Fortress in a graphical format (neglecting graphics is one of the reasons the code can be so intricate… imagine what would happen to your poor computer if it had to think about 3D pixels at the same time as all that other shit) but Gnomoria makes a good start at it.  A lot of the complexity is gone – It does not literally generate an entire world and history of that world, the gnomes lack a lot of the personality quirks that the dwarves accumulate over time, and a myriad of other details are probably simplified as well, but the basics are intact.  You dig into the ground, design your fortress, create workshops and work chains, create goods to trade, and try to keep your gnomes healthy and happy through the occasional goblin siege.  All with an interface that allows you to choose between clicking buttons at the bottom of the screen, or right clicking and choosing from a menu (which consists of several sub-menus and kind of jumps away from your mouse sometimes, making you start over.  But the option is there!)

I’ve only played a few hours so far so I can’t comment much more on the advanced gameplay.  My game got to the point where I was excavating a lower level to collect some ore to get my metalworks up and running, when some goblins showed up to ruin my day.  A goblin fighter took down three gnomes and was given a special name due to his notoriety.  He then went on to slay my three yaks which were grazing in their pasture.  RIP yaks :(.  The remaining gnomes managed to overwhelm one of the goblins, which dropped some armor and a weapon.  I hunted through my survivors and found the one with the best combat scores, and told her to form a military squad.  From there, I was able to outfit her with the goblin’s discarded goods, and send her after the notorious goblin.  She was victorious and the fortress was safe!  She suffered some minor wounds, so I created a hospital area stocked with straw beds, and she quickly ran in there and lay down to recover.

Which is where I ran into an issue.  You see, the yaks were providing my fortress with yak milk.  My brewery was still a work in progress, so I hadn’t managed to secure a second source of drink.  I tried to rush a build job on a well, but the stored yak milk was quickly depleted…  My injured military hero was thirsty, but since she was hanging out in the hospital, she wouldn’t go to the well to fetch a drink.  In Dwarf Fortress they will carry water to injured dwarves in the infirmary, but I’m not sure how it’s supposed to work in Gnomoria.  I even tried suspending the hospital section hoping she would give up on recovery, but she wouldn’t leave the bed.

I rushed the build job on the brewery by going through all the other workshops and moving its pending bits to the top of the queue.  They managed to build it and I started brewing some wine, but by this point everyone was getting cranky about the lack of drinks (apparently well water just isn’t good enough, bah).  The instant wine was brewed, some greedy gnome would yoink it, so my counter basically went from 0…………………….. 1, 0. …………………1, 0. The saviour of the fortress died of thirst in the hospital, despite having perfectly working legs.  /facepalm.

So, I dunno.  I probably could have planned a bit better there and I almost certainly did something wrong with the hospital section, but I also feel like there are some rough patches that are still being ironed out, which makes sense since it’s still in perpetual development.  Which, ironically, probably makes it even more like Dwarf Fortress!  But if you’ve ever heard about Dwarf Fortress and were intimidated by the interface, Gnomoria is a good way to get your feet wet.

Follow up post with more comparisons

Don’t Starve

I have not once starved in Don’t Starve.  I have died in countless of other ways, but not ONCE did I starve!  Therefore I have mastered this game.

Then again, I haven’t actually made it to winter yet.  So…

Don’t Starve is a title that is so new that it’s not even out of beta yet!  It’s exactly the kind of game I like to mess around with, so I bought it awhile back.  The amount of updates to it since then have been incredible, and I feel like it’s time to start talking about it.  If you buy it right now you get the beta version (release date is apparently April 23rd!), with all the potential bugs that come along with that, along with the caveat that your save file might be rendered obsolete by major updates.  Buying early gets you a discount AND a second copy to gift to someone though (or at least you do on Steam…), so if it sounds interesting to you it might be the right time to jump on the bandwagon.  There’s plenty of game right now, with more coming.

Don’t Starve is probably best described as a survival simulator/roguelike.  You are a dude who gets dropped in the woods and you must survive by gathering resources, securing food sources (don’t starve!), and defending yourself through the night.  You fashion axes from twigs and flint, chop down trees, collect berries, weave grass into rope, smash rocks to search for gold, build science machines to research new inventions… if you played Minecraft for the “oh god monsters are coming at night what can I combine to make myself more likely to survive” aspect more than the “I can build ANYTHING I FUCKING WANT!” aspect, you will love this game.  I played the shit out of an old game called “Stranded II” which was almost literally this game but with less to do (and 3D, although the polygon count made that a dubious decision) so I knew instantly that I would enjoy it.  There are plenty of things to work up to and build, and you find yourself thinking “I absolutely do not need to build that thing and I should spend the day collecting wood so I don’t die tonight… but I can totally build that if I go smash the shit out of those spiders.  How hard can they be, right?”

It currently doesn’t have much in the way of plot (the objective is literally “survive as many days as you can”), but a story mode seems to be in the works which will shed light on why you’re chucked into the woods in the first place, with potential for revenge and/or escape.  There is also a bit of a “carrot” hook in that you gain experience based on how well you do, which unlocks different characters with different attributes that can change things up on subsequent playthroughs.

As I alluded to, the game is not 3D.  It’s a sort of isometric view with a somewhat charming “Burton-esque” cartoony style.  The stylistic choices really shine when you accidentally eat a bad mushroom and start hallucinating hideous shadow beasts all around you.  I started the game to get a screenshot of the graphics to illustrate this entry, but a couple of hours later I was eaten by a tree monster that was angry about my wanton murdering of its brethren.  As I went back to the menu screen I said “Oh shit, screenshot.”  I may update this later with a proper screenshot, but the game will have to stop being so damn interesting first…

Xenoblade: Second Impressions

First impressions can be found here.

