Star-Fired Beef


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Steam Sale results

This latest Steam Summer Sale, I was prepared to ignore it all. As usual, Steam used my greed against me and won Round 497 of our bout. After the first day I remembered about the trading cards they usually give out for some arbitrary task, and of course went to investigate what they had for me to do this sale. Ugh, more discovery queue shenanigans. Fine. 

Hurrah, I got my three cards for the day. Now to list them on the market…oh balls. I don’t have a phone that can get the Steam Authenticator app so my market listings are held for 15 days before being posted. That means the cards for this sale will disappear before I can sell any. Alright. Gems. Yes, I can convert them to Gems, and eventually use the Gems to buy a booster pack of cards that I can list on the market. Fine.

So I ended up doing the requisite discovery queues each day, not really having any intention to buy anything since I had no disposable cash on hand. Then, the Walking Dead: 400 Days DLC appeared in the queue, and the 99 cent price caught my eye. Hmmm, well I do have just over $4 in the wallet that I’ve been saving through selling cards from other games…okay. Sold.

That, of course, prompted me to go over my wishlist and see what else I could afford for about $3. Happily, that was perfect for the final game in the Blackwell series – the only one I didn’t get in the Blackwell bundle last year.

I feel good about this sale. I didn’t get anything new that is going to end up competing for attention, and I didn’t spend anything out of pocket. I also didn’t agonise over missed opportunities to get bargains for games that I really want, but don’t need right now. And I did get to fill a couple of holes in my library that were pretty significant. I’m always uncomfortable starting a series if I don’t have the whole thing ready to go.

Okay, so that was a lot of words to basically say: I bought The Walking Dead: 400 Days DLC, and the Blackwell Epiphany this summer sale. Four dollars well spent.

Def FX – Psychoactive Summer


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June in Review and July Goals

It feels like I did more in June than I did in May, but let’s look at the results, shall we?

Still no FFXIV sub, so that was out. No matter, I wasn’t looking at it as a high priority anyway.

I didn’t quite finish my TSW goal of clearing Shadowy Forest quests, but I did complete one more quest hub, so I’m inching closer. It was the first time I’ve had to actually change my build specifically for a mission, so I floundered about in frustration for a while before I realised what was going wrong. 

Tried playing Long Live the Queen but I was on skype at the time, and it didn’t play nicely with LLtQ in fullscreen (which is how I like to play it) so I dropped it…and then completely forgot about it for the rest of the month. Oops.

Hearthstone was a debacle. I made it to rank 10 fairly easily, then spent the rest of the month consistently underperforming, and ended at rank 13. That experience was an inspiration for my last post.

While I did, in fact, end up buying the Humble Bundle with Shadowrun: Hong Kong in it, I didn’t play any Shadowrun. Instead, I finished Alan Wake, Cibele, and made some progress in Torchlight 2. Also put some time into Diablo 3 seasonal hardcore mode with my friend.

Goals for July

I am currently revelling in the 4th anniversary event in TSW, soaking up massive amounts of AP via Guardians of Gaia fights. So, since the event only lasts another week, the goals are to complete at least one more deck build – for the outfit, naturally! – before the event ends, and then close out the Shadowy Forest quests in the latter half of the month.

I’ve given up on ranking goals for Hearthstone, so this month I’ll just be playing enough for dailies to get done, with the occasional arena match. 

I just started The Blackwell Legacy, so I aim to finish at least three (but ultimately all five) of the series by the end of the month. Likewise, I have started a game of Sid Meier’s Pirates! which I may just cruise through (see what I did there) at a leisurely pace. So the goal there is just progress.

More Diablo 3, of course. The main goal with that is simply survival. See how far we can get before we die. I have two cheat death abilities on my wizard, and they’ve procced a couple of times on Torment IV, so I think we’ll be staying there for a while until we get some better gear. And if we do die? On to Torchlight 2!

