Regularly Playing: May Edition

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I had a realization over the weekend as I stared at my sidebar…  that it has been a significant amount of time since I last did the regularly playing thing.  The last one I was able to find was on October 3rd of 2016…  some 210 days ago.  I may or may not have completely fallen off the wagon on this concept.  The original intent was to take a moment once a month to “true up” the side bar and shift out what I was no longer playing for what I was currently playing.  As a result we are going to see some significant moving and shaking in the list as a result.

To Those Remaining

Final Fantasy XIV

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I am still going fairly strongly in Final Fantasy XIV, and while I might not log in every night I am logging in multiple times a week.  I am definitely still making the Tuesday night raid thing, and while we don’t always make progress each week we get together to do something.  Thanks to the wonder of cross server grouping we have been able to pull in our friend Kelesti into some stuff as well.  Largely we are all in a big holding pattern until the release of Stormblood which comes in July, and as a result I am still in the middle of my “level everything” binge.  Right now my Machinist is just shy of 40, and that leaves Astrologian the only thing that has yet to be touched.  The whole purpose behind all of this madness is so that I can purge my vault of anything at minimum sub 30… and the grand hope is to sort through anything sub 50 and be extremely judicious in what I choose to keep.  Still having a lot of fun in Palace of the Dead, just have had other distractions of late.

To the Returning and New

Skyforge

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This is one of those games that has not graced my sidebar in a very very long time.  In July of 2015 I played quite a bit of the game around the time that it launched, and while I enjoyed it… it always felt like it was missing something.  Apparently October of last year an expansion released that added in pretty much all of the features that I am finding myself enjoying now.  Additionally the game just works better with a controller than it ever did with a keyboard and mouse and while I returned primarily on the PS4… I am also dipping my toes back into the PC experience as well.  Both are extremely fun and I am not entirely sure how long I will be splitting time before I officially pick one platform.  Whatever the case if you have ever played this game I highly suggest checking it out.  It has some issues… namely you are limited to three classes at the start with no clear path to add new ones.  However each of the classes is doing something somewhat unique which makes them more enjoyable than the standard Tank, Mage and Healer that they represent.

Star Wars the Old Republic

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There are two things that are shocking about this game gracing my list.  Firstly that apparently I never actually made a “now playing” widget for it, and secondly… that I am back playing it again.  I blame a sequence of nostalgic events happening at exactly the same time…  all of the hype about the next Star Wars movie, the love of Rogue One, and my deep enjoyment of Mass Effect Andromeda has lead to an upwelling of love for both Bioware and Star Wars.  As a result I have returned to an old mission, which is trying to level through all of the class stories.  I managed to finish off the Sith Sorcerer and am now through Hoth so far in the Imperial Agent.  It seems as though I picked one of the best storylines for last, and even though I am not traditionally a stealthy/shooty type class…  there is something extremely awesome about this one.  I largely went Sniper because my Smuggler on the other side of the fence is Sawbones/Healer.  I am having a blast right now, so I am going to ride the enjoyment until it lasts.  The goal is to push forward into the story I have not touched on my Jedi Knight main after finishing the Agent story…  which involves Shadow of Revan, Fallen Empire and Eternal Throne.

Horizon Zero Dawn

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I do not normally put many single player games on the regularly playing list, but we have this sequence of amazing ones being released in short order.  One of those is Horizon Zero Dawn, which is a game that I hit hard at launch… and then for whatever release lost momentum to Mass Effect Andromeda.  As a result I have been slowly playing it here and there as time and desire allows.  I could force myself through the story, but I want to play it when I want to play it… and that is right now involving the occasional hour long session of hunting giant robot dinosaurs rather than pushing forward the main story.  I am still very much enjoying the game, but I need to find some catalyst that really gets me back into it and dying to play the next chapter.  In the mean time however I am still enjoying the “bowplay” if I can coin that term.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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This is very much another “as desire hits me” sort of experience.  When the game came out I picked it up on the Wii U and in the time between then and now I have managed to pick up a switch effecting starting back at square one.  This stalled my progress a little bit but for the most part I have returned to where I left in the Wii U and am once again moving forward.  I have designs on starting to take this to work and playing a little over lunch and on break times.  While I have the switch I really have not done a lot of handheld play with it remaining largely docked upstairs so I can play it with the pro controller.  It is a great game and in spite of having a lot of things that frustrate me about the game… is yet another in a long list of titles contending for my game of the year bid.

