How to Survive 2 Impressions

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Sandbox/Mission Hybrid

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Roughly a month ago a friend of mine hooked me up with a copy of How to Survive 2, because she knew I was a fan of the whole zombie apocalypse genre and it was a game she was enjoying.  I had all of these plans to write up a proper impressions piece, but got sidetracked by all things The Division.  This game was a whole lot of the reason why I survived the lead up to the launch of that title, because it gave me something fresh to piddle around with.  The basics of the game are that you are a survivor in a world long after everything went to shit thanks to the zombie outbreak.  Since I did not play the first title, I feel like there is probably some background story there that I am missing.  What I do know however is that this title is set in the coastal region of Louisiana.  There are no real recognizable landmarks however, but instead the world simply borrows a swampy feeling Tileset.  The game has both single player and multiplayer game modes, but I have largely spent my time playing single player.

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Within moments of starting a new game you are introduced to the character of Kovac, a man that at first you only know as a voice coming through some sort of a speaker system.  He serves as your guide as he attempts to teach you the basics of surviving in this world.  The game itself is divided into two basic chunks, the large open world area that allows you to freely roam and explore, and very tight and controlled missions with specific objectives.  The missions themselves are repeatable and you can crank up the difficulty to give you better rewards and experience.  One thing of note, and why I am doing an impressions piece is that the game is in early access, and there are a lot of things that are simply not in the game yet.  Much of the tutorial that walks the players through how the world works is simply missing, so I had to rely on my friend and what I could google to figure out a few things.

Level Your Camp

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One of the big things that I was missing was how one actually levels up.  The game has two parallel systems that are designed to level up together, that is your “camp” that you are building in the open world and your character itself.  Both of these have levels associated with them that are purchased through the spending of experience gained through doing activities.  The fastest way to gain this experience for me at least, seemed to be to repeat one of the early missions with the difficulty slider cranked up as far as I was allowed to.  The reason the whole camp leveling thing was a bit confusing at first, was that the character level is locked to the camp level.  So in order to level up your character you have to first level the camp, and you will continue to stair step the two progressions from that point on.  In addition to raw level however there are numerous perks that you can unlock… some of which are absolutely must haves like the ability to open lock picks.  Others are improve the efficiency of using weapons or items, and I assume are also really important once you get a good idea for how you want to build out your character.

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The thing I have noticed is that the difficulty of encounters ramps up pretty quickly, especially in the open world.  For quite a while all I encountered were the generic slow zombies, however once I got to around level three or four the game started to throw in those “track star” zombies that have become popular in the more modern and edgy zombie films.  Around level five I encountered this games version of the boomer… the fat bloated corpse that explodes when you get it low on health.  I am sure as the levels continue to ramp up I will keep encountering other mixes of bad guys each one with their own way of dealing with it.  The only real problem is that in the bit I have been playing my only ranged option so far is a crafted bow.  I am wondering when exactly I will encounter guns, because while I have found a small bit of ammunition.. I have yet to find anything to use it with.

Fallout-Esc

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There is a certain nostalgic feeling to playing this game that I have a hard time really putting into words.  In many ways the game reminds me of the original Fallout games, in that much of your interaction is happening in smaller closed maps that are tightly designed around a single mission.  There is a big of fog of war going on as well as you explore because you can only actually see a small section of the screen at a time.  This is magnified as you go into buildings because there is a forced zoom that happens allowing you to see finer detail inside.  This also makes it much easier for a zombie to sneak up on you and there have been a few moments especially on the night missions where I genuinely jumped when something lumbered out of a corner that I had not been looking yet.  Wandering a cityscape with only your flashlight to see with…  is unexpectedly tense given that this is a top down isometric game.  I definitely had moments of trying really hard to bait everything out of buildings before actually going in to explore them for the fear of getting overrun especially on higher difficulties.

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The game is very much not finished, but what is there was really enjoyable to play and helped to get me through those Division withdrawals.  I would really like to play this game with friends because I think it would be extremely awesome to explore larger cities together.  The game is targeting PC, PS4, and Xbox One, and I could absolutely see this being an enjoyable console co-op experience because the movement feels like it would translate well to a twin-stick controller setup.  The big thing to remember about this game is that it comes with the same early access concerns as always.  The game is not finished, but they seem to be updating pretty regularly.  They have a beta branch that has more frequent updates, but also likely is in a less polished state… and then the normal branch is largely stable.  I had quite a bit of fun playing the game, and I intend to pick it back up again.  It is the perfect thing to pop into do a mission, and then exit feeling like you accomplished something or at least moved the experience bar forward.  While going through all of my recent home renovations there were many occasions where I simply did not have the time to get into something terribly detailed.  Instead I booted up How To Survive 2, and poked around for a bit and got my quick gaming fix before returning to the fray.  I liked it and look forward to seeing how this evolves.  At some point I feel like I really need to poke my head into the original game since this one doesn’t really provide much backstory.

Rocking Chairs and Zeds

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Adulting Happened

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The temperature is warming up here in Oklahoma, the birds are singing, the trees budding… and with all of this comes the desire to get the hell out of the house and do something.  This is essentially the second nice weekend we have had and with it the desire to get out and sort out the mess that is our backyard.  As a result the day unfolded through a masterwork of killing so many birds with one stone.  Essentially it had been quite a while since I had seen my folks, so I knew this weekend we probably needed to meet up with them for a meal.  Additionally we had a bunch of things that we had been wanting to purchase, but the lack of a good means of hauling it home was problematic.  So we proposed that I met my folks for a nice meal… and then potentially abuse the use of my Dad’s truck for the purpose of hauling a few things home from Lowe’s and Sams Club.  In theory some of this could have been done a single chair at a time, like we hauled home the resin rocker to decide if we liked it last weekend.  Other than that we really needed a new deck box and for the longest time Sams Club has had this excellent looking one for a very reasonable price, that has hydraulics to hold the lid open while fiddling with stuff.  So we set forth on the mission to eat a nice meal… and gather up a bunch of stuff.

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We tag teamed a good portion of the day, while I was wandering around trying to find the things we needed with my father, my wife was back home filling up four big black trash bags full of debris.  The end result of our adulting is that we have a great little patio off the newish bedroom door for us to sit out there and rock and enjoy the shocking amount of peace and quiet we have in our back yard.  I also finally got some wind chimes… something I have always wanted since I was a small child.  My grandmother had them and I used to love listening to them on spring and summer afternoons.  We might have to adjust where they are hanging because they honestly don’t get a ton of wind, but that is something we can fiddle with over time.  We took the older, smaller deck box and put it around side the house under the cantilevered bit that sticks out from our stairwell.  We figured that would be an excellent place to store to pool cover and any covers for lawn furniture and such during the summer months.  It is my mission this year to actually enjoy our back yard more, and we are even contemplating opening the pool a little early since it seems like we are now through the cold weather.  Adulting is one thing… but having something to show for the adulting is a completely different thing.

Kovak’s Survival Guide

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Another thing that I have been fiddling around with over the last few days is How to Survive 2.  A good friend of mine hooked me up with a copy, and I have been poking my head around in it.  While I am not exactly sure if I am ready to write a proper “impressions” piece I did want to talk about it a little bit this morning.  There is still a lot of the game that I have not touched, like there is an entire online component that I have largely ignored.  For the most part so far I have been playing the local single player, which is more or less a series of missions.  The premise is as with many other Zombie Survival games… to scavenge the wastes to find useful stuff and then craft it into more useful stuff.  The game itself has this entire old school fallout feel to it, where you are plunked down into limited maps to go exploring while doing the missions.  It reminds me of all of the various city maps from Fallout 1 and 2, and this is where my explorer bit kicks in.  During these missions you are asked to do a limited set of objectives… and as soon as you complete them you can tag out and leave the quest.  However I cannot ever seem to bring myself to leave an area until I am absolutely certain I have killed everything and gathered every possible resource.

