Down and Up

In the coming days, I'll tell my friends about how a website announced the release of its new project, and this project is pretty much what colleagues and I have been working on for the past month. Some of my friends will likely tell me that there's nothing new under the sun, that there's no reason to stop working on my own stuff.  It's true, to a point.
 
Still, the project is very close to ours in its design goals, it's robust, and it's got a decent following already. When you dream about making a game, or writing, you know that (unless you're consumed by your own self-importance) you're building on what's come before, but that maybe you'll get that extra bit of recognition for taking that next step. Whether the project continues will have a lot to do with whether we can differentiate ourselves from this thing, or market the idea in such a way to bypass direct comparisons. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of thing you can just tell yourself is going to disappear after release, since it's as much a platform as it is a product.
 
And yet, between writing the paragraph above and this one, I found something that is fundamentally different between our project and theirs, something that broke that looming depression and told me I could at least compete, if not be the only person with a cool sign to wave overhead. This tiny difference meant that the way the player will interact with it gives rise to uncertainty and nebulous pacing, while ours is... something else. Maybe they're on the right track for how to make money on something like this? Maybe I'm setting myself up to be exhausted? I don't know, but I will say that the surge of encouragement I got from this fact makes up for whatever exhaustion there may be.
 
I'd like to say there's a lesson here, and I guess there is, but it's not the point of writing any of this, or even posting the blog after that sudden turn of events killed my original reason for starting. I will take this chance, though, to remind people who, like me, are ready for the sky to fall: keep your eyes open. If the sky's not really falling, you'll realize it eventually. And if it really happens to start falling, you'll at least be able to avoid chunks of sky.

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Now

When you see that word "now", stop. Don't click on the ad, don't read the rest of the link text. Stop and remember that the word now is probably the single most abused word in in marketing, and it gets traction exactly because we assume there is some sort of urgency assigned to the word. Most of the time, there fucking isn't.

"Now" is a pet word of marketers precisely because we're trained since we're kids to respond to it. It's a danger word, something that flicks our senses on and makes us ready for fight or flight. But for someone whose job it is to bring in the numbers, "now" gets those numbers. Never mind the exhaustion, never mind the banality of seeing a ton of Facebook updates with the same words over and over. Now gets results, so it continues to be used.

I'm not stopping you from clicking on that link, I'm just asking you to remember, once you do click on that link, to ask yourself what got you there. Did it warrant that immediate click? I'm betting, a good amount of the time, especially for straight up ads, it didn't.

Words like "now" are used to push us around, and they're so commonly used that you are pretty much forced to use that word when you're in marketing, otherwise your boss will tell you it's missing, like it was punctuation or proper spelling. I've become hyper-aware of these things of late, and as such I have an adverse negative reaction to them. That's not necessarily helpful either; I know advertisers are sometimes trying to talk about products that are genuinely worth my time, and are just competing against the noise of a bunch of others doing the same thing, but still... it does feel like an assault.

I'm probably not the only one who, at least on my old, slow computer, used to block ads. Man, was it a relief. And I wound up avoiding on that computer some rather serious threats to security that sneak in through some malicious ads. But even the legitimate ads, all the distractions, are like being hit in the face with the city of Las Vegas every time you try to go to the bathroom. Foreign language websites are a huge relief to me because the words are gibberish to my uneducated mind. I can look at the leering billboard and wonder about what's going through the model's head, rather than figuring out if that's too much yuan to pay for hand lotion.

Not sure if that's ever occurred to you. I know some people who get annoyed when I criticize ads, and I've learned the frustration of trying to sell a game idea to a cynical public, at least indirectly, so I don't think of advertising as a monolithic evil as I used to. But I also know there are some really creepy people who are attracted to that line of work who are convinced of their own superpowers in molding the minds of the hapless public. It doesn't often pay off, but they think it does, even when someone may fully recognize what they're being asked to do, rather than being tricked. There's a bit of magic in all of this, or at least magical thinking, of the 3. ??? 4. Profit! variety. We don't quite know what goes through the heads of millions of people who click on a link, but we have a pretty good idea what goes through our own heads when we do. Just take note of that, before you move on. If we build up some immunity to tricks like "now", maybe they'll have to work harder to relay some actual information, at least until we get lazy again :)

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SWTOR; SW3, BB, WII? WTF

Wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii


If you ever want to be a pariah, try not only admitting that you like Dynasty Warriors, but that you're playing one of its derivatives (Samurai Warriors 3) on the Wii.
 
