By Sparky_Buzzsaw 16 Comments
"Sparky's Update is a travesty, a war crime upon humanity. We must destroy it. If it reaches critical mass, well, then God save us all." -One of the Backstreet Boys. Don't ask me which one.
Wow. It's been a stupidly long time since I've sat down to write one of these. With the initial site redesign problems, specifically the lack of an ability to track followed blogs, it seemed relatively pointless to write an update or a Retrospective (which I assure you is coming back soon). I don't like attaching my blogs to the forums and will do so only under odd circumstances - or if my readership seems lacking. So here we are, halfway through July, we've now had the ability to track blogs again for a few weeks (hint - if you're having trouble with receiving notifications about your friends' blogs, check your settings and preferences), and I'm just now settling in to write a blog for the first time in months.
I guess in no small part this is due to the death of Ryan Davis. I'm not going to wax poetic about the guy - you've all done a far better job than I ever could at expressing the weight of this loss in the world of gaming journalism - but I will say that his death and the resulting outpouring of warmth from the community woke me up and made me realize I badly want to contribute more to Giant Bomb besides doing the occasional moderating. It's brought me closer to the community than I've felt in years, since the heyday of heckling guys like @sweep, @claude, @gamer_152, and of course, @dankempster on their own blogs. And I think if there's some good that has come out of this tragedy, it's that - we're all a little closer now, and I feel like we can use it to become an even greater forum and blogging community.
With that sober, overly sappy introduction out of the way, let's get this blog started off properly, with all the swagger and braggadocio you'd expect from a Sparky's Update. So ladies and gentlemen, prepare your nether regions, lock away your of-age daughters, send up the smoke signals, lay back in bed and get that lotion ready, because baby doll, Sparky's Update is back and hopefully here to stay. Let's light this bitch on fire!
My Wallet Is In the Shower, Clinging Itself and Quietly Weeping
Come to think of it, that sounds like all my possessions. FYI, keeping your bread in the shower? Not a great idea. It likes to bogart all the shampoo.
Actually, I've been pretty good about not buying every damn thing I want on Steam right now, mostly because I've already bought every damn thing I want in prior Steam sales. So... yeah.
(Side note - I have a mild summer cold and just blew my nose. Whatever it was that just flew into my tissue looks vaguely like a face hugger. The more you know!)
What I've been doing is concentrating mostly on buying games for under $5, which has been an excellent goal and one I've managed to completely ignore, as I've also bought games like Trackmania Canyon that were most definitely not under $5. But actually, I've been picking up a lot of the cheap little indie games I've somehow missed along the way, along with a few games for the Steam giveaway group as well as some stuff for my brother and friends.
Some of the most pleasant surprises have been sales on the early access games. I've snapped up some deals on interesting-looking titles like Under the Ocean (which looks to be a survival-crafting game in the vein of Terraria, but with very shiny graphics and a beautiful world) and Kinetic Void (a space sim wherein you can build your own ships). Both are too early to really judge - they're both (expectedly) rought around the edges and Kinetic Void's UI could really use some bigger fonts - but they both seem like exactly the sort of games I want to support, especially for their bargain prices. I'm happy to see stuff like this come up in a big Steam sale like this, and I hope in the future we see an entire section of the sale devoted to early access titles and applications.
I'm a bit irritated that bundles are a bit harder to find during this sale. I did manage to find and pick up the Blackwell adventure game bundle, but for the most part, you really have to go digging through the site to find packs of games. And honestly, that's kind of stupid - half the fun of these Steam sales is getting great discounts on gobs of indie games, most of which I'd never play under normal circumstances. So yeah, the format of the sale could really use some work in the future.
One purchase I'm sorry to have made is Surgeon Simulator 2013. If you want to play this game, I really recommend just looking up a Let's Play version of it instead, preferably one without talking so you can get the full hilarity of the sound effects. It seems like a very funny game, but the controls are simply atrocious. You use AWER to control your fingers and the spacebar to control your thumb, while you use the mouse to control your arm and hand, as well as the rotation of your wrist. Sounds neat, right? Except it SUCKS. Trying to grip anything is worse than playing one of those claw machines at the arcade, as you'll think you've got a grip on something but you really don't. Instead, you'll wind up flailing your hand about, hoping that one of your tools will bounce to approximately where you need it. Again, neat, funny idea for a game, but it's so miserably executed that any fun to be had is sucked out in minutes.
