Pointless Nonsense

Posted in video games by Bill on June 3, 2017

Stellaris had been on my wishlist for a while, but the price hadn’t dropped below about $25, but then Humble Monthly offered it for free in exchange for signing up for their thing. So $12 for this and whatever appears in their June bundle. It’s somewhere between a 4x (Civ) game and a grand strategy (Crusader Kings), which means it’s really detailed gameplay and takes a while to figure out what you’re doing. After my last attempt at playing a non-Civ 4x game, I decided I’d only try one again if the theme was really appealing, because otherwise I don’t think I have the patience to learn the system. Civ had the advantage of starting off relatively simple, and becoming more complex with each iteration, but building on existing gameplay (I probably would have hated learning Civ VI from scratch, but since it build on what I already knew from Civ II-V, it all still felt fairly familiar). This being space/future/alien based, I figured that’s more up my alley than history or fantasy, and I’d heard good things about it.

It doesn’t have a tutorial per se, though I think these kinds of games really should. Instead, if you let it, tooltips pop up constantly to try to guide you. It’s a little annoying in that it tells you “you should do X,” but not a lot of explanation why, or alternatives. So a lot of the decisions I’m making, I have no real idea what the consequences are. Also combat is a bit of a mystery, and even googling for advice isn’t that helpful (it appears to change quite a bit between versions, and every forum thread on the topic seems to devolve into people arguing over why the other person’s combat strategy is stupid).

Probably as a really good sign for my enjoyment of the game, I got about 3 hours in, realized I’d made some mistakes (I didn’t see the resource cost for terrain clearing and bankrupted myself trying to make my home planet look nice), started over, then got about 9 hours in the second time through, got annihilated by the second alien contact I made (I think I lacked weapon diversity, there’s kind of a rock/paper/scissors thing with weapon types and defense types), obsessively read some strategy guides, and 30 hours into game 3, I have a thriving interstellar empire and I’m too hooked to make much progress in this season of House of Cards.

It has a few interesting things that differentiate it from “Civ in Space”:

  • It encourages you to play in “Ironman mode” (a single encrypted savefile, no manual saving, so there’s no going back to fix your mistakes, or saving then trying something risky then re-loading if  it goes awry… I’m sure there’s a way around it, but they make it too much trouble to bother) by disabling steam achievements if you play without it. So you live with your mistakes, and have to accept the consequences of any risks you take.
  • Individual leaders. I hire scientists to do research/map the galaxy, politicians to run cities/sectors, and admirals to lead my navy. They gain experience and new abilities, then they get old and die and I have to hire new ones.
  • There are story-based questlines. Early in the game, I find an ancient civilization that died off but uploaded their minds before they went, lacking the technology to do anything useful with their minds, they just made sure the data was secure and hoped someone might find it later. You could analyze the data for a research boost or continue preserving it, and I chose the later. When I eventually developed the appropriate tech, I was able to put their minds into robots and gain new population. Or I found a race of gaseous people on a gas giant planet who needed transportation to a new home, and that gave the new home a big research bonus. Then they kept asking me for favors, which so far has worked out well for more bonuses. But there’s quality flavor text to go along with it, and in certain situations I might doubt the quest-giver’s motives and not go along with it. Kinda nifty.
  • There is an endgame “crisis,” where something happens like invaders from another dimension, but apparently there are lots of in-game paths that can lead to a crisis. I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m 90 game years into this, and I hear by year 250 you should have had a crisis. So this game is ludicrously long for one you’d expect to play through multiple times.
  • There’s not a tech tree exactly. You have three fields of research: physics, engineering, and society (which includes biology and some other stuff). You have one project going in each field, with a scientist dedicated to each. When you complete a project, you get 3 new options. If you don’t pick one, it may not show back up again. Some choices open up paths, so like if you choose  not to research robots, you won’t get other robot-related techs to choose from later on. I think I took to broad an approach this time, opening up lots of trees, which might make it harder to get deeper into research late in the game. But who knows?

