Alas Troll Side

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Changed Plans

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Yesterday morning I had every intent of coming home last night and pretty much playing Street Fighter V the entire evening.  During the day I did a bit of googling and found out that Game Stop apparently carries the Hori Fight Commander 4 controller for use with PS3/PS4/PC.  The Game Stop website indicated that a store not terribly far from where I work had “limited” stock so I decided to pop by over lunch.  I’ve been bitten by the whole limited stock thing before, but since this was a wild goose chase anyway… I didn’t really mind it much.  The last time I was in a Game Stop was to snap up $5 physical copies of Wildstar to convert into play time and digital goodies.  When I got there, it took me a bit to locate the controller… and they did in fact only have one.  The goofy thing however is that it was being closed out for $20 unlike the almost $50 price tag on Amazon.  This seems like some horrible timing, considering that Street Fighter V was just released… and that folks will be seeking out fight pads…. but whatever…  their loss and my benefit.  I have to comment that this controller is really damned comfortable… way more so than the default PS4 controller when it comes to dpad and face button feel.  If you can find one anywhere near as cheaply as I picked mine up… I highly suggest grabbing it.

When I got home from work I hooked up the new controller and booted into the game, where I honestly was undecided what exactly to do.  The game reports cross console play, but as of yet I have yet to find anything even closely resembling a friends list.  There is the ability to create a custom lobby of sorts… and in theory that might be the compromise.  I know you set up a Capcom ID when you first boot the game, and if anyone needs mine it is once again “belghast” but you will have to be smarter than me in figuring out how to actually friend someone because I could not.  For the most part I started working my way through the story mode, which unlocks alternate costumes and color schemes for the various characters.  I made it roughly halfway through this when my wife got home from work with a friend of ours… and the three of us decided that the priority was to go find food.  After eating silly amounts of Mexican food, I never quite made it back upstairs once we got home.  So in theory I will pick up tonight when I first get home and continue unlocking the various story modes.  All in all I like what I have seen of the game… which admittedly is not a lot.  The game feels more deliberate and less twitchy than many of the other Street Fighter entries, so if you are someone who cut your teeth on Marvel Vs Capcom…  you might find the game a little sluggish.  For me who started on the original Street Fighter, the less frenetic pace is a big plus.

The Mission

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Last night once I got back from eating…. I was a man on a mission.  The mission was actually something that evolved over the course of the day, but the goal was pretty simple.  Help Grace catch up and level her druid on Argent Dawn.  Originally my thought was….  lots and lots of Hellfire Ramparts because well…  when I was dual boxing WoW this was pretty much the go to instance for me when it came to pouring on some quick levels.  So the first step was to hop on my Mage and port her little druid to Pandaria so she could bind someplace with portals.  From there we met up in Shattrath and I flew her on my Obsidian Nightwing over to Hellfire.  The only problem… at level 50 she could not zone in…  and this is the point at which I remembered that World of Warcraft instances have level caps.  So we ported to Stormwind since apparently they closed off the Dark Portal…  because our original thought was Sunken Temple.  From there we flew over to Blackrock Depths because in theory she should have been able to pick up several of the quests.  We proceeded to lay waste to the Dark Iron empire, and through the course of that one instance she managed to pick up three levels.  When we got down to the Molten Core gate, on a whim we tried to zone in…. and sure enough she was able to.  Thinking “surely a raid gives good experience” we proceeded to lay waste to the entire place, and I did some of my most careful pre-clearing of a zone ever…  shockingly she did not die once.  Bad news however…  she made like 2/3rds of a level in there but did manage to pick up some “moggy bits”.

From there we did in fact head towards Sunken Temple…  which is now a completely nerfed joke.  Firstly we completely missed the entrance because apparently at some point they moved it up near the top of the sunken pyramid instead of deep down inside the base.  We did two clears of the place, and I would say that both times it took well less than ten minutes to clear the entire place.  They apparently jettisoned “Troll side” of Sunken Temple and all that is actually there is the Green Dragon Flight stuff upstairs.  We also noticed that none of the events actually required you to do anything… like I remember summoning Hakkar required you to drag snakes into the braziers or something of that sort… but this was a simple “click the pile summon a boss” scenario.  From there we flew over to Lower Blackrock Spire thinking she was right about the appropriate level, and on our first clear…. I screwed up and forgot to grab the pike… meaning we couldn’t actually summon the optional boss. So we went out, reset and I managed to get that sequence of events right the second time.  All in all the night took a little less than three hours, and we got the druid a total of seven levels.  In theory… dungeon finder might have gone quicker.  I have another theory, that is my Panda Monk is just slightly lower level now than her Druid… so I am wondering if we would be better served with me going Tanky and her going Healy and getting pretty much instant queues all the way to 100.  Regardless it was a fun night… there is something relaxing about curb stomping old content and venturing back down nostalgic avenues.