To Those Departing

World of Warcraft

While I still have an active account, I am just not really playing at all.  I logged in shortly after the last patch and got bored and logged out again.  I fell off the raiding bandwagon about halfway through Nighthold, and honestly just sort of reached the point I have in so many other expansions.  I think in theory I could come back and play casually and enjoy the experience but there are just simply too many other things I would rather be playing right now.  So as a result this is going to find its way off my side bar, but I did have the forethought to simply comment it out rather than remove it because I am sure at some point around Blizzcon time I will get hit by the bug once more.

Rift

Much like with Nightmare Tide… I just failed to gain traction with the latest expansion the Starfall Prophecy.  A large part of my struggle with Rift is that I can never seem to find a warrior spec that I really like anymore.  What I ultimately want is a juggernaut for doing PVE/Leveling content that can burn through the mobs with nonexistent downtime.  If I ever find that spec again I will return to the game and happily finish up leveling.  The other huge struggle is that the game lacks a reliable current font of knowledge.  The forums in theory have a lot of the information but it is this blend of current information and ancient and no longer reliable, and I just lack the mental fortitude to sift through it.  I am hoping that after writing this… Muspel or PK will come to the rescue once again with a viable Warrior build like they have in the past.  The other huge challenge with Rift is the fact that none of my gaming infrastructure is playing the game, nor do any of my regular suspects have any interest in the game at this point.

Destiny

It hurts more than a little bit to be adding this game to this space on my list.  The truth is I am just not playing it right now and I don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future.  I have too many other games fighting for my attention, and while I absolutely know I will be returning with Destiny 2…  the amount of stuff that I can do solo or want to so solo is pretty limited.  At this point it feels like I would be working towards something that is ultimately going to disappear.  I also have a lot of questions because as it is right now… I am looking at making the leap to PC from PS4 for the second game… and I am not sure what if anything might transfer.

Guild Wars 2

Adding this one to the list really doesn’t take a lot of effort.  I was only into this game so long as some of my friends were actively playing it.  Once Tam and Ash and Kodra faded away… so did I.  It is still not my favorite game but I have developed a certain appreciation for it.  Most of what it is doing however isn’t really all that interesting to me.  I largely got to play along with my friends only because I had maxed out my Warrior soloing for ages without them.  He was geared and ready to go… and will still be there if it ever has a resurgence.  Much like Warframe this is a game that was not ultimately for me…  but somewhat enjoyable so long as I was playing with friends.

 

 

 

 

Cars and Wielding Garbage

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I said this over the weekend and I feel like I need to reiterate it this morning.  For a little over a month my wife has been passively looking for a new vehicle.  When she hit 120,000 miles on her Pontiac Torrent all sorts of little things started failing.  The latest is a check engine light being caused by something in the engine emission filters… which in itself isn’t a huge deal apart from the fact that it disables remote start while the engine is in an error code.  So for a month now I have been receiving links to vehicles from my wife, and we’ve made a few ventures out to car lots to see what we think of various models.  There is an auto lot within a mile of the house that leaves all of the vehicles unlocked so that it is sort of a tradition to go there on Sunday when you to check out various vehicles unmolested by sales people.  There are a lot of vehicles that got marked off of the list simply because my knees would not fit underneath the dash, and some others the first time my wife test drove them.  We had narrowed things down to a half dozen different models, and one lot about an hour from where we live seemed to have all of them.  The irony is  that when we ultimately bought a vehicle…  it wasn’t even one that was on the short list.  The whole car buying experience thought feels foreign to me, and grossly outdated.  During this whole sequence of events we found out that no car lot has anything even resembling updated inventory on their website.  Its like this entire process is stuck somewhere back in the 1960s and never quite graduated to modernity.