The game is not without its bugs. I was approached by a nomadic species to purchase some of their spare ships, which would have represented a huge upgrade for my fleet. I accepted their offer, paid them most of my store of resources, and they said “so bet it” and never delivered the ships. Googling it, this is a known bug, but when it works right the ships are awesome at the stage of the game I’m in, and the advice was that if you get them early, pick a fight with your strongest neighbor, because you’ll kick their asses. So that’s frustrating that I missed out on that.

Still, I’m enjoying both figuring out the strategy and the little side story things. I’m sure after 5 or so playthroughs, I’ll start getting repeat questlines, but since that’s like 100+ hours, that’s nothing to be bothered by.

 

Posted in video games by Bill on May 26, 2017

Overwatch has a free play weekend, so I thought I’d see what all the fuss is about. It’s a shooter, hero-based, and team-based. A lot seems to rely on team balance, so you have to find a few heroes that suit you, so that you can fill in the gaps on your team. This creates a rather steep learning curve, since it takes a bit to learn how to play one character, but you might end up on a team where someone’s already used that character, or the skill sets render them redundant.

I fiddled around with Roadhog and Reaper, shotgun guys, as well as Widowmaker, sniper girl, and D.Va, mech girl. D.Va is the easiest to play, which is good, because I think it’s been about 15 years since I last played a shooter with other people.

It’s fine, but I still don’t get all the hype. I wasted away an evening and it was enjoyable enough, but I’m not gonna pay $40 or whatever for it. But also the thrill of multiplayer shooters was lost on me a long time ago, and I really only want to bother with them now if there’s a story (Bioshock or Borderlands or something along those lines).

Posted in video games by Bill on May 20, 2017

River City Ransom was possibly my favorite NES game. A beat ’em up game with RPG elements, I spent countless hours playing it co-op in my friend’s basement, and copying down those stupid codes in lieu of save files, and taking forever to re-enter them when we would come back to continue. So I was a little pissed that I missed the kickstarter for River City Ransom: Underground, but fortunately they made it available for general purchase after the backer release. It is not one of those games that tries to modernize stuff, it has the exact same style of graphics and music, and would probably be best played with a controller but I’m not going to spend an extra $5 (also I’d want to use a NES style controller but you need at least four buttons I think).

 

It’s fun for a while for nostalgia’s sake, but the game’s actually kinda buggy, to the point that it’s really frustrating. I quit on a quest where I had to beat a boss in a certain place to acquire an item. I went to the place, started to fight the boss, got knocked out of the zone the fight was in, and then spent 45 minutes trying to get the boss to appear again, without success. And googling doesn’t offer an answer besides “start over again.” And it’s not enough fun that I’m willing to play those first several hours over again.

Posted in video games by Bill on May 4, 2017

Sanctum 2 is the sequel to the FPS/Tower defense hybrid game I tried and enjoyed a while back, and this went on sale for $3.

 

In lieu of cutscenes (which were really cheesy in the first game what with the indie/low budgetness of it all), they have comic book style story stuff between levels. The artist has a pretty good style but I don’t think is really a comic artist. The panels don’t really help tell a story at all, it’s just like drawings with lines between them and dialogue on top. But not a big deal, I wasn’t here for the story anyway.

Some of the levels are damn hard. Some don’t let you make a maze. Others do, but have two totally distinct spawn points and routes, so that the maze you made for the first wave is useless against the second. Most have a boss towards the end that can destroy your towers, and there’s one type of boss that will destroy your towers, both poking holes in your maze for itself (and others) and hurting your ability to damage it. You can repair the destroyed towers for free between waves, but the last level is one long wave with a couple of those bosses that destroy towers. So it’s tricky to figure out how to keep enough of your maze intact after each of those appears. I had to radically change my play style for that last level (shotgun and running in close instead of sitting back and sniping).

Definitely $3 worth of enjoyment out of this, but it’s still a low budget game without much to offer beyond killing stuff, so I doubt anyone should pay more than $10 for it.

