Monday, December 31, 2012

Assassin's Excess

When I've been playing games over the last couple of weeks, it's been mostly Assassin's Creed III. I've put in nearly 50 hours according to Steam, with some of that spent AFK. I have played a lot of this game, and I'm here with some more thoughts.

I finished up the main story stuff yesterday after mostly taking it on at a leisurely pace. I like to wander around and see what there is in the world and try all the various things at least once or twice. I also have a compulsion to collect every collectable and see every little bit of content, no matter how slight. There's a hell of a lot of that stuff in every Assassin's Creed game, but they've really gone overboard with III.

On the one hand, I want to applaud Ubisoft for packing a game so full of stuff to do, but on the other I think they really need to sit down and have a think about just how much goes into one of these mammoth titles, and see if maybe they can't pare it down to just the great stuff. Then maybe they could use the extra resources to tighten up the core gameplay, which has a lot of rumpled, saggy bits to it.

Jumping back into the game after finishing it last night, I stumbled upon some interesting post-game stuff that serves as a slight hint at the future direction of the series while also giving you the keys to hack the animus, activating cheats to let you go wild in the open world. These are neat features, as are the myriad of little vignette missions you can do around your homestead in the game, as are the very well done naval missions, et cetera.

Not all of the side stuff is of the shallow collect-athon mold, but much of it is, unfortunately. Some seems to serve no purpose whatsoever--what are the underground tunnel networks all about? They're completely redundant because the game lets you fast travel to and from enough locations on the maps that it would take tens of times longer to go through the tunnels, and there's nothing down there anyway! Near as I can tell, all they do is link one spot in the city to another. There are a couple of missions in the game where you go through them, but that's no reason to actually build out and include the whole network, is it?

I know these games sell a whole lot, but I can't help but think even so there is a lot of wasted time and energy going into them. I love that Ubisoft is throwing incredible amounts of time and money at them, but maybe that's not really all that necessary. With some logistical optimization during development, I think we could all see a much leaner, meaner, Assassin's Creed, and maybe even free up some people to finally get Beyond Good & Evil 2 out the door, huh?

That rant out of the way, I just want to say that I love this game. I'm a big fan of the series, but it has never looked this good or had anything like the rugged nature of the homestead or frontier areas III does. The naval stuff has been a huge surprise. Hearing about its inclusion, I groaned on the inside thinking it would be just more tacked-on bloat, but it is really well done and pretty exciting, if simplistic. I wouldn't mind seeing it fleshed out into its own game about naval warfare and ships-o-the-line. The Revolutionary America setting doesn't really do any more or less for me than prior settings in terms of historical happenings, but I do really like the countryside, as I mentioned, and it is cool to play as a Native American and at least see some mind paid to what they went through during the period. The game's inverse Raiden, a chap by the name of Haytham Kenway, is actually a more interesting character than Connor himself, and really benefits the story when he's around during the latter parts of the story, as well.

All in all, I've been pretty happy with Assassin's Creed III. It is certainly not the disappointment to me that it seems to have been to some. With the audience this series has, though, there's no hope for pleasing everybody. It's had a rough time in the gaming scene partially, I think, due to it being the fifth game in the series, and fourth in four years. If you're a person who keeps current with games, that's a hell of a lot of this formula in a short amount of time. We're due for a break, whether its just so they can make the game for next-gen consoles, or so that they can go back to the drawing board for whatever's next. I fear there will be no break, though, and we'll be right back here next year, like we were last year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cloud Atlas, Pariah

I finally finished up David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas the other day. You might know it as the basis for a movie that recently came out. It's fairly interesting and unique as far as non-genre fiction goes. The book tells six stories of six sets of characters in six timelines in a Russian nesting doll fashion. The first tale set in the late 1800's in the South Pacific is interrupted midway through by the second, which is interrupted midway through by the third, and so on, until the middle of the book, where the sixth story is told in its entirety, and then all the others are closed out in reverse order, as well. The stories are linked in various ways, and the idea is that there is one soul consistent in each time period, being reincarnated time and again.

I think my favorite aspect of the book was just how completely different each story section was from the last, in terms of prose style, genre,  and setting, especially. The overall themes of each story are consistent, though, and basically boil down to the fact that people are bad and tend to hurt one another. There's a glimmer of hope in each scenario for the future, but by and large the central idea seems to be that life is suffering. I guess that's literature for you.

I'm on to something a little more fun, if not much more hopeful, in Dan Abnett's newest Warhammer 40,000 novel about the Inquisition, which happens to be the first book in the last of a trilogy of trilogies, called Pariah. The main character is known to readers of the Eisenhorn trilogy as Alizabeth Bequin. It opens with her being raised in a special school for a special type of person in a city called Queen Mab. It's intriguing, so far. Abnett is a great writer, and Black Library, the publishing arm of Games Workshop, who makes the Warhammer 40,000 games and curates the license, is lucky to have him enriching their fantasy universes.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Quick And The Dead

You want reflexes like a jackrabbit and aim like a NASA engineer launching a Mars rover if you're going to be playing either Counter-Strike or Hotline Miami.

I bought into the newest iteration of Valve's classic competitive shooter, CS GO, because it's a simple, quick, no-frills affair that is easy to jump in and out of whenever the mood for a bit of tactical combat strikes. It was also on sale for $7.50, and I couldn't pass that up. I've only played a few short hours of CS: Source, but that along with my brief time with the CS GO beta let me know I'd have fun with the game. And fun it is, if a bit bewildering at times. There are people playing who are amazingly good at the game and will just dominate any match they play. I am not one of those people. I am usually last or second to last in the score rankings.

The Arms Race (AKA Gun Game) mode is the definition of a light-hearted romp in a FPS setting, and classic Counter-Strike modes like Demolition are also here with their discrete rounds. What I like about CS is that it is so immediate. I enjoy Battlefield, but sometimes I want to just jump right into the action without having to find it or find transportation to it, or even deal with vehicles even being a part of the equation. CS is great for a quick 15 or 20 minute hit of FPS play.

Hotline Miami is something else, entirely, if its demands for speed and precision are much like CS's. People make the comparison to the first few GTA games, before that series went 3D, but a bigger point of reference to me is the NES Mission Impossible. That game had the same top-down perspective, and much like Hotline Miami, was incredibly difficult. That said, the game is pretty fun, and I suspect has some surprises in store further in. Some kind of trippy plot is developing between my contract-killer's murderous jobs. It is kind of reminiscent of Drive, though even more sinister, and with an even nastier soundtrack. I like it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Now Is The Winter of Our Downloadable Content

A glance at my Steam profile confirms that most of my game time over the past couple of weeks has been split between Assassin's Creed III and STALKER: Clear Sky.

AC3 is good, though all of the usual nitpicks apply. As always, it is supremely ambitious, at times seeming to bite off more than it can competently chew. As has been the norm, though, I still enjoy playing it, warts and all. I've been taking this one at a slower, steadier pace than I did the Ezio trilogy. As I recall, I played the first game in the series in a similar fashion; coming to it here and there, I let the plot points and setting changes the series is so fond of percolate for a bit before moving on. Even with the dreaded 12/21/12 approaching both in-world and IRL, I feel no rush to blitz through this iteration. I'd rather hit it leisurely and not stress the well-worn mechanics so hard. I wonder what Ubisoft's future plans are for the series, and whether they're going to continue putting them out at the breakneck pace they have been. It seems riskier and riskier every time, and at least with media types, they seem to have come very close to disaster this year. For what it's worth, I think the series ambition and devotion to offering unique and interesting settings and conflicts are more than worth overlooking some sloppiness, provided they don't let it get too out of hand.

Speaking of games released in a bit of a sloppy state that hide unique and compelling qualities, I've been playing more S.T.A.L.K.E.R.!

Clear Sky is the second in the trilogy, and widely regarded as the red-headed stepchild of the bunch. At release there were a number of issues with the game causing it to be excruciatingly difficult or even outright unfair, to hear it told by game reviewers. That, dear reader, is why you should be glad that we live in a world where enterprising fans have taken it upon themselves to compile the series of Complete mods for the Stalker series. Don't enter the Zone without them! In addition to fixing bugs and altering mechanics to make the games more firm-but-fair than outright broken, they also implement a number of graphical enhancements and in places even restore content cut from the original releases.  I played Shadow of Chernobyl with the Complete mod from the word go, and I'm doing the same with Clear Sky, and I'm happy to report that I'm having nothing but a great time in the bleak, desolate, and unwelcoming Chernobyl exclusion zone.

There is simply no other series that does what the Stalker games do. The closest analogues I can think of would be Far Cry 2 and Fallout 3 (and perhaps their sequels), though neither of those could really be considered similar beyond superficial features. The Stalker series offers up an engaging mix of survivalist scavenging, treasure hunting, FPS action, faction-based warfare, mysterious supernatural phenomena, and horror in a world that is at once more hostile and vital than any other in gaming.

