Building a PC in 2013

Hey, guys! I built myself a new PC recently, and I'm loving it. I thought some of you may be interested in hearing about how my building process went, thus this blog was born.

Everything Plus the Case

PartDetail
CaseCorsair Carbide Series 500R
MotherboardASUS MAXIMUS VI HERO
CPUIntel Core i5-4670K Haswell
GPUEVGA SuperClocked w/ ACX Cooling GeForce GTX 770
RAMG.SKILL Sniper Series 8GB @ 1866 MHz
PSUSeaSonic X Series X650
CoolerCORSAIR Hydro Series H100i
SSDSAMSUNG 840 Series
HDDSAMSUNG Spinpoint 1TB 7200 RPM

As you can see, I decided to jump on the 2013 boat and bought Intel's brand new Haswell CPU as well as a freshly released GTX 770 graphics card. The Haswell decision probably wasn't the smartest, as I could have gotten an older Ivybridge chip to pair with a socket 1155 motherboard for a bit cheaper, but that's no fun.

The view from the front.
The view from the front.

The point was brought up to me on several occasions that by the time next generation consoles are released, the GTX 770's 2GB of VRAM could be inadequate. This is the most vital piece of any gaming build, so I considered this point pretty carefully. At the end of the day, I gambled that this factor wouldn't be too limiting. I'm only running one monitor at 1080p, so 2GB should suit me just fine. At least that's the hope. Limited stock of the 4GB cards also played a part. If I'd been able to find a 4GB EVGA 770, I may have spent the extra cash. But really, I think it'd have been a waste to do so.

I splurged a bit with the ASUS Maximus VI Hero motherboard. I really don't need all of the features that it provides; however, the biggest plus to the Maximus was the build quality. My goal here was to buy into something that was reliable first and foremost, and would provide me with options when it comes to future expandability. This motherboard, while a tad expensive, fits the bill.

Once I was able to wrap my mind around my chosen components' power draw, as well as the effects of overlocking, choosing the 650W SeaSonic power supply was fairly easy. RAM is almost always an easy buy, as you can't really go wrong sticking to a reliable brand and well-reviewed model. I did opt to bump up to 1866MHz RAM as opposed to the more standard 1600MHz, not that I'll ever notice a difference.

My SSD and hard drive are refugees from my last PC, so no Windows installing was done this time around, which was nice. A fresh install of Windows is always great, but the following setup and reconfiguration of everything ever is something I was glad to avoid.

Picking Up the Pieces (And Subsequently Placing Them Inside the Case)

The view from the side.
The view from the side.

This was just the second time I've built a computer—my first build occurring just over a year ago—so the nerves were still present as I was unpacking everything and preparing to throw it all together. I imagine those nerves are something that never completely go away, even for much more experienced builders; we dabble in an expensive hobby, after all.

With butterflies fluttering away in my stomach, I started to unbox and build. I laid out my motherboard, still in the cardboard sheath in which it was packaged. The first thing I did was drop in my CPU. This is a simple procedure, but one that's always super stressful. I didn't have any problems, though, as I lined up the notches and dropped it right into my 1150 socket. I swung the arm down, locked it into place, and let out a little sigh of relief. After that I popped in my RAM. I ran into a bit of trouble with selecting the proper DIMM slots. I consulted my motherboard's instructions, but information seemed to contradict. At the end of the day, I ended up slotting my RAM into the slots the manual suggested, but after examining my BIOS, it seems that my manual may have led me astray. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. And everything RAM-related still worked fine despite any confusion, so I've yet to reconfigure it.

With the CPU and RAM all in place, it was time to seat the motherboard into my case. Now, normally you may place a stock cooler onto your CPU before screwing down the motherboard, but since I decided to go with a liquid cooler, I had to wait and install that after my motherboard was in place and secured. I ran into my second issue in the motherboard securing process. Turns out my case has three built-in standoffs along the top of the case, meaning I didn't need to install any of my own there. But instead of preinstalled metal standoffs, my case just had these strange raised plastic bubbles. Nowhere was this explicitly explained, but I eventually confirmed via the internet that these raised bubbles were indeed built-in standoffs. I installed the rest of the required standoffs and slid my motherboard in and lined it all up. The process of lining everything up and pushing the rear IO ports through the backplate was a bit of a challenge, and I actually ended up scratching the bottom of my motherboard's PCB a bit, as it was rubbing on a metal standoff or two as I struggled with it. Applying a bit of force, I eventually get everything settled and applied screws. The motherboard was set!

Next I installed my graphics card. Oh, my glorious GTX 770. I really love the look of this thing. It's black with gold trim, and if a computer graphics card can be classy, this is one of the classiest looking cards I've ever seen. The card popped into one of my PCIe slots very simply, and I screwed it down.

Secret top fan mounting compartment, housing my dual radiator fans
Secret top fan mounting compartment, housing my dual radiator fans

Next came the most interesting part of my whole build. I say interesting, but what I really mean is plodding and stressful. My biggest hurdle with this build by far was the installation of my liquid cooler. A key consideration to make when installing a liquid cooler with a radiator is whether you want a push, pull, or push/pull setup with your fans. Push meaning pushing air through the radiator, pull meaning pulling it through from the other side, and push/pull obviously being both simultaneously. Only having two fans, I couldn't run a push/pull without buying more, so I opted to push air through from the outside in. My case has a mounting point that's designed for radiators at the top of the case, so this wasn't too difficult to make work. What I did was I installed the radiator more on the inside of my case toward my motherboard, and installed my fans just above in a hidden compartment. The fans push cool air down through the radiator and into the case. This may not sound like the greatest idea to be pushing the heat from the radiator down into the case, but I have a rear exhaust fan sitting directly below the radiator, so in theory that should be catching all of that heat and blowing it right out the back. I have two more fans in the front of my case taking in air, as well as a large 200mm air intake fan on the side of my case. I've created a bit of a wind tunnel with all of the fans being intake other than the one at the back. I'm no expert when it comes to this stuff, but it seems to be working out nicely from what I've seen in my temperature monitoring.

But let's get back to the cooler installation, and my biggest issue of the build. The issue here came with mounting the pump to the CPU. In order to mount this thing, you need to install a special backplate that will allow the pump to be secured to the motherboard. This backplate attaches to the back of the motherboard and provides the screw points to mount the pump on the front. Thing is, the provided Intel backplate is apparently not fully compatible with all motherboards despite claims of the contrary. The mounting points that poke through the motherboard from behind are too long for some motherboards' PCB, resulting in a loose fit of the pump over the CPU, and thus ineffective cooling. I looked through a bunch of conversations online about this, and there seemed to be a fairly large group of people claiming that the looseness is intentional, and that the screw tightening process of installation should take up that slack. Well, just as many people seemed to believe otherwise, and that it was basically a huge fault in the design of the backplate. This mostly affects motherboards with thin PCB, and ASUS seems to make their boards thinner than most. Lucky me, I bought an ASUS board. So I was convinced that I had to find a way to make the backplate a tighter fit. There are a few online tutorials for fixing this involving rubber or metal washers. Basically what you want to do is space out the backplate against the motherboard a bit more so that the mounting points are flush with the front side of the motherboard as opposed to poking up several millimeters higher, as was the case with my situation. I eventually found a sheet of sticky rubber circles that I ended up using as makeshift washers. And hey, it worked. I couldn't get the fit just right; it ended up being a tad too tight in the end, but it was better than things not being held down tight enough. Crisis seemingly averted! After that nail-biting near-fiasco I was happy to finally get the pump seated over the CPU properly. It all seemed a bit ramshackle, and I definitely missed the simplicity of a stock Intel cooler, but I think it was worth the effort.

A portion of my PC's innards
A portion of my PC's innards

Things were pretty much smooth sailing from there. I threw in my solid state drive and traditional hard drive from my old machine, which was simple enough. Then I threw in my power supply and wired everything up, trying my best to keep my machine from becoming a snake pit of cables—I wasn't completely successful in that particular endeavor. Fans were hooked up, SATA cables were attached, and front panel pins were slid into their proper positions. Everything seemed in place.

I put the side panels back on, hooked it up to my monitor, mouse, and keyboard, and gave it a shot. And yes, I did put the side panels back on prior to testing the thing. I don't know why, but I enjoy having a bit of an arrogance when it comes to this. Like, "of course it'll work." I actually like to think it's more positive thinking than arrogance, but anyway. I'm happy to report that it did indeed work! My new machine was firing on all cylinders, and no problems to report. It booted right into Windows and I was off to the races. It went this way the first time I built a PC, too, which likely just means I'm very lucky.