Posted in video games by Bill on April 21, 2017

Batman – The Telltale Series had a thing months ago on Steam to play the first chapter free. Which I did, and I liked it, but I’d gotten all the other Telltale games for super cheap in a bundle, so I didn’t want to actually pay full price. Then some time later, while I was playing the Witcher 3, it went in sale for $10, and now I’m actually getting around to playing it.

It brought a lot of the same voice actors from previous games, updated the game engine, it’s Batman, and I liked the first chapter. So what could go wrong? It turns out, a lot. Catwoman was basically perfect, but everything else? The worst of these Telltale interactive story games that I’ve played.

Story issues, which contain a few spoilers:

  • You don’t give an established “good guy” character a surprise turn into a villain. It’s kind of a betrayal of the character. In The Dark Knight, I’m sure every comic fan wondered for the first half why Gordon’s trusted hispanic lady cop wasn’t named Renee Montoya, but then (spoiler for TDK) you learn she betrayed Gordon, which is something Montoya wouldn’t do. So it made perfect sense that they didn’t use her name. Here, they have the masked villain turn out to be a known non-villainous character. So… bullshit.
  • You also don’t undermine the fundamentals of the Batman story. At the end of chapter 1, I assumed the story would be about proving these baseless accusations wrong. But then at the beginning of chapter 2, Alfred’s like “sorry, totally true.” So… also bullshit.
  • Basically, I worry if they did a Spider-Man game, that Uncle Ben would be a human trafficker and you’d unmask the Green Goblin to find Betty Brant.
  • The bad guys get hold of a drug that they can use to compel people to act against their will. They use it publicly in a few instances, and the police know it exists, as does the press. Then they use it on you, you get sent to Arkham, and and at no point can say “I was drugged, please note this injection site and other symptoms, can you draw some blood for a tox screen to prove my innocence/sanity?” And even though the fact that you’re in Arkham is literally broadcast on TV, you have to call Alfred to have him call your lawyer. Like apparently he’s too dumb to think to do that on his own. And once you get out, you get trashed in the press, but at no point do you present the “I was drugged” defense, you just take it like an idiot.
  • Dent becomes mayor during his downfall, and just starts violating the constitution left and right (hiring non-police, arming them, and authorizing them to conduct search and seizure without probable cause,  seizing land by fiat). And you never have the option to like… sue, call the state law enforcement, or FBI (I’m not sure which one you do when a local official just starts violating rights on a massive scale, but… one of those is probably right). Instead, you just put on your costume and go around punching people.
  • Smaller gripe, but you don’t pick a CEO for a multi billion dollar international corporation by reading their resume and calling their references. Your investors would google the name, and if it didn’t immediately come up with news articles and trade publications that indicate a long history in this or a related industry, they’d bail and your stock would plummet. This prevents you from hiring a career criminal who can fake a resume and get people to pretend to be references.
  • Smaller gripe, Gordon gets some information, then Two-Face gets it to do something bad, and then he tries to take out Gordon. You save Gordon, but then start to accuse him of helping Two-Face, which makes no sense because Two-Face was just trying to kill him. Then I pick the dialogue option “I’m not blaming you,” which I say, and then go right back to sounding like I blame him.
  • Tiny gripe, but the Penguin is lying on the ground and Gordon is standing straight up about 5 feet away, and somehow Penguin manages to spit in his face from that distance.

Choice issues:

  • You have a couple options early on to “brutalize” a bad guy. Which, as a fan of the traditional, non-psychopath Batman, I didn’t not take. But I still got shit from Gordon for roughing people up who I didn’t rough up, and compliments sorta from Penguin for beating the shit out of someone who I didn’t really beat the shit out of. I get that in order to keep a game’s scope within reason, choices have to lead you down the same general path. But I would think of you specifically choose not to be overly violent, there wouldn’t be subsequent dialogue about how you’re overly violent. And to be clear, these were some of the big chapter choices. A lot of dialogue options seem to not really matter at all, but Telltale will give you 5 big decisions per chapter and show you what percentage of your peers chose which options. And these showed up on that screen, so I’m quite sure it should be reflected in dialogue at least.
  • Looking through wikis and whatnot, most of the choices have very brief, cosmetic impact. There are 5 per episode that “matter,” but it seems like only 3 in the whole game make a real difference. It’s possible that’s typical for their games, but this is the first time I’ve been so frustrated with the story that I went back to find out if I could have saved it.

