Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Finally Done With City 17

I've had this campaign run through of Half-Life 2 going for probably two and a half years, but now, at long last, it is done. It is just such a long game, and I could never really play it for more than maybe an hour at a time before I'd had my fill for the time being. The thing is, it's a really great game, in the playing. I just think it has some length and pacing issues, perhaps. The ending sections, inside the Citadel, with the super gravity gun, are a riot. That was a nice way to cap off the whole thing, to be sure.

The plot, though, really leaves a lot to the imagination. On one hand, I like that. Being a part of the world, being shown rather than told, is great for a sense of place. On the other, it does very little to pull you forward to the game's conclusion, which might be why it has taken me so long to reach it.

Time has probably worn off the sheen of awe many saw on the game, but it's underlying quality does still show through. I'm curious what the episodes will bring; the way the game closed felt like that was probably it for City 17 and Alyx and that whole crew, but plainly it is not. We'll just have to see where the G Man brings us out next.

No promises on when I'll play any other other entries, though.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book 5

In Dance, A Song of Ice and Fire has widened its scope as far as it has ever been, with action taking place everywhere from The Wall to the Free Cities to Valyria to Slaver's Bay in the east, with a good amount of new characters and locations in view. Later in the book, we even get back to King's Landing and Dorne. Many of the POV characters are, or have been to this point, relatively minor, but seeing the world from their eyes does a lot to flesh out the happenings in Westeros and Essos.

It feels like much of the Essos action is converging on Daenerys, as Westeros continues to tear itself apart. It's obvious the purpose of the Ironborn in the books is to give Dany a fleet back to bring her host home. Tyrion will be her Hand or spymaster or the like. Aegon will win Dorne away from King Tommen, and I suppose Stannis dies heroically while mopping up the Boltons with the help of the wildlings, hill people, Manderly, and the crannogmen of the Neck. The Freys and the Lannisters will fall to Arya as a Faceless Man, and Dany will take the Iron Throne and then ride dragons with her nephews Jon Snow (himself a son of Rhaegar Targaryen) and Aegon (Jon's slightly younger brother of the same father) to the heart of the lands of winter to kill the dark god up there with Bran's help. Rickon comes out of the woods to rebuild and hold Winterfell, the hardiest Stark ever seen in the North. Sansa kills Gregor Clegane in the Eerie and holds it as Warden of the East, Jaime kills Cersei after Myrcella and Tommen both die because of her. Stoneheart kills Jaime, is reunited with Arya. Varys and Littlefinger duel at Cyvasse in Pentos. Fin.

This and That Before Diablo III 2.1

The last week has been fairly uneventful. I've played just a little of several different things, as seems to be my modus operandi, of late. Patch 2.1 for Diablo III is out today, and I'll be headed back to that game to begin a Witch Doctor as soon as Seasons are live. But in the meantime:

Hearthstone - I finished up all of the normal Naxxramas matches, as well as the class challenges, and have played a little conventional and arena. I have no real reason to continue playing this except that it's easy to dip into and out of, and mostly pretty fun. It would be nice to collect all of the cards, I guess, but I have no wish to climb the ranks of competitive play.

Analogue: A Hate Story - I only briefly checked this out, because my daughter saw the anime girl in the screenshot on Steam an wanted to "play" it. It turns out to be a very text-heavy research and interaction game. It seems pretty cool, with a very Korean-focused starship setting, presumably a generational ship. I really want to see more of this when I can focus on it.

Half-Minute Hero: The Second Coming - You're welcome, Esteban. It seems kinda cool, but I find that parody wears thin very quickly, for me. I'd love to see a more straight take on this game type, but I have zero idea of what that would look like. I guess comedy serves in this case. It is a very absurd premise.

Shadowgate - I kickstarted this remake of the game that originally intrigued me on the NES. The art looks nice enough, but I don't care for the UI presentation or the Item Verb Item mechanics, and the puzzles are as abtuse as ever, which might not be a good thing. I'm feeling pretty lukewarm on this one.

Wasteland - Yeah, the original. I feel like I'm starting to get a grip on what this game is, after a few false starts. I should play more before I play the sequel, which is officially out next month.

Goat Simulator - Mia likes to mess around with it, and it is pretty entertaining. More toy than game.

Half-Life 2 - Yes, yes, I am finally getting toward the end of this epic. I've just arrived at the Citadel, or rather a tunnel leading into or perhaps under the Citadel, opened by Alyx's robot, Dog. I've taken down striders in City 17, what could be next?

