FTL: Faster Than Light

Steampowered Sunday #9


Watch live video from Belghast on TwitchTV
This week I am doing something a little differently with my Steampowered Sunday post.  Since streaming is new and shiny… and as a result I am doing a ton of it…  I decided to livestream my playtime in FTL.  This was after all the game you chose for me to play this week.  Previously I had done a few things wrong with my voting.  Firstly I made the link super hard to see at the bottom of my post.  Secondly I gave you guys like ten choices to choose from, which ended up with a bunch of widely dispersed results.  This go around I opted to have you all choose from the three that did not win last week, but had the highest number of votes.  You all apparently wanted me to play FTL, because it managed to net 53% of the vote.

Steep Learning Curve

OBS 2014-03-16 11-24-01-08 Like most of the games I play for Steampowered Sunday, I went into FTL with absolutely no information.  This is one of those titles that was insanely popular in the internet zeitgeist a few months back.  I picked it up on a steam sale but never actually got around to playing it.  As a result it sat there sadly in my steam library until you guys resurrected it.  This is one of those games that is really hard to go into cold.  I liken it to trying to play Minecraft for the first time without any guides.  So I had no clue how to do anything in the game, and ended up dying horribly to the first encounter I happened across.  I thought my weapons would fire themselves I guess.  It was not honestly until my third ship that I managed to glean that you could toggle on and off your weapons with the number keys, and fire them that way as well.

Similarly it took me a bit to understand that moving your crew around the ship would help to put out fires, fight boarding parties and repair damaged systems.  Essentially playing FTL you die a lot, and hopefully you learned something from the death that you can carry forward into the next ship.  That said sometimes you just get fucked by random chance.  In the above screenshot I happened to wander into a star system with active solar flares.  Just like in Star Trek episodes… solar flares are murder on your shields.  Had I happened across the system with no hostiles I could have potentially pooled my resources in the shield room and kept myself repaired long enough to jump out.  That said I had a pretty nasty fight with a mantis drone and by the time that was finished my system was a mess.  I fought the death of my ship in vain as the solar flares slowly destroyed me.

Belghast Gameplay Not Suggested

OBS 2014-03-16 11-27-31-41 I really do one thing in video games… I run in guns-a-blazing and hope for the best.  In an FPS I am the king of the spray and pray arsenal.  In an MMO I am the guy that habitually charges everything.  It is the thing I do.  This is very much not the way you want to play FTL, unless you like resetting constantly.  If you wander into a system and encounter an “advanced tactical drone” chances are you should really not screw with that.  I had that happen, and it started neutral to me…  but moments after attacking it, it had disabled all of my ships systems and I was left to sit and watch as all things blew up around me.  I feel like that is the real lesson of FTL…  stuff happens, often times bad…  so hope you can learn from it and not be dumb in the next iteration.  The game is pretty brutal about punishing you for your bad decisions, and that is okay… because it tends to be brutal about everything.

I feel like there are so many things I am still missing about success.  While playing one of my friends told me over twitch chat that I could vent the compartment to space to put out fires.  Which is awesome… except I couldn’t seem to do that when I had attackers in a compartment.  The learning curve is exceedingly steep and unforgiving.  Much like that first time I played Minecraft, I feel like I need to spend an entire afternoon wandering around a wiki somewhere to figure out what exactly I was doing wrong.  I feel like there is a “oh! That is what Coal looks like” moment waiting to happen.

Deathcab for Cutie and Starships

FTLGame 2014-03-16 11-42-20-31 One of the things I enjoyed the most about the game is the soundtrack.  It is this really pleasant postal service/deathcab type soundtrack that makes you not care so much that the world is burning down around you.  This is one of those moments when I happened to get trapped behind enemy lines and had to fight a far more advanced ship than I had.  Notice how they pretty much disabled everything I had and are essentially unharmed.  I feel like this is where tactics come in, which is never a strong suit of mine.  I tend to be a “shoot first, ask questions never” type player… and this is going to be something I have to get over if I ever want to succeed at FTL for more than a few minutes.  Tactics matter a lot, and one of the things I learned early on is… if they have drones, for the love of god kill the drones.