I’ve been playing for about 30 hours now, which is to say I have completed two more areas!

My opinion is now: Holy shit if you have a Wii, buy this game.  If you don’t have a Wii, seriously consider buying a Wii and then buying this game.  If you have ever enjoyed a classic RPG (Final Fantasy, Xenogears/XenoSaga, Chrono Trigger…) you need to play this game.  It is everything that was ever good about those games.

My main complaint is still combat (and graphics.  Yes, yes we know.)  I’ve “gotten used” to the combat but I still feel proper turn based combat would be better in every way.  They’re trying to go for a more action-y combat style with positioning and shit, but you can only control one character and it’s easy to get lost in a more complicated battle, especially when you start throwing fucking status effects in there.  The NPCs are not good at controlling shit so you kinda have to set them up and then hope they do the right thing at the right time.

Probably the worst thing about combat, the most easily FIXED thing, is that when you fight Mechon, you need to use Shulk’s blade to buff everyone else so they can actually hit them.  This buff expires.  If you fight multiple groups, it seems to wipe all buffs as soon as combat ends, so the first thing you do upon engaging is buff everyone, even if you literally just buffed everyone. Often the buff expires before you are done the fight.  You can upgrade the buff by spending exp on it which makes it last longer, but even then, why have this arbitrary limitation?  There have been a few times where I got caught up trying to watch my positioning and didn’t notice either the icon disappearing, the constant stream of “1” damage numbers from my allies, or their constant whining about needing the power of the Monado (everyone yells repetitively in combat and I never listen to them anymore…) and it wasn’t until I realized our power meter wasn’t filling anymore (and/or we started losing…) that I figured out the buff had expired on me -.-.  It is so pointless and unnecessary to have to keep reapplying the buff…

The second worst thing is how much stuff there is to react to.  You need to position yourself, you need to apply debuffs in the correct order, you need to respond to debuffs on YOUR party with cures or counterbuffs, and then shulk will have visions about what is coming up next and you need to react pre-emptively to THOSE with buffs or heals.  And you also have to pay attention to your team mates to see if they need to focus on your target (there’s a whole extra set of team commands hidden under the right button…), if they need encouraging or warning or reviving, and once the party meter is filled you have to set off a combo attack, but make sure you’re targetting the right thing before you do it, and then decide which attacks should come in which order.  I feel like if this were turn based I would love it.  As a real-time system, I find it a bit overwhelming and I tend to go grind a bit just to make sure I’m over-levelled and don’t have to think too hard.

The third worst thing is if your character gets whacked, even if your teammates have some oomph left in them, it counts it as a party wipe.  This was especially infuriating when I was ONE HIT away from defeating a boss and he turned around and wouldn’t drop aggro on me.  I was like “It’s okay he’ll go down in this h…. NOOOO FUCK.”  And then I did it over again -.-

The GOOD thing about the combat – so far I don’t think there is a single thing in this game which actually punishes you.  Except possibly selling your items (turns out you need the random “junk” items a hell of a lot more than you need the cash, FYI.  Which makes having a limited inventory kind of a bitch… but it’s a pretty big inventory…) but that’s not really “punishing” so much as “why didn’t you fucking tell me and now I have to do it again GOD DAMN IT”.  Dying doesn’t cost anything – it just dumps you at the last landmark you were at, and you keep everything that was gained since.  At one point I charged headlong into a room of monsters and was involved in a fairly epic battle for the next several minutes, but eventually I was overcome.  Then I went back and tried luring them out and picking them off bit by bit and was fairly successful, until I got to the big guy at the end and he wiped the floor with me singlehandedly.  Turns out I wasn’t actually supposed to fight them at all and there was a sneakysneaky way of doing it, but I didn’t lose anything for trying.  In fact, I gained a level for killing off most of the room (twice) and all I lost was the time it took me to walk from the nearest landmark.  I had a bit of trouble with a boss that had a gimmick, too, because I charged him when I was a bit underlevelled for the encounter, so everyone kept getting their asses kicked before I got to the point where I could activate the ability that would advance the fight.  I died over and over and over again, but each time I gained some experience from the fight itself and eventually got to the point where I survived long enough to advance.  Inefficient grinding of levels, sure, but at least I wasn’t completely wasting my time trying it.

The story.  My first post was before I had really done much in the game.  I had met the major antagonists and seen what motivates our hero to get off his ass, and that was it.  I spent the rest of my time running around the colony collecting bugs for people.  Now I’ve gone a bit of the way along the story and I really want to know what happens next.  They’ve done a good job of making me care about these characters already, and I’ve still only scratched a tiny groove into the surface of this thing.  I’m horrified to report I’m even somewhat interested in unlocking the lame-ass “Heart to Heart” events and have been gifting items to party members to make them love me more.  I don’t think I’ve been this invested in character relationships since Chrono Trigger… maybe FFX.
[UPDATE] A quick amendment to say that the only thing that would make this game better would be a cannon to fire all of the Nopon into the stratosphere.  Melia is kind of a jerk too but I feel like her character has room to develop, at least.  Fucking Nopon really have nowhere to go but down…[/UPDATE]

The bad guys are a little cheesy so far.  I was all set to believe there was some sort of misunderstanding, but then they started talking and welp.  Turns out they’re just huge dicks.  Huge dicks with stereotypical UK accents.  Their motivations are extremely unclear at this point in the story, to the degree where it’s pretty much “They are evil so that is why they are dicks”.  I fully expect some reveals in the story later to show why they are dicks.  If there isn’t one it will actually be a pretty big knock on the writing… but I trust the writers so far.  And I’m avoiding the hell out of spoilers because I’m really enjoying the story.

