07 October, 2014

Review: Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Black Flag (4 of 5)

I feel a little guilty giving Black Flag a 4 of 5, so let me just say I'm very glad Ubisoft was willing to take such a big risk making a pirate game with such a large budget. I'm sure the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies made this game possible, but it was still bold. Age of sail gaming is such a niche genre I haven't touched it since the remake of Sid Meier's Pirates!, which came out ten years ago. And the sailing was my favorite part of Black Flag.

For one thing, it's gorgeous.

I mean really gorgeous. They have light coming through the sails with the other sails casting shadows. My video card was working hard. I could hear the fans revving up. But it was for a good cause.

Here we see some of the tall ships of England and Spain in conflict. I loved big fights like these because I could usually pick off weakened ships at the edges.

And here is the craziest thing that happened during my play-through. I attacked an island fortress (I think I may have been chased there by enemy ships.) in the middle of a giant storm with multiple waterspouts. Trying to keep speed so the fortress couldn't get a bead on me while avoiding the waterspouts and firing volleys as I rolled up and down the huge swells was wonderful madness.

I did find the story missions (especially the instant fail stealth parts) the weakest part of the game, but I didn't dislike them as much as others. I haven't played an AC game since AC2, so I'm probably less annoyed with the persistent problems (scripts that don't fire, forcing reloads and deaths due to bugs) than people who've been enduring them all along.

My review scores are largely based on whether I think the experience was worth my time, with the highest score reserved for games I'd love to play again. Ubisoft games have so many collectibles that staring over from scratch is usually too daunting for me to be enthusiastic about it. But with AC4, I'd consider it.

21 September, 2014

Keepalive: Brütal Legend, Remember Me, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Cubetractor, The Walking Dead: Season 2

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 21 September 2014

Brütal Legend (4 of 5)

A roadie gets transported to a land made of heavy metal album covers and has to fight the evils oppressing its people.

It's a passable action game and a passable RTS with nice trappings. I turned the difficulty down to easy because the game parts, especially the RTS parts, just weren't very fun. And this is from a guy who finished Sacrifice (which also wasn't very fun). But driving around the crazy setting, listening to the licensed soundtrack was a unique and pleasant experience.

Remember Me (3 of 5)

Um. Yeah. Remember Me has a lot of craft put into it.

That's the Arc De Triomphe surrounded by run down housing and canals. It kind of sums up the game for me. The craft is very good, but none of it makes any sense. Paris will never build non-luxury housing around the Arc or let it become a slum. I don't want to get into spoilers, but the story has the same level of logical consistency. Someone had what they felt was a cool idea but didn't think it through. The combat system is a case in point. You build combos yourself, but after a certain point, there is one uber combo and you just go into the menu to tweak it's properties from time to time. At points in the game you alter people's memories. You have to find the right combination of alterations to make to get a desired outcome, but it's mostly guess and check. Also it's terrible when other people alter memories, but when you do it, it has no negative consequences. :P

Injustice: Gods Among Us (4 of 5)

a DC Comics fighting game from the makers of Mortal Kombat

That's Solomon Grundy pummeling Bane. I'm just enough of a DC nerd (Timm and Dini DCAU nerd, really) that that's a pretty good fight. Thankfully the mechanical foundation of the game is also pretty sound. The guys at work had been playing the game for months, and I'd played enough that when it went on sale I felt obliged to pick it up. I played through the story mode, which is just okay, but it's still fun to open up practice mode and mess with combos.

Cubetractor (3 of 5)

an adorable game where you play a robot that pulls cubes together to make structures and is powered by enthusiasm

The art's great and the gameplay doesn't get in the way. I don't really want a sequel though, because the puzzles that were challenging didn't make me feel smart or brave or otherwise good about solving them. I'm just not a puzzle game guy. If I'm solving hard puzzles, I'd rather be paid for it.

The Walking Dead: Season 2 (3 of 5)

I'd put a picture, but almost everything would be a spoiler. The Walking Dead games are more story than game. Your decisions don't really change anything. People die and betray and make terrible plans and blame everyone else for their mistakes. And even with the frustration of occasionally lousy combat sequences and not being given the choices I'd want because the plot needs things to go wrong, these games still do a better job of character building and storytelling than most of what's on the market. I suppose if that's really all I was interested in I'd go play text games, which never went away and have been having a renaissance since Twine came about. But the few I've tried, some of which were creative and well written, still just sort of lie there compared to the urgency of The Walking Dead.

09 September, 2014

Big Humble Store Sale

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, 09 September 2014 at 08:00 GMT -7

The Humble Store is having a two week sales event with daily deals and flash sales and even a free game to start (although that will probably have run out by the time anyone reads this).

I recommend The Swapper for $3 if you think a creepy puzzle game sounds fun. (It'll be leaving the front page in a couple hours, but

I personally decided to try Euro Truck Simulator 2 for $5 to see why virtual truck driving is so popular.

And as much as I enjoyed The Lego Movie, I haven't been into the games in a long time, so even $7.50 seemed too much to pay for The Lego Movie - Videogame.

17 August, 2014

Keepalive: Dark Scavenger, Jazzpunk, Marlow Briggs, Rochard

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 17 August 2014

Dark Scavenger (4 of 5)

Dark Scavenger is basically somebody's really weird D&D module / Fighting Fantasy book. Observe the character designs below and the choice offered.