Technical/Interface issues:

  • Despite a pretty big update to the game engine with new features, their cloud save thing 100% does not work. I played chapter 1 for free, installed the game several months later, found that it created a whole new directory for save games, figured it might have been patched and I forgot a lot of stuff anyway, so I just decided to replay chapter 1. Got halfway through, took a break, then found I forgot to disable cloud saves, so it recorded none of my progress. So I actually ended up playing the first half of chapter one three times.
  • You can’t change the key bindings, which is normal for Telltale. Not normal for Telltale, shift+Q is sometimes a game-critical keystroke in QTEs. Shift+Tab, the button immediately next to Q, and fairly easy to hit by accident when suddenly reaching to hit shift+Q really quickly, brings up the Steam overlay, and prevents you from interacting with the game until you close it, and during which, QTEs whiz by, and you die. I mean it’s easy enough to disable the overlay, but did no one anticipate that problem?
  • There’s this really shrill beeping noise when you mouse over any of the menu options. The rest of the game volume is fine, but the menu sound makes me want to slash my wrists with a batarang.
  • Unskippable logo animation at the beginning that you can’t even alt-tab away while it runs. Maybe 5 seconds tops, but I’d think most people take 2 sittings to play a chapter at least, so that’s 10 times sitting through that logo.
  • It’s frequently telling me “to move, use WASD,” but A, S, and D are locked out, because it’s a scripted sequence to get you to walk to an exact spot, with the W key letting you turn on progress towards the scripted event. This is obviously pointless interactivity, a hallmark of Telltale games (“move the mouse back and forth to wipe blood of the sword” was my favorite in GoT), but why not “press W to move forward”?
  • They did an admirable attempt to bring detective work into the game by having this thing where you examine clues and then make links between pieces of evidence to construct the story. And sometimes that makes sense… link a bullet hole in a chemical container to a bullet hole in a dead body, and determine it’s the same bullet. Other times, it makes no sense at all. There’s a train car modified with a tank and a sprinkler, so I naturally tried to link it to the store of chemicals that will go into the tank and be dispersed, but they wanted me to link it to the location where the dispersal will happen. Most of the time I just make the links that make sense, and then hopefully there are only two things left over, otherwise it’s trial and error to find the right combination. Plus you have to match even the insignificant stuff… “I know who killed these people and where they went to, but I can’t do anything about it until I figure out what this bloody belt and this belt-buckle-shaped blood stain mean, could they be linked???” Also one of them is 100% pointless. You get a call from Alfred that someone’s coming into Wayne Manor, so you rush back home and find the place torn up and Alfred gone. So he was obviously abducted, and the mess probably means he put up a fight. So you spend some time linking shit together to determine that… Alfred put up a fight and then was abducted. Then only after all that investigating is done, next is a scene where you find a note that progresses the story.

Sadly, I’ll probably play any sequel too, if it exists and when it becomes cheap enough, but I might have to wait until it’s well under $10. But they’ve got another TWD game and a GoTG one both with chapters in progress now, so I’ll probably end up with those too when they get cheap enough. So even though I strongly disliked this game, that damn company has their hooks in me.

Posted in video games by Bill on March 29, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda is BioWare’s new spinoff from the highly successful and possibly my favorite franchise Mass Effect series. That sets high expectations for both me and the public. The public apparently decided to hate it because of some bad lip-sync and eyes that don’t look quite right, but I was much more interested in fun combat and a good story, so I kept an open mind.

In order to allow for the radically different endings of the original trilogy, this one takes the action to another galaxy. A group of large ships carrying 20,000 people in cryo-stasis sets off for Andromeda around the time ME2 started, planning to each explore and colonize a new world that long range scans indicate will be habitable, then meet up at a Citadel-like new structure meant to serve as the seat of government for a new galactic alliance of Milky Way settlers. But of course stuff goes wrong, you find some hostile natives, and you get thrust into an important position, trying to find all the colonists a place to live.

