It is interesting all of the things that we take for granted when we sit down and fire up a game. You expect a game to have rules that have to be followed, controls that allow you to control your character, some kind of difficulty that you have to overcome in order to reach a ‘win state’. These hold constant across all games. While games like Halo have all of these clearly defined, even a game like Dear Esther has a world where you are only allowed to walk a snails pace, the difficulty of figuring out which path to take next, and a win state of the final cutscene. However, there is one rather curious thing that not all games have in common: the ability to win. Just because a game has an end state does not mean it is physically possible to get there.
Now obviously, there isn’t some kind of new super DLC that I am talking about that gates the ending of a game unless you pay for it...yet (although from what I’ve heard, Asura’s Wrath has come pretty close. Wait! Changed my mind. StarTropics). But rather, there are some games where it is impossible to get to the win state. Think about a game of capture the flag where your team of 10 all ragequits, leaving you against 10 highly skilled player controlled characters. Do you still think you can win? I would argue that situation is still technically winnable. What I am talking about is one level worse than technically winnable:
Magic The Gathering.
Let me start with my background with MtG: I love it. I have been playing since 7th edition, which puts me at 12 years and counting of slinging cardboard. I started just playing with friends, then eventually started playing in constructed tournaments (where you can build a deck of your own to play against everyone else’s deck). Generally speaking, a tier 1 constructed deck costs a few hundred dollars - not exactly pre high school money. What I’m saying is I lost a lot in my earlier days. These days I have avoided that problem by switching over to drafts instead - in drafts, everyone opens a pack of cards, selects 1 card from the pack, and passes the rest on to the next person over. This is repeated for all 15 cards in the pack, and for 3 packs. Then, with what you drafted, you build a 40 card deck. This cuts out on the money issue, but does raise the ‘randomly getting screwed over’ aspect a bit: sometimes people just open up really good cards and you could never hope to beat them if they draw that card. But you can still build a strategy, and take whats best, so more often that not a good drafter will beat out a lucky drafter.
Now that I have been committing myself more to my work (I just threw up in my mouth typing that sentence guys, sorry), I have been exhausted each Friday meaning that I haven’t had time to go down to the shop to play in any tournaments. I have about a dozen decks built for a fun side format (EDH), but I rarely get a chance to play these days. So when I saw Duels 2014 on sale this weekend I figured eh, what the hell, might be fun. I have a lot of problems with the game - you can’t build your own deck, the precons are woefully underpowered, the games generally don’t require any advanced strategy, there are DLC unlocks, and there are so many advertisements for real products that it makes me sad that I actually paid for it. EA could learn a lesson from how Wizard advertises. As a quick sidenote, however, the game has been wonderful for the community. I have met dozens of people at my shop who got their start on Duels and decided to stop in and play tournaments, and they actually know how the rules work as they are more strict in the PC than most tournament level players. At its core though, it is still the Bud Light of the Magic the Gathering universe: a watered down, unappealing offense to something that can be rich and complex.
I googled "Crappy Beer". First image. Fun fact: This is in the Miller High Life Longue in Des Moines (where I live). It isn't often that pride and shame coincide.
By far my biggest problem with the game though is that sometimes you literally cannot beat the AI, and I don’t mean it is because they are unfair and read your hand, things like that. Sometimes they just have, as the poker players say, the nuts: a super powerful creature with an ability that says you can’t block it if you wanted to, and you are dead in two hits. Now, that isn’t to say this is common, and also not to say it isn’t your fault - you can sort of tune your deck, but bigger than that, you can throw away your starting hand and draw a new one with 1 less card. However, this still leaves you at a disadvantage. Also, your opponent could just have all answers to your cards, leaving you dead in the water. So what are your options? Play again, or choose a different deck. As a gamer, this concept is completely foreign.
Just imagine: You sit down, start Dark Souls, you go to Anor Londo, go up to the side window where the dickhole archers live, kill them, then find out that yeah, they patched that path so now its blocked for you. Sorry to have wasted all of your time, but you just can’t win this run. Ah well, always next character, huh champ?
Also, and this is more off topic, but still applies: The penalty for taking a mulligan is having one less card, leading you to lose the game. What does this cost you? Nothing. Nothing but the time you spent losing. So in theory, you could mulligan down to 1 card, then just restart. With some decks in the real world, this would be an optimal strategy. Even in the game, it is occasionally viable to search for an explosive start. However, as someone who appreciates the skill of playing the game well and identifying when a weak 7 could be worse than an ok 6, I often go along with it. I even had a moment where the AI played an absolute trainwreck of a card for me - literally unkillable the entire game. I almost conceded on the spot because if the AI played it right, and drew decently, it would crush me in a matter of turns. It was at that exact spot where I felt that the game had transformed into strictly unwinnable. I had no cards in my deck that could deal with it, and I wouldn’t be able to outpace the computer. Maybe that was the ‘plan’ for the AI all along, or maybe that was a lucky draw off the top of the deck, but it turned a game from practical to seemingly impossible at the drop of a hat...actually a card, but whatever. Looking back at this, it is interesting to note that a game can be winnable to a certain point. Say, if you get down to 10 health in Serious Sam then you might be ok, but the moment you have 1 health, 0 armor, and an army of space monkeys, it feels like you are wasting your time by not reloading checkpoints. If a single hit kills you, can you really dodge your way for who knows how long to a health pack? As one last point on this, someone solved checkers Yes, solved. There is an AI that not only cannot lose, but can tell you the exact moment the game went from a tie to your imminent loss. So basically, while playing a game with an unwinnable scenario, the only thing you can do is try to make the best moves possible to put yourself into an absolutely hopeless scenario.
Going back to my card game, there were only a few things I could do in this situation, and two of them are absolutely fascinating in this context: First, I could hope the AI is dumb enough to throw the game. This isn’t anything new to the ‘unwinnable’ situation, as many games have been thrown out of love for player 2 or out of nerves mismanaging a nub. This does happen occasionally in this game, as the AI doesn’t really have an understanding of the next two principles. Sometimes the computer plays too defensively, and rarely too offensively. Maybe this is a kind of balancing, but it seems like sloppy AI. Basically it waits until it can use its cards to an effect that it feels is worth it - only attacking when you have no profitable blocks, or holding back to defend against a potential 2 damage. So you question: what isn’t the AI doing right that I’m am doing?
The first idea is trying to play to the highest Expected Value (EV). Basically, within the context of the game, you are given resources and you have to determine the best time and target to use those values. This applies to every game: in blackjack, hitting on 19 is an incredibly low EV in every situation. Hitting on a 16 may be the highest EV, if the dealer has a 7 or higher showing. In this sense, hitting on a 16 isn’t the ideal move, as more often than not you will lose. But then you have to ask yourself: Could I have won anyway? If the dealer hits into a 21, I lose no matter what, so might as well try and beat them, right? Back to videogames, in Counter Strike, the highest EV move may be to throw a flashbang into a room before entering. You may get the positioning wrong, there may be no players in the room, or the sound of the grenade hitting the floor may alert an enemy nearby to your position...but nine times out of ten, a blind terrorist is a dead one, so you toss it in. Finally, the Magic example it basically equates to maximizing the potential of each card that you draw - only trading your creatures for your opponents when you have something to gain out of it, or playing a spell that kills a creature...of course, there are juicier targets as the game goes on, so maybe your highest EV move is to simply hold on to that resource. Now, we get to where an unwinnable game is interesting: at no point do you know that you can’t win. If you know that victory isn’t assured every time you play, I think the opposite of what is to be expected happens: instead of giving up and playing carelessly, we cling to every resource to prove that we could win this instance if we are good enough. You can go back over every card you played and see if you can mentally turn back 10 turns to view the effect of you trading your first turn creatures for another 5 life by throwing it in front of their seemingly undefeatable monster. Maybe you will get lucky and draw into something that lets you win, or maybe you can use a card in a certain wait to turn the tide of battle and grind out a victory, but either way, every resource is suddenly precious.
And that gets to the second interesting strategy: playing to your outs. This is actually a really cool mental exercise for any situation. The concept is basically to visualize how you will beat the game / get the job / save the girl / save the world, and work backwards from there. In order to beat the flagship in FTL, I’m going to need teleporters and drones. In order to buy a teleporter, I need to find a shop and have enough scrap. In order to have enough scrap, I need to destroy ships. Then I have to power it. The entire game then stops being a series of instances, but a culmination of events that you are planning in order to overcome the adversity and stand triumphant. And how awesome is that! Looking at a game like Zelda, there are a series of temples that you have to make your way through, but the game gives you the structure in such a way where you can never screw yourself out of success. Then, take a step further: Half Life. You can run out of bullets or health. BioShock Infinite: What if you wasted all of your money on powers that don’t help you get past this room? XCom Enemy Unknown? That still gives me shudders just thinking about playing it for that very reason. What if I don’t pick the highest EV move? What if I back myself into a corner? All that progress. But maybe there’s a way to build myself out of it, if I just start hunkering down and making smart decisions. See, all that does is make you more invested into thinking about what you are doing, because there is an persistant cost of actual failure. Maybe you can stop it, maybe you can’t. Its the difference between a high school course and a college course! Er...playing and caring! Liking and loving!