I played a lot of SW3 last night after buying it in a bargain bin, and for the most part I'm pleased. The changes to the game's basic formula tend to be favorable; some of the gambling element is lost now that you get experience and items even if you fail the mission, but the difficulty level for Hard seems to be ramped up anyway so I'm not complaining. The basic combat stuff is the same, with a branching tree of combination attacks where you can just spam the attack button like an idiot, or use combinations using alternate attacks to knock guys to the ground, send them flying, or other stuff. Characters feel well differentiated, you can carry healing items with you, and I have to say it's a bit exciting to leave the Romance of the Three Kingdoms behind for a little while and delve into an alternate set of historical fiction, even if the names are a lot harder for me to remember. The Wii controls are not the best; no motion controls here, but expecting me to hit the 2 button as the pause is a bit cruel. Thankfully there is full control reconfiguration, but I'm not sure what would be best... other than just getting a classic controller and be done with it. The problem really is that the buttons are spread out, but all useful. I think I have an idea what I could do to make it a bit nicer, I intend to report back once I've played more of the game. Overall the mechanics are much cooler, with an item modding system and much more individualized power sets. Looking forward to playing this more once my thumbs don't ache :)
 
The only other game I've played on the Wii so far is Boom Blox. Once I got the motion sensor aligned properly (took me a while) the game played well enough. Dragging blocks makes me feel palsied, and shooting water doesn't quite make sense how it actually works out, but throwing objects feels good. The game feels a bit limited at times; I wouldn't mind a bit more sandboxy approach to the puzzles, but maybe they diversify later? I'm a bit disturbed by the cute character death when you miss a shot and hit someone in the crowd, but it's also kind of funny. Not sure what that says about me.
 
Other than that, most of my gaming time, other than a bit of game design, has been taken up with Star Wars: The Old Republic. I was given an extended free trial, and now that I have been given some extended free time by the same group of people I'm able to try it out.  
 

Star Wars: The Old Republic


Until I hit level 25, there is generally a good experience with any class, with plenty of Bioware style dialog choices without the looping conversations. You're pressed to talk, then if you don't escape out of the conversation before it ends, your choices are permanent. I like that; keeps things moving, keeps scooping up every last detail not really an option unless you want to pick every option in the tree to see how it plays out. The consequences themselves seem not to have heavy impact on the game, and because you're playing in a persistent world it seems to live on without you even if you do something that supposedly has in-story impact. That's OK in theory, but the heavy emphasis on single-player doesn't seem to match up very well with this.
 
There are four total classes, but eight stories since each faction has a separate story for their flavor of class. I've played both the Trooper and Bounty Hunter to level 25 and they feel entirely different, thankfully. Every class story in itself is fairly rewarding, though individual moral choices sometimes feel a bit arbitrary and your reward for light side or dark side points, while thankfully not knitted to faction, still feel like you're grinding bonus points and companion affinity.  The main storylines tend to be fun, as are some of the side quests (like the extended bits about Revan or the fate of Taris) but then there are a lot of things you do to keep your character's power level up that can at times drag you down. In order to play optimally you need to keep your equipment up to date, sell off your trash, keep your crew crafting new things, pay for training for new skills and upgrades (which get transcendentally more expensive in the mid-20s), and try not to do too many things out of order to prevent some content from not giving you enough experience.
 
Being a non-linear player I've done some stuff that seems to have screwed up the leveling system a bit by going straight to the hardest place in the game and just running around leveling through exploration experience and finding hidden holocron cubes, though this a big deal so much as it is slightly annoying, in that the content intended for the levels I bypassed now doesn't reward very well at all.  Playing with friends is fun, and helps mitigate some of this problem, especially if you tackle tougher areas, the variety of equipment graphics, environments, and character styles is phenomenal, the shooter minigame is diverting when not played too much, and the stories themselves are rewarding to greater or lesser degrees and are the main draw for the game. Whether or not you can weather some distractions to get through the main storyline of any of the eight classes will depend solely on your tastes.
 
I will say, for all the annoyances, that there are a few moments that I feel like "This Is Star Wars," moreso than any other SW video game I've played, and moreso than pretty much anything but episodes IV, V, and sorta VI. I think part of that comes from the diversity of the images you see... after all, Star Wars has always been about spectacle. Spending an hour or two on Dromund Kaas, or tromping through the massive wastelands in Tatooine sure feel like a love letter to Old Star Wars better than in-universe canon gobbledygook ever did. If even one element above sounds interesting you can try out the free trials they have and see how it feels. If you wind up paying for a month, with some diligence you might be able to get through a single class story, or maybe several if you're good at this sort of game, though results will obviously vary. I thinka lot of people have been doing exactly that, playing through a class then dropping it, which doesn't sound so great when you're trying to keep a massive project afloat, but does suggest that some sliver of this really is a sequel to KotOR, even if it's twisted to fit an MMO mold.
 
I'll give a more detailed synopsis of my experiences later, if anyone's interested.
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Grimrock: Mid-Game impressions

For the last week my gaming time has pretty much been devoted to Legend of Grimrock.
 
Combat is straightforward; you click on a character to cast a spell or swing a weapon, and you get two readied options to choose from, one for each hand. Spells require extra button presses to use the right combination of runes (order doesn't matter, just total combination), although you can have a readied spell if you want. Anyone can use any weapon, but in order to be effective in the later part of the game, your character's class needs to support that weapon type. Anyone can wear damage-absorbing armor, too, but without skill in that class of armor (light or heavy), you'll take a heavy hit to your evasion characteristic, which lets you avoid damage altogether. 
 
