Raining With Friends

Good Morning 4 am

At this point it is actually 5 am, but who is counting?  My body decided it had enough sleep at roughly 4:40.  I had planned on getting up at 5 anyways to get up and around early so I would have to deal with less traffic on the drive in.  The greater Tulsa area is still very much under a blanket of ice and snow, and we really did not manage to get too much melt yesterday.  I am hoping that once I get out of my immediate neighborhood that the roads will be clear, otherwise this is going to be an extremely frustrating trip into work.  I wanted to give myself as much time as I could to get in, before the madhouse that is winter driving starts.  As a result this mornings blog post is likely going to be somewhat abbreviated.

Raining With Friends

Risk of Rain 2014-03-03 20-32-07-42 When I started down the road with Risk of Rain last Sunday, my feelings about the game have evolved into something much more nuanced.  The friend that originally suggested that I play the game, had told me for some time that it was a much different experience multiplayer.  Once again Ashgar was not wrong.  We planned on meeting up last night and getting in on some epic tiny pixel multiplayer action.  Firstly with two people and attempting to follow each other around somewhat, the various encounters become easier.  There are many types of mobs that you can burn down well before it actually reaches you.  Additionally when you get power-ups you can filter them towards the person who can most benefit from each type.

Risk of Rain 2014-03-03 20-08-01-15One of the things the game does that is pretty cool is show you an indicator of where your friend is at all times.  So if they are up and to the left of you, you see their character moving along the very top left edge of the screen.  We got split up often, but having this indicator allowed me to find my way back to Ashgar.  I think on our first playing, with me as the default character we managed to get three worlds in before destructing horribly.  On the second play through I changed things up to one of the characters I had just unlocked… the Enforcer.  At face value he seems like I character I would like, with his shotgun and its pushback ability.  However playing as him felt extremely sluggish, and once a mob managed to get right up on me… there was really no way to get out of there.  Poor Ashgar carried me through at least two levels where I died and he finished up the map without me.

Risk of Rain 2014-03-03 20-53-40-85 Finally on play three I think I found “my” character.  The bandit has a super long rifle shot with a small amount of pushback, a sniper rifle shot, a dynamite throw and the ability to fire a smoke bomb and go invulnerable for a short period of time… just long enough to get the hell out of a bad fight.  During this play through we each focused on our strengths, with me building everything ranged combat and Ash building everything melee combat.  We managed to get through to world five, which involves staying alive for 40 minutes as everything tries to destroy you.  At this point I had an absolutely insane drone army of 5 machine gun drones and a flamethrower drone.  Stuff attacking us would just disintegrate as it got near.  With 60 seconds to go… something catastrophic happened.

There seemed to be a hiccup in Cox communications the local cable provider, because at exactly the same time I disconnected from the Risk of Rain co-op session and Rae disconnected from Diablo 3.  I think the game was just pissed at me, because Ash and I had managed to accumulate enough power-ups during that play through that we would have had the 40 minute timer without any issue at all.  I think that is what makes this game so enjoyable, the absolute silly number of power-ups you can get.  In a way it reminds me of R-Type or Gradius…. without a cap on the total number of abilities you can get.  So towards the end I had 6 drones, the ability to fire anime sidewinder missles, the ability to proc mortar fire, as well as the occasional grenade.  On top of all of this every shot slowed the enemies, I had insanely boosted crit damage… and a short term usage jet pack.  I can now say without a doubt, that I love this game.

Whirlwind of Doom

In addition to all the Risk of Rain, I am still playing a silly amount of Diablo 3.  It is funny how one patch can completely change my perspective on the game.  Previously there were things I liked about it, but it felt extremely tedious to level through… knowing there was not much of a chance of getting something truly nice.  However I think the change for me goes deeper than that.  I love having a Clan.  I love seeing across /clan when someone gets something cool, and the obligatory chorus of gratz when someone gets a really interesting legendary drop.  I also love not feeling completely alone in the game.  Granted right now I am mostly playing solo to catch up my Barbarian, but I like feeling that while I am doing my own thing… I am not completely alone in doing it.  This is the problem I tend to have with most single player games… I just don’t feel connected to anyone else while experiencing them.

As of last night I have managed to catch my Barbarian up to level 45, and have grown into the really nice axe my monk used for awhile that summons the ghostly protector.  At this point I am still using cleave as my main attack, but as of last night I switched it up a bit from a rend that heals, to the whirlwind that sucks mobs in.  So far I am really liking the change as it lets me set mobs up for my freezequake attack.  As of last night I was up to the realm of shadows step in the Zultan Kulle quest chain.  We have decided that “Hard” is the new “Normal” mode since pretty much none of us play anything less than that when we are soloing.  Normal just seems too easy now, and the xp and drops seem much better on Hard.  Even at that, Hard is not all that Hard… in that I have to be not paying attention at all to actually die.

Diablo III 2014-03-03 16-37-20-32 Granted I have done than more than a few times, but with my paladin healbot I can pretty much run around doing bad things.  Right now through the release of Reaver of Souls, there is a “community event” going on that buffs experience gained by 50%.  So my hope is to soak up as much of this goodness as I can.  Once I finish pushing my Barbarian to 60 I plan on shifting back to the monk for a bit and working on paragon levels.  We have quite a few people playing right now, so it is pretty easy to get a torment game going.  I am not sure how amped I am with the key farming madness, but right now my key priority is getting the last two items to make a Whimsyshire staff.  I want to go kill rainbows and ponies… for science.  I am sad that I was not on mumble when Warenwolf took Rae to Whimsy for the first time.  I am not sure if she recoiled in horror, from having to kill her beloved ponies… or if she squealed in glee.  Diablo 3 seems to do the same thing League of Legends does…  bring out her murderous side.

Snow Day Project

The very last cool thing I did yesterday while snowed in, was take a moment to organize my video game screenshots.  For most people this is not a big deal, but since my blog very much relies on access to decent screenshots…  it is slightly more important.  For some time I had standardized on using a “GameShots” directory and using Fraps to take them so that everything dumped into one directory per machine.  The problem is that each directory was getting unwieldy quickly.  So as I tried to look a picture up, it would take forever for livewriter to list the newest files.  What I opted for is a directory on my 4 terabyte network attached storage, with sub directories for each game.  After setting up that structure I proceeded to sift through three different machines worth of screenshot directories and file them away in the right places.

That in itself would have been a huge positive, but I decided to go one step further.  I installed Picasa on my secondary machine and am now synchronizing each of these game directories with google plus photos.  Now if I am away from my machine, I still have access to my screenshots if I feel like I need to cobble together a quick post on something.  My hope is this will make blogging from the lake this summer a bit easier, as there is no way I could have access to my entire archive of screenshots remotely otherwise.  So far it seems to be working well, the only negative is that each time I add a new game directory I have to manually log into the machine running Picasa and configure it to sync.  The next project will likely to to merge in a bunch of the screenshot directories I already have on google plus into the newly created ones.

The Anchors Fall

Snowbound

Tulsa once again is buried under a thick coat of ice, with a dusting of snow on top.  Luckily we were prepared for it, and I did the traditional grocery store run Friday afternoon before the madness really started.  Saturday we got out early in the morning and ran the few errands we had to run, and made it in well before the crap started that evening.  It was predicted that the ice would begin around 6pm but it started considerably later.  Thankfully it was just sleet, and not freezing rain or we would have been in trouble.  When we got up yesterday morning it really did not look like we had much accumulation, and as a result my wife was convinced that they would be having school today.

However over the course of the morning, it started in hard and heavy with the ice and didn’t let up until late last night.  While we only got roughly 3 inches of accumulation, almost all of that was ice in one form or another.  One of the more interesting things is we had what they call “Thunder Sleet” and “Thunder Snow”.  Essentially it sounded like a rain storm with lightning and thunder, but as the precipitation fell it turns into sleet on the way down.  After a day of this I texted my boss about 9pm saying that I was not even going to try getting out this morning.  At that point I was apparently the third person to say the same thing, and he was not sure if he was going to try and make it or not.

I am really questioning if my wife will be having school tomorrow either.  At some point today I need to go out and try and clear the vehicles, as I am sure tomorrow morning I will be driving into work.  Honestly when a day like today happens work pretty much shuts completely down, and it is their own damned fault.  Once upon a time we would work remotely during a snowstorm, and things would continue moving forward.  However the current management made a point of stating that there was no official working from home policy, and as a result we all take vacation days and ignore email.  I think they were far better off the other way around, because at this point… it damned well better be a crisis for me to deal with it when I have spent a vacation day.

