SWTOR reflections, 3 months in

Been playing SWTOR a lot in the run up to our subscription expiring. I was given a 3 month subscription as a Christmas gift from my employer, and had started up after that employer had been dissolved by a rather familiar publishing house. For a good portion of that subscription I wound up not playing at all; my other half was more involved than I was. Toward the end though, I guess I realized I wasn't going to be playing after the sub, at least unless we decided to come back later, so I am pushing to get my Bounty Hunter to level 50 in the time I have left.

Then comes the news, long foreseen, about SWTOR clipping on a free-to-play model. From what I understand, this will include pretty much all the stuff that I actually enjoy in the game. The stories, the conversations, the different narrative paths for each of the classes seem to all be included. They will naturally try to limit exposure to these things somehow, the details aren't clear (and maybe they're still working out the details) but to me it seems like my playing style may not be affected much at all. Which is a bit crazy, but I guess my profile may be exactly the kind of person they're trying to keep around.

There are limitations to SWTOR that, when you compare it to the KOTOR games, are a bit pronounced, but if your primary goal is to experience a Better Star Wars, like KOTOR allowed for many of us, it's good. I wish I could say I love it, but I'm not sure it's precisely my kind of game. I still love exploring environments to find hidden objects, I like advancing the class stories, and I actually engage in some multiplayer, which I usually don't do. The community is in general fairly helpful, so I've managed not to enrage anyone as I bumbled through Flashpoints I hadn't seen before (Flashpoints are fast-paced mini stories used to get better items, quick alignment gains and things called social points). When I got to about level 25 I started to burn out, partly because I felt like the game was merely adding to my list of chores rather than giving me a new compounding of interesting things. It may be the pressure of trying to finish up, but that doesn't bother me much anymore, and I'm not very close to level 50, and a planet away from finishing my class story.

Understanding the system and what it has to offer helped me appreciate what there was. I'd avoided flashpoints for a while because of their multiplayer component; they still give me performance anxiety in a way that grouping up to do a mission rarely does, in part because they often involve more puzzle combat and prior knowledge of the scenario to optimize play. But with flashpoints you get a good chunk of interesting mini-plots, like about the fate of that murderous HK droid, Darth Revan, and the Exile from the KOTOR games. Many of the characters we recognize from the old games are referenced, and I think that's where the game tends to be more fun. Some of the very basic side quests in the main game tend to be a bit un-heroic, and the Imperial side pushes distasteful for me, often being about murdering the locals. Still, what I do appreciate is that, thematically, the Republic is filled with its own corruption and dissent, and the shades of gray that help enrich what is admittedly a thin universe is much appreciated. My Bounty Hunter is about as good-aligned as you can be for any character class, although I do occasionally punch jerks in the face and sass Sith lords.

If I was a big fan of SWTOR this might read more like an advertisement, but I still feel that a lot of my game-engine choices are merely nuanced versions of the same things. My current build means I'm strong in defense, but can get higher critical damage (important because I get automatic criticals on railgun blasts). Yet when I'm modding my equipment I feel like I'm getting only slightly better, rather than a big leap in functionality that you'd feel in the KOTOR games when you uncover a goofy looking but very useful pair of goggles. Appearance is a lot more important to the designers of SWTOR, although that's a bit of a relief. You can often have a certain look translate all the way up to level 50 without it changing if you don't want it to, if you have gear that can be modded. I still wish the mods were more like in the old games... here they're just extra ways to push stats in a certain direction.

Those who enjoyed how skills were used in KOTOR will find SWTOR's approach to be very different, often geared more toward creating better-than-level gear for yourself and your companions, and your companions don't really contribute to your three chosen skills except in crafting; in the field, you can sometimes access objects if you have the right skill, but your companions share your skills with you, rather than contributing unique, contrasting abilities. They're primarily there to provide combat and story stuff.

The companions are definitely spice in the mix, and it's always nice to hear what a new character has to say about an old place, although I find I run into the same problem I have with most Bioware games in this regard, since I CAN'T have all my companions with me at once, I wind up just wondering what the others would have said. Despite my being better at the game, and probably capable of racing through it on a replay to hear what one character would say in a situation, I don't think I'll play through as the same class too often. The companions are also fairly contained within the game system. Sure, there may be lasting story consequences for a given character, but you will always have access to them; they're too integral to your ability to make stuff, to have a fling, or to guard your back when you're on a mission. They're less-than-characters in that way, always subordinate to the main character's progress. Very versatile, very flavorful pieces of equipment.

