Star-Fired Beef


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The Secret Lore – The Buzzing

See all the Secret Lore here.

The Secret Lore is a series of posts that I will be doing to keep an easily accessible record of the amazing writing in The Secret World. This series will simply be the transcriptions of the various lore entries you reveal by finding honeycomb pieces in the various zones of the game. I will also preface each post with a little commentary about the topic that the lore covers.

We will start, appropriately, with The Buzzing. The Buzzing is the entity that guides you through the story, that provides you with this delicious background knowledge, and is the source of your power and immortality. It is helpful, but in an alien way. It gives you insight, but can be maddeningly vague on details. It obviously needs you, the player, but why and for what purpose is never clear.

The Buzzing

TRANSMIT – initiate animal signal – RECEIVE – initiate the Enochian frequency – WITNESS – initiate the Merovingian syntax – FIAP DE OIAD – crawling roots, heavy with sizzling sap, stab your skull – DOWNLOAD – holy communion – NO PURCHASE NECESSARY – your eyes and ears hemorrhage boiling joy – MAY BE TOO INTENSE FOR SOME VIEWERS – ecstatic agony, your molecules come undone – SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED – offer expires at the heat death of the universe – FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY – the dark days cometh, absolute zero, maximum entropy – ACT NOW! – initiate the Agartha broadcast – TRANSMIT – open the 49 gates! – WITNESS! – The Buzzing.

Lo? Hell? Hello.

LISTEN. You’ve heard us before – our voice, a prelude to a bloody nose.

LOOK. You’ve seen the weird geometry of our scribbling – illuminated mysteries behind the migraine. Our apocrypha is written in the plasma blood of your mobile phone.

READ US.

You’ve seen fragments of our grammar in the chaos patterns of bird flocks in flight – in hexagon angles – in the graffiti bleeding together on the wall – in the bio-luminescent eyes under your bed – in the fanged city skyline that forms a runic rhyme when glimpsed upside down.

A blur becomes a syntax. A foreboding scrawl emerges.

You’ve heard shards of our voice in the phantom-radio code of a numbers station – in the roar of a crowd – in the screams of your clock – in the scrape of a chalkboard – in the snow static of a TV – in the chainsaw-decibel mating of cicadas – in the urban mythos that spreads amongst children like contagion – in the silence between lies.

White noise becomes a cadence. Words develop self-awareness. Viral. Evolving. Living poetry. Sentient language.

We. See. You. There is no turning back.

Who are we? It depends on who is looking.

Initiate King James Protocol. The code is 24 and 13 and 14. The password is “Proverbs”. Transmit!

“My child, eat thou honey, because it is good … So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul…”

O sweetling, once our voice came to you so faintly. No more. Now we thunder down the varicose, fibreoptic ley lines that fill the World Tree’s limbs stretching here and there and everywhere. Your anima-antenna head quickens. The Goddess Machine pulses.

She gave you strength to rend the lion. Now eat the honeyed entrails, because it is good, because it is sweet, because it is terrible. Initiate the Samson Prerogative. Out of the eater comes what is eaten, and out of the strong comes what is sweet.

We are the Education Protocol. We climb the twisted ladder of your cells; we haunt your digital text; we hide in your hat. We are the jagged teeth that trip the tumblers of your mind. You will not know our triggers. For all the world’s a cypher. And everything is true.

Be not afraid. Be terrified. The dark days are here.

Our wisdom flows so sweet. Taste and see.


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Steam Challenge – Dynamite Jack

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 3 hours

Not much to say about this one. It’s reasonably entertaining, but not very challenging unless you are trying for 100% achievement completion. The levels are not very different from each other, making it feel longer than it actually is. Very simple mechanics, but well implemented.

A solid game, but not worth chasing unless you are really hard up for some stealth bomberman action. Decent if you get it in a bundle.

Bitter:Sweet – The Bomb


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My Favourite Games With Distinctive Art Styles

The art direction in games has waxed and waned in importance over the years. Some games attract a lot of interest based, initially, almost entirely on their art style. Some games have basic, yet serviceable art styles and are lauded on their gameplay alone. In recent years there has been a massive rise in the retro-pixel art style, for better or for worse. I don’t see the attraction of it, myself, but it is not usually a barrier to entry for me.