Right now I am really bad at deciding what thing to attack first.  I tend to have the best luck destroying ships by killing their engines.  That said I feel like i would have a lot more success disabling their weapons, then shields, then engines.  When they are charging the engines to escape it seems like a single shot to the engine can slow them down enough to kill them before they jump.  So I know this is a good theory, but getting me to do that when everything is burning on my ship seems to be the problem.  To quote Wash… “Oh god, Oh God, We’re Gonna Die”.  I have trouble keeping focused when my cute little people are dying horribly fighting fires.  In the immortal words of my friend Vexa… “Fire is pretty much the worst.”

More Play Warranted

FTLGame 2014-03-16 11-42-45-38 I feel like I am fundamentally bad at this game.  That said I feel like this is an okay thing.  Much like MInecraft, one of the simple joys is rolling the dice and seeing what combination of events you happen to get this time.  I felt completely fine resetting and starting over from scratch.  In many ways this reminds me of an early Shareware title called EGA Trek that I used to play the hell out of.  The gameplay basically was the same, it involved warping around the galaxy looking for trouble.  I played this game for hours upon hours… rolling the dice and seeing what trouble I could get myself into.  Combat was very similar, and I would not be shocked at all if the FTL folks had played this game at one point or another.  Granted FTL is all of this in much higher detail, but the same pure fun is there.  Sometimes it is just fun to die over and over horribly.  May the “SS Were Gonna Die” continue to fly onwards.

Mystery Game Time

I’ve decided to shift things up a bit, and start giving away random games instead of a specific title per week.  This weeks winner will be contacted today and given a copy of Brutal Legend.  However this coming week I will be grabbing something from the stack of mostly indie games that I have laying around.  If you win, and it is a title you already have… share the love and give it to a friend that doesn’t already have the game.  Another thing I am doing is leaving the two losing titles on the list, and replacing FTL with a brand new title…  this week Evoland enters the ring.  This way I actually have a shot of playing through the games that were the losers of previous weeks.  As always to take the survey click the big bright button below.

Brutal Legend

Steampowered Sunday #8

This week I decided to mix things up a bit.  Instead of me picking the title I let my readers pick.  I learned a few things about this, firstly google docs apparently is not a great option since one of my more “inquisitive” friends decided to see if he could skew the results by voting multiple times.  Sure enough you could, but it was pretty easy to see his results and weed them out.  Additionally it seems like giving you guys ten titles to pick from was a bit too many.  For most of the week there was a four way tie, with two results each for Brutal Legend, FTL, Assassins Creed II, and Alan Wake.  On Saturday there was a deciding vote cast for Brutal Legend so that is precisely what I played this morning.  I am thinking this week we will have a runoff between the other three titles.

Let’s Rock!

BrutalLegend 2014-03-09 09-02-16-96 First off a little background about this title.  I grew up at exactly the right time, during the height of the hair metal era.  While I did not actually have cable television until college, I jealously watched Headbangers Ball anytime I was over at a friends house.  I had my faded jean jacket with a Metallica back patch, walkman in the inside pocket and headphones permanently cranked full volume.  That’s right… I was a Metal kid… and while Metal turned into Alternative turned into Industrial…  I still have a penchant for it.  So much like Blood Dragon was going to be a nostalgic ride, I knew this game would as well.  Thing is… I didn’t buy this title on purpose.  I ended up getting it as part of a humble indie bundle.

BrutalLegend 2014-03-09 09-00-51-74 From the moment I saw this game I was intrigued, but one thing scared me away from it.  Everything is voiced by Jack Black.  Over the years I have come to have a love/hate relationship with him in anything.  Essentially he seems to be capable of playing two characters… the loveable dumbass, and the egotistical schmuck.  I have had more than my fair share of the later, and seeing him involved with a project is cringe worthy these days.  So I didn’t know which version of him we would get.  I love the music of Tenacious D, but over the years the stage act has shifted from the loveable dumbass character to more and more of the egotistical ass.  So my fear going into this game is that we would get that character.

Loveable Dumbass Rules

BrutalLegend 2014-03-09 09-04-42-38 While the character is not necessarily a loveable dumbass, we get the Jack Black treatment of such… which makes the game enjoyable.  You play as Eddie Riggs, which is essentially a Jedi Master Roadie.  He is set up as the best roadie in the business, can fix anything or build anything…  but is a man out of time.  The game starts with him working for a emo numetal type band, that clearly does not appreciate his aesthetic.  Through a chain of events, he steps in to prevent the death of one of the band members and ends up falling to his own demise.  Where his blood summons the elder fire god Ormagöden through a sigil in the form of his belt buckle.