Given the time I’ll be putting into TSW, I don’t think I’ll make it back to FFXIV this month. Perhaps August will be the month of my return.

Franz Ferdinand – Matinee


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Sometimes I resent persistent games

When I was playing WoW, it was my main game. It was, pretty much, my only game. I would occasionally spend a couple of hours playing something else, something single-player, and something I could dip into without needing a whole session to reacquaint myself with everything going on. But that time was few and far between.

Then I finally kicked WoW to the curb. I’d been playing through habit rather than enjoyment for at least a year by that time, so I was a little reinvigorated by the prospect of all these bright shiny new games I could explore. At first, this included a variety of MMOs that were now on a F2P or B2P model (Rift, WildStar, LOTRO, TSW, GW2), and the lack of pressure to “get my money’s worth” out of a subscription was a huge attraction.

I also started devoting more time to non-MMO persistent games, like Card Hunter, Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends (briefly, I admit), and various CCGs – Hearthstone, Duelyst, Hex, and so on. This is where my current predicament lies.

Unfortunately, while I did manage to commit much more time to playing and completing the other games in my Steam library, I was conscious of that subtle pull to “do my dailies” in these persistent games. Whether they are actually called daily quests or not – login rewards, cooldown timers on dungeons/raids/spawns/other activity, weeklies, even such things as seasonal rankings that reset each month – they all have the same siren song. 

So here’s the rub. I could just devote myself to one non-MMO persistent game, and try to master it. Become the best I can be – I am sure I could reach at least semi-pro status with enough dedication. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to make one game my focus in life. I don’t want to repeat my WoW experience. I don’t want to forsake the rest of the gaming landscape in order to pursue glory in one.

And yet. These games have a hold on me. I genuinely like these types of games, but I am competitive enough to want to do as well as I can in them. I want to keep getting better at them. I want to maintain that feeling of progression. And you can’t do that with a super-casual attitude. Especially in a team environment. 

Meanwhile, in the MMO space, I am wary of those tricks like limited time events (with dailies, of course), login rewards, and suchlike, which both activate the optimizer/completionist in me and stress me out by pitting that part of me against the common situation of simply not being in the mood for that game or that activity at that time. 

That is why I resent these games sometimes. There’s no other point to this post, just complain.

And so, I rant at thee.

NiT GriT – Mechanism of Control


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Steam Challenge – BioShock 2

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

I have to say, I enjoyed BioShock 2 more than I did the first BioShock. I’m not sure why, though. Perhaps it’s that I was more familiar with the setting, maybe because the gameplay felt a little more streamlined, or it could be just that it was a shorter experience. Or a mix of those.

We return to the undersea city of Rapture, ten years after the events of the first game. You take the role of Subject Delta, a prototype Big Daddy that reawakens after…well, a fairly traumatic experience, which you see in the intro to the game. All through this game I couldn’t help but feel pity for Delta, a connection with the player character which I never felt in BioShock.

I both love and hate the setting of Rapture. I love the 50’s aesthetic and charm, but the whole under-the-sea thing really makes me uneasy in a way that other horror settings don’t. Speaking of uneasy, I remain quite disturbed by the language used to describe the relationships between the various protagonists – namely, Big Daddy, Little Sister, and Big Sister. It feels like a demented, twisted intimacy that makes my skin crawl, given the way it is immersed in violence and death.

In BioShock, we saw the fate of libertarianism gone mad, a Randian experiment turned nightmare. This time, we go to the opposite extreme – the attempt to create a Utopia, where everyone is taken care of and greed and selfishness is banished. Needless to say, the sacrifices made to achieve this ideal are rather horrific, and you (as Subject Delta) are an integral part of that story.

As I said at the start, BioShock 2 felt much more playable than the first one. Smoother level design, combat felt less clunky, and a tighter narrative all combined to make it quite enjoyable. I guess it is because the player is supposed to be more familiar with the broad strokes of the setting, thus the developers needed to provide less structural information. They could concentrate on moving the story along, rather than having to explain what splicers are, who the big players were and what they did, how plasmids and little sisters and ADAM fit into the world. 