In the case of my game against the computer, I knew that my card had two copies of the card ‘Overrun’ - it grows all of my creatures and gives them the ability to push damage through blockers. I figured in order to win, I would have to play as defensively as possible, putting all the creatures I have on the board, and just wait to draw that one card to win. In the meantime, I had to discourage the computer from attacking.
A less viable threat in a digital environment
Remember the Serious Sam example? 1 health remaining? I played that out, actually, just the other day. I wound up assuming there would be a health pack a few rooms over, so I figured if I sprinted through the room filled with those stupid monkeys, I could pick that up, turn and fight. Turns out, there was ten health not too far off. Then 25 armor. Then another 10 health. After about five minutes, and some incredibly close calls, I had actually farmed myself back to about 50/50.
Similarly, in Magic, I drew creatures that could block his creature long enough to draw into cards that could somewhat profitably block the opponent’s creature (I think it was just really, really bad AI, but Ill take it), so he held off on his attack. I eventually drew into a few of my decks better cards, and was able to stabilize. Finally, I drew a card that I hadn’t accounted for that was able to clear out about half his board and give me the win anyway! It was actually really exciting to be so far behind, to think that he had won a dozen turns ago, and come out victorious in the end.
So a funny thing happened while writing this: I initially thought I was really mad at Magic for being randomly impossible. In my heart of hearts, it still feels incredibly lame to start up a single player game and know that no matter how well I play I could still lose. It just seems to defeat the purpose as a whole of playing a game. Thinking about it though, many games can set up these situations - they are just a little less transparent about it. You can screw yourself out of victory in any Roguelike, and who knows, maybe there could be an impossible board for it. But to an extent, it could still be really interesting to go through the experience, holding on to life for as long as you can. In fact, I really want to see an impossible horror game that relies on the same core ‘feelings’ as a card game now. Having limited resources, pitted in a world that constantly throws threat after threat against you, never explicitly telling you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. How often does that happen in horror films? A group of plucky protagonists go out to an abandoned cabin, and a crazed serial killer/ plant / alien/ redneck or combination of any of the above kill all the campers except the two that tell the tale. Who is to say you are always going to be the camper that gets away?
So what do you think? Is an unwinnable game interesting or frustrating?
Not every achievement is a ‘good’ achievement. The first achievement that this immediately brings to mind is the one to look up Juliet’s skirt in Lollipop Chainsaw. Similar to the act of going on a date with Pamela Handerson, the achievement pop quickly transitions from accomplishment into a deep, deep shame. This weekend, I fired up Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon, and hours later received the titular achievement for having killed 10,00 ants, and I immediately realized that I had sunk some serious time into this (rather silly) game. I purchased it way back during a Steam sale with a strong sense of nostalgia towards my time with the game on the 360 - 40 hours well spent - thinking it could be fun to play through again on my PC. Then it sat there, cold and alone, until I started clearing out my backlog. Before I knew, it, I had murdered an army. Get it? Army. Ants. Ahh….I crack myself up.
So what makes a game so compelling where I would abandon my social life to hermit myself away and play it for 12 overs over the course of two days? It isn’t much, because my social life doesn’t exist! But if it did, EDF would have some kind of mindless, visceral, old school charms to it. The core gameplay pits you (and 2 AI teammates) against a horde of robotic nightmare fuel in the form of 10 foot tall ants, 15 foot tall spiders, and 20 foot tall robotic wasps, generally attacking in the hundreds per level. I would say, on average, each level had me killing about 400 enemies. Carry the four...that would mean about 25 distinct levels played, if the only enemies were ants, so maybe that achievement isn’t that bad. Or my math is off. Either way, you get two weapons to face off the horde. Is there cover? No. Does your health regenerate? No. Do you move super slow? Man, I literally have rockets on my ankles, no. This is an old school feeling game all about managing which enemy you kill first, using health pickups to manage your ever depleting life, watching your ammo cooldown (different than DOOM games - you have unlimited ammo, but you have a meter that governs your reload and your secondary powers, in my case: flight). You constantly have to be aware of your own positioning, enemy spawns, and splash radiuses. What I am saying is, the gameplay is pretty solid.
What’s more, the levels are short, so I never feel any time pressure. I could always just squeeze in a level or two while I wait for [Nachos/New Youtube video/new DToid article]. But the gameplay gets kind of old on its own, so I usually space out with Last.FM playing and try to find some new music to listen to. So far, I have found a mashup of Metallica and Lady Gaga, a band that sounds like Mindless Self Indulgence, and a cover of ‘The Power of Love’. So a pretty good haul. But it is nice to have a game where you can just sit back, chill to some music, kill some bugs. Maybe its just the DOTA and Serious Sam stress speaking, but I do enjoy me some Heroin Hero games.
On that note, the difficulty curve for this game is pretty cool as well - there are 3 difficulties, accessible anytime. You can level up to a level cap for each difficulty, but the harder ones give more experience. So if you are are bored on easy, restart on hard. Bored on hard? Restart on Inferno. Can’t pass a level on medium? Grind out some gear in hard. You unlock tiers of weapons that you can use, so every time you level up you get to reevaluate your life/gear. There is never a point where a tier doesn’t have a strict upgrade, but other times you will find new hilarious weapons. See, part of the trademark of EDF are weapons that do something...unexpected. Examples:
A grenade with an explosion radius larger than the distance you can throw the grenade.
A gun that fires missiles that travel as fast as you run.
Missiles that target carbon based enemies (all enemies in the game are silicate based)
Homing sniper rifle
Of course, the granddaddy of all of these weapons are the pesticide/insecticide guns, only obtained at tier 8: the most sacred of tiers. Let me give you an example of why these guns are amazing - at level 7 I have a grenade launcher. It deals 6,000 damage across 3 projectiles, each with an explosion radius of 50 units (feet/meters - I forget which it uses). I forget the exact numbers, but I believe the insecticide gun for the soldier class I had on the 360 dealt something like 30,000 damage in a 2000 unit radius. This meant that you almost could not fire it without killing yourself. You have to target the opposite side of the map to use it properly. The screen turns pure white for several seconds. Then it takes 30 seconds to reload. There are no survivors. So I am working towards that gun for the jet class - which is a sniper rifle. I have no idea what it does. I’m scared. Hold me.
The game currently goes for 10 dollars on the PC, 12 if you get all the DLC (weapon packs whoooooo). There are 4 classes - the one that flies, the one that revives people faster, the one that has...a shield? I think? And one with turrets and stuff maybe? Look, I have only played the first two, but it is a lot of fun. Also, to keep selling this game, it would be perfect for game-curious people. Many of the weapons in the game have an auto lock on included, so you dont even have to know how to aim to enjoy it. You can just spray and pray, lay down some AoE effects, or just sit and wait to be revived. I played 2017 with my brother in law, who doesn’t game much, and we still managed to have an absolute blast with it. I think that this game has some good changes over the previous to make it more accessible (the levels, the ability to get downed teammates back up, tiered weapons, less ‘gag’ weapons but still some genuinely fun ones). Basically, this game is a darn fine romp. I would love to see the next EDF game make it to PC as well, if possible, so feel free to support these guys. A budget fast paced shooter? People love that stuff, right?
Also, because I had beaten the game to death previously, I wanted to do something to entertain myself while playing it, so I decided to do one of those Let’s Play things I have heard so much about on the internet. I plan on showing each level off, and the level 8 gun, in beautiful 480p because I don’t understand how the software works.
Allow me to expand on that: You can get a free software called MSI Afterburner. This software includes a frame counter and video capture. Neat! It has no watermarks or any other ‘trial version’ limitations. So what makes it difficult to use? I tried to do a Dark Souls playthrough with it...well...I did do the playthrough, but I tried to upload it. My half hour clip takes up about 4 GB with the base compression from Afterburner, which is pretty good all things considered. However, the audio comes as dual channel, meaning there is one track from my microphone, and one from the game background. For people with good software this would be nice as I imagine you could mix the levels or something. For me though, it meant that only one track would upload to YouTube at a time, which was a problem. I could mix the tracks, but then I got a free pass to the S.S. Stuttering, so that wasn’t an option. So I looked up Fraps, and people complained that it didn’t have split channels, so I knew I was set. All mixed, all the time. After double checking that the demo worked, I got a license. And a half hour clip (recorded at some weird resolution no one should ever use) took up 13 GB. Which takes about 1000 minutes to upload to YouTube. And then some to process.
Huh. Well, I clearly needed to compress the video, which I figured would make it look like garbage. Fortunately, I had VIrtualDub, another piece of software from the internet that required me to run an .exe file that I didn’t know about previously on my computer. Awesome. Protip: Always run .exe files on your most beloved computer. They are always not viruses. VirtualDub had some built in codecs for compression. I tried one, and the quality was terrible, I tried another and the size was still bloated (about 8 GB). Not to say it is a problem to wait for ten hours while a video uploads, but I just don’t want to. So I googled some more and found a video compression codec (x264vfw) that people apparently use. So I went to a website with a link that told me to download an .exe file to run on my computer. Awesome! Naturally I ran it as fast as I could, right before sending my credit card information to this nice Nigerian man. As far as I know it was legit, and it must have some kind of witch magic installed in it, because holy cow does it work. It takes 8 GB files down to 500-750 MB files, without a major loss in quality (YouTube kills the rest of the quality). Also worth noting that between Fraps and VirtualDub compressing, my framerate would drop beneath 20, and this game does not deserve that honor (although chrome is currently running at 8 according to the ticker I didn’t turn off, so maybe…). So I couldn’t record while compressing videos, which lead to more grinding, which lead to more levels, which leads to more grinding. So all in all, 3 programs to get game to YouTube in 480p. All in all, an interesting process to walk through! You can see the fruits of this labor below if you want:
In my next look at games that have been rotting in the oubliette of my Steam backlog, we have the last of the Borderlands 2 DLC, and the start of some Skyrim DLC! I was incredibly happy to be done with Borderlands because there are many games that I wanted to get started on! Unfortunately, they are blocked by the twin gatekeepers of Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas. Fortunately, I have half beaten both of those games! Unfortunately, there are a few other games before I get to ones I really am excited for. Fortunately, they come with a free frogurt, which unfortunately has toppings with
potassium benzoate. Lets get started!