The Anchors Fall

eso 2014-03-02 18-47-32-30 I spent I would say the majority of the weekend in Tamriel.  Not that I really felt the rush to play, since I have been part of the private testing group for roughly a year now, but I did want to get to hang out with my friends as they played.  By the end of the weekend I think we had 35 members or so in House Stalwart, and for the most part everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.  There were a few people who simply could not get used to the “action mmo” perma-mouselook interface but overall I think we are going to have a large and bustling guild for launch.  Really that is the most I could hope for.  I entered the weekend with grand ideas of getting to the 15-18 range of Spindleclutch… the first dungeon in Daggerfall.  However i didn’t even get close, ending the weekend around 9.5.

I am really bad at leveling in Elder Scrolls.  There is always this cool thing over here to look at and explore, or this camp of baddies to clean out…  or this bit of ore to mine.  The Elder Scrolls Online is distraction city, and I am a willful participant.  In World of Warcraft, I have learned to “quest grind” and push my way through content extremely quickly.  However in the much more immersive world of ESO I tend to stop and smell the roses quite a bit.  One of the interesting things about the game is that I actually somewhat pride myself on making my own gear.  So the tail end of the night since I was roughly half a level from 10… I was in a mad rush to gather iron ore.  Up to this point I have tried to have a full set of the next level of gear ready to go for when I ding.

I realize I don’t NEED to do this, as you can pretty much get by fine in several levels old gear.  However I like the concept of making my own stuff.  Firstly it levels blacksmithing, but more importantly I always know where my next upgrade is coming from.  Granted it usually means I am well over level since wandering around mining ore, tends to mean you are also killing a ton of bad guys and soaking up extra experience.  Right now I am just ready for this to launch.  It feels like I have been waiting for this to happen for so long, and now we have a month left before go time.  I am ready for my characters to finally be permanent and my choices to matter for longer than a weekend.  Since I didn’t explain it… the above image is of a Dolmen moments before a Dark Anchor is about to fall.  If you see this scene… go somewhere else… because if the anchor falls on you… you end up taking massive damage.

Not on Easy Mode

Risk of Rain 2014-03-02 13-38-59-06 After my little Steampowered Sunday write up, my friend Ashgar informed me that even though it says “very easy” in the upper right corner… that is apparently a lie.  He said he could tell from the things on screen that I was not in “easy” mode, and that I should try that setting.  So sure enough I fired up the game a bit later in the day and noticed that I was not in fact on easy mode.  In fact when I DID set it to easy, I managed to get through the first level just fine.  Well “just fine” being relative, because the game is still maddening at times.  However after a few deaths I managed to progress to stage two “Sky Meadow”.

There I proceeded to die rather spectacularly over and over.  So while the game is a BIT less abusive on “easy”, it is still maddening.  I am probably going to fire this up every now and then, just because at this point I really want to see more of it.  I don’t know why I do… but I do.  This is like a puzzle that I want to crack, and I don’t understand WHY I want to open it…  but I really do.  Ash says this is one of his more played steam games, and I can see why.  There is just something about it that gets under your skin and makes you want to play more.  It is so brutally unapologetic in the way it kills you, that you want to keep getting back up just to try and piss the game off.

Risk of Rain

Steampowered Sunday #7

Risk of Rain 2014-03-02 09-18-14-54 I feel like I am getting on on this bandwagon about three months too late.  Risk of Rain is an interesting indie metroidvania shooter, with randomly generated worlds and randomly placed objectives.  I remember seeing this and thinking, man that looks cool.  So I picked it up over the Christmas break, but never ended up playing it.  When I started this whole Steampowered Sunday section this was also the very first game I think that a friend of mine gifted me to do a write up on. It was at that point that I knew sooner or later I would have to devote a Sunday morning to it.  It was with a certain bit of trepidation that I finally sat down to play it.  I had watched a few streamers playing this… and saw the frustration of them dying horribly over and over.

Your Death Was Extremely Painful

Risk of Rain 2014-03-02 09-24-45-79 I honestly cannot remember a game that has been quite so successful at making me feel like a complete and total failure.  I just finished playing roughly thirty minutes of the game and I feel like I want to throw the controller across the room.  I of course won’t because I don’t want to break my favorite controller.  The deck is stacked against you from the start it feels like, and the longer you take to find the teleporter, the worse the enemies get.  However the longer you hold out, the better your chances are because you level up and can unlock various abilities throughout the level.  The best I managed was getting to level 8 before finally getting swarmed to death by so many adds on screen at one time.

Risk of Rain 2014-03-02 09-41-17-18 The problem I had with this level is I seriously could not find the damned teleporter.  I wandered all over the place, picking up all sorts of nifty things, but never finding the actual objective.  This is the real frustration of the game for me, is the dual missions…  find the teleporter fast, and level up and find interesting weapons.  When you finally do trigger the teleporter, you have to stay alive for 90 seconds while this insanely huge colossus attacks you, along with tons of other baddies that have spawned in.  I have made it to the colossus phase half a dozen times at this point but the closest I have managed to make it is 30 seconds to go.

Risk of Rain 2014-03-02 09-20-26-56 I think in part my issue is that it is set up with “modern” controller settings.  I am just not used to using my trigger buttons for anything.  I am far better controlling games with the face pad, so I have considered remapping the controls greatly to put all of my cooldowns on the face buttons.  This is a side effect of growing up in the Atari/Nintendo/Super Nintendo era and pretty much disappearing from consoles in any serious way until Playstation/Playstation 2.  I am just used to having everything controlled with the thumb buttons, and even while playing super nintendo games I tended to remap the controllers to put the buttons I almost NEVER pressed on the shoulder buttons.

Risk of Rain 2014-03-02 09-37-18-04 The game itself is pretty gorgeous, and for not having many pixels to work with, the sprites evoke a sense of character to them.  It honestly reminds me of the same kind of graphical treatment that the old school PC lemmings games used to have.  Super intricate world made up of super tiny sprites.  The music adds a certain character of foreboding to the alien landscape.  Running around this world just feels eerie and I can’t really explain why.  The purplish color palette fits the first level, but I am not sure if this changes the further you go in the game.  The game is extremely well crafted for the limited resources it has on screen at a given time.

Risk of Rain 2014-03-02 09-29-06-21 What the game reminds me of honestly is a bullet hell shooter, but if a bullet hell shooter started out extremely sparse and continued to get progressively worse over time.  In most bullet hell games there is a point of equilibrium where “it can get no worse”.  Once you reach that point you can adjust to it, and move forward.  Risk of Rain always gets worse, there is no point at which you can really take a breather from the gameplay and prepare for the next assault.  Each of the mobs on screen has a pattern, but some of them are purposefully non-complimentary.  So far the things that always seem to kill me are the little flying jellyfish things.  At the very least they whittle down my health to a point where one of the other mobs, like a lemurian can finish me off.

As maddening as I found the game, and while I could only take thirty minutes in one sitting… I have to say I enjoyed myself.  I kinda want to boot the game up again and give it another try until I can defeat the first level.  The game is extremely enjoyable and the concepts are simple enough to pick up in a few minutes.  Survival is the major problem.  I think if I could find the leech seed again, and then locate the teleporter early on I would be able to make it through the 90 second phase.  If I got better at using the trigger buttons, namely to dodge I would have had a much better chance of success as well.  Sooner or later I will have to adapt to “modern” controller layouts, because this new fangled trigger button thing apparently is not going away.

Now For Something New

For some time now, I have gathered up not only a backlog of games to play… but also thanks to the various humble bundle packs, a number of duplicates.  As a result I have decided to start hosting a contest.  The idea is that you the reader votes for the next game to be featured on Steampowered Sunday.  I picked 10 possible titles from my steam backlog, and you the reader will pick which one you want me to play next sunday.  During Saturday’s blog post I will declare a winner and choose a random submitter to win the game that is up for grabs that week.  This week I will be giving away a copy of the original Bioshock.  For this giveaway you must have a steam account to be eligible.  I will be tabulating the results using a Google Form.  If you are not interested in the game, but want to vote anyways… there is an option for that as well.

Click Here To Vote

Farcry 3: BLood Dragon

Steampowered Sunday #6

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 10-10-19-77 A few weeks back I did Steampowered Sunday over Far Cry 3, and thanks to the frustrations of dealing with UPlay I didn’t really give it that stellar of a rating.  The forced stealth play just was not my thing, but one resounding chorus from folks responding to the post was…  play Blood Dragon instead.  From the moment I saw the artwork for the title… I knew I would love it, because I am an unrepentant child of the 80s.  Everything about the game artwork alone screams 1980’s arcade cabinet artwork.  Hand drawn polygon landscapes were a thing that became insanely popular in the post War Games sequence of games.  We all wanted to be part of cyberspace in one way or another… even though at the time this was a largely fictional destination.  Which leads to the question…  did William Gibson predict the future in Neuromancer… or did we just build his future because of our love for it.  That however is a topic for a completely different day.