In Clear Sky, you play a stalker called Scar who, after surviving an unprecedented blast of energy out of nowhere, wakes up in the care of a faction of stalkers called Clear Sky, who are devoted to the careful scientific study of the supernatural happenings in the Zone. You know only that you need to track down a group of other stalkers who are rumored to have made their way to the center of the Zone, and who are probably at the heart of why it has been acting so erratic lately. If that sounds like personification of the Zone, that is because that is precisely what is going on, here. The men of Clear Sky think that the Zone is acting, through seemingly random emissions of power capable of frying anyone else, to protect whatever is at its core.  And off you go.

If you've played the first game, you know who it was that made it to the center of the Zone, and what they found there. Clear Sky is actually a prequel to the events of Shadow of Chernobyl, and runs concurrent to Strelok and his group's trip past the Brain Scorcher that leads into the first game.

I'm about 10 hours in, as of this writing, hot on the trail of a stalker called Fang, one of Strelok's group, looking for answers. I can hardly wait to play more. So far I've seen a lot of the same areas of the Zone as in the first game, with the exception of the starting area, the swamps. From there the game moves on to the cordon, the garbage, and the dark valley. I think there are a couple of other new areas later on, too.

Clear Sky introduces a faction warfare system, so now you can join the groups of stalkers like Duty, Freedom, Clear Sky, and others, though I haven't really been compelled to do so, just yet. I've fought alongside a couple of them, but only to my own ends, thus far. This game also introduces a weapon upgrade system, which is cool, but sadly takes away the global stalker rating system SoC had. In that game, a list was kept of every stalker NPC in the game, and your stats, as you played, measured up against them. It was artificial, but cool nonetheless.

Monday, December 3, 2012


I've been a reader as long as I've been a gamer. I picked up both habits right around the same time, as a matter of fact. These days, I'm sad to say, I don't make as much time for reading as I'd like to. As you might guess from reading this blog, the majority of my leisure time is spent gaming. This, combined with a thirst for fiction almost as great as my thirst for games, has over the last few years resulted in a backlog of books (both fiction and non-fiction) that, while not nearly as extensive as my gaming backlog, still represents a titanic amount of time to tackle. That is why I have decided to begin tracking my book backlog on this blog in tandem with my gaming.

Considering the name of this blog is a reference to a book and not a game, I'm not sure why the thought hasn't occurred to me until just now, but there you have it. I'm going to reward myself with a completion token (for use in buying more games, naturally) every time I finish a book. I don't feel the need to spend tokens when I buy books, because a) I don't buy them that often, b) I'm worried about neither the money spent on books, nor the amount of them lying around untouched, and c) I think reading is a wonderful thing, and should never be discouraged in any form or fashion, nor should enthusiasm relating to it (i.e., the purchase of books).

Right now I'm slogging (more as a function of how rarely I sit down to read than a commentary on the quality of the book) through Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. It's good! I need to finish it; I've been reading it for a couple of months now, probably, and I want to move on to something else. When I do, I'll write something up about it. For now, I'm going to add a list to the sidebar here of books on my Booklog, and then go read for a while (before coming back to the computer to play a game, no doubt, before the night is out).

Sunday, November 25, 2012

No Thanksgaming

It's Thanksgiving time in the US, and I'm out of town, resulting in slim to no game playing on my part. In the last couple of weeks before this trip though, I logged some time on a few games.

I played a smidge of Dirt 2 on a whim, mainly because it's such a pretty game with such beautiful weather in all the locations you race in. I like rally racing because of the locales you drive through. It's a shame I have no clue how to control a rally car at speeds above about 30 mph, though.

I've begun XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and while its quality is plain to see, I haven't given myself completely over to it, just yet. I've been playing a mission at a time, just here and there. I decided on Ironman mode right off the bat, because I think the permanence of consequence makes the game much more interesting. I felt kind of shameful about reloading a lot playing X-Com classic, and I wish I had played Ironman-style in that game, too. I'm not looking at it as a game to beat ASAP, but rather as an experience to enjoy long-term.

Dark Souls will probably turn out to be another long-term game for me. I'm not in any rush to finish it; that would probably hurt the appeal of the game for me. No, I'd rather inch through it little by little as time and impetus allow. I had to restart my game on the PC, since I'd put in around 8 or 10 hours on the PS3, previously. Despite already retracing all my old steps and decisions, I opted to keep rolling with a Knight over any other class. I feel like all the rest would focus more on agility and dodging, and what I want is to be able to stand toe-to-toe with the biggest and baddest the game has to throw at me. I played Demon's Souls as a roll-reliant Wanderer, and I'd rather go heavy this time around.

I spent the majority of the last few weeks' game time on Fallout 3. As a matter of fact, I plowed right through the game's main quest line and had completed it before I even realized it was over. I'm not sure what that says about the game, but I have been enjoying it quite a bit. It's not Fallout 1 or 2, but it's good. I'm in the middle of the proper post-game DLC, Broken Steel, right now, and I'm also going to play the rest of the DLC stuff, at the very least. One of the last perks I unlocked revealed every point of interest on the map, and to say that I'd visited even 10% of them through the main quest would be generous. I'm not going to commit to that, but we'll see how it goes. I'm already kitted out in Enclave Hellfire armor and Plasma weapons, but there is still a long way to go until I hit level 30.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Picking Up What I've Put Down

There was a time when I just could not do this. I used to play a single game at a time. I would play nothing but that game until I was done with it, and if for some reason I did leave a game unfinished, the next time I wanted to play it, I had to start from the beginning again.

I just do not have the time to waste on doing that these days. Additionally, my tastes are an order of magnitude broader than they used to be. I tend to jump around from game to game as a rule these days. PC gaming makes it easy, because all of your games are just a couple of clicks away--no discs to swap out, shelves to keep organized, et cetera. If I play one single title exclusively for a week or two it's something I'm deeply absorbed in, like Dishonored, recently, or Diablo III earlier this year. So, I find myself with a lot of games back-burnered, and I find myself picking up game saves that have sat around untouched for months at a time.

In the last couple of weeks I've gone back to Fallout 3 (9 months or so), Half-Life 2 (8ish months), and Diablo III (around 2 months). The last was just to see what the two major patches since August had changed, and to see if I still liked the game after some time away. Turns out I do!

Fallout 3. I love this series. Even set apart in time and space from the first two games, Fallout 3 carries over a lot of cool things in the world. It's really good, and I'll write more about it in the future. I can't decide how much of the side stuff I really want to delve into. I know I want to hit all of the main DLC bits, and finish the main quest, of course. After that, we'll see. It might be really tempting to move on to New Vegas.

Half-Life 2 I decided to pick up just for some more conventional FPS gameplay after going the stealth route through Dishonored. As no one needs to be told, it's a great game. I'm still just a meager 2-3 hours in, though. More will be written about this one, too, time comes to pass.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Wrath Of... yawn... War

I recently finished up Darksiders the first. I wanted to like it more than I actually did.

People say that it's like a Zelda game, and in many ways that is true, but while I personally find it more interesting a world and mythology than Nintendo's franchise, it doesn't quite match their cohesion of design.

There is a lot of wasted potential in Darksiders' mechanics. Several of the items and abilities gained throughout the game seem to be in the game only to justify a progression-blocking barrier and divert the player on to the next dungeon of the eight-ish required in a game like this before the quest can be over. The pistol seems pretty useless. War's horse, Ruin, is used in a couple of combat encounters, and to my knowledge not able to be called upon in the majority of the game world's locales. The hookshot-alike is used sparingly, as are the floaty double-jump wings, and the portal gun is only for use where there are portal pads around the world, which is a small number of places.

Darksiders' combat system is better than Zelda's, but that doesn't mean it's great. It's pretty button-mashy, and anyone who's played a third-person action game in the last 10 years will know basically what to expect.

Let me take a moment here to just say that I hate the kind of puzzles you see in this type of game. They are completely pointless, and braindead in their conception. They do nothing but waste time. Who but a game designer would ever construct such places, with their levers and mirrors and disappearing floor tiles and such? Not the evilest being in all of history. They would be too busy doing evil things to create what amounts to a rat maze for the person coming to kill them, whom they are presumably unaware will ever exist! 

I came away from the game feeling like it was pretty average. I think this entire genre is just not really my type of thing. I do like the art a lot, but the plot was pretty poor, I thought, and did not make a lot of sense. I do own the sequel, though, and I am actually still looking forward to playing it, at some point. I've been told not to expect the "epic" events hinted at in this game's ending, but knowing what Darksiders II is viewing it, I wasn't under any illusion of that sort, anyway. What I am expecting to like is more in what I've heard of the sequel's world (more fantastical), loot, and platforming gameplay. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Uninstall: Mid-'90s Strategy Master Class

It's about progress, modernization! It's about clearing the land of old construction to make way for new, while ensuring that the existing foundation, solid as ever, remains.