Borderlands 2: Hammerlock’s Quest!
One of the first things that I noticed about this DLC is that they give you room to work with in each fight - the spaces are open, giving you the chance to actually plan out your attacks, and to really snipe enemies. I had fun with this when they would let me. They also give you a new vehicle to traverse the land, which was pretty fun because I got to quote Archer quoting Burt Reynolds saying “I’m commandeering this airboat!” every time I spawned one. The vehicle felt good to control, had some fun weapons, and dropped about 50 skins through my playthrough, which was a bit much.
They did add in a few new enemies to the mix, which I will get into below (foreshadowing), but I actually enjoyed the combat for the most part. Encounters had to be thought out, the enemies that had crit spots were satisfying, and they generally switched around what you were fighting in each area, so it never felt really stale.
I think in terms of treasure per minute, this DLC has the most. It felt like every area had multiple chests to loot, and the very end loot room has an astonishing number of chests. I didn’t count, but I would estimate at 20 - 25. I was constantly subbing out gear for marginal improvements, which in a game all about marginal improvements is a very good thing. As this gets into the later sections you will see why I say this, but the amount of treasure feels like an apology or an appeasement. “Yeah, we know it was bad, but here is bunch of treasure, so play and like it please?”. However, like I mentioned above, the combat is pretty satisfying, the loot is there, so the core of the game is all over this DLC. Unfortunately, the rest of it isn't all together….
The DLC sucks more shit than a sewage pump. Actually, that is really harsh because the DLC at best is just kind of there. It doesn’t really offer much of anything new, the humor is all really ‘simple’ jokes - you can see the punch line coming, and it just kind of funny, but not enough to make you laugh, just go ‘of course they would say that’. They make several jokes in the game where the punchline is “I couldn’t think of a punchline for that”. It reminds of a moment where someone says something that sounds vaguely sexual, and a friend doesn’t go for ‘thats what she said’, but instead says ‘yeah, there’s a sexual reference in there’ and people laugh a bit, but they also die a little inside. This DLC killed me a little on the inside. It’s like the writing staff, after producing 2 decent DLC’s and 1 stellar one just phoned it in. Even the main story is lackluster at best. It reminds me of a Venture Brother’s episode, in the same way that gastronomic distress reminds me of Taco Bell. The main villain is moderately humorous in how much he sucks at being a villain, but the whole thing just seems….soulless.
So, the whole time I played the DLC I was asking myself “is this racist?”, and I think if you have to ask then it probably is. The bulk of the enemies are just black savages. There are witch doctors in big voodoo masks, skeleton painted black dudes, dudes with big old shields running at you screaming the equivalent of “derka derka baka laka’. And they are all obeying the evil white guy because…well, they said they would explain, and then they didn’t. It just felt really weird to go from shooting bandits and midgets to...just killing stereotypes. If I wanted to shoot at non white guys, I would play Call of Duty.
Speaking of the enemies, this game didn’t leave a great first impression. Again, I play as the Sniper. Sniper snipes things. If I can get a crit, I am usually a happy man. First enemy I fight? Humanoid! Yay! But his face is invulnerable except at certain angles from the front, and I think from the back, but that only happens once or twice before 3,000 enemies show up. Next, they introduced hands down the worst enemy in the entire game: The Witch Doctors. What can they do? More like what can’t they do. First of all, no crit spot as far as I can tell. Second, they can heal allies and themselves. Then, they can level up allies around +4 levels (which actually was free exp for the most part). One leveled up version of an enemy becomes completely invincible to bullets, which is pretty cool as, you know, a sniper. The main attack is to shoot orbs of them chemical alignment (fire, corrosion, slag, etc). The worst though is their stupid tornado move. They can close virtually any gap between the two of you, and a tornado can take out your entire shield and most of your health in 1 hit if you are lucky. If you are unlucky, it 1 hit KOs you off a cliff, so watch for that. Basically, it was me trying to snipe them, they would heal faster than I could kill them, so I had to put a clone of myself in the middle of an AoE grenade and just wait for them to die...which I used as my main combat strategy in the DLC. Other enemies include floating blobs of elemental damage, cool scorpion things, enemies that definitely aren't skags, enemies that aren’t the giant robots from Half-Life 2, and some other stuff.
The whole experience felt really untested as well. I found one line that broke an enemy’s path: he would chase me one way if I was on one side of the line, but the moment I crossed, he had to make a complete U to come at me from the other direction, so I could just bait him into walking away for a second, shoot him in the back, rinse repeat. After hitting a Bullymong with the airboat, they just lie on the ground forever - not dead, but they don’t ever get back up. I felt kind of bad killing them after that. You have to jump over the last stair on a few staircases, otherwise you just get an invisible wall. It just felt sloppy. Sloppy and short. When compared to all the other DLCs for the game, it is easily the worst of the lot, and when you see the greatness that is the D&D campaign it makes it all the more sad. That being said, it wasn’t a painful experience, but just disappointingly mediocre.
The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (DLC!)
Date Purchased: The...summer steam sale...not all games have been here a long time I guess! Playtime: No idea!
Yes, another game where I acquired the DLC after putting hour after hour into the vanilla version, but broke down and got the DLC. In addition, this game holds a special place deep in the cockles of my heart. Maybe the sub cockles. This game was the game that I used to benchmark the hardware that went into my system - I was aiming for 60 FPS at Ultra settings for Skyrim for less than the cost of an arm and or a leg. Spoilers: got there. Everyone knows the fun part of the game is the mods, so I do want to touch on those as well before I hit the DLC, specifically Dat Grass.
Dat Grass is the future of gaming.
I can see the futuuuuure!
Polygons have limits. We are guaranteed to see diminishing returns on how ‘realistic’ something looks in the next console as far as models go, so I am deeply hoping that instead of going ‘up’ the move is ‘lateral’. Imagine a game where every blade of grass sways in the wind. A game where a bush isn’t just six cross sections of twigs, but a series of individual branches. Every enemy made up not of a ragdoll, but of organs and bones and muscles. I think there is so much ground to be gained in polishing the world and the systems more than more polygons more emotions. The problem for my rig, sadly, is that Dat Grass eats 45 of my frames away, rendering the game beautifully unplayable. On the same topic, when I played Tomb Raider, the TressFX was actually really impressive. Worth the graphical hit impressive. Couldn’t play without it on impressive. Details are the wave of the future, guys.
I threw in a bunch of other mods, ranging from HD vegetation, better water, improved lighting, magic scaling, and oh yeah, every mudcrab has a monocle and top hat. That one is my favorite because I always forget it is installed, and mudcrabs are kind of rare. Anyway! DLC!
I was actively trying to make Kesha when creating this character
The name sounds like it has a ‘dong’ in it, which reminds me of my mom, so there’s that. I also played a lot of the story quest while going through it, sometimes because I had to, sometimes just because I like to wander. In any event, I don’t remember what was and wasn’t related to Dawnguard specifically, so please forgive me for that.
I decided to go with the vampire quest part of things, so I will be touching on that, so elephant in the room: its pretty neat. I say ‘neat’ because there is a lot about it that I don’t like, but the parts that I do are pretty cool. The new powers, new skilltree, and new passive abilities, which as a min maxer make me happy. I was playing a mage, so I had the ability to craft up some fire resistance, so having frost resistance plus poison immunity was super nice.
The plot is actually really cool and crosses over with the main storyline in several places which I thought was pretty cool. As someone who never got into previous Elder Scroll games I always get excited when I find an Elder Scroll and do something with it. I really liked what I assume is an homage to 300 where you get arrows that literally blot out the sun. The whole quest feels sprawling, and (I swear it isn’t internet talk) epic. This is odd, because when placed side to side with the quest log and my own memories of it, it seems rather short, but overall this was money very well spent.
One thing that Skyrim always does well (in my opinion) is creating incredibly interesting areas to look at. I remember the giant mushroom fields from the first time I played - I know they aren’t mushrooms, by the way, but let me have my fun - as being incredible to look at. Looking back at Dear Esther and my love for Mario, maybe I just love shrooms. Either way, this tradition continues with the Soul Cairn, which is a pretty dang awesome looking afterlife plane.
But have you ever played Skryim.....on DRUGS?! Yeah, me neither.
I never felt it was worthwhile to become a vampire. Like, ever. It is basically a fourth spec for you to go into: stealth, fisticuffs, magic, or vampire. You don’t level up any of your core skills (as a mage) when you are in vampire form, just vampire powers, which are substantially worse than just casting the flaming deathballs at my disposal. Plus, you can’t vampire (natively) in first person, so you are often in a Drugar cave with a third of the screen taken up by your bat wings (not to be confused with ‘the goat’), unable to really aim your magics.