Results!

I've been very happy with this upgrade thus far. I've been playing through the Witcher 2 lately, and this upgrade has helped tremendously with that. I went from a framerate of ~28-38 on medium settings to a solid 60 on ultra. Couldn't be happier. I can't wait to play Witcher 3 when that hits.

As far as my temperatures, things seem peachy. My CPU idles at around 30 degrees celsius, which seems about right. Under a 100% load stress test, it seems to peak around the low 60s, which seems totally reasonable. My graphics card never spins the fans up too much, which is great. Noise-wise, things are good, but overall could be better. I'm thinking of buying quieter fans for my radiator and other intakes, but for now I can certainly live with these noise levels.

And that's it! I'm tired of writing, and you're likely tired of reading. Just wanted to document a few things here for fun. Perhaps some of you will be able to benefit in your future builds from hearing about the issues I've had. In any case, thanks for reading. And thanks to anyone and everyone who contributed opinions on this build in earlier threads—it was very helpful.

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Cloudy With a Chance of Gaming -- Run Away With Me to the Land of JRPGs and Mild Disappointment

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It's nearly two in the morning and I'm wide awake. I've recently finished some games, so I figure I'll write a bit about them while I have the time.

BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

I've finally finished this! I really liked it a whole lot, and I was trying to savor it for as long as possible. But I did finish it a few days ago, and continued to play after the final boss was defeated and the credits rolled. There're quite a few secrets to find in this game, so I spent a good couple hours unlocking costumes for the plethora of characters. I also made my way through all of the retro cartridge stages to unlock the classic Commander Video character. There's a lot to see in Runner 2.

Inarguably the best alternate character.
Inarguably the best alternate character.

I started to write a review for the game, but so far that hasn't really gone anywhere. There's something about writing reviews that throws me off. I just don't know what I want to do with a review, you know? As someone who's not a well-established internet personality, it's tough to write a meaningful opinionated review, as no one really knows a ton of my background or where I'm coming from. But then going the pure objective route in a review is entirely uninteresting to me, so it's little tough. I hope to at some point find a way to write a meaningful review, but I haven't cracked that nut quite yet.

On top of my struggles with review theory, I've had a hard time nailing down my exact thoughts on Runner 2. If I were to put a number on it, I'd either give it a four or a five, but I've gone back and forth quite a bit. I liked the game a lot, and in many ways it's nearly perfect. On the other hand, this is a game that doesn't do much differently from the original Runner. The mechanical additions to the series aren't particularly interesting, and toward the end of the game things begin to become a bit stale. Whether or not those issues are significant enough to warrant docking a star is hard for me to say. It probably makes sense to dock a star for these legitimate issues, but then I feel like I still had five stars worth of fun with the game. I suppose this circles back around to my issue with review theory.

Anyway, the game's really great. Despite my lack of faith in the art style upon initially learning about the game, it actually works extremely well, and is downright charming. I think fans of the original will definitely enjoy what's here, which is a whole lot more of the Runner you love.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

So I finished this as well. I must say, I'm glad to be through with it. I wanted to like it, but I just didn't. The controls are too clunky and the basic game design lacks creativity. There are simply too many gunfights and not enough exploration. I felt like I was constantly shooting, and that's really not what's fun here. It got to the point where I'd see a gun leaned up against a crate in the distance (something that's all too common, eventually becoming laughable) and just knew I'd be in for more frustration.

The plot barely managed to keep me interested. Luckily the characters were really good, and the dialog actually provided me with two or three laugh out loud moments. I've already talked some about my problems with this game in my last blog. Unfortunately none of my thoughts have changed much since finishing it, so I won't go on too long. Uncharted was interesting, and ultimately I'm glad I played it, but I'm happy to put it behind me and never play it again. I'll be moving on to the second game in the series in a little bit, but I'm currently taking an Uncharted breather. Hopefully the second game can live up to the hype. I'll be supremely disappointed if it turns out to be too similar to Drake's Fortune.

This underground cavern section is home to but one of many frustrating combat scenarios.
This underground cavern section is home to but one of many frustrating combat scenarios.

Oh, and I guess the last thing I want to make sure to mention is how crazy short this game is. The combat scenarios were terrible, therefore I died quite often, and yet this still only took me seven hours to beat. Seriously, with as many times as I died, that total time should have been closer to six hours, possibly less. I would have enjoyed some more time with these characters, but then with my aforementioned habit of dying constantly, the brevity was, in a way, a relief.

Legend of Dragoon

And a game that I haven't beaten! Not yet, anyway. I'm continuing to make progress in this lengthy JRPG. Perhaps that was redundant, as length is probably implied with the term JRPG.

I have no idea how long this game is, but I now have what seems like way too many Dragoon Spirits in my possession--one for all but one of my seven party members, as it stands. I'd guess that I'm at least half, possibly two thirds of the way through.

Drama queen Shana.
Drama queen Shana.

If there's an issue with the game at this stage, it's that there's too much exposition and not enough straight icin' fools. I'm currently trapped in this process of gathering party members inside a castle for an imminent celebration of my party's heroicness and bravery. You know what? I've still got things to do. I don't have time to celebrate my own accomplishments (or lack thereof). I need to chase down Lloyd (the main Bad Dude) and take back the Moon Dagger, which is clearly of great importance, and almost certainly poses a threat to the entire planet. I have no time for scavenger hunts, followed by dialog, followed by backtracking, followed by more dialog. I hope the pace picks back up soon, because it's currently as if the story is stuck in molasses, and it's tiresome. The combat's so good here that I actually want to grind and level up my characters and their special moves, so please, game, let me do that.

The writing at this stage of the game is as laughable as ever, which continues to be simultaneously enjoyable and cringe-inducing. There was recently a scene between the main character, Dart, and his love interest Shana that was redonkulous. Shana finally confessed her love to Dart. She told him that she loved him, that she's always loved him, and that when Dart went away on his journey (an event previous to the game starting) it just made her love him even more. She says that she's okay if Dart only thinks of her as a little sister, because at least she's been able to spend time with him. At that point Dart finally tries to tell Shana that he thinks of her as more than just a little sister-type, but Shana cuts him off and says they should discuss it after their journey. They awkwardly move closer to each other. What's going to happen?! It's a JRPG, so of course there're like three awkward interruptions in a row, and the moment is lost. Everything about everything in this game is so ridiculously cheesy, but again, it's all pretty much amazing.

I'll continue to update as I make my way toward the end. I'd like to wrap this one up so that I can not only get back to Ni no Kuni, but also start in on the other PlayStation era JRPG's I've bought recently: Xenogears and Wild Arms. So many RPGs!

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That's all for now, but I'll almost certainly be back to bother you all some more in the near future. If you have any thoughts (perhaps contradictory ones) regarding whatever it is I've been rambling (waffling?) about here, I'd love to hear them!

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Cloudy With a Chance of Gaming -- James Dean Stars in Dark Souls, and Hey, Uncharted is Old

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Following a light downpour of rain earlier, the clouds have moved on and it's been surprisingly sunny outside this afternoon. Here I sit, next to my open window, while a nice Spring breeze carries the inspiration my way to write about some video games! A couple in particular: Dark Souls and Uncharted. Let's start with the former.

Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition

I've been chipping away at Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition for a good while now. Well, as of a few moments ago I've officially beaten it, and I'm pretty excited about that. The "Souls" games have always had a bit of a stigma attached to them. It seems that people are often scared off by the difficulty of these games, but friends, I'm here to tell you that your fears are misplaced, and are probably holding you back from an experience you'd actually really enjoy. I'm not some masochist. I'm someone who gave up on the Xbox Ninja Gaiden games when they became frustratingly difficult. I'm someone who gave Monster Hunter a legitimate shot and eventually found it to be too complex and unforgiving to hold my attention. But Dark Souls? I was able to not only stick it out until the very end, but I really enjoyed myself in the process. It can be difficult, but in a way that makes you want to uncover the secret of why it's difficult, and then proceed to tear it apart. More often than not you do exactly that, and it's immensely satisfying.