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The world appears to be procedural generated and every mission seems to be repeatable, with a difficulty slider of sorts allowing you to ramp up the number of encounters.  Last night I did a few missions on a higher level, and I have to say the number of zombies increases quickly.  I went from having one or two stragglers here and there… to having small hordes to deal with by simply bumping it up by a single level.  The game play is really fun, in that you move through the world with WASD and click to attack with Q/E cycling through any items you have like medicinal herbs.  The mouse wheel works as a way of scrolling through your available weapons.  I’ve found quite a bit of ammunition but so far I have not found any guns, so I am curious as to how the zombies interact with hearing a gunshot.  Generally speaking I am largely a melee only guy when it comes to the zombie genre, because it allows me to get in… and get out without alerting the entire mass.  Admittedly while playing this game… I keep expecting to see a Vault Dweller because it is so reminiscent of the way I used to feel playing Fallout.  The only thing that is a bit frustrating at the moment is that I have reached a point where I need to be level three to continue the story missions.  However at this point I am not even level two… so I am not exactly certain how I am supposed to be leveling.  I am really hoping that the answer is not “grind the first missions over and over”.  I will ping my friend and pester her to see if there is something I am missing in all of this, and hopefully there is.  However I have been enjoying myself just wandering around looking for cool stuff and smashing zombies in the head with my upgraded baseball bat.

 

 

The Institute

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Riding the RF

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This coming Saturday it is the intention to record the Fallout 4 show for AggroChat since we ultimately put it off until after the Holidays.  As a result I am back on the mission of trying to finish up the main storyline so that I can discuss it.  I have to tell you…  focusing on the storyline has killed a lot of my enjoyment of this game, and even then I find myself having a hard time of not following my instincts and letting myself get lost in the rabbit holes that are the weird side events going on around the commonwealth.  However I really really need to focus so I can finish up and be read to discuss the path I took.  Tam, Kodra and probably a few others will have likely beaten the game multiple times by the show happens…  but so much of my enjoyment has nothing to do with the storyline that I am going to be hard pressed to finish this game once.  I’ve logged hundreds upon hundreds of hours in the other Fallout and Elder Scrolls games…  and started playing each of them numerous times…  and to be honest… I think I have maybe beat the main story exactly once per game.  Beating them is just not part of what I find crucial to the enjoyment, but instead roaming around and inhabiting the world is what makes them special.  That said I am going to talk a bit about the storyline so if you don’t want to have any plot details spoiled…  please just skip the rest of this post.

Firstly…  I love the Railroad.  I’ve loved everything about the quest sequence so far, from the having to follow the freedom trail to find their base, to the extracting and guarding of runaway synths.  One of my favorite missions was when I had to pick up a synth and guard him while waiting on someone else to help ferry him along to his new home.  I realized by following the path of the Railroad I would ultimately come into conflict with both the Brotherhood of Steel and the Institute, and more or less I am perfectly fine with both of these choices.  The Minutemen however, I am hoping I can retain my position with them, because I really like the concept of them as the unsung heroes of the commonwealth.  The only frustration so far has been that working on the main story, and also the railroad story… has forced me to follow at least to a point the institute story.  Everything about the institute creeps me the fuck out.  They keep trying to tell me that they are no where near the bogeymen that they are acclaimed to be….  but then they want me to go abduct a scientist, and act like they weren’t going to give him a choice in the matter.  They also really wanted me to create a radio broadcast threatening the commonwealth that if they messed with the institute they would destroy them.  Again there is the whole Synth thing as well…  if you create life you have to respect it… and they very much seem to treat synths the same way we would treat a toaster.

Double Agent

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You would think that by working with the Institute I would come to respect and understand them, but instead it has only served to make me more creeped out by their actions.  The only real positive of the institute is the fact that the Courser outfit looks amazing, and I am more than happy to wear it around everywhere.  Basically the Institute reminds me of the Vault, magnified to the extreme.  Everything is cold and sterile, and I believe you are supposed to sympathize with your son….  aka “Father” but he seems just as twisted and misguided as the Overseers from the various vaults.  There is a point where you have this conversation with him, where he basically writes off everything that is happening in the commonwealth as nothing worth salvaging, but instead I feel like I’ve seen so much good already in the people of the commonwealth.  What is killing me is how long it is taking for me to get to the point where I can stop playing nice… and help the synths escape from the Institute.  There are a few of the scientists that I like, but it feels very much like running around in a creepy 1980s police state science fiction film.  Having every single item in the Institute look like 1970s era “high tech” concepts isn’t helping either.  I keep having flashbacks in my mind to movies like Logan’s Run or books like Brave New World.  Basically the whole experience with the Institute is a whole lot of nope.

So much of me wants to just open fire and take out everyone down there….  then give the tech they have to people who will actually put it to use for the benefit of everyone.  They claim that they are the last hope of humanity…. but they seem to be doing nothing at all to benefit anyone other than themselves.  They are a bunch of scientists high on the act of doing science…. and seem go give zero shits about the practical application of the tech they are building when it comes to actually improving the world for anyone other than their cloistered society.  Basically the Institute is against everything that makes me really love Fallout 4, the feeling of honestly saving the world a little bit at a time.  Both the Insititute and The Brotherhood of Steel are these paternal forces, trying to gather power and resources for themselves at the cost of the common folk.  So all of that said… I am going to be damned happy when I can finally open fire and leave the Institute behind me.  Tam kept alluding to the Railroad not being what they seem…. but I just have not seen it yet.  I don’t see the Institute as the noble force worth committing myself to… instead I see a group that causes a lot of harm and ends up thinking of it as “minor collateral damage”.  The hubris is strong with them…  and I am really hoping I am getting close to ending the story arc and leaving them behind.

 

 

 

Launch Hype Cycle

The Perfect Amount

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One of the subjects I have thinking about quite a bit this week is the video game hype cycle… namely the time from when a video game is announced to the time you can have it in your grubby little hands.  There are a lot of times that a game is announced with great fanfare and then when it actually releases two years later… the excitement has died down to a point where I rarely realize it has launched.  This is especially true with games that have an early access system, because quite literally in my mind they have been “out” from the moment they started taking money for the game.  I’ve come to a line of thinking that Fallout 4 pretty much represents the perfect amount of hype leading into a game launch.  While all manner of information was leaked about this game for a few years… there was no official acknowledgement of the game, nor any media floating around about it until June 2015 at E3.  At which point they announced that the game would be available in November of that same year.  This gave the game a focused four months to hype it up and get people read for it.

The truth is that most of the hype was fan created.  Bethesda themselves continued to release a slow trickle of information and trailers… large parts of which were simply recompiled from the demos given at E3.  But this constant trickle served to keep the fires ignited long enough that by the time the game actually launched a few months later… folks were still very much at the peak of excitement, rushing out into the store and buying damned near anything even vaguely related to the game.  As an example of this fever pitch I give to you exhibit A… the fact that the extremely limited edition Nuka Cola Quantum cases are going for over $1200 on Ebay.  They announced a game with lots of new features, and then delivered it a short period of time later as promised.  This sort of brevity is refreshing when it comes to video games, because we are simply used to it dragging on over the course of several years including extended alpha and beta phases which only serve to get the players bored with the title before they even lay their hands on it.

Beta is Not Beta

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Another huge problem that plagues the industry is the fact that Beta testing really doesn’t mean what it says it means.  What is ultimately spurring on this post is the launch of the World of Warcraft Legion Alpha yesterday to the press, streamers and a few fan sites.  While Fallout 4 had this nice clean short cycle, Legion is already setting up to have a considerably longer one.  We first got the official announcement of the rumored expansion at Gamescom in August, and post Blizzcon in early November we received our potential launch window of September 2016.  Now that we have an alpha circulating, we will now have plenty of hype inducing articles and videos circulating…  with ten months to go until the potential launch window.  While this is awesome to stoke the fires, the flames will have died down significantly by the time the game actually releases.  Right now I myself am riding this nostalgia buzz that has lead me to resubscribe to the game, but there is likely no way that the game can sustain my excitement until next year to keep the love going.