And every time in the story they reference something I specifically chose it's great, but more often than not it's a very Bioware-level of narrative control, with dialog options leading to the same result (and some voiced dialog repeating itself) except for the major decision gates. There ARE references to what you've done later, though the gameplay impact of these specifics is usually not terribly pronounced. And because it's a shared universe, the turrets you blow up regenerate after a while, the caged prisoners you DON'T free by the time your quota is filled are still stuck there, monsters pop back into existence (and so do treasure chests) if you wait long enough. The encapsulated stories feel final enough, but the game feels more permanent than your choices do. You have to already be enjoying the story for its own sake, I think, rather than testing the limits of its reality, because it's pretty clear this game is more about experiencing things within a relatively versatile game engine than having a strong narrative where unpredictable and devastating things can happen.

What I do get out of it is the grandeur of a given location, the wealth of little details, and the sense of ownership over my character. I DON'T miss KOTOR's repetition in terms of environments and NPC designs; SWTOR is thankfully leagues more varied. So much so that it's frankly a bit weird to see others' characters of the same class and sex speaking with the same voice as mine, since it feels like only MY character should be using that voice. I like the stories for the most part, even the ones that feel a bit rote are still fun to follow through to the end, though, like I did with the Jedi Consular, I just watched someone else play (who explored nearly every dialog option before committing). Watching someone else play, I also get a sense that the battles are often quite dynamic and interesting to watch in a way that you're not always aware if you're busy pressing buttons. The game is quite generous, flaws and all, and it helps me to appreciate it even when it annoys me.

I do think this game is unfairly maligned, probably because of its initially reported price tag. Now that it's going to be open to whoever wants to try it, I guess it'll live or die on its own merits as a game and an experience, which to me seems fair. When the game's machinery are laid bare it can feel a bit rough to continue, especially if you're not into the environments or the story. About halfway through my character's advancement I felt pressured to always have the best equipment and to jump through a bunch of hoops to do it. Some of the criticisms of SWTOR are justified, in that I still feel like the time it takes to do something is stretched with less interesting bits in a way that the KOTOR games didn't have to worry about. I do miss that dynamic element at times, though in other ways I feel like it's an incremental improvement of KOTOR, especially how dialog is handled.

As far as my own SWTOR experience I got over the hump, I guess. I'm enjoying it enough to keep playing now that the mechanisms are clearer to me. And now that what is apparently ALL of the stuff that I enjoy is going to be free, I guess I might still stick around even if I don't manage to finish my Bounty Hunter's story before the subscription lapses.

It DOES help to have people to play alongside, whether it's a casual meet-up or people you know well, and my experience was probably better for that. As much as it supports single player play, it's more fun with others. There's something about waiting to see if your group will make light-side or dark-side choices in a flashpoint that is still suspenseful, even if you've done it a bunch of times already. Though there's always the occasional asshole, people are willing to explain stuff and tell you the best way to do things even if you're not in a group with them, which makes learning the system a bit easier for people like me who prefer to be told what needs to be done rather than read about it or hope that a random internet site knows what it's talking about.

I'll go back to playing now. Maybe in a few days I'll be able to say whether or not the Bounty Hunter's story had a satisfying conclusion...

Any questions about the game, or criticisms of and reflections on your own experiences, are welcome.

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Slender Reflection

Slender is an exercise in terror (not so much horror as I've often seen people say) using the Unity engine. If you're curious, get it here. Otherwise, or afterward, I'll talk about it below.

Rather than go into Slender itself, which is pretty simple in its setup, I'll mention a particular state I entered into while playing it.

Most cultures have monsters, but none come to mind that don't have warnings about them, observations on behavior, or methods to defeat them. What is hidden behind this seemingly completely irrational tendency for us to anthropomorphize the unknown is our ability to find patterns in it, and thus find weaknesses.

If anyone wonders why human beings have managed to extend the average lifespan, and come up with complicated machines that help make life easier (and end life quicker), you might look at how we beat the small monsters through the use of holy symbols, prayers, silver bullets. We tell ourselves there has to be a way, and in fiction there inevitably can be. We use fiction as a practice run in protecting ourselves, and outrunning death, that undeniable real-world monster, just a little longer.

