Thursday, October 31, 2013

A New Daily Rotation

I've established a solid routine over the last few weeks of Spelunky daily challenges (and sometimes normal Spelunky runs). I continue to get better at the game bit by bit, and my average score and leaderboard position are still climbing bit by bit, but if I don't really focus on delving further and gaining more experience, I'll never be able to finish the game or approach the highest ranks of players on the leaderboard. So, I need to practice more during my daily sessions.

I've also gotten really into Hearthstone, and into doing the daily challenges it gives, which usually mean playing 3 to 5 matches to accomplish whatever quest they dole out. This game is just a lot of fun, and you win enough gold quickly enough to make your next turn in the arena, and your next chance at bragging rights and fabulous card-related prizes perpetually just around the corner. I am still in the process of playing long enough with every character to unlock all of the cards in the basic set. Once I'm done with that, I guess I'll pick one or two to build decks around and set about the business of disenchanting and crafting to build out my card collection to feed those. CCGs!

I am still playing Dragon Age II, but it's been a few days since I jumped in. I've been busy in the evenings to the point where I don't have much more time and energy than it takes to play some Spelunky and Hearthstone. I am still at an early stage of the game, trying to earn a total of 50 gold so I can buy Hawke and crew's way onto an treasure-hunting expedition into the dwarven "Deep Roads."  I now have Merril, Fenris, Varric, Aveline, and Bethany in my circle of adventurer friends.

I had a hankering to play some Battlefield yesterday, so I re-installed BF3 last night, and spent as much or more time futzing around with Punkbuster as actually in game. Punkbuster sucks; I can't believe modern releases are still using that trash. BF3 requires Origin--why can't EA come up with a better anti-cheat solution? I almost decided to go back and play more Bad Company 2, instead, but that's neither here nor there. It's a bummer not having access to around half of the maps in BF3, and EA is still charging $30 for Battlefield Premium to complete the set, even though BF4 is out, now. Legacy product support--EA is the absolute worst about this kind of thing. I still can't believe the hoops required to be jumped through for DLC for Mass Effect 2. Ridiculous.

On the reading front, I recently finished the Horus Heresy novel Mechanicum, and after queueing up my next 4 books on that series, I actually started two new books. The first is a non-fiction book about the ninja in Japanese history, and the second is Red Storm Rising, the only Tom Clancy novel I have not read. I thought I would check it out since I've owned it for ages and ages, and the man recently died. I'm not very far in just yet, but it already seems like a real page-turner, like I remember most of his others being. Those were a lot of fun, if a little jingoistic. I'm not sure how well they would hold up to the scrutiny of recent political and intelligence-related revelations, but hey, they were from a differenet era. The one Clancy book I read and that he wrote in a post 9/11 world was not really what he had become known for, as well. Those Jack Ryan books, and Red Storm Rising, certainly--being a tale of the Cold War going hot--are products of their time.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Wild Hare

I'm trying to be a little more impulsive in choosing which games I play, and when. I figure that is a much quicker way of whittling down the pile and winnowing out games from it that I can immediately discard, at least initially.

Along this train of thought, I decided to check out a few games over the past week:

SteamWorld Dig - I felt that it made sense to play this, having free money on Nintendo's eShop, and having recently played La Mulana, Cave Story+, and Spelunky, other 2D-platformer cave-centered adventure games. It seems pretty well done, but to be lacking in depth. It feels like it would have been a really great SNES game. There are Metroid-like mobility and ability upgrades, and a petty easiliy identifiable core loop of dig > collect valuables > return to town to sell them > purchase upgrades > tackle more areas to dig in. It just feels a little too pat next to those other three games.

Persona 2: Innocent Sin - The PSP version of this was on sale for $10 on PSN last week, so I picked it up to play on my Vita. I purchased Eternal Punishment way back in, I think, 2001, but never played much of it. I won't be playing much of this, either, unfortunately. It's not that I didn't like what I played--an hour or so--it's just that way too much of that time was spent in repetitive random battles. The game is not compatible with my limited amount of time, as a grown-ass man and father. At least not at this stage of those roles. I did find the premise kind of interesting, though, I have to admit, if a little anime-cliche heavy.