All the Movies Rolled Into One

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 10-08-52-77 This game is in every way a love song for not only the video games of the 1980s but the movies as well.  You start off with a minigun raid on a base form a Helicopter, while Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally” plays on the stereo… a song that featured heavily in the pinnacle of 80s scifi action movies… Predator.  It just keeps getting better from there.  If you took Robocop, Universal Soldier, Ultraforce, and dumped them in a blender with Bad Dudes, Shinobi, and Duke Nukem…  you might come close to creating a game like this.  The visuals seem like a 1980s movie arcade scene vomited its magenta and red neon all over your screen.  I could pick apart the picture above and name a dozen different movie and video game references in this one shot alone.

The Music is So Authentic

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 10-35-53-80 The visuals would not be enough to deliver the feeling of travelling back in time… but the music is really where the game scores 110%.  Listening to the insane synths gave me flash backs of so many separate movies at once.  I mean you could take this game as making fun of all the absolutely over the topness that was the 1980s, but instead they chose to make it some sort of a time capsule.  For someone who lived through all of this, it is like a really crazy trip down memory lane.  I had moments where I remembered the first time I watched Terminator, the first time I caught Highlander on HBO, the first time I watched Big Trouble In Little China… and Escape from New York.  While none of it really is some kind of clone of the original tracks that obviously inspired it… it has the same feeling of sonic dissonance, driving drum machines and power chords.

Neon Archery Should Be A Thing

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 10-55-33-41 The weapons not only look great, but they are really functional.  There is a sequence not far from the start of the game where like every 80s movie… you are captured and stripped of all of your weapons.  Your fearless hero that has named Captain Rex Colt Power…  has to get by with nothing but a bow and the ability to use the environmental behemoths… the Blood Dragons to take down a base.  Sure the Blood Dragons do a lot of heavy lifting, but I feel like some sort of Neon Green Arrow as I headshot the guards with a bow.  Firstly…  I would wonder how the hell I could sneak around with glowing arms, and massively glowing weapons.  However since everything in this world seems to glow… I am guessing also glowing is a form of camouflage?   Whatever the reasoning behind it, things look badass.  I mean as a child of the 80s… making something glow neon and putting skulls and spikes on it… is the absolute guarantee for making something awesome.

The Stealth Did Not Piss Me Off

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 10-10-47-01 Normally I hate stealth in games, but there is something about this game that simply changing the skins and color palettes immediately makes the default Far Cry 3 engine feel so much better.  I think in part it is because I know that if I perform a take down, I get to see the awesome glowing blue wakizashi slice through the enemy and spill light blue glowing cyber fluid.  Additionally there is a completely broken and overpowered ability to chain a bunch of take downs together by pressing your movement keys in the direction of the next mob in sequence.  So far I have managed to take down 4 at once, but I imagine in later levels this becomes completely ludicrous.  I think mostly my problem with stealth in games is the whole idea of a “bloodless” victory.  I play these games to kill everything that stands, and when a storyline impedes me from doing this… my brain rebels.

The Cut Scenes are Amazing

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 11-00-25-95 Normally I also hate cut scenes of pretty much any kind.  However apparently if you take those cut scenes… make them infused with the spirit of the 80s… and hand drawn…  apparently I love them?  The combination of the arcade game style pixel artwork and cheesy action movie dialog makes the whole experience enjoyable for me.  That seems to really be an undercurrent of this game, “taking things Bel hates and making them enjoyable.”  One of the more humorous moments is when your stereotypical mouthy partner initiates a tutorial sequence moments after dropping you on the island as a way of screwing with you.  So you are forced there to sit through a sequence of tutorial commands… all the while you are yelling at your partner for making you do them.  This is an awesome and irreverent way of making you play through the basic commands so that you know how the game controls.

The Game Is Still Farcry 3

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 10-58-28-51 Everything about the game is still very much Farcry 3.  You move around the world capturing back positions… but instead of doing so from generic badguys that happen to all wear red bandanas… you are doing it from the Omega Force androids.  I guess at the end of the day it is all about the packaging.  If you have played Farcry 3, you know how the gameplay works.  Capture a base, which opens up side missions, which then leads to the next base to capture.  The key difference everything from Farcry has been taken to eleven.  One of my favorite things is capturing cyber hearts and then using it to lure the Blood Dragons to bases and make them do your work for you.  I mean what is cooler than than giant dinosaurs with glowing neon stripes… that have a plasma cannon breath attack?  While I gave Farcry 3, a colossal score of 3 Mehs out of Meh…  I have to give the Blood Dragon counterpart 5 Kick Asses out of Fucking Awesome.

fc3_blooddragon_d3d11 2014-02-23 10-47-07-97 While I have not really made it terribly far into the game at this point, I know this will be one that I return to and play again quite often.  It is the sort of game you need to be in the mood for mindless carnage to be able to enjoy.  At this point I have secured the first base, and started working on some of the side missions.  Every now and then I come home from work, and just need to kill something.  This is the ideal game to reach for, because the objectives pretty much are all “kill all the things”.  There is zero subtlety here, but I am not really that subtle of a person, so it works for me.  Since this is such a nostalgic ride for me, I find it odd how popular it has been among generations of folks who did not live this experience the first time.  Maybe the camp of the 80s is universal and will always appeal.  God save us all.

Belghast and The Ark

Horribly Sidetracked

eso 2014-02-16 13-11-46-68 Saturday when I wrote my little impressions piece on the Elder Scrolls Online, I managed to get horribly sidetracked in the process of explaining the questing section.  At one point I said “Generally speaking the side quests serve two real purposes” but only actually managed to give you a single purpose.  I managed to get myself on a tangent and forget what I was saying.  So let me take another stab at explaining the questing system.  Generally speaking when you go into an area there is a critical path that you can take to go through it with the least number of quests.  If you want to piddle around and carve your own path this is a good thing.

For example in Stros M’Kai the Daggerfall Covenant starter zone, you are asked to find one of three crew members before continuing on.  You can literally just find one crew member and be just fine, and the game will allow you to continue forward.  However you can find all of the crew members, and each one will do something for you in the final quest before leaving the desert island.  Additionally your choices matter going forward.  If you choose to kill someone, or fail to save someone… they won’t be there later on at a critical time when you could use your assistance.

That is one of the things I like most about the questing system.  It works much like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, in that you get introduced to a character that keeps popping back up in later quests and even later zones.  Failing to save a character, means they will no longer exist in the later stages.  Occasionally the game will force you to make a hard choice, between two sets of NPCs.  When this happens one of those paths will forever be sealed from you.  I you choose to help this person, the other person will either die or be so infuriated that they will never help you again.

Basically your decisions matter, and they matter a lot.  So while it might not seem that the immediate consequences are all that bad, they will have future ramifications.  So while the first purpose of side quests is to get gear, the second purpose is to unlock future story points.  You never know when a person you have helped will show back up and lend assistance later.  Often times this is in the form of making a future quest a little easier as they lend some unique ability to the fight.  However in a few cases this means you may have missed out on a really cool quest chain because the NPC was not there to give it.

Turret Orchestra

portal2 2014-02-16 15-13-06-97 After my little write up yesterday about Portal 2… I got a whole lot of responses that amounted to “no wait, you haven’t even gotten to the good part”.  Then that they apparently couldn’t tell me about the good part without massive spoilers.  Sure enough I managed to play through to the beginning of chapter 5, and the game has changed once again ever so slightly.  Now I think I want to know what is going to happen enough to continue playing.  I have my assumptions of the end result, but who knows they might be completely wrong.  For the most part I have managed to stay blissfully unaware about the ending of the game to this point.

There were a few really annoying levels, but now I am in a part that is more freeform.  The coolest thing I have seen to date is the Turret Orchestra.  While roaming around in this new free form area, I kept hearing this music playing that sounded kind of like a bunch of accordions.  Finally I was able to see what it was, and it was several of the turrets playing in unison.  I have a feeling that I will somehow be freeing the various robots under the control of GlaDOS, or at least that seems like a potential subtheme for the game.

Like I said right now I have no real idea where exactly I am heading apart from following what seems like an obvious path carved out for me.  I am sure at this point I will plan the game to its conclusion, so it managed to get its hooks into me.  While I am not sure if I would call it a truly great game yet, it is enjoyable.  I am sure there is some grand reveal to happen down the road, that will make me shift my opinion again.  However I stand by my original assessment.  Fun game with a cool gimmick.