What I meant by the Beta not meaning what it used to, is the fact that we no longer have these cloistered NDA protected testing environments.  So in essence Beta becomes this time to allow streamers and the press to hype up the game for Blizzard, rather than the period of deeply focused testing.  Sure it is frustrating to be in something that is under NDA, and not be able to talk about it…  but games need an incubation period before the world gets to see them.  When I was testing Elder Scrolls Online I was quite literally in the closed testing process for a little bit over a year before the launch of that game.  I tested the hell out of it, and myself and Ashgar apparently developed a reputation for our prolific bug noting.  There were lots of things that I saw that would have freaked the hell out of the press and public if they saw them, but I simply calmly noted it and described as many details as I could and moved on.  As the builds changed we saw many of those bugs disappear… and often times other ones arise that we continued to note.  For me at least it was not about getting to play the game free or having something to fill my site with articles…  but instead about trying extremely hard to make sure the best possible game launched.

A Challenge

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So now is the point where I present a challenge to anyone with access to the World of Warcraft Legion alpha client.  Test the hell out of that game and submit bug notes for anything that even seems vaguely out of place.  I want each of you to be so prolific in your bug notes… that the developers behind the scenes know you by name and immediately start predicting what you might say.  The Warlords of Draenor testing process was not taken seriously by the developers or by the players… and most of us just used it as a way of showcasing what was coming out from the game.  What we ended up with was an expansion that did not quite feel right on so many levels, all of which were things that could have been addressed during the Alpha testing process.  By the time a game makes it into Beta… it is essentially in a polish phase, where the content gets the spelling errors ironed out, and cosmetic blemishes are fixed.  Alpha is the time when you can actually effect the way a game will play like at launch, and now that you have access to this client I expect each of you to do your job.  After all testing is a job, not a perk… or something that elevates you above other players.

Quite literally if Legion is not the best expansion that World of Warcraft has ever seen… we are in a lot of trouble.  You can have a single bad expansion and still turn around…  namely I am looking at Dark Age of Camelot and the horrible Trials of Atlantis expansion here.  They continued on to do a lot of really interesting things, but they absolutely had a misstep.  I feel like Warlords was without a doubt Blizzard’s misstep when it comes to the Warcraft franchise, and Legion is their chance to redeem themselves.  The problem being they need you the players to give honest and sometimes brutal feedback on what is working and what is not working.  There is a huge difference between the live client and the alpha client… and the alpha forums are this magical place where people actually talk about the serious issues of the game without resorting to hyperbole.  I expect each and every one of you that have access to this alpha to put that time to good use, and find every single bug in the game.  Sure you only have access to the Demon Hunter starting experience, but I expect you to help make that starting experience the best “newbie zone” in the game.  Now what are you doing reading my post… get to making bug notes people!

Week in Gaming 11/22/2015

Missing Breakers

During this segment I generally run down the gaming I have done during the previous week, however this week I am going to regale you with a story from last night.  As I have talked about a bit on my blog we are currently going through some minor home renovations.  We seem to be nearing the end however, and other than a few minor problems that they are working on…  things seem to largely be done.  During part of this process we had a big extension cord coming out through the garage door so they could do work on the front of the house, and as part of their wrapping things up they asked me to go inside and raise the garage door so they could unplug it.  When I got out to the garage however…  the door would not open, and around about this same time I noticed that our freezer was off.  Thus began the mission to try and sort out what breaker was flipped.

The breakers are in a horrible location in our house, which is on the garage wall…  but someone in their infinite wisdom decided to build a table and attach it to the wall in front of the breaker box.  When I say table… I mean it is a 4 foot deep and 8 foot across shelving unit made out of full sheets of plywood.  Sure it is sturdy as hell but it is super awkward and fiddling with the breakers means I have to essentially crawl up onto the table.  The problem being… none of the breakers were flipped which began a hunt through the house because the contractors were convinced that this could not be the ONLY breaker box on the house.  Please note that at this point we have lived in the house going on eighteen years….  we were absolutely certain this was the only breaker box.  Finally after running around and flipping the damned house main in the back yard…  someone noticed that the outlet in the garage that the opener was plugged into… had a ground fault switch.  We flipped that and magically everything started working again.  So yeah…  that was a fun way to spend a good chunk of my night.

Final Fantasy XIV

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This week finally saw my return to Final Fantasy XIV as it also announced the release of the 3.1 content.  I talked about this a bit during the week, but it feels a little bittersweet.  The content was really good, but also really really short.  Usually we have some big boss fight as the pinnacle of the content patches, and this time around….  nothing.  Sure there was a big fight but it wasn’t on the same level as a new Primal or an encounter like Gilgamesh.  Also there is the fact that we still don’t have a new segment in the Hildebrand chain…  or nothing to really replace the hole it has created in the content.  I feel like they spent a lot of time on the Lords of Verminion minigame and as a result a bunch of other stuff slipped to the 3.15 patch later.  I still have yet to do any of the dungeons, but hopefully I can get that going soonish.

The bulk of my final fantasy time consists of me logging in, and doing my Beast Tribe dailies for the new Vanu Vanu tribe along with some of the old world quests.  What makes this pretty great is the fact that at the current level cap… all of the old world quests are super easy to do.  So essentially my daily pecking order is… Vanu Vanu > Slyphs > Sahagin.  Mostly I just want to be a tiny lalafell riding along on a giant goobue.  Last night we also revived the tradition of doing stuff on Saturday nights as we ran bits of First and Second coil with the guild.  I was not there for Turn 5 but I got pulled in on the second coil fun.  We managed to get all the way up to turn 9, and put in a few attempts before Ashgar and I had to leave to prep for the podcast.  My hope is we can get people in the habit of showing up on Saturday nights to do stuff like this and pony farming.  That would go a long way towards revitalizing the Final Fantasy experience for me.

Destiny

I am continuing to play Destiny but a significantly reduced pace.  Each Sunday afternoon we do a Star Wars pen and paper game, and right now Destiny seems to be my game of choice to play while doing that.  It is something I can play on a machine that is not my main computer, and still be able to pay attention to what is going on in the roleplaying.  Destiny is for the most part muscle reflexes at this point, so I am spending the time doing bounties and missions and such.  I did however play quite a bit on Wednesday, or at least long enough to do my various weapon missions.  I still very much love this game, but Fallout 4 has largely taken the place it held of the game I am spending most of my time playing.  There are still a lot of things I want, but more than likely I am going to mostly do the Armsday/Xursday thing each week and then focus if there are objectives and goals that I really want to accomplish.  There are a few interesting looking weapons this week that I am hoping turn out to be pretty awesome from the Gunsmith.

Fallout 4

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I am still slowly wandering my way through the commonwealth.  I am roughly sixty hours into the game and have yet to go to Diamond City.  That said I have done a whole slew of side quests, but more often than not when I get one… I have already been to that location and cleared it out.  When I went to help the Brotherhood of Steel for example… I had already completely cleared that location other than the areas that the Brotherhood ends up unlocking for you to go explore.  As far as the Minutemen, I am tasked with taking back the castle, but the castle is a long ways off from where I am.  Right now I am largely exploring the Cambridge area and delving into the ruined buildings that you find there.  The hospital at Cambridge was one of the more interesting areas, so if you have not been there I highly suggest checking it out.  There has been some crazy shit happening there… but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.  At this point I am still largely using my crappy pipe gun, that has been upgraded as much as possible…. but that is largely because I have a truly silly amount of ammunition for it.

