The perfect landing

I've been playing DCS A-10 since release, and I can feel myself getting incrementally better at it. Understand that being better at DCS A-10 is much less about split second decision making, and much more about understanding and applying protocol, and as such the learning curve is somehow both boring AND exciting. Boring because you are repeating long, drawn out tasks with little immediate feedback, but exciting because as these repetitions become second nature, you realize you've learned something directly applicable to a real world context you would otherwise have no chance of messing about with.

I'll echo Drew's statement and multiply it by two; Put me in a maintained A-10C, and I can start it up and get off the ground, and I won't need a checklist to do so: This is just something I can do now.

But landing... As a friend of mine said "So what you're saying is you're dead anyway". Don't get me wrong. I could align with a runway and touch down just fine, but landing at the right speed has been a huge problem for me. Until yesterday, I'd never carried out a landing I felt was anywhere near acceptable, with way too much emergency break and nail biting tension as I'm coming in too low and too fast, and finally rolling off the end of the runway. In a game like DCS, not only have you failed at the task, but it just leaves you there, looking like an idiot. Like a play where everybody but you is doing their part perfectly, you desperately want to fall in line and perform.

The landing fundamental that I've struggled with, specifically, isn't aiming the HUD TVV indicator (a small airplane-like indicator on the heads up display that shows where your plane is headed) at the end of the runway and keeping your airspeed down with gear, flaps and airbrakes. It's the fact that once your airspeed goes down to the acceptable level (around 120 knots + so and so much for every extra ton you're carrying, or something. I never remember this. See? Horrible.) you start having to pitch up to maintain lift, and *increase* throttle to *maintain* speed. It changes, or accentuates, the rules you otherwise follow in flight, and not too far removed from piloting a helicopter, where you are gaining speed with pitch and have to maintain lift with throttle. As you come in for your final landing approach, you are coming in facing a direction you are not actually flying in, and the transition between the two "modes", and doing so gracefully..

I made my very first by-the-book perfect landing yesterday, and I was practically dancing afterward. It's typical for DCS; It's a combat simulator, but combat is not Top Gun, and in the end, you're just doing stuff as you've been taught to stay alive. Dropping a GPS-guided cluster bomb on a convoy is much, much simpler than landing, and as such, ironically kind of like Top Gun on the NES, the landing becomes the "level boss". Finally beating the boss on a single life, so to say; You feel like a god.

I realize this kind of game isn't for everyone. But I can't help but think of it as a counterpart to Dark Souls, another game where repetition and routine is absolutely necessary for progress. Ask any Dark Souls veteran about what makes their character effective, and it's not stats or equipment, it's skill and practise. This is what makes Dark Souls a fantastic game, and it's why DCS is fantastic. Actual mastery. What an amazing gaming experience.


XCom and rose tinted glasses

So I played the shit out of XCom on the Amiga (as UFO: Enemy Unknown), and then played a ton of Terror from the Deep on PC. I was a huge fan of the series back in the day, and still keep them around to replay them once in a while. But man.. People have a real skewed perspective on how good that series actually was.

Unpopular sentiment, probably, but the most fun bits of any XCom game is researching new gear and reading research reports. The geoscape is a random slog, and tactical battles are random slogs. The games get painfully repetitive fast. Much of the satisfaction comes from the tension, and constant sense of danger and risk. But what this really inspires is a save-reload cycle every turn, and in the long run, considering how many battles you get into, boy does that get boring.

I think the absolute worst Firaxis can do must still be better than what XCom actually was back in the day. Don't get me wrong, they are charming and exciting games, but they are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, no matter how much people want to insist hunkering down outside of a UFO door for turn after turn waiting for the aliens to randomly bumble their way out of it into your field of fire is a tactic, or that repeated terror missions on the other side of the globe when you've put up your first base, killing half your funding, is "part of the game".

People need to relax their nostalgia about this thing. I think of XCom and *feel it in my heart*, but man, mechanically the games are not stellar.


That soundtrack...

So I caved and bought the PC version of Saints Row the Third, and I'm having a lot of fun with it. Definitely a great game.

But man.. That soundtrack is really, really bad. Of course this is subjective criticism, but I'm kinda shocked they have that many radio stations and so little music worth listening to. It's reached the point where I've just disabled every single station; The game has this gaudy kind of shitty-on-purpose esthetic that unfortunately extends to the music, and there's maybe 4 or 5 tracks on any of the stations that I can listen to. I spent time going through the stations to make my own playlist, and it wound up really, really short. What a god damn shame.

This is actually the first(!) open world game of this sort where the soundtrack hasn't had any redeeming qualities, I feel. How you can have an 80s/90s station with basically no real classics, or an electronic music station with not a god damn thing worth listening to in this day and age of excellent dirt cheap and prolific electronica, that takes some backwards talent.