Unlike Dungeon Master, you MUST click in order to attack, rather than using attack hotkeys. I suppose this simulates the fumbling and coordination needed to attack in real life somewhat, the spells even more so, although it does have the effect of focusing your attention on the corner of the screen where the attack buttons are, rather than at the beautifully rendered enemies. Also unlike Dungeon Master, classes are absolute. In DM, you could have a character with different specializations of priest spells, assassin skills, wizard spells, or warrior abilities. Here, your route is a bit more restricted, although within those roles you may branch out in several ways, having one fighter specialize in armor and swords, with another just in maces or unarmed combat, or a party of wizards each specializing in a single element.
 
That said, the game owes a lot to Dungeon Master and its cousins. Combat is real time, but because the game is set on a grid (and movement and attacks have cooldowns), you're able to maneuver to avoid attackers who would simply swarm you in a fully 2D/3D game, and you can avoid attacks a bit easier because they follow straight lines, although things are fast enough that this is still tough. Maneuvering is done through keyboard commands, and facing is vitally important. Your team is always in a box formation, with two in the front and two in the back. If you're outflanked, the guys/gals/things in the back can get poked. Since you usually put the wimpy ones in back this may result in some messy fights, but that added tactical level is damned charming if you ask me. 
 
Character creation allows preset party members, but I made my own group. There are different races with favored classes and statistics, and you're allowed to pick a few traits that are locked-in once character creation is complete that can give you special resistances, skill points, or other advantages. Classes allow you to focus on certain abilities right from the start, and it's smart to start specializing early, especially with spellcasters because they CANNOT cast spells until at least one of the "spell: ???" slots is unlocked. I focused on spellcraft for my only mage, and after some experimentation in unlocking a few spells I realized that the spells I had unlocked were not really pertinent to combat. Took me a while but eventually I built up a competent ice mage. Each point in a category makes them more effective, and there are tiers in those categories that give your only statistical boosts (other than from your equipment), but some abilities are simply not possible until a minimum tier has been reached.
 
What makes this game fun for me, though, is that it has plenty of puzzles, including tougher ones that are optional, and that they feel perfectly integrated into the environment. I have never, ever felt as much fun as I have with some of these puzzles, and they all stem from the grid-based, trigger-based design of the game. It encourages you to experiment, and you are frequently rewarded for perserverence. There are also times when attacking the problem from a different angle, or even momentarily giving up, can actually yield solutions. The balance in this regard fits my particular tolerance levels quite well. I'm not sure if I'll be able to find every secret in the game, but I feel like I earn every one I find. In a way, too, combat is like an action-based puzzle, which helps you get over the fact that enemy AI is often not as brutal as it could be (although different enemy behavior can lead to some nasty surprises).
 
As with games that are a bit tougher, it pays to save. Resurrection and healing is a lot less painful in this game than in DM, and once you realize the purpose hunger serves you'll be eating less and treating the regeneration that healing gives you as a bonus rather than starving being a penalty. As you become accustomed to the interface you'll get to look up more at your enemies, combat will become a deadly dance rather than a roller coaster of pain, and you'll breeze through dungeon areas that you've previously explored. There's always a chance you'll miss some tiny item, or pass by a clue, but the game is patient, the levels are NOT so expansive that it's too exhausting to backtrack if necessary, and overall I'd say that while the game does bring back some under-utilized elements from older games, it doesn't have that peculiar level of acute cruelty you'd often find in really old games. It takes good ideas and runs with them, current trends be damned.
 
That's probably why it's one of my new favorite games. 
 
If you have any questions about Legend of Grimrock, please ask them in the comments below.

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Grimrock!!

:05
 
*Runs in, panting... gibbers... Tries to catch breath... can't... collapses*
 
:15 
 
And apparently their site did, too. Tee-hee. Downloading now...
 
:24
 
While waiting for the download, (yes, I have a slow connection), I played Fallen London. Reached a very interesting story point where I was asked to either save or destroy someone who had run away with a Clay Man to the depths of the city only to be converted into Clay herself. I chose to allow her to live. Heaven help me if it was the wrong choice! Ah, it's a fun game sometimes. :)
 
Grimrock.net is still down. I should probably stop refreshing and leave them alone. Oh, no, there they are. 10% off, it seems, upon release.
 
Given that the promotional song has been running in my head all day, I think I'm allowed a little fervor. I already paid for it... I hear it's good...  
 
:33
 
Meal and download should be ready simultaneously. Happy! This is the part in the play where the phone rings with tragic news...
 
:41
 
Seems no apocalypse, and the file integrity's good. I will see you on the other side.
 
:43
 
The beast... it extracts...
 