Brave New Endgame
Short and long of it, if you already like Civ V, get the Brave New World expansion. It's pretty awesome. And if you had problems with the latter half of the game being essentially pointless, considering that most of your endgame would be decided by the Renaissance era, then this is definitely the expansion that will bring you back.
It's sort of weird to see a company make so many grand changes to so many seemingly small aspects of a game years after it's been released, but I'm sure as hell glad Firaxis is doing it. Civ V could be expanded upon for years to come and still be the best 4X game out there especially if the fundamental changes are as solid as the ones found in Brave New World. At first, up until the Industrial Era, the changes seem minute. There are some small changes and tweaks to social policies and World Wonders and the occasional building or two, but you don't really get an idea of how much has changed until you gain access to idealogies and the World Congress.
What Firaxis has done is essentially change the way you gain a social victory. Before, you only had to gain a set number of social policies, then build a World Wonder. That's about it, and you could win relatively quickly and blandly by doing so. Now, your social victories depend upon your influence over other nations through tourism. Essentially, you still gain points towards social policies, but now your civilization earns tourism based on the amount of culture you're outputting. Through tourism, you start to gain cultural influence with other civilizations, filling up meters for each civ slowly but surely. As soon as you've reached 100% influence with the other nations, you've essentially won the social victory. It's a neat twist, and makes it all the more importantt o seek out and interact with other civs rather than the usual social victory of turtling up and playing it safe.
Also introduced is the World Congress, which allows for world-wide events that can boost (or detract from) all the civs left. The World Congress isn't introduced until roughly the Industrial Age, at which point you'll be asked to start proposing and voting on events such the World Games or a World Fair. If these events are accepted by the other civs and voted into play (and most are), you can change the production of a city to that event. Whoever ends up spending the most production points on the event garners some huge bonuses, such as double your cultural output for twenty (!) turns. These can change your end game decisions in a huge way, and can completely change things up for a civilization that hasn't focused in on, say, a cultural victory up until that point.
I've also played through the Civil War scenario. It's fairly basic, and while I wish there were still a modern Sid Meier game devoted to the Civil War (or other wars, for that matter), it's a passable North vs. South campaign, with a brutal turn limit for you to take the other side's capital.
The iPad Corner
Extreme Road Trip 2 is a pretty basic game. You select a car from a list of about fifty - there are no "real" cars but they're ripped straight from TV and movies or are popular generic versions of cars like the Porsche - and you race and bounce your way across a single, endless level. Sounds stupid, right? It's not exactly the biggest scope for a game, but damned if it isn't fun. The placement of mines (which bounce your car way up into the air) and money is completely randomized. You fill up a trick meter by successfully doing flips and stunts, which in turn leads to a massive boost in power and jumping distance. It's nothing you haven't played before, but it's stupidly addicting and has a great deal of charm.
-I've really been impressed with what I've seen so far of The Bridge, which seems like a smart, gritty murder investigation TV show, similar in spirit to The Killing. Great acting, too. Give it a shot.
-I'm on the fence so far about Orange is the New Black. Half the time it seems pretty cleverly written, but the other half, it seems slightly greasy and half-assed. You'll get a sense of that bipolar nature in the series' first episode. The scenes in prison are well done if a bit uninspired, but the flashback and even-more-flashbackier scenes vary wildly in quality. There's one scene of Jason Biggs and his wife sitting at a prison's entry trying not to cry that's genuinely heartbreaking, but the scenes wherein his wife plays the lesbian lover to That 70's Show's Laura Prepon feel forced and terribly awkward. I hope it becomes a more balanced show, because it really does have potential. I guess we'll see, since all the episodes are now on Netflix streaming.
And that's it. Welcome back to my little corner of the Internet. I hope you enjoyed the blog. Hopefully it won't be another four months before my next one.