World of Warcraft

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I am weak…. and nostalgia is strong.  Over the last few weeks I knew deep down inside that I was fighting a losing battle.  Finally yesterday I gave in and started playing my sub level 20 horde characters since I could do that for free.  When Scryers and Argent Dawn merged, I ended up creating an entire accounts worth of Horde alts with the thought of playing with some of my Horde friends on the Argent Dawn server.  I tried to create one of every race and class… and some of them I am probably going to simply re-roll.  For my Warrior… I ended up going  Blood Elf because I remember at launch Warrior was not an option for them.  Also I have gotten kinda sick of playing Orcs, and my Deathknight is an Orc, and my Paladin is a Tauren.  Maybe I am mellowing in my old age, but the whole “elf” thing is annoying me far less right now.  Maybe it is the nostalgia of him wearing what is essentially a set of Wrath armor from Molten Core.  In any case I am poking my head around World of Warcraft, and we will see how well that takes.

Be Nice to the People

Bad Luck

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This looks totally legit right?

Traditionally I do this Friday thing where I talk about one of the many “MMOs Worth Playing” but honestly…. today I am just not feeling it.  I am feeling more annoyed and frustrated about MMOs than I am feeling the love right now, and in this current mindset it is probably best that I simply don’t talk about a game.  The purpose of the column is to highlight a game and talk about the things I love about it, in the hopes that it might nudge people into giving it a try.  In order to really do that I have to be feeling happy and enjoying the world around me… and right now I am kinda grumpy.  Granted I am grumpy over a stupid reason.  Right now I feel like I am one of a handful of people who didn’t get into the Overwatch beta weekend.  I am largely annoyed by this, because I am in fact one of the people who went ahead and pre-ordered the game knowing eventually that I would want to play it.  You would think… that if you have a bit single weekend only stress test that you might want to include the people who are already signed up to spend money on your game.

Maybe that is screwed up in my logic, but it seems to me that they should have pulled from the pool of sign ups first for this one in particular.  I am not saying that about the normal always on Beta process… that one is completely luck of the draw.  This one however… when you are testing a game for a short period of time… it might be cool to thank the folks who have already pressed that button and said “Yes, I want your game”.  Frustrations aside, I am hoping all of my friends who are going to be playing it this weekend will enjoy themselves and have lots of things to talk about.  Honestly this test will give me a better feeling of how I am going to like the game, since a lot of the AggroChat folks seemed to have gotten in.  This is the hardest part about Betas is standing on the outside watching your friends have fun…  and then trying really damned hard to be happy for them… and not sad that you got left out.

People Behind The Thing

So even though I am frustrated, I am directing my frustrations at an entity…  the game Overwatch and or the company Blizzard behind it.  I realize that that company is made up of people, and it has to be super tiring to hear people raging at them constantly.  I realize over the years I have said some pretty caustic and even pyroclastic things about video games and or the companies behind them.  At no point however did I aim that criticism at the people themselves.  I never joined the chorus of “I Hate Ghostcrawler” nor will I join any other personally targeted witch hunt in the future.  I can dislike a thing… but still have the utmost respect for the people for whom it is their job.  Much of this week has felt like I have been attempting to give lessons in how to treat people with simple human dignity… and yesterday continued that trend.  These companies have people working there, that go to work every single day hoping to do something cool… and often times get met with this constant wall of negativity.  It is no wonder when someone reads one too many “fuck you” posts targeted at them that occasionally community staff snaps.  Ultimately how good of a job, and how much satisfaction in it… would you have if someone stood over your desk heckling you the entire day?

Now you can take the path of “they willfully accepted the job”, but that too is utter bullshit.  They probably took the job for the same reason that any one of us who are gaming addicts would jump at the chance to do the same thing.  The folks that work at games companies do so because they love games with every fiber of their being, so much so that they are willing to sacrifice basic things like stability, and normal working hours…  for the chance of being part of something they at least once felt was awesome.  So if this week I happen to be complaining about Overwatch… I know that behind the scenes there is a crew of people who are working insane hours right now, and trying their damnedest to please as many people as they can… while at the same time desperately fighting to roll out the best possible product that they can make.  I’ve been lucky to know enough people that work at enough companies to know that all of these fine people are grinding themselves into the ground all in the hopes of making each of us happy.  So the next time you level an attack at a thing… please make sure it is targeted at the thing… and not the voice of the person hanging out in front of it for whom it is their job to represent said thing.  I most definitely don’t believe that games should be above criticism… but I do believe that we shouldn’t be targeting our bile at a human being.

Hoping For a Great Friday

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My hope is that I can go into this Friday and not see anything else that makes me sad about humanity.  For those of you in the Overwatch beta weekend…  have a blast, take lots of screenshots, record lots of video… because I expect some really amazing content as a result.    For those of us watching from the sidelines… there are dozens of other things we should be doing.  I personally am now 55 hours into Fallout 4… and have yet to make it to Diamond City.  I’m also in a strange place when it comes to Final Fantasy XIV where I am logging in each day to do Beast Tribe dailies, but not finding much drive to do anything else.  I am in that strange place where I took a long enough break from the game to where I am completely out of touch with what I was doing before I left, but have not been away long enough to make me super nostalgic enough to dive back in with vigor.  I am also still fighting the urge to play World of Warcraft, and I am scared that sooner or later I will be giving into it… if for no reason other than to get it out of my system again.  I am in a place where I want into the Legion beta more than any other beta in a long while, mostly because I hope beyond hope that Deathknights are fun again.  The fact that I had to switch back to my warrior during Warlords honestly was a bit of bummer, and I would love to be a Worgen DK once more.  Anyways…  that was a long “outro” but hopefully you have a great weekend, and stay safe and happy and warm.

 

 

Joys of Exploration

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Hole in the Bedroom

Yesterday was a strange day, largely because it felt like I was having to be part of something that I had no control over.  Wednesday was of course Veterans Day, and as is usually the case I get it off work.  Which I immediately thought would be amazing… since I had Fallout 4 to keep me company.  The problem being that they did not in fact install the door in the bedroom Saturday like we thought they would.  As a result they needed a new target date, and since I was going to be home anyways… we ended up with Wednesday.  So I spent most of the day trying to play Fallout 4, without allowing myself to get too engaged in the game play as to miss the extremely subtle knocks that they needed my help with something.  The problem is… when there is constant hammering… it is impossible to get a knock from just more hammering.  We gave them my text for this reason… or at least for the reason of contacting me directly, but alas that didn’t actually do much.

The scariest moment of the day was when I went down to check on progress and there was a huge gaping hole in the side of our house.  It looked like they had to take a lot more than they originally planned and I am sitting there trying to sort out how it is all going to go back together.  However by evening they had a door installed and we had moved all of our stuff back in place around it.  The awesome thing is it works beautifully and we had this cabinet next to the door that we were concerned might impede it.  However it seems to swing open just fine with the cabinet in place, which means…  we are going to now have to do something major to our back yard to also make it more inhabitable.  I have a feeling that my wife at least is going to want to build some sort of a proper patio just outside the bedroom for sipping coffee in her rocking chair or similar activities.  We are hoping there will be enough of a gap between them finishing their project and the waste company picking up the dumpster that we can maybe throw a bunch of crap away from the back yard.  At the very least I can almost see the end in this project in sight… and maybe just maybe there will be a point on the near horizon where I can park in my own damned driveway.

Meandering

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According to Steam I am now 18 hours into the game… and at this point I have done next to nothing.  My quest driven friends are talking about this thing they did or that thing they did…  but me…  I am building a town.  I’ve always played Fallout with a base builder mentality even though it was never really terribly supported.  Being the horrific pack rat that I am, I largely played in a pretty predictable manner.  I would roam around the wastes until something caught my eye, and then go explore it.  During the course of exploring it… I would end up filling up my own inventory and that of my companion…  in this case Dogmeat.  Then I would fast travel back to base… dump the items I found into a series of containers that I used for sorting such things, rest up if I was low on hit points… and then venture out again.  For the Walking Dead fans…  I play the game much like Morgan was living his life…  making sure to clear everything before moving on.  There is a sense of accomplishment at knowing that you took down every raider in a camp, or got every drop of good out of a complex you just explored.