Deus Ex: Invisible War - I bet this game would have made a real impression, had I played it on the PS2. It was apparently designed around that system. Next to modern entries in the "immersive sim" genre, or I should say PC entries in said genre, including the original Deus Ex, this is Deus Ex Duplo. Everything is big and simplistic, with all the edges rounded off. And the voices are atrocious; not that those of the original were any good. What a shame? What a shame.

Dragon Age II - I think my approach may have paid off, here. I've put in a couple of hours with it so far, and I'm intrigued. I haven't played Dragon Age: Origins, and that may be for the better, in this case. Dragon Age II, by all accounts, is not much like that game, and suffers for the comparison. No, Dragon Age II seems to me so far more like a Swords and Sorcery skin on the Mass Effect formula, with a few tweaks. No doubt a huge let-down for fans of DA:O, but as a Mass Effect player, I am OK with taking it for what it is, at least this far. It also starts out well with a cast of strong female characters, particularly with a female Hawke. She's very cool, so far. I'm planning to play more of this one.

On the more traditional backlog slog, I'm still trying to get through Half-Life 2. I don't know why its taking so long; I like this genre, and I like this game, I just always seem to want to play something else. The last section I played through was pretty awesome, though--leading a bunch of antlions on an assault of the Combine-controlled prison Nova Prospekt. I wonder what comes next; I have pretty much no idea where this game goes or what happens on down the line in the series, aside from spoilers about how Episode 2 wraps up. It might be a subconscious thing. I may be protecting myself from getting wrapped up in the story, knowing that there is no conclusion in sight.

I began Soul Sacrifice recently, though I didn't do much but begin it. It seems like it might be good. I need to play more, whenever I can make the time, but I wasn't put off of it for any reason. It could be fun, with some time invested in getting to the up-and-running phase.

I am still playing the Spelunky daily challenge every day, and I think I am actually getting better at the game. That is no protection from stupid deaths, of course, but I do feel like I am regularly getting farther in than I was before. Maybe it's that I am being more cautious with my precious one-time daily plays.

Finally, Blizzard sent me a beta invitation to Hearthstone, their free-to-play digital collectible card game, and I really like it. As a onetime uber-hardcore Magic: The Gathering player, Hearthstone is very simplistic, but also very quick to play, and a lot of fun. It's actually a lot like Magic, just with most everything stripped out and boiled down to the creature combat mechanic, with a couple of interesting tweaks. In Hearthstone, you can choose whether you attack other creatures, which ones, or whether you bypass them and attack the other player directly. In Magic, it is of course up to the defending player to assign blockers or absorb the damage themselves. Hearthstone also lacks land dependency for mana and "instant" speed spells that can be played at any time during combat or the opponent's turn. There don't appear to be any "permanents" aside from creatures, either. Decks are limited to 30 cards, and there doesn't appear to be any graveyard. It seems that cards, once cast, go back into the deck to be reused later. There doesn't seem to be a mechanic for running out of cards, and so the only way to win is to actually kill the enemy through damage. All this leads to a much faster and more streamlined game, but at the cost of a lot of the depth of Magic. It's a valid approach, and it does make for a game that is a lot of fun. I am looking forward to playing a lot more of it; the arena (sealed draft) mode especially.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Shoveling Off Of And Onto The Pile

I found myself suddenly beset with a crippling need to be rid of all console and handheld games that I owned and also had or planned to purchase the PC versions of. I also sold God of War II and III without ever having played them, because meh, Kratos. Whatever.

So, I took a large stack of stuff over to Game Trader, my local, independent, and primarily used games retailer, and accepted the rather low amount of credit they offered me, considering the purchase price paid for everyting in said stack. I was fine with it, however. I had already gotten my value out of most of them, either in enjoyment, or hard lessons learned about what to buy and when, for the future.

I took my $81 or so in credit, and turned around and blew it on a few more games, for Vita and 3DS, that are not liable to ever make their way to the PC: Soul Sacrifice, Wipeout 2048, Lumines, and Super Mario 3D Land. Thus far, I've only played the latter two. Lumines is a lot like the PSP version (which I guess I've never written about here, or at least have not since I began using post tags), and Super Mario is a lot like Super Mario. That's a bit sarcastic; it really is more like a cross between SMB3 and Super Mario 64. It's a lot of fun.

I haven't had a chance yet to check out Soul Sacrifice or Wipeout 2048, nor have I yet looked at a couple of games I bought through Steam in the last 24 hours, or the last 24 to 48 months, really. I've even lost count on my completion token system, though I'm sure I'm somewhere in the negative, depending on what I qualify as a token and what I do not. That system probably needs to be re-worked. I'll think about it some.