Belghast and The Ark

It will come as no real surprise to anyone who has ever followed me on the various social media platforms that I use… that I am a pet person.  That said there are probably few people who really know how deep that particular rabbit hole goes.  As it stands right now, neither my wife nor I plan on having children.  My wife swears that teaching high school is the strongest form of birth control known to man.  This is not to say we don’t have children, they just happen to be covered in fur.  I personally have always had a close affinity with pets, and even if it is something I would not want for myself… I seem to be able to befriend animals quickly.  While I would never have a bird, each time I went over to a friends house one of his birds would hop up on my shoulder and stay there until I finally placed him back on his perch.

kitties_sunningCurrently we have three cats, all of which are pictured above sunning themselves in the afternoon light of our stairwell.  On the left is the mammoth monster cat Chloe, in the back is our mostly black Calico Allie, and if you have been reading these factoids you have already met little shit.  Each of them is a rescue, because I believe all animals deserve a second chance at a great home.  Each rescue especially has its own personality, and comes with its own quirks.  These “quirks” can be frustrating at times, but they make up the complex personality of each animal… so even the annoyances you come to love.  Chloe for example obsessively licks anything and everything…  which can be sweet at times until she hops up in bed with you at 3 am and licks your arm.  Seriously there is nothing freakier than waking up to that.  She however is the most amazing snuggler, when you can succeed at the complex game of keeping your arms and hands away from her mouth.

threeheadsinablanket Similarly we also have three ferrets, and they are some of the most adorable animals you could ever have.  Here they are snuggled together under a blanket in their playpen.  At this point I have woken two of them… and moments later they will be bouncing around the cage like mad.  This is the problem with ferret photography… you get one chance to take a shot before they go super sonic.  From the left we have our old man… Smokey that came to us as part of a rescue pair of littermates.  His sibling Bandit passed away some time ago, and he himself is nearing the end of his journey as well… but we are trying to make him as comfortable and happy as we can while we have him.  Next to him is Shiloh, that was a returned to a local pet store and put back up for adoption.  I cannot fathom why anyone would ever return her because she is so adorable, and has a little badger face.  Finally we have miss “Bella” which is short for Bellatrix, the name her original mommy gave her.  She had a much older ferret named Judah that Bela apparently upset regularly, so it was with many tears that she gave her over to us.

Over the years we’ve had lots more animals, including a hamster, a guinea pig, and a pair of sugar gliders.  All of them have been our babies while they have been with us, and we have sought to give them the best home we can.  Often times it is these little guys that are the reason for me getting a slightly later start than normal.  When one is begging for attention… and they are damned good at giving you a guilt trip… how can you possibly say no?  The best at begging has to be Bela.  She will run over to the edge of the playpen and press her body against the ground sticking out her snout in his pouting “poor pittiful me” look.  You would think she NEVER got played with ever.  The moment I reach down into the playpen she will bolt over to me and wait to be picked up.  All she really seems to want is to be picked up and carried around for a bit before finally going back into the playpen and snuggling up for a nap.

Portal 2

Steampowered Sunday #5

Okay here it comes… huge confession time.  Prior to today I had never actually played Portal 2.  I have owned it for ages, and picked it up when it was damned near free on a steam sale.  I always meant to play it, but something… namely an MMO usually happened instead.  Here goes confession number two while we are at it.  I didn’t think Portal was that amazing of a game.  I know shock and confusion all around…  but it fell into the “cute and cleaver” games category.  The whole portal gun thing was brilliant, but the concept of essentially a “puzzle shooter” was fun for a bit but I quickly got tired of it.

To be truthful I am not sure if I would have owned the original portal were it not for the orange box.  I got it as part of that, and even then it was probably a year before I fired it up and played it.  I mostly got the orange box for Half Life 2 and Team Fortress 2, and Portal for me was a bit of a footnote.  Based on the copious amount of cosplay and fan art out there… I can tell that the Portal franchise is a life changing thing for some people.  I was just not one of them.  For ages my friends have pestered me for owning Portal 2 but never actually playing it.  In a way I made a promise to redress that wrong during my Steampowered Sunday series.  Things happened… and I am finally getting down to playing it today for what would be week 6 if I had not skipped a week.

We Weren’t Even Testing That

portal2 2014-02-16 08-59-24-61 For the last hour and a half I have been sitting here playing Portal 2.  While I still for the most part consider this game to be a novelty, so much about it has improved.  Namely the setting seems more enjoyable to me.  The sterile environment of the first lab was interesting, but watching the place fall down around me is far more enjoyable.  It has a Portal meets Fallout feel that I really enjoy.  Additionally the characters are so much more interesting this time around.  GlaDOS was a really cool character in the first game, but now that the gloves are off her lines are that much more enjoyable.  Then we add in Wheatley, which near the beginning of chapter three I have not seen a ton of since the first chapter, but I am figuring that will change soon.

portal2 2014-02-16 09-27-24-38 The game setting is absolutely gorgeous and they have managed to pull off “believable decay”.  Things are broken and out of whack and it feels like they are legitimately so.  Like they used to work at one point and then just collapsed.  So often in a game when the world is disintegrated, you cannot piece it back together in your mind to see what it looked like before the fall.  Here the rooms seem to have all the right number of bits laying around to have been a whole unit at one point.  I am not really sure why this is important to me, but in the games where it is not this way there is a nagging feeling that something is just plain off.  Even in my beloved fallout series there are plenty of locations that have a chunk of the building broken off, but nowhere near enough debris to account for it.

portal2 2014-02-16 09-14-22-48 There are two really cool stories going on at the same time, that are what if anything would keep me playing through the rest of the game.  The first is… GlaDOS seems to think you are the same person who destroyed her in game one.  If that is the case… how did you end up back in stasis.  The other thing going on that I want to know more about are the weird messages that get left to you through the chambers.  These are almost always well hidden, in a chamber behind an angled panel or something of the sort… just a bit off the planned path.  I’ve snapped a few of these so far but I imagine that when taken together they will make some additional story.

I’ve really let the place go since you killed me

portal2 2014-02-16 09-09-10-54 I have no idea how long the game is, but at this point I saved out and gave up on the first of the light bridge puzzles in chapter 3.  This seemed like a good stopping point since it was the first time I had actually died.  I feel that maybe the puzzles are easier this time around, either that or I was simply lucky.  I was able to breeze through most of them to that point.  Since the first game was so popular I wonder if maybe they watered down the difficulty level a bit for mainstream success.  Not saying that is a bad thing necessarily, but it does give the game a feeling that it is just easier.  I remember in the first one I was having to retry levels pretty early on at least by the time I reached room 10.  It feels like I am further into the game right now than that.  Maybe the “real” game didn’t actually start until Chapter 2, and I am just counting all the training stuff at the beginning to make it feel longer.

The rooms I always do badly at are the ones that involve going out over massive pits of water.  I don’t handle platforming over open air that well, never really have in any game.  Those levels add extra anxiety to my movement and I think I screw up more often.  Namely on the light bridge I just could not see the hook point for a portal where I needed one.  I figure that room is one I will have to die a bunch on to be able to find the “secret”.  Generally speaking the key to every room is this one little nugget of information that you either see immediately or it takes a truly silly number of tries to finally find it.  I am by no means an observational genius, in fact I am usually good at overlooking the painfully obvious… so I am sure it is just a case of that at work again.

there’s nothing to stop us from testing for the rest of your life

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I have to give my friends credit in that Portal 2 is a much better game than the original.  However that said I still do not see it as this life affirming phenomena that everyone else seems to.  It is a good game, and has some interesting characters and an even more interesting setting.  The gameplay is novel, but there is a point where I feel like I am just done with it for a a sitting.  I am not sure if I will go back and finish playing through it.  The best thing about the Portal experience is that for the most part you can play a single level at a time without feeling like you are missing something.  I know I played through the first one over the course of about 12 gameplays.  When I couldn’t really play anything else that was too involved, like when I was waiting on something to cook… I would fire it up and figure out a level, constantly inching closer to the finale.

I have a feeling Portal 2 may just claim this slot for me, that game I play when I don’t have time to play something more detailed.  At the very least it did not instill in me that feeling of “omg I have to finish this”.,  I am happy to eventually beat it, but I am also equally happy not to.  The game however is really well done, and I can at least see why so many people love it.  I think I am just wired wrong for this sort of single player experience.  At some point I would like to check out the multiplayer game, as I have heard that it is a completely different animal.  I would imagine it plays a lot like forced where you can royally screw up your friends by not doing the right thing at exactly the right time.  For now at least I have to say it was an hour and a half well spent.

Everquest Next Landmark

Steampowered Sunday #4

This morning I have scarfed my tasty oatmeal and downed my huge skull mug full of coffee.  Now I am ready to break some of my own rules.  Namely I am writing this morning what I had intended to write last week.  At the point of last Sunday I had Everquest Next Landmark in my hands for roughly 48 hours, so that in itself was a bit rule breaking since previously my Steampowered Sunday posts were literally me playing the game and then writing my impression of it.  However since the Landmark servers spent most of Sunday down, and I could not gather up the screenshots I wanted, I ended up writing a different post and skipping Steampowered Sunday all together.  This week, I am picking up where I intended.  Next week we will return to my normal slapshod impression posts of a game from my steam list, but this week is devoted to Landmark.