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What makes this all so much better this time around is that for the very first time…  it feels like I am making the wasteland a better place.  In the past becoming the “Savior of the Wasteland” largely involved killing everyone that did not believe like you did.  Which I am sure helped the fledgling towns, but it didn’t feel like I was doing more than being a gun for hire.  This time around I can build up settlements, and recruit new settlers giving them a nice place to live and the safety of decent protections.  I feel like town by town I am actually fixing the problems that were there, and setting up a better way of life as I blaze through the map.  “Blaze” might be the wrong word… because realistically at this point I have seen next to nothing.  I am largely just fiddling in the same corner of the map that I started in.  There are still a bunch of things that I have quite yet to figure out…  like how magazines and bobbleheads work this time.  So far I have found a single bobblehead, and a handful of magazines.  I am also not 100% sure how much I like the talent system which seems a bit more arcane than simply slotting points in skills.  Regardless… I am hooked beyond reason and look forward to little else than coming back home tonight after work and exploring some more.  This game so far… is exactly what I hoped it would be and more.

 

Fallout First Impressions

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Non-Spoiler First Thoughts

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War Never Changes…. and neither does Fallout, and that is a statement I mean in the best possible way.  When a sequel to a beloved franchise is released, you never quite know if you are going to get absolute greatness like Skyrim… or if you are going to be stuck with a Master of Orion 3.  For those who loved MOO3 I apologize… but that game was horrible and broke from far too many of the tenets of the original franchise.  Fallout 4 however… keeps all of the best features from Fallout 3 and New Vegas… and applies a next generation coat of paint and features to it.  If you have been an aficionado of Bethesda games for very long you will notice that several of the really nice features of Skyrim have been implemented into this engine.  Everything from the loading screen item previews…  to the ability to favorite weapons and swap between them quickly in combat… are direct lineage to Skyrim.  What you also get is some genuine evolution of the engine, in the form of just how content dense the world is and how much of it can be fiddled with.

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At this point according to Steam I am roughly four hours into the game, and I have to say… that was the fastest four hours of my life.  I mentioned yesterday that I did not stay up Tuesday night to play the game, but instead had to wait until after work yesterday.  Additionally we have contractors coming to the house to put a door in our bedroom today…  so we had to do a lightning round of cleaning before I finally got to sit down and play with my precious.  From the moment I set down… every time I was aware that time had passed…  it was an hour and not fifteen minutes like I had thought.  Most of that time was spent not actively doing any quests or following the story line really.  The first handful of events happen to play out in a pretty organic fashion, and I apparently followed the story line to a point… without really meaning to.  I remember watching the demo footage from E3, and I have for the most part made it through the sequence that they showed… which happens pretty early in the game.  It gives you a neatly framed vignette that allows you to understand some of the forces in the world that you are contending with.

Packrat Friendly

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For me at least the best part of this game is that they have taken things to essentially their logical conclusions.  If you are living in a world with limited resources, then essentially everything you come across could be useful.  In the past I was a horrible packrat and constantly on the brink over being overburdened.  Why was I carrying fifty coffee mugs…. who knew… but I might need them someday.  Those tendencies are absolutely paid off in full in this game because quite literally every piece of crap you find in the world is useful either to modify your weapons and armor… or to construct things for the new base building side game.  Pretty early on, you end up in the neighborhood you once lived in.  This then becomes your base of operations allowing you to scrap materials there, and build new structures.  As you venture out into the world you find survivors that you can invite back to your little sanctuary, and in a fashion very reminiscent to State of Decay you have to watch after their well being and their defenses.  I am assuming as your settlement gets bigger you will become the target of raiders and the like trying to take your hard earned resources.

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The other big noticeable change in this game is that everything seems more dangerous.  Radiation is a real problem this time, because instead of causing you to lose health over time… it reduces your maximum health pool.  All of the old baddies are also more deadly…  Bloat Flies move more erratically, Mole Rats can burrow under ground and pop up when you least expect them…. and move insanely fast…  and there are new dangerous like giant mutated mosquitoes.  All of this and more I have encountered within a short radius of where you actually start the game.  Everything I am talking about is within visual distance of the Vault 111 entrance.  Essentially this is a game that is going to eat every waking moment for a long while…  because right now I feel like I have not even begun to unwrap the wrapping of the game… let alone actually dip below the surface.  The big takeaway is that it is the Fallout game play that you either love or hate… with more advanced systems and more fluidity of character movement and actions.  Everything “feels better” and I know this largely because I played quite a bit of New Vegas Tuesday night as a sort of placebo for Fallout 4 while waiting on it to unlock.  The changes are extremely noticeable, even from the level the engine was at during Skyrim.  I’m now going to shut up about my impressions… and launch the game and lose myself in it again.

 

 

 

Impressive but Still Beta

Auto Update

“Wow, I’ve never seen that happen before” is generally something you never want to hear uttered from an auto mechanic.  That said at this point my wife’s vehicle is fixed and ready to go and seems to have no negative impact.  Apparently on the Pontiac Torrent there are two different sizes of bolts that can be used to attach the tensioner.  Quite simply when they replaced that part they used the wrong one, and as we were driving Sunday the vibration and force sheared the bolt off completely causing the serpentine belt to shread, and at the same time stopping the flow of motion to both the water pump and the alternator.

The good folks at Hibdon were more than willing to fix the problem, and after getting the vehicle towed there yesterday morning they had already fixed everything by mid day.  It is one one of those “honest mistake” type situations, and I don’t fault them for it… especially since they are also the ones responsible for making it right.  It was a grand inconvenience but thankfully my wife really had nowhere that she needed to go yesterday.  I cringe when I think how much worse this could have gone had the bolt sheared and she lost power to major systems while out on the highway with no place to really pull to the side of the road.  We were likely saved by the fact that it happened so close to our home and we did not drive it long enough to cause a radiator boil over.

Steam In Home Streaming

steamstreaming One of the problems with having multiple machines is that ultimately the game you happen to want to play is not installed on the machine you are sitting at.  Yes I realize this is a first world problem, as I am extremely lucky to be able to have both a nice gaming laptop and gaming desktop, but this is something I have tried to deal with for some time.  I’ve tried gaming over various versions of remote desktop, and none of them work well enough to offer a passable experience.  I am not sure who mentioned it first, but the other day I said something about steam logging you out when you tried to log in a second machine.  Apparently this has not been the case for some time.  What happens now is that you see all of the games available installed from all of the machines you happen to be logged into on your network.  The cool thing about this is instead of the play button you now see a Stream button as shown above.

Last night I decided to try this out, and I had some mixed results.  This all started because I decided that I wanted to play catch up on True Blood which meant needing to hang out downstairs with my laptop.  True Blood is one of those shows where about halfway through the third season it went off the rails and I stopped caring about it.  That said at the same time I felt like after spending that much time watching it… I felt committed to seeing it through to the end.  Like if I stopped my choice to watch it in the first place would have somehow been invalidated.  Sadly this is how I end up feeling about most television, and why I am still watching Bleach after all these episodes… when essentially every season is EXACTLY THE SAME.  All that aside the game I wanted to play last night was not installed on my laptop, so it was either steam streaming or a 10 gig download over wifi.

