Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sailing the Stars

Elite: Dangerous is still devouring most of my gaming time, these days. I've done a fair bit of exploring, ranking up to Surveyor. I headed down through Empire space to the very edge of the settled volume and making some decent cash in an Adder before deciding I wanted a piece of combat action. I then made my way back to civilization, bought an Eagle, outfitted it for combat to the extent I could afford, and started taking hunting contracts and looking or bounties. I think my plan for the next little while is to rank up my combat rating, make some money, and eventually get a Cobra Mk III, which should be good for a mix of activities.

I finished up my Seasonal Witch Doctor in Diablo III, getting him to level 70, as well as 10 Paragon levels. In the end I found a build I could rely on, and still hunted with a gargantuan, zombie dogs, and a bunch of fetishes. It's still not my favorite class, but it's alright. I'm planning to level up a Crusader, once season 2 begins. And eventually, I'll take all the shards and fragments I get while leveling in adventure mode and spend them on one of my level 70 characters.

I can't figure out what I'm getting wrong in Dungeon of the Endless. I've tried four times now, and I can't get past the first level of the dungeon, even on Very Easy. I need to do the tutorial again, because there must be something fundamental that I'm not understanding.

I briefly loaded up Fallout: New Vegas again, meaning to get on to the rest of the DLC for that game, but only made it as far as completing one unrelated side quest. So far.

I also revisited Space Marine for a fun session of killing Orks with chainsword and bolter.

Voxatron is a voxel-based game I had on my taskbar for ages without really trying out. As it turns out, it's a pretty simple Robotron-esque shooter with destructible environments. It's nice, but I kind of wish there was more to it.

I played some Minecraft with my older daughter on my knee, doing some cave spelunking and looking around for the pigs and horses and sheep she likes in the game. Our current world is the longest-lasting I've ever had. I think I'll make a go of it in this one. There's a really deep and complex cave network very near the starting position, as well as a stream and some mountains. It's a good place to settle, from a roleplaying perspective.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Discovery and the Seasons

Over the last week, I've been doing some seasonal maintenance in Hearthstone and Diablo. Hearthstone is easy. Once a month, I play enough games to reach rank 20 and earn a new card back, and then I'm done for the month, unless I care to play more here and there.

Diablo is a little more involved, but the seasons are also a lot longer. I believe this one began in about September of last year, and is slated to end at the beginning of February. Playing a season of Diablo, to me, means leveling a new character class (Witch Doctor, currently) all the way to level 70, and possibly beyond. I was just past level 30 when I decided I needed to finish up before time was up. I'm at 60, now, and I think I can probably earn a level or two each session I play.

I'm not really crazy about the Witch Doctor. It seems to me the distinctive thing about the class is the ability to use numerous pets do the heavy lifting while the player takes care of some limited crowd control, area of effect, and damage over time spell casting. This is fine, and gives it a unique niche among Diablo III classes, but I don't find it incredibly fun to play. It's perhaps a little too indirect for my tastes. The other classes I've played (Wizard, Warrior, Demon Hunter) are all very direct, at least how I play them. Wizard and Demon Hunter can lay traps and hazards of sorts, if the player is so inclined. Maybe I should ditch the zombie dogs and the gargantuan and try a Witch Doctor with a different focus, but I can't see how it would be anywhere near as effective, not to mention safe. The Witch Doctor himself has very little protection in the manner that I'm used to with my Wizard. Maybe I'll give it a shot, though.

The other game I've been playing, and where the majority of my game time is going, is Elite. I'm very much into exploring the incomprehensibly (realistically) large galaxy in the game, not doing any hunting, fighting, or trading, indeed not capable of doing any, with my ship kitted out for exploration over any other purpose. I just love exploring the unexplored, and it seems like a way to make a decent amount of money, though probably not as quick as trading or thrilling as combating your way to fortune and status.

Elite is not everything I want in a space game, but everything it is does fall into that category. As it hopefully fills out with deeper and more varied content and assets, I can see it eating up a lot of my time over a long period of time, something like a Minecraft or Diablo. I think it'll be a perennial favorite. I don't imagine Star Citizen or No Man's Sky will cover the same ground in the same way, though they definitely both have the potential to be something special.

I wonder how long it might take to gain Elite status as an explorer. I've already ranked from Aimless to Mostly Aimless to Scout, and I'm just getting started. I only just bought an entry level detailed surface scanner, and I'm still running on the base system scanner and in the starting Sidewinder ship. But after this theoretical rise to Elite as an explorer, maybe I'd try to do the same in trading or combat. We'll see. I really like this game, though. Maybe that was obvious, considering my Game of the Year post. It was a very late entrant to consideration, the latest, I think, but it certainly did click with me in a way that no other game did in 2014.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 In Games and Literature

Another year has drawn to a close, and it is time to take stock of what I played and read in 2014. First up, the awards:

My Game of the Year: Elite: Dangerous
Honorable Mention: The Banner Saga

Past years:
2013: Spelunky/Hearthstone
2012: Dota 2/Diablo III
2011: The Witcher 2/SpaceChem
2010: Mass Effect 2/Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
2009: Demon's Souls/Red Faction: Guerilla
2008: Metal Gear Solid 4/Gears of War 2
2007: BioShock/Halo 3

