Sparky's Revenge of the Update - Steam Sale, Brave New World

"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.

The Rest!

-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.

Edited by ArbitraryWater

The glorious return of Sparky's Update! Huzzah! I also have bought very little this steam sale and have played a bit of Brave New World (my thoughts of which will be found in the blog that I'm going to post pretty soon). As compared to Gods and Kings, I feel like this expansion is a lot better at fundamentally changing the way that people play the game rather than just adding more subscreens.

Edited by Mento

I'm in the same boat with the Steam sales in that I decided I wouldn't buy anything, and then later decided it would be okay to buy something if it was less than $5. I think I said something similar about the bundles too to one of my inter-pals: It's a little odd that they're so hard to find, but what's even odder is that Steam still has yet to adopt GOG's very sensible approach to bundles where it'll automatically exclude games you already own and drop the overall cost appropriately.

Anyway, I ended up buying McPixel for less than a pound and the one Mega Drive bundle (Pack 4) on Steam that had games that weren't already in the 360/PS3 Ultimate Mega Drive compilation thing. Which is to say Landstalker, Alien Soldier, Light Crusader and Wonder Boy III. As far as I can tell, they just threw a few extras into the Steam edition of that compilation for whatever reason.

Anyhoo, good to see you blogging again. I hope more follow that example now that we have a system in place to find out when new blogs are posted. Still holding out for that followed blogs side-bar to make a return though.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@arbitrarywater: I agree completely. Brave New World definitely changes the gameplay quite a bit more than Gods and Kings, and I really like what I've seen of the civs and sub-civs (in the case of the scenarios). Morocco is a kick in the pants, particularly with its cultural and financial bonuses. Those Berber cavalry aren't anything to sneeze at, either. My only complaint so far is that the trade routes don't seem to scale to the map size. Maybe that's nitpicky.

@mentoSee, I didn't even notice the older game bundles were on sale. Their layout this time around is pretty darned stupid, although at least they ditched the "what've your friends bought recently" thing on the front page from the last sale. No one can see my shame unless they go digging for my profile!

And speaking of layouts, yes, I agree - some sort of blog tracker on the site would be great. Same with a devoted friends' status updatery thing not linked to all their other activity. It seems sort of vain to limit that only to the GB staff on the front page, but I know I'm of the minority that comes here mostly for the community rather than the crew. Well, both, really, but I'm more interested in the status updates of the people I follow as a whole rather than just three or four guys.

Posted by Cyrus_Saren

Good to see you blogging again. It is nice that there is a system now to find out about new blogs but I still miss the old system.

It is this Steam sale in particular where I wish I had gotten into gaming on a computer a bit earlier. If I had done that, I think I would be in the same boat as you in that I would I have bought the games I had wanted in previous sales. With how it is now, there's still a good chunk of games that I want to get but no money to get them.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@cyrus_saren: There are lots of games I'd love to pick up if I had a more powerful computer. I'd love to double-dip on Skyrim, for example, if just to see it run on a high-end PC. But for the most part, the AAA titles I can run have long since been purchased, so now I'm kind of twiddling my thumbs during these sales and snapping up old or low-requirement indie games.

Thinking back to my first couple of Steam sales in... '08? '09? Anyways, it makes me wince thinking about how much money I'd throw at them. Of course, I had a lot more disposable income then being gainfully employed and all.

Edited by Slag

Isn't having notifications awesome? I'm lovin it man. Glad to see you back bloggin Sparky. Hopefully more of the bloggers of yore will be returning.

It's a damn shame that when the site was finally back at fullspeed , we lost Ryan. :(

Steam ended up getting me for the Tomb Raider series, not sure why since I own most of it already.But I don't own the new one (until now) and Steam makes it easy to install... got me harder this summer. Picked up all the Wadjet Eye adventure games and the Sierra Pack. I've been playing a metric ton of Adventure games this summer, at least that's how it feels for me,.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@slag: +1,000,000,000,000,000 cool points for buying the Sierra pack. You, sir, are officially a champion of buying good games.

I spent a little on the GOG sale, mostly on stuff like the Tex Murphy games (which I think were actually on sale after the big sale... I can't remember when I bought 'em) and... Zork? Yeah, let's go with that. Anyways, I stocked up on a bunch of adventure games I didn't own and wanted to play. I'm really looking forward to getting into the guts of them once I've burned out a little bit on Civ V again. I've also been playing a few adventure games on my iPad, namely Fester Mudd (eh) and The Journey Down (neat art style and controls, but too limited in its scope to really be anything special). One of my favorite releases of the year has been LSL Reloaded, which admittedly isn't a truly fantastic adventure game, but still is a hell of a lot of fun. At least to me it is, anyways, but I was always a fan of Al Lowe's work.

Edited by Slag

@sparky_buzzsaw: hah thanks man. I used to love Sierra games as a kid. Quest For Glory: So You Wanna Be a Hero was my jam with my friends in school computer lab back in the day. One of the perks of being one of the kids who the lab monitors liked.

Beating King's Quest 1 has long been on my bucket list. I played that game right around when it released and holy crap were adventure games hard pre-internets. beat it for the first for the first time three weeks ago. Dunno if you played those kind of gamesback in the 80's, but I really feel you can't really replicate the experience today of the tension and suspense those games before answers were readily available. I probably dropped 50 hours easily on that game as a young kid.

Now after having beaten 250+ games and being three decades older (holy crap), it's not so tough at all. I think I pounded Kq1 and Kq2 in about 2-3 hours each. 3&4 took a bit longer.