It's funny, I spent a lot of the time between my failures googling terms from the game and instantly having it autofill to exactly what I was looking for. Clearly quite a few people were searching for the exact same things I was. It's a game that demands that kind of research, and that's okay, as long as you understand that. Maybe there are people who'd enjoy the laborious process of complete self-discovery in this game, but at a point I found that you're not losing any enjoyment to occasionally nudge yourself in the right direction, whether that's by finding out where the next boss is, or what a particular special item can do for you. There are so many ambiguous aspects of Dark Souls that the process of uncovering and learning about them is rewarding in and of itself. Dark Souls is a game that largely disregards common convention, and piecing together the logic and systems in the game, whether by simply playing or through an online wiki, is a fascinating process. Dark Souls almost feels like more than a game in that way. It really feels like an adventure on multiple levels, and that's a rare thing.

I really enjoyed the process of building my character. Going into the game I really had no idea how to build a successful demon slayer, and yet it all turned out alright--another testament to this game not being impenetrable. As my ridiculous title alludes to, I named my character James Dean, for no other reason than his name randomly popped into my mind. Is that weird? Probably. That's okay, because after about 50 hours, my James Dean ended up looking just about as cool as the unflinchingly cool actor:

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I guess the point that I'd really like to get across is this: don't fear Dark Souls. Embrace it and it will embrace you back. And then you will cry into each other's shoulders as your failures pile up around you, only to be knocked down by the fleeting moments of sweet success, which make it all worthwhile.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

Being a new PS3 owner, I figure there's probably no exclusive series more worth experiencing than Uncharted. I could be wrong. After playing a bit of the first game, I'm actually really questioning myself on this. I get it, the second game is the high mark and greatly improved on the first, but I was shocked by just how dated this first game feels. And looks, for that matter.

The opening scene on the boat instantly delivered a hard blow of reality and I realized how far things have come within this single console generation. I wouldn't say the game looks bad, but everything about it looks flat. More work was clearly put into some facial textures, but almost everything else looks shockingly bland by today's standards. The smoke effect coming off of explosions as you're blowing up pirate boats looked like an effect strait out of a budget television show. Some of the later jungle environments look pretty good, but I was just taken aback while realizing just how far developers have been able to take this console hardware between the release of Uncharted and now. Maybe it was partly a result of inflated expectations after hearing so much about how good the second game looked when it was released. I just assumed they'd be comparable.

But back to how the game plays, and feels: I don't like it. Movements seem slow and awkward. The jump and roll animations in particular are just goofy. Drake's run animation isn't much better. It all just seems a bit cartoony. Or, like a cartoon trapped inside the confines of reality. Everything about the physics and momentum of movement seem just off enough to make it all feel weird. The controls really become an issue in combat. Cover and evasive movement isn't handled particularly well. It plays like a less polished version of Alan Wake, and Alan Wake of course was far from perfect in this regard. Shooting is unsatisfying, and I found myself wishing I could pull a Red Dead and just run up on people and pull the trigger to murder them with an animation. I think earlier enemies took three shots to kill, but as I've progressed they're taking more and more, and their weak stagger animation just makes the shooting bits (of which there are many) a total chore. I assume this is all fixed in the second game. I hope to god that it is.

Negatives aside, I really like the tone of the game. It's a bunch of silly non-stop action with witty characters and a plot that's at least vaguely interesting. It's just fun, and I appreciate that. Right off the bat I enjoyed Drake's laid back attitude while in the face of danger. The lighter tone is a nice break from Tomb Raider, which I've also been playing through lately.

I'm confident that Drake and friends' wit and light-heartedness will keep me trucking along in this game despite some disappointing aspects. I bought the dual pack that includes the second game, so of course I'm looking forward to seeing how that one can improve on some of these rougher spots.

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I've been playing a few other things. As I mentioned I've been playing Tomb Raider, and that's worth writing about. I've also been making my way through Runner 2, and trying to savor every moment. But let's wrap this one up for now. I have a tendency to go on too long, so those can wait for another blog.

The sun won't be out much longer for the day, so I'm going to go and enjoy it.

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Cloudy With a Chance of Gaming

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Yes, this stupidly named blog has returned for yet another week. I'm not sure why, as I've had a hard time writing anything for it. Despite that, I've managed to cobble some thoughts together on a few things, so I figured I'd throw them together and hope for an easier go at it next time. Let's do it.

Amy

Converting my experience with Amy into a string of words that are able to accurately convey my feelings on the game has proven much more difficult than I’d anticipated. Here’s a couple things to chew on, and we’ll try to go from there:

  1. I don’t hate Amy.
  2. I might like Amy.

For the uninitiated, Amy is a game of the survival horror genre which focuses on a mute little girl named, you guessed it, Amy. As Lana, Amy's caretaker, you quickly discover just how special Amy is when she begins to employ psychokinetic powers following a horrific train crash. Lana and Amy must work together to survive a virus outbreak that changes people into monsters—not dissimilar to the zombies-but-not storylines you’d find in a contemporary Resident Evil game.

As flawed as the game is as a whole, I came away from Amy with one dominating thought: it was impressive. Other thoughts ran through my mind as well: I thought the frame rate was inexcusably bad on a consistent basis. I thought several puzzles were nonsensical to the point of frustration. I thought the story arc lacked any sense of investment or satisfying resolution. Perhaps most damning, I thought the game’s core interaction often felt clumsy. But again, I came away impressed despite all of this, and I feel like I can attribute that largely to one thing: hand holding.

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In my limited knowledge I can only think of one other game in which holding another character’s hand is designated a button, and that’s of course ICO. I’ve never played ICO, but now I feel like maybe I should. Admittedly it’s a fairly strange thing, but the act of grabbing Amy’s hand and refusing to let go as you break into a sprint and frantically navigate dark corridors in hopes of escaping a trailing threat is immensely satisfying. It’s the button-hold that makes this significant, I think. It’s one of those rare moments in games where the press of a button actually feels significantly appropriate. There are times when things will go bad pretty quickly and that protection instinct kicks in. I couldn’t help but want to protect Amy, and so grabbing her hand and pulling her out of danger was rewarding and built a satisfying relationship between these two characters. Lana and Amy, and their relationship, single-handedly makes this game interesting.

It’s a good thing, then, that the game places heavy focus on this relationship. The majority of puzzles rely on cooperation between Lana and Amy. Furthermore, Lana directly depends on a close proximity to Amy, as a kind of mystical healing aura radiating from Amy is what keeps the virus from overtaking Lana. Despite the plot points of the story being disinteresting, this mutually beneficial relationship gives you just enough to care about. It’s a relationship that feels similar to another one presented in a video game recently, that being the one between Lee and Clementine in The Walking Dead. That may seem like a stretch, but what Amy lacks in meaningful dialog and character building, it makes up for in copious amounts of satisfyingly tangible hand holding. And I’m only half joking. Maybe I have a soft spot for protecting children in video games, but Amy really nailed that feeling of being a protector, and that went a long way for me.

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All that said, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. This game fails on so many levels, and it’s quite disappointing. It very much feels unfinished. Something I noticed: there’s a power wheel for Amy’s powers, and yet you only ever get two powers in the game. Why do you need a power wheel with so many slots for only two powers? Also, after finishing the game, you’re inside a hospital being raided by soldiers and outside is a priest with machine guns. This character was introduced about five seconds before the credit roll. He calls the hospital and offers ”divine intervention,” and then the game ends. Baffling. I would normally consider something like that a spoiler, but if you inconsequentially introduce a random character seconds before rolling the credits and expect anyone to care, well, I can’t help you.

At the end of the day, Amy has a charm that I can only describe as Deadly Premonition-esque. I think anyone who can overlook the flaws and appreciate that game can do so with Amy as well. It certainly has a place in my heart, horrific frame rate and all.

The Legend of Dragoon [Progress Report]

When I last checked in, I’d just started the game after impulse buying it from PSN. I was surprised at how well it all held up, but I had only played about two hours of it. Now I’ve surpassed the twenty hour mark, and I’m still feeling it.

As the game has progressed, the dialog and character interaction have become laughably bad. This is really my only gripe with the game, and yet it’s hardly a gripe when I’m laughing out loud at the supremely corny ham-fisted romance, cliche and juvenile character development, and questionably translated vocabulary. The relationship between the main character, Dart, and a young girl named Shana often forms the apex of the laughably awful bits. Shana is hopelessly in love with Dart, and yet Dart can only see her as more of a little sister. This of course frustrates Shana, but we all know that, deep down, Dart’s actually in love with her. It’s all very ridiculous, but entertaining in its own way.

