Work Complete: Bioshock

I started Bioshock just a little while ago, and completed it today. I already knew every little plot point, and those that I'd forgotten were quickly remembered when I reached their scripted points. I enjoyed the secrets, the audiofiles, the rescuing of innocents, the happy ending. It does say something, either about the craft or the tropes they used, that I was affected emotionally by saving the Little Sisters even though I knew it was coming. Not heavily, but you know, enough to note it.

I liked the modding, though all the options grew unwieldy toward the end. I felt my character had a bell curve of personalization, where there wasn't much to start, and toward the end I pretty much had everything I wanted, with Adam to spare. I don't see myself replaying it any time soon; all the mods I wanted I took, and I don't see the game playing out substantially differently if I pick one mod earlier than another. Maybe a bit, but not much.

Bioshock did manage to provide a successful advertisement for Bioshock Infinite, because it looks like they'll be doing more of this limited complexity and customization that runs fairly smoothly from one signpost to the next, and if they manage to get some of that incidental AI randomness that will sweeten it somewhat. I've been told that B2 is better in some ways, though some of the buzz has worn off, so I may seek it out down the road. I'm also curious about System Shock 1 and 2, they being spiritually connected, though I don't know if I have access to the first one, unless it's through the second's disc?

It was a positive experience overall, and I can see why it made the impact it did, a lot of love went into many of the levels, and that richness was clear early on (though it bled out later, especially when I felt that it ran a tad too long for the arc it was trying to show me). I sorta wish it had a longevity mode that would allow me a bit more to do on a new playthrough-- I guess I could hunt down extra secrets and try to see if I found all the audio logs. Sounds a bit tedious, though. Also, as much as I felt the context was fine as far as shootin' folks was concerned, I'm a bit tapped out on the murder-as-solution mechanic for the time being. Not sure if there's much out there that'll help recharge my batteries. Maybe I should get back to making my own games and see if I can put my effort where my typing fingers are, with regard to alternate kinds of conflict resolution.

Anyone out there still waiting to play Bioshock? Any long-term opinions on this game? It must seem pretty old to many of you.

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Coker/Stoker

I loaded up both Savage Empire and Martian Dreams after getting them free from GOG. I actually managed to get pretty far in Savage Empire by just charging into the jungle, killing some of the local wildlife, and figuring out pretty early how to get people to "join" my group, but when I reached a river where a raft and some paddles lay, I never could figure out how to get the damn thing to go. Maybe it needed an extra person, I only had three at the time, but it would be nice if it gave me some feedback on this.

Playing a bit of Martian Dreams solidified a long-ago held impression that it was by far the more refined of the two games, despite the appeal of Savage Empire's subject matter for my pulpy heart, so it's probably going to be the one I'll seriously play. The I-need-a-V8 slanty presentation and the inventory system are a bit clunky to me, but I want to see if I'll be able to get hints of the progress through the game that I'd made when I'd first played it a long time ago, back when I borrowed it from a friend of mine.

It also seems a bit turn-based, which I remember Ultima VII not being, perhaps wrongly. That's a great relief to me, since I remember U7 being a nightmare to play, even on an intended system that happened to be running it a little fast. Of course since it's emulated through Dosbox, old Martian Dreams shouldn't be too bad. And hey, Martian Dreams allows you a bit more customization for your character. Progressive nuff.

It's a bit charming how both narratives try to shoehorn the Avatar into the adventures, but I feel it has better solidity than... I guess other possible contrivances, and Martian Dreams even manages to project a healthy amount of John Carter of Mars without seeming like a low-rent imitation.

I'll admit this, like I have before: old-school RPGs are intimidating to me, even though I'm a fan of them in theory. I guess it's taken me years to realize that some games are a lot nicer to the player than others, that it pays to have a bit of faith in the designer that they're not going to create something cruelly difficult, even if it's an older design.

Lemme know if you have any memories of the Worlds of Ultima games!

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Limbo+Documentary+Wii+SWTOR+Miscellany

Limbo


Been playing some Limbo, after "splurging" here. What started out with some pretty cool atmosphere, neat physics, clever, contextual puzzles, weirdness, and fucked up kid death has become a lot of kid death and a lot of puzzles. What stopped me from playing, though, was more that my having squished a little globe wasn't recorded by the automatic checkpoint save the game has. At one point I found I'd missed a hidden globe, and I went back to get it, then bypassed the save state I'd originally made, but it kept the old one: when I checked to see if the globe was still there, it was.
 
For all the puzzle frustrations I had, this was something else entirely, and I sorta set the game aside after that.
 
The kid death... bothers me. I guess I've never been up on kids dying in my entertainment. Bothers me in meta ways, where I'm no longer thinking about the reality of the setup I'm watching and just wondering what the creators were thinking. Hell, I'm starting to be bothered by contextless death in general, but even if the Limbo kid is really a horrible person, watching his lifeless body flop around isn't entertaining or even creepy, it just makes me wonder what the Limbofolks were trying to say. Like, getting up in the morning and to model kiddie entrails? Super.
 