Oh, can I complain about being a vampire some more? Just kidding, I dont need your permission. Basically, deciding to become a vampire means that you get enormous debuffs. This includes reduced regen of stamina, health, and magica if the sun is out, which never gets old when you need to walk somewhere (better known as always). You also gain a fire debuff which really sucks if you aren’t planning around it. Mostly, the vampire form just feels inconvenient. Its just a thing that happened to you, that you could reverse, but then you feel stupid for spending money to get a DLC specifically to let you do that anyway. It is a dead dove situation though.
The companion that you get, while helpful, desperately needs about three hundred more lines of combat dialog. Every encounter she says one of three dialogues, and after the three hundredth troll, it begins to get a little old. Her slowing ice magic was a nice compliment to my inability to run, so I guess it all kind of works out.
I also had to read up online on the effects of quest items. Apparently quest items have no weight, despite their weight value, but I spent about an hour trying to figure out how to discard my 60 pounds of Elder Scrolls without using an ‘infinite carrying weight’ mod. I gained the ability to summon a dragon, but instructions were unclear, so I have yet to do so. Really, this is the full Elder Scrolls experience, odd designs and all, but if you like the original, more of the same is definitely nice.
Welcome yet again to the backlog alphabet. I decided to post the above screenshot to show my remaining games. In a way it is nice to see them all fit so nicely, but I realized that I am in a bad spot coming up - I had Darksiders, Fallout, Skyrim, and EDF to take care of before I can get into some quick games, so jumping around is going to be a thing that happens! Fortunately, I am pretty far in to Fallout, and I already have 1 DLC for Skryim completed, so they won't be forever, but will probably still rank as some of the more time consuming games on the list (as of right now). As for Dark Souls, well, I have already beaten that game thoroughly, but it gets to stay installed because of my deep, dark, love for it. As for the mystery game in the top left corner? Mostly the same situation. Ill leave that one up for wild speculation for the moment. With that, lets get into the recent accomplishments!
D is for Dear Esther
Time played: 81 minutes (a little bit less, actually, as I restarted a few times)
Date Purchased: 5/28/2013
You know, you come into games with certain expectations, and this was totally one of those for me. Call of Duty gives you racists 12 year olds, DOTA gets you flamed for playing the game wrong, and if you enjoy Dear Esther you sniff your own farts out of a hand blown Italian campaign flute. From the language to the presentation to the price of admission, it is the most pretentious, indie, self indulgent thing ever….was what I thought. Most of that is actually true, but I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would when I finally….completed it. I guess you don’t “beat” Dear Esther. It isn’t even really a game. It’s a ‘hold W walking simulator’. Interactive experience would be the term I guess, but even the ‘interactive’ in there is a bit dubious.
First of all, the game is pretty much a desktop generator: every scene, every set piece, everything just looks good. The picture that is included above (memo:self, include that picture...you know the one) was fairly breathtaking when I saw it. So much of the presentation just feels kind of real. It actually reminded me of walking on a beach, or wandering through a cave. There were many points where I stopped just to admire the view. One time specifically, I was blasted by a gust of air that was natural enough where part of me expected to feel it. The end of the game (no spoilers) gave me a little bit of a knot in my gut, and successfully evoked a mix of sadness, but also closure. The music is also pretty well done - although it could also be seen as ‘our music guy found minor chords, guys’, but it did fit the theme. The final big piece from a presentation side of things is that it offers a completely clean UI so that you can focus entirely on the striking visuals.
So this is a really personal side of my talking about the game, but it really reminded me of trips to House on the Rock, which I think is in Wisconsin somewhere? I dunno. They both have very clever designs in how some spectacles are set up - you walk in one way, go all the way through or around something, then come back the way you came only to notice a new path you didn’t see before. It was something that kind of drew me back to childhood, and after I recognized that the game liked to do that, I was able to navigate my way through much better.
I said last week that I liked Bastion and Nier for their vague narrative, and Dear Esther follows this as well. The story is fairly hard to piece together, partially because of the language used, but also because they trust that you will be smart enough to pay attention and put the pieces together. I am not. I would space out in mid narration as I focused on biblical texts scrawled on walls, or on a candle shrine next to a portrait, or a single plum floating in perfume served in a man’s hat. With all that said though, they repeat themes constantly enough where you have to put together pieces. Am I dead? Am I dying? Did I crash while driving a car drunk? Who have I injured? Is this heaven? Hell? An illusion? The first thing I did when I finished the game was go to sites to read about fan theories and explanations, and I loved it. It brought back memories of movies like Memento. I admit that I still don’t “get it”. More playthroughs would probably help me piece it all together, but it feels complete after one.
All in all, it just felt good. You can beat it in one sitting, and I recommend that you do. Don’t treat this as a game with a win state, but treat it as a movie instead. Helps for the price tag, too. I probably wouldn’t have been overly happy with the cost of ten dollars to experience this one, but it was still good. It is also interesting to think of how gaming can be used to tell a story without focusing on gameplay. It is an incredible experiment, and I would like to see more like it (like, say, To The Moon, but that will come once I hit the T’s.)
The game sniffs its own farts. Hard. Most of the language in the game is what I like to call ‘smart for smarts sake’. Throwing around words that haven’t been part of the vernacular for several fortnights to make it seem smart. This often made me think back to my SAT days to try and figure out what was being said to me, and in that time he had already moved two sentences forward. It almost annoyed me as much as people who use a big word or term, then define it in a parenthetical (the space between two parentheses) only to never use the term again, thus saving absolutely no time at all, just flaunting that ‘hey, I know them there smart words’. Because of this I had to turn on subtitles, which, while handy, took the immersion level down one notch. Now, similarly to ‘maybe you just suck at the game’ comments, maybe I just suck at English, but take this as a precaution at least.
Navigating the game kind of sucks, especially in the first level. You get used to the design at first, but a path often gets suggested by the design only to be a dead end. The first level I thought I was missing where forward was, because it was actually a path that I missed because of the aforementioned design. This problem is only made worse by the fact that your movement speed is a snail’s pace. Now, how would ‘modern’ design fix this? A glowing forward path? Double movement speed? A narrow corridor? Unfortunately, none of these would fit the theme. The game just has to be kind of vague about the path, and take a while to get you there. It was actually frustrating enough where I quit the first time I played it only to look up a guide on YouTube. Huh. I had to use a guide on Dear Esther. Maybe I do suck at gaming.
I saw several places where the game cheated on the visuals, but not more than any other games do. The bushes are a collection of cross sections to try and form something vaguely bush like. It is used by pretty much all games now, but I wish we could move past it. It looks fine in motion, but when you stop to smell the flowers, the flowers kind of look like crap. I was actually impressed by some florescent mushrooms in a cave until I realized that they used the old DOOM sprite trick - the mushroom was always a flat 2d image that just faced you. It looks really good if you don’t pay attention to it, but I spent a minute or two just standing on top of one to confirm that it was doing that. All that said, this was initially a Half Life mod, I think, and then was rebuilt in a...better Half Life engine? I don’t really know. The fact is, they had limitations and they really did wonders with them.
Overall, anything negative I have to say on the game is mostly nitpicks, which really surprises me. If what I said here makes you intrigued, I would say go ahead and get it. I don’t think it will be for everyone, and your mileage may vary, but I usually hate stuff like this and I actually got a decent amount out of it.
B is for Borderlands 2 (DLC!)
Time played: 40 hours
Date Purchased: 6/30/2013
Ok, so I had turbo beaten Borderlands 2 at this point - about 200 hours on Xbox made it my most played game until Dark Souls took that throne. I played mostly with my brother while on Skype, rotating through different classes and builds, but we never went through the DLC. Seeing how much I liked the game, I decided to play through the DLC once it all went on sale for PC. Unfortunately, all my playing through was done painstakingly in single player, as my favorite character: Zero the Sniper. If you like the game (and you should! Its fun!) and think I am being harsh, remember that this game was designed to have at least one other player at all times. Otherwise...well, you're gonna have a bad time. Final qualifier to all of this….this has been a work in progress for a while. Like, since I bought it until now. As such, I don’t remember as much from Scarlet and Torgue.
This was my first DLC started up, so I was curious to see how they handled it. Having gone through some of the Borderlands 1 DLC, I knew that they had a lot of room to be creative, and I had heard some of the stranger things, but this is one of the more ‘safe’ DLCs. There is a new vehicle, new weapons, somewhat new enemies (pirates! Totally not bandits!), and the introduction to cursed weapons - super powerful, but usually at some kind of horrible cost.
This DLC introduced one of my favorite characters - the sarcastic rich descendant of a once famous pirate, who has some of the best voice acting in the game. She always made me laugh. There were some decent moments in humour through the campaign, but not a lot. Most of it focused on a guy who watched all his friends die and pretends they are all alive and still his friends, which really didn’t do it for me.