Impressive but Still Beta

I have to say that the actual game play was rather impressive.  The game I was streaming was not exactly fast paced and action oriented… in that I was playing Divinity:  Original Sin.  There was a minor input lag, but I seriously might be the only one who actually would have noticed it.  For example I refuse to use a wireless mouse because I can feel the slight hesitation of the wireless lag…  whereas none of the rest of the world seems to be able to.  The biggest thing I noticed is that it felt like I was watching YouTube video.  Since you are in essense streaming video across your network, there was a certain measure of blurring and artifacting of the screen.  This was most noticeable when confronted with large areas of a dark color, but it was not bad enough to be anything more than an annoyance.

The deal breaker for me however was that every time I tried to alt+tab out of the game to check something… the stream would crash out, and in a game where saving your progress is important this meant that a couple of times last night I lost a bunch of progress.  Alt+tabbing is something that is just habitual at this point, and I have done it before I even realize I did it.  So all of the problems I had with Skyrim apply here, in that either I have to force myself to NEVER alt tab… or I have to deal with the consequences of my actions.  As a result I decided to just simply deal with installing yet another game in two places.  Unfortunately since Divinity: Original Sin does not use the steamworks cloud save functionality… this also means I will be manually copying saved games between the two machines each time I decide to switch systems.

Steam in home streaming is of course still very much a beta product, and hopefully they will fix the alt+tab thing.  When they do I can see myself using it quite a bit more often, especially as my laptop ages.  What this really gives you is the ability to play games using the full horse power of your gaming machine, while on another machine that simply acts as a viewer and input device.  I’ve even seen video of someone playing games at full frame rate using a chromebook with linux side loaded onto it.  If they ever get internet streaming working, and manageable lag wise… this means there might be a time when you could play all the games on your home machine from your tablet while travelling.  What I would love to see is for this to work in a more universal fashion, so I could play the games from my PS4 while sitting at my PC or versa vicea.  I don’t think we are anywhere near there yet, but it gives me hope that maybe at some point we will be.

Old Addictions

GameCapture 2014-07-08 06-38-41-777 Over the weekend there was a point where my wife needed to get out of the house and do anything.  She had been sitting in the house for over 72 hours at that point, and just needed to see something other than the walls around her.  While we didn’t really have much in the way of errands to run, I decided to co-opt the trip and run around and visit a few pawn shops.  I’ve always loved going to pawn shops, because you really never know what you might find there.  Since I hate paying full price for anything, they are a smorgasbord of potentially awesome things for cheap.  One of the various ones we went to had a bunch of their Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 games for as low as $5 a piece.  I picked up used copies of Tekken 6, The Simpsons Game, Metal Gear Solid 4, Heavy Rain and a copy of Fallout 3: Game of the Year edition.

One of the things I have always been curious about is playing Fallout or Elder Scrolls on a console, so for $5 I could not pass the the chance to see “how the other half lived”.  When we got home I had this grand idea of testing out all of the games… but never actually made it past Fallout 3.  I booted up the game and spent the next three hours playing it before I realized how much time had passed.  This is one of those games that I can play over and over and never quite get bored of it, and I always thought it was the ability to modify it that made it so intriguing to me.  Playing on a console I have no modding at all available, so I realize it really was the game itself.  I am completely happy to wander around with wastes with nothing but a pistol, dispensing justice.

Last night after we finished our walk I went back upstairs to cool down, and made the mistake of turning on the television and continuing the journey into the wastes.  Next thing I know it is 12:30 and I am scrambling to get back to Megaton extremely encumbered, but at the same time completely unwilling to drop any of my plunder.  This will be interesting to say the least.  One of the “mods” I always install when playing the PC game is something that removes encumbrance, because I absolutely hate playing the inventory management simulation that is a Bethesda game.  That said at this point I feel committed to seeing just how well the Fallout 3 experience translates to a console.  Additionally it has been a really long time since I have played Fallout 3, as more recently I tend to play New Vegas when I get the fallout itch.  It is amazing just how much more I like Three Dog, than Mister New Vegas.

#SteamStreaming #Fallout3 #PS3

15 Gaming Influences

Gaming Influences

A few days ago one of my friends that works in the games industry was talking about a thing that had been circulating around his studio.  The idea was for each of the folks to create a list of the fifteen games that most influenced them, or taunt them something new that games could do.  While this is a really helpful exercise in the gaming industry I am sure, I figured it would also be pretty fun to do as a lifelong gamer and gaming blogger.  The thing I was not realizing while going into it… was just how hard it would be to pair things down to a list of fifteen games.  There are so many titles I wanted to include, but I had to come up with a hard rationale for each and every one on the list.  So there will be titles that are conspicuously absent, and others that I have included that you wouldn’t think of.  However the final list includes titles that I learned some lesson from along the way.

Gauntlet (1985)

gauntlet_arcade I grew up essentially during the beginning of the video game era.  There is really not a time I can remember where they did not exist.  Early on my parents had a sears pong system, and as I entered elementary we got an Atari 2600.  For the most part each and every game I played was a mostly single player experience, or if there was any form of multiplayer it was limited to the kind of interaction you had in pong.

Gauntlet was really the first game to teach me that you could play video games as a team.  I thought this was a profound thing and every time my cousins and I managed to squirrel away a few quarters we wanted to spend it on what felt like at the time the “massively” multiplayer experience of Gauntlet.  Over the years the game changed, and gauntlet became gauntlet 2 which turned into teenage mutant ninja turtles and later the avengers or simpsons.  However the mission was always the same.  There were three to four of us, and we wanted to play a game that we could all play together.  My eldest cousin and I would help shelter the younger and less skilled players, so it fundamentally changed the way we gamed together.

Mega Man 2 (1988)

megaman2_nes For the most part games evolved like I expected them to.  While I feel like maybe I should have included Super Mario Brothers in the list, because when I first played it I was absolutely blown away.  However it was less about the game itself and more about the massive jump in fidelity.  I didn’t really experience a true “mind blown” moment during the Nintendo era until I first played Mega Man 2.  Somehow I had completely missed the original Mega Man, in part I think the horrific elementary school quality box artwork was to blame.  Seriously take a look at this…  nothing about this cover makes a kid want to spend their allowance on even renting it.  So it was only after the release of 2 that I started to pay attention to the franchise.

I can remember I got this game when my cousin was over and we proceeded to play the shit out of this game for the next 72 hours.  There was something so cool about being able to complete the game in any order you chose.  This is really one of my first “sandbox” moments in a game, and we tried multiple paths to the end trying to figure out which was more efficient.  Having to determine which weapon worked best on which boss, and finally which weapons were our favorites were completely new concepts to us.  While the Mega Man franchise has evolved over the years, and I have to say everything about Mega Man X trumps this one…  it is still this original one that brought me into the franchise that I hold above all of the others.

Shadowgate (1989)

shadowgate_nes Now this one is going to probably seem odd to a lot of people, but you have to understand.  I did not get a PC until the 386 16 my parents got during my high school years.  So there is an entire era of PC gaming that I mostly missed.  I had played Zork and various text based games like that, but mostly over at friends houses and mostly with them at the console.  By the time I got to experience the game they had already figured out 90% of it… and were mostly showing off their mastery.  Shadowgate was really my first experience with the “adventure” game genre, because it was really the first big one to come out on a system I owned and could play.  I remember the first time I played Shadowgate, my friend and I had rented it and we stayed up literally all night trying to delve its secrets.

I proceeded to keep it out overdue for a good few weeks trying to figure out how to beat it.  During the day at school my friends and I would brainstorm ways to solve the puzzles, and then that night I would try them all attempting to progress to the next area.  Over the course of this we managed to beat the game, and it was one of the most triumphant experiences I have had in gaming.  It definitely took a team, because there were so many things that I wouldn’t have thought of doing.  Of course I moved on from here to Maniac Mansion, Deja Vu, and eventually became a fan of the Lucasarts PC adventure games.  However Shadowgate will always have a special place in my heart as the “first”.