Assuming I ever get through the massive backlog I just built for myself I'll check LSL Reloaded. I never heard of that one.

This year seems like the perfect year to go on an Adevnture game binge, the New Consoles aren't out and summer is alwasy light for AAA releases even in big years.

Do you like Tex Murphy? I never played those and nearly bought them since they looked cool. But then I looked at how many games I had just bought and figured it would late Winter before I even had a chance to touch them if I did...

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@slag: I've played all the King's Quest games, but oddly enough, I can't remember beating a single one of them. Not even the cartoony one, which strikes me as really odd, since that one was easy as pie. I'm going to have to remedy that. I started with the series in its third entry, but not until about '89 or so. That game was ridiculously tough - still is. I've never been able to fully ditch the pissed-off wizard, and honestly, I don't intend to, though I really should watch an LP of it sometime. I do fully intend on returning to the first, second, and the rest of the games. Well, save for Mask of Eternity. That game really helped define the end of Sierra. So freakin' terrible.

As for Tex Murphy? I've no idea if I like 'em or not. Haven't touched one, haven't seen more than a minute of coverage, and all I really know is that they were beloved by some of my friends back in the day. I'm hoping for something akin to Rise of the Dragon or maybe Gabriel Knight, but I have absolutely no basis to make that connection. Speaking of which, I really ought to get around to finishing the first and second Gabriel Knight games too. Huh.

Posted by Slag


oh dude, you should reconsider about Kq3. It might have the most unique mechanic I've ever seen in a Adventure game of it's type. It's a little weird at first until you figure out the underlying mechanic involving the wizard, but when you think about what they did and when in video game history they did it, It's really kind of mind blowing.

even if you end up using a FAQ, I think it's really worth it for Adventure game fans like yourself. I think it may be the most fascinating game in the series from a design perspective.

Assuming I get considerably less lazy I may blog my thoughts about it now the the site notifications are working.

KQ8 is rage inducing, I'm with ya there. Heck it doesn't even work properly on my pc.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@slag: I don't think KQ8 worked properly on anyone's PC. Ever. That game was so fundamentally stupid and broken and... and... stupid and broken that it was practically unplayable. As for three.... ehhhhhhh, maybe. I mean, hell, I can probably rip through it in a few hours with a guide, and that's not a total waste of my time. We'll see.

Posted by dankempster

Welcome back to the blogosphere, Mr Buzzsaw. It's been a sad and lonely place without you, and all the better for your return.

The notification system definitely does go at least some way to compensating for the loss of the Followed Blogs widget, if only because now I'm no longer missing the blog posts of users I follow. I'd still prefer the widget to come back, or at least for the Top Men to try and get this page working. But like Mento said, right now I'll settle for the notifications.

As far as the Steam sale goes, I've managed to hold up enough willpower to only buy one game so far - namely FTL. That may yet change, but right now I'm proud of myself. Also, I really need to sit down and try and actually play some Civ. I recently bought Civ Revolution for my phone, and while the graphics aren't mind-blowing, it seems to offer a pretty full feature-set. Maybe I'll kick back on my lunch break today and get stuck in.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@dankempster: Gotta warn you, that lunch break game session will lead to you waking up eight hours later from a deep, deep gaming slumber. It will lead to firings. And tears. Lots and lots of tears. But also? The complete and total destruction of France, so I'd say it's a fair trade-off.

I've been absolutely terrible in my resolve with this sale. Example: I just double dipped on Human Revolution and its DLC for around $5.50 total, despite the fact that I don't own a computer capable of running it and I already own it on the 360. I'm honestly a little irritated with myself about it. That's $5 i could put down towards my school loans or groceries, but instead, I'm buying games I already own and can't run. First world problems, right?

Edited by dankempster

@sparky_buzzsaw: As luck would have it (whether bad or good luck, I cannot say), my lunch break demanded a trip into town, so I didn't get the opportunity to sit down with Civ Rev. Someday soon, though.

I can empathise on the whole 'buying-games-you-can't-run' thing. Back when I first got Steam in 2009 or so, I dropped a lot of cash on games my laptop couldn't run. Now I have a better laptop, but instead of using it to play all those games, I'm instead dropping more cash on even better-looking games that I still can't run ("Hey there, Alice: Madness Returns! How about we reunite when your frame rate isn't in single digits? That cool?"). I used to 'double-dip' a lot, but I think I'm finally moving past that now. Then again, the lack of backwards compatibility on next-gen consoles could potentially force me to relapse on that front.

Posted by Mento

@dankempster: I've been so sorely tempted to double dip during this Steam sale. Games like System Shock 2 in particular - while I own a (apparently rare) physical copy of the game, it seems like it would be way more convenient to just buy the Steam version when it goes on sale for ~£2 again. Since I've bought a heckload of PSP and 3DS/DS RPGs this past month (the former are dropping in price like crazy because they're all on decidedly non-futureproof UMDs), I've had to resist the Steam sale more strongly than usual. All the same, cracks are definitely forming in this stone facade of mine.

Then again, the way I see it is that I probably can't run the big games and the little ones will probably appear in an Indie Bundle if I wait long enough. I've gotten a lot of practice at being a cheapskate.

As for Civ (and Civ V in particular), I see it on Steamgifts all the time. Maybe one of these days I'll get lucky.

Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

@mento: i don't mind double dipping if, like you say, the physical copy is a rarity. When Sony gets off their BC ass and brings Suikoden II to PSN, I'll breathe a little easier about playing that one again. But I need to stop buying current-gen games on my PC too. It's not like my consoles are going anywhere soon, you know?