The games, DLC, et cetera that I finished in 2014, defined liberally, as always. It's a grand total of 32, which is nice, but this is a particularly apples and oranges comparison with previous years when I was stricter about what counted as a completion.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: Aveline
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag: Freedom Cry
Assassin's Creed Liberation
Baldur's Gate
Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast
Baldur's Gate: The Black Pits
Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea Ep. 2
Borderlands: Claptrap's New Robot Revolution
Borderlands: The Secret Armory of General Knoxx
Borderlands: The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned
Chocolate Castle
Civilization: Beyond Earth (Transcendence)
Diablo III (Master) (Barbarian)
Diablo III (Normal) (Demon Hunter)
Diablo III (Torment) (Wizard)
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (Master) (Barbarian)
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (Normal) (Demon Hunter)
Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (Torment) (Wizard)
Goat Simulator
Half-Life 2
Hearthstone: Naxxramas (class challenges)
Hearthstone: Naxxramas (Normal)
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
Street Fighter IV (Easiest) (Ryu)
Talisman: Digital Edition
Talisman: Prologue
The Banner Saga
Uncharted 3 : Drake's Deception
Vlad the Impaler

The game backlog has continued to expand well beyond control, but I'm not too worried about it. These days I practically only play PC games, so limiting myself to one platform will at least boost the probability that many of these will ever be touched. I like to hop into something new on occasion, anyway. There will be no shortage of that. I do feel like I've made fewer cavalier purchases over the last year, but I haven't done the validation part of that assumption.

On the book reading front, I think this was a pretty good year.

Book of the Year: A Song of Ice and Fire I - V
Honorable Mention: Roadside Picnic

Without a doubt my reading highlight of this year was taking GRRM's series back-to-back-to-back all the way through all of the currently released books. The Horus Heresy stuff I read was also a lot of fun, but no one individual title stuck out as much to me as did Roadside Picnic, the book that inspired the movie Stalker and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game series. That was a cool book, and not too long. I also had fun rereading James Clavell's Tai-Pan and with Andy Weir's The Martian, a hard science-based tale of a near-future NASA mission to Mars.

Books read in 2014:

A Game of Thrones
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
A Feast for Crows
A Dance with Dragons
Age of Darkness
Book of Cain
Book of Tyrael
Deliverance Lost
Red Storm Rising
Roadside Picnic
The Martian
The Outcast Dead
The Primarchs
The Walking Dead 1-125
Visions of Heresy

That was 18, which is not bad, and double my 2013 count.

Here's to much more great playing and reading in 2015!

Steam Winter Sale BONANZA Pt. 2

Capping off the Steam holiday sale this year, just a couple of games.

Might & Magic X: Legacy - I was pretty disappointed with how little the quality of the graphics in game resembled the promo screenshots on the Steam store page. Bullshots, indeed. Otherwise, it seems like a pretty standard turn-based RPG in the first-person, advance-upon-a-grid genre similar to, but not so interesting as Legend of Grimrock, which it should be mentioned, is not turn-based, and more focused on puzzles, whereas M&M seems to be more of a quest-based type. It might be worth revisiting, at some point. Probably not, if I'm completely honest. Lack of time, better offerings elsewhere, etc.

Might & Magic VI - this was a freebie with purchase of the above. I understand it was a very impressive game back when it came out, but it looks like one of the most absolutely terrible things I have ever encountered in gaming. Time has not been kind at all to mid-'90s digitization of photos into game assets. I shudder to recall those pained, disembodied visages.

Apart from those, I've been cozying up more to Endless Legend, Dungeon of the Endless, and Ground Zeroes. I have one other new game to report, and that is Elite: Dangerous.

Elite is one of the oldest, longest-running, and most revered game series out there, despite being only verging on active over the 30 years since the first game came out in 1984. I gather much of the acclaim and appreciation goes back to the first game, which no doubt was a huge influence on almost every other notable 3D space flight, combat, or trading game since. Dangerous is the newest, crowd-funded game in the series,

Elite: Dangerous is very interesting in that it uses procedural generation to turn out billions of stars across our galaxy, all anchoring their respective system of orbiting asteroid fields, planets, and space colonies. The galaxy is built on a 1:1 scale with our own, real galaxy, and all the actual data we have modeled accurately (as far as I know), with the rest being computer-generated.

The game itself is about being a space freelance. Haul goods, become a privateer, a pirate, a mercenary, hunt bounties, explore uncharted space, mine asteroids, and just generally do whatever it is you wish to do to make your fortune and ascend the ranks of space pilots in the areas of military action, trading, and exploration. So far, I've eschewed combat for the most part, and hauled some goods back and forth for credits, but have been spending most of my time visiting and gathering mapping data on unexplored star systems. This is by far where I've made the most of my meager earnings in game to date.

I started in a system I've forgotten the name of, probably less than 50 LY from Sol, and I've been heading in a direction I'd colloquially term "galactic down" which is perpendicular to the galaxy's plane of ecliptic, parallel to it's axis of rotation, and down in that the coordinate number for that direction is negative relative to Sol's 0:0:0 origin location. I'm around 300 LY from Sol, at present. I'm planning to continue my exploration, and maybe to hunt some bounties or take on some military contracts here and there along the way. I got rid of my cargo hold racking in order to make room for exploration tools and a shield generator (mainly for safety from pirates).

I've been very impressed with the game. Very impressed, as I'll outline in my next post.