In fiction, though, you can also simulate hopelessness. You can tell the reader the rules, then imply that there is no hope no matter how hard they try. As pat as it is to have the good guys win, and while the specific definition of what a good guy is is arguable, it is important not to lean on this hopelessness style too much. I believe we learn real-world skills even through made-up worlds, and it's strange in light of this to teach us to give up.

Still, we have all sorts of entertainment that simulates this freefall into death. Roller coasters come to mind. We plummet, scream, but smile while we're doing it because we know, most of the time, the cart won't crash into the ground (unless you live in the universe of Roller Coaster Tycoon).

While playing Slender I found that I was trying to ask the game, through gameplay, if there was any hope, or if things were just going to get worse and worse the more crayon drawings I picked up. It's easy enough to plop you with a dimming, narrow-beam flashlight in the middle of a pitch black forest, and zing you with orchestrated jump scares even though you know you're not exactly in this situation and can quit at any time. But as I played I felt as though what the game was trying to do was to see how far I'd go, what I'd be willing to put myself through, despite the story context being so minimal that I began to scrutinize the graphics, wonder why I couldn't scale the fence, wonder where this game I was interacting with was intending to take me.

I tried to see if there were methods for evading, ways to clip through walls and try to get around boundaries and then, 4 pages in, I decided to beat the game. While running from my pursuer I found that the truck I'd found early on counted as an obstacle that would prevent me from being affected by my pursuer's gaze. The glass of its windows counted as a solid object, so I was safe to look. I did, using the game's strange zoom function to get a closeup of the creature's boxy, pinched face. It stood there, dumbly, waiting for my screen to be filled with static, not knowing I wasn't affected, but unwilling to move because I was facing it.

Then, I quit. In this case, as the machine said, "the only winning move is not to play."

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Bastion, with full-on Spoilers. Stay away if you haven't played.

Again, stay away if you're even vaguely interested in playing, or haven't yet completed it. I'll also be talking about a lot of the permutations that one-time-through players may not realize, so bear that in mind too if you want to revisit it and try out other things.

A bit like Bastion itself, my knowledge of the game came in bits in pieces. Early on I was warned away from spoiling the game for myself by diving into the promotional materials, though I did skim a few thankfully tangential reviews when it finally came out. I never watched Building the Bastion, and I avoided the damned thing so well I'd forgotten about it, if I'd ever known it existed. The most I ever participated in the feed was Jeff Gerstmann's attempt to dethrone Brad in the "arena", with the narrator's voice down low and the subtitles off.

Now I've played through to the end, doubling back to finish the third of the back-story areas and seeing what happened if I reversed the damage instead of my initial choice, to move on and forge a new life. This new choice felt so melancholy to me that I decided to play the last part AGAIN to leave it where I wanted it, on the original ending I'd chosen.

A story told well does not have to be new, or even pretend it's trying to be new; all it has to do is honor the tradition of storytelling to become an explosion in the mind of the reader/viewer/player. "Less is more" is one of the keys to that, I believe, and Bastion does this very well, with its partial descriptions and hints that make the world feel bigger than the screen. There comes a point toward the end where I'd grown a bit tired of this, that I became a bit frustrated with what felt like red herrings flitting about, still, after things were so close to being done. I think part of the problem was that I'd heard that the narrator was unreliable-- it was something I'd already picked up on my own, but progressing further knowing this from someone who'd beat the game changed my perception of what was going on, having me wonder if there was still some other twist lurking beneath that would force me to re-assess what had come before. Didn't really work out that way, so there are a few things I'm still unclear on. I think I figured out the most, though, and despite my suspicions, it seems like most, if not all, of the characters aren't really related. I still wonder if Rucks and the Kid are connected somehow, and I wonder if the Kid was somehow connected to the Calamity itself, which is suggested by some cryptic mid-to-early game words from Rucks. Not sure, though. Maybe it'd be clearer if I play the game again.

I'd also learned that there were choices to be made, but not knowing where or what they were, I tried my best to make choices from the very beginning. I avoided scattering the ashes of as many of the dead as I could, to try to preserve them in case that would have some bearing on what happened later. During the last few areas the tone changed and I was asked to kill Ura soldiers... and I couldn't stomach it. Not sure if it was intentional but it worked well; and so I wound up avoiding as many of them as I could, especially at the end of the game when I got tons of use out of the roll, zipping past everyone to get the narrative, activate new regions, and recover the shard. Made me feel a bit better, though I did have to kill a few to stay alive.