So I guess the big appeal of a pirate themed DLC would be the booty right? Well spoiler alert: There is a ton. After beating the last boss you are introduced to a room that has in the realm of what felt like 20 treasure chests, some only containing rare loot. This is one of the few times where playing alone didn’t screw me over, as I got so much good loot. There is also a quest that lets you repeat the boss fight and resets the treasure, meaning you get to loot it all over again. It was awesome. Those items, rather unfortunately, carried me well into the 2nd piece of DLC, rendering all weapons between practically worthless.
And, you know, I'll throw this out here in the good: this one was actually playable as the sniper! You are going to see me throw this out there a lot, but the critical spots actually work in this one, and there are no frustrating to deal with only as a sniper annoying enemies! Hooray! Foreshadowing!
Like I said, some of the narrative beats are a little more on the nervous laughter side of things than others. Like the guy who is stalking Scarlett, but seriously it is supposed to be funny, get it? Other than that, everything was...good? Yeah. Cool!
Mr Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage
So I know I could catch a lot of flak for this, but I really, really loved the dialogue in this one. It is mostly yelling, censored swearing, and being badass, but at the core, South Park, Beevis and Butthead level, it is really really entertaining. Mr Torgue as a character is one of my favorite additions to the game, even outside of this DLC. Of all the DLC’s, this one had the most moments that genuinely made me laugh out loud.
The boss fights reminded me a lot of No More Heroes, which is always a good thing. They let you know who’s next, everyone has a theme, and you generally walk in somewhat prepared.
They introduce a new vending machine that only accepts Torgue currency that you can get by being badass, or killing badasses, which is a neat concept, but in execution I never used them. It felt like I could save up for something really nice (always an orange weapon), but by the end of the DLC I didn’t have enough tokens, so I just….held on to them. Seemed like a nice idea though!
Hitboxes. Let me tell you about hitboxes. Let me tell you about the sniper, ok? The sniper rifles in this game rely on you getting crits in order to be super effective, but usually one or two crits can take down an enemy. The game trains you that headshots kill humans, and you can shoot the joints off robots. Now, if you don’t know an enemy’s critical spot, you can use Zero’s ability to locate it! Super nifty! Well guess what? They just don’t work sometimes. You can line up a shot perfectly with the crit spot, and have it not proc. Oh, and the robots in this campaign? They took away the limb crits. So only teeny tiny head lights count for a crit, and some robots can actively block it with a shield. Now, consider the fact that I didn’t have a corrosive weapon during this DLC, and you realize I had a hell of a time. There were a few sections where I just tried to book it past robots, play the objective, then leave, but there is an entire section devoted to just robots. I had to go back to the main storyline and find a decent corrosive weapon...which would be great if the main quests leveled with me. Nope! I had done a DLC and a half at this point, so I was between 5 and 10 levels overleveled for the main quest. So I had to kill chumps for probably four hours just to get to a point where I could find a weapon that was still three levels below me, but had decent corrosive damage. It. Sucked. That part of the experience highlighted that the DLC is not balanced to be played with the main storyline, which is fine for the ones that start at 30, but sucks for the level 15 DLCs. Balls!
Next up are the boss fights. Remember how I said I had overpowered weapon from Scarlett? I had a fully automatic electric sniper rifle with 10 bullets in the clip that made the first few bosses laughable. After dealing with the corrosive weapon issue, I was ready to take on the last few bosses, and well...they are designed kind of dumb. One is against a blimp, but as a sniper you can sit in the starting area and take invincible shots against its weak point. So I did. Then there is the 2nd to last boss….and this is where that co op warning comes in. It fires a slow moving rocket at you, so clearly you are supposed to shoot it before it hits you. Easy peasy. If you miss, however, it takes out all of your shield, and leaves you with 50 health (your mileage may vary). Ok, so he can one shot me. Thats fine, the missile has an audio cue, and moves super slow. So I shoot it out of midair 30 feet away from me...and it still kills me. No enemies in the arena, so I die. Cool! Great! Then you respawn, and realize you get to fight this guy from behind a concrete wall, almost impervious to every attack. So I guess I’ll just do that. See, the way it should go is that the missile flies, and you split up from your group, and only one person dies, and someone revives them, and you keep fighting the boss. Even if someone dies, they just run back in for the action. But if you die alone? You are just screwed and the boss gets a full heal. Awesome. Really well designed for single player. They could have toned down those 1 shot attacks if you don’t have a party or something, because it just feels unfair. Frustratingly, annoyingly, unfair.
Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep
Uh, so, this is kind of awkward. After beating the main story line, I can now say that Borderlands 2 had a deep, emotionally moving scene. The game that coined the term bonerfart (google spell check accepted word!) actually made me feel rather sad. It was really unexpected. For those who don’t care about spoilers, read below. Otherwise, see you next paragraph (summary - they made Tiny Tina likable for ten seconds, a true accomplishment):
The whole story is told by Tina in the style of a D&D game, so you get the usual cast and crew appearing - Jack plays the villain, the old Vault Hunters play as the New Vault Hunters, Butt Stallion makes an appearance, Moxi is there, etc. Throughout the game, she keeps asking where Roland and Bloodwing are, and even introduces Roland as a playable character. Each Vault Hunter tries to tell her that he has died (which actually didn’t happen in my story yet, but whatever), but is interrupted as the story continues. Then, at the very end, after killing the sorcerer version of Handsome Jack, she has Roland show up yet again. At this point, someone finally snaps and tells her that Roland is dead, and she has to deal with it. Her response is actually a somewhat moving line that comes down to ‘but he’s alive in my story’. There is a moment where the screen cuts to black with just Tina, dejected, on her knees, pondering the consequences of his death. She changes the story so that Jack fires a deadly spell at him in the last second. The other characters let her know that he doesn’t have to die in her story if she doesn’t want him to. She says that only a miracle can save him...and that miracle is Bloodwing, who swoops in and stops the spell. The cycle through denial and acceptance is an incredibly well done story arc for any game, much less for this one specifically. In the last scene of the credits, we see Tina hugging a statue of Roland, sadly closing her eyes, and whispering ‘goodbye’. It was an intensely emotional scene...until claptrap said something and ruined everything. Like seriously, just typing this out made me kind of sad. I do have the NieR soundtrack playing though, so there’s that.
Ok, so with that out the way, the humor in this one is pretty well done as well, but not as laugh out loud as Torgue. It is more a ‘I understood that reference’. There are references to Dark Souls, MMO’s, ‘nerd girls’, and generic fantasy tropes. There is a quest where you have to get armor for Ellie, and you have to decide between a bikini and full plate armor. One of the best things by far about the DLC are the mimics. I knew they were in there beforehand, so I was always cautious to approach a given chest, but for a while I didn’t see them. Even knowing that they did exist, I may have scared my cat with my reaction on first seeing one. You just cannot prepare for them mentally - you can’t check a chest by attacking it, as far as I can tell they look exactly like a normal chest, and they transform instantly. Every time I jumped a bit. It was great.
They introduce a ton of new enemies - Skeletons, Treants, Orcs, Wizards, Necromancers, Knights, Paladins, Dwarves, Archers...some of them clearly have analogues in the main quest (skeletons are kind of like bandits, as they have suicide and midget versions), but at the end of the day, everything feels new. Add in a pretty great soundtrack, and you have a wonderful add on. They also make use of Eridium by letting you spend it in new ways - there are random loot treasures where you have to roll a D20 to determine the quality of loot, and you can spend 5 bricks to roll 2 dice and take the highest, you can activate ammo or damage shrines for a single brick, or you can throw it all away on the slot machine. Seeing as I was already slotted out from the black market, it was nice to have the option to use it on something else. That being said, the DLC gives you a ton to work with, so if you want more for more bullets, go for it.
Overall, the atmosphere, the enemies, the story, the humor, everything comes together to be one of the better pieces of DLC in this game, in this series, and probably in general. If you had to pick one pack from the lot, it would definitely be this one.
There are some situations that are played up for laughs where something is impossible, just so that you can get the VO of someone going ‘hey thats impossible’ then Tina goes ‘oh sorry’, then makes it possible. The thing is, I was approaching this 2 levels underleveled to start (ended up gaining 6 during the course of it!), so I didn’t know that I ‘had’ to fail these sections. It was mildly annoying.
This DLC also gave one of the worst enemies to ever be added in a videogame: skeleton seers. First off, they rapid shoot electrical damage, eating away at your shield at an uncomfortable pace. Next, they can turn invisible, but more than the stalkers can...they are literally gone. You can only harm them when they are visible, and even then sometimes you can’t touch them. They have no consistency for how long they stay in the world, so you can’t plan on setting up a single line of play. Finally, they occasionally travel in packs, making them horrendous to deal with. Crazy annoying.
Speaking of which, I was playing as a sniper! My life is to get crits! And every single enemy in the game doesn’t allow it. Almost all the skeletons wear a helmet which has to be shot off first, so you have to get two hits. The orcs charge into melee range and have teeny tiny heads, so they are just as bad to kill. Archers are hit or miss if you crit them or not. Some bosses have crits on their face, but if you are off by a pixel it will instead deal 0 damage. A good deal of enemies carry shields or other such armor that negates all your damage as well. Some enemies have to be killed in a very specific way, and if you don’t know about it, then they will respawn at full health and kill you harder. Knights only have a crit spot in their ass cheeks or something. Treants have insane health (but an easy crit spot!). I found myself frequently low on ammo, and by the end of the main story I was skipping side quests so I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. Again, if you are playing as another class, or playing with friends, you may not notice, but a lot of it was a pain in the butt going solo.