Dart in Dragoon form
Dart in Dragoon form

Then there’s the really good parts. The parts that have kept me playing for over twenty hours as of this writing, which easily surpasses my time with Ni no Kuni so far. Last time I talked about the combat and how it seemed deep and satisfying despite having only experienced the basics of it. Now that I’ve gotten deep into it, it’s only gotten more complicated. Addition attacks, as previously described, are attacks on top of your standard attack that require a varying amount of button presses to pull off depending on the move. At this point in the game I have a character named Albert who’s currently equipped Addition attack requires six button presses, all timed slightly differently. Most additions will be anywhere from one to three button presses, so this long move has taken me quite some time to master, and even now, it requires my complete focus to pull off. I wanted to record a video to better show off this battle system in action, but unfortunately my capture device isn’t compatible with 64-bit Windows 7. Suffice it to say there can be a lot going on in battles. At random moments during Addition attacks, the button prompt can switch to circle instead of X, indicating that the enemy is attempting a counter attack. If you miss that prompt, you take damage, and of course the remainder of the Addition is cancelled. The Addition system makes up the majority of the action in battles up to this point, but that’s a good thing because I’m enjoying the active element of it a lot. Leveling up Additions and swapping them out for different ones, with different timings, that provide different benefits, provides a satisfying strategic element.

Beyond that stuff, there’s the Dragoon transformations, which are as awesome as ever. All but one of my companions thus far has a Dragoon Spirit and are able to transform to use various magical abilities in battle. It’s good stuff. Every dragoon has a different elemental affinity, and the elements all have relationships in battle. But it's less rock-paper-scissors and more of a pair system. By that I mean that fire and water are directly opposed to each other. Water will do more damage to fire (as you may expect), but then fire will do more damage back at water as well. When you think about it, it doesn't really make sense, but it keeps things simple. Managing these elemental properties is becoming more and more key, so it's another fun layer to keep in the back of your mind.

The story has gotten a bit dull as of late, but my crew has just embarked on a boat journey in pursuit of a newly met enemy, so it's picking back up. I look forward to playing more, and I'll certainly check back in next blog.

News

I wanted to quickly mention a couple of things.

PlayStation 4

PlayStation 4 was announced. Yay? I enjoyed watching the show that Sony put on; it was a ton of fun. That said, I'm not jumping out of my chair to go out and buy a new console right now. I just bought a PS3. I've owned a 360 forever. I own a fairly capable PC. I'm covered for a while.

This has been the hot topic of discussion lately, so I won't go on and on; just a few points:

  • Knack looked bland. It looks like any other Sony first party character-focused platformer. I don't think it's a platformer, but you know what I mean. It has that classic Sony feel. The feel of something like Spyro, Ratchet, Jak, Sly, etc. What I've seen isn't doing it for me.
  • The ambitious online features are exciting. I want to be able to watch what someone else is playing at any given moment. Sounds super cool.
  • Sleep/Hibernation mode for consoles is an excellent idea.
  • Driveclub is not going to be a good game. And really? One word? C'mon.
  • Show me a box, Sony. Yes, it's important to me. I'm a fan of design, okay?

All in all, it was a fun show. I'm exited for the future of video games, but at the same time, I'm not that excited.

Rock Band DLC Going Away

I'm a huge fan of Harmonix and all they've done for video games over the years. I was first turned onto them with Guitar Hero 2, and my love blossomed from there. I became infatuated with Rock Band, and have lot of fond memories of playing the series with friends and family. I want to say I've completed the Steel Bladder achievement for RB2--the one requiring you to play for about eight hours straight, never pausing, never failing--like four times. I was obsessed. I still like to play from time to time.

I mentioned it on a comment on the news article that was posted by Alex, but my favorite DLC-downloading memory is of Rush's Moving Pictures album. I was on vacation staying at a huge rented house with a bunch of other family. I brought Rock Band so that the whole family could play--and play we did. Rock Band 2 was new at this time, so my family was super excited to try it. It was just a good time. Anyway, Moving Pictures--an absolute favorite album of mine--happened to be releasing while I was on that vacation. So of course I found a way to get the internet working and download the thing. I had to stay up until the very early hours of the morning, but dammit, nothing was going to stop me from getting my hands on that new DLC. I played every song through on guitar as to not wake everyone up with an attempted Neil Peart impression.

Moving Pictures was amazing, and it made up just a drop in my ocean of a song library. I've stopped buying DLC at such a high rate, but I still have hundreds and hundreds of songs. Honestly, my Rock Band library is all that kept me from selling my Xbox 360 at one point. Now I'll probably keep that system for as long as possible just to have access to that stuff.

So Rock Band DLC going away is a sad thing. The end of an era that I truly loved. I'm probably more emotional about this than others, as I feel that Harmonix's games have molded not only my gaming tastes, but my musical ones as well. But all good things must come to an end. Now I get to see where Harmonix goes from here, and that's pretty exciting.

Real Life

I know what you're thinking: real life sucks. It doesn't matter. It's boring. Well, you're pretty much right, but there's at least one exciting thing going on for me, which is that I'm looking at buying a car.

Now, this will be my first car. I'm not looking for anything too expensive--mostly because I'm poor. That said, I refuse to buy something that I'm going to hate. So right now I'm looking at a couple different cars. My first option would be a Mini Cooper S. My second would be a Volkswagen GTI. They're both decently priced when bought used, and both seem like good cars.

Mini Cooper SI really like the personality of the Mini. The "S" flavor has more horsepower than the base. Used, they can be had for anywhere from $8,000-15,000. The lower end of that is more my budget.
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Volkswagen GTIThe GTI also has some good personality. I like the sleekness in comparison to the Mini. I haven't found any for as cheap as I'd like yet, but I'm still looking.
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And that was my first foray into tables since the site redesign. Seems to have worked well enough. So yeah, if I can somehow score one of those cars, I'd be totally excited, but I'm open to other options as well. We'll see what happens.

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That's all I have this time. I'm sorry this is such a mess of thoughts spewed about onto a virtual page, but that's the best I can do at the moment.

Have a grand weekend. Thanks for reading.

The Forecast

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Cloudy With a Chance of Gaming -- Collector's Edition

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Hi! It's been a while since I've done this. Lately I've been pondering picking my blogging back up regularly, but I have a lot going on, so we'll see. For now, I have a good bit I'd like to tell you all about. Settle in, because I've been playing some things.

The Legend of Dragoon

I bought a PS3 recently. You'd know as much if you'd read my last blog, but you didn't, and I don't blame you. Anyway, it's been less regrettable than I'd initially anticipated. It's opened up a new world of Sony exclusives, and I'm doing my best to take advantage. Earlier today I was browsing the PlayStation Store when I noticed one of my most beloved childhood games. Yes, The Legend of Dragoon. I was never the biggest JRPG fan, and I actually never even finished Dragoon, yet it still holds a special place in my heart as one of my fondest PlayStation era gaming memories. That and Wild Arms, I guess, but I've yet to revisit that one. For $5.99, this classic of a game can be had, and I couldn't pass it up.

Jumping into the game was slightly scary. I didn't want my nostalgia for this game to come crashing down around me. But then something amazing happened: it didn't--my nostalgic memories remained intact. Once I got past the incredibly corny intro FMV sequence, the game itself holds up astonishingly well. Visually, original PlayStation games usually look like garbage this day and age. As most of us remember, the transition to 3D was truly amazing at the time, but it usually doesn't hold up. Granted, this was a later game of this generation, releasing in late 1999 in Japan, just a few months prior to the PS2's launch, but I'm happy to say that this game holds up fine visually, and surprisingly in an array of other ways as well. It was a game ahead of its time, to be sure.

This is Dart... and I think he's wearing two belts.
This is Dart... and I think he's wearing two belts.

The game opens with a quick CG cutscene in which a mysterious girl is taken away from a town in ruin. You're then introduced to the main character, Dart, whom I immediately recognized as "Hey! It's that guy!" but had no recollection that his name was Dart. Weird name, right? You'd think I'd have remembered that. Not to be too drawn out and laborious here: some JRPG shenanigans happen, Dart is saved from a giant dragon by a mysterious stranger almost certain to reappear down the line, returns to his savaged home town, dispatches of the remaining soldiers, promises to save the mysterious girl who was taken in the aforementioned cutscene, and begins his adventure proper.