Questing sort of unravelled itself as I got used to it… every area loads you up with tons of little “kill X of these” “collect X of those” quests, but you can just collect them and hope it happens at some point.  I don’t think I’ve ever had to actually seek out any of those things, they just sort of come as I play (but I spend a lot of time exploring to finish my collectables!).  Then occasionally you will come across a bigger quest which has more specific goals and better rewards.  This is when the ability to fast jump to any landmark you’ve seen starts to come in really handy.  I really love that the game is sort of “chill”, like “okay do whatever you want”.  There’s no consequence for dicking around, there’s no consequence for rushing forward (unless you get really underlevelled… but even then you get experience for failing, so…), there’s no consequence for jumping all over the map, there’s no consequence for skipping quests (most of them you can go back and do anyway.  There are a few points of no return that will cut off some quests, but there are SO MANY quests that even I am not compelled to do all of them…), there’s no consequence for just fucking trying something ridiculous to see what happens. I don’t even think there’s a consequence for not using certain party members – they still gain exp if they’re on the shelf. I guess they might not gain affinity though.  Not only are there no consequences for dying, but often there are achievements (which award exp) for dying in particularly horrible ways.  I even got an achievement for using the fast travel to move like two feet to the left (something about being lazy.  Hrrmph!).  It’s like the game is “Cool, you’re still playing.  Have a cookie!”

I’m currently on my way allllllll the way back to the starting area because I have a fuckload of gems I should try crafting, and I have a couple quests to return back there, and I have a couple items that are needed to rebuild the city that I think I can gather near there.  The main quest is sort of sitting there waiting for me but I’m just too busy right now dammit!

Powerplay Manager (sort of)

This isn’t so much a review of a game as it is a rant about the current status of certain things. I ended up tagging this both “I like it” AND “I don’t like it” because there are elements of both, I guess.

I’ve been playing “Powerplay Manager” which is a browser game where you manage a hockey team.  I started playing it because there are absolutely no worthwhile hockey manager games on the market right now, and the ones that ARE available via being propped up by the fan modding community (like Eastside Hockey Manager) all use current rosters of teams and players.  I’m keeping an eye on the Hockey manager game being produced by OOTP… but it looks like they’re going for the current roster deal, too, since they’re basically trying to make a modern Eastside Hockey Manager.  I’m not interested in simulating the NHL, I just wanted to play with fantasy teams and players where the “stars” are not based on real-life reputation.  I want to build my own unique team and play against opponents who are not modelled after existing teams, so that I can learn their strengths and weaknesses as I go, rather than try to figure it out based on real history.  It’s actually kind of amazing to me that there aren’t more fantasy sports games available which aren’t just trying to emulate reality.
I actually REALLY want ‘Football Manager’, except Hockey, not Football.  I wonder who I can send letters to in order to accomplish that…

Anyway, PPM is kind of cool in that every player and every team is either player controlled, or computer controlled waiting for a player to make an account and take over.  They’re not based on real teams or players at all, it’s all generated with RNG.  Half of your job as manager is to take your roster and tell them how to train and delegate the players into the best position for their stats.  Each player has a ‘quality’ rating which dictates how well they learn in each stat, and each position values certain stats over others.  At the same time, an offensive player with a higher defense stat will still contribute to preventing the other team from getting scoring chances, and stuff like “shooting” isn’t necessarily tied to any one position but will dictate whether your scoring chances actually turn into goals.  You set “tactics” for the team too which can take advantage of the way you’ve designed their stats – if your defense is high in offense as well, you can go for an aggressive approach, or if your offense is high in defense, go for a shutdown approach… and there are some other, more subtle options, as well.

The other half of your job is to upgrade your arena (making room for people to sit so they can come to your games, buy your shitty food and souvenirs, and give you $$$$$ to provide more capital to upgrade or hire players), upgrade your facilities (if you have better training facilities your players learn better… medical facilities for injuries… yadda yadda), and hiring and training staff to man those positions.  Periodically you have to review applications for new staff or players, and decide if you want to take them on or just reject their resume.

Of course, it’s a browser game.  Which means your team plays one hockey match every two days, and everything happens at pretty much a real-time pace.  I’ve been playing for over a year now, logging in once a day or so to check up on my game schedule, see if any players need to switch to training a different stat, and deciding if I have enough cash to start a new arena upgrade (upgrades take upwards of 45 real-time days to complete, usually).  It’s taken a year, and I’m still not anywhere near in contention for any sort of playoff position or even winning any sort of trophies, but my stars are actually starting to score goals, and my prospects are getting to the point where they’re starting to move into the line-up and bump out the low-quality losers I started with who just sort of take up space.  I kind of want a not-browser based version just so it doesn’t take over a year for my team to start winning a game every now and then; There is a certain appeal to being able to hit “next day” and have it immediately jump instead of literally waiting 24 hours.  Sadly there is no game like that which exists.

Which brings me to my next rant.  I’ve been playing this game for a year… and I’ve been reasonably enjoying it.  They (like most browser games) offer perks if you throw money at them.  In the case of this game, there are a couple “one off” purchases like designing a custom puck you can trade with teams, or customizing your arena, designing a goalie mask… lots of little neat cosmetic things.  There is also a Pro Pack which brings a lot of features, such as designing a jersey logo, assigning numbers to your players, automated training so they can train a number of stats at once without having to micromanage it, and access to a lot of in-depth stats which might help you decide how to train your players (on top of just being kind of interesting, if you’re into that sort of thing).  I thought to myself “It’s probably worth supporting them… let’s see how much a pro pack costs”.