Definitely recommend this game if you’ve played the first one. If not, well I don’t know how much you’ll get out of it, there is a lot of backstory you’d be missing so it would probably be rather confusing.

The Tea Party – Halcyon Days


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May in Review and June Goals

Aaaand the accountability train pulls in to another station. Choo choo!

Looking back at my May goals, I find that I just narrowly missed a clean sweep of failure. I found that it’s hard to do FFXIV goals when you don’t have a sub active, and the best I could get to in Hearthstone was rank 9, despite it being by far my most played game for the month.

At least I made progress in TSW! Kinda. I updated to the latest patch! >_<

I forgot about Long Live the Queen, unfortunately. Ah well, it is an evergreen goal anyway.

I did actually start playing Grim Fandango, but I got stuck in the Petrified Forest where the game locks up at a certain point every time. So, that was an abandoned project. However, on a whim I loaded up The Swapper and enjoyed it so much that I finished it in a few sessions. Just scraped in for my May goals!

The month to come

Let’s see if I can find the dolla dolla bills to renew my FFXIV sub. If I do, I’ll be looking to get my Arcanist to 30, get as far into the MSQ as I can, finish the Arcanist class quests, and do the hunts I need to be promoted in my Grand Company.

TSW goals remain unchanged: finish up in Shadowy Forest and tackle Carpathian Fangs.

Another tilt at Hearthstone legendary rank. Only in Standard, I dusted all my non-standard-legal cards so Wild is out.

I am reeeeeeally tempted by the current Humble Narrative Bundle, mainly due to Shadowrun: Hong Kong. If I pull the trigger on that, I might go Shadowrun crazy this month! Otherwise, I’ll be looking at finishing up at least 2 bigger games from my Steam list.

Oh yeah, LLtQ replays each week.

I am SOOOOO glad I don’t have a handheld or console to make the to-do list even longer!

Killing Heidi – Weir


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Steam Challenge – L. A. Noire

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

Grand Theft Auto is the series that RockStar is best known for, and despite changes to the bells and whistles, they all share the same basic gameplay foundations. A sprawling world, huge amounts of off-the-rails activities to discover, a main story that you can complete at your own pace while tooling around as much as you want. L.A. Noire is, at first glance, another chapter in that great tradition, but it soon becomes clear that RockStar have done something a bit different with this one.

L.A. Noire is very much a RockStar game – the attention to detail, the freedom of being able to roam at will, the immersion of being in a living city. What makes this game different, however, is the focus on the storytelling. You play as Cole Phelps, a young detective just back from Japan after the end of WWII. As he makes his way up through the ranks of the LAPD, and is assigned to various departments, he finds himself involved in a tale of corruption and murder.

The main focus of the gameplay is the case investigations. You visit crime scenes, search for and inspect clues, gather evidence, question witnesses and suspects, and eventually make an arrest. Every NPC is motion-captured, with particular attention paid to facial expressions and subtle body language to help you decide just how truthful your interviewee is being. As a police procedural, L.A. Noire is really, really good.

My main gripe – although it didn’t seem to affect my pace through the game – was with the questioning system. Every conversation has break points where the NPC says something and you have a choice on how to respond, depending on what you think they are telling you: Truth (believe them), doubt, or lie. The problem is, you don’t know exactly what Cole is going to say in those situations, and a lot of the time doubting them ends up accusing them of lying, or withholding information. It feels janky. Often it ends the conversation, since they clam up and won’t respond any more, which means you fail the questioning and can lead to you failing the case.

I think RockStar padded the game somewhat in the middle, too. There was a stretch of three or four cases where nothing seemed to be happening story-wise, and you were just doing the same things over and over. Once I got over that hump, my interest picked up again and the last third of the game was really good.