BrutalLegend 2014-03-09 09-06-36-59 Chaos ensues, and the fire beast destroys the crappy band to the cheers of the crowd, as your character is transported to another realm.  Everything about this game is completely over the top.  You find yourself awake on a sacrificial altar with a group of skeletal monk things praying before you.  Your character mistakenly thinks that it is you they are worshiping, but instead they mean to sacrifice you to Ormagöden.  Sitting there on the ground just happens to be some fabled weapon, and the games tutorial directs you to pick it up and use it.  The game controls itself feel a lot like Darkstalkers.  I had intended to play the game with an XBox 360 controller, but for whatever reason it got confused.  Where it had only some of the keys active through the controller and the majority not.

BrutalLegend 2014-03-09 09-08-12-26 Thankfully however the game does control very well with WASD and uses the standard E to interact with things.  I am always glad to see when some thought is put into the PC controls rather than having a half assed port like Force Unleashed… that you can’t even really use your mouse to interact with things.  The game is a bit of a smorgasboard of things.  Firstly the game is very much a 3D beatemup with your left mouse button being your axe attacks, and your right mouse button being your guitar chord based attacks.  This gameplay style feels really fluid and like I said earlier just like a Darkstalkers game.  The only thing that is frustratingly missing is jump.  I am not sure why but this is a big deal to me.  I am one of those people that jumps around aimlessly while playing games.  So instead of the standard space to jump, we get a space too defend mechanic and no jump ability that I have seen so far… or at least none that you are introduced to during the tutorial.

Burn Rubber Baby

BrutalLegend 2014-03-09 09-19-49-06 In order to make your big escape from the temple of Ormagöden Eddie uses his Jedi Masster Roadie abilities to create a really slick deuce coupe out of spare parts laying around the temple.  So this introduces a yet another playstyle into the game.  Controlling a vehicle feels like most GTA style games where you W accelerates S brakes and we have a decent mechanic for turning on a dime by hitting space to apply the handbrake.  You get to test all of these out in a really odd vehicular battle sequence against a very spikey worm creature thing.  Did I mention this game is completely over the top?  Everything and everyone is pretty much coated in skulls and spikey bits… as god intended them to be.  In the same way Blood Dragon was a love song for 80s action movies… this game is a love letter to the Heavy Metal era.

BrutalLegend 2014-03-09 09-26-40-27 After the big car battle you have to make your escape over a crumbling bridge by avoiding holes in the road and boosting over gaps by hitting Shift to apply the nitro.  Overall this is a pretty simple minigame, and nothing really cringe inducing.  Overall the game I pretty damned forgiving when it comes to the minigames I have encountered.  While normally I hate when a game breaks out of its normal control scheme and forces you into something different for an “event”, but so far this game feels pretty natural about it.  Primarily I have problems with the games that do so, but make it so QTE or twitchy that if you screw up once you are dead.  The obstacles you have to avoid on the bridge you can pretty much see for the entirety of the screen giving you plenty of time to react and avoid them.  It messages the fact that when you see a big guy fixing to stomp the bridge… you need to avoid that area because it is about to fall.

Real Metal vs Glam Metal

BrutalLegend 2014-03-09 09-30-26-82 You go to Blade Henge and meet Lars the leader of the fledgeling resistance, his sister Lita… and you find out the girl that helped you escape from the temple is Ophelia.  The games central conflict revolves around “Real” metal struggling against the “Glam” metal sellouts.  So while the protagonists are dark and brooding and full of spikey bits, the evildoers are wearing pink and zebra print… with teased out hair and a very obvious sellout attitude.  You can tell exactly where Double Fine stands on the age old Poison vs Metallica metal debate.  Considering I tended to shy away from the glam rock, and favor the more hardcore stuff… I definitely feel them here.  It is all the more enjoyable for me to beat up the pretty boy rockers in the game because of it.

BrutalLegend 2014-03-09 10-01-06-44 As roadie extraordinaire your job is to help them build an army, using your mystical roadie powers.  The game employs another mini-game to accomplish this.  At various times you can play a power chord that will have some effect.  The one you end up doing the most often will summon the Deuce to your location.  There is another one that will allow you to pick up new abilities at these shrines of sorts scattered throughout the world.  I am guessing that over time this has a Legend of Zelda type trope allowing you to access new areas.  As I wandered around the country side I noticed that most of the shrines were chained up, and when I tried to access them there was some flair dialog about needing to find a way to free them.