One surprising effect that touched me was the death of two of the rescued animals when the Ura attacked. This was done very well, though I don't know if it's always fated to happen, and it's the only long-term consequence, at least that I noticed, that can happen as part of the action game itself. I was frankly expecting more of this, though it was rewarding that this was even a possibility.

Another moment, the exact moment when I'd been enraptured for a moment by the spell this game was weaving, was upon discovering Zia in the garden. John Walker from RPS had a similar reaction during that point which he mentioned in his review. It's easy to make a moment like that haunting if done right, but like I said, you don't have to pretend to be doing something new to do something right.

When the choices came, I saved Zulf, and got what I feel was the better of the two results on that axis. The game again asserted its narrative strength to me when the Ura let me live. And when I was asked to either rewind the world, or set that possibility aside and start anew, I felt the idea of possibly repeating things forever with no chance to change was a bit too horrifying to contemplate. Rucks had talked about the chance to do things right the next time, but I didn't feel it was strong enough a belief to base my character's future existence on. When a game has you digging into philosophy, I think it's succeeded on a level beyond visceral mechanics.

Those two choices combined may have doomed Zulf to a life of unhappiness, but it set Zia free, and meant that the world could continue in its own way.

That's what I've settled on, at least, but at the time I was rather annoyed that the game was asking me to make these decisions without knowing quite why I was making them, and what the consequences might be, though some might argue that the vagueness was part of the reason the restoration choice wasn't the obviously good idea. I wished a bit more of the running narrative's conclusions had been encapsulated somehow, so I didn't have to rely upon my memory and the interpretation of every word to hash out what I wanted to choose, though, especially since some of the narration was happening while I was desperately fighting to stay alive. Ultimately the two choices were satisfying when I put them in their respective contexts, and neither of them are wholly "right." Checking the other path, Zia was unhappy and Zulf was reunited with his fiancee, though who knows how long the couple would have? Would Zulf still lose her?

Playing a bit of New Game Plus helped me realize that there may be a bit of a renewal, an overlap, but given that you start with the Calamity all over again... yeah, I made the right choice the first time, I think :) Still, as John Teti said in what I think was the only review I read before I played, the endings are such that the player actually chooses what the whole game was really about. I couldn't have put it better.

The game mechanics themselves, now that I feel I've explored a good chunk of them, are fun, though I doubt I have the hyper-kinetic skill to be perfect at them. I gave up on the shield challenge, and didn't complete that bazooka challenge, but otherwise I'd at least beaten the 3 side-stories and all the other areas. I kept a few of the idols active, but found the game to be a bit too much for me with most or all of them switched on. Might be better if I start from the beginning with them on, just to ramp up the difficulty a bit better, but I predict there might be an ability ceiling waiting for me if I stubbornly try to play the whole game that way.

The difficulty system is quite elegant, like many of the features of this game, as is the weapon customization. There were times, though, when a new weapon was thrust into my hands, that I'd find my character a bit crippled, without a special move after its corresponding weapon was switched out. Not very fun to have to deal with that. And some of the side-story arenas were crazy frustrating at times, though since I've beaten all three it stings a bit less.

It's strange to be talking about an action RPG, and not mention the actual mechanics all that much. I'd say that this is a good thing, because they are the decent vehicle that the ideas ride on. I can't imagine this game coming together any other way, which is the definition of a classic.

But I don't think game producers need to rest on this idea, necessarily. I hope more and more people play this game and see its magic, but I also hope that it'll be an inspiration for us to take the next leap forward in how games tell stories. Bastion has its share of rough edges, but you barely notice them: This is a game that washes over you like rain.

Thanks to RagingLion

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Parley Time

As many of you are aware, when living part-time in a niche culture you get the worst of both worlds. You're not quite passable as a normal person, because you sometimes use a specialized vocabulary, and get at least some of the references to geeky subjects that out you as One of Those. Yet at the same time you're never quite accepted by Those because you don't know every damned little thing that they happen to know.