I’m not sure the writing was all that great, though. Dialogue was pretty spot on, but story-wise, it wasn’t all that satisfying. Most of it was predictable and there were a lot of loose ends that I don’t think were sufficiently explored. It felt like there was a much larger scope initially but the game got scaled back partway through.

I loved the premise of L.A. Noire, and the traditional RockStar strengths were what made the game enjoyable. The attempt at a more linear, story-based game was not as successful as it could have been, though.

Bran Van 3000 – Drinking in L.A.


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Spiritual Gaming

This post is another case of me sticking my nose in where it doesn’t really belong, after last week’s blog topic – reconciling one’s religion with the hobby of gaming – did the rounds. It feels like an intrusion, because unlike a number of the bloggers who have written about this, I do not share that concern with a possible conflict between my hobbies and my beliefs. It has honestly never come up in my thinking, until reading the blogs of others forced me to examine my situation.

I am strongly agnostic. I have no formal religion, but I have cobbled together a loose system of moral and spiritual beliefs from the various sources I have encountered over the years. If I were forced to choose a religion to identify with, I suspect that I would gravitate towards a pagan, Wiccan, or Druidic form. I have no idea if what I believe is the truth, let alone the Truth, but it feels right to me. Plus, it is always a work in progress.

However, I have done a decent amount of reading about various religions, particularly Christianity. Thanks to Karen Armstrong and her History of God, I feel like I have a good understanding of the way the Abrahamic faiths have developed and changed over the centuries, and I think I can empathise with the faithful of those religions a lot better. I do have problems with the way some beliefs are framed, and that has been the one major influence that religion has had on my gaming life.

To me, the act of gaming itself is no different to any other hobby. If your faith has issues with you watching movies or tv, or playing competitive sports, or making artwork, then you should be applying the same judgement to games, too. But I think the main concern people of faith have with media is the content, not the medium. Sure, there were massive fears over the rise of ‘rock and roll’ when it first became mainstream, but nowadays Christian Rock is a huuuuuge genre.

With regards to the concern about losing oneself in gaming, that you might be neglecting your faith because of it, well…one of the central tenets I find is useful to keep in mind in many faiths, is balance. You inherently know when you are out of balance, and although you may not be aware what it is, exactly, simply stopping to examine your life and priorities should make it clearer what needs to happen to bring yourself back into equilibrium. It is much harder to practise the good of your faith – love, joy, compassion, charity, etc – when you are out of balance, and so I think it is necessary to re-evaluate yourself regularly to right the ship, so to speak.

I don’t know whether any of that makes sense, even to me, so I’ll just leave it there. Turns out this topic was harder to write about than I thought.

 Árstíðir – Heyr himna smiður


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My Watch is Over

No, it’s not Game of Thrones related.

Despite not intending to buy Overwatch at launch…or…probably…ever…I decided to jump in to the recent Open Beta weekend and check it out. At least I could get a feel for whether I might end up buying it or not.

Yeah. About that.

Turns out my misgivings about Overwatch were all justified. Now, I am emphatically NOT saying that Overwatch is a bad game. It is, as are all Blizzard products, highly polished, quite attractive artistically, and smoother than a politician contradicting themselves in the same sentence. But for me, that’s it. It’s all superficial. It has no depth.

The Good

The characters are great, there is a nice mix of playstyles, and I had great fun with Tracer and Mei. The different abilities between characters is amazing, and it really does bring the TF2-era team shooter genre forward in showing that it is possible to allow for both defensive and offensive synergies within groups. Granting abilities to allies, like infrared vision, speed boosts, and shields, makes an already hectic experience even more skill-intensive, and while it is simply chaotic to someone like me who is not experienced, I can see how high-echelon play will showcase mind-blowing awareness, timing and judgement.