Everquest Next Landmark

EverQuestNextLandmark64 2014-02-09 11-52-01-26 Firstly before digging into this post, you have to understand something.  Everquest was my first real MMO.  While I had played quite a bit of Phantasy Star Online over on the Dreamcast, EQ was the game that got me hooked on the genre.  As a result I have this massive soft spot in my heard for all things Norrath.  I love the setting, the pantheon of gods, the racial tension…  and while I just cannot bring myself to go back to the original Everquest, I always keep EQ2 installed and at the ready for when I need a nostalgic binge.  So back in August during SOE Live 2013 when they announced Everquest Next, the game they had kept pretty well under wraps until that point… to say the least I was extremely interested.  While I had deep concerns about the class design for Next I was absolutely pumped at the prospect of this new thing they called Landmark.

Minecraft++

EverQuestNextLandmark64 2014-02-09 11-57-07-44 I believe it was Jesse Cox that called Everquest Next Landmark, Minecraft on Crack… but in truth that is neither fair to Minecraft nor Landmark.  It is very much the case that a game like this simply would not exist were it not for Notch and his vision to create a fully destructable cube world in Minecraft.  Landmark is more akin to Minecraft Evolved or to use the codemonkey term…  Minecraft++.  The world feels completely different at first, but as you dig into it, the same kinds of logic that we adapted to while branch mining for diamonds in Minecraft mostly apply here to.  The difference is, that with Landmark it feels like they are only scratching the surface of what they can do with the engine.  They have grand plans to use Landmark as a testbed for ideas that will eventually work their way into the eventual Everquest Next product.

The world of Landmark is arranged as a group of “Islands” assigned to a specific server that are connected by a network of the Combine Spires.  First I have to say how pumped I am to see the Combine Spire concept visualized so wonderfully in this world.  It just wouldn’t feel like a EQ game without the spire travel network.  My only desire would be for them to eventually give us a hearthstone type construct that lets us fast travel to our claim.  For those of us who were not lucky enough to get claims near the spires, it becomes a trek each time we want to get to our claim to do work. 

Your Claim in the World

EverQuestNextLandmark64 2014-02-09 12-32-18-01  Right now the claims system works pretty well, but each of the worlds is so full that it become a crapshoot to try and find anyplace to set down roots.  Every grey colored flag represents some players claim on Liberation/Pingo where I set down roots.  The blue flag represents my home, and it is a fair clip from the teleport spires.  When I managed to get into game the Saturday after release, all of the tier 1 and tier 2 zones were essentially full, and there was nothing at all even vaguely close to one of the spires.  Right now the game allows you to plunk down a claim in a freeform fashion so long as it is a certain amount of space away from any nearby claims.  The problem with this is it allows for some inefficient use of space.

What I would love to see is a system more like Trove with fixed claim points that you  just walk up to and take over.  This does two things that are really important.  Firstly it allows for the space to be divided up for maximum efficiency letting a fixed number of players inhabit each and every map.  Secondly… and this is huge… it allows for a “No Vacancy” sign of sorts to be placed on the islands that simply have no room left at all.  Right now a brand new player has to teleport from island to island until they find one that looks like it has a bit of free space… sometimes running out there only to find that a new claim cannot be placed.  My friend Rae went through this process yesterday and I have to say it sounded extremely frustrating.

Your Pick and A Dream

EverQuestNextLandmark64 2014-02-02 20-11-11-59 You are dropped into this world with only the most basic of supplies.  Currently everyone playing the game has the founders pick, which is a combination of the lowest pick axe and a pretty high tier axe allowing them to mine copper, stone and dirt and chop down all but the largest trees.  Once this goes beta however, most players will enter the game with the Stone Pick and Stone Axe, much slower versions of the founders pick.  In order to progress you have to gather a seriously large number of resources.  Currently the conversion rate is generally 100 raw resources to 1 finished resource.  To make your first upgrade, the copper pick you need to gather 1000 copper, be lucky enough to get 10 elemental copper a rare drop, and gather up 1000 plain wood logs.  Then on top of that… not all Copper Picks are created equal.  They range from very slow green quality picks to truly amazing legendary quality picks that cut through stone like butter.

EverQuestNextLandmark64 2014-02-09 12-01-55-34

At this point I feel like a lot of the resource costs need to be balanced but they do give a player something to shoot for.  For example my next tier upgrade of pick requires me to gather up 6,000 plain wood, 90 sapphire, 30 extremely rare elemental cobalt, 500 also rare burled wood, and 3000 cobalt ore.  To make it worse… to even craft this I need to upgrade my crafting machines to the next tier.  You start off with access to a basic forge at the combine spires, and then after that you need to craft your own machines… or find a very kind member that has all of the crafting machines out in the open on their own claim.  This is one of the things I am loving the most about Landmark so far… it is building a little community.

I am going to draw a comparison that rarely gets drawn in a positive light.  The crafter camaraderie reminds me so much of the early days of Horizon.  That game was ahead of its time in so many ways, but primarily in the great crafting system that made it a positive thing for crafters and adventurers alike to work together on these massive scale public works projects.  I remember spending hours as a Reaver guarding crafters as they brought loads of materials to be applied to one of the big bridges that would then connect up to a brand new untouched island.  The crafter gear was not suited for combat, and was needed to be able to carry the maximum amount of materials to the work sight, so an alliance sprung up so that these crafters could be ferried safely from the nearest resource field to the very dangerous work sight.

In a very similar spirit, players are dedicating their claim to becoming a crafting hub for their island.  The above claim is just off the spires in Liberation/Hollows and belongs to a player that I don’t even know named Linerra.  But she has so graciously opened it up to the public, and every night this place becomes a hub of players crafting up new bits for their own claims.  I am not sure she will ever fully know how much I appreciate what she is doing.  While I want to make the latest machines, when it comes time for me to craft my cobalt pick I will likely visit her hub, instead of gathering the 80 Elemental Cobalt, 8000 Cobalt Ore, 9000 Tungsten Ore, and 6000 Amaranthine to craft the Amaranthine Forge needed to create it. 

EverQuestNextLandmark64 2014-02-07 01-18-10-83 I have been surprised that my own claim has become a hub of sorts for my area of Pingo, so I have the motivation to eventually upgrade all of my machines to the highest level.  I have since moved the crafting machines from my porch to the undercroft, but I left a note in my claim banner indicating where they can now be found.  Awesome thing is, I have struck up a friendship with a few of the players who visit my home regularly to craft.  This sense of being neighborly is a really interesting dynamic to me.  Yesterday as I was working on the third and fourth floors of my forest temple I was constantly having players swing by and say hello.

Building Tool Progression

EverQuestNextLandmark64 2014-02-02 22-13-44-02 One of the things that is drawing mixed reception is the gating of building tool mechanics.  When you start the game you are given a package that contains the Add, Remove and Heal tools that can be used to build on your claim.  The above image is of me clearing the voxels from my claim with the remove tool.  These can be scaled and changed in shape and the material and texture they apply, but represent a very rudimentary “minecraft esc” way of building.  Later there are much more powerful tools like the selection tool that allows you to apply a material to a much larger section, or use the really powerful cut and paste functions.  There has been a bit of grumbling that it takes so much farming before you get these more advanced tools.  I however think this is probably a good idea.

Sticking with the three simplest tools forces you to “learn the basics” before getting into something that can cause issues if you are not careful.  Selecting large areas lets you do something really quickly, but at the same time you can also make some pretty big mistakes with it.  Most of my building is still done with the add/remove tools, and I tend to use the selection and smooth tools extremely sparingly.  I have heard that the line tool is even more powerful when you get it, but similarly if you don’t have a basic understanding of how to get the most of using the fixed tools on and off the grid, it becomes easier for you to make mistakes when handed the really game changing tools later on.

The above video is a really good resource for showing off the basics of crafting with tools on your claim.    While I have been piddling with this game for a little over a week now, I still feel like I am constantly picking up tricks.  The best thing about the system is that it is so simple and easy to gasp, especially for anyone who has ever played Minecraft.  At the same time it is infinitely complex in the number of things you can do with it.  People are creating some really crazy things, especially using the smooth tool to even go so far as to create massive sculptures.  When they finally open the player studio, it will be interesting to see just what sorts of widgets players have constructed.  Right now the only thing of any worth that I have crafted is a prefab staircase that I have used multiple times in my forest temple to move between levels.