The characters are pretty good, only ok by Mass Effect standards, but ME1 characters didn’t really get interesting until later in the series. The story is good too, but frustrating, because all the most intriguing side plots are left unresolved, presumably for DLC and sequels. Damnit! But overall it was satisfying. I guess the highest compliment I can pay this game is that I expect to replay it sometime in the future on insanity difficulty.

I could write a giant essay on my feelings about the game, but boiling it down to bullet points will keep this from getting excessively long.

Pros::

  • Combat is fun. Had me worried at first, but once your powers are fleshed out, it plays like ME3 but faster. You can’t pause and you can’t give squadmates specific orders, but you gain the ability to jump and dash, as well as to mix and match powers with no class limitations.
  • They had some nice variety in the loyalty missions. Some were action/comedy, some more serious. They also had a lot of nice short character moment quests, along the lines of Garrus shooting bottles on the citadel.
  • Other than faces and the occasional glitch, the graphics are really good. Environments look awesome, space stuff is cool, you can even see the planet you’re orbiting through the windows when you’re running around on the ship.
  • They use focus really effectively to direct your attention. When I first noticed it, I was afraid they were going to overuse it, because it isn’t a thing I see video games employ too much, but they really used it only when needed.
  • The main story was interesting enough, but I can’t emphasize enough how interested I am into some of the subplots. Seriously, give me DLC ASAP.
  • No bordered off areas in the ship, so you can visit all your squadmates without riding an elevator or going through a security scan or whatever. There’s one door that I did think hide a loading screen, it occasionally took a second to open, but that was it.
  • Male Ryder voice actor is way better than male Shepard ever was, and the voice cast in general is good. Especially Peebee, who elevated what could have been an annoying character into a charming one. Cora’s is the only major character voice I didn’t think was great.

Cons::

  • Facial animations aren’t great. Apparently they’re algorithmically generated rather than done by animators to account for the many different possibilities. The internet lost its shit over it, but it mostly didn’t bother me that much.
  • They use the same face model every Asari but one, just throwing a different skin over it. That actually did bother me. Salarians and Turians didn’t have much variety either.
  • Romance options aren’t great. Original trilogy options were across the board intriguing enough that part of my reasons for replaying was to try another one. Here… I just picked the one that seemed the lest boring. Peebee’s story was fine, but on par with Josephine in DA:I as the worst I’ve played in Bioware’s two big franchises (Isabela #1, Morrigan #2, Tali #3, Liara #4, then… hard to pick between Jack and Miranda).
  • Planet scanning sucks again. The actual scanning is nice and painless, but there are 20 second animations when moving from one planet to another. They’re super cool looking, but scanning 6 planets in a system is about 1 minute of scanning and two minutes of watching animations. That gets old fast.
  • There’s a whole thing with a hand-held scanner that’s pretty boring.
  • The whole open world thing comes with some cons. You spend a decent amount of time just driving around in the new version of the mako. And they always have that thing where the map says you’re right next to the place you want to go to, but there’s unpassable mountains between you and your destination, and it’s unclear how you get to the passable part, so you end up driving around in circles for 5 minutes. That is never fun, and it happens in open world games always. It fits with the theme of exploration, but when compared to the loyalty missions, which were self-contained and a whole lot of fun, the open world parts seemed not so great.
  • There’s some inventory management problems. No ability to sort, piles of different crafting resources and I never really had a sense of what was for what. They did have a “sell all junk” button at least.
  • They do a terrible job of letting you see stats. I have like six different boosts to biotic recharge speed, but can’t see either the total of the bonuses or the resulting recharge speed for any powers. There’s a stats screen but it only shows your health and shield strength and a few other random stats (which pretty much mean nothing, because who cares what my health is if I don’t know how much damage enemies are doing?).
  • It’s too easy to interrupt ambient dialogue or companion banter by accident. Maybe having a complete conversation log in the menu somewhere might fix that (so you could just hit the menu and re-read what the interrupted dialogue would have said).
  • Most quests have nav points, but some don’t. Most places to start quests have map indicators, but some don’t. I find that kinda irritating, but some people might like the hidden-ness.
  • There’s a crafting system for weapons and armor, and it’s not so great. Lots of options to customize and as usual the best weapons and armor require crafting, but really you’re going to pick one type of weapon and craft a low level version of it early in the game and periodically craft higher level iterations of the same weapon as you gain xp. There are no special recipes to hunt down (that I’m aware of), or unique items you can get that are on par with the crafted ones (that I’m aware of). It’s just… “well I’ve gained enough levels, time to re-craft better versions of the same stuff again.”
  • There was one specific incident of being forced into a binary choice where an obvious happy medium existed which bugged me. It was AI-related, which is always my most passionate issue in these games, so maybe it didn’t bother other players as much as it did me.
  • You play a segment as someone other than your Ryder, which as usual, I don’t really like.