Here I want to highlight some of the most intriguing and distinctive art styles that I have run across. Most of these I haven’t even played, but the art is what caught my eye, and has driven my interest in (eventually) playing them. Note that my choices do not reflect my opinion on the gameplay or story, just the art direction. I tried ranking my list, but as it is so subjective I couldn’t decide, here are some of my favourites in alphabetical order…

The Banner Saga 

The art direction in The Banner Saga take me back to the cartoon heyday of the ’80’s, with animation and colour palettes inspired by the likes of He-Man. The thing that hooked me, though, was the epic feel of the journey portions of the game, where you lead your families ever onward, trudging through beautifully drawn landscapes. It really captured the mythology of the game, I thought.

Braid

Braid has a lush, painterly style that feels like you could take screenshots and make it into a children’s book from the early 20th century. I love the backgrounds, and the character and environmental designs evoke a sense of childlike wonder in me.

The Bridge 

Another hand-drawn art style, I just love the Escher inspiration here. It makes the game feel more…artistic, I think, which adds to the enjoyment of an otherwise straightforward puzzler.

Darkest Dungeon

Initially I dismissed this game, but since it has exploded in popularity in this corner of the blogosphere, and I have seen many more screenshots and videos, I have come to be convinced that Darkest Dungeon is going to be a source of great enjoyment for me. The art style was the only thing that struck me intially, and as I have become more exposed to its dark, gritty, graphic novel atmosphere, I have warmed to it even more.

Eufloria 

The most relaxing RTS you will ever play. A large part of this is due to the minimalist art style, with its soft colours and lack of clutter. This is not a busy game, visually. It is a soft, comforting, virtual eye massage.

Limbo 

The lack of colour in this game, along with the soft backlighting, is surprisingly effective in setting and maintaining the bleak ambience that pervades Limbo. It makes you constantly aware that this is a place you are not supposed to be, that finding your way out is a matter of necessity on some deep, primal level.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom 

Another black and white game, this one manages to convey a markedly different vibe, through the use of early silver screen imagery, combined with late 19th/early 20th century comic influences. I love the way it channels a cross between Mary Poppins and Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton.

Rock of Ages 

I guess it was bound to happen eventually, but I am glad that when a game finally used the Monty Python method of classical art animation, they did it as thoroughly, as faithfully, and as creatively as they did in Rock of Ages. The art direction really emphasizes the fun and silliness of the game, and I don’t think I would have enjoyed it nearly as much with a more “traditional” graphic style.

Transistor 

I will give a shout out to this game’s precursor, Bastion, for they share a lot in the art department. But I think Transistor has the more interesting style, with a subtle anime influence and a dark, cyberpunk atmosphere.

Which games have hooked you with their art direction, either because it stood out as different or because it was so well executed?

Sigur Ros – Svefn-g-englar


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Steam Challenge – BIT.TRIP Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: ~15 hours

I initially wasn’t going to play this until much later in the Challenge, but circumstances forced me to turn to it earlier than expected. I was playing (and loving) BIT.TRIP RUNNER, but somehow a file got corrupted somewhere and the game stopped working – to the point where it wouldn’t even reinstall. So, I packed it off to the Finished section of my library and turned to this sequel instead for my running, jumping, sliding, kicking, blocking fix. All the praise that I have for Runner 2 applies equally to the first one too.

This is the first time I’ve played a runner. Wait, no, I lie, there was that one time in Bragtober that I played Robot Unicorn Attack (always, I wanna beeeee with you…) but that was more of a survival thing than a level-based or course-based game. I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy this kind of gameplay, but happily it turns out I am easily sucked in by the addictive nature of it. Runner 2 does everything right in keeping you interested all the way to the end.

The thing that most impressed me, once I became aware of it, was the restart mechanic. When you fail (bonk) you are sent back to the last checkpoint (the first game doesn’t have checkpoints, which makes it slightly harder, but more rewarding when you beat the course) and after a short countdown, off you go again. This happens automagically – there is no “press start when ready” button to interfere with getting back into the action. This makes a huge difference psychologically. I would still be playing if you had to manually fire the starter pistol each time. No matter how frustrated you get, if you see that you are back into it already, it is very hard to not just give it that one more try. It’s really kind of scary to realise how easily you let yourself be manipulated like that if you think about it too much (don’t do that, it hurts, trust me).