Again, this DLC was fantastic. Buy it, play it, love it!
Hammerlock will be coming later, as I just started it. Progress!
D is for DoTA 2
I got to play as wut Doom the other day, and man do I not get that guy. He is 10 feet tall, flaming sword and hooves, but sucks terrible at actually fighting anyone - he just spends his time in the jungle doing his thing, and occasionally curses someone. Weird. I did get to play a match as Visage, and set my new kill record (16!). He is a really cool hero to use, but my micro on the birds was absolutely terrible. I dont think I ever effectively stunned someone, which is basically a crime with that hero. The item build also said to go AC and Mjolnir, which seems….bad. Yeah, bad is the word for that. I felt like I was playing him as a carry when he should be more of a support. In the end, had I gotten sheepstick over Mjolnir we may have been able to take out the SD who had grown to scary rates, and BoT over to their fountain for game, but as it was, we were just outcarried. The match went an hour and was fantastic the whole way through. One of my favorite games so far! I played one as a Clockwerk. I was terrible, but we had a 30-1 Witch Doctor, so it all worked out. Dude was insane! Finally, I got to play Leshrac and I found myself really liking him. I went with my new favorite item, the Bloodstone, and just left the Ulti on as I walked around looking majestic. I frequently called attention to my shinyness when I had the ult on, which was fun. Again though, we had a superstar in the form of a Bloodseeker who shut down their entire team. One guy didn’t make it past level 9! Still not sure if I am any closer to beating DoTA, but someday I’ll get there, I promise!
Howdy everyone! It has turned into that time of the year when there are dozens of high priority games that are coming out, and I just want to buy and play them all! However, there is always a distinct guilt that comes with binging on new games: neglecting the games in the backlog quicker than you abandon a puppy once it becomes a dog. The other chief concern, besides guilt, is that hard drive space is a real concern, and rather than spend a hundred dollars to further encourage a terrible habit (I have drinking to do that!), I have instead decided to clear out the games. I have been applying visual management to my gaming life as well as my work life, and have changed to icon of any completed game to be a red X. Marking a game off and uninstalling it gives the whole process a great sense of closure.
37 installed games , 130 total. Going to be a looooong haul.
To avoid my own personal bias of 'nah, not in the mood for that right now', I am starting at the top of the list alphabetically. The first game this time around?
B is for Bastion:
Time played: 4 hours
Date Purchased: 2/2/2013
That voice. I mean seriously. It is pretty cool the way that the narration in the game works, and the voice makes the whole experience really kind of nice. There are a lot of ‘easter eggs’ you can get with it by performing certain actions - in one of the last levels I was still using the hammer and the dude referred to it as his best friend or whatever the callback to the beginning was. Very cool. As far as the non gameplay stuff, I really like the style of old timey guitar mixed with modern music stuff. Borderlands and Bastion pull this off very well.
I am a Dark Souls junkie, so the parry mechanic in the game had me pretty entertained. Basically, if you block right when an attack would hit you, you auto attack back for a lot of damage. Some enemies are easier to beat with this method, and occasionally the game can force you into a position where you don’t have a ranged weapon against a tower, so you have to block it or run past it. Some of the weapons also have a skillshot mechanic to them, where if you time your attack just right you get some bonus damage. All in all, this gives a great flow to the combat of the game.
I hesitate to say that the story was great, but I liked it well enough. The game uses rather broad strokes (The Kid, The Catastrophe, The Bastion), and I feel like it didn’t set up a lot of the plot in the best way possible. Despite all of that, I still felt like it was pretty cool, and it left me wanting to know more. Hey, protip: I love stories where a base level is explained to give interest, but you can do research to find out more. I never read all the fluff items in games though (data logs, video docs, writing on bathroom walls), but if I really like a game, I will look up stuff on the internet for it. Ah Grimoire Nier. Good times...Good, sad, horrible times…
Also, because that game has been out forever, holy crap that ending was awesome. It does everything my favorite endings do: The “you get a superpowered end game weapon that destroys everything” trope. Feels so good. I didn’t even mind how bad the ram sucked. And I don’t know what everyone else did, but carrying Zulf was absolutely stunning. I wont dwell on it...here….for some reason….but the entire scene was incredibly well done, and was the cherry on top of a great game.
So many weapons. I know it only comes up to about a dozen or so, and you can use two, but I found myself just using the bow and the hammer throughout the entire game. Some of the weapons seemed pretty cool, and if I would have upgraded them, they probably would have been pretty good, but why switch from my bread and butter? Plus, it does the super annoying thing where if you pick up a weapon, it switches out to the new weapon. I get that they want me to see the new weapon, and they give you the perfect situation to show you why you would want it, but...it isn’t upgraded, and it often gets you into the situation I mentioned above where you lose your only ranged weapon. Really frustrating. I was only happy to get a new weapon once, and that’s because it is designed to be an Egyptian God Weapon.
The hammer has a charge up move that you can do that is pretty much overpowered. How do you charge? You block. So you go from being invulnerable to dealing enormous burst damage, then back to invulnerable. Oh ok. Seems good. And when the enemies hit your shield, they stun themselves. The very end of the game had me one shotting each enemy using this completely safe tactic. This was made even better by the fact that it goes through armor, so enemies that are build just to block and take pot shots are now laughably simple. I also had an ability that made me gain life when I dealt damage, so I basically had to be bursted down for all my health, assuming I didn’t have time to use one of my 5 ‘heal me completely’ items. So, game’s super easy, right?
You would think so! But….the block isn’t perfect. If you counter an enemy with a parry, they can continue to move right through you and deal damage. This doesn’t happen if you just block. So the riskier action often doesn’t get you the reward that it should. Also, the shield tries to predict who you are blocking, and in an arena with four enemies, it picks wrong 75% of the time. I had one fight where I lost 4 health potions because my shield refused to block forward (preventing my charge, preventing my life leech, etc).
The difficulty is also really weird. Enemies feel like they hit super hard, and in later sections of the game this goes for double. Some attacks take out something like 80% of the lifebar. One section put you against two mini versions of a previous boss, which when in a pair are incredibly difficult to deal with. I wouldn’t mind the game being punishing if I wasn’t so overpowered, and the above mentioned shield issues didn’t exist, but it just felt wildly inconsistent.
Finally, WASD sucks. Eight directions aren’t enough. At the end, there is a precision jumping section that, while forgiving, is incredibly annoying.
Overall, the game was mostly enjoyable, but at times unreasonably frustrating.
C is for Capsized
Time Played: 96 minutes
Date Purchased: May 28, 2013
So, let me say this right off the bat: I didn’t finish this game. I made it through level 8, then just let it go. Here's the thing: I want to clear out my backlog, but I am trying to game to have fun. I don't want to become a slave to my entertainment, so if a game every crosses the line between fun and frustrating, it is just kicking the X and kicked off the list. It isn't worth it. There is going to be a theme in my backlog stuff which is “I hate everything in the humble bundle’. This is no exception.
This game has some pretty art, and the music is also well done.
The main hook of the game is pretty cool - you have a grappling gun that adheres you to any surface, or that allows you to fling rocks and stuff. This usually involves some kind of puzzle of ‘there is a boulder blocking the path forward, can you move it?’, but it is pretty fun. I liked to cling to the ceiling and rain down death like some kind of well armed chimpanzee soldier. You also occasionally get a jetpack which gives the same feeling. The game is fast paced, and almost feels like if Metroid met Contra.
The missions are varied throughout the game. Some levels require you to destroy statues, other require you to save teammates. It is all still pretty much ‘find X on this tile, kill everything in your way’, but it does break up the pace a bit, which is a good thing. Hooray!
There are also a wide variety of weapons for you to use, all of which have an alternate fire to them. Some are pretty satisfying to use, and you generally feel clever when you figure out how to approach a situation given your arsenal. There are also numerous powerups and secret areas, again calling back to the good old NES days with a modern twist, so some of you may feel right at home with it.
I really hope the story goes the way I thought it would where the humans are enormous dickbags to the aliens. The whole story gives a Spec Ops kind of vibe to it, where I realize what I am doing is totally wrong. One level has you destroying idols, another has you killing priests. I found myself yelling out things like ‘Yeah, screw your stupid religion, aliens!’ while playing, mostly as satire of how heavily this theme is played up. The whole thing reeks of a very ‘we are teh good guyz, shoot da alienz’ vibe. If it doesn’t go that way, it’s a missed opportunity. If it did go that way, it was a little hamfisted. Sorry.
The game sucks more dick than a porn star. Well, that isn’t quite true, but man, does this game annoy me. Where to begin? First of all, the visuals are nice looking, but a lot of stuff that shouldn’t blend together blends together. Like, for examples, enemies. Tiny, flying enemies that can kill you in a matter of seconds. That spawn from basically nowhere. Often times I felt like I didn’t even see what I was supposed to shoot before I died. So I just ran in a flamethrower the second time and hoped for the best. Protip: If the player doesn’t know why they died, you did it wrong.
Sometimes I knew exactly why I died! I would pick up a new weapon in the middle of a fight, it would auto switch to that weapon, then I would either die because I was expecting to use a machine gun, or because I would blow myself up with my newfound super cannon gun. Oh, yeah, you can damage yourself in this game. And you will. A lot. Shooting a gun at an enemy that is too close, pushing an object into yourself, or just not being able to master the oddly clingy controls - you character adheres to any surface as long as you are holding that direction, so holding right will cling to a wall instead of fall down and to the right like every other game ever made.