BrutalLegend 2014-03-09 09-43-30-80 The first mission to help build an army is to gather up a bunch of brutes that have been trapped in the mine and forced to bang their heads against the wall to break rock.  The result is they have turned into this muscle bound troglodytes.  As you roam around the level you can play a power chord to rally them to your side.  Upon hearing the music they swear allegiance to the heavy metal and will do your bidding.  This introduces yet another game play style…  I told you it was a smorgasbord.  Much of the game seems to rely on small group based squad tactics.  You can deliver some simple commands like stay and defend, follow and attack your target.  The system lacks any real fine control, so essentially you point your mindless mob towards a target and then go do something else.

The Kill Master

BrutalLegend 2014-03-09 10-12-20-31 At this point I have only made it about an hour and a half into the game, but I am enjoying it so far.  I was pleased to see a cameo from Lemmy Kilmister as the “Kill Master”, a mystical healer type character.  I have a feeling that the majority of the gameplay is going to revolve around doing missions to free followers and then using those followers to band together in an army against the evil Doviculus voiced by Tim Curry, and the Glam Metal sellout General Lionwhyte voiced by Rob Halford.  While at face value this seems like pretty standard fare, what makes the game worth playing is the fantastic dialog that only a Double Fine game can deliver.  While the game sounds pretty Frankenstein in its stitching of a bunch of different genres together.  However for some reason it works really well.

I’ve heard that there is a grand switcheroo that comes towards the end of the game, but I have yet to make it there.  Where essentially they throw in yet another genre, making you do battle with your army RTS style.  If it is as well carried out as the other bits and pieces I think I will be okay with this, but I can see how confused it might feel.  I know I was pissed as hell when I got to the “force you to split everyone up into small groups” army battle phase of Dragon Age Origins.  But that mostly was because I am notorious for playing that type of game with only my chosen group of four characters, and pretty much ignoring everyone else in my party.  In this case I hope I will just be given units and I won’t have had to do much to power them up outside of the normal game play flow.

Overall Enjoyable

BrutalLegend 2014-03-09 09-54-33-48 While I don’t generally give these games a rating system, I have to say I greatly enjoyed this one.  I can see myself cracking it open again and finishing the game.  That is about as high of praise as I can really give.  I played an hour and a half and I want to play some more.  The movies and cut scenes feel like they are part of the game, and not something tacked on for filler.  The story crafting is superb and I am definitely a fan of the subject material.  Nothing feels cooler than running around kicking stuffs ass while Def Leppard blares in the background.  I have loved the games of Tim Schafer since Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle… and this definitely feels like a worthy member of that family, if not a slightly oddly designed one.  It was not exactly what I was expecting, but the sum of the pieces add up to a really fun game.

Next Steampowered Sunday

BrutalLegend 2014-03-09 09-07-07-49 There are many times when it feels like the readers of this blog are all somehow already connected to me, either through being friends on twitter or somehow having played in one of the many guilds I have been at the helm of.  This week however surprised me in that the winner of the Bioshock give away was someone completely unknown to me.  I delivered the copy this morning through steam, and having learned a few things from last weeks I have made some tweaks to the lineup for this coming weeks contest.  First up I will be using Survey Monkey, to try and cut down on the skewing of the poll by well meaning friends.  Next up we will be having a sudden death round among the three titles that came close to winning this time:  FTL, Assassins Creed II, and Alan Wake.  Finally I happen to have a spare copy of Brutal Legend, so we will be giving that away during the voting.  As always you can vote without entering for the copy of the game.  To make the link easier to see… I am introducing a “Big Damned Button” below.  I made it the most obnoxious 80s induced color palette I could think of just to make it stand out even more.

Savior of the Heavens

War of Guilds


A few days ago on a whim I decided to reinstall Guild Wars 2 and patch it up, which is not an insignificant process at this point.  Last night before getting into anything else I decided to give it a spin.  I have done this a number of times since launch, with essentially the same results.  After a few minutes of running around I decided that I still don’t like the game.  I figured this post is relevant with all of my recent Elder Scrolls fanboyism…  that yes it is perfectly okay for you not to like a game.  Guild Wars 2 is one of those titles that I want to like, because so many people have so many great moments with the game.  However for whatever reason I just cannot see the magic in it that others can.