Your choices may involve combat. They may not. They may earn you loot. They may not. At the same time as I've gotten used to the drip feeding of rewards in most games, I like feeling like my brain is at least semi-relevant to the proceedings.

The loot has it's own weird subsystem where you can choose to turn most pieces of loot into weapons, items, or companion characters. You have to make many of the choices without much information, but I always seemed to find ways to make it work and occasionally felt clever for finding ways to combine items and attacks.

For me the game succeeds on it's strangeness. It tries at world building and does okay. It tries at character building and does okay. It tries at a creative combat system and does okay. It tries to walk a line between seriousness and humor and does okay. But stuff like making a companion out of a toaster kept me wanting to see what craziness was next. And starting the game over with overpowered loot will let me see different choices and make for a fun "tourist mode" romp.

Jazzpunk (2 of 5)

Jazzpunk doesn't try to walk a line between seriousness and humor. It's mostly humor with as weird of undertones as they can manage.

Yeah. Humor. The ads for Jazzpunk are better than the content of Jazzpunk. They try, and there are some fun ideas in there. But it felt very plodding. Every gag was a discrete event that just sort of sat there. I suspect it's a combination of limited technical chops, limited resources, and partly the surreal vibe the game is shooting for.

I appreciate the effort and hope the dev learns and improves, but I just didn't feel this one was ready for prime time.

Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death (3 of 5)

Marlow Briggs was on sale for 99 cents during the last Steam sale. A God of War style game for 99 cents? I had to give it a shot.

Yep. That's a God of War style game all right. There are even some enemies that the player can beat into submission and ride around on. It's a direct lift, minus the gore and breasts, which I didn't miss at all.

And it's got some spectacle. They didn't have enough money to animate all the cut scenes so they do a sort of bullet time camera flyby. Those parts don't quite work, but for the price the production values are still ridiculous.

While it is just another character action game, and some of the death trap bits near the end kill the pace a bit, I loved seeing a positively portrayed minority as the hero. Marlow Briggs' character doesn't really get developed, but he still comes across as a likeable everyman hero who just happens to be black.

Rochard (3 of 5)

Rochard is the name of the main character, who is a miner. The game's writing is a bit better than that pun, mostly. And it's gameplay is a bit better than its writing.

I suppose I should have said space miner instead of just miner, but I don't know of any games about normal miners. There's certainly enough to learn in terms of the engineering, tools, and dangers to make a compelling game about normal mining, but to my knowledge no one's been willing to commit to it yet.

This game is a somewhat actiony / somewhat puzzley platformer that never really made me feel clever or excited, but introduced mechanics frequently enough and had enough of a story to keep me going. It also didn't hurt that I started catching up on Patrick Klepek's wonderful Giant Bomb's Interview Dump Truck podcasts during the puzzle sections, so your mileage may vary.

10 August, 2014

Keepalive: Xenoblade Chronicles, Stacking, Thief, Dark Scavenger, The Last Remnant

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 10 August 2014

Considering it's been three weeks, I haven't really played much. I had a lot of work and an internet outage. I still have a lot of work.

Xenoblade Chronicles (4 of 5)

I finally finished Xenoblade at a little over a hundred hours. The creatures and landscapes were great. The story and characters were above average. And the combat was decent. I wish the female characters had been stronger and had more respectable looking armor. Overall, the game was a really nice vacation. I still suspect I will eventually pick up a Wii U largely to play the sequel.

Stacking (3 of 5)

The art and aesthetic was great. A fair amount of the game itself felt too leisurely for its own good especially when there was backtracking.

Thief (3 of 5)

I didn't mind Thief, which I half expected to considering the reviews. The game let me feel sneaky, which was fun. But the lengthy animations which slowed down the action and the uninteresting characters which left me indifferent to the story tried to detract from that simple joy. It's a good thing I'm so simple.

Dark Scavenger

Dark Scavenger is a strange, comical, sci-fi, fantasy, point & click adventure RPG. The strangest part of the game is the loot system. Most loot you find can be "crafted" into a weapon, tool, or companion. And there are certain combats and hazards you can bypass if you have the right weapon, tool, or companion for them. It's novel.

Novelty is fleeting. But it's necessary to keep everything from feeling worn out. I spent some more time with The Last Remnant, and the only thing that made me smile was the fact that one of the characters had a ridiculous stat increase.

20 July, 2014

Keepalive: A Bunch of Stuff I Don't Care About, Naruto, Stacking, Xenoblade Chronicles

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 20 July 2014

A Bunch of Stuff I Don't Care About

That's a bit harsh, but it's basically true. I finished Lifeless Planet, a game where you were supposed to be colonizing a planet full of life, but when you arrive it's a wasteland, and there are vintage Russian buildings there for some reason. It was fine but never really grabbed me.

Darkout and Windforge I played for a bit and immediately put down. I've played Terraria. I've played Minecraft. Starting at the bottom of a tech tree, mining copper and coal... no thanks. Plus both games have pretty bad visibility, Darkout because dark and Windforge because of it's attempt to give it's blocks some isometric perspective. I only ever died from falling in both.

Abyss Odyssey is a new 2D brawler by Ace Team, who did the bizarre 3D fighter Zeno Clash. The fighting in Zeno Clash was never perfect, but I remember it being better than Abyss Odyssey, where certain attacks seem to come from nowhere and the whole thing just doesn't feel like it has any weight to it.