My wife and I are both very data-centric people…  and actively reject the “personal touch” that car salesmen try and put on the deal.  Fortunately we maybe found the perfect sales person for us, who literally just handed us the keys to the vehicles we wanted to check out and left us completely alone to wander around the small town.  Over the course of the day we drove I think five different vehicles, and spent a ton of time on our phones researching each of them while sitting in said vehicle.  The problem is… a vehicle seems to permanent.  We are not the type to trade them off frequently and instead tend to buy a vehicle and drive it until past the point it is paid off.  Finally it came down to a dance of “funny math” which is frustrating as shit.  Ultimately the dance involved the monthly payment rate, and a thin line in the sand that we were not willing to budge off of, which meant that in order to seal the deal given that we were not trading in a vehicle…  that the dealership had to come down off the price a bit.  There was a funny sequence of events where the dealer and my wife were both on their phones using the exact same financing calculator app trying to reach a consensus of numbers.  Whatever the case we wound up buying, after an  entire day of looking at this one lot…  and made it home just in time for the AggroChat podcast.

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The other big happening of the weekend is that I now have Zelda Breath of the Wild in my grubby little hands.  No that does not mean I have a switch, but instead have been playing it on the Wii U.  The screenshots I will be posting are not mine, but instead ones I have scavenged from the internet, because I do not have my Wii U set up so that it can go through a capture card… and I have never quite figured out how the hell to take a screenshot on the console itself.  Even more so I have no clue how to POST a screenshot someplace I can actually snag it if I did take a screenshot.  I have to say I have really mixed emotions about this game, and in truth I have barely just scratched the surface.  I’ve cleared two of the early plateau shrines and have been trying to figure out how to get to a third one that is in a snowy region.  Any time I get close to it, I start taking ticks of damage from the cold…  and this is the point where I realized that there was a temperature gauge in the UI.  The first hurdle that I have been trying to get past is the controls themselves.  The default mapping of buttons is not that great to use… with jump being assigned to X at the top of the button layout… where I am much more used to it being B at the bottom of the button layout.  This however apparently is something you can fix, but the other problem is I am so used to using triggers as weapon attacks in modern games and keep accidentally throwing whatever weapon I have equipped when I accidentally hit the right bumper.

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The other big problem I have been having is that so far the game has the “Halo problem” for me.  What I mean by that is that in Halo you have to constantly keep switching off weapons and wind up using some absolutely trash to try and progress through levels.  The same thing is happening here… where a given weapon seems to last maybe one or two combat sequences before it breaks and I have to hurriedly swap to some other random piece of junk I picked up along the way.  I’ve killed plenty of things by beating it down with a skeleton arm and I am not super proud of it.  This is a Zelda game… I want to use a sword and a shield and until the game gives me some sort of permanent option for this I am not going to be terribly happy.  It gave me a foresters axe early on… and I loved that weapon…  right up until the point that it broke and now I feel like I am constantly robbed of the amount of fun I had using it.  My fear is that I am going to bounce pretty soon if the game does not end up giving me some unlimited durability weapons that I can just use as often as I like.  As far as the goods however… once I got used to the clunky controls it does in fact feel like an open world Zelda.  I like that I can choose my own battles and that I see enemy camps usually well ahead of them actually attacking me.  There was a cool sequence where there were a bunch of bow wielding characters up in a tower with no visible way to get up.  However there was a draw bridge and I was able to sever the ropes holding it up with arrows causing it to fall down below and giving me access.  This is a primary example of the sort of visual puzzle solving that seems to be going on in this game, and the early shrines I believe are teaching you a toolbox that can then be used later in the game to solve more complex puzzles.  I do however absolutely want to stab the “Old Man” or at least push him off the tower, because I find him really annoying.

Advanced Spellcraft

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I’ve talked about quite a few things that I experienced at Pax South, and this mornings post is going to do some more of the same.  I feel like this year more than others I walked away with a treasure trove of things I wanted to talk about.  I guess in theory it is because I approached the convention significantly differently than I have in past years.  In the past I largely only stood in line to play the games that immediately seemed to be in my wheelhouse, and as a result I am sure I robbed myself of a whole slew of interesting things.  The game I want to talk about this morning is a prime example of not being able to rely on our instincts and tastes.  If you have read my blog for any length of time you will know that I do not handle “finger wigglers” that well… or to clarify my own personal slang…  spell casters.  So when I walked past a booth demonstrating a game where the main character is slinging spells left and right, my first instinct is to keep moving.  However as a group we stopped and listened to the intricate tale that CEO Louis-Félix Cauchon had to weave.  Admittedly what make this game so interesting is just how detailed the spell system is.  We got to watch a twenty minute demo covering nothing but how the spell system works, before even getting into the awesome pedigree of the storytelling.