I actually skimmed the license agreement for once. Apparently if I make maps in the game they can take them and modify them. Like put two mushroom dudes in the room when I SPECIFICALLY designed it for one. RIDICULOUS!!!
 
OK, it's ready.  As is food!
 
:48
 
Punished for not using the DirectX setup option. 
 
Working. Music playing. I can't see you anymore. You've faded away...  All I see is... destiny.
 
(many hours):52
 
Hee-hee
 
(although I did figure out an exploit of sorts, thanks to Mento)

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Easter Smörgåsbord

Below I'll write about a bunch of random crap rather than talking about one thing. I almost did write an essay a few times, but I think I'll save those ideas for later. They'll probably be better written than this stuff, but they'll probably be a bit more ponderous, too.

Grimrock

 
I've bought Legend of Grimrock on cheaper pre-order directly from the guys who made it. I would have gone with GOG.com, but I figured this way they'd get a bit more money out of it. If you hadn't heard of it before, it's a dungeon crawler with real-time combat that still operates on a sort of timed system that allows you some leeway for combat and casting spells. You actually have to punch in the runes needed for a spell, which simulates casting time, and hit buttons to make characters attack. Characters, yes, as in a party of four that you can build yourself (or use the defaults if you like).  Since the game is on a grid, this means that while you can't bump lovingly into corners like you can in a full-movement game, you can still mouselook around to find secrets, and navigate the dungeon quickly just using WASD or whatever you prefer. 
 
It's THIS particular feature, being able to hit keys in rapid succession to navigate a dungeon, that's frigging delicious to me. I'm wary about sorta-real-time combat, although there are keys assigned to the characters, but I always loved knowing just where you were going during navigation. It allows dungeons to be bigger, be easier to program (even in Skyrim you can still get caught in the walls sometimes... such is the price you pay for a bit more simulation), and quick to navigate once you've explored it.
 
If you want a taste of this kind of game, it's fairly well-known among people aware of Grimrock that it's heavily based upon Dungeon Master, which someone took the time to actually rebuild from the ground up, as mentioned here:
 
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/03/29/you-could-be-playing-dungeon-master-right-now/

  
It's... it's weird to say this, but I really, really enjoy Dungeon Master. I don't understand it. Still a bit overwhelmed by the combat mechanic, as I mentioned above in my trepidation about Grimrock, but I imagine I may eventually get the hang of it, and the graphics are old, and the controls require a bit too many clicks sometimes, but damn it, in some ways it feels really, really accessible in ways that more current games haven't quite managed.  I feel less palsied picking stuff up in DM than I do in Skyrim, for crying out loud.
 
Like in music, there are plenty of good ideas in games that got left behind. I don't think it's just nostalgia-- sure, there will be people that don't feel the need to look back and see what ideas might still be relevant, but there's just too many good concepts out there to leave them behind just because they're attached to old properties. Speaking of which:

That One Service. You Know, That One


Looks like any semblance of patience to see how these projects and the crowds behind them actually perform is out the window; Kickstarter's starting to burst with cool ideas that are getting buried in funds (or sadly, for lesser-known studios and projects, buried). Shadowrun's one of them by the look of it, as is a space combat gamein the vein of Wing Commander, a project backed by the gal who wrote Gabriel Knight, and a remake (not a new game...hmm) of Leisure Suit Larry. I guess the rush is understandable; while it might be smarter to wait a bit since the relationship between consumer and producer is potentially very weird in a newer medium like this, it's not a bad idea to try to ride the wave. I'm kinda happy to see that the will is there, with the usual caveats that I and commenters made below (and elsewhere, of course). A large part of the boost seems to come from who gets attention from news orgs, as well as fan communities who've been dying for these sorts of projects. Not all of these will be windfalls, though, so this is as much a testing of consumer willingness as it is for producers to stick their neck out. I imagine a few disappointments await as we all get exhausted (if we're not already).
 

GOG.COM's changes...


...as far as I'm concerned, they're not really huge. Even with my snappy computer it still takes forever to download bigger games, so the smaller ones are more likely to be the ones I get from them, even if some of them will be new. Fallout's free for a little while, and I'm tempted to play it... like right now, even though I have the disc somewhere, just because of their promotion.
 
The one game that tempted me during their press conference, other than the Witcher 2 (won't get it until I play the first game, even though I know the sequel's different) is Botanicula, by the folks that made Machinarium and Samarost. I think the key to these games' charm is their use of texture and animation to make these characters feel alive. A LOT probably goes into those little touches, so they get huge respect from me.
 
They also gave a free copy of the Witcher 2 to everyone who already owns it. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around that one, but I guess the registration with that particular game was a bit different than normal.
 

Stuff I've Been Playing

 
A good chunk of what I was playing early on was that one science fiction game where you try to stop a world-destroying menace while exploring the galaxy... what was it called? Oh, right, Starflight. Ha-ha. I love Starflight, damn it. I love it. I just reached a point, though, where I'm forced to grind for money so I've set it aside until I work up the will. That, and the idea of permadeath in a game with that level of investment is a bit scary to me, even though I could probably back up my saves.
 