I probably spent the most time with Reign Maker, a match 3 fantasy game. But that's mostly because it's easy to play while listening to podcasts. I'm not really a fan of match 3 games. I think the last one I was into was Wario's Woods for the NES, and that's mostly just because it's the closest Toad's been to the badass he was in Super Mario 2.

I think part of the reason I'm not being particularly patient with these games is because I finally organized my Steam list to show "backlog" games at the top. I had a little over thirty, and now I'm a bit under thirty. Some of these are games I had laying around for years and was just never in the mood for. So now they'll get played for maybe half an hour and summarily dismissed because they don't have a great feel right away. :P

NARUTO SHIPPUDEN: Ultimate Ninja STORM 3 Full Burst

I'm never writing that out again.

But speaking of great feel...

Nothing is even happening in this picture. Naruto and Sasuke are just flipping around the environment for no reason. But it makes simple maneuvering for position look flashy and delightfully absurd.

Sort of like throwing exploding clones of yourself at someone.

Or being rewarded for doing well with a golden pig statue.

Yeah. It's my kind of nonsense.

I won't give the cut scenes as high of marks. Pacing is often weak. And so far the female characters are mostly sex objects or hopelessly devoted to a male character. :\

And the lack of any tutorial also put me off initially. I had to go into practice mode and look at the poorly implemented (two moves per page) command list to figure things out.

But it's made by CyberConnect2 (who also developed Asura's Wrath) so the fighting is serviceable and the set piece battles are suitably huge and ridiculous. I'll keep playing it.


It's a cute puzzle game where you play a nesting doll that gets inside of other nesting dolls and uses their special abilities to solve puzzles.

And it's very pretty.

Xenoblade Chronicles

It's still there in the background and nice when I'm in the mood for something fairly low key.

13 July, 2014

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 13 July 2014

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (4 of 5)

I don't really care about Metal Gear in general. Heavy handed messages about militarism coupled with waiting for security guards to do their rounds is not my idea of a good time.

Luckily in Revengeance, hiding in a box like this is largely optional. Most of the time you'll be playing a Devil May Cry style action game and doing stuff like this:

Raiden has just sliced an enemy in half, exposing his blue glowing spine full of delicious health and energy. Why wouldn't a blow that slices the rest of a battle cyborg in half slice the spine in half? Because video games.

Here we see Raiden running from a helicopter, the natural enemy of most video game characters.

And here we see him slicing it into pieces. Yep. Slicing helicopters into pieces with a sword.

340 pieces is my personal best.

This is now and forever shall be my favorite Metal Gear game.

06 July, 2014

Keepalive: Redshirt, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, Garry's Mod, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 6 July 2014


I thought there would be more creative writing to come out of Redshirt. I certainly enjoyed writing that previous post. Trying to explain the actions of a character I was playing as though she was a real person and not just me pressing buttons was surprisingly rewarding. But the truth was that after that first session, I pretty much gave up on romance. I still had some friends to hang out with. But they died on away missions and were replaced with friends in higher positions who could help me get promoted.

In the end I had my tray table up and my seat back in the full upright position.

Generally speaking I can't recommend the game. I got messages from characters who had died on away missions. The scroll wheel didn't work except in weird sections of some windows which made navigating the interface a pain. I seemed to get random stat bonuses and penalties for no reason at times. But it gave me one good creative writing project.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

Here we see a picture of the most important character in The Bureau.

Here is a close up.

I bought The Bureau to wear a fedora and shoot aliens. I think the designers knew that at some level because the last thing the main character does before the player takes control is put on that hat.

There are even mechanics for the hat getting blown off your head by nearby explosions. And you can go recover said hat. No hat left behind!

Unfortunately there comes a point, fairly early on, where you switch to a special forces sweater and can't wear the hat any more, even though it's still sitting in your office, taunting you.


As for the rest of the game, it's middling. I turned it down to easy because I got tired of having to go revive my idiotic AI companions. There's a decent twist near the end and a decision that you don't know the ramifications of until it's too late. But I won't miss this one if there's no sequel.

Garry's Mod

Chris and I decided to muck about with Garry's Mod a tiny bit. Here we see Chris, who bolted a seat to the inside of a bath tub, taking a ride as I carry him around with my physics gun.

We later attached rockets to tubs and skidded hither and yon. The craziest part was Chris building a basket and flying us around by lifting it with the physics gun while we were standing inside it.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

That used to be a hatchback. But using Revengeance's slicing physics, it is now rubble. Basically Revengeance is a stylish action game with slicing. It's delightful so far and makes me wish Bayonetta (which I suspect uses the same engine) would also make it to PC. I tried to play Bayonetta on the 360, but after playing DMC4 and the DMC reboot at 1080 and 60fps, Bayonetta felt blurry and clunky.

I suppose fighting a Revengeance boss that uses a spear made out of robot arms will have to be crazy enough... for now.

This is mostly a game for fans of the genre (me) and Metal Gear completionists (absolutely not me). The game doesn't mind killing the player early on and doesn't explain as much of the mechanics as it probably should, so I suspect many people wouldn't enjoy it. At some level it's trial and error, but there's enough awesome stuff so far that I'm willing to forgive.

28 June, 2014

Game Journal: Redshirt

written by Blain Newport on Saturday, 28 June 2014


Part The First (in which relationships suck)

Hello. I'm Susan Spaceman. And this is my story. Well, this is the first part of it anyway. In this age of social media (2364 A.D.) who's going to read the whole story of someone else's life. I don't even keep up with all my friends' status updates.

So I'll limit this post to my first romantic implosion.