I do have a good head of steam built up on my newest read, at least. These Horus Heresy books are real page-turners, and the more I find myself drawn into the universe, the more I want to learn about it and learn the history of it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Neuromancer, the Birth of Cyberpunk

I should mention that I recently read William Gibson's Neuromancer, which is widely credited with inventing the genre known as Cyberpunk. I became a little more interested in the genre when CDProjekt RED (The Witcher) announced their PC version of the pen and paper game system Cyberpunk 2020, the PC game to be called Cyberpunk 2077. I had read Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash before, and had recently played Shadowrun Returns, but nothing had really prepared me for Neuromancer.

It was a hard book to grok. Maybe it's Gibson's style, but I never really felt like I understood 100% what was happening and why at any given point in the book. Maybe it's that I was reading and falling asleep late at night for most of the book. I should probably give it a re-read at some point, to give it a fair shake, because I think a lot of the genius was lost on me, this first go around. It was fun and action-packed, sure, but I don't think I was capable of really getting everything out of it with a fatigue-impared reading over something like 2 months' time.

I also read Brandon Sanderson's excised chapter from the final Wheel of Time book, focusing on the character of Bao the Wyld, and very much enjoyed that however brief peek into a corner of Robert Jordan's world that he chose never to show to the reader, himself. Finally, I've started another book in the Horus Heresy epic series, Mechanicum, which focuses on the Martian tech-adepts during the early days of the Heresy. It seems interesting, so far. I definitely love me some Horus Heresy.

Shifting Into Autumn

It's hard to recall everything I've played since the last entry, but it mainly comes down to three things: Spelunky, World of Warcraft, and Tomb Raider.

WoW, you say? Indeed. Blizzard offered to comp me a free 7 days, so I took them up on it, toodling around a bit in Outland, bringing my Orcish Arms Warrior into line with all the major talent changes that had taken effect in the three years since I last played, and leveling up to 68, which is the perfect level at which to ditch Outland and head to Northrend. My Orc is waiting there right now for my next free play session.

WoW, while kind of neat and mindless, just is not that fun. The pleasure derived from WoW, for me, is more about exploring the world and filling XP bars. I can barely stand the redundant combat of your prototypical MMORPG anymore. Maybe it would be better if I gave my life to the game and joined a full-time raiding guild, and really took it seriously. But that is not me anymore. I demand to play on my own scant time, and more often than not, I'm playing solo.

I've dipped into Spelunky for the daily challenge almost every day for the last two or three weeks. That is a truly great game. Truly difficult, and truly addicting. As much as I've played it so far, nearly 150 attempts, the farthest I've gotten is to the third level of the jungle, or 2-3, only the 7th level. And that was from starting at the Tunnel Man's shortcut to level 5. I wonder how good I can get at it, if I continue.

In an effort to wrap up and try a few other 2013 releases, I concentrated the last few days on finishing off Tomb Raider (the current release). I actually really enjoyed that game, far more than I imagined I might, and more even than the two Uncharted games I've played, which I found overrated to some degree. Tomb Raider is just plain fun to play. Lara moves around the world really responsively, and is very well animated. The game is also very attractive, visually, and ran at a rock solid 60 fps the entire time on my mid to low-range PC. The combat was always fun, and never actually wore out its welcome, which is remarkable, thinking about it. I also really, really like the new Lara Croft. She's actually a believable human being, here. She may be a bit of a climbing and shooting wunderkind, but that is hardly the most outlandish thing happening on the island the game is set on. I have very few complaints about Tomb Raider, and those mostly center on how limply the plot wraps up in the end, and the completely over-the-top and uncalled for amount of grisly gore present in the game, a lot of it presented in Lara's various bad death animations. I could have done without those oddly out-of-place bits, if I'm honest.

So, Fall is here, and the season for new major releases is really already in full swing. There's not a lot that I care much about this year, though. There's Assassin's Creed IV, and not a whole lot else. I'll probably end up with GTA V and Watch_Dogs at some point, and maybe a PS4 sometime in 2014, but I'm honestly having a hard time thinking of other big Fall releases that I am excited about, this year. Oh well, I've still got a tremendous backlog, of course. I think I may try to polish off the Half-Life 2 series next.