Civilization (1991)

civilization_pc Part of the reason why I buy so many games these days, is in part because there was a time in my life when I had no money and was a pretty egregious pirate.  Truth be told ALL of us were, it was just an accepted thing growing up when and where I did.  One of my good friends had a brother in college, and every so often he would go up to stay the weekend with him.  It was pretty much expected practice for us each to pony up for a brand new box of verbatim 3.5 inch disks and that at the end of the weekend he would return with a bounty of new games for us to play.  Our lives pretty much changed the weekend he came home with Civilization.

I had never played a game like this and I wanted more.  I spent countless hours and lost entire days trying to conquer other nations, establish trade routes and come up with new ways to win.  One of the cooler moments is when we figured out how to hex edit the game and change the names of the nations leaders to whatever we wanted.  Each of us had a different strategy, mine centered around two things… 1) getting the chariot as fast as I could, and 2) getting gunpowder as fast after that as I could.  This is also the game I learned that I am have extreme nesting tendencies, since I would build everything available for each and every town I conquered.  I also learned about my darker side in that I would leave a race alone, making trade with them… up until the point they decided to attack me.  Then the next several turns would be all about me pouring war machines from every town I had and completely obliterating that race off the face of the planet.  Sadly this is still pretty much how I play 4X style games.  I am your best friend until you attack me then it is total obliteration time.

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)

linktothepast_snes This game has a weird story, and will always have a special place in my heart.  I had some pretty significant sinus surgery, and we picked this game up on the way home from the hospital.  Laying in bed playing this game is essentially how I recovered and took my mind off the pain and constant grossness that was having to wear “nasal drip pads” after a sinus surgery.  This is now why this game is on this list however.  Everything about the game is perfect, it to me will always be the ultimate Zelda game… however not even that is worth putting it on the list for.  I remember when I first played it feeling like I was getting ripped off.  The original Zelda had taken  me months to beat, and here I was sitting at home and it seemed like I was just about to beat the game after only a few days of gameplay.  I was getting to the point where I wanted to throw the controller at the screen for getting ripped off.

Then it happened… the game turned the tables on me.  Not only was I nowhere near the end of the game… I wasn’t even halfway through.  This is the first game that did the bait and switch on me, where I think I am nearing the end only to find out I maybe completed the first act.  This has happened so many times with so many games that at this point it has just become a trope.  However Link to the Past was my first, and will be the one I always remember.  I can remember lying in bed thinking “holy shit, there is a whole other world?”.  Few games have had as much impact on me as that original mind blown moment.  As a result I will always be able to return to this game and play it happily, each time basking in the warm glow of nostalgia.

Street Fighter 2 (1991)

streetfighter2_arcade Obviously 1991 was a big year for me in shaping the way I looked at games from that point on.  The local circle K had at one point had Street Fighter, and while I played it and enjoyed it… the game didn’t really feel that much different than Ye Ar Kung Fu… which granted was a favorite of mine in the arcades.  However the game play all seemed to revolve around mashing the right button at the right time.  You have to understand the street fighter cabinet I played was not the original game that had been in the cabinet, and the operator had not bothered to include the stickers that showed us that something like a fireball move existed.  So each of us played the game pretty much like a button masher, with different attack buttons to mash.

When Street Fighter 2 came out, my first experience of seeing it was in a true arcade… not a gas station.  The first time I saw someone pull off a fireball motion, I was completely blown away.  What the hell was he doing, you could move the controller in a certain way and get a certain move?  I became absolutely obsessed with learning everything I could about the game.  I bought an EGM magazine… which in those days was a pretty epic 300 page thing.  My friends and I memorized every move and tried our best to master every character.  When an arcade opened in our town called the “Wooden Nickel” we spent most of our money plugging the machine.  What was so cool about SF2 was not necessarily the game, but the culture that evolved around it.  Every respected everyone else, and there were simple rules…  loser pays, winner stays.  Anyone could slap their quarter up on the bezel to reserve the next fight.

Wolfenstein 3D (1992)

wolfenstein3d_pc This game came to us through another one of those weekend diskette runs, and much like Civ it changed the way we thought about our games.  I can remember back then I had no sound card, but instead had a device that plugged into the back of the computer that created the sounds through a speaker.  So if nothing else, this was one of the first games I had played that attempted to replicate human voice.  Hearing the Nazi troopers yell “Achtung!” freaked me the hell out the first time I heard it.  More so than that, this was the first 3D game we had played.  Granted I had played some stuff in the arcade that pretended to be 3D with massive rotating polygons…. but this game gave it to me in blazing speed and gorgeous sprites.   Of course now I realize just now “not” 3D the game really was, but at the time we were in awe of it.

As cool Wolf was, for being essentially the first 3D FPS I would ever play, this is not why it made the list.  Shipped along with our illegitimate version of Wolf was a nifty little program called “WolfEdit.exe”.  The first time we cracked it open and saw that WE could edit the levels in Wolfenstien it changed the way we looked at games forever.  Up until this point, game creation was a black box.  It was a thing that the common man just couldn’t do.  Being able to edit and create our own levels and there for extend the gameplay indefinitely was a completely new concept to me.  Sure we could edit the track in Excitebike, but this was just fundamentally different and game changing.  From this point on, I pretty much dabbled in editing and modding whatever games I happened to play, and this was the point at which I really shifted to being extremely serious about PC gaming.

Final Fantasy VI (1994)

finalfantasyvi_snes This one I debated about for a long time…  do I include Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IV or Final Fantasy VI.  They each had their own influence on me.  The first one really was less about the game, and more about “I can finally play D&D on my Nintendo”.  The second US release, was less about the storyline and more about “look at how much prettier this is than the original”.  When Final Fantasy VI came out I rented it over Christmas break, and when it came time to take it back… I begged the local rental place to let me buy their copy off of them so I wouldn’t have to start over again.  They of course declined and I ended up going to Target and picking up a copy and beginning my journey a new.  This game was so many things to me, but more than anything I loved the story and the characters.

This game probably goes down in history as the first time I really cared about a character as more than just pixels on the screen.  Up until this point, any story being told was just an excuse for me to accumulate interesting loot or kill lots of bad guys.  This is the game that got me in the heart, and when a character triumphed or died…  I had so many “feels”.  I feel like this game was for me what seven was for so many other people.  The level of intricacy and the awesome steam punk setting were just gravy.  Looking back now, the story feels so primitive compared to massive epic sagas like Mass Effect, but it was enough to make me care about each and every character I picked up… and even make me hate a few of them.

Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (1996)

tes_daggerfall_pc With the upcoming release of Elder Scrolls Online, and all my fanboyism about it… this seems extremely relevant.  Daggerfall was my entry into the series and the world and lore hooked me.  More than any of that the reason why this game stands out is it taught me just how mind blowingly vast a video game could be.  You could explore for literally hours, constantly coming across brand new stuff.  On top of this it was fully 3D just like Wolf or Doom… but used it in a way that produced what felt like a real world to me at the time.  I still feel like this might have been the single biggest game I have ever played.  Granted some of the MMOs that came later probably have eventually… after years and years gotten to a size that was larger.

Looking back now, it looks extremely primitive and I have a hard time believing we felt this game was real, but for awhile it absolutely was.  At some point I want to try going back and playing it again.  Bethesda in all their graciousness offers the full game available for download on their website.  This is the game that started my obsession with the elder scrolls, but I fear going back it will not have held up to the test of time the way that Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim have.  Some games work just fine going back and playing them, like Commander Keen for example.  But others like Wolfenstein 3D just have not held the magic because of the extreme changes in what we can do technologically.  Luckily I will be able to revisit Daggerfall in a way, since my guild has chosen to go Daggerfall Covenant for the launch of Elder Scrolls Online.