When I got the posting to Megalodon-9, I was pretty stoked. It's parked over Venlith, one of the greatest resort planets in the galaxy. But on the flip side Venlith is so valuable that the Geldar and the Scalians have been fighting over it like crazy, so any any away missions in the system are super dangerous. Plus the station is pretty old and when you're a transporter accident clean up technician, that means lots of "incidents". In hindsight, maybe I shouldn't have been so stoked.

But I was. And I had a job to do and a whole group of new co-workers to meet, which is always exciting / terrifying, especially when your new boss is a boisterous Xx'th'xx (think one-eyed sentient octopus) named Damion Hass. I swear I couldn't tell if he was being friendly, trying to scare me, or telling the truth about how crazy my new job was going to be. But I left the orientation way more confused than I went in. I don't remember meeting anybody, really.

But I did. Before I even got to my new quarters I got a notification that I had been tagged in a post on Spacebook. "Susan Spaceman is basically the coolest. That is all. - Jamee Macneil" I just stood there. I was simultaneously flabbergasted and flattered, which is a weird combination. When it finally faded I resolved to get to know Jamee better, and in the days that followed, I did just that. In fact, I found myself developing feelings for her. I thought I might have found someone.

But... Okay, okay! I get it! It's hard to get invested in my story when every paragraph's a reversal. It's writer's whiplash or something. But that's how it was! I was new, and I didn't know anything, and everything I thought I knew was wrong!

So Nev. It was Nev Yajum. There was just something about her. I thought it was Jamee, but I was drawn to Nev. And Nev was down. I think it was maybe two and a half weeks after I got to the station that Nev and I switched our profiles to "In a Relationship". It was pretty great. We were drinking in the station bar, going to the Virtuo-Augmento suites for virtual getaways, and hanging out with other co-workers.

I don't want to believe it was my fault. I just... I don't. I mean I wasn't perfect. I know that. But it wasn't my fault.

The truth is, I had been so busy keeping our social calendar full that I didn't make as much time for romance as I should have. Nev told me so. So we took a romantic walk in the park. Then I went back to my old ways. Nev let me know. So I stopped, took inventory, and did the right thing. Nev wanted us to do something romantic every two or three days. I was happy as long as we were just spending time, but she wanted holo-candles all the time. And I decided I could do that. And every two or three days I would. I won't lie. It felt like work, but I figured that's what relationships are, so I did it. I put in the work.

There are right reasons and wrong reasons for that, though. And mine were definitely wrong. I didn't do the work because she was unhappy and I wanted her to be happy. I did it because I wanted the relationship.

Yeah. I guess it was my fault... I mean I haven't even told you the worst part.

Jamee invited me to dinner.

You know, all those nice romantic dinners I was throwing for Nev? The kind she never threw for me once? Jamee invited me to dinner. So I said yes. It was just dinner. It was safe. I was already in a relationship. Nev didn't see it that way, and I can't blame her. But it was just dinner.

I'd say that the worst part was how Nev acted like things were okay for a week and half, letting me believe I was forgiven, before breaking up with me, but that was only the beginning. I mean, I know Nev was up front about herself when we started going out, but I didn't expect her to leave me for a man. I don't know why that hurt more, but it did.

And when Jamee came back around I was hurting but hopeful. Maybe this was how it should have been all along. I was wrong. I... had been wrong. But I had had feelings for Jamee from the start, and she invited me to dinner so she obviously had some feelings for me too.




I don't even want to write it. Ha. The whole point of this was to get it off my chest, but I can't even...

Jamee left me for Nev.

I'm gonna go listen to Cibo Matto and lie down.

22 June, 2014

Keepalive: Summer Sales, Papers Please, Old Stuff

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 22 June 2014

Summer Sales

GOG.com and Steam are having their summer sales. So far I have bought 13 games for less than the price of a single new console game. I even played one of them!

Papers, Please

This woman claims to be a diplomat, entering Arstotzka for an official meeting. After taking her documents I switched over to my rule book to double check that the seal on her Diplomatic Authorization is legit. Switching back to the DA, I see that it is legitimate.

Having checked that the name and ID# on the DA matches her passport, I'll need to ask her why the picture on the passport isn't a very good match. I'll probably need to fingerprint her, but she's a diplomat, so she'll probably raise a stink. Plus I also need to shuffle her DA higher onto the screen because I don't see Arstotzka listed.

If she doesn't want to give up her fingerprints or Arstotzka is not on her DA, I'm going to have to decide to deny or accept her passport, either of which may get me in huge trouble. The former because she might be legit, the latter because she might be a smuggler or terrorist. A good day is when nothing I do makes the next day's newspaper.

Oh, and my entire family except for my uncle is dead because I haven't been fast enough at my job or corrupt enough to take the bribes which would have let me afford the food, medicine, and heating that could have kept them alive.

And my uncle's very sick.

I played the game for two hours, got one of the bad endings, and happily accepted that as my fate because that let me stop playing.

Xenoblade Chronicles

Xenoblade feels more and more like a single player MMO as I move forward. I spent most of this morning on gem crafting. I spent the afternoon earning faction rep. Admittedly, earning faction rep in Xenoblade is better than World of Warcraft because the missions are unique and I get a fuller picture of the relationships between everyone in the colony as I progress. But it still feels repetitive.

But I'm still doing it.