I love the music in Runner 2. It gets under your skin (nothing to do with having to hear it hundreds, maybe thousands of times, right?) and has enough subtle variation to be interesting without being annoying.

I don’t know if I like the graphics in Runner 2 or not. I became used to them, but I definitely prefer the first game’s look. It was very underhanded of the designers to put in crazy things happening in the background that are trying to distract you. The first time I saw the redneck sasquatch in his denim shorts come bounding out of his treehouse I lost it.

Strongly recommend these games if you are at all interested in putting your hand-eye coordination to the test!

Junior Senior – Move Your Feet


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Steam Challenge – The Ball

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 1 hour

The Ball could have been good. I can’t imagine it being great. Its core design of a FPS puzzler with the only way to solve puzzles being using a ball to trip switches and stuff only goes so far. If it had stuck to that core design, I would have finished it – the first area being just about the right length to prevent boredom or frustration.

Unfortunately, that first area was the only one without enemies, and when enemies are introduced, the game turns to crap. It is not fun trying to run around frantically dodging zombies and fireballs and shit while attempting to get the Ball to squash them. It is clunky and unnecessarily difficult.

The graphics are nothing special. It definitely looks dated, the environments are fairly bland and uninspired. The attempt at a story is laughable.

I just cannot recommend this game.

The Breeders – Cannonball


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Steam Challenge – Cave Story +

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

Time played: 3 hours

Cave Story + seems like a good game. It is a very good throwback to the SNES days of gaming. I just…can’t get into it.

I gave it a chance, I really did. And to be fair, it had me hooked fairly early into the story. But after a while I began to feel that it was grindy, unforgiving, and frustrating. The story was interesting, as far as I saw. Unfortunately, although it was the pursuit of the story that motivated me through the initial frustrations, it wasn’t enough to keep me going past the Sand Zone.

I am going to hand in my gamer cred here and admit that I never really saw the appeal of the retro nostalgia wave sweeping the industry over the last 5-10 years. Pixel art doesn’t do much for me – I love Terraria, but it is not because of the art design. And the ‘hardcore’ mechanics of these games, that seek to recreate the experiences of the ’80’s and ’90’s, just hinder my enjoyment of the game now. Back then, when we didn’t know any better, that stuff was the shiz. Now, I have no patience for it.

I can see the quality of Cave Story +. I have absolutely no doubt that, if you are a fan of the retro Metroid-esque platformer genre, you will love this game. But it just didn’t push enough of my buttons.

Mumford & Sons – The Cave


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Steam Challenge – Alice: Madness Returns

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

I never played American McGee’s Alice back at the turn of the century. Part of the reason was a distaste for the horror genre, part of it was that I didn’t have much respect for games based on book or movie IPs. Then, when I first got this game, I hesitated because I hadn’t played the previous one. What if I needed that backstory? Would it make sense? I finally decided to just jump in anyway and hope.

That was a great decision. I have to say, I think that Alice: Madness Returns is a criminally underrated game. I am slightly more comfortable with playing games that have darker, grittier themes now, and it all comes together superbly here. I don’t even care that I missed the previous game.

It’s an action platformer, with slightly more emphasis on the platforming than combat. That is the crux of the one major criticism I have with the game, which I will go into later. For now, I’ll just gush about the highlights.

It’s so beautiful. The art direction in Alice is simply incredible. Every environment is wonderfully detailed, but the major triumph is the atmosphere. Spicy Horse have managed to capture an already surreal and twisted world in Wonderland, and make a surreal and twisted version of that. It is a joy to simply look around whenever you enter a new zone, and marvel at the balance the developers have kept between the familiar and the new. And the new is all dark. Grim. Grotesque.

The audio is amazing. The environmental music is extremely evocative. Combat music is forgettable, but not bad. But the standout here is the voicework. The voice acting is spot on, the dialogue is very well written, and overall it is just perfect.