 

A lot of my gripes are a lack of polish, and being a AAA game, it should have had a little more development, but I’m used to bugs here and there when I play a game right out of the gate. Most of that will get fixed in a patch, I’m sure. Interestingly, the fact that a lot of Andromeda‘s flaws are apparent from the get-go, while Fallout 4‘s took a lot more play time to notice, pretty much meant Fo4 got considerably better critical response even though Fo4 was a much more hollow experience, because the critics get a preview copy and only a few days to rush out a review, so they really don’t get the full picture.

But some of the flaws are design decisions. I actually find the romance options most troubling for the direction of Bioware. This and Dragon Age: Inquisition haven’t had any options I thought were very interesting. Bioware’s trying (with mixed results) to be a little more diverse and inclusive, and that’s great, but they seem to think a part of being diverse and inclusive means not having any conventionally hot women.

Still, I did like it a lot. It’s probably the Dragon Age 2 of the Mass Effect series. Flawed but fun.

Posted in video games by Bill on February 25, 2017

witcher3I originally had no plans to play The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt because I found the second one very frustrating. But upon hearing yet another person raving about how great the third one was, I thought I’d see if I could pick up where I left off in the second one. I had thought I was about 1/5 through, but it turned out to be a really short game and I was about 2/3 of the way through. And then the third one was on sale for… not as cheap as I would have preferred, but Day of the Tentacle‘s voice acting was too outdated for me to handle, so it came along at just the right time between Civ and Mass Effect: Andromeda. And it’s actually pretty great.

It’s an amazing step forward in basically every respect. The tasteless jokes are less frequent, the sex scenes are less awkward, the voice acting is less clunky[0], the map is actually useful.. Where the second one was short, this one is long. Really long if you’re a completionist. I’m at 150 hours after finishing the main story, and only just started the DLC. The attention paid to the side quests is immense. You get a decent story and a cut scene from most of the little shit side quests, and none (that I can remember) are simple fetch quests.

It’s so much better that I think one would be best off finding a quick game 1&2 recap on youtube and going straight to #3. The first two games are garbage in comparison.

In this one, Geralt has recovered all his memories, and he’s in search of Ciri, a girl he helped raise who’s gone missing. Zoltan, Dandelion, Triss, the other sorceresses of note, and the surviving kings return, plus some new faces, including Yennifer, the love interest you’d forgotten about in the previous games. The main story is a magic/prophecies/end of the world thing, but there are big side stories about war and politics and organized crime and all sorts of fun stuff, plus the regular witcher contracts to hunt monsters.

It has this narrative problem I have with RPGs of late where you play flashbacks. And not just flashbacks, but flashbacks being told by someone else about yet another person. I play as Ciri in flashbacks told to you by not-Ciri and not-Geralt. So what, I’m deciding what story some Baron tells Geralt? That doesn’t make any sense! I get that it works from a gameplay point of view. They need to tell you a chunk of story that Geralt wasn’t around for, and they think a 20 minute cutscene where you don’t do anything would get boring. The user needs to make regular input so they don’t get bored. But it totally sucks from a narrative perspective. Unless there’s time travel at play, the events I control should be in linear order, and in the “present” of the story, because in order to play the role of the protagonist, I shouldn’t know things that haven’t happened yet, and in order for my actions to have weight in the story, they have to be actions in the real world of the story, not actions in a story-within-a-story.