I hope they patch in some way to add custom tracks to the PC version, because man.. This won't do.


The mandatory 2011 top 10

This year's been pretttty good. So good, in fact, I've given up making a top 10. I don't want to eliminate anything damnit. So instead, here's just a list of games that gave me tons of pleasure this year. I'm kind of bummed there aren't any 360 titles on this list, but I honestly can't think of any that really did it for me this year. Even my most anticipated title, Ace Combat Assault Horizon, turned out disappointing.

DCS A-10C (PC)

This sim got me to the point where I've invested in a TrackIR, a 500 dollar joystick/throttle set, and spent significant time reading books about real life A-10 pilots. It's a ridiculously dense "game", but it also comes with an incredible feeling of mastery. I'm a shitty pilot, but my experiences in DCS A-10 is actually making me consider signing up for flight school in real life.

Jamestown (PC)

What a delightful game this is. I never thought I'd see a truly competent western bullet hell shmup, but Jamestown delivers in spades. Beautiful music and art, and tight responsive gameplay. I love this game.

Shogun 2 (PC)

The last Total War game prior to Shogun 2 that I enjoyed was.. Shogun 1. Maybe it's something about the portrayed time period and the terrain that lends itself particularly well to the style of game? Regardless, Shogun 2 is a gorgeous, evocative and endlessly impressive large scale wargame, and I suck at it. It still keeps me coming back for more however, just to drink in that amazing atmosphere.

The Witcher 2 (PC)

I wanted to like the original Witcher way more than I wound up actually liking it. Something about the clunkiness of the combat paired with horrible performance issues and really strange voice acting stopped me from progressing too far into it. But the second game just blew me away instantly. It's a gorgeous, *performant*, and deeply involving. It's also the best example of PC gaming embracing the joypad; The Witcher 2 plays flat out better with a 360 pad, and I wouldn't play it any other way.

Dawn of War 2 : Retribution (PC)

Retribution is to DoW2 what Dark Crusade was to DoW. It introduces needed scope, adds a very cool new army, and is generally just a rush to play. It loses some of the intimacy Relic was going for, but in my opinion, in the 40K universe, intimacy is a horrible, horrible thing to go for. Retribution is epic, loud, gorgeous, involving and *fun*

Bastion (PC)

Bastion impresses me the most by being so much its own thing. I struggle coming up with good comparisons for this title, thank god. Beautiful and tightly balanced, it's a killer example of taking a "retro" style of gameplay into the next generation without compromising in any way. I enjoyed it to the extent that I felt grateful to be playing it.

Portal 2 (PC)

Another generous game, I liked Portal 2 a lot more than the original. I liked the first game a lot as a puzzle game, but I never really got people's wild infatuation with its story, which was, to me, simply there. In Portal 2 the story is much better integrated with the gameplay, and it winds up feeling like an epic journey through the story of Aperture, and it never really stops being interesting, puzzling or funny. A truly stellar game.

Resistance 3 (PS3)

I violently disliked Resistance, and Resistance 2 just made me angry. But Resistance 3 was a deep pleasure to play, with a beautiful, fascinating world, amazing weapons, tight, satisfying controls, and a story that actually felt apocalyptic in a way even Fallout has failed to in recent years. When Resistance 3 was over, I desperately wanted more. It's a huge shame "so few" bought it, and that we're unlikely to see another by the same team, who finally seemed to have reached their stride.

Dark Souls (PS3)

I did play Demon's Souls, but I never got "rolling" with that game. I did with Dark Souls, however. Oh boy. What a cool game to play. The constant danger, the sense of always being somewhere you shouldn't be, and going from struggling with an enemy to defeating them effortlessly time and time again. Dark Souls makes the journey personal, in a different, fascinating world of horrible, endless death. It blew me away.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 (PC)

Some people think Eden are lame. I think they're awesome. And lame. I loved Alone in the Dark more than most people think is rational, and the same is true with TDU2, one of the lamest, most European games in recent history. But what made TDU great still makes TDU2 great; The feeling of exploring, the pleasure of just driving and touring the countryside. The game is a sidenote here; The landscape and delightfully lame atmosphere are key. I won't recommend it to anyone, but boy, I had a great time with it.

Dead Space 2 (PS3)

And my most awaited sequel in years turned out to deliver. Not in exactly the way I'd hoped - this is very much Aliens to the original's Alien - but in delivering more of that gorgeous, awful world, paired with some of the best third person shooting ever concocted. I hope they take their sweet time with the third game; This is a franchise to cherish.