The story is fantastic. Not just the plot itself, but the way it was revealed. I love the way things are pieced together over the course of the game, and the different perspectives that are on offer to keep you guessing as to what really happened. In a story about insanity, where the lines between fantasy and reality are not just blurred but in constant motion, having you doubt Alice’s version of events is a very effective tool to keep things interesting. I have no problem with accepting this game’s story as headcanon.

The combat is pretty good, except for one thing that annoyed me. You gain an umbrella that can act as a shield, and if you time it right, you can rebound ranged attacks back onto their source. This is actually required in order to break some defences. However, you can only use the umbrella when you are locked on to a target, and doing so changes all your movement to basically orbit the target. This is a very bad idea when you are in a fight with multiple attackers – which is most of them. I managed to work around it with lots of dodging and movement, but it was a pain in the arse sometimes. Otherwise, combat was clean, smooth, and well balanced.

The platforming is quite well done. I have no issue with the level design at all, except for the length. Seriously, some of the chapters/zones were ludicrously long. It took me a little over 20 hours to beat the game, and I would say that you could remove about 5 hours of platforming from several zones without changing the story experience. I did appreciate the several minigames that were scattered throughout the game, it broke up the pace a little. But even there they should have dialed it back somewhat.

I highly recommend this game to anyone who loves the Lewis Carroll books. I saw someone describe the game as “Alice in Wonderland fanfic”, and I cannot agree more. It is clear that the developers submerged themselves into the lore, and brought us this absolute gem.

Korn – Coming Undone


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The Conductor Needs Help!

Do you enjoy mysteries? Do you like putting on your deerhunter cap and pondering the apparently impossible? Or just watching and admiring those who do? If so, Funcom has a treat for you – a new game has started up on The Secret World forums. Anyone can participate, you don’t need to be playing TSW (although some knowledge of the game’s lore will no doubt help).

On Friday (the 13th! hmmmmm….) a post appeared on the official forums. A plea for help.

I know that I will enjoy sifting through all the various clues, theories and ideas to get to the bottom of this!


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Mr DobaLiebster, Mr Bob DobaLiebster

Well I have been tagged by some very kind bloggers, namely Missy and Jasyla, to do this Liebster Award thingy. I, like Jeromai, am usually the grumpy old fart who refuses to participate in such shenanigans, but I can’t really burn that bridge until I’ve done it at least once, right? I’ll shake my walking stick at you next year!

So apparently I have to share 11 facts about myself, answer the questions posed by my sponsors, and create 11 questions to ask some other bloggers.

The Factoids

When I was a tween, I really wanted to have Jon Bon Jovi’s hairstyle. I will take cold weather over hot weather any day. I love dark, cool colours, deep blue, purple and green are my favourites. I am a dog person, not a cat person. I first read LotR when I was 11. I have been single for over a decade. I once saw a cat get run over by a 4WD and I can still remember the sound of snapping bones. I can drive, but haven’t had a car in years. I have my own spiritual belief system that I have cobbled together over the years. I like fish – usually battered and fried, but also sushi – but hate pretty much all other seafood. I dream every night, and I remember most of them.

The Questions

1. (Missy) What is your favourite game? (Jasyla) What’s the last song you listened to?

My favourite game is impossible to say, it changes over time. But I would say that the Civilisation series has been a staple of my gaming life, and I would probably choose one of those if I was only allowed one game.

I have to admit I cheated here, and listened to my favourite song just so I could list it here. Tool – Lateralus. I’ve embedded it at the end. Before that, would be…Celtic Woman – The Voice.

2. (Missy) Who is your favourite blogger? (Jasyla) When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Garrosh Hellscream is my favourite blogger. I HIGHLY encourage anyone who has played WoW for any length of time to check his blog out. It is incredibly entertaining!

I don’t remember exactly what I wanted to be when I was 10, but apparently when I was little I was determined to play cricket for Australia. So, given that I was super into tennis when I was 10, I probably had dreams of being the next Pat Cash and winning a Grand Slam.

3. (Missy) Which blogger would you like to meet in real life and why? (Jasyla) If you could live in any fictional world (from a game, book, movie, whatever) which would it be?