It's also about letting go of the past, and what might have been, to accept the path we've trod, and to seize the opportunity of the present, with an eye toward what the future may bring.

Dwelling on the choices we could have made, or attempting to turn back time to make another attempt will only cause us to be caught unawares by current circumstance.

It is to this end that I dedicate this memorial to the heroes, feats, and achievements of our forbears.

The ground you broke, the intrepid exploration, and their lasting contributions to our current prosperity,

Though consigned to the annals of time, will not be forgotten.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Uninstall: Doom & Doom II

These are bona fide classics, none will object, but it was time to put them away. I've never played all the way through to the end of either of them, and if I'm honest, I never will, at this point. But I have played quite a bit of them, and enjoyed the hell out of them  in the mid '90s.

I was so into Doom back in 1995 that I read the two novelizations that were out at the time. And I liked them. I was 14, and I liked Doom, Final Fantasy III (as we knew it, then), and Magic: The Gathering better than just about anything. Sorry, I fell down a nostalgia hole for a second, there.

I got tired of looking at all these old Doom games in my backlog and decided to boot them all up for a few minutes at the very least. I had never tried Final Doom or Master Levels For Doom II. Talk about a jolt of '90s--load one of those up and see what a DOS interface looked like again for the first time in a while.

This was in part spurred on by the recent re-release of Doom 3 in the BFG Edition. It was enough to remind me of the Doom franchise. I own Doom 3 and it's expansion, but have yet to ever try them. I'll get around to them at some point, probably before Doom 4 comes out.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Raven Of Dunwall

I had just begun playing Dishonored when I blogged last. I have finished it now, playing stealthily all the way through, and only purposefully killing four guards in the prison escape. One other unknown person somehow died in the first real mission, completely unknown to me until the mission summary card. I loved Dishonored. I had a great time playing through it--a  24+ hour long journey full of many quickloads and much tinkering and exploring of the available scenarios and pathways. I can't really imagine playing it any other way. I practically never used many of the weapons and powers available to Corvo, but I still feel like I had a very satisfying time with it. I spent much of it Blinking around rooftops of the plagued city, which I'm told is rendered in an Edwardian fashion, sneaking up on guards and leaving them unconscious and stashed in dark corners. If I some day do a replay, maybe I'll try another approach. I do highly recommend the game, at whatever price you're willing to pay for a very-well-executed immersive sim (the label I've see applied to Deus-esques, as I term them).

Otherwise, I've just been playing a smattering of several things: continuing my campaign in X-Com (classic, still), which I've decided to take an Ironman approach to; playing a few random matches of Dota 2, trying to pick back up my game of Half-Life 2 (same art director as Dishonored), and trying to gain some experience with and within The Temple of Elemental Evil.

I've been busy and doing some more reading over the last several days. I'm working on Cloud Atlas at the moment, which strikes me as surprisingly complex and fantastical for something I assumed to be mainstream. Is it, though?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions

I bought both Dishonored and XCOM: Enemy Unknown this week, fully intending to play both. So far, I've only had time to play Dishonored. Hell, the new Walking Dead Episode 4 was out last night, but I went ahead and played Dishonored more because I knew I only had a couple of hours and didn't think I'd get through that in one go. The Walking Dead will probably be on tonight's docket.

Dishonored is great. It's very much like Deus Ex, thus far, with a Bioshock-ian clearly vision-inspired world and cohesion of art and atmosphere. It has other similarities to Bioshock 2, in particular, in its supernatural abilities, the way those abilities scale, and its dual-wield-by-default setup. It's great fun, and like the games I've compared it to, it lends itself to experimentation and playing with its systems. It looks great, too, in terms of both graphical quality and art direction. The characters are dressed quite snappily, too, I might add. I wonder if the developer might do more in this universe, because it seems very well realized and fleshed-out for what I'm guessing is a game of maybe 12 to 15 discrete levels around one city. I've seen big maps of the seas of the world with archipelagos and such that leads me to believe there is a much larger world outside of the city of Dunwall. I'm about 5 hours into the game, taking my sweet time. I'm only on the first assassination mission, so far.

Last week, something possessed me, and I plowed through the brunt of Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising, right through to the end. It was more good fun in the vein of the base game, with a twist in squads being able to be corrupted by Chaos, and the addition of wargear tailored for units on either end of the Purity/Corruption spectrum. By the end of the game, you will lose one of your valued squadmates, whom you've brought up with you through two full campaigns to that point, and that kind of hurts, but altogether the story puts a nice cap on this little saga. Retribution, the next expansion, takes up the Space Marines' story some years later, with a few new faces, and some old ones having moved on, apparently.

I've begun playing Retribution, as well, but only The Last Stand mode, for now. I just finished the book Know No Fear, about the Ultramarines being ambushed by the traitor Word Bearers legion at the beginning of the Horus Heresy, and so I felt like suiting up in blue and gold and spilling some blood in the name of the Emperor. The Last Stand is a suitable stand in for a match of Dota when I don't feel like trying too hard or only have 15 or 20 minutes to kill, plus it has persistent unlocks, which are always fun.

On the subject of space marines, I also took a brief look back into Space Marine, specifically the multiplayer, and was surprised to see people playing it. It probably helps that there was a big THQ sale on Steam this past weekend. I may hop back in that from time to time, as well. We're not likely to see another good game like it (or a sequel) anytime soon.

I played a good bit of X-Com: UFO Defense (the classic game) over the last week or two, as well. I've finally gotten a handle on the tactical interface and overall movement of the game. I feel like I now know how to play, and the next step is just getting good at it. Surprisingly, I don't think the new game is going to make obsolete the old one. Sure, there are a lot of similarities in the two, but I think the classic one remains distinctively different; enough to make sure I'll keep it around for a good while longer. I'd love to eventually beat it, one of these days.

Lastly, I played a few more minutes (a few more stages) of Dustforce, though there's not much to say about it. It's a difficult platformer, but still nice to play. And of course, I was able to get in a couple of matches of Dota 2, busy as I have been. It's becoming a perennial favorite, even if I do not focus a lot on it some weeks.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Slower Than Light

Since the last post, I've been playing:

MGS: PW - no real update
Diablo II - no real update
The Walking Dead ep.3 - good, but went on a little too long
Dota 2 - been random-ing at hero select lately, it's been fun
FTL - awesome space captain roguelike, playing on easy; it's still hard
Darksiders - made a tiny bit of progress, got Ruin, War's horse
Dustforce - skill-based 2D platforming, nice game
The Temple of Elemental Evil w/ Circle of Eight (Desura) - complex, intimidating
X-Com: UFO Defense - complex, intimidating; ancient, clunky UI
Torchlight II - like the first but more, better; playing an Engineer

I need to make another road map or game plan (haha) some sort. I have, and am in the middle of way too many RPGs, in particular. I keep getting into new games and others that I still mean to finish (say Fallout 3) keep getting pushed further and further back in the queue. I really am going to need to crank through to the end of a game or two to finish out this Fall's big games. I'd like to pick up Assassin's Creed 3, Halo 4, Dishonored, and maybe Darksiders II or something else, but as it stands now, I can only buy one more game before I finish something!

Of the games listed above, I could probably power through Lord of Destruction for Diablo II, I might get lucky and beat FTL on easy, and Darksiders could probably be polished off without too much trouble if I put in a concerted effort. Torchlight II is just a matter of time, but it may be quite a bit of time. Beyond that, I'd probably have to dig deeper into the stuff I am in the middle of, and pull out something like Half-Life 2 or Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising or one of any number of other things I have going.

Progress on the backlog has been really slow lately, partly due to being a dad and being busy, but also choosing to spend my more limited time on longer (or endless) games, and other pursuits such as getting in some physical activity, reading, and sleeping on occasion.

Maybe I'll choose something and do an Uninstall this week. It is always nice to knock something off the pile, one way or another.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Uninstall: Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising

This week I decided to finally shit or get off the pot, as they say, with Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. I bought the game two or more years ago on sale for $7.50 on Steam, and it had been sitting there installed ever since. Turns out is a fairly hardcore military game that edges more toward the simulation side of things than the all out bombast of a Call of Duty game. It wasn't bad, just a little slow and deliberate, with a lot of bland open terrain between objectives. I completed the first mission of the campaign, achieving all objectives, and would probably play more given a surplus of free time or some interest in playing virtual soldier. I can't lay claim to either of those at the moment, though, and so I had to uninstall.

It's a Sunday afternoon as I write this, and I've just finished up Diablo II with my barbarian. That was fun. I made a small foray into the expansion fifth act, but I'm not sure whether I'll complete that. I need to get back into D3 and earn some money and paragon levels while I finish up Inferno with my wizard there.