Only Scratching the Surface

EverQuestNextLandmark64 2014-02-09 11-53-03-37 It really feels like we have only begun to scratch the surface for what Landmark can be.  I know they plan on adding in a full combat system with randomly spawned encounters, as well as multiple tiers of exploration to each of the islands.  They showed digging down into caverns and lava chambers in the launch video, and from all I have heard that is still very much planned for landmark.   Even without all of that the game is extremely addicting and is scratching every builder itch I could possibly have.  That is not to say however that it is a finished product in any fashion.  The thing I warn players before they plunk down their money to buy their way into the Alpha process… remember that this is an Alpha in every sense of the word.  Stuff is broken at times… and that is okay.

I grumbled a bit last week as I had my claim completely wiped five or six times before they got to the bottom of the issues with saving voxel changes to the database.  I expect this, I knew what I was getting into… and I have begun building in a really large way knowing that at some point down the road it is all going to get wiped into oblivion.  By building and testing I am ultimately helping to make a better finished product.  I’ve alpha and beta tested hundreds upon hundreds of games at this point, and this is something that I just take as part of the price for helping to shape the end result.  But for players who are used to the “almost finished game being called an alpha” definition of recent years…  expect things to go haywire.

After saying all of that, I fully believe that this game is worth investing in.  The game that is there is extremely fun, but we will be seeing so much more over the coming months.  In the week we have already seen a handful of patches and new featured added in like the ability to hit the down arrow in the crafting window to easily craft the maximum number of items.  Each time I log in, I find something new that got patched in when I was not paying attention.  I love watching a game get created before my eyes, and the level of transparency the SOE folks have been giving us is phenomenal.  I look forward to working together to help craft what eventually ends up being Everquest Next and beginning a epic gaming tradition.

Far Cry 3

Steampowered Sunday #3

I guess at this point Steampowered Sunday is a real thing now.  I have friends nudging me in certain directions towards games I have in my steam list that I have yet to play.  Today I intended to play one game, but wound up playing another as I didn’t really plan ahead and pre-emptively install it.  So instead I decided to choose a game I did install over the Christmas break but never got around to playing.  One of my good friends snagged Far Cry 3 from my Steam wish list and gifted it to me during the insane Christmas sale.  I had always heard really amazing things about the game, so it sounded like something I would enjoy.

Already Installed DirectX Checkbox

farcry3_d3d11 2014-01-26 11-22-38-48 Be warned today’s post is going to be far more about the frustrations of trying to play a game… than actually playing one.  I had installed Far Cry 3 beforehand, but never actually fired it up.  So of course when I went to launch the game I had to suffer through the usual steam bullshit that involves installing every driver and redistributable known to man.  You would think that by now steam would have figured out a way to set a machine level flag that says “we’ve made this sucker install directx over 10 times, surely we can take it easy on him now”.  On top of the normal bullshit… I had to deal with something I had never seen before  called UPlay.

I guess this means that I have never actually played a Ubisoft game on the PC, since this seems to be required to play any of them.  For starters it took a truly silly amount of time to download and install, and then it prompted me for a login.  Since I didn’t think I had an account, I stubbed out the normal “Belghast” login, only to be told that it already existed.  At this point I scratch my head because maybe at some point in the past I did in fact set up UPlay.  I notice there is a handy reset password option, so I went through the steps to reset it to my email address.

At no point did it say “dumbass you don’t have an account”, it just said it would be sending an email to reset my password.  I waited a truly silly amount of time, refreshing the email window, and apparently locked my account out in the process.  However no emails actually arrived even after scanning the bowels of my gmail account, and sifting through half a dozen broken english versions of “your battle.net account is being banned” phishing attempts.  Turns out I am guessing I really do not have a UPlay account, either that or it was somehow set up on the PS3 and seemingly irrelevant to my PC.  So either this happened or there really are more Belghasts out in the world, as a result I had to set up my account on an old username that used for years.

Gameplaying Time?

farcry3_d3d11 2014-01-26 11-05-32-65 So finally I am able to log into the game and launch it.  I am greeted by the usual cinematic that I ignore and keep pressing the escape key trying to skip out of as soon as possible.  It appears that I am a rich d-bag, and have equally rich and d-bag friends that are amped about spending my trust fund on an island vacation.   Apparently also at some point we think it is a great idea to skydive onto a pirate held island… because you know the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney never harmed us… so surely the real thing will just give us candy or something.  Color me surprised when we manage to get kidnapped and held for ransom so our equally rich and d-bag parents to pay.

At this point after spending the first hour of the morning trying to get into the game due to the frustration that is UPlay… I am wanting to slaughter everything in sight.  Just give me a gun, point me in the direction of a slaver and I will go Rambo on their asses and save the day.  Conveniently for me, every single bad guy in the game seems to be wearing the same red shirt and red hat… making it super handy for drawing crosshairs down on them.  I love it when bad guys shop at the same place, because I can’t be bothered to think before blowing them away.

But Wait… Stealth Time

farcry3_d3d11 2014-01-26 11-12-13-85 There are few things I hate more in the world, than having to sneak around and be stealthy in video games.  So when I finally get control of my character what do I get to do? Sneak around and avoid being seen as I play through a super on-rails cinematic.  This is one of the things that frustrates me the most about modern games… namely those that started their life originally as a console game.  They seem to relish the concept of making you play through a bunch of shit before actually letting you play the game.  If I have to follow a predetermined path, while doing a sequence of events that are unchangeable… it is a cinematic.  Letting me control my character as I go through the cinematic just makes it all the more unhinging.

For me the ideal intro to a game like this is the Elder Scrolls style…  you arrive as a prisoner, someone breaks out out and then bam you are on your merry way causing mayhem.  I guess the more I think about it…  Oblivion and Skyrim both had some pretty frustrating “follow the dumbass npc” sequences early on… but they felt brief enough and in both cases you got to diverge from the script heavily if you desired.  This on the other hand was sneaking about following a path set aside by your macho army brother… all the while you have nothing that you can really do other than throwing some rocks.  Man I am a badass at throwing rocks… let me tell you.

Can It Be Fun Time?

farcry3_d3d11 2014-01-26 11-15-15-67 So despite your best attempts at avoiding being seen… your dumbass brother runs right into the pistol of the big baddy that you met earlier in the cage.  So you get to play a fun game of trying to mash your space bar hard enough to keep your brother from bleeding out.  Guess what… he bleeds out regardless of how hard you play whack a mole with your keyboard.  In a strange turn of events… instead of just shooting you in the back like you would think the big ultimate bad guy would do….  he decides to release you out into the jungle.  So once again I am thinking to myself… man can I finally have control of my character?  Can I finally play this game and do shit at my own pace?  NOPE!!!

What you get to do now is have a weird sequence as you run through the jungle avoiding bears and helicopters flying over, flashing the tree line with spotlights and trying to shoot you.  During this odd sequence you are once again following a predetermined path, and you seem to be able to take damage but never actually die.  At one point it told me to bandage myself, which I did… but it really did not seem to have much to do with success or fail.  Eventually I followed the path, went out onto a rope bridge… I lost a fight with a helicopter and just like baby Moses got tossed into a river only to get found by a seemingly friendly stranger.

Thanks Three Dog

farcry3 2014-01-26 11-43-01-40 While he sounds absolutely nothing like him… this dude for some reason reminds me of Three Dog from Fallout 3.  So I completely missed his name, because in my head he will forever be Three Dog.  Basically he saved you because you have the heart of a warrior… which if funny because up until this point all your character has done is whine constantly about being in the jungle.  I seriously expected him to break out the Dante from Clerks “I’m not even supposed to be here today”.  Essentially he sets up the premise of the story.  The pirate slavers are taking over the island and these mystical tattoo warriors are fighting back.  Since you escaped the camp alive, you are going to be their great white hope to save the day.  You will learn powers that somehow show up on your tattoo because… magic reasons.

So at this point… I am finally starting to wonder if I get to play the game yet or not.  Three Dog gives you some cash and lets you go shopping for a weapon… which basically means you get to buy a pistol… because all you can afford is a pistol.  Now he sends you out into the jungle on a few missions… the first of them is to destroy a jammer on a near by radio tower.  All in all this goes pretty safely other than the fact there is a static spawn snake that just sits there are the base of the tower.  A bullet to the head and you are up the tower and mapping the world.  It seems that as you open up the towers you allow the vendors to get new and spiffier stuff.

Capture Objectives

farcry3 2014-01-26 12-08-27-41 Once the actual game started after wading through what felt like three hours of bullshit… it was pretty fun.  Essentially the game play is a lot like Just Cause 2, where you move around the map weakening the presence of the enemy forces in your area.  Unlike Just Cause however you actually capture the elements for your blue team.  Unlocking new stuff gives you new power-ups in the form of magical tattoo powers, and unlocks new weapons.  Additionally in each outpost you capture there is a mission board that gives you hunting and kill missions.  Hunting seems extremely important in the game as it allows you to upgrade your backpack… allowing you to carry more weapons and equipment.