Star Wars: The Old Republic (PC)

I don't even like MMOs! Or Bioware! Or even Star Wars that much! Why am I putting so many god damn hours into this!? My Imperial Agent is a sadistic asshole, and playing her and watching her story evolve has been an absolute pleasure. This game is more than the sum of its parts somehow, and I struggle to find good words to explain it. Probably the smoothest MMO launch I've experienced, and easily the most interesting one to play alone. How the actual "Massively Multiplayer" part of it pans out is yet to be seen, but it appears I'll stick around for a while longer.

Skyrim (PC)

I'm Norwegian, and the prospect of "going to Norway" didn't really make me super excited about Skyrim. How they managed to make a landscape and atmosphere I typically travel abroad to *escape* into a game world I thoroughly enjoyed exploring is sort of beyond me. Better quests, better character progression, better story. This is likely the best PC RPG of its kind ever made. How all this content was produced, I have no idea. Just look at the *rivers*.

Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)

Another genre I haven't been interested in in years and years, Xenoblade makes JRPGs not only tolerable, but feel fresh. The closest comparison is Final Fantasy 12, incidentally the last FF I enjoyed. With great localization, great combat, a fascinating story and the most impressive engine running on the Wii, Xenoblade is sort of amazing.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PS3)

It peters out a bit near the end, its story is honestly a bit lame, and Adam Jensen's voice actor is godawful, but for the first 2 thirds, DXHR is a stunning reminder of what PC games used to be, and an excellent example of how the best parts of them can be translated into the modern world. It's probably the best modern stealth game since Splinter Cell Conviction, and watching the world open up as you unlock abilities is always cool. I had a fantastic time with this game.

Any god damn Kairosoft game (Android)

Are these games even games, really? You can't really fail.. It's a near linear progression curve; Level up your stuff to make money, spend money on leveling up your stuff. It's practically progress quest. But every single one of Kairosoft's titles, though sometimes they feel like re-skins of the same game, are so damn charming, and somehow such perfect distillations of their subject matter, they're just so hard not to love. Whenever a new title shows up, I don't even think. I just buy. And they give me hours and hours of.. Pleasure? Yes. Pleasure. Kairosoft define what makes mobile gaming acceptable to me.


Games and hardware

So I've recently begun a descent into what I feel might be the deepest gaming rabbit hole I can dive into; Simulation gaming.

I've always loved sims, from F-15 Strike Eagle II and the other Microprose sims on DOS, to Apache Longbow and Silent Hunter. I just love the historical context, and the notion of mastering complex hardware. But now, as an adult, I can actually buy the peripherals "required" by them, and at that point the journey doesn't appear to end.

I have a fascination for helicopters, so when DCS Black Shark was announced, I bought it as soon as possible. Except that god damn game is so hard core, and mostly in Russian, that I just decided it wasn't something I could feasibly get into. Real bummer. Then DCS A-10 was announced, and I was fucked.

See, Russian military hardware is one thing, but American military hardware is practically pop culture. When you're telling me you're shipping an A-10 sim, that is a sim of my favorite military aircraft, by the same guys commissioned to build sims for the USAF, in a market that contains A-10 specific controller hardware, then I'm just going to dive in head first.

So far, DCS A-10 is the most expensive game I have ever played. Between the game itself, the HOTAS warthog stick/throttle set, the new graphics card, the extra memory and the trackIR, I could've bought myself 3 extra PS3s. And these are in Norwegian prices (aka Fuck You prices).

The thing is, it's just progressively more awesome the more I invest in it. The feeling of mastering the HOTAS controls (basically there are shit tons of buttons on stick+throttle and they are context based) and actually being able to lean into the gun sights, or turn my head to scan the terrain for targets as I'm turning, or even subjectively dull things like learning how to effectively coordinate four different sensors into a cohesive targeting solution (picking a target through the HUD cursor, adjusting it on the TAD map display, then sharing it with the targeting pod, making fine adjustments before sharing it with the maverick missile before launch, it's just delicious).

So now I'm looking at buying a new monitor, because even at the highest resolution on my current one, I still have difficulty spotting some targets visually. God damnit.

Anyone else have stories of games successively driving them to more and more hardware purchases to enhance the experience?


Alone in the Dark

Pretty weird feeling.. To play a game, know it's bad, but simultaneously be so happy that it exists. It feels like for every thing AitD did very wrong, it did one thing very right. I remember people being so unhappy about the mid section where you go burn all those roots, but I was *delighted* by that section. The worst part of the game, easily, was the story progression, and the best part was messing with fire and all the little physics subsystems, and getting the leash taken off in that way put the game in its best possible light, I feel.

I dig through all my games (crates of them at this point), and every time I lay eyes on AitD I get that nice warm nostalgic buzz. I just had such a wonderful time with it. It's such a shame it's more likely to be remembered for its technical issues than for its wild ambition and generosity. Sigh. Gamers are so fickle, but I guess you can't blame them anyway. You pay 60 bucks, you expect quality in no uncertain terms. But if you can check it out for 10, I'd really recommend it, especially if you found pleasure in games like Deadly Premonition, another game that's wildly out of its depth but comes out better for it.