Getting out into the overworld is where this game really started to surprise me with the things it does right. It's a random battle game, but it handles it well. As you're running around areas exploring, you see an arrow above Dart's head. This arrow progresses as you walk, from blue, to yellow, to red. After it reaches red, you'd better be ready to battle because it then could be on at any moment. This is smart! As I said before, I was never the biggest RPG guy, but I've played enough to know that random battles can become an extreme annoyance very quickly. But this simple little progressive arrow indicator gives the player some much needed peace of mind. Instead of living in fear of constant attack, potentially every two steps, you have a guaranteed buffer as well as a general idea of when to expect an encounter, and that's very much appreciated.

As far as actual battles go, those are also handled very well. The whole premise of the game, and probably what drew me in as a kid, was the idea that each character could transform into an alternate Dragoon form. To my kid mind, this was basically a high fantasy Power Rangers. Although if you want to get all technical, I guess Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog was the actual high fantasy Power Rangers...

But it's more or less the same idea.

I apologize, I just love that intro. Back to the combat now. It has something I love, and that's a real-time action element. Another JRPG I liked a whole lot was Lost Odyssey, and I'm of the opinion that the "ring" active battle mechanic pretty much saved that game's combat. Anyway, similar system here, albiet slightly more infuriating. Upon attacking an enemy, a square will quickly close in on a smaller square, and if you time the X button as they line up, you'll start an advanced attack called an Addition. Additions are learned from leveling up, and they're much more powerful follow-up attacks on top of your normal slice. I don't remember a ton about this game, but I believe these Additions become absolutely key. Later in the game, mastering the timing on a full party's collection of Addition moves becomes a necessary part of Not Dying. I vaguely remember back in the day losing a tough battle again and again due to some crazy Addition move minigame that involved rotating and hitting multiple buttons and, well, Madness. I'm hoping my older self will be able to grapple with the unforgivingly tight timing a bit better. I wish this game had latency correction, a la Rock Band and the like, but alas. The combat seems deep, intricate, and therefore satisfying. I haven't even learned any magic or transformations yet.

I'm not very far into the game, but I'm having a great time with it. It's very much an old school JRPG, which ties into something else I've been playing.

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

As part of my initial PlayStation Triple buying experience, I picked up both Ni no Kuni as well as the Journey Collector's Edition (more on that in a bit).

Ni no Kuni is essentially what made me buy a PS3. Is that crazy? I feel like that's super crazy. I'll say it one more time: I've never been the biggest JRPG guy. And yet the wonder of the world that's been created, as well as the stunning art, combined to draw me in in a way I hadn't anticipated. I'm not a Level-5 fan, necessarily. I'm not a Studio Ghibli fan, necessarily. So it's a strange thing, right? But seeing this game in action via one Bradley Shoemaker's quick look just hit the pleasure centers in my brain and wouldn't let go until I bought a PS3 and played it.

The aesthetic consists of pure, concentrated happiness.
The aesthetic consists of pure, concentrated happiness.

I like it. I can't say I love it yet, but I really like a lot about it. Thing is, it still feels like I'm being introduced to the game, and I'm about 14 hours in. This probably isn't new to the genre, and I recall the Final Fantasy XIII outcry over the 20+ hour run up to the "actual" game, but it just seems like things are taking a tad long to get going. That's not to say it hasn't been fun, though.

I really like Oliver as a character, and Drippy has a spot in my heart as well. I have to be honest, the first time I saw Drippy on the QL and Brad commented on how likable he is, I didn't see it. But he really grows on you, and after a handful of hours, I'd grown to love the little fella. I'm finally getting to the point where I feel like my imagination is doing his accent justice during the unspoken bits. I currently have a party of two, and I've met my next potential party member (which I've seen in trailers), but haven't gotten him to join me yet.

The combat is a point I'm fairly mixed on right now. I like the Pokemon-esque thing they have going on, but it feels like the flow of battles isn't intended for a controller or something. It feels like there's too much going on to be able to control. Maybe that's intentional. Maybe I just haven't fully wrapped my mind around it yet. I'd love to hear other's opinions on this. Perhaps some light could be shed that would lead me to better manage the chaos. Because that's honestly what battles often seem like: loosely controlled chaos.

I'm enjoying doing every last bit of side content I can find, but sometimes it gets tiring having to trek back and forth without any kind of fast travel. It feels so good each time I help someone out and get stamps for my stamp card, which I can then trade in for fabulous abilities such as jumping! I honestly don't know why jumping is unlockable. It even says right in the description that it's useless. And so what did I do? I spent a card on it. And so did/will you--don't even.

Ni no Kuni is fairly new, so I'm sure people have already discussed it to death at this point. But I'm liking it. I feel like I'm on the cusp of things really opening up, as I've just gotten the last icon of my main menu revealed. I'm well on my way to saving the world.

Journey Collector's Edition

This of course consists of all three of thatgamecompany's well-received PSN releases. In order of initial release:

Flow

I haven't played it yet.

Flower

I started this game a couple of days ago and came back to beat it earlier today. Flower has always interested me. It's something I was never quite sure of, but always wanted to play. And now I can! so I did! It was okay.

This is obviously a beautiful game. And playing the part of the wind in a video game is certainly novel. The best moments of the game come when you hit a spot that speeds up the wind and you're whipping along at ridiculous speeds through canyons and such. Hitting flowers and having the little musical chimes come off of them gives the game a pleasing musical element. It's a nice game, it really is. The experience is very much relaxing--at least when you're not fighting with the controls.

If I'm honest, the sixaxis control irked me. I felt like it held me back from being able to fly through the fields and collect flower pedals in the way I wanted--which is to say with any sort of accuracy. Sometimes it worked well, but not at all often enough. When the core mechanics of the game are this frustrating in spots, it's hard to overlook, no matter how cool other aspects may be.

Speaking of cool aspects, I found the story to be fairly interesting. To be quite honest, I'd probably get a good bit out of it if I went through the game again, but on the surface, it's about rebuilding a city. It has a very Okami-esque thing going on with the spreading of life throughout the world. It builds nicely, and the end of the game is simply delightful in the way you finally bring the city back to life with an amalgamation of previously collected life-spreading techniques.

Flower is a beautiful experience, and one that I did enjoy, even if it wasn't always the pure bliss I'd hoped for.

Journey

And then Journey came along. This one was the pure bliss I'd heard about, and hoped for.

I'm pretty sure I love everything about Journey. It's easy to comment on the visuals here. Yes, it's drop dead gorgeous. The shimmering sands are a sight to behold. The game's ever-shifting atmosphere is something that simply must be witnessed. But it's a lot more than that. I feel like this game has no faults. It's like a perfectly crafted short story. It knows what it wants to do and how it wants to do it. I'm always interested in alternative methods of storytelling, and I feel like this is a brilliant example. It's emotionally powerful. Journey is epic, mysterious, terrifying, sorrowful, and triumphant, all without a character speaking a single word.

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The integrated co-op implemented here is revolutionary. I'd heard about it, and how it aimed to remove the judgements people naturally make toward each other when playing online, but it really hit me when playing just how brilliant it is. I had no clue who I was playing with, and yet I'd developed near instant bonds with each of them. Chirping at each other in place of voice communication is the best thing they could have possibly done with this game, and I'd actually like to see more of this in other games. Of course some games require more non-obvious and intricate coordination, but I think this idea is pure genius, and I hope to see similar concepts in cooperative multiplayer games going forward.

Gosh, I really don't even know what else I want to say about this game. I wouldn't want to spoil anything. It's quite the experience. If somehow you own a PS3 and haven't yet played Journey, go do so. You'll be glad you did.

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That's all I want to talk about for the time being. Although, I do have a PlayStation Plus membership for the next year and three months, so I'll have plenty to write about, should I choose to. I also bought the infamous Tokyo Jungle at the same time as Legend of Dragoon, but I haven't gotten to play it yet. My soul yearns for that particular brand of madness.

Anyway, thanks for reading.

The Forecast

22 Comments

A PS3 Cometh

It's perhaps a bit ironic that I've waited until just before the expected Playstation 4 announcement to buy a damn PS3. Anyway, I have. It was probably for the wrong reasons, but I'll have to live with that.