With the exception of maybe a few games, I can honestly say I don't know any game well enough to be an absolute authority on it. I just don't have the patience to dwell whole-heartedly in the magical world of Fester's Quest for example, yet one of the first memories I have of this half-in, half-out nonsense was when a then-girlfriend's brother was haranguing me for not playing the game well enough. As if that was the reason I was visiting their house.

It's not just games, of course. An old friend of mine was an absolute Star Trek fan, read all the books, knew the movies and episodes front-to-back. It wasn't a real world for him, but it might as well have been. One day even he ran afoul of the nerd police when he was chatting with a random jerk at a Star Trek convention, who yelled at him for not knowing the REAL reason Klingons suddenly had bumpy foreheads in the movies.

I guess we all need our island to stand on, and human beings in general seem to believe, individually, that they're secretly on to something the rest of the world doesn't quite understand. Hell, I'm just as likely, I know-- But I'll be damned if I'm going to pretend I know something I don't, and I'm still be willing to talk openly about that, and learn about stuff I don't currently know, rather than spend weeks researching before I bother to start typing. That means that I'll occasionally be outing myself as not a perfect geek, or a perfect normal, or whatever goddamned label people enjoy using.

I tolerate the pedantic because I'm interested in learning more about stuff I don't understand yet, as long as they're willing to realize that there's a bigger world beyond their little islands.

Parley concluded. Now, bring us your finest meats and cheeses.

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Bastion: ex post facto (well, after fixing it, at least)

When people keep talking about having to see something for yourself, having to play a game/see a movie/hear a performance, when people don't try too hard to explain what they saw but just tell you to see it for yourself, you know there's a good chance there's something special beyond that curtain.

I don't know what it is exactly, but I think it's the subtlety of Bastion, its generosity, AND its confident willingness to hold back, that hits me. I think I see what people are talking about, although I'm not really done with the game just yet. All the way through, though, I've enjoyed both its mystery and its charming use of the narrator.

The gameplay is clean enough, and the options fun and versatile, that it never feels monotonous, like many games that use a similar gameplay style. I feel like this game won't go as long as other games in this genre, but the fact that it still feels generous in spite of that means they're blending things correctly. I've seen games with much more "content", a word I'm not too fond of for reasons I'll go into some other day, that felt stretched out, pre-programmed, and half-hearted. Bastion has just the right amount of spice for me.

This game is damned beautiful, in many, many ways, and I think the strongest impression it made on me was its pacing. Even though I controlled the pacing, as we do in most games, it still set it up so well that arriving in a new place still struck a beat. That's so rare in games.

I'm going to savor this one, I think.

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Bastion Problem (updated, solved)

I figured my embarrassment at not knowing about all the features here on Bastion helped shame me into downloading the game and trying it out. It's fairly easy to understand, but the text doesn't seem to be helping me in this regard. Not sure what happened, wonder if anyone out there had a similar problem and knows how to fix it. Namely:

I added the WTF, but all the text in the game that isn't subtitles has filler text (Latin) and variable names (like LoadHint_Roll above) rather than the text itself. I wonder if this has something to do with localization, but I have no idea. The only real problem when actually playing is that the instructions are all crazy wrong. Another example:

Any help would be appreciated, including pointing me to a relevant post or FAQ or something. Thanks!

Postscript:

Thanks to Wordfalling for the solution! Thanks to most of the rest for your comments :)

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Speaking of "Old": System Shock 2

I've spent a few days getting to know System Shock 2.

The narrative seems to bridge back to the original System Shock, and I get that feeling that I should have tried to hunt down the old game, but I'd rather not be tied down by that. I think my mission in playing this is to understand why people tend to think of SS2 fondly, and compare it to Bioshock, often saying SS2 was the better of the two.

In that regard so far, I can say:

The game is much more brutal about builds. In true complex RPG fashion I had to restart my game because the build I'd selected was inadequate. I would have liked to have at least a baseline of competence in the fields where the Navy is said to practice, but instead I wound up picking stuff that didn't really help.

That said, the amount of options feel a lot less fluid, in a good way. You decide to go down a path and you get a different experience, though as to how different I'm not quite sure. I can't reach the loot on that ledge, but I get access to a box with loot. I don't get that much damage with a puny pistol, but can research the chilled monkey brains to get a bonus to damage.