The pack only lasts for a limited amount of time, and works out to about 15 bucks a week.  Seriously?  Seriously?
If you buy in bulk you get a huge discount, so you can buy a year for 50 bucks, but seriously?  I’ve been playing this game for a year but my actual playtime is only a couple of days worth.  Is it worth 50 bucks to get some nifty stats I can look at for 5 minutes a day?  Fuck no.  Especially not when it expires.  If it were a permanent account upgrade maybe, maybe I would consider it… but even then I would be thinking “eeennnghhh…”

Not quite as egregious as playing 65 fucking dollars for a mine in Mine Things, but the mines don’t fucking expire at least. (unless you rent them… and then you get two weeks for 7 bucks or so, instead of one for fifteen.)

Why do these companies feel the need to be so greedy?  I was perfectly willing to support them because I like the game they’ve set up, but the moneygrabbing is so disgusting that I’m not even sure I want to continue logging in.  According to the statistics screen, they have 4000-5000 people logged in at any point in time, so it’s not even really a question of volume.  Have we learned nothing from the age of Steam Sales, where games fly off the shelves and make a killing at 2.50 a pop simply because people are like “fuck it, it’s 2.50” even if they never bother to get around to installing the damn thing?  If it was a year of Pro Pack for 10 bucks I would probably talk myself into it, even with the expiry.  4000 people talking themselves into it is 40,000 dollars.  Is 1/4 of the current player base going to talk themselves into dropping 50 bucks on a year of pro pack?  It’s possible I suppose, but I can tell you I’ve seen maybe two opponents who weren’t on their introductory free week of pro who actually had a logo.  And if they weren’t so greedy with the pack fees I’d probably be more willing to design a puck for my team, or buy in to some of the other cosmetic fun stuff.  Instead, I continue to pay zero.  Which is actually more likely to be a negative number because of bandwidth costs (although I probably don’t use THAT much bandwidth logging in for 5 minutes a day, I guess).

Ugh it’s a shame.  I guess I should have expected it, though… I followed a link to one of their associated games once, which turned out to be a “Mafia-Wars-Esque” style game where you have X number of action points and you try to fill up the little bars and unlock the boss at the end of a stage, collecting money and items as you go.  Mindless and pointless, but progressing is kind of fun to do since it only takes a couple minutes each day, right?  Except every time you went to do an action it would pop up a window saying “Gosh if you gave us money this window would go away!  But since you haven’t given us any money you will be able to play in 3…… 2…… 1……”

Guess what game I’M not playing!

Dear Esther

I had heard a bit about Dear Esther and was intrigued, but not enough to actually pay money for it until it came on sale for 2.50.  At that price I decided it was worth a shot.  It’s not exactly what you would call a “game”.  You do not play Dear Esther.  You experience it.  It’s marketed as a sort of interactive storytelling experience, but in reality not very much of it is interactive.  Literally the only thing you can do is walk and move the camera around.  You can zoom in on things to take a closer look, but really it doesn’t do anything or trigger anything.  The story comes in chunks as you walk from place to place and trigger them.

For a game that’s lauded for its writing, I was expecting to “play” a really good short story.  That’s all the game HAS so the writing must be pretty damn good, right??

Ehhh… to be honest, I found the writing to be the weakest part of the whole thing.  First of all, I get annoyed very easily with “fluffy” writing.  The game’s dialog chunks are bloated with unnecessary simile and metaphor that sound like they’re trying way too hard to be impressive.  If you’re trying too hard to impress me that means you’re not spending enough time on fleshing out your writing.

Secondly, it didn’t make a lot of sense.  I went and looked up some spoilers afterward to try to figure out what the fuck happened, and I discovered the game actually picks random story chunks, meaning each playthrough can result in a slightly different story.  Supposedly the ambiguity is supposed to let the player draw their own conclusions, which is something that worked reasonably well in the game “Home”, although most of the time I find that technique just means lazy writing that relies on the player/reader to fill in the gaps so you don’t have to actually plan to fill them yourself while writing it.  The human brain is SO good at making connections that it can make connections where absolutely none were originally intended, which means the author can come along later and be all “See, look how deep this story is!” when really they were just pulling it out of their ass and didn’t have any real initial plan. (See: “LOST”).  I’m not necessarily opposed to that sort of storytelling – christ, I really love the way House of Leaves comes together and that book explains absolutely fucking nothing to the reader, to the degree that the vast majority of the internet argue about all the most trivial parts of it (and annoy me by skipping all the parts that delve into deeper layers and actually fucking matter… of course you didn’t like it if you skipped those!  …anyway, that’s a different review, although a number of parallels can probably be drawn in the way things are constructed).  I’ve only played Dear Esther once, so it’s difficult to say, but I could have just gotten unlucky and gotten some random chunks that didn’t really mesh well together.  Suffice to say, my story made no goddamn sense and no amount of gap filling really helped.  I did pick up on a few of the themes I read about afterward, but there were so many ends flapping in the breeze that it felt like only a few of them actually connected.

What’s probably the most damning is that when I go and look for discussion about the writing, I find a lot of confusion and wild speculation, and no clear consensus as to what the fuck is going on.  (I actually found a wiki for the game, and all the “explain the story” sections were left blank. HMM.)  The vast majority of descriptions for anything other than island fixtures are preceeded by disclaimers like “seems to suggest that” and “there is a possibility that…”.  Nothing is clearly laid out, and everything is ambiguous to the degree of being explained in multiple ways. There are even arguments as to who the “protagonist” actually is in this game.  Are you the narrator?  Are you Esther?  Are you some random person wandering around on an island learning about them but personally have no connections to them?  No one fucking knows for sure.  What that says to me is that the writing does not have any clear direction… so you can make of the story what you will, but the ambiguity is literally all you’re going to get.  There is no plan here, no direction (or at least not one they managed to connect clearly for the player… which could be a symptom of moving from mod to expanded game), and therefore no real story except what you make of it.  For a “game” focused solely on storytelling, it’s incredibly disappointing.  I was looking forward to a creepy stroll through a beautiful but possibly sinister island, slowly uncovering the dark secrets of the past, eventually leading to the horrible truth that was simply too much to bear.  What I got was some random ramblings about events that didn’t really make much sense together, but maybe there were hints that the bigger story was about to unfold, and then it… uh… ended.  Without a sensible build-up the ending felt shallow and unsatisfying.  I sat there and said “…it’s over?  What the fuck just happened?” which led to some googling because I assumed I had missed some side paths and integral plot points somewhere.  Instead it led to writing this review(slash rant).