I mean, I could just go back to fighting the biggest monsters around and progressing the story, but tons and tons of work have obviously gone into these ancillary systems: gem crafting, faction rep, colony rebuilding, party relationship building.

Gem crafting feels fairly rewarding. If I do it right I get upgrades above my level that let me heal every time I use a special ability or deal more damage with a particular element. Then I remember that in the time I spent browsing to find the crystals with the abilities I wanted, deciding which characters to use, and stepping through the six or so menu clicks it takes to engage the process, then holding down the button to fast forward through the step by step process of firing the gems and stepping through the five or so clicks it takes to finish a single iteration of the process... Leveling probably would have been a better use of my time.

I'm getting the feeling that Xenoblade is most fully enjoyed if you're interested in a virtual vacation with a game on the side. And the worst part is, I kind of like it. The low fidelity of the Wii graphics make it a fuzzy vacation, but it's still pretty amazing. Part of me (a small part, but still) is considering buying a Wii U just for the HD sequel to this game. I watch these thirty seconds and am pretty psyched. Plus, if it's as long as the original, the console plus the game will amortize out to $3 an hour. :P

But I also have 12 other games to play just from these summer sales, not counting my existing backlog.

After playing Papers, Please, I can't find it in me to think of a lack of free time to play games as a "problem".

15 June, 2014

Post E3

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 15 June 2014

There was an E3. It happened again. A humbled Microsoft focused entirely on games. Sony wasted a little time on non-game stuff, but their press conference was longer, so they probably had a similar amount of game time. Nintendo had action figures to announce, but they tried to field as many games as they could.

When business isn't the greatest, companies change their game plans. Microsoft retreats to the core, hoping that they'll continue to get the boxes into enough living rooms for them to Trojan horse in their higher margin media distribution services. Sony does pretty much the same thing, with a bit more focus on indies. And Nintendo shows games earlier in development.

We all knew this before E3 started, but the real winner was 2015. That's when most of the games showed are coming out. Every time the fidelity goes up, the amount of money and therefore risk in releasing each game goes up. A rushed bad game has little chance of making that money back, so companies are forced to delay. Hopefully this will mean more polished big budget games. But if you spend an extra year on development and still fail to move units, good luck with your new indie studio, adjective   animal  Games, and Kickstarter campaign. :P

Keepalive: Orcs Must Die 2, Sniper Elite V2, Wolfenstein (2009), Xenoblade Chronicles

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 15 June 2014

Orcs Must Die 2

Chris and I killed more orcs. How many?


The point was to try and experiment with traps and weapons we almost never use, but you know what? Other traps and weapons stink. There are more than a few pretty useless traps and weapons in Orcs Must Die 2.

This particular one is not useless. The orcs attack the one on the right, thinking it's the one on the left. It both slows them down and blows them up. Personally, I don't see the resemblance, but maybe orcs don't like Travolta.

Sniper Elite V2

During the week I was sick Rebellion made Sniper Elite V2 free for a day to try and drum up extra interest in Sniper Elite 3. V2 isn't bad. You mark guys with your binoculars and try to take them out stealthily so they don't mob you. You can also lay explosive traps, shoot during loud noises so enemies can't tell where the shot came from, and slow your breathing for super accurate long distance shots. Those long distance shots treat you to a slow motion bullet cam where you see your enemy's internal organs get violated.

Here's a Nazi officer taking one in the lung, I think. It's probably equal parts gratifying and gruesome, depending on the shot difficulty. I think there's an option to turn the bullet cam off, but I'm hoping there's an option to skip it with a key press, so I can enjoy the ones I worked hard for and skip the mundane ones.


I actually don't have much more to say about Wolfenstein. I'm trying to use the more exotic weapons. I'm such a pack rat that they don't see much use. Regardless, it's a bad time to be a Nazi around these (virtual) parts.

Xenoblade Chronicles

Xenoblade still hasn't really grabbed me. I'm trying to avoid side quests to keep the momentum going. I pick them all up so that if I accidentally do one in the course of advancing the plot, I get free stuff out of it. The game has enough of a plot that it feels worth advancing. So that's something.

There are a lot of choices regarding gear and abilities in the game that I can see how min-maxers would fine a lot of stuff to experiment with. Do I have Shulk stick to sneaky DPS and have Reyn tank, or do I jack up Shulks agility so he can dodge tank and let Reyn try his hand at DPS?

I think the designs (scenery, characters, and creatures) are the best part of the game. For being on the Wii, the game manages to convey an amazing sense of scale. A sequel was announced for the WiiU, and it'll be beautiful.

08 June, 2014

Keepalive: The Last Story, Goat Simulator, Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Remnant

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 8 June 2014

The Last Story

I "finished" The Last Story. The final boss had an attack that killed me in one shot. I tried taking defensive stance and it still killed me in one shot. I tried dodging sideways and it still killed me in one shot. I tried taking the game out of my Wii and watching the ending on YouTube. That seemed to solve the problem entirely. Overall I'd stay The Last Story is still a decent game about overly earnest young people winning against the corrupt world for no real reason. High fantasy indeed.

Goat Simulator

I took ill for almost all of the previous seven days. I knew I wouldn't be up to any extreme goating, but I needed the laugh so I checked out the 1.1 patch for Goat Simulator which added "goat parkour". Parkour is a word that gets used incorrectly sometimes. Parkour is about getting past obstacles with as little energy expended as possible, whereas most games add over the top acrobatic flourishes which are more in line with free running. For example getting just enough air to clear an obstacle then letting your momentum roll you over the top of it would be parkour. Whereas doing a flip for no reason would be free running.