The kill missions however seem extremely frustrating.  I took the first one, and like always I paid little attention to the mission introduction.  Look I am a big dumb monkey, give me a gun and point me in the direction of the enemies and I will destroy them.  I however rapidly failed the mission because guess what they wanted me to do…  that’s right sneak around and do some ninja stuff, using the nifty new takedown move that Three Dog just taught me.  I have a feeling that if this is the case… I will likely avoid these entirely because like I said before… stealth is not a thing that Belghasts do best.

Will It Blend?

farcry3 2014-01-26 12-10-21-89 All in all the game really is pretty fun, once they actually let you play it.  This game would have been so much better had they just created a simple reason for you to escape and let you pick up from the moment you get rescued by Three Dog without having to suffer through the horrible on-rails pseudo game play.  Hell I feel like it would have been better had your parachute just landed you in the middle of the native camp, and they simply told you that your family was captured.  Bam instant call to action, and instant adventure time.  If you can suffer through two hours of crap, then the game is pretty fun, or maybe you don’t dislike the modern on-rails psuedo-cinematic as much as I do.

In either case it is worth a play through, so long as you don’t end up paying much for the game.  This is definitely not going to be in the same league for me as Skyrim, Bioshock, Dishonored or even Just Cause 2.  However it is still pretty fun and I like the map control aspect of the gameplay.  I just wish there was more direct action early on that let me run amok and cause mayhem.  Granted you have to understand that I have not played Far Cry 2 either, I have only actually played the first one.  In that game you pretty much dropped straight into the action, and I was expecting the same from Far Cry 3.  I figured sooner or later I would give a review that I didn’t just absolutely gush over the game like I did about Hammerwatch and to a lesser extent Steamworld Dig.  I give Far Cry 3… 3 Mehs out of Meh.

Hammerwatch

Steampowered Sunday #2

Steampowered Sunday episode was relatively well received, and that was a pleasant surprise.  So much so that it seems that my friends have conspired to grief me.  When I set forth on this journey I probably had a years worth of games to play before I needed any assistance.  However over the course of the week a good friend of mine, Ashgar, decided that I needed to play a game of his choosing.  So we made plans yesterday to meet up this morning and play some Hammerwatch multiplayer.  I have to say it was a really enjoyable hour, before I needed to leave due to some bad news.

Red Warrior Needs Food Badly

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For starters, Hammerwatch is the fruition of the yet another Steam Greenlight process.  You can buy it without discount for $10 from steam, and at that price I consider it well worth it.  However thanks to the insanity that is the steam sale, you can generally get it at a significant discount.  It is in every way the spiritual successor to the original arcade Gauntlet by Atari.  For those with no cultural reference to this king of all quarter munchers…  it is basically a four player game that focuses on each player providing a different class.  From what I have seen the single player game is just as enjoyable, but the real fun comes from multiple friends working together. 

Classes you have to choose from:

Paladin2 The Paladin

This guy is your basic melee class.  Special attack includes a really handy charge and if you time it just right you can deflect projectiles with the basic attack.  Upgrades later increase the frontal cone of the attack, which makes kiting mobs and killing them from the protection of a corner doable.

Ranger The Ranger

This is your standard archer ranged attack class.  We noticed that there was a significant damage drop off the further the arrows travelled.  Seemed to have the longest range of all of the classes but dealt the least damage.  Special attack is a bomb which comes in super handy when clearing large numbers of mobs.

The_Wizard The Wizard

This one threw me for a loop a bit.  I expected a long ranged fireball when in reality it only actually travels about 5 character lengths.  The special however is a really powerful dragons breath like attack that does massive damage to anything in a short arc in front of the wizard.

Warlock The Warlock

The Warlock is the oddest class.  It has the highest starting health, and really fast mana regen.  However it’s base attack is a relatively weak dagger melee attack.  The special however is a really powerful bolt attack with a range similar to that of the ranger but it seems to consume about half of the starting mana pool.  This is going to lead to some really different game play as I figure there will be a lot of the time you hang back waiting on your mana to recharge.

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Anyone who has ever played the original Gauntlet will recognize the game play immediately.  This is one of those games that I highly suggest you hook up a controller for.  Even moreso I found it far easier to control using a dpad as opposed to an analog stick.  By default player one will be set up to use keyboard controls, so make sure you switch things up before getting into game if you choose to play it with a controller.  The first thing to know about Hammerwatch is that the levels are custom designed and this is not a Rogue-like.  That means traversing each level happens in a non-linear fashion.  There were several times we had to go back to a lower level because a switch triggered something we could do down there. 

We started playing the game on normal mode, but to be honest we did not even last the first level.  On normal, heal options are very few and far between, so this lead myself and Ashgar to be moving around perpetually looking for the next apple or orange.  The positive however is that unlike its predecessor you cannot shoot the food.  You can however accidentally charge through two food items screwing your friend out of getting any.  Yeah I did this a few times when there were apples placed between dart traps.  Of note… the Paladin charge is totally a great way to cheese these.  Everyone else has to time the traps… something I learned when I was playing the ranger later on.

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Unlike Gauntlet, gold is not simply a scoring mechanism.  As you go throughout the level destroying barrels in the proud Diablo tradition, the coins you pick up get added to the purse of both players… which is a really nice mechanic.  I know I started out trying to ration my pickups to make sure I was not absolutely looting Ash into the poor house.  Additionally there are big coins that you can pick up called Vendor Coins.  If you look up in the lower right hand corner of the above screen you will see at this point we had picked up 4 of them, and each one gives you a permanent .5% discount.  The gold you collect is spent on vendors, and the above vendor is one that changes what your weapons do.  For example Sword Damage 1 increased the total amount of damage I dealt, and Sword Arc 1 as I mentioned above changed my sword swing from a 90* arc to a 120* arc making it far more useful.

During the course of the hour we spent playing we found weapon vendors, combo vendors and stat pool vendors.  The combo vendors introduced a new mechanic that if you kill 10 creatures within 1 second of each other you triggered your combo effect.  For example I ended up buying an ability that procced a heal whenever this happened.  Ash on the other hand decided to spend his gold on increasing the amount of time between kills, allowing him to get combos easier. 

Obviously both are useful and needed abilities, but unfortunately at the time we were near the vendor we only had enough money to purchase one.  Combo Nova was one I think we were both eyeing, as it did a huge AOE damage nova whenever you managed to get a combo.  The stat pool vendors were pretty self explanatory, allowing you to either increase your total health pool or your total mana pool.  I ended up purchasing a health pool bump which nearly doubled my total available health.  We were not nearly as good as we could have been about breaking barrels and picking up gold, so I imagine we could have likely afforded a lot more if we were more carefully clearing the rooms.

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My biggest suggestion while playing this game, is to trust your Gauntlet inspired instincts.  There was a mechanic that we just instinctively dealt with that did turn out to be exactly what we thought it was.  The game has mob spawners, that work just like they did in Gauntlet.  If you look above you can notice there are two brown spots on the ground.  I wish I had taken a picture of these before we destroyed them, but these were previously Beetle spawners.  Just like in Gauntlet they appear in a room full of the same kind of mob, and slowly over time spit out more of them.  They seem to be only triggered when you actually aggro the mobs surrounding them. 

The strategy that seemed to work is that Ashgar would gather up the attention of the mobs that were already spawned kiting them around… and I would make a beeline directly for the spawners taking them out.  One of the worst rooms we encountered had 5 worm spawners in them, and Ash through some streak of insanity managed to solo the encounter because I went off in a different direction.  That is another thing of note… this game is not limited to having both characters on screen at the same time, so as a result you can wander off in completely different directions and get lost.  I am thankful that we were both on mumble at the time as we went through the levels.  Ash and I play together enough, and have a similar enough viewpoint that our crude directions were usually successful in allowing us to meet back up.

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As you wander through the levels there will be various objectives.  If you look at the top of the screen you can see four indicators with numbers beside them.  These are in order…  Bronze Key, Silver Key, Gold Key and Extra Lives.  The keys work exactly like you would expect them to work based on the Gauntlet lineage.  You pick up a key and then walk into a wall of the same color.  There are many objectives that are hidden behind walls.  One sequence involved us stepping on four different runes, which then spawned a vendor coin and a treasure chest when the sequence finished.  The above image shows a sequence of four switches that apparently need to be activated to unlock the boss of the level.  We however did not survive long enough to actually see what a boss looks like.

The bane of our existence seemed to be spike traps…which I did not unfortunately get a screenshot for.  There were multiple varieties of these, some were switch puzzles that involved opening up a clear path through the spikes.  Other instances were simply timed puzzles that involved moving through them in a pattern as they cycled on and off.  In all cases however they were essentially a oneshot kill.  Figuring these out pretty much accounted for most of our lost lives.  I figure going in again we would fare far better.  The nastiest surprise is while moving across a large field of synchronized spike traps… that mobs would in fact follow you across.