I liked the MOBA-style abilities that go beyond the fire/alternate fire modes of many shooters. It makes things way more interesting. I’m not sure that Blizzard has nailed the balance issue yet, but I guess they will improve that as time goes on. The abilities go a long way to giving each hero a personality and distinct playstyle, rather than simply being “the healer” or “the tank”.

Overwatch looks amazing, in that trademark Blizzard cartoony aesthetic. The visuals are colourful and easily distinguishable, and the levels are nice and crowded for maximum cat-and-mouse gameplay. The level design also allows for ample creative use of many hero abilities, particularly the movement ones. Widowmaker’s grapple, Pharah’s jetpack, Tracer’s blink, Hanzo’s wall-climbing, there is plenty of opportunity to use these in interesting ways.

Finally, I loved the way that you can earn commendations for your play, through a voting process at the end. Taking a leaf from the FFXIV playbook, Blizzard may hopefully be having a positive effect on community behaviour with this system. I say “hopefully”, because, well, it IS a Blizzard community…combined with an FPS community…yeah, I know, that’s a lot of hope.

The Bad

There are objective problems I have with Overwatch, and subjective ones. Let’s start with the objective ones. First, the tutorial absolutely sucks. You are forced to go through it as Soldier 76, who has a specific suite of abilities. The tutorial does a decent job of going through those with you, but there are many ways it could be improved. The main problem with it, however, is the fact that you are not told about the fact that heroes may have different uses for each of the buttons introduced. For example, Soldier 76 has a left-click fire, right-click alternate fire, an area heal on E, ultimate on Q, and left-shift is sprint. But as far as I can tell, only Q and left-click are standard across heroes. Tracer’s right-click is her blink ability, which is also keyed to left-shift (i.e. she has no sprint). My friend played a hero with NO right-click ability (Reaper, I think?). This is all cool, but the tutorial does not do anything to make you aware that the controls do different things depending on which hero you are playing. It makes for a more frustrating learning experience in the beginning.

Second, the commendations thing at the end of games is not intuitive at all. I didn’t even realise what was happening when three or four names and stats would come up and eventually one of them would be selected. I thought it was the game awarding bonuses. It took me half a dozen games to figure out what was going on. There needs to be some explanation of the system – even just a popup reminder to cast your vote would be sufficient.

Thirdly, I am incredibly pissed off that you are automatically placed in the in-game voice chat channel, and not only is there no option to leave with a single button, there is no immediately obvious option to leave at all. Now, fortunately for me, I had no bad experiences through voice chat, but holy brainfarts, Blizzard! Are you unfamiliar with the multiplayer FPS community?! You NEED to be able to opt out of in-game voice chat, quickly and easily.

Subjectively, the problems I have with Overwatch are less due to the game itself and more about the genre. I hate hate HATE the fact that you can change heroes mid-game. It is enough to turn me off the genre by itself. I want your hero choice at the start to matter. I want people to be forced to cobble together synergies with their teammates based on the team composition, not just switch to the obviously-more-compatible heroes after one untimely death. This issue is the single most defining feature of my decision to avoid Overwatch. Blizzard simply can’t lure me in without scrapping this mechanic, or at least introducing a permanent mode that is hero-locked.

I am extremely irritated to end a match, go through commendations, and then be automatically queued up with the same people for the next match. I hate feeling rushed into the next game. I want time to relax after my last game, maybe look at my stats, open loot boxes, or just step away for a minute. Yes, I know that you can leave the queue at any time, but again, it is not immediately obvious where that option is, and I would much rather have to press buttons to enter a queue rather than leave one.

Finally, I did not feel any sense of depth from Overwatch. There is nothing that hooks me. No progression, no story or lore, no reason for me to log back in on a regular basis. One or two matches, and I am ready to log out again. It feels like I have experienced all that Overwatch has to offer already. Again, that is a genre problem, not Overwatch specifically. But it means I will not be throwing any money Blizzard’s way for this game.