What Goat Simulator gives you is the ability to run up walls a bit and run on your front two feet. Here I am running on my front two feet with a "rider" attached while a woman looks on and says in an Irishy accent "that goat is killin' it."

Honestly, I could be completely off on the accent. The Last Story assigns characters all sorts of English, Irish, and Scottish accents with no real basis in anything, and it's confused my ears.

Xenoblade Chronicles

Xenoblade Chronicles, however has been entirely English accents so far, I think. It's widely regarded as the best JRPG of the last console generation, so I figured if I enjoyed The Last Story, Xenoblade should be even better. Thus far, I'm not so impressed. I mean, it's fine, but nothing's clicking with me yet. The combat is MMO cool downs with some combos and extreme enemy telegraphing for flavor. The economy and side quests seem like time wasters mostly.

The most interesting thing it's done is try to invest the player in the characters and their relationships by making them a game mechanic. Characters like each other more if they fight together more. They also fight more effectively together and do better at crafting enhancement gems together if they like each other. There may be other benefits. Basically it's the super grindy version of Mass Effect 2's loyalty quests. There is also a major side quest chain to build up a settlement. It also gives a bit of caretaker satisfaction, but it also provided the most frustrating part of the game so far.

To complete the first stage of settlement construction, I need a Light Rain Element. The Light Rain Element drops off of a single monster at a less than 20% chance. And that particular monster only comes out during rain storms. If that wasn't bad enough, it's super resistant to physical attacks, which are all I've really got at this point in the game, and when it's health gets low it self destructs, producing no loot, so I get nothing for my efforts. To add insult to injury, I looked online and found that there was an earlier point in the story where I could have just traded for a Light Rain Element and it would have cost me almost nothing. But I've been permanently cut off from that opportunity, so I'm stuck with an awful grind. I will always remember this disrespect for the player's time when I remember this game.

But I've not nothing else I'm super anxious to play, so I'll just ignore that quest for a while and come back when my party is over-leveled and has better Ether attacks.

The Last Remnant

I was so sick at some points in the week that even the pretty laid back combat of Xenoblade was more than I could handle, so I went for the turn based fights of The Last Remnant. Actually, when I first spun it up I just watched the opening 20 minutes of cinematics and turned it off again. And eventually The Last Remnant also pooped on my parade.

The first fight of any difficulty is the player and a helper against a boss and two groups of bandits. Basically it's still in the tutorial part of the game. The winning strategy is supposed to be keeping the boss busy with your helper while you clean up the bandits. I tried that initially, but it didn't work multiple times. I figured this was a tutorial, so there must be another strategy. I was wrong and many more attempts proved that there wasn't a better way. I had just gotten unlucky die rolls. After reading online that I had been doing it right from the start, I tried the first strategy again and it worked. No player on earth likes battles to be decided by luck instead of choices they made. And to have a battle so early in the game with this problem, on the PC version of the game which was supposedly rebalanced, is ridiculous.

I don't know. Every decade or so I guess I have to remind myself why I never really liked JRPGs to begin with. I've heard good things about Lost Odyssey for the 360, but I think my due diligence for this decade may be done already. I may pick it up simply because I can't believe that an entire genre has nothing in it for me. But it certainly looks that way.

In full fairness, having juveniles hang around in bars with fish men and reptile bunnies is wonderful nonsense.

But the game's 80 hours. I don't think it'll be enough.

25 May, 2014

Keepalive: EDF 2025, Orcs Must Die 2, The Last Story, Wolfenstein (2009)

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 25 May 2014

EDF 2025

The game is still fun enough to experiment with that I keep firing it up. There are still weapons I haven't tried, which is fairly insane.

Orcs Must Die 2

Chris and I finished the main campaign. I may have gone a little trap happy at times.

The Last Story

Listening to Garnett talk about it on the latest John and Garnett: First for Gamers Podcast, I decided to pick up The Last Story, a Japanese RPG for the Wii. Here's a bit of video to give you the gist.

It's sort of an RPG and sort of a third person action game. I haven't really kept up with RPGs at all. They take too long. But I'm enjoying this enough that I've already picked up The Last Remnant and am leaning toward trying out Dragon Age at some point. The fact that the second Dragon Age didn't pick up the story from the first, and was widely reviled for being a tarted up budget game in full price clothing kept me away from the series.

Also the demo for DA2 was kind of a slog. I'm liking the combat in The Last Story much more.

Wolfenstein (2009)

Since I'm not playing the new Wolfenstein, I thought I'd go play the next most recent one again. I really like that game. The DooM 3 engine had issues, but the physics made for some delightfully hectic explosions.

There's well over two dozen bits of debris bouncing around that room. It's pretty great.

And while I know Conan answered the question "what is best in life" differently, I suspect it's because kiping Nazi gold wasn't a thing yet.

I may occasionally be heard to exclaim Nazi Gooooold, like a Spanish soccer announcer as I loot. Part of my fondness may also come from this web comic.

Unfortunately, there was some sort of rights snafu with the game and no one can buy a new copy any more. I know a lot of people didn't like the 2009 game because it didn't provide multiplayer remotely on par with Return to Castle Wolfenstein, but I think it's a fine romp.

Also, while I do think there were some kind of shenanigans going on with the Steam reviews for the new Wolfenstein game, I will eventually play it. I'll just wait for a deeper discount than I would have otherwise. Call it the bad PR penalty.