I loaded up MGS Peace Walker HD this week to get back around to doing some of the story-related post-game content present there. I'm going back and re-watching all of the cut-scenes, as well. I am a sucker for Metal Gear, indeed. I wonder when in 201X the newly-announced Ground Zeroes will release. Could it come as early as 2013? I think that would be wise if they want to be able to sell a good number of copies on the 360 and PS3. There is speculation we may see a PC release as well, which would be interesting.

A good friend recommended that I check out a game called Don't Starve, which is currently in beta, and available through the Chrome application store. It's a survival game in the Minecraft sense, where you are dropped into a world and have to make do with raw materials that you find around the world. It's a 2D isometric game, though, with an interesting Edward Gorey-like art style that you might call Gothic, though I'm not certain the label applies, personally. It didn't do anything for me. In practice it felt more like proceeding onto the next thing like you do in a facebook game than having fun. It's a game of "Here's a list of shopping items you need to survive, now go find them within this time limit."

And finally, of course, I've been playing a lot of Dota 2. I'm into playing a hard, carry-type hero, and my current pick is Slardar. I've had mixed results, to be honest. I've had some just downright terrible games, and then I've had some of the best I've ever played within a couple of days. Dota is a game of extremes, to be sure.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Uninstall: NightSky

I've been out of town for the last 10 days, but before I left Oregon, I did manage to do an uninstall for Call Of Podcast on the game NightSky. It feels good to check out an indie game that's been on my backlog for who knows how long. NightSky is a physics puzzle game featuring a ball in silouhette. You use the left and right arrow keys to spin the ball clockwise and counter-clockwise (which rolls the ball of course, but has other applications, as well). There are eight or ten worlds each consisting of eight or ten short stages--most seemed to be exactly three screens long. I'm sure your well-versed gamer mind can fill in the details. It's a nice looking game, has relaxing music, and the puzzles are neither too brain-dead easy nor overly exacting in terms of required technique. There are even secret exits to discover, and a few bonus stages to tackle. I give it 2 out of 2 balls in silouhette.

To further catch this blog up to the point when I left on this business trip, I ran through the next little section of Darksiders leading into the 2nd big dungeon. I'm on my way to meet someone... Uriel, their name might be. No, wait, Uriel Septim is a character from Oblivion. This person, they do have a name. I assure you.

I also finished up my 20 matches of Dota 2 playing Faceless Void. I saw Gabe Newell on a video saying that (Dota honcho) Icefrog advised him to randomly select his heroes until he became good at the game. I'm not sure if that is the approach for me--but then, I'm not sure it's not. However, I do feel like my pick a hero, play 20 matches method has been effective so far. I'm through Windrunner, Bounty Hunter, Omniknight, Silencer, and Faceless Void, now. I'm still thinking I want a hard carry next. Void is a carry, but he can be pretty fragile. I want a big slab of hard-hitting meat, but I'm not sure who fits that bill the best in Dota 2. I'd like to try Chen or Visage, maybe, but I'm not sure I'm ready for sub-units and ctrl-groups in Dota. The 2012 International is happening this weekend, and I want to watch a bunch of that, so maybe that will help me decide on a hero to learn next.

I'll bet you can't guess what game I've been playing in my hotel room here in Arkansas. Oh, you got it. That's right, the O.G., the recently retired, the reknown, Diablo II. With a "II." I just can't seem to get enough of the loot pinata, slot-machine effect. Well, and I'd never played a few of the classes available in that game, and had only completed it a single time as an Assassin. Knowing how finicky D2 is about skill point allocation, I looked up a build for a Barbarian, and have been busy over the last week and a half filling it out in-game. It revolves mostly around the Double Swing and Frenzy skills, basically just attacking so quickly and so heavily that enemies are effectively stun-locked when they are able to survive past the first couple of hits. It's fun. I've just finished up Act III on Normal. I've had three set items drop to this point, and one of them, a breastplate, I'm actually wearing. I've been playing offline, not that it really matters. I don't really plan on doing anymore than finishing Act IV, maybe the expansion act, and then just leaving the character to rot on this computer for any future trips out of town. After all, patch 1.0.4 for D3 came out just after I left town, and there's more I need to delve into, there.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Uninstall: Moon Base Alpha

Wow, has it been over two weeks, already?

I haven't been playing much of anything new. I did an Uninstall for Call Of Podcast on Moon Base Alpha, the free NASA-affiliated game about repairing broken parts of a moon base in Shackelton Crater in the year 2035 or so. It was alright, for a free edutainment type of thing from the people behind America's Army. I am a big space enthusiast, so that was fun. I think Shattered Horizon was better, though. Moon Base Alpha is all about tedium, though there is that sense of satisfaction of mastering a routine through optimization of technique and efficiency.

I've played a bit more Darksiders since my last post, but still not enough to really go at length. Diablo III and Dota 2 have been getting a good amount of attention, of course. I finally managed to kill Belial and get to Act III of Inferno. I'm taking a break now until I come back from a business trip and the next patch is live, though. In Dota, I've been playing Faceless Void and having a blast playing a carry. Dota is so good. I've never enjoyed a competitive multi-player game as much as I do it.

Oh, I forgot about CS: GO. I did play some more of that, as well, and it's good fun. I like the Arms Race mode, known as GunGame in CS: Source.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Uninstall: Bit.Trip Runner

I have too many other games of this sort that I like better. That's it, in a nutshell.

It's been a while since I blogged, and there are a few reasons for that. General business, a move and visit from family, balls-to-the-wall swampedness at work, and Diablo III. Among other games.

I've played quite a few things lately. Thirty Flights of Loving, the game attached to the Idle Thumbs kickstarter, episodes one and two of The Walking Dead, Darksiders, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a little bit of Crusader Kings II and Civ V, and even a couple of things on the ipad. Plus a good amount of both Dota 2 and Diablo III.

I'd love to go into detail about each, and I might at some point, but I can't right now. I just didn't want to let this blog go to seed any further, and I have a trip lined up for the rest of this week, so it seemed like now would be the right time for a quick status update.

I will say that I finished off 20 matches of Dota as Silencer, and I'm thinking of trying a carry next, maybe Faceless Void. I got a nice weapon upgrade in Diablo for a pittance on the auction house that might carry me through Belial, or at least help out with farming act II. I've only played a couple of hours of Darksiders, but so far so good. I'm kind of excited about the sequel to that. The Walking Dead is pretty good, CS: GO seems to me (total CS neophyte) to be a streamlined and modernized update to that game, and CK II is going to need to be revisited at some point. Maybe with that Westeros mod.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Uninstall: Bloody Meat Cube Edition

This time around it's Super Meat Boy! It's a fine game; don't misunderstand me. I made it through the first world and a little bit more in the next and in the dark world--probably 25 stages all in all. The problem is that it's just not my bailiwick. There's not much of a hook for me right now, and as blisteringly difficult as the game is, I think a hook is required. So, as little storage space as was freed by doing so, I proceeded to uninstall.

Elsewise, I've been playing more Dota 2 and Diablo 3, of course. I've been playing Silencer lately in Dota. I'm having trouble getting last hits with him, though. I'm not sure if it's just that his attack animation is slow, or whether my lane partner is just quicker, or if I just have bad timing altogether. Fortunately, he can be built in manner that he can still provide support to the team for relatively little gold. I'd prefer to get more gold farm in on him, though, and build more like a semi-carry. It'll take more practice.

Diablo update: I'm farming Act I of Inferno, both for upgrades for myself, and for things to sell on the auction house. Auctions seem to have almost ground to a halt; I'm barely able to sell anything, and when I do it's for peanuts. Perhaps my bar for auctionability is set low. I did find two solid upgrades in the waist and chest slots for my wizard the other night, though, and both in the same session. Repair costs since the last patch are brutal, and eat heavily into anything gained on farming runs. Blizzard says they're going to back off wear and tear costs if not death costs, so hopefully the situation will improve.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


I should make it a feature. I played a bit more Sniper Elite today, just to kind of confirm that I don't think I want to spend my precious gaming time playing all the way through it. It's a pretty cool game... for 2005, when it was released, and when I would have had time to really sink my teeth into something like that. As it is now, though, I'd rather finish off Hitman: Blood Money. The two games are not entirely dissimilar in the play style required, which is why I draw the comparison.

My Diablo III addiction continues unabated. My wizard Meiairi is now level 60, and in act I of Inferno. It will probably be a while before I am able to finish Inferno, but that's no matter, because I am now entering the prime loot farming zone. The stuff that drops in the entirety of Inferno is better than in all of the prior difficulties, of course, but there is also the fact that being at level 60 gives you the Nephalem Valor buff, which heavily boosts your magic and gold find stats. Let the killing begin!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What E3?

Essentially nothing has changed about my short-term outlook on video games as a result of E3 2012. It may as well not have even happened. All three platform holders's conferences were a bust for anything I care about. The list I made in the last post can stay as is.