I find myself wishing they went further towards an FPS-MOBA hybrid, like Battleborn has. Maybe Battleborn is where the future of the genre is at, not a slightly-more-advanced version of the old giants, COD, TF2, and CS:GO.

george – Special Ones


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May Gaming Goals

It feels like I haven’t actually been playing much at all, lately. In reality it’s just been Hearthstone and Duelyst, with a little Diablo III. Oh, and testing out a few games here and there. Tried Titan Quest, didn’t like it. Played the Open Beta weekend for Battleborn, liked it but not well enough to pay $70+ for it. Similarly, Overwatch is appealing, but not $90 appealing.

I keep thinking about TSW, but never actually get around to logging in. So this month I will aim to finish the Shadowy Forest zone and advance into the Carpathian Fangs.

There are so very many things to do in FFXIV, my goals could get too ambitious very easily. So without going hard at it, I’d like to:

  • Get Arcanist to 30, finish the class questline
  • Get through as much Main Story Questline as my level allows, i.e. hit the MSQ level wall
  • Get Conjurer to 15
  • Get Thaumaturge to 15
  • Unlock and play around with Scholar and Summoner
  • Complete the tier 1 Grand Company hunts so I can be promoted

In Hearthstone, with the new Standard format and the new card set, I want to make a serious tilt at gaining Legend rank this month.

Pick a game from my Steam list to play, and complete it. (Ideally, repeat for a second game. Before Stardew Valley caught me out, I was getting through two games a month fairly easily.) Nothing really stands out to me at the moment, but I am probably looking at either the Witcher, Planescape: Torment, Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins, or Grim Fandango.

I also would like to do a single playthrough of Long Live the Queen each week. I’ve made my first attempt, which ended with Eloise taking an arrow to the knee (gut) and making it fatal by pushing it through rather than leaving it the hell alone. It was a bit galling to get shot after I’d put so much training into flexibility and reflexes. Stupid bandits. Anyway, the game seems perfect for a single attempt per session.

The Fratellis – Flathead


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Coming Up For Air

Surface

 

Oh hi there. It’s been a while, eh? I was doing well with keeping some semblance of regular posting, but then…Stardew Valley happened. I wasn’t planning on getting it so soon, it was supposed to just go on my wishlist and fight for a place near the top. But then I recommended it to my friend’s partner, and she decided to gift me a copy instead and make me test the waters. I felt obliged to fire it up pretty much immediately, and 130+ hours later, I can report that yes, I’m a fan of it.

The biggest revelation for me wasn’t that I would enjoy Stardew Valley, but that I could still become obsessed with a single player game after all. I played it every day for weeks, and for hours at a time. It never felt like a chore, like I had to finish it so I could move on. This is something I haven’t done since my peak WoW days, and before that my Golden Era of gaming in the late 90’s/early ’00s with Half Life, Civ 2, Age of Empires, Baldur’s Gate and the like. I thought I’d lost the ability to “binge” on a game like that, due to the lethargy and depression I’ve been dealing with over the years. So it was kind of a relief to find that I just needed the right game, after all. The flip side to that thought, though, is why aren’t all these other games – games that I sincerely enjoy – doing the same thing for me?

So the last month or so has been mostly Stardew Valley, and Hearthstone. Can’t give up the Hearthstone addiction, especially with the new shinies of this week’s expansion! I’ve barely touched FFXIV, and not done anything TSW-related…and, of course, the blogging has suffered too. I have a bit to catch up on, as I was churning through some of the bigger games on my list, so I have a few impressions posts to do for those. I think I have managed to resist the lure of Black Desert Online, though Blizz has made a bid for my return to WoW by gifting me a copy of Warlords, with a 7-days-free offer, as well as a boost to 90. I am glad to have Warlords, but still no desire to play. It’ll only happen if I get reeled in by social connections, I’m afraid.

Oh, and I heard that Game of Thrones is back on. Sweet.