Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Need a Quick Image Host

Wheel of Time is practically on-topic on this blog, anyway.  Here's the cover of the next book:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

...Three Weeks Later

I've been absolutely swamped with work and doctor's appointments and whatnot lately, and while this is the first chance I've gotten to blog any, I have been doing quite a bit of gaming.  I've forgone watching these Rome DVDs, in fact, to fit in more time with some of these games.  I'll write this time period up in chronological order.

A few weeks ago Steam had a sale going on the X series, a long-running one where you play a space entrepreneur, and sometime privateer, out to make your own mark on the galaxy.  I did some quick research, and it was clear that the game to buy from this series is the most recent (and by all accounts, most complete) entry, X3: Terran Conflict.  It was only ten bucks, and I like space and had recently come to the conclusion that EVE Online and its monthly subscription weren't right for me, so I bit.

The game is vast and expansive, and by turns bewildering and incredibly difficult, but it is also strangely compelling.  Even 18 hours in, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface.  Every mission I try to take on is either outright impossible or so difficult as to make it virtually so.  Missions don't preclude you from taking them if say, you aren't in the right type of ship, or don't have a cargo bay big enough to transport the items in question, or don't have a ship fast enough to get to a place before the time limit of the mission.  So, right out of the gate, you are surrounded by missions and tasks you can attempt to do for people around the galaxy, but that would be functionally impossible to finish.  Still, I am compelled to get somewhere in this game.  I think what I need most is money to buy better ships for myself and money to invest in hiring other ships to run trade routes and money to build factories and stations with which to make more money to use to start to be able to get out and actually do some things to build some reputation with the various factions in the universe.   First, I need to find some good trade routes to run, then I need to run them for a while to build up some cash, and get the whole ball rolling.  We're talking hundreds of hours of potential playtime here, if one wanted to see and do everything in this game.  Did I mention that there is actually a plot and a series of story missions to play through?  I think 100+ hours into the game is probably a prerequisite to get anywhere into it at this point, though.

The other large and very time-intensive game I've been playing lately is Monster Hunter Tri.  I covered the basics about the game in my last post, but I've been delving farther in since.  I have about 35 hours now on the in-game clock, and I'm at the end of the third tier of guild quests in offline mode, about to hunt a Royal Ludroth.  What I've been playing some in the last couple of weeks is the online mode, where you can group up with 3 other players and head out to co-operatively kill these huge monsters for their horns and hides and such, which you can use to forge bigger and better weapons and armor with.  As co-op usually does, it adds a lot to the playability of the game.  You can group with people more experienced in order to learn how to handle the epic battles that some of the bigger game present you with.  I've grouped up with people a few times now, and working together we were able to do in 10-15 minutes what it took me 3-4 hours to accomplish alone, and by the skin of my teeth.  The closest parallel I know how to draw is trying to solo VT or IT mobs in FFXI vs. taking them down in a 3 or 4-man party.  Monster Hunter is a little more fair than that when you play solo, but only if you have the experience and skill that comes with a lot of trial and error.  The action is solid, and the progression addicting.  It's fun.

With May winding down, I decided to try and finish a couple of games to keep my pace up for the year.  I'm shooting at about 2 per month.  With that in mind, I went back in the last couple of days and polished off Torchlight.  I was at floor 23 or 24 of 35 when I'd last left off, so I had about a quarter of the game left.  Well, I'm done now.  The game started off really easy, so much so that I was playing on Hard mode with my Vanquisher.

Let me tell you, it gets a whole hell of a lot more difficult in that last stratum of the dungeon.  I was dying pretty much every time I ran into a room with more than 2-3 enemies to fight at a time.  The elemental damage from some of those guys was fucking brutal, one-shotting me time and time again.  Luckily, you have a few options for where you want to respawn, and how much of a death penalty you are willing to incur when you do so.  If you opt to respawn in town, you don't lose anything at all, so what I would do is set a town portal wherever I wanted my 'checkpoint' to be, and when I died I could just respawn in town and immediately take the portal back into the dungeon.  All I had to do was cast another portal spell as soon as I'd used the first, and I was set.  This strategy worked fine right up to the last boss, who was such a hardass that I can't even begin to describe what it was like to fight him.  He literally must have had a million hit points, and my average attack would hit for maybe 500, with crits doing about 1500.  If I'd had to rely on my pistols alone, I'd have been there all night, but luckily I had my flechette traps and Hail of Arrows abilities pumped up  and used those, primarily, to whittle him down over 15-20 minutes of non-stop death/respawn looping.  This guy would spawn scores of helper enemies that I had to try to deal with.  More often than not, he would actually kill them all himself in some sort of move that looked to be him consuming their life essence back into his own.  I never noticed his HP actually increase, however.  I must have died 30 times.  Here, I just said "fuck it," and elected to spawn right at the entrance to that floor, which was entirely given over to his lair anyway, and took the hit to my gold total.  There is an achievement for beating him on Very Hard Hardcore mode, which is one level higher than I was playing on, and with perma-death.  Yeah, on Hardcore, one death permanently erases your character, which of course means no respawns on the final boss, or anywhere else.  I can't imagine how I'd kill that guy on Easy without dying a bunch, so I have no fucking clue how anyone could do that.