This is the model that finally entangled me in its web of intrigue. Or something. Anyway:

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A year and three months of Playstation Plus is what I'll be getting. So, that's cool, right? I have no idea.

I've bought two games with the thing, which are as follows:

  1. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
  2. Journey Collector's Edition

They seemed like good choices.

Anyway, yay, I own a system that'll be outdated before the end of the year. I'm so damn responsible with my money.

It'll be on my front porch sometime tomorrow. We'll see how this goes.

13 Comments

The Value of Zero

No one wants to be told that they’re wrong. The genius of Kentucky Route Zero is that it allows players the freedom to do whatever they want within its world, and always feels as if that were how it had to happen. The intrinsic mystery that’s been baked into every aspect of this game takes away any sense of forced storytelling and allows the player to bask in the delight of an uncertain certainty. Events simply unfold, and however it happens, it’s never wrong.

Kentucky Route Zero is a funny thing. I’ve thought a bit about why exactly it appealed to me initially, and I suppose it comes down to the atmosphere it creates. Unique art design and a striking presentation take this game a long way. Lighting plays a large role while exploring the world, and the lack thereof can single-handedly create an engrossing sense of mood. I believe I first caught a glimpse of the game on Kotaku or a similar site, watched the trailer, and more or less dismissed it. I blame a poor trailer on their part, and a lack of proper attention on mine. I did however visit the website, KentuckyRouteZero.com, after watching that initial trailer, and was beyond impressed. The presentation of the site alone made me watch the trailer a second time, but still I was left unconvinced. Then the Giant Bomb Quick Look happened, and I got to see in further depth the kind of world that had been built, story that was being told, and graphical style being presented. I was hooked. I rushed back to the site I remembered so fondly and bought all five episodes of this game almost purely on faith and intrigue. Such a thing isn’t insignificant to me, either. I haven’t yet gotten that money tree out back to grow, and so I’m generally overly thrifty in my video game buying. I think it says quite a bit that this game was able to capture my imagination enough to pull me out of my oft-too-conservative financial mindset.

So why is it that an unassuming indie game gets my money on the aforementioned faith and intrigue, while the larger games of the world take a back seat? I find this interesting. I’ll use Borderlands 2 as a quick example. That’s a game that can be had for $30, just $5 more than Kentucky Route Zero. And in certain cases, potentially with Amazon credit, the two games would cost the same. Borderlands 2 is also a game I'd like to play, and I think for $25 it should be a given that I’d buy it--but it’s not. I can only conclude that there has been a shift in my own taste. Yes, Borderlands 2 would be a ton of fun. I liked the first one a whole lot, and I’d certainly be down for more. And yet half off the original PC price of $50 still isn’t good enough. Instead I was drawn in by the siren song of a game that was much less guaranteed. I’ve found an allure in the mysterious.

Is there anything to be learned from this by the people making bigger budget games? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps my own taste is just becoming more and more pretentious and edging away from the mass market video games. But I’d like to think that there are others out there that feel the same way I do. Whether or not it was always this way, we now prefer smaller, more thoughtful experiences. Things like Kentucky Route Zero are much more interesting to us because, in them, we can feel the heart and soul of an individual (or a handful of individuals) wanting to create something meaningful and unique.

While I don’t doubt that the bigger games of the world all start with this same kernel of genuine intent, I feel that they often lose sight of it in the financially-necessary elongated process, and that’s a shame. Perhaps big-budget developers and publishers should take a step back and think about what they want video games to actually be. There are simpler, more meaningful experiences to be had, and Kentucky Route Zero is evidence of that.

I’ve come out of Act I of Kentucky Route Zero feeling wonderful about my purchase, and wholeheartedly craving more. If a quirky and mysterious adventure with a lot of heart sounds like something you would enjoy, then I couldn’t recommend Kentucky Route Zero enough.

Thanks for reading. If you guys have thoughts on anything I’ve mentioned, I’d love to hear them.

2 Comments

Boredom and Blogging

I’ve recently been catching up with season two of “Louie,” Louis C.K.’s self-produced television show. It’s a great show, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Seasons one and two are both on Netflix. Anyway, there was a scene with Louie in the car with his daughters and one of them says that she’s bored. As you’d expect from a five year old, she keeps repeating that she’s bored even though no one’s responding. Finally, after asking her dad why he won’t answer her, Louie replies.

“Because ‘I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none-percent of. And even the inside of your own mind is endless. It goes on forever, inwardly. Do you understand? Being--the fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to be bored.”

I don’t get to be bored, either. Thankfully, I can always write.

I recently decided it was a good idea to buy a Nintendo 64. It probably wasn’t. Certainly not financially speaking.

Nostalgia is a fickle mistress. Memories of the past--even the fondest of which--can have their very foundations crumbled to pieces when met with the cutting perspective brought about intrinsically by the present. Even with this knowledge neatly tagged and filed away in the section of my mind labeled “Recall Before Spending Money,” it was nowhere to be found one fateful afternoon, and thus I now own a Nintendo 64.

Do I actually regret buying a Nintendo 64? Was it really that bad of an idea? No, not really. It’s actually kind of awesome! Not for my wallet, but you know. I decided to hit eBay for some more excessive spending and have thus far come away with both Zelda games, as well as Goldeneye 007. Add the three games I picked up alongside the system (Superman, Episode I Racer, and Tony Hawk) and I’ve got a nice little collection going. Ideally I’d still love to own Paper Mario and Donkey Kong 64 as well as Super Smash Bros., but I’ve managed to contain my excessive spending for the time being.

Speaking of excessive spending, I recently bought a new TV. It’s a 40” LED LCD--not top of the line, but it gets the job done. The only reason I mention this is because my newly purchased Nintendo 64 looks horrific on the thing. I thought it looked grimey on my old 26” TV, but stretching that out to 40” makes it, as you could imagine, even worse. My only hope is to look for an S-video cable, but I’m not sure how much good that’ll realistically do.

Not that the picture is holding me back from enjoying the system. I’ve already saved the Great Deku Tree, ransacked a bunker equipped with dual golden guns sporting infinite ammo, and flown through an ungodly amount of rings in my quest to foil Lex Luthor. I’m having a lot of fun reliving these products of my childhood.

I think most of all, though, I’m enjoying just the simple act of owning this system and these games once again. And maybe that’s weird, or sad, I’m not sure. All I know is that looking down at the floor in front of my television and seeing a nintendo 64 sitting there with the Legend of Zelda Ocarina of time peeking its head out of the top, I just can’t help but to feel a slight sense of comfort and happiness. Yep, definitely weird.

I’ve also been playing Persona 4. So, once again maybe this is weird, but I believe the Persona 4 Endurance Run produced by Jeff, Vinny, and Drew to be the single best piece of Giant Bomb content to date. The weird part is that I’ll still go back and watch select episodes occasionally. I do this more often than you may think. If, for example, I’m eating something and sitting in bed, I’ll flip on a random episode of the ER. Episode 50 is actually one I go back to often. Anyway, I’ve grown to absolutely adore a game that I’d previously never even touched for myself. I’d never played even one minute of this game, and yet I’d have likely called it my favorite JRPG ever (I don’t play a ton of them). Anyway, I finally decided that I had to play it. Well, I bought it, and now I am.

It’s strange playing a game that you’ve already seen a couple hundred hours of, for the first time. It’s almost like watching one of those movie trailers that spoils seemingly every aspect of the plot, except you know, more so.

Knowing where things go in advance isn’t limiting my enjoyment, though! In a parallel universe Inaba, James(!) Tunoku has transferred schools and has found himself in the middle of an investigation that can only be solved by some sort of... team. Anyway, I’ve been enjoying getting to hear the voice acting at a reasonable volume. Chie actually sounds different to me coming through my speakers. Weird.

Last I left off, my entire party was wiped out by Yukiko’s shadow boss. I’m so ashamed. I was clearly ill prepared for that battle. I’ll jump back in soon and show that giant creepy bird thing who’s boss.

With the Quick Look of the third episode of the Penny Arcade games, I took to buying the first two via Steam and getting into a series that I really wish I’d gotten into a lot sooner. Those games are pretty awesome!

If I were to pin one negative on the first game, though, it would be the excessive need to backtrack through environments. The first episode relies too much on that, and the environments become tiring as a result. It would help if there were a faster means of travel, but the character’s legs only move at one speed: not fast enough.