Let's put that worthlessness behind us. I've been playing a whole lot of Diablo III over the last few weeks, and I'm currently half an experience bar away from level 60 on my wizard, and a mere act and a half away from Inferno. The real money auction house went up yesterday; and my first round of auctions is ticking down to rejection right now. I'd be overjoyed if any of them sold, but being that they're all middle-of-the-road items in every sense, I'm doubting there's much interest. Additionally, prices are still settling into some sort of readability, so it's entirely possible that pricing I made yesterday afternoon looks astronomically out of whack today. If all goes well, I should hit 60 tonight. I hesitate to guess when I'll hit Inferno, though. I think I may run into a gear check before then. We'll see, though. I believe I'm pretty well kitted out for the time being.

I've also made some time to play Dota, as well. I finished up my 20 game self-imposed trial period learning Omniknight, and I'm trying to decide on my next hero. So far I've done Windrunner and Bounty Hunter in addition to Omni. The first two are lane pusher/ganker types while the latter is support, so I guess I should probably try a carry of some sort, next.

I need to get around to something else once I hit a comfortable farming pattern in Diablo. I plan to balance that with regular Dota and a third pillar, which ideally would be a game I could progress through to the end. I might not stress too much about finding one until our upcoming move is done with, though. We're moving out of our one-bedroom apartment into a bigger two-bedroom townhouse. Maybe I'll get lucky and the commute will turn out to be a bit shorter!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Rest of 2012 in Games

I've just been playing a lot of Diablo III lately. A lot.

I thought I'd take a moment (just for the hell of it) and list a few games coming out in the remainder of 2012 that I'm looking forward to playing. Just before E3 is probably a good time to take stock of things, and then I'll do so again after and we can compare the two lists for endless hilarity, no doubt. As is the norm with this type of thing, I'll probably end up buying half of these and only playing one or two, but here goes anyway:

X-Com: Enemy Unknown
Halo 4
Assassin's Creed 3
Darksiders II (though I still need to play the first)
X Rebirth (is this still happening?)
Borderlands 2
Dark Souls PC

Hmmm, I guess this is a shorter list than I'd thought. Some iffy entries and games that have already come out this year that I don't have yet:

The Walking Dead
Max Payne 3
Mass Effect 3 (big maybe, I'm grudging against EA right now)
Torchlight II (maybe sometime, but it seems redundant that Diablo III is out)
Day Z mod for Arma II (I'd have to buy Arma II, will wait until the mod is more mature)
Hitman: Absolution (depending on how it turns out)
Dishonored, probably

That's all I can think of for now...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Diablo Three-feated

Or, "D3feated," perhaps.

Here's my character sheet as I roll Meiairi into Nightmare difficulty for more sick 'quips:

I've been having a burning hell of a time with Diablo III. I've been lucky enough not to really have any issues due to the always-online nature of the game. I just wish they'd sort out the auction house situation once and for all. As of this writing, commodities auctions are still down, meaning I have a crapload of gems sitting in my stash  just taking up space. I'm not currently investing any gold into the jeweler, because the blacksmith and my own gear and storage costs don't leave anything left.

I'm given to understand that 'the game doesn't really begin until Nightmare,' which I think is garbage because I spent somewhere around 30 hours enjoying the color-coded loot out of Normal difficulty. I'll give those angry Internet men one thing, though, and that's that even in the first hour of Nightmare I've encountered a few blue and yellow mobs with new traits affixed that made them much more of a hassle to click to death.

Now that I've plowed through the game for the first time, I can leisurely settle into the long, long lifetime this game is going to have, if Diablo II is any indication. Eventually, I'll probably play every class to 60 at least once. No need to rush things. I'm just going to sit back from time to time, put on a podcast, and star wearing out the mouse in search of something to sell on the auction house. 

I wonder; do they still have legendary crafting materials in the game like there were in the beta?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Diablo Has Returned

I mentioned in my last entry that I was planning to play a lot of ipad games on my trip to Japan. Well, that didn't happen. In fact, it seems like there is no better way to ensure that I will not play a game than for me to blog about doing so. It's very strange.

I didn't play much of anything at all on the trip itself, since I was mostly busy doing a myriad of other things. I played a battle or two of Tactics Ogre on the planes there, and while I was in Tokyo I picked up a copy of Monster Hunter Portable 3rd, which I've spent about 5 hours playing, since.

It's definitely Monster Hunter! I really enjoyed what I played of Tri on the Wii (about 50 hours' worth, if I recall), and that experience helps to make heads or tails of this game, which is pretty similar, but does have a few key differences. Being on PSP, there is of course no right-hand method for camera control. I've tried "the claw," but haven't found it really necessary thus far. I've only done the first single player quest and a bunch of tutorial quests at this point, but there is a way to center the camera behind you by tapping the L button, and that has been sufficient. I like to think I'll have time to play a lot more of this game sometime in the future. We'll see.

Arriving back in the States after a couple of weeks, I would have liked to jump back into playing a lot of Dota 2, but I overworked some muscles in my back and was laid up on the couch, instead. I have slowly worked myself up to sitting at the PC by playing some matches of Tribes and messing around a bit with the new level creator tool for Portal 2. I have made one level so far, and it is hardly an inspired work of genius. It's cool that you can do that, though.

And, of course, one of the biggest releases of the year has just dropped on us. Yes, Diablo III is here at long last. 24 to 36 hours on from release, it is even playable, when the servers are up. I was at least able to get on last night (about 24 hours post official release) long enough to create my female Wizard, Meiairi, and play through the first couple of quests. I'm still only about halfway through the content that I played through three times during the beta. I went with the Wizard because it was the most fun of the three classes I played in beta, and yes, because she is sexy. Her beam attacks are particularly sexy. When I played the beta, the rune system had yet to be implemented, so I am excited to get into that once I get her to level 6. She's at 5 now.

The real currency auction house (Blizzard seems to be calling it the RMTAH) is not yet online, unfortunately. I'm really looking forward to making a buck on that. If I could even just make enough money playing Diablo to pay for the next expansion pack or some Steam games, I'd be thrilled. And if I can make more than that....

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In the Grimrock Future of the Third Millenium

If there is one thing I would have liked Legend of Grimrock to have, it is a proper New Game+ mode, where I could bring in my experienced party of adventurers and continue to level them up through the dungeon again, facing stronger enemies. I see the flaw here though; Grimrock is not Diablo, and instead of using randomly generated dungeons, it relies on a single, meticulously constructed and labyrinthine oubliette as its setting. The puzzles are half or more of the experience here, so for an additional adventure to really be great with your existing party, it would have to be through a new dungeon.

This is not to say that Grimrock has no replay value built right in (in addition to the user-made and official expansions that are sure to come), as there is a novel take on the idea of a second quest for the game; it's just that that particular mode does not import your existing party when you play it.  If you would like to replay through the same dungeon, though, there are plenty of potential party configurations to do it with, between the four races and three classes to choose from for each party member, and even further decisions about which skills to level up, and what weapon types to use.

The key limiting factor here are the levels. Grimrock's main campaign has 10 full levels and 3 smaller ones toward the end of the game, which is just about a perfect amount for a single playthrough. I have to admit, though, that I was expecting to carry my party and all their gear into a second playthrough, which isn't happening until and unless expansion dungeons allow for it. I hope more about these comes to light soon.

More levels will help to better balance the class utility for the game, also. This thread on the Grimrock official forum points out a few concerns people have with the way things currently are. I used the default party lineup, so I didn't really encounter too many issues, incidentally.

So, the point of this post is just that I've finished Legend of Grimrock, and really enjoyed it. I think it's got a good future ahead of it, as well, as it appears to be highly modifiable, and games of this sort are nearly non-existent these days. If I had infinite time, I'd try a playthrough of the stock second quest mode, as that seems interesting. I don't though, alas, as I'm flying to Japan tomorrow for a couple of weeks.

Look for more impressions of Avernum and other ipad games soon!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Grimrocking The Lanes

For the last couple of weeks, I've only been playing two games: Dota 2 and Legend of Grimrock.

I've got over 50 hours in Dota 2 at this point, and I'm still having a blast. I think this is the first multiplayer game to really click with me to this degree, save something like FFXI or WoW, I guess. It's looking so far like this will be a year of Dota and Diablo. I've played 20 matches each with Windrunner and Bounty Hunter, and I'm trying a few other heroes for the time being. Omniknight may be the next I focus on for a while.

The design of Dota is genius. It's symmetrical in some ways (map layout), and less so in others (team makeup), and is in many ways a zero-sum game, meaning that whatever advantages you take the other team are deprived of, and vice versa.  The game is as much about denying your opposition the resources of experience and gold, and through them, morale, as it is accruing those things for yourself. It's simple on the surface, but with a great and unseen depth of strategies and mechanics below. All these things make it less than beginner-friendly, but if you are interested enough to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and learn the game, the reward is an amazingly fun and interesting game, even after the hundredth or thousandth match on the same map. I think of it as more like a board game in that respect. Chess, Checkers, Igo, Shogi; none of these games suffer from lack of variety in settings. Besides, Dota has somewhere around a hundred characters to choose from. That alone is likely more variety than I'll ever need.