Borderlands 2 - I've done handful of quests and fought a boss, advancing into the next zone. I'm feeling pretty ambivalent on the game, so far. It feels like empty calories. Again, parody does next to nothing for me. Handsome Jack is fairly entertaining so far, though. It's something to play, and better than a lot, so I guess I'll keep going with it from time to time.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book 4

I'm still trotting along at a brisk pace on my aSoIaF reread. I'm well into A Feast for Crows, now. This is where the structure of the tale changes and gets interesting from a logistical perspective. In Book 4, we're short POV chapters from several of our favorite characters, including Jon, Dany, and Tyrion. Instead, we have POVs in the south of Westeros, centering around King's Landing, the riverlands, and Dorne, as well as the Iron Islands. We get Cersei's point of view, and see her incompetence and flaws as a ruler first-hand. We get Brienne's story, which I'm not sure the purpose of, remembering how it plays out. We get Arya in Braavos, which is cool.We get Sansa and Littlefinger in the Vale, and we get action in Dorne and among the Ironborn, which is also cool. I'd forgotten that Victarion was a POV character in Feast. I remember his chapters from Dance being entertaining.

All in all, book 4 really seems like the beginning of the second grand movement in the series. The war of five kings has for the most part wrapped up, and the remaining players are turning their focus elsewhere, to the north and the Others, to the east and its dragons, or inward, with the case of the Lannisters and King's Landing. Sansa, Arya, Tyrion, Samwell, Jon, Jaime and others have had major character-defining turning points both internally and geographically, setting the stage for further action on down the road. It's an exciting time in Westeros, even if this book and the next are light on major shakeups in comparison to book 3, especially.

Mid-August 2014 Playlog

It's hard to find a theme in these large collections of games I play for less than an hour at a time, for the most part. To review:

Talisman - I picked up both the solo adventure and full 4-player digital board games on Steam in a Games Workshop sale. While very, even completely, dependent on luck of the die roll, the game is decently fun. I found the variety of abilities and characteristics each playable character had offered up some interesting in-game ramifications. I played 2-3 complete games, which can be fairly long, before deciding my time was better used elsewhere. It was a satisfyingly fun experience, though.

Mount & Blade - I began my campaign and was immediately overtaken by bandits and taken captive, only to escape sometime later minus my followers and much of my wealth and possessions. This happened over and over, until I was left with no one, not even a horse, and next to nothing. The only choice left was between going full-rogue to probably die alone and reviled and taking up arms in the arena, winning gold and glory and, and hopefully parlaying that into followers. That's what I'm in the midst of, now.

X-Com: Enemy Unknown - I advanced my campaign through a couple of battles, finally taking captive a couple of the aliens and beginning to get a handle on managing my forces. This is another game I don't know why I don't just play all the time.

Half-Life 2 - I played though about 20 to 30 minutes of stuff up to a point where I'm making my way up through a warehouse area from subterranean tunnels, and there are all these Combine soldiers fast-roping down onto catwalks above me and they keep killing me. They'll get theirs, eventually.

Colin McRae Rally - this really is a very bare-bones experience. It's good for a quick race here and there, though. For $7, it's really not too bad.

Hearthstone - I figured it was no more random than Talisman, takes only a fraction of the time to play, has much better production values, actual people to play against, interesting solo content, and all the might of one of the biggest and best game studios in the world backing it up, I might as well invest my time further into this as any other digital card or board game. I've actually been enjoying the hell out of the single-player Naxxramus "boss battles," which are just duels against players with unique abilities and traits. They're almost puzzle-like in that they require a certain approach to win. While nothing like them, they remind me of the puzzles I used to do in The Duelist magazine about 20 years ago, when I was big into Magic: The Gathering.

Final Fantasy III (DS remake) - I finally knocked a few minutes into playing this, before taking it and all my other DS games and trading them all in. Not much to say, other than it's FF, and why the hell isn't the action ever on the top screen? Total loss on this, by the way. I bought it new in Japan, and even had the cool strategy guide to go with it, which I gave up for a mere buck alongside the game. Oh well, not like I was ever going to use it, anyway.