So now, I'm done with Torchlight.  There is a lot more that the game has to offer, including higher difficulty, other character classes, a 100-floor alternate dungeon, tons of loot, and crazy ass mods, and I might be back for some of that at some point, but for now I move on to the next game I need to complete!

In all of this gaming confusion, I had to take a business trip up to Seattle, and I took my DS along for the ride, since the new Mac Steam platform is incompatible with the version of OS X on my MacBook.  I played a little bit of Touch! Kirby, which is still one of the best implementations of the DS stylus controls that I've ever seen, and a little bit more of the Final Fantasy IV remake.  I also got in a little bit of Battlefield with Lonesteban, the first I've played of that game in weeks.  That's all for now!  My goal for this week is to finish off Planescape: Torment and to play some more Monster Hunter and X3.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

What Up, Yo

I have played exactly three games this week, yo.  I spent the first few days playing a bunch of Monster Hunter Tri, then later focused on finishing the Zerg campaign in Starcraft before April ended, and also played a ton of Uniwar throughout.

Monster Hunter kicks ass, and I can't wait to play more.  I bought it kind of on a whim, kind of to see whether or not the newest, most accessible entry in the series would would actually appeal to me (long time readers might know that the PSP game failed to click with me a couple of years ago).  The addition of the second analog stick, by way of the Wii Classic Controller Pro, does wonders for the game's playability.  Capcom has also gone to lengths with Tri to include perfunctory tutorials and a free-hunt area that makes resource gathering and practice hunts a cinch.  I've logged about 12 -14 hours with the game, and I'm really enjoying it thus far.  I'm at the very end of the second tier of guild quests (rated 1-5 stars) in the single player game.  I understand there are more quests online.

It's just a great game.  It's heavily skill-based, as in you got to have skills, or you will get nowhere.  I'm given over to that type of gaming recently, though, with stuff like Demon's Souls, Starcraft, and a bevy of multiplayer FPS that I've been into.  I'm starting to game more for mechanics than for stories, like I have done in the past.  Monster Hunter mixes that skill-heavy play with a bunch of great RPG mechanics, too, like crafting your own armor and weapons from rare items obtained through hunting and gathering in the world.  There are a couple of aspects of the game that I find annoyingly last-gen, though, and they are the closed-off areas with loading screens between, and the somewhat janky UI and inventory systems.  You can tell that the game is largely un-evolved from the PS2/PSP entries.  I can live with that, though, because the game is really good when you get right down to it.  I've only fought one big monster so far, and the battle was pretty epic.

I've been "playing" Starcraft for an eternity now, but I'd only finished the Terran campaign.  Within the last couple of weeks I decided to get back into the game, and now I've finished off the Zerg campaign, as well.  This is another game I've sort of had to teach myself how to play when playing.  With the Zerg, though, most missions amounted to building, expanding to more resources, building more, and then overrunning the opposition through force of numbers.  I didn't have to outright restart that many times, I could mostly go back to a timely save file if a rush ended badly or a scouting attempt went wrong.  Still, each of the 10 missions took anywhere from 60-90 minutes, and more in a couple of cases.  It's significant enough an investment that I treat each race's campaign as a separate game for completion tracking purposes.  I'm not sure when I'll get to the Protoss, but I should do it sooner than it took me to get to the Zerg after finishing the Terran campaigns.  I still have all of Brood War to get through before I can play Starcraft II!

In other gaming, I've been playing tons of Uniwar online via my iphone.  That game kicks ass.  The asynchronus model for turn-based games is ace for mobile games.