Legend of Grimrock is something I've been looking forward to since first reading about it last year sometime (if memory serves). It's a very old-school first-person dungeon crawl, much like Eye of the Beholder or Etrian Odyssey, both of which I enjoyed, and Dungeon Master, which I only heard about recently in articles relating to Grimrock. I couldn't really tell you why I was so excited for the game, except that I like role-playing game mechanics, simple, straight-forward designs, and exploratory environmental puzzles often found in large temples or dungeons. Also, the game looks gorgeous, if the amount of art is limited.

I never got far at all into Eye of the Beholder, and though I finished Etrian Odyssey, that game featured an entirely different battle system to what seems to be the norm in this genre, so I can't really point to nostalgia, exactly, for my interest in Grimrock, but perhaps rather an appreciation for it's aforementioned old-school sensibilities is what attracted me. Regardless, I am having a ball making my way through the dungeon of Mount Grimrock. Hidden switches, floor panel switches, trapdoors, and teleports are just a few of the elements used in the puzzles in this game, and many of them are optional, hiding a secret piece of equipment or cache of consumables rather than something critical to advancement through the dungeon. That only makes them all the more devious and alluring in their design.

It's a real pleasure to play Legend of Grimrock, but I'm afraid it is probably an acquired taste, and one unpalatable to many of today's gamers. But then, it's a DD-exclusive game for the PC, so someone merely being aware of its existence is already halfway to the point of being receptive to it's charms, I reckon. I was up entirely too late last night playing this game.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Trine to Make Some Headway

The game I'm trying to polish off most actively at the moment is Trine. I have to mention up front that it's a real bummer you can't walk away from the game at a checkpoint mid-level and have it save your progress. You have to begin again at the beginning of a level every time you play. I don't quite get why this is the case. It's not that the levels are too long, it's just a bit of an oversight.

Aside from that little business, Trine is a great game. It's got nice and inventive platform levels based around a solid physics engine and the various abilities of your three-fold player character. The graphics are beautiful, and the art is colorful and attractive, if full of unimaginative stock fantasy trappings. The platforming is more in the realm of action-based than puzzle-based, and largely dependent on your gaming the physics system--which can be a little fiddly--but that is part of the fun. I'm given to understand that people have been able to play all the way through the game with each of the three player character aspects and only that aspect (wizard, thief, knight), but for me half of the fun is rotating between the three to find the most efficient or feels-like-cheating way to advance. I'm just to the start of the 14th of 15 levels, so I'm pretty near the end. I've heard that the last level is nightmarishly hard, but then I've also heard that it was patched at a later date to be more reasonable. I'll cross that chasm when I come to it. Maybe it will involve swapping to the wizard to place a floating platform in the air, and then swapping to the thief to grapple onto the platform and swing over to the other side.

I have to admit that I almost picked up Trine 2 when it was on sale for $7.50 this past weekend on Steam, but I'm trying to stick to a policy of not buying a game unless I am ready to play it right then and there. As you can see, my backlog needs trimming. Great trimming. Plus, after I finish Trine, there is a bonus DLC level I'll need to play through before I can even contemplate playing the sequel, which will without a doubt be available for $5 or less before I run out of other games to play.

I guess my second-place focus game of the recent days has been Freespace 2, though I haven't played it in a week or so. I'm up to the 6th or 7th mission, about half way through the first of three acts to the game. It's cool, so far. I do kind of miss the open and independent nature of an X series game, but this is a completely different animal. It's Ace Combat in space. Space Combat. It's got a pretty involved storyline, too, so I should probably pay more attention and focus a little more on it at some point.

For the rest of the time I've been gaming lately, it's been all multiplayer stuff: TF2 just for shits and giggles (what a great game), Tribes: Ascend to continue to see what it's all about (I'm kind of into it, kind of lukewarm on it, thus far), and a whole hell of a lot of Dota 2.

I'm at 42 hours of Dota played now, according to Steam. I've been trying to learn to play Bounty Hunter, who works much better as a ganker than a lane pusher/farmer, as I've been discovering. I had one of the most demoralizing games I've ever had 2 nights ago, but I checked out a couple of video guides to the hero and turned in a pretty decent performance in a game last night, though we still lost to a team with a well-fed Lycanthrope. It's still a lot of fun, even losing, as long as you feel like you have a handle on the action and strategy. I think that, like anything worth doing, playing Dota is worth learning properly, though it takes effort and perseverance, and a willingness to accept defeat and learn from it.

I Pad My Backlog

Avernum: Escape From the Pit, Infinity Blade, King of Dragon Pass,  and Jetpack Joyride--these are but a few of the games I have downloaded onto my new iPad.

I've spent the most time so far with Infinity Blade--enough time to make my wrist hurt the next day. It's a pretty great game; it looks very nice, and it has a solid, if simple, set of mechanics with a hook that keeps you coming back. The one area it fails in is the menu system. It looks completely amateurish next to the best-in-class graphics that the rest of the game sport. It's baffling how awful the menus look; I wonder what the story was, there?

Avernum is probably the game I am most excited about digging more into on the tablet. It's a redux of an old Mac RPG by Spiderweb Software, and probably compares most easily to something like Fallout or Baldur's Gate. Though combat is turn-based, like the former, you control a party of archetypical fantasy character classes like the latter. Supposedly it's three games in one; there are three distinctly different ways to progress through to the end and complete the game. This is the type of thing I can really sink my teeth into, on a platform more often characterized by its casual fare.

King of Dragon Pass is another hardcore game for the tablet. Perhaps too hardcore. The closest thing I can approximate it to would be one of Paradox's grand strategy games like Europa Universalis or Sengoku, only you don't dwell too much on the map screen, from what I can tell. You play the leader of a tribe just immigrating into the realm of Dragon Pass, and must make all sorts of decisions about how to budget, what crops to plant, what gods to sacrifice to, who to raid, how many warriors to keep around and how many should go back to being farmers. It's turn based, with each turn being a season, as far as I can tell. Events will pop up here and there and you have to decide how to deal with them and how that might affect the diplomatic situation with neighboring tribes. There's a big element of calling in favors with other tribal leaders out there, as well as giving the gift of a few head of cattle or men-at-arms. I've never been one to dig too deep on a game like this (Civ V is about as far as I've gotten), but I do want to keep at it here and there if for no other reason than to roleplay as a tribal leader.

Jetpack Joyride is a pretty simple game in the mold of Canabalt, where you control a guy wearing a jetpack as he flies across the screen to the right. By touching the screen you apply propulsion, sending the guy up and down as you modulate how long your burns are. There are hazards to avoid, and things to collect, and it's just interesting enough to keep you happy for a few minutes at a time. In other words, it's a great way to waste 5 or 10 minutes, like a lot of iOS games.

Sea Chart Update

Further nautical explorations have revealed new details and clarifications of the charts of this region of ocean. Our stores are still full, and morale still high. A few ports of call have been crossed off our itinerary, but previously unknown lands have also been discovered. Much more of the world awaits.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Caped Crusader's Space G.E.D.

I finally beat another game! It's felt like an eternity since Max Payne, but I guess it wasn't really that long ago; it was only about a month, which hasn't been that long if you consider how busy I've been. Yes, it was Batman: Arkham Asylum that I took down the other night. If you just total up the time I spent in-game (not the time it was paused while I did something else), I probably spent around 12-14 hours on it. It was good fun; it's about as great a game as you could ever hope for given the long and storied history of licensed franchises. That's not fair; it's actually much better than said history would allow you to hope for.

While I recognize it as being an extraordinary example of both an action/adventure game and one based on another property; I want to mention that as good as the game was, it never really hooked me. I could have quit at any time and never come back. I made myself play through to the end. I don't think this is any fault of the game's. I think that it's just my lack of interest in this type of game. I like Batman as much as the next guy, but I think that's part of the problem--the next guy also isn't a huge fan, but maybe goes to see every entry in the Nolan-directed movie series. I think being a more interested fan of Batman would have pushed me over the edge. Certainly if a game of the same caliber but skinned as Warhammer 40K or, I don't know, Wheel of Time   came out, I would be over the moon for it. As Batman, or some wholly original IP? It's merely a great game that I feel a little clinical detachment from.

I am completely attached to Dota 2, on the other hand. It puts me into a certain headspace where I fully engage with the give and take of the game, how the power-defining economies of experience and gold are developing, how the lay of the map is changing with falling towers and roving player characters, and how my own character development is proceeding--how my farm is coming along, you might say. I should find another character I like as much as Windrunner, in case someone else ever picks her before I can, and so that I don't go so far down one playstyle that I can't acclimate to another. This game is good. How good? So good. I can't wait to see what Valve have in store for it as it is released and matures. Their track record with for extended support is great, with games like TF2 and the L4D series receiving tons of content updates. Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat even get the occasional balance patch, if I'm not mistaken.