The narrative itself is fairly straightforward so far, although I'm not far along really so there could be changes. I've actually stopped listening to tapes, which is probably not a good idea, but I miss the ability from Bioshock to hit "T" when you find a new tape recorder. Here the interface in general is a bit less than optimized, even though there's a lot more to manage here than in Bioshock. Enjoying SHODAN and XERXES voice acting so far.

The Thief engine, an engine I love, I think works better in the dark than it does in well-lit, antiseptic corridors. I find it hard to get past some of the polygonal bodies... I actually think it would be easier for me to have empathy for the sprites of the first System Shock than these guys, but it could be down to how I largely skipped over the early 3D gaming days from the sprites before them. Still, the engine does have its familiar quirks too, where I'm never quite sure where I am with regard to the platform I'm trying to leap to (thankfully the vaulting mechanic saves this from being a rage quit for me).

The game REALLY opens up when you hit engineering, such that it's rather intimidating, and the turrets are often so fast and so deadly that I find it a major stopping point when I hit a room with those. At least with my restart I can use shotguns now, hack more efficiently, and mod weapons a little bit (though being told that I can put 24 bullets in a clip on the pistol makes me laugh, since I rarely have that many. The next mod makes reloading the bullets I don't have faster!). Will probably try to buy a point in maintenance so I don't have to scrounge weaponry all the time.

Despite the wonkiness, I'm glad that the customization goes beyond clicking off stats. You can use the environment to your advantage, hide behind one guy while another guy accidentally shoots him, crush a robot with an elevator, that sort of thing. Emergent situations, I guess, although a lot of the potential for these moments is telegraphed to allow the player to take advantage of them.

In all I see WHY Bioshock is so closely related, even basic mechanical similarities, like alcohol giving a boost to your health but subtracting psi, or the ancestor to the Vita Chamber that many seemed resent in Bioshock, or the chirpy vending machines, all feel like a direct philosophical copy-paste. I'm cool with that, though I'm still wondering if, along the line, my current build will be obsolete and I'll have to start over again; Bioshock at least had momentum in that regard. I do wish that Bioshock had a bit more possibility when it came to customizing, though I'm not sure I would have liked it so much if it had been quite as final with the changes as System Shock 2 is... maybe an experimental grace period?

The games feel different enough that I don't think I can say one is superior to another; SS2 feels more flexible with choices but more rigid when you make them, and it's got the disadvantage of being an older game with a rougher interface, while Bioshock, if you strip away the derivative stuff, is stronger in the interface, but the choices you make, apart from the little sister stuff which I've said I liked, feel largely inconsequential since you're never bound to anything, and pretty much get everything, and more than you can use, by the time you're done. I wonder if Bioshock Infinite's 1999 mode will be a compromise as far as character builds are concerned.

Will report back from the station when I learn more!

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Work Complete: Bioshock

I started Bioshock just a little while ago, and completed it today. I already knew every little plot point, and those that I'd forgotten were quickly remembered when I reached their scripted points. I enjoyed the secrets, the audiofiles, the rescuing of innocents, the happy ending. It does say something, either about the craft or the tropes they used, that I was affected emotionally by saving the Little Sisters even though I knew it was coming. Not heavily, but you know, enough to note it.

I liked the modding, though all the options grew unwieldy toward the end. I felt my character had a bell curve of personalization, where there wasn't much to start, and toward the end I pretty much had everything I wanted, with Adam to spare. I don't see myself replaying it any time soon; all the mods I wanted I took, and I don't see the game playing out substantially differently if I pick one mod earlier than another. Maybe a bit, but not much.

Bioshock did manage to provide a successful advertisement for Bioshock Infinite, because it looks like they'll be doing more of this limited complexity and customization that runs fairly smoothly from one signpost to the next, and if they manage to get some of that incidental AI randomness that will sweeten it somewhat. I've been told that B2 is better in some ways, though some of the buzz has worn off, so I may seek it out down the road. I'm also curious about System Shock 1 and 2, they being spiritually connected, though I don't know if I have access to the first one, unless it's through the second's disc?

It was a positive experience overall, and I can see why it made the impact it did, a lot of love went into many of the levels, and that richness was clear early on (though it bled out later, especially when I felt that it ran a tad too long for the arc it was trying to show me). I sorta wish it had a longevity mode that would allow me a bit more to do on a new playthrough-- I guess I could hunt down extra secrets and try to see if I found all the audio logs. Sounds a bit tedious, though. Also, as much as I felt the context was fine as far as shootin' folks was concerned, I'm a bit tapped out on the murder-as-solution mechanic for the time being. Not sure if there's much out there that'll help recharge my batteries. Maybe I should get back to making my own games and see if I can put my effort where my typing fingers are, with regard to alternate kinds of conflict resolution.