Guild Wars 2 stands alone as the only alpha program I have ever resigned from.  I just did not like what the game was, and how it deviated from all of things I had read into their manifesto about the game.  When it came close to release I got into beta and had a marginal amount of fun, and with it launching in a relative dead spot I decided to take the plunge and try it.  On the initial play through I managed to make it through to about level 40 before running out of care to continue pushing forward.  This is round and about the place most of us dropped out of it.  Largely it was the chaos that is GW2 group combat that soured the milk for me.

All of that said… I want to see the magic that others see in this game.  So every few months I patch it up and give it another try.  I have always prided myself in being able to see the good in something despite its flaws, and as a result it drives me absolutely insane that I cannot grasp why people love this game.  I don’t want the game to change to fit my desires, so after a bit of playtime every few months we agree to disagree and I end up uninstalling it again.  Other than the chaotic game play, there is just something about the game that feels largely pointless… and I can’t quite put my finger on it.  I love faffing about as much as the next person, and I do so happily in many other games…  but there is just something about this games style of faffing that seems hollow.

I am not going to rage against this game and bash it for being bad… because it very obviously is NOT bad if so many people seem to be enjoying themselves.  It is just not a game for me.  I don’t pretend to believe that I could have built it better, nor would I even know where to start to make it feel more like a game I would want to play.  So I guess in writing this… I want to show that it is perfectly okay to not like the game that everyone else likes.  In doing so you can not like it, but also not seek to spoil the fun of those who really do enjoy it.  There are a long list of games that I just don’t “grok” for one reason or another, but it is okay.  They exist, and people like them… and it is just fine for me not to.

Savior of the Heavens

Diablo III 2014-03-06 22-18-57-78 Last night I finished my play through of Diablo 3 this time on Hard mode.  I am not sure why, but for whatever reason I prefer to level my characters linearly.  I know I can jump around a bit after beating the game ages ago on my Monk, but it seems pleasing to see the story play out in front of me as I trudge through it.  Last night I played with a handful of friends, and managed to get a few nice legendary drops.  Traditionally I have stuck with dual wield, because in general I prefer that in most games.  However last night I managed to get an early 50s version of the Zweihander and it good enough to get me to abandon my dual wielding ways…  at least temporarily.

Diablo III 2014-03-06 22-41-41-28 I am pretty sure at some point I flipped a slider and the game decided I needed “more spikey bits”, as I now am this bladed lord of death.  The appearance is growing on me, and when you see it in small form on screen I look a bit like I imagined the Shrike looking from the Hyperion series.  Upon defeating Diablo I promptly restarted the game, this time bumping the difficulty up to expert.  As a result I have had to tweak my build a bit to add in a bit more survival.  It is not quite as faceroll as it was during my run through Hard.  Mostly I am noticing that my healbot spec Templar is starting to struggle to keep up, or at least allowing me to drop quite a bit before topping me back off.  Wondering if this will change as I upgrade his gear a bit.  I have been trying to keep it upgraded, mostly with my handmedowns.

Diablo III 2014-03-06 22-07-22-52

At the close of the night I managed to ding 56, so hopefully tonight I should be able to finish off my push to get this character to 60.  At this point, I can’t really see playing up another character until the crusader.  I am sure the Witchdoctor, Demon Hunter and Wizard are cool in their own way… but each of them is very much a ranged/finger wiggler class.  They are just not the type of character I enjoy playing.  I realize you can tweak them a bit to make them play in different ways, but at the core they will still be more glass cannonish than I care to play.  I enjoy tanks and tanky dps…  and I feel like the Barbarian, Monk and Crusader fit that bill just fine.  If I continue to struggle a bit I might switch to a sword/board build on my Barbarian as I have done in the past.  For the time being it is working, but I am having to finally start using my heal pots on elites and champions.

Steampowered Sunday Bioshock Contest

Just a quick reminder that I am running a contest of sorts to let you guys pick what I will be playing this Sunday for my Steampowered Sunday feature.  The idea behind Steampowered Sunday is to get me to install and play a game from my steam backlog.  Then I will write about the game play experience.  Sometimes it is extremely glowing, other times not so much.  This week I decided to mix things up a bit and post a google form that allows you guys to vote on which title I will be playing the following week.  I have had a handful of votes to date, but I am really hoping for more.  As of this morning it looks like if nothing changes I will be playing Alan Wake.  Tomorrow when I blog I will be tabulating the results and declaring a winning game.