Relearning to Fight

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Nostalgia vs Reality

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I feel like I grew up at exactly the right time to be a fan of fighting games.  For the most part these were what consumed my High School game playing years, well apart from a healthy dose of pen and paper role-playing and miniatures.  I remember when the local Circle K got in the original Street Fighter back in middle school, my friend and I were completely enamored with it.  Sure we had played fighting games before, but there was just something different about this one.  Then when Street Fighter II started showing up in Arcades during early 1991… it was quite literally all we could talk about.  Electronic Gaming Monthly had become our bible, and when it released full move sheets for each character, my friend Wade and I practically memorized them.  We were set on course for a wild ride over the next several years, as a new game would come along and dethrone the previous king.  I spent so much money in the arcades playing Street Fighter II derivatives, Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury, Samurai Showdown, Mortal Kombat 1 and 2….  and finally culminating for me at least with Killer Instinct.  I went off to college…. got poor…  so I missed a whole generation of the early Tekken games, finally re-entering the fighting game world with Soul Edge in the basement of the university center.  I stayed engaged for most of the original Playstation and for the first bit of the Playstation 2…  and then thanks to my addiction to MMOs…  checked out of the scene once more.

From that point onwards I have tried to poke my head in, every now and then…  even purchasing the original release of Street Fighter IV on my fairly new Xbox 360.  There is still very much a will in me to play these games… but I have had to realize that I am not nearly as good as my nostalgia believes me to be.  Generally speaking I get my ass kicked and get it kicked extremely hard when I try and play anyone with much skill.  I also have completely killed any of those key callouses that we used to need to keep from getting a nasty case of “raw thumb”.  There is something about Street Fighter V however that has reinvigorated my desire to try and learn to play Fighting games once more.  At almost 40… I simply don’t have the reflexes to ever really be “great”, not that I ever was in the first place.  I could dominate an arcade cabinet for a few hours on a single quarter during my prime, but that part of me is just no longer around.  Gone is most of that competitive spirit, and instead I just want to have some fun playing a fighting game.  So much has been added to the genre since I last played, that it feels like I will be simply starting from scratch again.  We will have to see how long the drive stays with me, but as of right now I have every intent of sitting at home tonight and trying to remember how to play a Street Fighter game.  I ended up picking it up on PS4, so my PSN id is Belghast as is my Capcom fighter tag, though I don’t expect to play against anyone for a long while.  I wish I had ordered that Hori Fight Commander in preparation of this…. because I am not sure if I can get used to hitting shoulder buttons for heavy attacks.

Goodbye Grahtwood

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In other news… I have now finished the bulk of the quests in Grahtwood and am moving forward to Greenshade.  There are I am certain a few points of interest that I did not take care of while I was in Grahtwood, but a lot of them are simply going to wait for another level… and a fresh infusion of gear.  So many of the world bosses that I encountered were actually two separate boss mobs that interacted with each other.  I can absolutely whittle down one world boss, by simply out surviving it and self healing….  but when it comes to two at the same time my damage output is lacking.  So my hope is that when I hit Veteran 4 and can craft a whole new set of gear… that I will be able to return and kick their ass.  Right now I am largely wearing a crafted set of Veteran 1 gear… and at this point it is starting to feel a bit dated.  In other news I got this installed once again on my upstairs gaming rig, so my hope is to maybe start streaming some of my evening shenanigans.  I am not sure what it is about playing Elder Scrolls Online, but it very much feels like returning home.  Its like the world waited there quietly for me to return, and has thus far welcomed me back with open arms.  If you ever played this game in the past… you might take the bit to patch up your client and give it a shot.  I know a few people recently have restarted after not enjoying the beta testing at all… and are enjoying themselves.  The game certainly feels more polished now than it was at launch.


The Arcade Community

One of the odd things I have been struggling with over the last two years of writing daily is why on the week days I can bang out a post in usually less than thirty minutes, but on the weekends it takes upwards of three hours.  The problem is I think that I simply don’t feel quite the same pressure to perform on the weekends.  I know I am not under the gun to produce in a short period of time so I faff about more.  This morning for example I have read half a dozen articles, done my daily garrison chores in World of Warcraft and am finally just now setting down to start writing.  I think the pressure to perform is crucial for what I do, and without it I likely would not have kept this up all this time.  All of this said there are days when the process of getting up every morning to stare at a blank screen becomes frustrating.  On  those days I wonder just how long I can keep this ritual up.  Tomorrow will be the second year anniversary, and so far the will to write has not left me.

Fighting Games

streetfighter1 Last week Mortal Kombat 10 was released, and I will admit there is a part of me that wants to purchase it and wallow in the nostalgia a bit.  The problem is another part of me knows that I could do this, but it would not feel the same.  In fact no fighting game I have played has felt right to me, and I cannot really place the reasons why.  Ultimately I think its because I myself am in a different place than I was when I first played Street Fighter 2 all those years ago.  I touched on this a bit with my story about my friend Wade, but I thought I would delve more into it this morning for Storytime Saturday.  While I have heard the fighting game scene is alive and well with the EVO Championship Series, there is just something missing from it without the existence of the arcade element.  There was a critical friction required of actually getting to the arcade that somehow made the experience worth that much more.