Pre E3

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 25 May 2014

Microsoft Forced to Abandon Nonsense

Microsoft released a lot of bad news recently so that by the time E3 coverage started up, the only news left would be good. In Microsoft's world, bad news is actually nice for consumers.

Netflix and other services used to be locked behind subscribing to Xbox Live. Yep. You had to pay a subscription to take advantage of a subscription you were already paying for. As of June 6th, that's gone, and the Xbox One will finally have caught up to the Nintendo Wii. :P

The other piece of bad news is that they will now sell the Xbox without Kinect for $400. This means that their slightly inferior hardware will now only cost the same amount as a PS4, not $100 more. They have removed every differentiator they had, and their system is less powerful.

Microsoft has never won a console generation. They won North America in the last gen, but they still lost to Sony worldwide. Yet somehow they thought they were in a position to dictate terms to consumers. I'm glad they got humbled. I don't want them out of the race, because nobody wins when a single manufacturer, regardless of who, is in the driver's seat. But Microsoft was hosing customers by double charging for access to video and trying to hose customers on used games and on a peripheral they had no plan to make worthwhile. They deserved this.

And now they'll have to seriously revamp the system's interface because they assumed people would always use voice commands and left it a terrible rat's nest. They deserved this.

Wii Online Dead

As of May 20th, only games that made you pay for online will work on the Wii. I don't have a list of which titles have paid multiplayer, but basically it's killed multi for just about everything anyone might care about: Mario Kart, Monster Hunter, Smash Bros. They're all dead.

Why would Nintendo do this now? Because Mario Kart for the Wii U comes out May 30th. Mario Kart always moves hardware and now Nintendo is pulling an even worse move than EA. At least EA would wait until the next iteration was out before killing the servers of the old one. But EA wasn't desperate to move hardware like Nintendo is.

Much like Microsoft, Nintendo brought nothing substantial to this generation.

But at least they tried.

Sony Parent Company Issues

Sony Entertainment has posted losses for six of the last seven years. And some investors want it broken off from the rest of the company. I don't really know what this means for the games business, but it's a huge distraction, and that's never helpful.

But they've got the best indie support, VR on the way, and they haven't been slipping on banana peels like their competitors seem to be.

Wrap Up

According to Arthur Gies on the latest Rebel FM podcast, gamers will have a lot to play this holiday season. It'll take something amazing to reverse the larger trends, but one killer app can make all the difference.

E3 officially starts June 10th.

20 May, 2014

Bethesda Needs a Boycott

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Bethesda is deleting negative reviews for Wolfenstein: The New Order on Steam

The game has significant bugs, but instead of owning them, Bethesda has been deleting negative reviews for the game. How do I know? Steam lets users rate negative reviews as helpful or unhelpful. The most helpful positive reviews have hundreds up upvotes. The most helpful negative reviews on the site have 1 or zero votes each. Knowing that a game doesn't run is very helpful, so there's no way this is legit. People are posting their system specs and saying exactly where they're having performance issues / crashes. There is no way this is legit.

I know they're not the greatest games, but I actually enjoyed the last Wolfenstein. I was thinking of buying this one. But that seems like a long time ago now.

[EDIT: I removed the accusation that fighting over the review probably took down store.steampowered.com. I don't really know that. It just happened at the same time and I was mad.]

18 May, 2014

Keepalive: (Hammerwatch, The Real Texas, The Usual Suspects)

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 18 May 2014


Aw. Isn't it cute? Look at duh widdle bats!

I just wish there was more to it. Hammerwatch was pretty dull, even on my first play where I accidentally warped three levels ahead and didn't know it.

The Real Texas

The Real Texas is a charming adventure / action game with a silly, blocky style.

I like the idea of it, but the traversal gets fairly tedious and some of the puzzles are a bit opaque. If there'd been a walkthrough I probably would have finished it.

The Usual Suspects

I haven't been playing much EDF 2025. Terraria's safe, for now. I've also finally reached the point where I lose a fair amount. It's usually just a matter of picking the right tools for the job at hand.

I found a Ranger weapon that's pretty fabulous and look forward to finding a use for it. I'm also using one of the Air Raider's robot suits to good effect lately, so they're not all crap. :)

Chris and I continued on with Orcs Must Die 2. I found out that I don't like the blade staff, but am pretty fond of the flame bracers. Also we got an award for one of the levels that was pretty amusing.

Dawwww. So sweet!

12 May, 2014

Keepalive: (Hearthstone, EDF 2025, Orcs Must Die 2)

written by Blain Newport on Monday, 12 May 2014

Current Gaming

I haven't been playing a lot this week. I tried playing some more Hearthstone on Saturday. It seemed like a good low impact thing to do while listening to podcasts. But I got stung again by the computer stomping me just when I'd gotten some hope by drawing and immediately playing a card I'd never seen before. I uninstalled. I I'll try Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 for my digital knitting this week.

I maybe averaged one level of EDF 2025 a day over the week. The unlocks slowed down, which cooled my interest, which made the unlocks slow down more. I may wait until co-op to pick it back up again. I'm torn whether to try co-op on normal or hard difficulty. Normal is probably more sensible, but there are some great weapons you don't see until hard.

Chris and I played some more Orcs Must Die 2 on Wednesday. We tried our hand at Endless Mode, and while we only survived fourteen waves I think we each got eight or nine skulls, which probably makes it the most efficient use of ones time for upgrading. Also the trinket that summons bone golems is pretty boss (at least until the armored ogres start showing up at which point only kiting is boss).