Anyone out there still waiting to play Bioshock? Any long-term opinions on this game? It must seem pretty old to many of you.

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Coker/Stoker

I loaded up both Savage Empire and Martian Dreams after getting them free from GOG. I actually managed to get pretty far in Savage Empire by just charging into the jungle, killing some of the local wildlife, and figuring out pretty early how to get people to "join" my group, but when I reached a river where a raft and some paddles lay, I never could figure out how to get the damn thing to go. Maybe it needed an extra person, I only had three at the time, but it would be nice if it gave me some feedback on this.

Playing a bit of Martian Dreams solidified a long-ago held impression that it was by far the more refined of the two games, despite the appeal of Savage Empire's subject matter for my pulpy heart, so it's probably going to be the one I'll seriously play. The I-need-a-V8 slanty presentation and the inventory system are a bit clunky to me, but I want to see if I'll be able to get hints of the progress through the game that I'd made when I'd first played it a long time ago, back when I borrowed it from a friend of mine.

It also seems a bit turn-based, which I remember Ultima VII not being, perhaps wrongly. That's a great relief to me, since I remember U7 being a nightmare to play, even on an intended system that happened to be running it a little fast. Of course since it's emulated through Dosbox, old Martian Dreams shouldn't be too bad. And hey, Martian Dreams allows you a bit more customization for your character. Progressive nuff.

It's a bit charming how both narratives try to shoehorn the Avatar into the adventures, but I feel it has better solidity than... I guess other possible contrivances, and Martian Dreams even manages to project a healthy amount of John Carter of Mars without seeming like a low-rent imitation.

I'll admit this, like I have before: old-school RPGs are intimidating to me, even though I'm a fan of them in theory. I guess it's taken me years to realize that some games are a lot nicer to the player than others, that it pays to have a bit of faith in the designer that they're not going to create something cruelly difficult, even if it's an older design.

Lemme know if you have any memories of the Worlds of Ultima games!

4 Comments

Limbo+Documentary+Wii+SWTOR+Miscellany

Limbo


Been playing some Limbo, after "splurging" here. What started out with some pretty cool atmosphere, neat physics, clever, contextual puzzles, weirdness, and fucked up kid death has become a lot of kid death and a lot of puzzles. What stopped me from playing, though, was more that my having squished a little globe wasn't recorded by the automatic checkpoint save the game has. At one point I found I'd missed a hidden globe, and I went back to get it, then bypassed the save state I'd originally made, but it kept the old one: when I checked to see if the globe was still there, it was.
 
For all the puzzle frustrations I had, this was something else entirely, and I sorta set the game aside after that.
 
The kid death... bothers me. I guess I've never been up on kids dying in my entertainment. Bothers me in meta ways, where I'm no longer thinking about the reality of the setup I'm watching and just wondering what the creators were thinking. Hell, I'm starting to be bothered by contextless death in general, but even if the Limbo kid is really a horrible person, watching his lifeless body flop around isn't entertaining or even creepy, it just makes me wonder what the Limbofolks were trying to say. Like, getting up in the morning and to model kiddie entrails? Super.
 

That One Video Series That One Gal Is Making on Kickstarter


Yeah, I threw some bucks at that project. Partly because some of the reactions to it disgusted me, which isn't a good reason to sponsor anything, but whatever arguably contentious labels she wants to use, I think the core point is well made anyway, and I wouldn't mind seeing the industry be a little less obsessive... at least in many AAA games. I dunno, I don't see repeated aesthetic nonsense being as abused in independent or niche gaming as it is for mass-market. Which is probably WHY she got a lot of insane hounding... If you've gotten the attention of the Whole of Gaming Culture, congratulations on your successful marketing, but you're going to compound all the jerks into a fine paste that moves much more fluidly on the 'net. Here's hoping she doesn't drop the ball when her project gets moving, and her efforts keep people talking, at least.
  