Dungeon Master. Nuff Said.
 
Been playing a ton of Borderlands. Just when I think I'm sick of it, I notice I'm actually playing it. I even endured the hell of Moxxi's arena until I finally cleared a full set of rounds, which was much more grueling and unrewarding than it had any right to be.  Have tons of cool guns, don't want to bore you with their specs but... It's rather fun. Although I'm getting a bit burnt out on mass-murder games. Registering for Gamespy was a real pain in the ass, too. Just saying.
 
Skyrim's mass-murder has taken an extended holiday after I reached a point where I'd left behind all my gear to go infiltrate a place, doing a little bit of roleplaying see, and I got ambushed by a dragon with little more than a few spells. That save will involve me running back home to get my stuff, then running back out to kill the dragon. Bleah. 
 
Played quite a bit of Dragon Age Origins, but I finally broke through to the Deep Roads in search of that Golem NPC (don't tell me if I'm doing it wrong, I'll look it up if I can't stand it anymore), adjusting the difficulty such so that I wasn't totally pummeled (Hard is a bit too heavy duty to me, and that's agonizing for me to admit), but now it's just wave after wave of bad guys.  The combat is satisfying when it has context, but I find it hard to imagine slogging through that much death.
 
Also played quite a bit of the first Gobliiins after a hiatus that saw the birth of some of you. Really neat game, if a bit random with its puzzles. The endurance system is smart, if brutal at times. Password beeps are strangely piercing to the ears, and it's not fun to have to use passwords all the time. I love it, though. It's like Shadowgate in a weird way, without so much instadeath.
 
Some ASCII Sector, some Dig-N-Rig. And finally, mysteriously, this.  I really like the free-flowing design for finding stuff out. And tidbits of story are the reward (though you can get strange loot, too).

And now, the rest of the story:


Will I finally play Last Express, now that I've downloaded it? I think I might.  Choo choo murder! (Or possibly Fallout, first.)

You going to play any games over Easter?
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Micro-Producing: Starting to Kick

Hello folks. 

I am the proud co-parent of a fine, double-headed baby, and will probably contribute some ducats to a horrifying creature that will speak of the end times.  Not everyone's cut out for the role of micro-producer, and as with being a producer in any field, it's a bit of a gamble. Here are my thoughts on all of of this. Feel free to tell your own tales of faith in companies below, if you like.
 
My first Kickstarter contribution was to a little card game that could, before either of the above had even been heard of, and it showed me the power that this venue has for getting solid concepts and strong companies better attention for their niche designs. It's basically a way to help focus all this enthusiasm people have at a single target, and it's done in a smart way.
 
Any cynicism I have about this format, giving money to people before a thing is even made, is tempered by my own faith in my ability to choose companies and people with a decent track record. There are plenty of projects out there that I think deserve funding ( this looks awesome) and those who will get funded because their design or presentation is just that great, but I think Kickstarter winds up benefiting those who Brian Fargo himself called the developer in the middle, the people with projects that need more than a few folks in a tiny office to make happen. 
 
Having seen how a BIG game company needs to worry about advertising budgets and supplying massive teams, it's easy for me to see why this venue makes more sense for stuff that's not going to make the biggest splash in the marketplace, though I don't think any big company needs to look at these niche products as an all-or-nothing affair. That's a discussion for another time, I guess.
 
All that said; because you're giving money to people who need to deliver (assuming they get enough. If they don't manage to meet their goal, then pfft, no loss for you), it's up to the contributors, and Kickstarter itself, to make sure these people adequately deliver on their promises. With that pressure to do well, it won't mean you'll get the perfect product you were hoping for, but you might get a pretty good approximation of what you reasonably expected. And that's probably more likely to be true if the funding level and the team match the goals of the project. So you have folks with a decent history like Brian Fargo and Tim Schafer pushing for games many of us have wanted, but egoists have declared that No One Likes (because they don't like them), finally getting a chance, not because there weren't other ways to do it, but because they're using a popular site that's easy enough to find and use.
 
Faith is already a huge component of this industry. We often rely on brand names to get us through when lack of full disclosure has us wondering what the end product will be (I'm still wondering how I'll feel when I reach the end of DAO), we do pre-orders as a game nears release, we get swept up in the five star reviews only to find that even journalists get swept up in the initial enthusiasm for the next blockbuster because, yeah, they're mostly gamers themselves. It's kinda scary, and pretty messed up, when faith gets put on the line, especially when it's betrayed. But at the same time, the upswing, when our faith is kept, it's pretty fucking sweet.
 
I'm a bit conservative for backing what look to be solid designers, but then again, I don't pretend I'm a venture capitalist, here. I'm just a micro-producer with eclectic tastes who wants to see a few cool games get made.

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Confessions from Winter...White...Wind...Hold?