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Like I said we started the game on Normal and found it to be extremely challenging.  Briefly before I needed to log for a bit we tried playing different classes on Easy mode.  Primarily the only real difference that I could tell is that they were a lot more healing options.  Where on normal there would be a single apple spawn, there might be three on easy.  The mobs dealt the same amount of damage and seemed to spawn in the same numbers.  We did extremely poorly because really… we chose classes that were not well suited for our play styles.  I tried the Ranger and Ash tried the Wizard.  In truth the Paladin/Ranger combo was just about perfect for the two of us, so I think switching to playing the game on easy we would have made it through to the boss without any issues.  I think we did fine for two complete noobs to the game.

Hammerwatch 2014-01-19 11-31-04-05

One of the cool things about dying however is that you get a nifty graphical breakout of all of the statistics of the last play session.  As you can see, Ash totally kicked my ass in total damage dealt.  While not worth taking a death for, it does seem to a little bit of a consolation prize that you get to see the cool info about what just happened.  To wrap things up, if you were like me and you spent large chunks of your childhood feeding your allowance a quarter at a time to Gauntlet…  this is a game you will really appreciate on so many levels.  If you are like Ash and way the hell too young to have experience Gauntlet when it was an actual thing…  but tend to have an appreciation for the classics.  This also will likely be a really fun experience for you.

However if you are someone who needs cutting edge graphics and deep story interaction.  This is not your game.  It is old school quarter munching dungeon crawling at its finest.  However in this case you cannot simply feed the beast more money to save your sorry ass.  You have a limited number of lives and cannot pay to make up for your lack of skill.  I figure given time I will cease sucking quite as bad as I did during this little play session.  I would definitely buy the game again given the chance, and I might gift it to someone in the future to spread the madness if playing this becomes a regular occurrences.

How Are You Liking This?

So I am curious… how are you enjoying Steampowered Sundays?  This is only the second one but I am curious about what you like and don’t like about this approach.  I am also interested in any suggestions for types of games you would like to see me play.  Generally I am looking for a game I can get in for a few hours Sunday morning and get enough of a feel for it that I can do a write-up.  Additionally I am limiting it to games that I have either not played at all, or have only played for less than an hour… preferably less than 30 minutes.  I have a large backlog of games so I am sure I can keep finding something that sounds interesting each week.

SteamWorld Dig

Steampowered Sunday #1

This is the beginning of a brand new segment for my blog.  In truth for awhile now I have been trying to come up with a good way to start this feature.  Originally I was going to call it “Sunday Indie Sunday” but that never really got off the ground.  The idea behind Steampowered Sunday is really simple.  Over the years I have built up a large backlog of titles from steam sales and the various humble bundles that I have never actually played or at the very least not really played enough to feel like I have given the game its due. 

My goal is to grab a “new to me” game each Sunday and give it a decent amount of play time.  Afterwards of course I will be writing a blog entry about the game.  This isn’t necessarily a review, but more my thoughts and impressions about the game play I just experienced.  My friends are already talking about griefing me by adding more games to my list.  So we will see how far I can actually make a dent and if I can actually keep up with this feature.

Steamworld Dig

2014-01-12_00001 The first title to explore seemed like an obvious pick… since the feature is called Steampowered Sunday, then why not delve into a game called Steamworld Dig.  This however is a playthrough that almost didn’t happen.  It seems that I found a bug in FRAPs, that no one really expected.  It seems as though frap is configured to ignore Steam, and instead of correctly searching for steam.exe in memory, they are just ignoring any process with steam in the title.  As a result…  SteamWorld Dig seems to be incompatible with fraps.  Luckily I remembered that you can also take screenshots through the steam overlay with f12.  While this is not exactly what I like to do… as I tend to disable screenshot functionality and have fraps do all the work… that way all of my screenshots end up in the same directory…  I made do.

2014-01-12_00004 I picked up Steamworld Dig some time ago during one of those insane steam sales.  Basically if it is a game that I have been wanting and it drops at or below $5 then it is pretty much an instant buy for me.  I know sooner or later I will get around to playing it, and especially now with this new Sunday feature.  The premises is deceptively simple…  Metroid-Vania with Mining.  In the game you play a robot miner who is coming to Tumbltown to follow in the footsteps of his uncle.  The uncle had the claim on the mine directly below the town, and as such your are exploring the mine looking for resources and upgrades.

2014-01-12_00009  The game employs an inventory system that looked deceptively like Minecraft, but in reality at least to the point at which I have played, you can only remove blocks, you cannot ever replace them other than with ladders that can be purchased for 5 coins each.  The result is that initially you can only store quantities of three different ores at the same time.  This quickly becomes an issue as before getting very deep you are regularly getting half a dozen different ores.  This involves a lot of running back and forth to the surface to sell your wares in the little town.  Each time you sell you are working towards an upgrade threshold cap.  Each time you earn a certain amount of money you unlock additional new upgrades.

2014-01-12_00013 The upgrades are then purchased with the coins you are earning from selling ore.  Initially you have access to the trading post and Cranky’s upgrade store, but I am assuming much like Bastion that over time other places may open for business.  The first upgrade you can get is to your pick axe which similar to upgrades in Minecraft allows you to mine existing ore types faster, and the ability to break new ore blocks that you previously could not.  Similarly in the second tier of upgrades you can add an additional bag slot allowing you to carry up to four types of ore at a time.  This of course means fewer trips back up to the surface, and more time down below mining.

2014-01-12_00015 As you explore, you will uncover caves that shoot off of the main dig.  These usually hide power ups and unlock new functionality.  For example the waygate above gave me the ability to equip run boots, which means while pressing down X on my 360 controller I can run, and in the style of Super Mario World, jumping while running increases the range and height of the jumps.  Additionally there are blocks that disintegrate as you walk over them, so in many of these puzzle caves the only way to get through is to run quickly over top of them.  All of this progression will seem extremely familiar to anyone who has played a Metroid of Castlevania game. unlock tools so you can get to new places and unlock more tools.

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The game play gets progressively more and more difficult which adds an interesting spin on the Metroidvania genre.  Since you cannot replace rock, you are essentially making your own playfield at all times by the choices you make as to what to dig and where to dig it.  This means you can make life hell as you remove the wrong block at the wrong time.  The game play is more about what you choose to leave standing and less about digging down to a specific objective.  Above you can see my first death as I managed to get squashed by a rock that until this point I did not realize would fall down when I mined under it.  This is also a decent time to highlight the lamp bar on the upper right corner of the screen. 

As you dig down your lamp light decreases at a steady rate.  There are various fossils that will wake up when you get close to them and spawn worms.  Killing these will drop an item that does two things.  Firstly it will refill one bar of your health, and secondly it will add oil to your lamp meter letting you stay down longer.  The only problem is it becomes pretty easy to dig deeper than you can possibly return from on a single lamp charge.  There really seems to be no penalty for going without lamp other than the fact that you cannot see what you are doing.  This means that you cannot identify what type of block you are mining your way into… which is suicide since there are the boulders that can crush you placed throughout the levels at an ever increasing pace.

The Wrap-Up

2014-01-12_00003 The game play is extremely fun and I found myself spending an hour or so playing the game before reaching a point at which I thought I could realistically write up this blog post.  The only thing lacking with the game seems to be a point.  I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way, but both Metroid and Castlevania and the modern equivalent Guacamelee all have a narrative that drives the pace of the story ahead.  SteamWorld Dig on the other hand has a series of small objectives, but I am not sure if I am really building towards anything meaningful.  I am digging so that I can get stuff that will let me dig faster.  I don’t really care about the cast of robots that inhabit Tumbletown… yet.  Over time this might change, but at an hour into the game I really am not feeling like there is some great purpose behind what I am doing.

That is to say, the game is completely enjoyable without this deeper meaning.  The game play is fun, the controls are responsible and it has as good of a wall jump implementation as I have seen.  The problem is it just feels like there should be something more.  I mean I realize you wander into the town and find your dead uncle, but this doesn’t seem to cause much intrigue or story to happen.  Hell at this point I would even take a pokemon-esc “I want to be the very best” dialogue sequence to explain why I care about mining.  I realize these are robots, but even robots should have a reason why they are doing things.

Would I purchase the game again after having played it?  Honestly yeah I would suggest folks picking it up, but only doing so at a deep discount.  The game play is fun enough and it seems like a glorious time waster.  It is the type of game you can just zone out and enjoy the mechanics of.  The animations are cute and the sound design is really nice in places.  I just keep hoping that eventually I will uncover something even vaguely resembling a plot.