I remember in the days before I had my drivers license, I took any opportunity I had to get my hands on a stand up arcade cabinet.  I spent many trips to Wal-mart hanging out in the lobby and playing whatever games they happened to have available there, trying to make that handful of quarters last an entire shopping trip.  When the Circle K in town first got in Street Fighter, I was not exactly drawn to it… because at first it looked like the boring Karate games that came out in the late 80s.  We of course did not have a “real” Street Fighter cabinet, but instead one that was recycled from some other game with Street Fighter innards.  As such we didn’t have the helpful stickers showing us the moves, so the first time my friend stumbled across a special attack it was like magic.

The Gaming Bible

egm31Electronic Gaming Monthly became my bible, and I anxiously awaited every single issues because they painstakingly printed move lists for all of these fighting games.  By the time Street Fighter 2 was released we had an arcade in town called the Wooden Nickel and any time I could I tried to get out there to camp the fighting game machine.  It was at this point that I was first introduced to the etiquette of the arcade.  On that machine at Wooden Nickel was a plastic strip attached to the bottom of the bezel, with eight numbered coil slots.  My friend who was much more of a regular than than I was, explained to me that it was how you requested the next game aka “Winner Stays, Loser Pays”.  You could walk up to any machine, plunk your quarter down and you were immediately in line for the throne.  It became a challenge to see just how long you could stay on the machine, and it became my mission to stretch my quarters as long as I possibly could.

I could play a mean Ryu or Guile, but there were always challengers that I found difficult like someone who really knew how to play Dhalsim for example.  Around this time Mortal Kombat released but we continued to plug away on Street Fighter 2, it felt like the superior game in every way.  Mortal Kombat had the cool gimmick of fatalities and photo captured graphics, but the gameplay itself was just more fleshed out in Street Fighter 2.  That was the case until the release of Mortal Kombat II, when most of us changed our religion.  By this time I had transportation and was regularly going to Arcades in both Bartlesville and Tulsa.  There we started to find various “beta boards” for Mortal Kombat II, and quite honestly this was the strangest time in video games that I can remember.  At this point there was really no such thing as “patching” a game, but Midway distributed Mortal Kombat II in such a way as to allow for the swapping out of chips as upgrades came out.  The first MK2 board I can really remember playing on was one that I think was labelled “.98” but honestly at this point I have had 20 years of time to forget the details.

johnnycagefriendship `The problem with these early boards is they were extremely incomplete.   They might have a fatality for this character, but not one for another character.  Was the boards evolved we started seeing newer and stranger items being added into the mix.  I remember the first time I saw a “babality” or a “friendship” I was completely floored that something like that would exist.  The problem is this started a massive rumor mill flowing in the arcades.  People would come in and sell these guides that had codes for supposedly all of the characters, more than half of which are completely made up.  At this point if you had access to AOL you were a god, because you had access to the message boards where all of these codes were being traded.  I made it my mission to try and assimilate all of these rumors together into a comprehensive guide and actually test each of the codes.  I noted which version of the game had which abilities, and which codes were complete bullshit.  All I had access to was Microsoft Works at the time, but I tried my best to churn out as professional a guide as I could for the time.  Instead of charging for them, I would just leave them with the desk of the arcade for anyone who wanted one.

The Arcade Community

fullgorejago There were some players who knew all of the abilities and other players who had nothing to really work with.  When you have as many characters as a fighting game has, you don’t have room on the cabinet bezel art to actually show the moves…  so everything was guess work.  I guess in my own way I was trying to level the playing field.  Let people know the attacks so they could defend against the jerks in the arcades that would refuse to teach anyone any move.  Me I would happily explain what I was doing to the players that fought against me.  I would explain why I was doing what I did, and why I was attacking in a specific way.  Granted over time I lost my advantage on the players, but I felt it was for the good of the community as a whole, because really at that point the arcades were like a community.  You would see the same players when you went to specific arcades, and they would remember you and chit chat back and forth as you played.  When someone would be gone for a significant amount of time…  folks would note their passing and wonder why they were not around.

The last game I remember being extremely excited about before this era finished for me was Killer Instinct.  At this point anything that was 3D rendered was new and exciting, and we rushed to this cabinet because it represented the next evolution of fighting games at the time.  It looks so primitive now, but at the time it was pure magic.  The attract music was amazing, and listening to the absolutely over the top sound effects like the infamous “Combo Breaker” made the whole experience unlike anything else that was being offered.  Additionally this was the first game that I can remember that had actual programmed combo sequences that you could kick off.  I graduated High School, moved on to college and other than a few flirtations with Soul Edge in the University Center basement I had moved on to the PC and games like Starcraft.  I feel like my entire generation went through this transition and then the gap between home systems and arcade systems lowered to the point where there simply was not a reason to keep going somewhere else to play video games.  I mourn the loss of that community because it really was something special, not entirely unlike the relationship we have in MMO guilds.  I have heard the EVO scene has revitalized a lot of this, but I feel like at least for me… that was another time and another place  and I have moved on to other games.

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


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.