What the game excelled at was atmosphere.  The island is fucking gorgeous to walk around on.  If it weren’t for the amazing island, this game would not exist, because I don’t think the writing is what propped it up and moved it from “Source mod” to “for sale on Steam”.  I’m not even going to put screenshots in this review… you really need to walk around on the island to see how amazing it is.  There is no part of it that’s boring to look at.  Even in the dry grass fields at the start, you have wind whipping around you and dust blowing past and you feel like “holy shit I’m on an island and I’m looking at the ocean and I can practically smell the salt water.”  When you start getting into caves and can see the light reflecting off of damp surfaces and slightly luminescent fungi… it’s awesome.

And it’s made even more awesome by the soundtrack.  I was expecting the whole experience to be really creepy… and it is to some extent, with a few whispered words in your ear… but for the most part it’s a very melancholy atmosphere.  The soundtrack is fantastic and very fitting.  I’d go so far as to recommend dropping the extra buck on the soundtrack version, if you happen to like orchestral style scores.

The atmosphere makes this game.  Or “game”.  The unfortunate part of a storytelling game like this is that it only takes an hour to play through (80 minutes, in my case), and you could easily just fire up a Let’s Play video and literally see the entire game without missing out.  In the case of Dear Esther, the writing actually isn’t the draw… the experience of walking around on the island, listening to the score and examining creepy glowing diagrams is what you’re after.  For 2.50 on sale, it’s well worth the experience.  For 9.99?  … I don’t think I would go for it.  The writing just isn’t good enough to be worth the price of a good book.

Harvest Moon: A New Beginning

Once upon a time, Harvest Moon came out for the SNES.  And I played the shit out of it.  In Harvest Moon, you were given a dilapidated plot of land and told “go forth and become profitable”, so you laboured to raise lucrative crops and upgrade your buildings to maximize your efficiency.  Players cried out that they disliked that the game force-ended after two years and they could not continue nurturing their successful farm, and so Harvest Moon 64 was created.

And I played the everloving shit out of Harvest Moon 64.  Same idea – you have a farm, you have to make the farm not suck… but now the town is full of people with far more fleshed out plot points, and the game doesn’t just end.  The festivals are interesting! You can marry people!  And your wife helps you on the farm!  And you have choices!  And social circles!  And you unlock more of people’s plots and find out their deep backstories if you get them to trust you! Holy shit!

Sadly, every Harvest Moon game past that has expanded more and more on that concept until the actual farm was a tiny distraction, and the bulk of the game was spent running around giving gifts to people and trying to ensure your spouse doesn’t divorce you in a fit of rage.  I’ve played almost every one of them and I got more and more disinterested with every successive one.  I don’t give a shit about this dating simulator… I want to grow some motherfucking turnips and upgrade my barn, bitches.

And maybe someone heard my profanity filled ranting… because along comes “A New Beginning“.

The first month of New Beginning is literally that.  You grow turnips and there is not a god damn other thing you can do.  Except collect bugs.  And cook turnips.  You don’t even start with a fucking axe or storage shed for wood!  On one hand, I’m a Harvest Moon veteran and the prolonged tutorial really annoyed me (I know how to walk from place to place and use a mini map.  I want to explore the town on my own terms, thanks… ugh).  On the other hand, the town literally consists of three people, so having the game start rolling gently downhill with turnip seeds and a social circle of three people is a breath of fresh air compared to the “Here’s your farm!  Soooooo… you can just use these automated things to water your crops so that you don’t have to worry about all that while you head into town and meet the 500 people you’re going to have to please this month!”

I like starting from nothing.  I like having the game build gradually.  My best memories of Harvest Moon 64 are of finally reaching milestones to upgrade the most advanced buildings and excitedly seeing how my farm had changed.  I can’t even describe how excited I am to unlock more blueprints, and I feel like that’s something that was really missing from some of the more recent sequels.  This feels like a throwback in all the right ways, while still maintaining some of the more interesting advancements (like: being able to choose a female protagonist!  Crop quality!), and holding a really visible progression track in that you literally build the town up from a couple of houses in an empty field to something more similar to recent Harvest Moon towns.

It really does move too slowly, though.  Even someone who is completely new to the series might find it slow.  The entire first month serves as a tutorial, and one of the events that happens is someone buys your first cow for you!  So I carry along, pampering my cow and making it like me, and I already had the milk up to 2 star quality when the game comes along and gives me a helpful tip saying “You can MILK your cow! And sell the milk!  And then you can buy MORE cows with that money!”  How fucking stupid does the game think I am?  He gave me the milking machine when he gave me the cow!  Okay, maybe they need to cover bases in case a 5 year old is playing or something, but how hard is it to add a little trigger into the code saying “Has_cow_been_milked: YES” and then skip the god damn tutorial about milking.

It really hurts replay value, too.  I’m annoyed with the tutorial month as a veteran of the series, when some of the tutorials at least highlight some of the changes in this version.  I can’t even imagine having to sit through this as a veteran of this exact game, knowing all the mechanics in detail already.  It really would have been smart to provide some way to opt out.  If people fuck up their farm because they skipped a tutorial, that’s what the internet is for!  Not to mention all of this shit is stored neatly on a bookshelf in your house, so you can refer to it at any time.  WHY do I have to sit through your banal explanations?  Fuck you.