I went to level 54, I think, before I started dragons and yelling. The first shout I spent a soul on was the one that MAKES LIGHTNING FALL FROM THE SKY AND SHOCK MY ENEMIES *TO DEATH!!*

I fast travel now. Not all the time, but still, I am ashamed... Actually it's a bit more complicated than that, really. All Elder Scrolls games had fast travel. Getting anywhere in Arena was literally impossible without it (since you just wandered through random areas forever until you actually decided to click on another city on the map), Daggerfall was so ridiculously huge and largely uneventful that it was an exercise in stupidity/brave reader!/whatever to actually walk from one end of the map to the other, Morrowind encouraged it, but only allowed it through in-game channels, but every once in a while it WAS damned annoying when all you wanted to do was go back home to sell the tons of silver longswords you'd looted. I kept with the Morrowind standard for a while, using the cart a bit but otherwise walking or horsing (riding, really) everywhere, but I think there was one quest that told me to go all the way back and I just said... screw it, I'm too tired for this, and beamed there instantly. I can't say I don't regret it a bit, but I think I reached a point where I wanted to reduce the amount of unchecked boxes, and they were legion.

Food feels... you know, if there was one thing from my little difficulty list I made that I'd still absolutely want here, it would be to make food matter more. I want my dudette or dude to be hungry, and I want to, you know, feel like they enjoyed their baked potato. The cold weather stuff... meh, the alchemy's actually decent enough (although I level like a slug that doesn't know how to mix potions), if I had to worry about warm weather gear I'd actually want to have clothing like in Daggerfall, which is a whole can of worms with these modern graphical model requirements... but food, man. Food. Please.

One of the first things I did was trek across one of the most treacherous reaches in the whole of Skyrim in search of a way to heal myself of vampirism. I still treasure that, actually, even though I died way too often as I tried to negotiate my way past tigers that guarded several tiers of waterfalls. There really was no in-game hint (until after I'd found a temple) that just praying at a shrine heals any afflictions. I had to rely on the old RPG cliche to see me through, but that worked out all right. Gave me a nice vignette to tell.

I started on the top level of difficulty, but got sick of dying all the time and pushed down one notch. Whosoever said the game was too easy either didn't know about the difficulty setting or are way into metagaming/min-maxing. My sneaky-warrior-conjurer does all right now, especially with the coolest weapon ever Dawnbreaker as an undead carver, but there are times, especially with spellcasters, that I can still get thumped pretty handily. I can't imagine how much top difficulty would have soured my enjoyment if I'd stubbornly kept with it all this time.

I play with the crosshairs off. I also play with the compass off. I don't regret it one bit. If I need to know my direction, I look at the map. I even use the map to help me figure out some quests (and really, some of these quests are rather impossible without some sort of gamey hint, sadly), but I keep that to the map, and ignore it unless I need it. Not having the compass just lets me enjoy the scenery (and occasionally get lost, but well, that's how you find new places).

My character's a Redguard, a lady, wears orc armor everywhere, with maxed out smithing and enchanting. I spend perks too readily, but I've focused in weapons and heavy armor and things have worked out quite well (once I forced myself, through my mate's constant insistence, to get unencumbered... which meant I had to buy a house to dump my endless potions and books into).

There was another rule I started with that I eventually had to drop, and that was that I only got money through trade. I actually started out that I only used money I got in trade locally, but that became a bit hard to justify when I'd get quest rewards. But that damned house... there were a bunch of dead Legion guys lying around with tons of money in their pockets, and I'm sitting there wondering how long it will be until I get to dump all my damned books, and I'm like "fuck this action" and start looting all the corpses. Slippery slope. Never stopped after that, pretty much. Even pick up the pocket change in urns now, like a damn miser.

I sometimes wonder how I would have taken this game if I had played Oblivion. I've barely even watched people play it. The changes from Morrowind to this game are big, and sometimes very satisfying, but there's one thing I feel that I miss. I miss being able to run into people who I didn't recognize who didn't want to instantly kill me. There's a very high body count in Skyrim, which is initially fun to help increase, but it's hard to feel much escapism when I'm clearing out yet another hovel filled with mindless bandits. I start asking myself why I'm killing them, what's the point of this, and I KNOW that Morrowind had bandit caves and cultist camps and all of that, but it feels like the murder meter has slid just a bit further to the red zone in this game, such that I feel a bit more first-person shootery than I used to with this sort of game. Surprise me, Skyrim, have some friendlies with some quests you'd normally reserve for towns. OK? No? Fine. *kill stuff*

The wonder I get from seeing places like Blackreach or High Hrothgar remind me why I'm still a fan of the Elder Scrolls game franchise, though, so whatever quibbles I might have are usually forgotten when... and bears! Why do bears have to be so damned aggressive!? Seriously, fuck off and eat some honey, goddamn it!

Where was I? I don't even remember. I think I'm going to play some more and try to earn myself another shout. Peace!