Kurohyou: Ryu Ga Gotoku Shinshou (Yakuza spinoff for PSP) - This was also a quick try-out before trade-in job. It's a Yakuza game, that much is certain. I thought it looked nice enough on the PSP. Series diehards or PSP gamers not already tired of the series should take interest. It's only available in Japan, however, and these games are heavy and deep with the sort of high-level and macho- slang Japanese that many non-native speakers will have trouble understanding (from my own experience).

Wipeout 2048 - I thought I'd played this one before, but I suppose not. It was only for about 20 minutes late at night when I was practically falling asleep, but I was pretty impressed by how well it looked and felt. I did a handful of races and placed decently among my friends, and I'm looking forward to playing more.

Borderlands 2 - I have merely begun, playing Maya the Siren, and having just beat the first boss, a sasquatch type thing in the ice that was bothering a claptrap. I've got to play more to rally form up an impression.

Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition - A gift from Esteban. I haven't really played SF since HD Remix, and that only casually. Before that the last one I really played much of was Super SFII on the SNES. Wow, it's a nice looking game, and it runs flawlessly on the PC. What really pushed me over the edge in wanting to play it (and now wanting to play more), was hearing of the feasibility of playing with a keyboard. It's not something I'd ever considered, but taken logically, there's no reason it should not work, and in practice I found it shockingly easy to pull off special moves, if not completely second-nature in the way that playing with a pad is. I think the keyboard layout is fundamentally better suited to the game than the average 4-button control pad, simply due to the six-button layout possible on the NumPad (4-7, with other keys for button combos), but also due to the ability to use A,S,D, and space directions (space being up/jump). It sounds ridiculous at first, but in practice, wow. It works. With some practice and getting used to, there's no reason at all this control scheme should not be competetive with, or even superior to, other input methods.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Book 3

Reading-wise, I finished up book 2 of A Song of Ice and Fire, and am into book 3 now on my reread. It's hard to tell due to the way all four of the first books are packed together on this kindle bundle, but I am guessing I must be about halfway through A Storm of Swords. There are three weddings in this book, and one has come and gone, the least remarkable of the three. A character has been maimed, two large cities sacked, and a cloak once turned, turned back. I'm really looking forward to books 4 and 5 again, since watching the show through season 4 was a good refresher on the first three books, the next two are much more shrouded in the mists of forgetfulness.

Strategy Potpurri & Et Cetera

I'm taking a break from Hearthstone. That game pisses me off. It feels like too much hinges on the luck of the draw. It's like the decks aren't big enough to mitigate it through card variety and multiple strategies per deck. Also the fact that you can only play as a single class and use a pool of neutral cards. Multi-classing would be an interesting thing to see added.

I've kind of been bitten by the strategy bug lately. A friend of the podcast sent me a Steam coupon for 90% off a game called Conquest of Elysium 3, which turned out to be a cool 4X-style game pared down to the raw essentials. The production values are nil, but the core of the game is quite cool. The thing is, every time I quit out of the game, it would glitch up my Steam client, necessitating a trip to the task manager to kill the whole thing and restart. Not cool. I wouldn't mind seeing a better-done version of that game, though.

I also played the beginning stages of a Civ V game as Shaka of the Zulu. I didn't like how things were headed, though, so I killed that game. I wanted to try out Endless Space, since it looked cool and I had heard good things and I already owned it. It certainly looks nice and seems playable enough, but again I wasn't satisfied with my ability to understand an play the game, so I gave up and moved on. On to Crusader Kings II, which I still don't know that I quite understand. I sort of played around with it for a couple of hours as a middle-tier lord, of Luxemburg. I managed to find a wife and produce a few children, so that was good. An ill-fated war effort followed, and then me wondering what I should be doing aside from just letting the game play itself out over the years, me making the odd decision here and there. If that's how the game is played, I may prefer a more hands-on game. I guess I'll try again with EU IV at some point.

Also on the tactics/strategy tip, I tried out Guardians of Middle Earth an Defense Grid: The Awakening. The former is a console-adapted MOBA that no one plays anymore, and the latter is a well done tower defense game, probably the best I've seen, actually. I might play more of it, or check out the sequel.

Revisiting Half-Life 2 yet again, I made some substantial progress, getting all the way through Nova Prospekt and back to City 17, where I am now on my way the Citadel. Along the way were a couple of challenging encounters around turret-placement and enemy wave defense. It's a great game, with a great feel.

A couple of new ones on the playlist that I plan to re-visit are Mount and Blade (I'm just getting started, here), and Colin McRae Rally, which I had time to mess around with for a few minutes, but that's all, so far.