Once you get past the insufferable tutorial month, you can actually do things, and not only that, but it might even be innovative for a Harvest Moon game.  Near the end of the month, an architect moves into town and you can purchase blueprints from her, which allow you to build items.  A lot of these items are cosmetic – benches and flowerpots and other sorts of decorative items that do nothing but make your farm and town look pretty.  Some of the items even work as coordinating “combos” which give your area a bonus, which means people will like it more, or the items you produce nearby will have more quality, or whatever.  That’s great for the Animal Crossing/Farmville crowd, but what about the rest of us?

In addition to the fluff stuff, you can build things to upgrade your farm.  The storage shed and chicken coop are some of the first things you unlock, so if you were getting pissed about carrying around branches and rocks, never fear.  As a side note: Here is a big tip for you – DO NOT SELL OR BREAK DOWN YOUR BRANCHES AND ROCKS.  The unbroken versions of them are also required for many buildings.  Collect them all and hold on to them until you absolutely need the broken down version.  Lumber is easy to get by chopping down trees; branches must be found by other means.  I erroneously assumed trees would break down into branches and merrily chopped all my branches into lumber.  Fortunately I figured it out quickly and held on to the rest of the branches I found during the month, but I might still have to scrounge a bit to get enough.  Similarly you may want to hold on to any “mine” type items because it takes a bit to unlock that.  Actually, just hold on to fucking everything unless you absolutely need to make some cash or whatever.  Extra hint: you won’t actually need cash until you unlock blueprints anyway.

Here’s the big thing though – you can also get blueprints to upgrade the town.  This is new and exciting… no longer are you focusing solely on your farm while a bustling town sits nearby and wonders why you are neglecting your socializing.  You need to actually build the town to get people to move in.  Socializing with people leads to unlocking more blueprints which leads to more people to socialize with and more items to craft and sell on your farm.

The game is lighter on ‘story’ than some of the predecessors, which honestly is fine by me.  The storylines of the games were never great, and I was interested in building my farm.  That’s what the story of this game is – build the farm and make the town successful.  It’s a bit open-ended in that way, which I think is a good move for Harvest Moon.  Don’t try to shoehorn story into the game when people clearly only care about building farms, raising quality crops, and chatting up townsfolk.  The customization works nicely to this end and I think it makes a stronger game overall to focus on the building and quality aspects.

There is also a pseudo “level” systems, wherein the more you do of an activity the better quality your products are.  Some examples are cooking and fishing… the things I make now have extra quality stars and the fish I catch are getting bigger and higher quality.  Although I got mega super bug catching titles because there was nothing else to fucking do during the first month, to the degree where I even got a letter saying the next town over knew me as a butterfly whisperer, and as far as I can tell it did fuck-all; the same bugs still spawn and they still sell for the same amount because bugs don’t actually have quality associated with them.  So I don’t really know what the point of that was…
I also kind of suspect I’m getting screwed, because I can whip up a batch of 20 turnip soups after my crops mature, but it wasn’t until a few days later I got the level up for cooking 10 items, so I think it counted the batch of 20 as one cook.  I haven’t bothered to experiment with cooking 20 turnip soups one by one though… it’s just not worth it.

So if you like Harvest Moon and have been disappointed with recent titles, or if you like building shit, or if you like decorating a farm with fences and benches and petting chickens once a day, or you like the feeling of progression of unlocking new things to build or craft, or you like talking to people and trying to fucking date one of them (if you’re a girl protagonist, most of the guys in the game seem to be douches – fair warning)… you might like this game!  It’s great because it’s a throwback to everything that made Harvest Moon great in the first place, but without trying to “fix” a winning formula.  If only it gave you a bit more freedom to experiment at the start it would be perfect.

Now if you will excuse me… I have to go milk my cow.

Xenoblade: First Impressions

I say First Impressions because, despite putting 6 hours into it so far, I haven’t actually left the first town and have barely started the story.  But I can certainly comment on some of the mechanics!  And when I’m done, 200 hours from now, I’ll have forgotten everything I was going to say anyway, so I may as well start now.

I was in the mood for something RPGish and needed something engaging to do while using the recumbent bike, so a console RPG seemed like a perfect fit.  Our Wii library is pretty anemic, and Xenoblade has been coming up in a lot of conversations, so it seemed like a safe bet.  So far it was the correct choice – my hour on the bike disappears, and then I just keep going to finish up whatever I was doing.  If only my butt didn’t go numb, I’d be in amazing shape by the end of this game…

Despite putting only 6 hours into it, I seem to have a lot to say

The Book of Unwritten Tales

I grew up on “adventure games”, and they briefly disappeared from the market so I find myself oddly drawn to them when I come across them.  Telltale sparked a new interest in the genre, and suddenly my Steam account is filled with the damn things.  The problem is, you have to be in a certain mindset to really enjoy an adventure game.  It’s almost like reading an interactive book, except it moves at a much slower pace, and it has bizarrely illogical puzzles scattered about that you have to complete before you can turn the page.  If you’re not in the right mindset, you lose patience quickly and drop the game partway through, and then when you come back later you can’t remember what’s going on, but you remember enough that you don’t want to replay the first part again.  It’s a tough situation!  But Steam keeps putting them on sale for 2 bucks and I have to buy them even when I’m not in the mood.

The latest sale to sucker me in was for The Book of Unwritten Tales.  It’s nice to find a well regarded title that isn’t Telltale, and I happened to be in the mood for some storytelling, so I fired it up right away.