I really am loving the humor. I’m not at all what one would call a Penny Arcade fan, but even so, these games are funny. So much so that I’ve gone and read a few Penny Arcade comics as a result. I don’t know, I still think the comics are only so-so.

The Gabe and Tycho characters in game are just fantastic, though. Gabe in particular. Terrific facial expressions paired with perfectly fitting, witty dialog is commonplace, and it’s always hilarious. Tycho’s relationship with his niece is also a great source of humor. This is very much worth playing for the laughs alone.

But that’s not all there is! No, there’s actually a fairly involved battle system that requires some quick reflexes paired with a healthy dose of strategy; I did not at all expect this. You’d think a game like this would hinge on its story and humor, but really, the battle system made combat something that I, honest to god, always looked forward to.

Whether you’re reading the outstanding dialog or beating mimes to a pulp, these games are totally fun throughout, and that was a very pleasant surprise. As I mentioned earlier, the only downside is the trek between these points, but that’s something easily overlooked at the end of the day.

I’m a bit into episode two now, and there seem to be more environments this time from what I can infer, but I’m not sure. That alone could make this second episode perfect if the rest holds up as well as it did in episode one.

Episode three is of course a complete departure from this style of game, which on one hand is sad since I’m enjoying these games so much, but on the other hand is awesome because it’s a game by the creators of Breath of Death and Cthulhu Saves the World. Those roots definitely show, too. I’m super excited to play episode three, but I’ve got number two to finish up first!

The other game I've been playing a bit of is one called Crusader Kings II. This is the game formerly known to me as "That impenetrable game that Dave did a Quick Look of that one time."

I picked this game up on Amazon probably a good couple of weeks ago now, and have finally started to dig in. I decided to watch the Quick Look over again before I jumped in, because you know, I had no idea how to play. Little did I know, that was but the start of the deep, dark hole that is my trying to learn this game.

After watching that hour and a half long Quick Look, I still didn't understand enough to get started, and so I turned to YouTube. There are actually several great video series that have been put together informing new players such as myself of the finer details of the game. These are extremely helpful. If you're thinking of getting into this game, I'd highly advise you to set aside at least a couple of hours and search "Crusader Kings II tutorial" on YouTube. Invaluable.

After watching a couple hours of videos, I went off yet again in an attempt to conquer some damn land. I ran into a bit of a road bump.

So I start up this game as the Earl of Dublin. I was trying to follow the path of this guy in the tutorial, at least to start off. I'm sending my council off to do what they need to do, managing my vassals, granting people honorary titles so that they like me more--you know, Earl-type stuff.

I then notice that my eldest son and heir to my land is unmarried. Naturally I declare that he'll marry this 15 year old girl. But of course not for another year, as 16 is the minimum age for marriage. Being that the county of Dublin is so small, my son and heir also happens to be my Marshal. So this guy's got it made. He's the heir to Dublin, Marshal, and he's got a smokin' hot 16 year old wife now.

How does he repay me? The little prick plots to kill me! Luckily I had one of my council members uncover plots and thus discover this, or who knows what would have happened. So I discover that my own son wants to kill me. I decide that I'll try to talk him down and convince him that killing me is the wrong move. I could have arrested him with a good success rate, as after you discover a plot, that becomes very easy to do. But nay! This is my son, god damn it! He eventually did accept my request to end his plot, but not before breaking my heart. As it stands, I'm not sure whether to let him remain heir, or to make some changes in my succession laws. Or maybe I should just kill him. Would that be evil, or just fair?

Whatever I end up doing, or how this plays out, I think this game's kind of amazing. I've only been playing for a bit, and I still don't know a lot of the basics, but I've been able to have these legitimately heart-breaking moments that have really taken me aback. For a game so rooted in menus and text as opposed to action, the emotions that can come out of this game are pretty amazing.

If anyone has a great Crusader Kings story, I’d be interested to hear it. There seems to be an endless potential for crazy, random fun. I guess I'll attach this to the forums in hopes that some fellow Crusaders see it.

Anyway, I think that’s about enough waffling from me. I’m about to hit 2,000 words, and that’s no good for holding people’s attentions.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Do with this information what you will.

17 Comments

Cloudy With a Chance of PC(!) Gaming

Hello, friends.

Last time we talked, I’d just built my very first PC and began dipping my toes into the endless ocean that is the Steam catalogue. I’ve now played a bit more of some games, and extensive amounts of others, and I’m feeling ready to talk about them. Feeling ready to listen? Good. Let’s begin.

Diablo III

Diablo III is interesting. At the time of this writing, I’ve put right around 40 hours into the game. That’s quite a few, but also not anywhere close to what I’d have expected having owned it for weeks now.

I’ve beaten the game on Normal with a Demon Hunter and gotten halfway through Nightmare with that same character. I’ve also started a Wizard, but haven’t gotten much of anywhere with her yet. I’ve actually started up a character for each of the classes, but have only played Demon Hunter and Wizard thus far.

I’d say my initial impression of the game over the first week or so was that it’s amazing. I loved the action and all of the satisfying ways that the hordes of Hell could be disposed of. The skill system took some getting used to, but after getting a feel for it, I found it to be flexible and interesting in the ways that you can mix and match skills. Even the story had hooked me, and I was finding Tyrael's journey and the drama playing out with Leah and her whole situation to be surprisingly engrossing.

The game’s great, is what I’m getting at. But even recognizing that, the game’s not quite scratching the same itch that Diablo II scratched for years.

Looking at the surface of the game, everything from past Diablo games seem to be present in the third. There are scads of randomly generated dungeons to explore, loot galore, and an RPG element that’s not too complicated, and at the same time, not too simple. The game features waypoints, town portals, merchants, and even such recognizable figures as Deckard Cain and Tyrael. This is a Diablo game to be sure, but maybe one that’s trying too hard to be modern.

This Diablo’s the hipster of the Diablo family. With all of his young wisdom, he thinks he’s so cool with his advanced friend system, intricate story, and unparalleled player flexibility. But with each of those advancements, the core of what Diablo II was to me comes crumbling down.

Let’s start with the story: It’s too complicated. See, in past Diablo games, there was very little voice acting, very little required lengthy interactions with NPCs, and very little fluff in general; everything was very strait forward back in the good ole year 2000. The strait forwardness supported the way the majority of people liked to play Diablo II, which was again and again and again, in rapid succession. with Diablo III, I feel like one of the larger problems with it is that after you beat the game once, going back through it you feel bogged down by a story that’s more in-your-face. Because of this, it’s hard to see myself playing Diablo III in the same way that I did Diablo II, and that makes me a little bit sad.

As far as the way Diablo III handles friends? It works, but I believe it to be shortsighted. The friend list is the most direct means to jump into a multiplayer game and kill some monsters with other folks. That’s fine--great, even--but that’s not Diablo. In Diablo II, the friends list was very archaic and complicated, and so it’s refreshing to see a system in place that works. But then, joining up with my friends was never a huge part of Diablo for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a lot of friends that I used to play Diablo II with, and that was awesome, but the majority of the time I was scouring the list of joinable strangers’ games and joining whichever had the most interesting title. It was fun browsing the game list looking for things like “COWS NOW,” or “BARB STUFF 4 TRADE.” You can’t do that anymore. Maybe this is stupid, but that was a fairly large part of the Diablo experience for me. The best you can do now is jump into a particular act and quest, but that just doesn’t quite cut it. I suppose the auction house stuff negates the need for creating trading rooms, but what about the rooms entitled “I KILL U” of which I’d routinely and arrogantly enter, thinking “Oh, really?” But then there isn’t even PVP in the game currently; that’s another issue entirely.

The third point I wanted to make was about the crazy amount of flexibility given to players. Now, OK, I get it: not everyone likes to have to do lengthy amounts of research on their character builds in order to achieve a powerful character. For me, though? That was the essence of Diablo. That’s what really differentiated the serious and dedicated players from the casual. As nice as it initially seemed to have stat points auto-distribute for maximum benefit and to be able to respec the skill tree on demand and free of any penalty, it ends up robbing the game of that metagame that was so incredibly rewarding when executed correctly.