Other stuff:

  • Dice poker is ditched as the mini-game in favor of Gwent, an in-game CCG. It’s not high strategy, but I still felt determined to collect cards and beat every opponent I could find. Annoyingly, there is one guy who I encountered way before I had the cards to compete with him. But otherwise, my opponents were pretty appropriate, difficulty-wise. It’s kind of hilarious though that I’m this tough warrior guy and I’m essentially asking other tough warrior guys if they want to play Magic: the Gathering.
  • I’m not sure if I remember this happening in the first two games, though it might have, but literally everyone is white in the main game. The DLC does add some people of color, but it seems weird, even for something based on European fantasy/folklore, to keep it so white. Like… you can add magic and monsters, but not pigment?
  • On sort of similar grounds, every female character of significance is smoking hot (well there are three sister minor villains who are only sometimes smoking hot, and other times gross rotting things, but my point still stands). I kinda get the sense BioWare is going in the opposite direction, Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s most physically attractive character I remember was a dwarf (no beard, but otherwise… dwarf-like), and ME:Andromeda isn’t looking too promising on that front either. Is it too hard to have a happy medium? Like… not every woman should be supermodel hot, but it’s still escapist entertainment, so we can have some traditionally attractive women around?
  • I’m actually baffled as to whether this takes place on some kind of alternate Earth with the “real world” part of its multiverse, because for a fantasy story with made up place names for everything, they retain an unusual amount of real world culture. Cinderella is referenced by name, there’s a direct quote from MacBeth (“if it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly”) though they attribute it to the play Vakmeth, and the people in Skellige who are very Viking-y worship Freya and the end of the world is called Ragh Nor Roog). At first it came off to me as lazy writing, unable to come up with a unique culture for this fantasy world, but then the plot of this one includes a sort of magical interdimensional travel[1], so it’s possible I guess.
  • If you do all the side quests first and then progress the story in big chunks, one story/questing aspect can get monotonous. “Sure, I’ll do that think to let you progress the story, but first you have to do this for me.” Happens over and over and over again. Sure, it’s an RPG staple, but its also better storytelling when the tasks come about more organically. Instead of talking to the lady who says I’ll give you the key if you can pick this coin up off the bottom of the monster-infested pond, why not just have the key be at the bottom of the monster-infested pond?

0. The voice of old Dandelion during the loading screens is laughably bad. American accent, but with the cadence of a non-native speaker. Or possibly just a really stiff actor. Triss, whose voice I never thought was quite right for her, is nonetheless voiced by someone who I was certain was American until a phantom “R” showed up in one line of dialogue (the phrase “Phillipa and” contains no R’s, but if you have a certain kind of English accent, you pronounce “Rs” at the ends of words only when the next word starts with a vowel, but sometimes people with those accents will mistakenly add an R between a word that ends with a vowel and a word that begins with one, so it becomes “philliper and.”). Geralt’s fine. I think they like Game of Thrones because they got Charles Dance to voice the Emperor of Nilfgaard, and several of the character models look surprisingly similar to GoT characters.

1. Including an easter egg, I think, for CD Projekt Red’s next game, Cyberpunk 2077, when Ciri describes a world where people fight wars from a distance, have metal in their heads, and ride around in flying carriages, or something. After playing this, I’m genuinely excited from Cyberpunk 2077. Hopefully it’ll include some non-white people and one or two ordinary looking women… this has the built-in excuse of being fantasy based on European stuff for the white people, but cyberpunk owes more to Asia than anywhere else. Though I guess a lot of the hot women are sorceresses, so they could just enhotten themselves magically, while the cyberpunk people could enhotten themselves technologically. Meh.