The first thing I do in every game is go to the options and adjust all the settings.  I also ensured that subtitles were on.  The game immediately launched into a movie to start the story off and… there were no subtitles!  It wasn’t a big deal for me because I’m not actually deaf, but I feel bad for anyone who legitimately can’t hear the voiceover as the character sat there and did nothing but write in his book for several minutes.  He was explaining the story, but without subtitles it would make for a pretty god damn boring intro.

The other thing that surprised me was how low res the movies seemed.  The game obviously isn’t bleeding edge graphics, but the graphics are clear and bright.  In comparison, the actual in game movies were spilling compression artifacts everywhere and made it feel like playing a game from the 90s (which works for the adventure game nostalgia angle, I guess).  I’m relatively certain there are no more settings I can flip to improve them, which is too bad.

I liked the animation style they were going for in game – it feels fluid and cartoony, as long as you don’t nitpick their movements too much. Some of the animations are a bit repetitive and it’s obvious they just copied frames to save time. Don’t look too closely at how ridiculous some of the facial animations can be, either.  Probably my biggest complaint is that the animations can leave the characters feeling “wooden”. The faces animate in a fairly robotic way that doesn’t really bring across emotion like a hand-drawn cartoon can (and in a pixel graphic, your mind fills in the blanks, which is why they’re so damn effective).  It can push into the “uncanny valley” sometimes, watching a character break into a delighted smile that really only makes their mouth open a bit too wide, and leaves their eyes dead and staring… oh god, the nightmares…
But hey for the sale price I paid, I’m paying for the writing and the graphics are just a bonus.  It does make me wonder which costs more, though – the 3D renders they have here, or hand drawn cartoony graphics like in the later Kings Quest games.  Hrmm.  I feel like this game would really benefit from hand drawn cartoon graphics that could express themselves.

I enjoyed the humour of the writing, although some of the jokes felt a bit forced.  One of the conversations gives you three different options, and all of them go for the same, obvious joke.  Granted, I didn’t actually go through reloading to try each of them to see if they actually did all lead to the same outcome, but it felt like they would.  Which leads me to another comment: the game also has one of my pet peeves in that the options it gives you to pick from often don’t actually resemble what the character ends up saying.  That is not what I thought I was trying to convey when I picked that dialog choice and it annoys me that I am being misrepresented here!  Damn you, game!

Another problem – the game is one of those “Oh you want to inspect that?  Okay, the character will waddle their slow ass over there to look at it for you” games, which results in a lot of wasted time that does not need to be wasted.  I’ve given up on games before because of this, but they do somewhat acknowledge it by giving you the ability to double click and transition immediately, rather than waiting for the character to waddle across the screen.  Unfortunately it doesn’t help much when inspecting things.  A lot of the old pixel games solve this problem by having the character interact with things no matter where they’re standing, unless a specific scripted animation required them to move to it.  In Unwritten Tales, every bit of flavour decoration requires the character to stand next to it.  Especially annoying is later on when you need to swap between characters.  Each and every swap requires them to waddle over and tag each other, and all it accomplishes is an artificial lengthening of the hours played.  So easily solved… and (I would think) so easy to pick up on in testing.  It’s really too bad they didn’t polish that a bit more.

The story starts out interestingly enough and it grabs you with a decent hook right off the start which makes you want to keep going to see what happens next.  So many stories make the mistake of starting out banal and “normal” and get you to go do normal and boring things before the excitement starts, which is just a barrier to becoming immersed and involved.  Unwritten Tales has you do the banal everyday things (washing pots and chasing a rat… seriously) AFTER the hook scene!  So it gets a thumbs up there, I guess.

When people talk about adventure games, they almost always talk about “adventure game logic”.  Unwritten Tales arguably has some adventure game logic, but as far as these games go it’s very, very good.  Most “adventure game logic” is along the lines of “I have this box with an unusually shaped hole in it, and I have this peg with the same unusual shape carved into the end of it.  How do I open this box?!??! Hmm I’m totally stumped!  The player wants to put the peg into the hole in the box?  What?  No, that’s stupid. Why would I want to try that??  I see no reason to try that.  Hey let’s ask this guy over here if he knows how to open this box!  Hmm he says there must be a key with the same shape as this hole on the box… we should try putting this peg into the box!”
None of the puzzles in Unwritten Tales are stupid, and they all make sense (well… so far, anyway).  They’re just very linear.  I keep getting stuck because the only way to open up the option to do something is to talk to someone I’ve already talked to, with no indication that they should have something new to say all of a sudden.  I dislike that sort of repetitive “checking” in adventure games because it means puzzle solving ends up boiling down to clicking on everything 20 times until something new happens.  In fact, Unwritten Tales offers a time-saving feature where holding a key will highlight everything you can interact with, and once you’re out of potential interactions, they stop highlighting anymore.  So the solution to every puzzle is to click on everything until it stops lighting up.  There’s not a whole lot of “puzzling” involved. There are also some dumb things that MUST happen in order, even if it may not necessarily make sense that they MUST happen in that order.  The very first puzzle in the game revolves around trying to cut a bit of rope.  I did the stuff and got the necessary thing to cut it, so I selected the thing and pointed at the rope, and my character goes “Wait, I better tell him that I’m going to cut it now.”  Yet another conversation must take place before the actual cutting.  Sigh.  Fortunately subtitles work for these bits, so I can read them quickly and not wait for the voice acting to finish before I can go cut the god damn rope already.  At least the game sort of lets you feel like it understands that you’ve figured out the puzzle, instead of acting dumb until all the bits have been walked through.

And then the cutscene after that involved a pretty obvious zoom-in on elf cleavage.  Ugh.  One of the bonuses of story driven games like adventure games is that USUALLY it offers the opportunity to create full-featured female characters.  Nope, it’s an elf, so we better have her wear a leather bikini and zoom in when we can.  It’s too bad because I like her character, but having the defining feature be “female elf” is unfortunate.