That One Video Series That One Gal Is Making on Kickstarter


Yeah, I threw some bucks at that project. Partly because some of the reactions to it disgusted me, which isn't a good reason to sponsor anything, but whatever arguably contentious labels she wants to use, I think the core point is well made anyway, and I wouldn't mind seeing the industry be a little less obsessive... at least in many AAA games. I dunno, I don't see repeated aesthetic nonsense being as abused in independent or niche gaming as it is for mass-market. Which is probably WHY she got a lot of insane hounding... If you've gotten the attention of the Whole of Gaming Culture, congratulations on your successful marketing, but you're going to compound all the jerks into a fine paste that moves much more fluidly on the 'net. Here's hoping she doesn't drop the ball when her project gets moving, and her efforts keep people talking, at least.
  
I tend not to go on about moral implications because I feel a lot of this does boil down to aesthetics and a sufficient level consistency in embarrassing portrayals leading to alienation, stuff that can change if there's enough will behind it. I sorta feel there's plenty of will already, but from my brief experience in the industry itself, it's not going to necessarily be market demand that changes things, or the will of individual creators. For the large scale, it may actually take a new generation of game creators who don't look at women/whateverelse as if they were a different species.
 
And here's where things get really weird: As much as the market can be a force for change and for cool stuff, you have to be in a position to NOTICE these tendencies and want to innovate on them. There are people on the inside who believe they understand all the indicators, whether or not they notice their own biases, and will continue to plow forward doing the same thing over and over. The sad stereotypes we see, whatever stereotypes they are, are a result of playing it safe. I'm willing to believe many of them don't even worry about what a given consumer actually wants, even if they WANT the stereotypes. It has to do with decision makers' beliefs on what sells in the aggregate, with consumers being little more than an inscrutable money-generating engine.
 
It's a big enough market, though. Possibly due for a crash, but it's still large enough to allow for a lot of ideas to get through on a lot of different frequencies. What concerns me is the general tone of these kinds of discussions from just about every viewpoint: people keep talking about All Gaming, as though that can ever easily be encompassed. I think we've reached a point, finally, where it can't be anymore. Thank god.

Wii...(said in a high-pitched tone, with voice trailing off)


Boom Blox continues to piss me off. I haven't touched the game in a while. Too much shooting, not enough crashing around. Sometimes I breeze through stuff, sometimes I get stuck on one puzzle and can't advance.
 
Samurai Warriors 3, for all its charm, is finally illustrating to me exactly why people are generally against Dynasty Warriors et al. Could it hurt to have different buttons do different attacks, guys? I start to feel like it would be nice to be able to spread out the load a bit. My thumb is starting to get an "A" imprint in its growing callus, and the button doesn't even have a raised "A" on it.
 
Borrowed Bully, the Gamecube upgraded Zelda, and some others that promise to be a bit more fun. Will see.
 
You know what, though... consoles are rather expensive for not being as versatile as PCs are. I find that every console game purchase has me wondering how much Dollar Value vs. Time Spent I'll get out of the damned thing, where as potential PC purchases are graded on whether or not I want to taste what they're cooking. This may be the point where I give up on my constant dreams of playing console games and focus on the PC. Weird for me to say, since I've been console gaming since Jimmy Carter was president.

SWTOR

 
Been playing a fair chunk of SWTOR, which brings me to a bit of an awe moment that has nothing to do with intent. They've decided to merge servers, finally, after many of them were fairly vacant. Problem is, they've decided to focus one-way transfers into an already heavily populated server. The result, friends, is this: 

 Take that, all you people who made fun of us for having server loads that looked much higher than they really are most days!
 Take that, all you people who made fun of us for having server loads that looked much higher than they really are most days!

And yeah, this may not look like a lot to people used to this sort of thing, but when it goes from a fairly friendly, small group of people on a given server to a TRUCKLOAD OF PEOPLE SEARCHING FOR THEIR GUILDS LIKE CLONE-KIDS LOOKING FOR CLONE-PARENTS IN A TINY ARCADE it sort of boggles the mind. They could have tried to combine tiny servers together. I don't understand.
 

MISC (NOT MINSC)


I have the Lilly demo installed, but I haven't tried it yet. Common theme in my life. I have frigging Tribes 3 installed too. 
 
Kickstarter's also a common theme, and I really should knock it off. I keep backing horses that get out of the gate. At least I know what I'll be playing in the future... PC games, if they get made. I just hope I didn't get played.
 
I haven't been able to get back into the delicious Grimrock or the... Skyrim for many a mayfly's ages, both because I'm finally powering through their middle-to-endgame and I find I'm not sure I want to. With Grimrock I felt like I'd reached another puzzle wall with respawning ice-dinos at my back, while Skyrim felt like it ran out of novelty before I'dcontinued on the main quest, whereas old Morrowind seemed to have a bit more novelty... or maybe my exploration of Morrowind was longer because it took forever to find anything by virtue of bad directions. Maybe the DLC will matter? I really like their attitude toward DLC this time through. It's encouraging that they make it a big product, although I'd like them to add layers to incidental gameplay rather than a series of quests.
 
In non-video game experiences I played a pirate board game. I died a lot. I still liked it, though all the dying made me think that it focused a bit too much on a single stat. Yarr.
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Down and Up

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

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Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SWTOR; SW3, BB, WII? WTF

Wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii


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

Star Wars: The Old Republic


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

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

5 Comments

Grimrock!!

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

3 Comments

Easter Smörgåsbord

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

Grimrock

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

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

That One Service. You Know, That One


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

GOG.COM's changes...


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

Stuff I've Been Playing

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

And now, the rest of the story:


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

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

Hello folks. 

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

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