Posted in video games by Bill on January 30, 2017

civ6Civilization VI changes some things in a good way and others not-so-good. Overall, it’s a nice way to kill 100+ hours. I don’t like the religion and espionage very much, the civics tree and district things are odd but ok, and I rather think the military and culture have gotten quality improvements. Forming armies, different approaches to culture (archaeology), the great people system, all quality improvements. Some of the civs provide interesting alternate approaches, like the Kongo and their high population/no religion thing.

There are some random things I wish the UI would allow:

  • Being able to alert on religious units. I quite often fail to notice enemy missionaries/apostles in my territory for a turn or two, it would be much more helpful if my defensive apostles could auto-awake when someone crossed into my territory.
  • Auto-explore that didn’t suck. One that would get tribal villages and also not bounce back and forth at random. And that would take auto-explore off once I’ve seen all the territory.
  • A decent city overview screen.

Also some of the achievements are broken. I wanted to do the one for having a Japanese district surrounded by six other district, which I successfully did, but got no achievement for. Googling shows I’m not the only one to have that problem. Oh well. Next up is the remastered version of Day of the Tentacle, unless I find the voice acting on that to be too annoying (it’s really dated).

Posted in video games by Bill on January 14, 2017

sanctumSanctum is a hybrid of a tower defense game and an FPS, a pretty clever idea. Between waves, you go in tower placement mode to build your maze, put up turrets, and buy upgrades. During waves, you’re on the ground running around shooting along with your turrets.

It’s an indie sorta thing, so it’s low-fi graphics (it’s from 2011 but looks like PS2 graphics, basically), no story, and a slightly clunky interface, but that also means it’s cheap. Which is good, because it’s not quite engaging enough to make me want to get every level perfect, or try out the higher difficulties, but it was fun enough to justify $10 for a run through all the maps.

I didn’t have anything else to play, and saw someone liveblogging The Witcher 3, which has for some reason compelled me to give The Witcher 2 another try. So far… still frustrating, still bad dialogue, still bad voice acting. But I’ll see if I get more used to it.

Posted in video games by Bill on January 13, 2017

talesfromtheborderlandsTales from the Borderlands is a Telltale game set in, somewhat obviously, the Borderlands universe. I’d picked this up in a Humble Bundle a long time ago, and originally intended to give it away, but after seeing the first BL game for cheap, gave it a shot, liked the story, and three games later, I’m ready to play this one. And I was anticipating this more than the other games, because I liked the setting and characters of the main games more than I liked the gameplay.

Like the Pre-Sequel, it suffers from interactive flashbacks. Like Telltale’s Game of Thrones, you play as multiple characters, which is still weird. Even weirder, your characters are often actively working against each other. But once you get past that stuff, and start to get to know the characters, it’s really good. Quality sense of humor, good cinematography…or whatever you call that, animation direction? Camera angles, use of slow-motion, etc. And though the graphics on these games are never exactly slick, the style of Borderlands fits in it pretty well.

It’s set around the time of the framing device of the Pre-Sequel, so shortly after BL2. You play as both Rhys, an ambitious Hyperion middle-management type, and as Fiona, a Pandoran con artist. Familiar faces, or at least voices, include Marcus, Zer0, Athena, Jack, Moxxi, Scooter, Shade, Janey Springs, Brick, and Mordecai. Interesting that all three of the characters I played (Mordecai, Zer0, Athena) show up in significant roles, but Lilith and several of the default player characters from BL2 and Pre-Sequel don’t appear at all. Sadly, Torgue and Tiny Tina, always good for laughs, don’t appear either.

Chris Hardwick, Patrick Warburton, and Chrissie Seaver from Growing Pains join usual BL voice actors, Black Widow from Avengers Assemble, and a bunch of video game regulars in providing voices. They add unique-to-Telltale elements where Rhys can find extra info looking around by scanning with a bionic eye implant thing, and where Fiona can find money stashed around and use her supply of it to bribe people (not sure if this works or not, I never tried it) or purchase upgrades that, as far as I can tell, are entirely cosmetic.