I took a quick peek at Awesomenauts, since it came in the Humble Co-op Bundle. Meh. Damage spongey 2D combat may be more tactical, but it's also less exciting.

Upcoming Gaming

I think I'll be taking it easy this week. I might go back to Dungeon Keeper 1 for a bit, or take a look at a couple of side scrollers from the co-op bundle (Aces Wild and Rocketbirds).

Gaming News

Epic Games has been undergoing big changes. First they drastically lowered the price of Unreal Engine 4 licensing to compete with Unity. Now they've announced that Unreal Tournament 4 will be released as a free game, where users can build and sell content. Epic will take a cut of those sales, which ideally will pay for their development efforts. I wish them luck. Finding the balance between providing enough content to get people hooked on the game, but not so much that they aren't interested in buying more is a fine line to walk.

06 May, 2014

The Humble Bundle Store Sale

written by Blain Newport on Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Humble Bundle Store is having a Steam style multi-day sale. I bit on Shadowrun Returns and Outlast for $5 each.

Don't worry though. I'm still only playing EDF 2025.

04 May, 2014

Keepalive: Ant Simulator, Orcs Must Die 2, EDF 2025

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 04 May 2014

Ant Simulator 2014

I don't know what it is with silly animal simulators. But I ran around as an ant for a bit. I found that my Spotify playlist largely determined the texture of the experience, given that Ant Simulator 2014 doesn't give the player anything to do but move so far. For the record I was listening to 3iche by Jbara and Que Vuex Tu - Madeon Remix by Yelle. Also, in lieu of a queen, the game currently has a giant gold ant inside the ant hill, leading me to do this.

Orcs Must Die 2

Chris and I co-oped some OMD2 last week. We may have gone a bit overboard on our defender heavy strategy.

Unleash the horde indeed.


Bungie (the company that made Halo for Microsoft, among other things) is finally previewing their upcoming franchise Destiny. There's been a bunch of argument online as to whether the game looks "next-gen" or not. I don't really care. It's an FPS not coming to PC.

But I did very much enjoy the leery eye enthusiast press person Colin Campbell was giving to one of the Bungie folks he interviewed. (I don't think he meant to. It was just a side effect of the angles of the seating arrangement.)

EDF 2025

EDF continues to entertain. I've been playing through again on hard. There are fairly amazing weapons that you never get to see if you only play through the game on normal. I don't want to spoil anything for Chris, but suffice it to say that for one glorious level, my Air Raider got to be all he could be.

Then he had to go into the tunnel maps where he couldn't do any of those awesome things. :P

I've been playing through each level with all four classes. It's interesting to see the difference in approaches. The relatively conventional shooting of my Ranger contrasts the aerial close and smash play of my Wing Diver which contrasts the sometimes bizarre mix of vehicles, air strikes, and turrets of my Air Raider which contrasts my pure offense dual wielding Fencer.

According to the in game clock, I will soon have played more EDF 2025 than Fallout 3 or Champions Online. Look out Terraria. You're next.

20 April, 2014

Catching Up

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 20 April 2014

I continue to play games. I just haven't felt the urge to write about them in a good while.

Diablo 3 (3 of 5)

Game not pictured because it doesn't really look like much.

Since they fixed the loot system and reduced the cost, I figured it was finally time to try the premiere action RPG.

It's okay.

I can only imagine what a disappointment it would have been with the auction house where instead of finding great loot you just find stuff to sell then have to spend every trip back to town scrolling through auction listings. Bleh.

As it is the game still isn't really grabbing me. As a melee class the biggest threat was groups of elite enemies with lava or toxic abilities that made it hurt to get close to them. Difficulty spikes determined by a random number generator leave me pretty cold.

EDF 2025 (4 of 5)

Game not pictured because I don't have an HDMI capture setup.

EDF 2017 was a budget game. EDF 2025 doesn't actually add or change a huge amount and was priced at $50.

For me, it was worth every penny.

In case I haven't properly introduced it before, Earth Defense Force is a campy game about defending the earth from hordes of enemies. Dead Rising, with it's oceans of zombies is the only game I can think of that puts as many enemies on screen as EDF. But the enemies of EDF are giant ants and spiders and robots and space ships, giving it a bit of the feel of a 50s monster movie. The hammy histrionics of the voice acting confirm that none of this is to be taken too seriously.

Beneath the silly trappings is a simple loot chase. Shoot bugs. Grab armor crates to increase health and weapon crates to get random weapons. More difficult levels give better weapons. The weapons themselves can be pretty wacky. Grenades that don't travel far enough for you to get out of the blast radius, close range weapons with reload times guaranteed to get you killed if you don't take out all of your opposition in one magazine, weapons that fire in two directions, neither of which is straight; etc. Working around these limitations (throwing the grenade from higher ground so it travels farther, carrying a more practical backup weapon to switch to after unloading the first one, and maneuvering opponents into the fire pattern of a multi-directional gun) makes the player feel very clever.

I could go on, but I'd rather just go play some more.

Goat Simulator (3 of 5)

Here I am licking a bucket.

Here I am getting hit by a car, still with my bucket.

Here I am, struggling internally with whether to trash this party, still with my bucket.

Goat Simulator is basically a silly physics toy where you can knock stuff about and jump around and then push a button to make a goat noise. There's a bit more to it than that, but just a bit.