What else kills you, you ask? Well, in later levels, there are traps. Oh, cool, traps. Often, you see these traps ahead of time, and are able to notice that they have a pattern that you can dodge (assuming you don’t glue yourself to a wall). But sometimes, there are traps that just kind of show up, because you were out of range, walked on the ‘turn off switch’ and the traps start right after that. So you die for something you couldn’t predict. Wonderful game design! Then sometimes you have to play ‘find the no trap button’ for five minutes to advance.
Are you noticing a theme? The theme of ‘you die and it was mostly out of your control’? Yeah, me too.
Outside of that, the game ordinarily costs 10 dollars, and while it is a pretty game, that seems fairly steep for that price point. As I said, I made it about 75% of the way through the game before giving up, and that was in 90 minutes. A frustrating, muddy, short experience. Would not recommend.
D is for DOTA
Q: How do you make a diffusal blade? A: With a Diffusal blade. Maaaay be a glitch.
I swear guys, I just don’t understand how the mid lane works anymore. I’m playing as Ancient Apparition? Take mid against Sniper! Clockwerk? Take mid against Templar Assassin! In the second one I actually got off some ganks, which was weird, but man….I thought the mid was pretty clear cut for a carry to take, but I am not playing your grandpa’s DOTA anymore I guess.
I had one really fun game as a Skywrath laning in the offlane with a Sven against Viper and Lion. We had a system: Sven stuns, I drop Ulti, Viper dies. We must have done this three times before rotating to another lane to do it to other heroes. The communication required was minimal, but the results were huge. A PSA from taterchimp: talk to your teammates about ganks, before its too late. The first time the Viper saw the combo, he was blown away by the Skywrath nuke. Then he started complaining about stuns, then about DOTA, then his teammates, then on how we were ‘tryhards’, then how we lived in our mother’s basement. Long story short, he mad. Some of the other players made it into a fun situation though, either through goading, or non-insults. I seem to recall everyone saying ‘gl,hf’ at the start of the match, then Lion saying how polite everyone was in a pub. Then I told him his mother sucked dick in hell or something, with a winky face. It was good times. Love really can spring on the battlefield.
I also found the worst VS player in history. Dude did not let off his auto attacks the entire team, and was depriving me of so much gold. He later swapped himself at 10% health out with me, at 50% into the middle of four enemy heroes. Thanks for killing us both there.
Anyway, after 90 hours I think I am a little bit closer to the last boss. I’ll keep trying to get there!
Eighty one. That is the amount of hours that I have sunk into my new favorite game lately. A game that surprised me, in that I got it for free. Not a single cent, thanks to the generosity of a very cool dude. Of course that man is….some dude from my work. And the game is DOTA. Sike! However, this isn’t a DOTA blog, much to my own surprise. I have sunk hour upon hour into DOTA and it is a crazy deep game. I have a 40 game Steam backlog, and that’s just whats installed, yet nothing could break me away - wandering through Skyrim, killing giant insects, whapping people in the face with a big purple dildo or punching irradiated scorpions. Then on the main site, our wonderful community manager handed out some codes to Skullgirls, and well...I have pretty much traded games now. Eight hours. That is how much time I have spent in Skullgirls so far. So I wanted to talk about the game a bit.
Monkey Steals the Peach: Taterchimp’s Background in Fighting Games
I initially felt really bad taking one of the codes, considering the minor controversy that followed soon after. I felt like I had deprived someone who would have really enjoyed the game a code. But clearly, I like the game, right, so it wasn’t a waste? Well, that’s where things get tricky. See...I like fighting games in theory. I have watched a bunch of videos online of Poongko, Daigo and uh...Marvel vs Capcom 3 guys. Sorry, I’m not on a handle basis with them yet. But my adoration from these games comes from the mastery of the technical aspect of the game. Way way way back (like...8 or 9 years...so sort of far back) I used to do super crappy amateur swordfighting either with bamboo swords or with a foil depending on the day. We played a game with the bamboo ones called ‘lose a limb’ where if you get hit in any appendage, then you can’t use it for the rest of the fight and if you get hit in the body, you were ‘dead’. We held tournaments, and did it outside of school for recreation. Oh yeah, this was for school. For choir. Yeah. Anyway, it didn’t matter how in shape anyone was when fighting, because the physical piece of it was only about a quarter of the total skill required. The other skills were reading your opponents movements, looking at their eyes to see what they might be looking for, watching your footing in case you need to quickly move back. It was all incredibly fun, and when you got someone who was actually good at it, it was awe inspiring. We once held an impromptu party at someone’s graduation only to learn their uncle was versed in kendo. Needless to say, he could often ‘kill’ someone in a single motion. It was beautiful. This love of technique really ignited my love for watching fighting games. Looking at Poongko play, you can tell when he is in control and out of control of the match. With Seth, he could be missing every opportunity he has, then he would land one spinning piledriver and suddenly the fight would reset - that moment to collect himself, the reset in positioning, the opportunity to start up again always seemed to energize the way that he played.
As for me? Well, I never could break into the scene. Growing up, I had the Street Fighter 2 cart, but was never really good at it. I could usually make it to M. Bison with Blanka, but would crumple soon after. My ability to perform the dragon punch movement on the d-pad was non existant. And combos? Those weren’t a thing. I still had a lot of fun though, as I got to play with my brother which was always good times. He would always beat me pretty soundly because he actually understood the mechanics at work with the game. Also during this age, I played a lot of King of the Monsters for the SNES, but that doesn’t really count.
Included for my own nostalgia....move along
The next major venture in my tournament fighting career was Clay FIgher 63 ⅓. I had a lot of fun playing as the amorphous blob of clay in that one...wait, that description helps approximately none. I generally liked Blob, but I remember the halloween one being fun, but overall, my favorite was the last boss. I recall (its been a loooooong time since I played) that he had the longest combo in the game, and I would work on the execution over and over again. Against the computer, against my brother, against any of my friends who played it. See, I have a disorder with gaming: I like big numbers. Big numbers turn me on. In EDF, the armageddon cannon makes me giggle, getting a post pended K in Borderlands 2 as the sniper made me jump for joy, and executing a 100 hit combo makes me rock hard. Either that or the art, but I haven’t even gotten to Skullgirls proper, so Ill say its the combo.
There was also a brief infatuation with Soul Calibur, as Raphael (so many attacks...so many), often just using the poke strategy. My favorite tournament fighter though was hands down Marvel vs Capcom 2. The movie theatre where I lived had a working cabinet for it, so I would often go to movies just to play the darn thing. Any guess who my favorite character was? Cable. Double tap a punch for a gun, and a super that is easy to pull off that does a ton of hits? Yes please. Not sure if I knew how to cancel into anyone else’s super at that point, but it may have happened just to up that score and damage numbers. I actually had a pretty solid 3 man going, enough where I could beat the final boss and engrave my name into arcade history in the leaderboards. I believe that particular machine was set to a lower difficulty because I could not manage it years later with my same ‘strategy’ or lack thereof, but I had a blast with it. I tried to make MvC3 happen when I was depressed one day...I saw the demo in Best Buy and it got me out of my crappy mood that day, so I took it home, but the spark just wasn’t there. Plus, watching people online it was clear I was playing at the lowest possible tier in that game. However, I did have a lot of fun with a series of combos. Combos that always seemed to end with the raging demon.
Oh the raging demon. I remember where I first learned that one: Capcom vs SNK. Akuma and God Rugal could end just about any run I had in that game. I don’t even remember my mains for that game, I just remember painful, painful death when either showed their face. Especially with that feeling of utter loss as one of them would land a single hit into that damned ultimate. And yet, like with Megaman X, it just served as motivation. I want that. I want to be that annoying guy who uses that broken ass attack. I want to know what happens in that darkness that slaughters my opponent.
This is where we get into my penultimate venture in the fighting game genre (for the purpose of the blog) - SSF43D. It was one of the few launch titles for my day one 3DS that I would defend to the death for no real reason. I messed around with abilities that I could have never pulled off years ago by mapping them to the bottom, but I eventually grew tired of just spamming specials and decided to try and learn how to play. I actually got some of the super beginner combos down with Akuma, and generally had a blast playing with him. I still mapped his Super and Ultra to the bottom screen so I wouldn’t have to do the dance each time I wanted to use it, but I had the sequence memorized down pat. I eventually worked my way up to hard difficulty against the AI with Akuma, using my basic moves, decent reads, and crappily timed dragon punches. But really, my heart wasn’t in it. I was good at it, but it was an excuse to turn on the 3DS. See, you youngins, there was once a time when the 3DS was a failure, and buying one was considered a mark of deep, deep shame.
So finally, that takes us to….