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Functionally your character has four spells, which in itself doesn’t seem like a lot.  However each spell can be modified with what I have been generically calling “mutators” to change the way it responds.  So you might have a spell that at face value is a small point blank spark, however by equipping a a behavior you can make it fire out like a fireball…  or by equipping an augment you can make it veer to the right after firing it.  If you suddenly decide that you don’t want to throw fireballs… but instead iceballs, you can simply go in and change the base element of the attack.  Over the course of this demo of the system we got to see personal shields turn into charge attacks, and glorious cascades of rock from the ceiling in place of a traditional blizzard spell.  Now you might ask yourself why on each you would need this level of detail for a spell system apart from the simple “wouldn’t it be cool” aspect.  Functionally the magic not only serves as a weapon, but also as a complex puzzle system.  So there might be switches that you cannot reach unless you modify your fireball to arc in a certain way in order to hit the trigger.  The spellbook also allows you to save off several different configurations of a spell, and in the final version you will be able to give them unique names allowing you to quickly recognize which version of a given spell is your avalanche and which is your frost barrier.  The only immediate limit to building insane combination spells is your imagination, and of course your mana bar.  Each trait that you give a spell increases its cost, and while it was described that this matters less and less as you go through the game… it does limit your early tinkering.  Additionally as you play through the game you find modifiers along the way, meaning your palette of abilities starts small and grows as you progress.

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Up to this point we have literally just talked about the technical spell casting system, which in itself is a pretty amazing game.  On top of this however they have added what is sure to be a pretty great story.  Ed Greenwood of Forgotten Realms fame has penned the story for this game about epic spellcasters, which only makes sense given that he gave us the character of Elminster.  Functionally I heard the game described as Harry Potter meets Zelda and that seems fitting, with a huge alteration in that there seems to be a lot more physical puzzle solving with your spells.  I find it so bizarre though that I am looking forward to the release of a game about magic users, and that includes absolutely zero armor clad characters for me to bash baddies in the head with.  At face value this game is traditionally far out of my wheelhouse, but it was also quite possibly the freshest feeling game concept I saw on the Pax floor.  We’ve done so much for martial combat and making it feel interesting and nuanced, but have done so little to bring that same level of nuance to weaving complex spells.  Most games give us the option of push button throw fireball, or push button create bubble…  but this is the first that I have seen that lets you take that bubble and then project it outwards or trigger another spell after the bubble casts.  I have this feeling that in many ways it will have an almost metroidvania feel in that each time you unlock a new ability to give you spells it is also going to open up new ways to solve puzzles and allow you to move deeper into the content.

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The game right now is targetted for PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One and does not have a firm launch date… but we heard March or April mentioned which I largely translated into a “Spring” launch window that might be plus or minus a month.  They are doing something extremely interesting to get us into the world ahead of the launch by releasing a comic that updates Tuesdays and  Thursdays and explains the world and setting.  I love it when I experience a game like this, not necessarily because “woo spellcasters” or anything of the sort, but because this is clearly the love child of a bunch of folks who care deeply about it.  Talking to Louis-Félix Cauchon within second it was clear to see just how passionate he was about this game, and the work and imagination that went into creating it.  That in truth is what makes the convention experience special.  You get to meet the creators face to face and see just how much they love what they are doing.  In many ways it feels like Pax South recharges the spark inside of me each year, and gives me fuel to keep going throughout the year.  We spend so much time on the negatives, the little details that bother us about this game or that.  However seeing a game like Mages of Mystralia shows me instantly that there very much still is magic out there…  pun only slightly intended.  I would definitely add this to your watch list and check it out when it ultimately releases.  I find it so bizarre that of all of the games I have experienced, this one ranks insanely high on the list of “wish I had early access” titles, if for no reason other than to play with the spell crafting system.  This is the first release from Borealys Games, but if they can pour this much passion into every project they are going to be a studio we see lots of amazing things from in the future.

Week in Gaming 11/1/2015

Goodbye Summer

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This is the week where we finally started to see some colder temperatures.  Its funny that this has been the case for the last few years…  that October for the most part has still be warm and sunny and if we still had our pool open… we probably could have swam in it all month long.  We still have yet to see a freeze but this past week it was regularly in the 40s, when the week before it pretty much never dropped much down past the 70s other than the early morning.  As a result this means our hibernation instincts are starting to kick into overdrive.  We recorded the AggroChat podcast Friday night, which left us with all of Saturday to do whatever we wanted.  The end result… is that we pretty much just stayed inside apart from a mad dash out of the house around 4 pm to run a few errands.  I am perfectly fine with a weekend like this…  my wife however has some inborn instinct that tells her that we if did nothing over a weekend… that the weekend is somehow a failure.  Me… I see those as the most wonderful weekends ever.