Additionally to make this more interesting, I have decided to use this as a way to get rid of some of the duplicates I have in steam and have gotten through the various indie bundles.  This week I will be giving away a copy of the original Bioshock for Steam.  So when you vote, make sure you let me know if you want to be entered in the running for the copy of Bioshock.  If so make sure you include your steam id in the form.  Saturday morning when I blog I will be picking a winner for this as well and sending off the free game.  So get out there and vote… and decide my Steampowered Sunday Fate.

Vote Here!

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.

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.

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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.

The Wi-Fi Miracle

Aging with Technology

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It has been a really weird morning so far, and as a result I am getting an extremely late start getting a blog out today.  For starters I was up pretty late last night watching episodes of Lost Girl on Netflix.  Neither of us really seemed to want to get out of bed this morning, seeing as for both of us it was a holiday.  The original plan was to go up to my mother-in-laws and set up a printer.  However there were several other issues that needed to be dealt with at all.  She is in her 70s, and the fact that she is on Facebook is pretty damned impressive to me.  However technology as a whole is this black box for her, and she seems to be unable to decouple the existence of the internet with the existence of her laptop.

For weeks she has complained that her laptop isn’t working, and in truth it works completely fine.  What is at fault however is her internet connection.  Quite simply put she doesn’t have one.  That is not to say she does not sometimes have one, but internet is not a thing she pays for.  Instead years ago I installed a wifi router at my nieces house that lives adjacent to her.  The intent was to provide me internet access when I was up there during a family illness so I could continue to work while still being available.  By some freak if science the wifi signal was usable over at my wife’s mothers house. 

The Wi-Fi Miracle

Using Google maps to measure the approximate distance it is well over 200 ft, and passes through lots of walls between the access point at and the location where my mother-in-law has her desk.  It was absolutely amazing that it ever worked, let alone has continued to work until recently with a over seven year old wireless router.  But she cannot grasp or does not seem to believe that it is simply an issue of not enough signal strength.  At this point it could be so many different things, her new laptop could simply have a weaker wireless card, since good wi-fi coverage is just an assumed fact these days.  It could be that she piled more stuff in the back bedrooms, which the signal has to pass through.  Or it could simply be that the wireless access point is slowly dying.

Whatever the case she feels there is a  grand conspiracy to deny her access to Facebook.  In truth I was really not ready to deal with this issue today as I have never attempted to set up a wireless repeater, let alone tried to make two different access points work together.  We have a graveyard of old wireless routers laying around the house as we seem to burn through them every couple of years.  The last thing I wanted to do was try and install a semi-functional technology in the home of someone completely technologically confused…  and end up having to do house calls two hours away.  So we rescheduled for next weekend, and this week I need to research some options and get something ordered from Amazon.

Gauntlet Revival

Hammerwatch 2014-01-19 16-29-59-38 I am not really sure if yesterdays Steampowered Sunday post adequately covered how much I really enjoyed playing Hammerwatch.  By the time I stopped to write my blog post, I had played roughly 66 minutes.  By the end of the day I had logged well over 4 hours.  Shortly after posting my blog entry, I hooked up with 3 other friends and we discovered a bunch of new things about the game.  Firstly when doing multi-player you have the ability to add crutches.  Since we were still obviously learning the game, we added two really important ones.  Firstly we gave ourselves unlimited lives, which allowed us to brute force a few horrible areas of the game by simply respawning back into combat and bashing our faces against a wall until we got through it.  Additionally we added hit point regeneration… which was extremely slow… but just enough to help take the edge off things a bit.

With these added bonuses… we were able to push through to the third set of stages and down two world bosses.  I have to say the game just keeps getting more enjoyable and trickier.  It seems like each of the character classes has some really strong abilities.  The paladin that I was playing eventually got the ability to proc a stun on mobs, as well as the ability to deflect missile attacks from an ever widening frontal arc.  The warlock began getting some life drain abilities which greatly improved its sustain.  While I didn’t pay that close of attention to the Ranger or Wizard they both also seemed to get more and more lethal over time.  I have to say sale or no, this game is very much worth picking up.  The above image if from a really cool Gauntlet bonus level that we unlocked.  So much nostalgia. so many feels.

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.