Diablo (1996)

diablo_pc This game… so many hours lost to it.  Lately I have been playing the hell out of Diablo 3, and really to me it is the same addiction that came with the first one.  My mind was completely blown when I realized that Diablo was a new game each and every time I played it.  I could not fathom that a game could be creating levels on the fly, and this was really the first game I realized had procedural generation happening behind the scenes.  This game is like the purest version of what I am looking for in any game.  Interesting places to explore, awesome loot to earn and lots and lots of bad guys to slaughter.  I really am a big dumb monkey, and this at its core is a big dumb beer and pizza game.

At the time I was working as the lab administrator for the Fine Arts lab, and since it had Ethernet internet access… something that was extremely rare at the time… I spent so many hours playing this game off zip drive while waiting for someone to come into the lab and need assistance.  What I find funny is that years after the fact people seem to have almost complete forgotten that there was an expansion for this game.  Sierra games released the Hellfire expansion that allowed you to play an additional and extremely overpowered “monk” class.  For that matter they also released a Starcraft expansion if I can remember correctly.  Neither will ever be listed on the Blizzard page, but I can remember both and played the hell out of the modded version of Diablo for years.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)

castlevania_symphonyofthenight_psx Metroidvania was not really a thing before the existance of this game for me.  Metroid was a cool game, and I remember playing it, but it didn’t really feel that different from any other platformer at the time.  I was like a side scrolling Legend of Zelda to me.  Super Metroid felt like a big upgrade, but was not that different.  Symphony of the Night was just a complete and total gamechanger in the way I felt about the genre.  Firstly in addition to gaining gear, you also gained levels.  So everything I did felt purposeful, killing easy mobs felt like it was helping me towards reaching my lofty goals.  On top of this, the Mega Man 2 non-linear aspect of the game play felt like a 2D roleplaying game to me.  It had everything I loved about console RPGs in an action form.

The real hook of the game was just how mind blowingly gorgeous it was, and how great the soundtrack was.  Everything about this game screamed awesome, and how cool is it to play a noble vampire as the main hero?  I am gushing a little bit here, but Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is pretty much my favorite video game.  It exemplifies everything I look for in a game wrapped up in one neat package.  On top of this, it has the switcheroo at the end as you can play through the upside down castle vastly extending the gameplay.  To date no game has dethroned the title.  The Saturn version did not control nearly as well as the playstation, but it had some interesting changes like the ability to control Maria.  I keep hoping at some point there will be a version the incorporates the best features of both games.

Fallout (1997)

fallout_pc I have always loved the concept of a post apocalyptic world.  As a kid, probably influenced by Mad Max, I used to have dreams about living in a post nuclear landscape.  Fallout took all of these fantasies and wrapped them up into one game with an interesting premise and characters I cared about.  The big thing about Fallout however was just how “free” and “open” the world felt.  There were no hard objectives, you could just wander about the wasteland dispensing justice in any fashion you felt.  However there was very much a central storyline to the game, but you were under no obligation to follow it.

I have played this game so many different ways over the years, and each time it has felt as fresh and entertaining as the first.  Additionally there were so many secrets that you could only find by wandering around the map and looking for special events.  Did you guys find the crashed UFO?  I found it by generally faffing about the map looking for secrets.  As the series has progressed, I have loved every moment of the games that followed.  Well with the exception of maybe Fallout Tactics… that game was a bit too far off the path for my tastes.  War never changes… and lets hope the core principals of the Fallout franchise never do either.

PlaneScape: Torment (1999)

planescape_torment_pc Planescape holds a special place in my heart for several reasons, but the biggest is that this is the first game I played that felt like i was reading a good novel, and not just playing a video game.  While I cared about the characters from other games… they were “good for a video game”.  The story of Planescape Torment felt like it would hold up against the best stories anywhere.  This was the first game that made me feel like games could be more.  While I don’t always want it, and most of the time I want a big dumb beer and pizza game… I can fully appreciate that a video game can be something phenominal.  This game was the game that proved it to me.

Another interesting thing about this game, is it made me deeply care about a Dungeons and Dragons setting that I pretty much ignored to date.  I was a huge fan of the Dark Sun setting, but I pretty much completely ignored Planescape.  Upstairs I have tons of the source material and world books… and this is all inspired by the fact that this game made me LOVE this setting.  I am really hoping the kickstarter sequel to this game lives up to the brilliant of the original.  I realize in many ways it will be a new setting… since they do not have the rights to do a direct sequel.  I am hopeful, but even if it is perfect… this game will stand out as a special thing to me.

Everquest (1999)

everquest_pc This game was the beginning of the end for me.  While I have already told the tale of me starting to play Everquest many times, the game reserves a special spot on this list for showing me exactly what an MMO could be.  I was extremely leery of the title, namely because at the time I had a pretty crappy intel graphics card, and an even crappier internet connection.  However upon playing this game I was completely enthralled with the fact that a game world that was huge like Daggerfall could exist online, with hundreds of other players and existed 24/7.  That concept was a real game changer for me, and gave me something I had apparently craved…  large scale social interaction with other gamers.

So much of the way I view online games today came through everquest, and the importance it placed on the social unit of gaming…. the guild.  Hell the fact that I run House Stalwart the way that I do is a direct influence of how much I hated the way the guild was run in Everquest.  I can’t view the game entirely through rose colored lenses.  I remember reading a GDC article from the creators talking about many of the game design decisions being centered around the fact that originally they had planned to charge by the hour for the game.  So things were purposefully designed in a way to take large blocks of real time.  But for all of the flaws, this game was my first large scale online world.  I dabbled in Ultima Online a bit, but it just felt like Massively Multiplayer Diablo.  Everquest was the first game that felt like a whole other world to me.

World of Warcraft (2004)

wow_pc What can I really say about World of Wacraft that has not already been said.  After coming from Everquest, Horizon, Dark Age of Camelot and City of Heroes… playing WoW for the first time… was like watching a movie in High Definition.  It was everything I ever wanted a game to be, and more… at a level of detail I simply could not fathom existing to that point.  Prior to getting into beta, I was deeply skeptical about the game.  I pretty much had the opinion that Blizzard games had just enough storyline to keep them from completely falling down on their asses.  Granted at this point I had not played Warcraft 3.  That really seems like it was the game changer for Blizzard and a shift from really awesome mechanics to a focus on the storytelling.  Prior to that they made really technically awesome games, but super limited storyline.  The story arc of Warcraft 2 and Diablo were cool, but nothing really worth writing home about.

World of Warcraft is a game that just raised the bar.  They took the best features of every game that came before that and elevated them.  They added so many things, both good and bad to the genre.  Instanced dungeons was so amazing…. “you mean I don’t have to compete with other groups of players for spawns?”.  Then there was the amazing backstory behind each of the enemy factions.  I remember at one point I ran my own Everquest emulator server and I tried to do just that.   Instead of having generic goblins, I wanted to give each goblin tribe a backstory… then damned if Warcraft didn’t do that.  This game will always hold a special place in my heart, but this game is the gauntlet that is constantly thrown down to other MMOs.  While niche games have evolved the genre, there has yet to be a game that is just light-years better than everything else on the market in quite the same way that World of Warcraft was simply universally so.

Steampowered Sunday

brutal-legend-wallpaper

For most of the week there was a four way tie between Assassins Creed II, Brutal Legend, FTL and Alan Wake.  However while writing this post a tiebreaker vote came in and it looks like I will be playing Brutal Legend tomorrow.  I really don’t know much about this game other than the fact that it is Heavy Metal, stars Jack Black and is from Double Fine Productions.  I am perfectly okay going into this with little knowledge.  I got this as part of a humble bundle package, or I am not sure if I would have bought it.  When it came out, it looked really interesting, but didn’t really trigger the response of “man I need to get that.”  So we will see what you all have gotten me into.  I will be picking a winner and contacting them today at some point to give away the copy of Bioshock.  I want to thank all of you for voting.  Tomorrow we will have another contest at the end of the regularly scheduled game play write-up.