Destiny

I had all of these plans to play some themed games for Halloween… but those plans pretty much died yesterday.  Instead I ended up working on my Warlock and getting it to 21 from about level 8.  I have to say the Warlock is growing on me over time… and I really really like Nova Bomb as a super goes.  It is this awesome mix of the way the Havoc Fist super and Shadowshot super feel, where I can deliver death from above…  but at a target instead of jumping down in the middle of everything.  Having played all three classes… I have to say they have done an excellent job of giving them all something really neat and special about them that makes it rewarding to play.  The hardest thing for me so far however has been adjusting to the Warlock jump.  It just works so different than all of the others… and while I am starting to get the hang of it…  I still have zero desire to do any of the platforming encounters with it.  We will see when I get to the dreadnaught if I can figure out how to do the various chasm jumps with it.  Hunter is simple…  double jump, and Titan is similarly simple… you just have to sort out when you want to hover over your target before you land.  Warlock…  is just fiddly and annoying and I never can seem to do the sort of jump I need when I need it.

The secret of my success honestly was getting high enough level to where I could break out my Stranger’s Rifle and I plan on riding that puppy up as long as I can.  That weapon is just so damned amazing…  and I am ultimately going to have to sort out the process for getting the modern version of it.  Sadly I don’t have much faction with Future War Cult, which is ultimately required to get the No Time to Explain exotic.  As it stands right now my hunter is running up Future War Cult faction, but since I don’t play him nearly as much as I do my Titan it is lagging behind.  I did manage to get my hunter up to 285 light, and I can now consistently him 297 light on my Titan.  Getting 300 and beyond items just seems to be the problem, and I still decode so many 260ish items that are just trash.  While I don’t mind so much if they are weapons… since I am consistently struggling to keep enough weapon parts on all three of my characters…  but armor…  I have more than enough to share.  I want to take a moment to talk about how much I love the Bungie.net website for swapping stuff between my characters, and the fact that you can do it in the middle of a game play session.  This is a really amazing feature.. and I have heard there are chrome plugins that streamline this process considerably.

For the last several weeks I have been on this mission to grind as many strikes as possible to get Exotic Engrams…  and there was a method behind my madness.  There was one weapon in this game that I wanted more than anything else… and that was.. the Zhalo Supercell.  From the moment I saw it in a video, I loved the look of it as some sort of futuristic AK-47/Bolt Action Hybrid thing.  What I loved more about it was the functionality of being able to chain lightning to all of the mobs around your target.  The only problem being…  I never seem to get weapon engrams.  I get Helms and Gloves… and the occasional Chestpiece… but have pure hell getting any sort of weapon to drop.  So you can imagine my excitement this Friday when Xur had none other than the Xhalo Supercell available.  The only negative of course is that all Xur weapons start at 280 instead of the 290 that they are usually dropping for me as.  I have managed to pour enough stuff into it to get it to 287 which will have to do for the time being.  I love this gun, and more importantly I love the way it rips through mobs that always frustrated me.  I’ve noticed when the lightning procs… it can hit Phalanx and Knights even if their shields are up which makes this gun freaking amazing.  When I wrap up my post this morning I think I am going to stream/record for a bit and talk about some of my favorite weapons currently.

Another huge positive from this week is that one of the Armsday orders was the above Suros DIS-43 Scout Rifle.  One of the rolls available had full auto… which makes this gun freaking amazing.  It has good impact, solid range and really great stability which makes it pretty much the perfect scout rifle for me.  This has now completely replaced Hung Jury in my current weapon load out.  My Hung Jury essentially has maxed range which is nice… because I can use it much in the same way as I would a sniper rifle, but the Suros DIS-43 is just a much better all around weapon.  I noticed it was available for Armsday orders again this week, and I put in for another one… so hoping that I can end up getting a third one for my Warlock.  I have two of these now and they are just excellent.  Hoping that everyone managed to get in on the full auto version from this past week because man… I am really enjoying it.  My only problem with Suros weapons… is that I really don’t like the Red and White paint job.  So this is another case that I would love to be able to repaint my weapons…  like if I could put a Dead Orbit paint scheme on this thing… it would be perfect.