All in all, it’s a decent addition to the adventure game genre, and I’m glad to see more developers getting in on producing more modern tales.  TL;DR – The game wins a lot of points for decent writing and not-infurating “puzzles”, but it loses points for the clunky animations and a couple of bad design decisions that end up wasting time.

[edit] And after playing further, I want to add that the game REALLY comes into its own as it goes on.  I enjoyed it almost as much as the classic LucasArts/Sierra stuff, which is saying a lot.  The time wasting stays true throughout, though.  Why do the characters have to slowly plod back to a specific spot when you switch?  Even if they must stand in a spot, why can’t they do that WHILE you control the next one?  It’s just clunky design…

Legend of Fae

One of my intended purposes for this blog was to bring some attention to the quality of smaller, little known things that might otherwise get overlooked.  I feel like Legend of Fae deserves some attention.

It’s a typical match three game, but it’s got a lot of unique elements to it which really make it stand out.

For one, the graphics are decent.Legend of Fae 1

For two, it’s an RPG, and it actually has good writing.  The story is keeping me interested and I want to know what happens next.

The gist of it is that shit is happening and our protagonist sets out to locate her missing family member.  Along the way, she runs into some friendly elementals who help her out.

Gameplay has a lot of simple elemental matching: fire beats grass, water beats fire… etc. etc.  In the mix are some other elements though.  For one, there are “walk” tiles which make you… well… walk… and get to the next story element.  While in combat, those tiles also make you dodge.  There are also some other action tiles that do various things.

The game includes a combat element.  You match tiles to power up your elemental friends, then click up on the battle screen to direct them to attack things.  This is where your matching kicks in – send your fire guy to attack the grass dudes, water guy to attack fire dudes… you’ll figure it out.  So each game involves a lot of swapping between the two game boards, which I wasn’t too keen on at first but I got used to it.

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The battle board

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Properly matched elements result in huge bonuses

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monsters can drop items, which you can click on to collect.  I could really do without this.  Why do we have to CLICK on it to collect it?  Just pick that shit up automatically.  It’s busywork that can end up being a bit tedious.  The items they drop can result in fleshing out your story tome though which is nice.  I love collection elements in games.

The real RPG aspects come into play when clearing a stage can result in you collecting some upgrade items which you can use to make your elemental friends more powerful 2013-02-09_00004

Save up to make one super powerful, or upgrade all of them equally?  HMMM.

For the competitive streak in people, there are time attack options for getting through the stages.  Getting a good time requires efficient matching and proper elemental attacks in order to take things out in the fastest possible manner.  Fortunately, for people like me, it’s completely optional and you can just enjoy the game and story without worrying about the clock.

It’s a great little timewaster with much deeper elements than your typical match three, and I highly recommend checking it out.

Wizardry Online

This review might be a bit premature, but I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse, so maybe now is a good time.

Wizardry Online!  Where did this come from??  I had heard absolutely nothing about this game until it actually came out.  I used to play the shit out of the old Wizardry series, along with Might and Magic.  Of course, the last Wizardry game I remember clearly was Wizardry 8, and since then it has apparently become an anime series full of elves with big boobs.  Unfortunate.

My husband and I spent a lot of time in Dungeons and Dragons Online, going back several times and usually subscribing for several months each time.  In fact, if it weren’t free to play, we probably wouldn’t get sucked back in so easily. The model works, as long as you’re not a greedy shithead with your pricing schemes and restriction of free accounts!
Wizardry is also free to play, and it seemed to have the kind of gameplay we like.  Co-op dungeon diving (that can be done with 2 people, but allows for more), hacking and slashing monsters in sewers, solving “puzzles” to advance through the dungeon, traps, treasure… the promise of multiclassing and other forms of advanced character building… hell we played the shit out of a game called Dungeon Lords which was about as polished as a fresh lump of clay, and we enjoyed that immensely because we were muddling through together, so Wizardry intrigued us.

Read 3500 words worth of bitching!

Uncharted Waters Online

I have a dream.  A dream of a trading-based MMO that doesn’t suck.  I mean, it’s hard enough to get a crafting system that is both meaningful and doesn’t suck, much less a decent economy that allows for players to build their own trade empires. I need a Harvest Moon MMO.  You hear me, Nintendo?  I want to grow crops and sell them at the market and upgrade my fucking barn with the profit I make from undercutting everyone else’s turnips.  And no, not Farmville.

When I went on a hunt for a trading based MMO, the majority of hits on Google were people suggesting playing the Auction House in World of Warcraft.  /facepalm.  The rest of the suggestions that sounded decent were in games that required combat, so really it wasn’t a trading based MMO, it was a combat based MMO with some decent trading (like Pirates of the Burning Sea, with an interesting looking crafting and trade system that is completely overshadowed by the conflict involved in transporting your goods, since the game focuses on sea combat and uses the trading as a means to force you into combat situations.  Ugh).  And then of course there is EVE, but I would also like to be able to jump in and have a hope in hell of getting anywhere without years of investment first, not to mention the sheer griefing potential that I would like to avoid…
So yeah.  Basically, my ideal game does not exist.

But then one of the suggestions I stumbled across was Uncharted Waters Online.  I had never heard of it, so I took a peek.  Apparently it was a moderately successful MMO overseas, and it was just recently bumped over to North America.  So the graphics are dated (originally designed for consoles, I think, so designed for weak hardware too) and some of the translations are a bit wonky.  All in all it didn’t get a whole lot of attention but it was staying afloat, somehow.  It was also free!

I decided to check it out.

Could it be? Have I found the MMO of my dreams?