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No Statute of Limitations

It's been a long time since I've contributed a significant wiki article to this site. I can't really remember the last time, although I guess during the run up to Skyrim I did several little fact dumps to see what was true and what was just rumor. 
 
When this place was founded, I wrote an article about Star Raiders that I like to repeatedly mention was added to a list by GB's Jeff; I guess he and I had a similar passion for the game when growing up and he was happy to see someone else with a scary level of knowledge on that old game. I wrote it out of a similar passion, and this was when just about anything worked on the site as long as it wasn't destructive or hateful. I gave the same level of energy on several other articles, often with the expert knowledge of people who knew better than I did what things were about. Gave me a spread of articles I was proud of, almost like I'd infused a bit of myself into the world at large.
 
I realize that eventually, though, a site has to settle on a certain style, and many of my articles are apparently not quite up to standards. 
 
To be honest, I'm not sure why I wrote all of these articles. I guess I was happy that there was a website that seemed to have enough personality to distance itself from a bland wikia, and I liked the idea that fellow gamers could see and comment on what I'd written. Gave me a bit of pride that what I wrote might matter to someone else, and that I could distinguish myself by writing them, both in points and in general recognition. But I knew from the beginning that what I was doing was adding to a database that wasn't really mine, and (was it years ago?) I noticed that there were tipping points about where the site was headed, things that might eventually affect the tone and scope of what was written.
 
It's been a few months since I was really active on this site, and that's because I've been working formally in what is imprecisely called "the gaming industry", and all my efforts have been concentrated there. When I get home, I just pull up Skyrim or Heroes of Might and Magic, just zone out for a few hours, and go to bed. I just finished a 12 day work-week, with plenty of overtime to round it out, and I've come to realize that even an office job can wear you down if you don't get enough of a breather.
 
When I logged in here after that absence, I got a note that a bunch of my articles are causing problems for the editors here. It's a bit demoralizing to see that stuff you enjoyed writing and enjoyed sharing are apparently causing people grief now, especially since the grief has spread back to me in a way. I guess this is something that comes with an age I'm not fully a part of, as others are quick to remind me: you can write something a long time ago and it's preserved, possibly until the heat death of the universe when the last of the human arks carrying The Archives of All Knowledge and Porn Sites grows cold. You are responsible for everything, ever, that you have ever done, and as long as someone bothers to keep a record, it's attached to you and seems as new as the day your wrote it, even if it was written years and years ago.
 
In the section of the industry in which I'm currently working, people working on the game do not get in-game credit for their work. There is no list of credits that you can click on, and many of the contributors are only visible if they make themselves visible. I can't tell you how many times I've ignored credit scrolls in games unless I'd beaten the game, and I would often watch them just to see if they put little zingers at the end, or check to see if I'd properly guessed on a voice actor. It's different when you're actually doing one of those jobs, or many of those jobs at once, and you know that you won't be able to point at it and prove that you were part of it. You know you were, your colleagues know, and people who trust you will believe you did what you did, but there's something satisfying about having your name on a project that can't quite be measured in dollars.
 
Yet as part of the nature of a collaborative medium, whether it's a wiki page, a mass-market game, or a film, you know that it's rare to be able to say something and not have it be changed by the time it's shown to others. Just about the only way to do this is to write your own stuff, make your own stuff, and publish it on your own. When contributing to anything collaborative, there are waves of changes that can dilute, but also sharpen, what you're trying to say, and sometimes the changes are so huge that you don't recognize what comes out the other side. It's best not to be too invested in it, but it's hard not to be, even if it's more an emotional attachment to the effort you put into it than anything concrete having to do with HOW you wrote it, or what you wrote about.
 
When I was younger I was adrift, and found myself hanging out with film students. Their interest in films mirrored mine (I never even knew you could take a degree in filmmaking, as worthless as that degree might seem to some of you, and I was a bit jealous that they'd figured out how), and I actually several of them in various ways during their assignments. At one point, though, I felt the director was making a huge mistake with one of his decisions, I voiced that opinion, and the director happened to hear it. Naturally, the next day I was told that my help wasn't needed anymore.
 
It's been a long time since I wrote most of the articles for this website, and I remember telling myself that while I was injecting a bit of personality into what I was writing, that I shouldn't get too attached, otherwise I'd be setting myself up for disappointment should the site suddenly close, the database get destroyed, that sort of thing. In effect I was avoiding the same mistake I'd made with those budding filmmakers years before. What I wasn't expecting was that side-effect of digital sharing that I mentioned earlier, that what I wrote then was also written now, right now, and it's fresh in the minds of any readers that happen to see it on any given day.
 
So I guess the analogy to films doesn't really fit; even with most video games there's some point where you give up and move on. Wikis however, are constantly being updated and changed. It's like an eternal rough draft, always up for revisions, never complete, and you're never allowed to say "that was me, then.  I probably wouldn't have done that now," because it's still there, masquerading as a current work, ready to be read, even if it now comes across as anachronistic, out of sync with the tone the collective site is apparently trying to convey.