I’d love to meet Mataoka, she is my closest blogger friend and I hear that she is a great talker, which is perfect as I am a great listener!

I’m torn between wanting to live in a world where magic is not rare, if not commonplace, and a sci-fi world like David Brin’s Uplift series. I honestly don’t think I’d be able to cope in a fantasy-medieval setting, so it’s really only the prospect of magic that attracts me.

4. (M) If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why? (J) Stark, Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, or Baelish?

I would definitely have the teleport superpower. So handy for everything!

Screw Baelish, I will never be part of House Creeper. I do like Winter, so Stark is a natural attraction, but for some reason I’ve always had a soft spot for Baratheon.

5. (M) PC or console? (J) Sci-fi or fantasy?

PC all the way. I am rather put out by the fact that some awesome games are console exclusive (Last of Us, for example).

Fantasy was my first love, but I think sci-fi offers a broader range of settings, themes and ideas. If you read nothing but fantasy, it all tends to blend together somewhat. I do like to alternate between fantasy and sci-fi, just to keep things fresh.

6. (M) Do you like to be the centre of attention, or blend into the crowd? (J) Do you finish most videogames you play (if they have endings)?

I hate being the centre of attention. Hate it.

Up until last year, I had a very strict policy of finishing every game I started, even if I didn’t really like it. But after starting the Steam Challenge to clear my backlog, I have been less tolerant of issues that prevent me from enjoying games, and so I have been much more ruthless in abandoning them after an hour or so. I don’t like having more than one “main” game on the go at once, though, so I finish one before I’ll start another.

7. (M) What would make you blush/make you embarrassed? (J) If you had a superpower, what would it be?

The best way to embarrass me is to publicly single me out for praise, especially amongst people I don’t know well. Like, I’m pleased to be acknowledged, but I hate the attention.

Teleportation!

8. (M) Weapon of choice under a zombie apocalypse? (J) What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

I would most likely have a cricket bat or golf club.

 

9. (M) Why do you blog? (J) What food could you eat every day and never get sick of?

I don’t really know. To have some record of my existence somewhere?

I think I could eat cheese every day and never get sick of it. Then again, apparently cheese contains opioids so that might explain it.

10. (M) What is the thing you like most about yourself? (J) What videogame character do you most identify with?

I like to think that I am perceptive and have good critical thinking skills. Mostly I’m just happy that I avoid actively being an arsehole to anyone.

I know this is trite, but the character I most identify with is Dahakha, my WoW druid. Because I created him and have so much invested in him.

11. (M) Why is the sky blue? (J) In order to complete a quest would you rather use might, cunning, or magic?

Are you sure it’s not white and gold?

I would rather use magic. Because, well, I want to use magic.

The Nominees

Okay so I have to tag a few people to answer my highly insightful questions below. The winners are:

My Questions

  1. How often do you go out to a restaurant?
  2. If you could design the next playable race for an MMO (of your choice), what kind of race would it be?
  3. You have to spend the next year in a different culture. Where would you choose to spend it?
  4. What kinds of things make you laugh in games?
  5. Is freedom really free?
  6. Name a book that was better than the movie, and a movie that was better than the book.
  7. If you had no access to a computer/tablet/phone for gaming, what would you do instead?
  8. What is the best pizza topping?
  9. Do you think raiding is a net positive or a net negative for MMO games?
  10. Favourite alcoholic (or faux-holic) beverage?
  11. What is the one feature you would love to see in your game of choice that isn’t currently there?

Have at it!


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Steam Challenge – BIT.TRIP BEAT

This is part of my Steam Challenge Series (the full list is here).

My one-line summary of this game would be:

Play Pong at a rave. Acid trip sold separately.

Seriously, it is a polarising game. You will either love it or hate it. I have neither the skill nor the patience to love it.

I think the feature that tipped me into the hate camp is the fact that at some times, there are background objects or animations that – due to their colour – hide the beats you are trying to memorise. Combine that with the strobe-like flashing and you lose track of the beats very easily. Speaking of which, definitely avoid this if you are affected by epilepsy or similar afflictions. This game can easily induce seizures in certain people.

The music seems pretty good if you are into chiptunes, though. I would rather just listen to the soundtrack than play the game.

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