Secrets of Grindea

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Another title that I played this week was Secrets of Grindea to get prepared for the Friday night podcast.  I of course talked about this at length on the podcast, but this is a game where I went through a few different phases with it.  At first… it didn’t really grab me.  This was my pick for the month, and I largely picked it because some of the game footage I saw reminded me of Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Secret of Mana.  The early gameplay however… is kinda boring, and the first “boss battle” on the bridge felt a little uninspired.  That was quickly followed up by the Giga Slime boss… which was absolutely brutal to do as a melee character.  So I have to admit that knocked a lot of wind out of my sails as far as this game went.  I did however manage to pick it back up this week and saw the game that I had not quite gotten to yet.

All I can say is… boy was I wrong to doubt this game.  The quests are cute, and a parody of traditional RPG tropes…. without being cruel or slapstick about it.  It is kinda a sly nod and wink to the fans of this genre…  saying “we know” rather than trying to rub your face in it.  We talked about this on the podcast, but this is essentially the game I had wished Citizens of Earth was.  It is well written, has some interesting and often times hilarious characters, and presents a world for the grown up fans of the original Zelda games…  not necessarily the same audience those games were targetting.  The boss fights are really challenging, but each of them have a trick or a pattern that once you figure it out it becomes doable.  That said I do think this game might have significantly more challenging encounters than Zelda did, because the above Hydra was essentially the point where the game broke me.  After talking with my friends on the podcast… there was essentially a pattern that I was missing that hopefully means I can get in and wreck it now.  There was not a single boss that did not take me multiple attempts… other that the first bridge encounter mind you.  The game does a great job of check-pointing your progress so you start pretty close to where you died allowing you to get right back into the action and try again.  Even though this is early access… I highly suggest checking it out…  though admittedly you might just wait for the final version.

Devilian

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The other game that I spent some time playing is Devilian, that was having another beta test weekend.  I still have issues with the game, at least in the style of the character classes… and their gender locked nature.  That said I do actually enjoy playing it, and I think it is a cool take on a normally Diablo clone environment.  It feels like something different, and I find it significantly more challenging already than anything I saw in Diablo.  Diablo gameplay felt “cheap” at times… where bosses would just straight oneshot you if you were unlucky or lacked the armor/skills to deflect the blows.  This game requires you to react a lot more quickly to things happening and dodge out of the way of incoming damage.  I’ve already encountered a boss that I just cannot currently beat, and I am hoping to come back to it once I have picked up a few more levels.  I have this feeling that the boss is designed for multiple players to take him down…  because he is right there out in the open rather than hidden behind a bunch of mobs.

The game is really damned pretty, and I will give it marks too for running extremely smoothly.  I am still getting used to its somewhat quirky control scheme, but it makes sense.  If I were in the permanent test group I would probably be playing this more regularly but with only having weekends to play it… it somewhat disincentives my time spent.  My ultimate hope is that Trion has more control over this one than they do over ArchAge and that maybe just maybe they can get some of the changes in that will make the game more enjoyable.  Like for example the game is desperately in need of some inventory management tools…  like sort and compact.  It feels so odd to be playing a game without those things at this point.  I doubt the whole Gender locked classes thing will ever be solved, because that will mean a TON of art and animation work to get there.  In truth, as I look at the other classes… it is highly unlikely that I would play any of them other than the berserker in the first place.  I am just not much for ranged classes…  and I have zero desire to play a character with a habitually open shirt.  In truth I wish there was some sort of a “tanky” character like the Crusader in Diablo 3.  That would probably ultimately be the class for me.

15 Gaming Influences

Gaming Influences

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

Gauntlet (1985)

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

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

Mega Man 2 (1988)

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

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

Shadowgate (1989)

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

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

Civilization (1991)

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

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter 2 (1991)

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

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

Wolfenstein 3D (1992)

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

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

Final Fantasy VI (1994)

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

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

Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (1996)

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

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

Diablo (1996)

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

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

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)

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

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

Fallout (1997)

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

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

PlaneScape: Torment (1999)

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

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

Everquest (1999)

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

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

World of Warcraft (2004)

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

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

Steampowered Sunday

brutal-legend-wallpaper

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