Three strikes, Ubisoft

Sigh. I'm just done with this shit now Ubisoft. Three times I've been excited for your games on PC, and every single time you've fucked me. It doesn't help me that refunds on Steam is a hassle. Shitty DRM I can theoretically handle (I even suffered through Starforce for Silent Hunter 3, and that was worth it), but shoving games out the door in a barely functional condition is not only "not cool", it really just serves to accentuate the worst PC gaming has to offer; Awesome potential coupled with bottomless disappointment. It's just heartbreaking.

From Dust was one of the worst PC ports I have ever seen. How do you get a mouse cursor wrong in 2011?

Silent Hunter 5 built on a fantastic foundation, but somehow managed to do *less* than the games that came before it, and barely worked at all while trying to do *that*.

Anno 1404 was one of my favorite PC strategy games ever, just gorgeous and intelligent and satisfying to play. And here Anno 2070 comes out looking gorgeous, but, again, barely working, with game crippling bugs stopping players from progressing in the campaign, and faulty DRM that is as likely to let you play the game as it is to block you out for seemingly no reason whatsoever.

Get your shit together. There is no reason for you to suck this enormous amount of ass when you've done good things on the platform in the past. There's nothing exciting coming from your direction that I can think of, and you know what, the next time I let myself get duped into being excited about something you're doing on the PC, I'm going to have to stop myself and remember that there is no potential too great for Ubisoft to take a fat crap all over.

Fuck you.


Where the fuck's Tatanga?

Nintendo, you jerks. You can NOT make a game called Super Mario Land, no matter how many D's it's got, and set it in the mushroom kingdom. Super Mario Land is either about Sarasaland (should always be about Sarasaland!), or some other crazy god damn place, but it is NOT the mushroom kingdom damnit!

I want to pilot mario submarines and mario planes and jump on turtles that turn into bombs. In 3D :-(


White knighting and sexism

There's a trend going on right now that really disturbs me. As a guy who loves games, and as a guy who loves women.

White knights of the internet, fighting Women's War against Man, what is it that propels you to praise normalcy in the face of fantasy? We've had an evolution from a point where it was alright to portray every single character in a game in a fashion completely disconnected from reality, to a point where women are exempt from that rule. This is a sign of the maturing of the art form, and it's good. We're asking our character designers to craft characters that inspire our imaginations to share in their world. The Uncharted games have given us characters as real as any hollywood character, and that's a real achievement.

What worries me, is that now the focus seems to have moved away from arguing against the ridiculous disregard for physical law in character design, and has become a veiled argument against sexuality itself.

Today I read a long, rambling thread on how much the female character designs in Syndicate were sexually provocative, and thus "wrong". This made me angry enough to need to take a walk around the house (which probably says a lot about me).

Men of the internet, if you encounter a female character design that is not identifiable as an aberration of physical law, yet you still find it sexually provocative, I strongly suggest you sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up. The counter argument to these punk cyber synth goth trenchcoat gun ladies appears to be that Jade or Zoey were "good girls", and that these girls are "bad girls", therefore sexism. You're basically saying that if a girl wants to be a sexual being and chooses an attire to match that, or worse, if a girl doesn't share your idea of what is physically attractive, then she needs to go back to the drawing board and put on some clothes, because man, ladies need to know better than to wear push up bras and leave their shirts buttoned up all the way. I mean PROPRIETY come on.

The office guy! The biker! The army vet! The.. girl!

You men... I'll fight with you against the Ivy's and 90s era Laras any day, but if you simply see a girl with a corset and cleavage and you don't like it, you can get the fuck out. The Syndicate characters are some of the best female characters I've seen in a while, simply because they look murderous as shit yet confident enough to wear whatever they want. Kevlar corsets, for fucks sake. You're complaining about cleavage (not practical!), yet it's ok that nobody wears a helmet.

There's nothing more infuriating in this debate than pretending to fight the fight for women's rights, yet in actuality to be fighting for your own selfish need to be "good". It's so misguided to think that women need to be girls next door with moderate makeup and no sense of style or pride in their appearance to somehow be strong characters. If anything is keeping girls in games under the boot, it's men's desire to normalize them and craft worlds in which women are nothing but blank templates on which to project their fantasies. To wax nerdy for a moment, in artificial intelligence, Markov models work by examining past states to build a concept of the world, yet once enough time has passed, the average of all states means you don't know shit about the world at all.

You want to divide all girls by their number and ensure they're conforming to the public notion of what a girl should be, and you know what? Nobody wants to be average, and with time, you've successfully dehumanized women. Good fucking job, white knights.

Requisite elitist douchebag recommendation: Read some fucking Paglia, then rejoin the conversation.