Dota 2 is coming along as a player in e-sports, as well, with large tournaments being held for large cash prizes. Spectating matches is a major part of being involved very deeply with a game like this or Starcraft, and that functionality is built right into the game client. I've watched a few matches there, but I prefer to tune into a shoutcasted match online if I'm going to spectate. I like to know what's going on and why players do the things they do, since I'm still fairly green.

Freespace 2 is a lot of spacey, dog-fighty, fun, especially with the nice PC flight stick I bought. While a great deal more complicated than Colony Wars, it's pretty similar in that it's a bunch of scripted missions more like Call of Duty to the X series' S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. I'm still digging into it, but so far it's a lot of fun. I have to admit that the stick really does a lot to improve the feel of the game versus playing with a mouse or just the keyboard.

I got one of those new iPads, the third iteration of them, if you're counting. I'm not buying any media this March in protest of "Big Content" and their shenanigans, but I did have some free app codes from the little cards they give you at Starbucks. I was able to download Bejeweled (3?) and Tetris, which are fun, of course, as well as a few other free to play games I haven't tried yet. I'll have to check some of those out this weekend, I guess, and maybe do a little roundup post.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Space Cadet/Dropout

Not too long ago Egosoft released another iteration to the X series called X3: Albion Prelude. It's actually an expansion to X3: Terran Conflict, and requires that game to run. I spent about 18 hours with Terran Conflict and never really clicked with it. It's quite the deep space trader game. Albion Prelude does a little bit to improve the graphics and user interface, and also adds a stock exchange in case the game's incredibly deep economy wasn't complex enough for you. I picked up Albion Prelude for the might-as-well price of $10, hoping that the game finally would hook me, but I'm sad to report that it has not.

I think that there are some fundamental problems with both of these games, and those revolve around how long it takes to do anything. I spent more time just staring at stations as they drew nearer, my ship on auto-pilot and time sped up to 600%, than I did having any fun with the game. I'm sure that the capacity is there to have a whole fleet of AI guys run my trade empire for me, but that's not something I would accomplish in the first, say, 50 hours of play. That's stretching it a bit, even for a guy like me, who's willing to put time into a rewarding game to get the most out of it (S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Far Cry 2). I like what X looks like, but I can't get on with the execution. There is another major entry in the series set to be released later this year, I believe, called X: Rebirth. I'll be watching it; maybe it will be the one to click.

In the meantime, I have Freespace 2, hailed by many as an essential classic in the space flight genre. I've only played just the first mission so far, along with the three training missions. It seems fun. I think I am going to need a better controller than the mouse, though. I want to see if I can get my 360 pad to work with it.

Elsewise, this past weekend I played a little bit of both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Just Cause 2. Not really anything to report on either, just that I spent an hour or so with them.

I've spent a great deal more time playing Dota 2 over the last few weeks than anything. I'm still learning the basics and some intermediate stuff that a total newb wouldn't get to, as well as learning more about how to build my Windrunner for success. I'm kind of hooked on Dota 2, and I want to stick with it and really learn the game, because it's a lot of fun. It jives with a lot of what I enjoy about several types of games.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Where Have All The RPGs Gone?

I thought 2012 would be the year of me whipping my RPG pile into shape. So far, it's taken on a more action-oriented nature.

I finished off Max Payne before going out of town, with a minimum of pain in the ass factor. That is a game very heavy on the quicksave and quickload functions, though. Overall, my impression is that it's very much a case style over substance. The substance is good; it's just that Max Payne only really has one mechanic: the bullet-time shoot-dodge. Cap guys before they can cap you by either slowing down time to get the jump on them, or painstakingly memorizing each goon's placement and trigger point. That's the game, in a nutshell. It's all gussied up with a hammy hard-boiled motif, which is fun, but nothing to write home about. It's pulp gaming, which is probably what Rockstar and Remedy were going for here, so I guess it's a success. I raise an eyebrow at anyone treating it like an unassailable classic, however.

Dota 2 has been a consistent evening favorite. I like to play a match before bed if I'm not too tired; that's the time I'm most likely to be able to game out uninterrupted, these days. The multiplayer hour, I hereby coin it. All other gaming needs to be pause-friendly.

That I have yet to mention it here is an accurate reflection of how deep I've gotten into it--I've restarted KOTOR on the PC. Several years ago I tried playing the Xbox version emulated on a 360, and that was a real mess, so I gave up after maybe 5 to 10 hours. I was on the Jedi academy planet, as I recall. Well, on my second go 'round, I've made it as far as checking out the first cantina in the first major area on the first planet--maybe 90 solid minutes of play time. This will be a back burner game for a while to come.

Guild Wars keeps hovering just above my forget-about-it line, but I keep dipping into it here and there. It's a good game to mindlessly click through while I kill time listening to a podcast. I finally left behind Ascalon, both pre- and post-searing, so the scenery is improving. I still haven't run into any interesting plotlines or much cool gear, though. I'm not sure why I keep playing; it's some melange of wanting to cap out and earn GW2 stuff (a game I'm not even sure I'll play), wanting to see more of the game, and the fact that my podcast co-host Esteban is still playing.

I booted up Half-Life 2 for a short while yesterday, and had a nice time with it before having to go take care of something else. Man, Valve's Source engine games just feel so good and smooth. So much better than just about any other games out there. It's not just the framerate, either. There's something else about that engine. Or maybe it's the rock-solid game design. Whatever it is, Half-Life 2 has got it, just like all the others. I'm still not very far in, but I think I'm about to get to the hovercraft.

So I guess that all brings me to my focus game for the time being, if I could be said to have one. That is Batman: Arkham Asylum. I began the game some months ago on PS3, but only just began it. I'm now playing the PC version, and I'm quite a bit further into it, this time. You have no doubt heard it before, but this is a fantastic video game. It feels awesome to control Batman, the graphics are amazing, the pacing is great, the environments are nicely varied, the world is decently open to explore in a Metroid-like fashion, and there are a good amount of equipment and skills you gather and upgrade as you progress. The production values are high, and the game is a lot of fun; this turned out about a thousand times better than your average licensed super hero game. I'm very late to the party on this one, but those are my impressions after 4 or 5 hours. I'm currently past the Bane fight, and in Arkham manor looking for some documents. I'm not a big fan of the comics or anything, but there are a ton of little bits of fan service in the game for those who are. The PC port is even pretty well done! Bravo, Rocksteady, for that. I hear Arkham City is a more iffy prospect, however.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Of Games, This Day, February 14th, Twenty-Twelve

I'd like for this blog to be more than just an info dump on what I've been playing, but at the very least it has to be that. So, here goes:

Dota 2: Awesome. Valve takes another mod and redoes it AAA-style; it's a story we've heard again and again. I think this will end up being the most accessible game in the MOBA genre, for a few reasons, not the least being that it'll be native to Steam, which has an enormous userbase, will likely be free-to-play, and will have a built-in suite of training tutorials, a mentor program, and spectator mode. These games have a steep learning curve, but if anyone can level it out, it'll be Valve. I would also bet on the playerbase being more casual than HoN or LoL or the original DotA, making for an easier experience to new players. I've played twelve or thirteen matches, and have found a character I like: Windrunner. I'll focus on learning her while trying to improve my game in general.

Max Payne: It's finally starting to be kind of fun. There's not a lot to this game beside a film noir motif and lots of bullet-time gun fights. I might be able to finish it in the next day or two, which will be nice. The sequel sounds at least a little more interesting, and then we have Max Payne 3 coming out later this year, of course.

Diablo III beta: Stupidly great. I've maxed out a monk, wizard, and demon hunter thus far, though my monk was lost to an update wipe. I'm going to try a Witch Doctor next, probably. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that some of the beta-only achievements will carry over to the full release, though it's not very likely.

Dirt 2: It was only sale for $5 not too long ago, and since people say it's better than Dirt 3, I decided to check it out. I don't know about better, but it is a lot of fun. I'll play more. For some reason I've been more interested in rally racing games lately than street or track racers; not that I play a lot of racing games at all, though.

Super Meat Boy: I tried it out for the second time ever the other day, this time with the 360 pad hooked up. I'm stuck on level 20 of the first world. This game is okay; I liked VVVVVV a whole lot more, though.

