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.