I Really Like Skullgirls
I think David Carradine put it best right after he finished up his Superman speech in Kill Bill when he said “the point emerges”. I got Skullgirls from the codes given away, and I have been putting crazy amount of time into it. Why? Well, for the first time it feels like I ‘get’ a lot more of the genre than I had before. I started messing around in Arcade mode, picking the first characters that looked appealing (in more ways than one, I suppose) and just tried to see what I could do, and I really had a blast. Pretty much there are only a few commands that you could use in a fighting game - QCF, QCB, Dragon Punch, hold back then forward, hold down then forward, and then your bread and butter combo of light medium heavy punch/kick. Much to my surprise, I was able to figure out about half of Parasouls roster the first time I played as her, and made it to the last boss (on easy) without much of a fret. Then I went into training mode and discovered her Super moves, and thus the formula for all supermoves. See, in other fighting games, a super might be something like Half Circle Back, forward, and two buttons, or something like LP,LP, forward, LK, HP. In Skullgirls, most ultimates are quarter circle double punch/kick. That’s it. For almost every character. One has a full circle rotation, but the timing is super lenient as compared with other games (also, it does a ton of damage). But really, the game is just meant to be accessible for people like me, and that has really been my jam. After some experimenting though, I found my love of the game. Do you know who? Did you read the title, of course you did. Not pulling another DOTA fastball on you here.
Valentine. Valentine is awesome. Where to begin with my love for this girl? First of all, almost all of her light and medium attacks can be mashed to extend the combo. This increased the hit counter (mental checkbox is officially checked), which also gives you time to think out your plan more than having to immediately recall the button combination used to get to the next step of the combo. Its super nice. One of the first things that I learned is that if your opponent is turtling your combos, you have a command throw (a throw outside of the normal throw button combination, unique to that character) that can be semi-comboed into. If the opponent reacts quickly or pushes your combo back before you input it, it will miss, but against most of the opponents on normal difficulty, it just goes right on through. This command throw is balls to the walls amazing in that it deals a ton of damage. My bread and butter combo was three light punches, four medium punches, two heavy kicks, and then a command throw. Even if they blocked the combo, I put in the rest of it anyway. Its that good. By the way, that heavy kick that I mentioned? Also amazing. It has an enormous arc to it meaning it can swat people out of the air, and has a huge range meaning you can poke effectively with it. Note that is my definition of poke, not the games.
The only downside with the technical is that it gives you a large gap between you and your opponent, and if you want to apply pressure, you have to make up that gap. Valentine has an ability that more than does that: a full screen dash like move...basically a personal hadouken, if you will. This covers any gap, and can be done in mid air. Neat! The opposite of this is her actual hadouken input, which either throws a syringe if you charged it, or a shuriken if you did not. As my strategy was usually “jump in, mash mash mash, technical throw”, I didn’t see much a use for that move.
Then I went through the wonderful training - this game does a great job at explaining fighting game basics, and has a few neat twists. Like I mentioned before, you can push back opponents while you are blocking, and there is an infinite combo breaker move, and some other stuff. But the tutorial taught me two large lessons: you can cancel a button for a special attack, and you can cancel a special for an ultra. All of the sudden, the doors were open. I was seeing for the very first time. Instead of my technical….I could do something else...THEN I COULD TECHNICAL. WHOA. This started experimentation, both against AI and against training dummies. After learning her three ultimates (super full screen dash, super fireball, super technical), I was ready to start my chains. My favorite soon became the light punch, the bonesaw medium, the kicking medium, two heavies into a super fireball, followed by an OTG heavy kick - yeah, it has an OTG, too - followed by the super dash. Two meters is just the price to pay for some progress baby!
Then I watched some videos on people in tournaments playing Valentine, and oh my god...I was so close to glory, but so far away. You can chain her technical. Into her super. PHWOAR.
….thank you, Skullgirls….thank you….
That combo is devastating. Oh, are you blocking my chain? Well, there goes a third of your health. Deal with it. But that wasn’t even the biggest revelation. The shots that I mentioned before with her fireball can be charged three different colors, depending on how you punch when you charge them. One is poison, one is input lag, and the third is banana nutball awesomesauce: hit stun increase. So you do your combo all the way through, then before you break it was a move that separates you and your opponent, you hit them with a syringe….then open up a whole new combo. A combo that could include attacks that you could never chain with before. Heavy punch joined the combo fray. And just like that, I was setting off the infinite combo system alarms. As someone who doesn’t know a lot about fighting games, it felt good to have the game tell me that I am cheating because of how awesome my combos are.
So let’s talk about magical christmas land, shall we? Fully charged hitstun dart. Light punch, bonesaw times four, kick times four, hard kick times two, syringe. Light kicks and heavy, then light kicks into an uppercut into a flying bonesaw into a body bag into a super fireball (yeah, you can do that in the air too)....into an off the ground heavy, into her other super. Two meters burned, about 40% health removed, and between 40 and 50 hits, depending on how crap I executed it. The first time pulling it off in a match against AI, I felt like Trinity in the Matrix, watching myself Neo all over that poor computer bastard - I moved like they did. I have never seen myself move like that before. I have never invented my own combo that had diminishing returns so intense, where I was burning a bar of meter for another five to ten percent, instead of the full 20 that it should give me. God it feels good.
So at the end of the day, the game got me really excited about jumping in (which I now understand in practice, instead of just in theory), pulling off a combo, determining which way to take it :large dart, technical, technical into super, into air, into air plus super, into air plus two supers, etc. It feels good to know where my super will chip out the opponent. I love knowing which combo has what reach if I am or am not in the corner. I enjoy figuring out if I should use my super to get my opponent in the corner, or if I should just use my heavy attacks to knock them across the stage instead. I was able to make it to the last boss on the hardest difficulty today, something which I am very proud of considering how much I absolutely cannot block to save my character’s life.
Finally, I will admit, I like the way Valentine looks. I didn’t mention it, but she is a sexy nurse/ninja hybrid. Her shurikens are little bandages, her heavy kick uses an IV stand, her ultimate performs surgery, and she has a level 5 that is capable of reviving her teammates (if I ever played with any). She is a sexy killing machine, with outrageous combos, and I absolutely love her.
The rest of the game!
So I feel like I have gone on for a while about a single character, and that I should close with my thoughts on the rest of the game. Given recent events, the most prominent thing to be discussed in the game would be the art direction. It makes me uncomfortable. All of the cast is girls, most of which are hyper sexualized. Besides the ‘boosted’ proportions, there is also a large amount of panty flashing in the course of the game. Typically when in the middle of a combo, either you, your opponent, or both will be exposing some cooch covers. Now, it isn’t played up like Senran Kagura or anything like that, but it is rather front and center. I don’t find it overly offensive, or to be too much, and in fact I think it adds a certain something. On the other hand, I wouldn’t play this game in front of my parents, and I certainly wouldn’t want to bring it up to any of my coworkers. It just has a bit too much of a smut background for me to wholeheartedly say ‘you will like this game’. The hand drawn art is strikingly beautiful, however.
Pictured: My brain and my genitals, fighting for attention
Next, I wanted to say that I really appreciated a lot of the references that they make in the game. Many of the moves are either named something similar to existing moves, or the character makes a reference to a well known move. This covers Ken/Ryu, Wolverine ,and I believe Sagat, and probably a few others. The humor was appreciated. Much of the dialogue in the game is amusing as well, but is repeated ad infinitum (a problem which I don’t blame it for, but it is a bit grating to hear the same joke for the 17th time). The omnomnom attack will never got old, though.
The arcade mode is rather interesting, but can be frustrating at times. I feel like there is a high chance that I get paired against Filia or Cloberella (or whatever her name is) for the 1 on 1 fights over anyone else. Some of the AI seems much better than others, with Double’s being far and away one of the better ones, the Painwheel being one of the worst. Then there’s the last boss….I never fight her. There is never a reason. She is a super powerful character that has 3 equally annoying forms, which are overpowered to the point where she couldn’t reasonably appear as a playable character. I get that the last boss should feel powerful, but Rugal and Seth and Bison were all powerful but balanced. This is just ‘can you not get zoned out for 99 seconds?’. Then I realized that you can beat the forms with liberal use of spam - the first form can be super spammed, the second can be easily beaten with the kick fireball from valentine spammed, and the final form can be bodybagged without much problem. It doesn’t feel satisfying like all the other fights. But, I can just skip that fight when I get to it and go back to tier one of the arcade mode.
Finally, I am a big fan of the custom team idea - you can have anywhere between 1 and 3 characters on your team at once, and they basically split their power between the three of them. If you have one, you get double damage and double health (or something like that). If you have other characters you can call in assists. If you call in an assist, you can get that hero comboed into tomorrow (which is basically the best thing ever, especially with 2 bars up). You have the typical snapback available and the swap with regenerating health. It all feels good, but can be a little hectic. In 3 on 3 matches the action can get incredibly confusing, especially with multiples of a single hero. Even in a mirror match, I sometimes get confused as to which one is me, which matters for which super I am planning on belting out. I do really like the detail added in where fallen opponents leave something behind - a head, a tombstone, a wheel - wherever they fell. It is a really minor touch that adds a lot of ‘depth’ I guess.
Overall, this is a wonderful experience to get in to. Each character has a very unique style to them (no Ryu/Ken clones here, folks), some of which are more annoying than others. Whenever I see a Peacock, I know to save up some meter, thats for sure. It all feels established from other games (guess which girl is Zangeif?), but it makes it feel a bit more familiar. If you like fighters (even if you aren’t great at them), sexy ladies, and hand drawn art, this seems like a super cool game. I dont know if I can underline it enough, but this game pulled me away from DOTA, guys. That is something that hasn’t been accomplished for about a month.