Half-Life 2: I began it a couple of weekends ago because I wasn't really in the middle of an FPS since finishing off Bioshock 2. It's fantastic, thus far. I'll be playing this for my shooter fix once I finish off Max Payne. It's past time I played through it and the episodes

Guild Wars: It's an MMO without the fees or need for other players. That is almost too good of a summation of the game, actually. To it's credit, it is also much more user-friendly than your typical MMO--it offers fast travel, respecs, and other nifty touches that would make FFXI or WoW or what have you better on players. I wouldn't say it goes so far as to be as compelling as an offline RPG, though. It is still a bit of a grind, and light on anything you'd call interesting story. It's just good enough that I will keep it in my rotation; it has a huge world, and I'd like to see more of what is on offer there.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Loose Ends: The Tie-ening

Well, I did finally finish Bioshock 2. It was a collection of levels strung together with some semblance of a plot, and an interesting mix of weapons and plasmid abilities. That was all middling to good fun, but I question the decision to include the little sister protection mechanic. It slows down level progression with a situation where the player is forced to be reactive to oncoming attackers, and to concern themselves with fortifying and defending an area from splicers while a little sister extracts ADAM goo from corpses in the environment. Rapture is a pretty unique and interesting environment, still, which is good because the city and its design aesthetic are half or more of the fun of Bioshock.

More remarkable than Bioshock 2 itself is its DLC standalone expansion, Minerva's Den. In that, a wholly separate 2-3 hour Bioshock campaign, you are again playing as a big daddy (Subject Sigma, now, as opposed to Delta in the main game), on a mission to Rapture Central Computing to help Dr. Tennenbaum (a side character in Bioshock 1 and 2) bring up to the surface world the powerful experimental computer that runs all of Rapture, called the Thinker. Minerva's Den is like a more condensed version of a Bioshock campaign. All of the weapons, plasmids, and gene tonics are there, but the progression is sped up dramatically--it all takes place over two and a half levels the size of the ones in Bioshock 2, where there are more like six or seven. There are loads of new art assets and environments, as well as new weapons and plasmids not found in Bioshock 2, proper. I thought the story was much better, as well, and benefiting from a shorter run-time and thus less padding.

So, with Bioshock 2 off the pile for good, Max Payne came to mind. I had completed the first few hours last spring and set the game aside, not really sure if I wanted to play any more. Well, I'm given to understand that it's a pretty short game, and because it is very simple but still fun enough, and has a cool film noir sensibility, plus the fact that a Max Payne game is seeing the light of day this spring, I figured I would hop back in and work toward adding another skull to the pile. If it goes well, I might even play Max Payne 2 sometime in the next.... while.

Prior to a couple of weeks ago, I would have ranked both Dead Space and Batman: Arkham Asylum higher in my list of half-finished games to polish off, but I went and sold both of those; I had PS3 copies of each, and I've decided I'd rather own and play both on the PC, instead. With Batman, it's no big deal, since I was only a couple of hours in (though I will need to repurchase the game next time it's on sale on Steam), but with Dead Space I was about halfway through the game, so that's a significant chunk of time lost. Fortunately, I thought it was a pretty good game, and on my second time through the first half, I can make different decisions about where to spend my upgrade points.

I had a very nice session of Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising this past Sunday. The baby was soundly taking an almost three-hour nap, and the wife was similarly asleep on the couch behind where I sit at my PC. I was lost in  the cacophony of war coming from the shitty iphone earbuds I use at my PC, owing to the fact that I don't want to wear my noise-cancelling Sony headphones in case I need to hear something my wife says to me or the baby crying in the other room. Anyway, it was great. I played through three or four straight missions, killed tons of Chaos Space Marines, and collected much wargear in service to the Emperor of mankind.It was glorious.I hope for a recreation of that experience this weekend, sometime.

Oh, I began this post with the intent to discuss the betas I have been playing of Diablo III, Dota 2, and Tribes: Ascend, but those will have to wait for another day. I still need to write that Guild Wars post, as well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


2012. The year the world burns. In the fires of a gamepocalypse. Gameageddon has gotten off to a running start here, at 9 Parsecs.

Momentum of motivation had me roll right into Fallout 3 not long after finishing Fallout 2. I have 30 hours on my save, thus far, and I've gotten to a decent stopping point in the main quest thread, searching for my character's father. He disappeared from Vault 101 all of a sudden, and not caring for the way the Overseer runs the place, my character Nanashi set out to find him, braving the capital wasteland beginning to uncover the truth of her place of birth in the process. I'm sure that I'll eventually track down dear old Dad, and in Fallout fashion, a greater goal will be set, through the pursuit of which I'll leave my mark on the ruined wreckage of Washington D.C., and the people who live there. I'm already excited to get back to playing more.

Speaking of playing more, I need to finish BioShock 2 once and for all. I'm guessing that I'm around a third to halfway through it, and fairly lost as far as the plot goes. Or maybe the plot just isn't that good. I don't like how the antagonist Sophia Lamb was retconned into Rapture history and cast up against Andrew Ryan. Retcons in general suck. Regardless, the game is a lot of fun to play, what with the plasmids and different weapons and environmental factors to take into account while fighting splicers, Big Daddies, and Big Sisters. I want this one off my plate. I just need to set aside some time to polish it off between everything else I'm playing.

I don't believe I've written about it yet, but a helpful Call Of Podcast listener wrangled a couple of Diablo III beta keys for Lonesteban and I. I love the Diablo series, going way back to the days of the 50MB overnight download for the first game's demo. Diablo III is almost by default my most anticipated game, but it's always seemed so far away that it was only on the periphery of my mind. Well, not any longer. I've been having a blast playing the beta so far. The only thing I don't like is that it ends after a few hours. Even that's not so bad, since you can take your character and do boss runs ad infinitum. Eventually you will hit the level cap and get so much amazing loot that you can't even wear it all, though. Then you can try another of the classes. I maxed out a monk first, and I'm slowly working a wizard through, now. I'm trying to take my time, because there are special beta-only achievements that I'd like to get (and hopefully they'll carry over on my profile into the full game), but they were inactivated with the last update to the beta. I'm hoping the next update will be rolled out soon, and they'll be re-enabled.

The monk is awesome, and the wizard is just as great. I honestly don't know which I'll roll with first, once the final game is out. The other classes don't really interest me at this point, but I'm sure I'll get around to them at some point. If I have one concern for Diablo III, it's that it doesn't look like there is much point to ever creating more than one character of the same class. In Diablo II you had a lot of different choices to make in terms of skill choices and point distribution, but Diablo III does away with all of that in favor of a system that lets you re-spec your character at any point. I guess Hardcore mode will kind of negate this issue, but unless you play Hardcore, you will presumably be able to level each class to cap and not really have any reason to start more characters over at level 1. We'll just have to see how the final product ends up.

Elsewhere, I've begun Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising. It was time. I don't think there is anything else strategy-related on my plate besides my stalled Starcraft: Brood War game, only just begun. It was also the last Dawn of War II expansion on my pile, since I had dipped into Retribution a bit, already. I'll eventually finish this and then play Retribution to completion before going back to the original Dawn of War and its expansions. And hell, one day I'll finish Brood War and start Starcraft II, also. No rush; I figure I've got at least 50 good years left in me, hopefully more. Giving up fast food and working out more should help with that. All for the games, all for the games. Anyway, about Chaos Rising--I was able to import my save from the base Dawn of War II with my squad fully leveled up and kitted out. Right off the bat it seems more difficult than the base game, but I guess that's to be expected. Even a real-time strategy noob like myself (though I did beat Starcraft) didn't have much trouble with the original. I've really gotten into the Warhammer 40,000 universe over the last couple of years, and I really like the genre-meld of Dawn of War II.

Speaking of 40K, I started the Space Marine campaign over again just for fun, and also tried out the multiplayer and Exterminatus ("Horde") modes. That's a real good game, all around. I got flattened repeatedly in the versus multiplayer, but I had a good time in Exterminatus, and I'll probably play more of it over time.

Another quick hit--SpaceChem. I completed the challenge level In-place Swap, after staring at it and mucking around for 2-3 hours. I'm still only on the third or fourth planet in the game's story mode. I wonder if I'll ever be able to complete it. This is a really hard game, but it's so great at the same time.

Something else I've begun in the last few weeks is Guild Wars. I don't have the time and presence of mind to go into it very much right now, but I like it. It's old, and it's mechanics somewhat tired out by the rest of the genre, but it has its virtues. I'll write another entry on Guild Wars at a later date.

Yesterday they released a demo for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and being a big fan of RPGs, I wanted to check out this one, a new IP from a new studio (kind of), and from EA, no less. I'd say my overall impressions are positive, despite not liking the art direction, UI, voice acting, or what I've seen of the story thus far (admittedly little). The combat is well done for an RPG, and about to the level of an action game. The game runs really well and looks great (in terms of image quality) on my PC. The problem is that I just don't have anywhere near the amount of free time I would need to get around to playing this somewhat safe RPG. It plays it too safe, I think; there's nothing slightly off-kilter or European about it to get me interested. The premise is only interesting in the superficial parallels to Planescape: Torment, and the art style is just off-putting. I could set that aside, because the graphics are nice, otherwise, but go look at my RPG pile. I wish Amalur had a little bit more of its own identity.