I tend not to go on about moral implications because I feel a lot of this does boil down to aesthetics and a sufficient level consistency in embarrassing portrayals leading to alienation, stuff that can change if there's enough will behind it. I sorta feel there's plenty of will already, but from my brief experience in the industry itself, it's not going to necessarily be market demand that changes things, or the will of individual creators. For the large scale, it may actually take a new generation of game creators who don't look at women/whateverelse as if they were a different species.
 
And here's where things get really weird: As much as the market can be a force for change and for cool stuff, you have to be in a position to NOTICE these tendencies and want to innovate on them. There are people on the inside who believe they understand all the indicators, whether or not they notice their own biases, and will continue to plow forward doing the same thing over and over. The sad stereotypes we see, whatever stereotypes they are, are a result of playing it safe. I'm willing to believe many of them don't even worry about what a given consumer actually wants, even if they WANT the stereotypes. It has to do with decision makers' beliefs on what sells in the aggregate, with consumers being little more than an inscrutable money-generating engine.
 
It's a big enough market, though. Possibly due for a crash, but it's still large enough to allow for a lot of ideas to get through on a lot of different frequencies. What concerns me is the general tone of these kinds of discussions from just about every viewpoint: people keep talking about All Gaming, as though that can ever easily be encompassed. I think we've reached a point, finally, where it can't be anymore. Thank god.

Wii...(said in a high-pitched tone, with voice trailing off)


Boom Blox continues to piss me off. I haven't touched the game in a while. Too much shooting, not enough crashing around. Sometimes I breeze through stuff, sometimes I get stuck on one puzzle and can't advance.
 
Samurai Warriors 3, for all its charm, is finally illustrating to me exactly why people are generally against Dynasty Warriors et al. Could it hurt to have different buttons do different attacks, guys? I start to feel like it would be nice to be able to spread out the load a bit. My thumb is starting to get an "A" imprint in its growing callus, and the button doesn't even have a raised "A" on it.
 
Borrowed Bully, the Gamecube upgraded Zelda, and some others that promise to be a bit more fun. Will see.
 
You know what, though... consoles are rather expensive for not being as versatile as PCs are. I find that every console game purchase has me wondering how much Dollar Value vs. Time Spent I'll get out of the damned thing, where as potential PC purchases are graded on whether or not I want to taste what they're cooking. This may be the point where I give up on my constant dreams of playing console games and focus on the PC. Weird for me to say, since I've been console gaming since Jimmy Carter was president.

SWTOR

 
Been playing a fair chunk of SWTOR, which brings me to a bit of an awe moment that has nothing to do with intent. They've decided to merge servers, finally, after many of them were fairly vacant. Problem is, they've decided to focus one-way transfers into an already heavily populated server. The result, friends, is this: 

 Take that, all you people who made fun of us for having server loads that looked much higher than they really are most days!

And yeah, this may not look like a lot to people used to this sort of thing, but when it goes from a fairly friendly, small group of people on a given server to a TRUCKLOAD OF PEOPLE SEARCHING FOR THEIR GUILDS LIKE CLONE-KIDS LOOKING FOR CLONE-PARENTS IN A TINY ARCADE it sort of boggles the mind. They could have tried to combine tiny servers together. I don't understand.
 

MISC (NOT MINSC)


I have the Lilly demo installed, but I haven't tried it yet. Common theme in my life. I have frigging Tribes 3 installed too. 
 
Kickstarter's also a common theme, and I really should knock it off. I keep backing horses that get out of the gate. At least I know what I'll be playing in the future... PC games, if they get made. I just hope I didn't get played.
 
I haven't been able to get back into the delicious Grimrock or the... Skyrim for many a mayfly's ages, both because I'm finally powering through their middle-to-endgame and I find I'm not sure I want to. With Grimrock I felt like I'd reached another puzzle wall with respawning ice-dinos at my back, while Skyrim felt like it ran out of novelty before I'dcontinued on the main quest, whereas old Morrowind seemed to have a bit more novelty... or maybe my exploration of Morrowind was longer because it took forever to find anything by virtue of bad directions. Maybe the DLC will matter? I really like their attitude toward DLC this time through. It's encouraging that they make it a big product, although I'd like them to add layers to incidental gameplay rather than a series of quests.
 
In non-video game experiences I played a pirate board game. I died a lot. I still liked it, though all the dying made me think that it focused a bit too much on a single stat. Yarr.
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