Once I achieved a certain point level I decided I'd reached the limit of my contributions, and might put in a bit of energy here and there but it wasn't really necessary anymore. I'd made my mark, and like some people spend hours figuring out what profile picture they're going to show to the world, I felt like I'd made a statement about myself through what games I chose to talk about, and I learned about my own tastes by looking back on what I had focused on.  I've continued to contribute blogs, because I like talking about games, and some seem to appreciate my weird angle on things. 
 
But because I chose to write wiki articles, I am permanently connected to them as long as I have an account here. I take full responsibility for what I wrote, of course, although I can't really say I remember most of it anymore, nor do I remember there being readily-accessible, detailed style rules back when I wrote most of it, though my being unable to keep up with the constantly changing forums may have something to do with that. I do remember checking with individuals as I wrote, asking if what I was writing was appropriate. Those that responded seemed to enjoy what I wrote; no one told me to stop back when they were actually published despite getting general feedback and occasional recognition. I do have to remind myself though that like with writing in a wiki, editing a wiki is a collaborative process, and the taste and rules-sense of a few people may not match up with those of others, or with the group as a whole.
 
I do hope, though, that people will take into account the fact that I've not really written anything substantial for the wiki in quite a while: it's disturbing to receive a formally written letter about something that was contributed a while ago causing problems as if I'd written it yesterday, especially since I've done my level best not to feel personally attached to what I wrote. It was a gift to this site and to the community here, really-- as lumpy and unseemly as this gift might seem.

The disconnect between now and then is nearly palpable to me, but as many of you know, I've become a bit of a fossil. I wonder if I'll ever get used to the idea of having a permanent, digital paper trail that never blurs with age.

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Not So Late to the Party: Skyrim

So, in the intervening period a lot has happened. I don't need to go into details, but pertinent to one of the themes of this particular blog, I now have a PC capable of playing the games people have been talking about for the past half decade. You might think that someone who has at least been paying attention to all the news of new games would remaind relatively jaded when actually playing them, but no. I spent my first few hours of Skyrim thoroughly overwhelmed by the jump in graphics quality; it's one thing to watch a video of someone else playing a game, it's another thing to be forced to interpret what you see, and if you fail at that the consequences come fast enough. No movie this.
 
And yeah, that's mainly what I've been playing. I've been given an opportunity to try out The Old Republic and I'll likely do that, but right now Skyrim takes up most of that machine's time, and that's divided amongst two people with an equal desire to play.  I'll probably talk about my impressions of that game when I have a while. It is awesome, but like most Elder Scrolls games it's easy to see where things can be improved even more.  I haven't yet reached the point where things repeat too much, but so far I'm digging the combat spells (it's the first time I've ever seen destruction spells as an interesting path to take), the weapon-handed system has a great balancing feature that means no tactic is optimal, but some fit situations better than others, and, well, there's a strong reference to Arena, the very first Elder Scrolls game, that pleases me quite a bit. I do find that I'm collecting books more than reading them; I think I start reading later, like I did in Morrowind, once I get a feel for the world. I also don't fast travel, because I think running into stuff is pretty much what makes the game fun for me; my eyes bug out a bit when I see all the contextless minor quests that are spilling down the journal page, but I've never been one for completing quests if there's no explicit reason to do so (new features are fine, but monetary rewards leave me cold).  I guess quest management could probably be improved just a bit, like an area-based to-do list that reminds you when you're in the right area to check off a few boxes, but then we get into the surreal "medieval times with a personal data assistant" clashes.
 
For those who say this game refers to Morrowind, I can't put my finger on it, having never played Oblivion, but I still know what you mean somehow. I don't think it's just the cart travel system, although I'm really happy to see that, it may just be the combination of things, the idea that this is off the beaten path, things are a bit rougher and more uncertain.
 
Speaking of uncertain, I'm not sure if the character I'm building is going to wind up being useless, but there's some adventure in that. I tend to use two-handed weapons, something I learned to appreciate when fighting spiders of the non-poisonous, fall-apart variety, along with spells and the satisfying bow and arrow for distance shots. I originall favored mace-and-shield, but found I was never quite sure how useful the shield was, and subequently never really put any energy into building up Block. Dual wielding still doesn't appeal to me, it never really has in any game, but I like how their damage output is tops, at the cost of blocking. So, since I'm on master difficulty, and haven't bothered to pull the dragon switch, I'm having a tough time of it, but it helps justify all the potions I make, justify the stealth I use, and justify every enemy exploit where I wait until I can shoot them in the back.
 
I'm entertaining the idea of playing a parallel game some day where the whole point is to never load after my character dies, but I'm not sure what difficulty would be appropriate-- Master is fine if you know you can load, but I'm not sure I'd get very far on one life.
 
I'm late the party, I guess, but only by a few months this time. It won't be like before, where Cake Is a Lie made no sense to me for years, although I'll probably still be laughing at Arrow in the Knee long after everyone else has stopped.

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