Maybe I’m just one of those people who’s hanging onto old conventions for the sake of comfort; that’s entirely possible. But really, the aforementioned concepts were a significant part of what defined Diablo II (and the original as well), and seeing Blizzard go away from those systems to create something more modern is a little disappointing for me personally. The worst part is that deep down I know that it being 2012 now, they were probably right to make the changes that they did. I mean, who would actually want to play a game that forces you to browse endless lists of games, meticulously spec out a character build in order for it to end up legitimately powerful, and contain a story which is almost entirely inconsequential? Oh man, I am one of those people. I’m old. You kids and your “games” that practically play themselves. Get off of my metaphorical lawn.

Diablo III’s a great game; it’s just not Diablo II. And that’s fine. It just seems that I may not end up playing it as obsessively as I did the second entry in the series. And you know what? I can see the silver lining to that, because “obsessively” may even be an understatement in describing my Diablo II playing. It’s probably good for my general health that I don’t go through that exact scenario all over again. Instead, I’ll simply appreciate Diablo III for what it is, and try not to think too much about what it isn’t.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

This game’s great! Oh my goodness! I vaguely recall Jeff’s praise of this game back when it was originally released, but I didn’t really understand how cool this game is until I started paying it for the first time earlier today. As some of you probably already know, there’s a Steam weekend sale going on for the game right now(!), as of this writing (go and grab it!). I picked it up and was crazy surprised by the general coolness of it all. Sorry to use the word cool so often, but it’s really the best adjective for this game, I think.

The game has a strong start, intriguing story, vivid and unique world, surprisingly satisfying gunplay, and even a late title card. What more could one ask for?

I’ve actually owned the original Deus Ex for quite some time. I missed out on it around its time of release, though, and no matter how many people recommended it, I could never get into it. Admittedly, I sometimes have a hard time getting into older first person shooters; I was never able to get into the Half Life games, for example. Jumping right into Human Revolution, though, I was instantly hooked.

Adam Jensen seems like he could be a great character. He’s maybe a bit stoic, but I kinda like that about him. The backstory about him being part of the SWAT and then getting kicked off of the force after some kind of disaster, intrigues me; I’m sure I’ll learn more about that as the game goes on. There seems to be a lot of assholes in the world of Deus Ex, and it’s been fun having Adam push people around when given the opportunity.

I’ve probably only played about three hours of the game thus far, and have just finished the first real mission, but I’m already dying to jump back into it (what the heck am I doing writing this, anyway?). I have a fever and the only cure is more cyberpunk.

Back to the Future: The Game: Episode 5: Colons: I’ll Stop Now

Hey, remember this game? This is a game I’d been meaning to finish for the longest time, but somehow had never gotten around to it... until now!

Having only the final episode left to play, my curiosity finally got the best of me one day. I started up the final episode and beat it in record time.

I’m not sure if the episodes were actually getting shorter or if I’d just opted to use more hints as the series went on, but my playtime per episode in line graph form would roughly be a 45 degree angle leaning from the top left to the bottom right.

Short as it may have been, I think the series closed on about the same note as the rest of the episodes, which is to say decently. I’m glad to have played these games, but they definitely didn’t live up to the hype I’d built up for them before they’d been released so long ago.

I guess what really disappointed me was the lack of variety in environments. The vast majority of the game takes place in 1930’s Hill Valley, which just wasn’t too impressive to me. Quick visits are made to the future, alternate present, and even further past throughout the series, but there just wasn’t enough there.

I suppose some of the blame has to be placed on the activities you’re actually taking part in as well. There’s some interesting plot points involving a lot of young Doc and his path to becoming a scientist, but there’s also a ton of boring stuff that I just didn’t care for. Maybe it’s the adventure game format that I’ve grown a bit tired of. Either way, I stopped having fun with the basics of the game at some point, and that’s too bad.

Luckily the final episode’s ending is so bananas. I won’t spoil it, but it was a giant “what the eff...” moment that really didn’t make a lot of sense, but it put a big smile on my face, so that was awesome. Having beaten this after TellTale’s Walking Dead game has been released, I was left wondering what they could do with the Back to the Future franchise if they chose to extend it out and make more episodes. Could they take what they’ve learned from Walking Dead and even Jurassic Park and use that to expand on Back to the Future? I’d be interested to see.

Saint’s Row: The Third

Remember when Jeff and Ryan were telling everyone that they should play Saint’s Row? They weren’t wrong.

A lot’s been said about this game already, so I won’t beat a dead horse, but I do want to just say that I’m so happy that the game turned out the way that it did. I played the first Saint’s Row, and it was GTA, but less so. The second Saint’s Row? It was just entirely too stupid. Driving around in trucks spraying human feces all over the place? That’s supposed to be hilarious? Uh, yeah, no thanks.

Honestly, I kind of despised Saint’s Row 2, and wanted to hate this series so badly. I still remember the “Strap it on” press release read on the Bombcast that seemed to justify my hate and guarantee that I’d never play Saint’s Row: The Third. Then of course the game came out, people talked, and I decided that I had to play it.

Bravo, THQ. Really, you pulled off a seemingly impossible feat in making this a game that I actually like a whole lot. It’s always nice to see things turn out this way for a game sequel; it always seems to happen the other way around.

The Witcher

The Witcher’s been on my list as a must-play for the longest time. Now that I own a computer that can play games, I’m working towards crossing it off of said list.

I actually bought this game on a whim one day as an attempt to cheer myself up. I was just having a lousy day and thought that spending money would help. Because that always works, right? Anyway, I didn’t actually fire up the game for a good few days after buying it.

My first impression after starting it? “This game’s pretty old, huh?”

My computer defaulted to lower texture settings for reasons I can’t imagine. The game looked grimey as heck at first, but some adjustment of settings brought the game all of the way up to the standards of 2008--which is to say that it still doesn’t look great, but it’s fine. I honestly expected more visually. And for the lack of visual flair, my framerate sure can get a bit choppy from time to time. And what’s with Geralt’s running animation? Good lord. That’s not even 2008 bad; more like 2002 bad.

Graphics and animations aside, the game actually seems pretty dang cool (there’s that word again). I’ve seen the game via Giant Bomb quick looks and things prior, but getting into the game and feeling how the combat works, I’m really liking it thus far.

The story’s a bit bland to me as it is early on, but I’m sure as I learn more about the world and the witchers, it’ll progressively become more interesting. I was actually strongly considering reading the Witcher books before starting the game, but that never happened. I was a bit confused because there’s multiple books: One’s a book of short stories, which I think is the one that Vinny says he read in their quick look. Then there’s legitimate novels, too. I wasn’t sure where to start, so I just abandoned the idea. Maybe if I like the world enough I’ll go back and read the short stories at a later date.

So yeah, I’m not too far into the game yet, but I’m cautiously optimistic about the whole thing. Seems neat.

Other Junk

I’ve been trying to participate in some Giant Bomb game nights that are so tirelessly organized by none other than one AhmadMetallic. Popping into a few matches of Super Monday Night Combat (on Monday nights, folks!) was a lot of fun, despite not knowing how to play in really any capacity. I got to put my Luchadeer costume to good use at least, and that was all I’d really hoped for.

I also jumped into some ARMA II, and that was certainly a hilarious misadventure. I said that I knew nothing about Super Monday Night Combat, but I really, really knew nothing about ARMA. I ended up spending a lot of my time running across the entire map on foot, and then getting shot promptly after arriving in something resembling a town. Strangely enough, I had a ton of fun doing basically nothing for the entirely of the time that I was in there. Oh, and I’m sorry to the guy on my team that I gunned down when I was in the turret seat of that vehicle. I seriously thought you were an enemy, duder. My bad.

Anyway, I look forward to jumping into more Bombing Runs when I can. I really should pick up a headset sometime soon, though.

I was going to mention this earlier, but let’s just put it here: If you want to add me as a Battle.net friend for use in Diablo III (and only Diablo III, as I don’t play WoW or SC), my username is JJWeatherman#1591. I could always use some more duders to jump into games with!

Alright, I’m going to go and play some more Deus Ex: Human Revolution because holy crap that game’s amazing.

Before I go, I should probably ask: What’s up, guys?! It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post here. Well, a legitimate one, at least. I haven’t been hanging out here so much for a good handful of months. You guys all been well? Good, I’m glad. Everything seems relatively similar here, which leads me to assume that this site’s still full of awesome people.

Have a great Summer, Giant Bomb. Never change. And we need to hang out; don’t forget to call me.

--JJ

(555) 555-1234

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