Star-Fired Beef


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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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Keeping Track of My Hobby

I’ve decided that, as much as I appreciate Aywren for inspiring me to take up the Steam Challenge, it’s not enough. I need to not only play through the games that I have, but restrict my new acquisitions as well. No more snap-buying Bundles for that one game that I like – that’s how I got into this predicament in the first place. I’m already pretty good about reining myself in at Steam Holiday sales, but that isn’t my only source of new games. Way back when I first started reading Clean Casuals (before it was called that!), one post brought the Steamgifts site to my attention, and I have been a participant ever since. I’ve won 5 games from there now. If my win rate continues, I could be looking at another half a dozen games this year. So clearly that contributes to my growing list of titles. Plus, I’ve been receiving games from very generous blogger friends. Basically I’m writing this post as a record of what I am doing. Anyone who cares can follow along, though I won’t be doing any more posts about it. I’ll be putting up a page that lists all of my new acquisitions in 2015, whether I play them or not this year. Next year I can look back and compare that list to the Steam Challenge list and sigh. Will it be in satisfaction, or despair? Stay tuned!  


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What if: Prophecies

I’m currently watching the X-Files (for the first time, yes I know you can pick up your jaw now) and just saw an episode which dealt with prognostication. Lots of stuff involving fortune tellers and psychics, but something clicked in my brain when a throwaway reference to prophecy was made.

I started to wonder: how cool would it be if there were real prophecies in an MMO? If you could find some ancient tablet written in a lost language that, when deciphered, told of some future event that was planned to be implemented by developers? If fortune tellers had vague impressions of some foe that the player will encounter, that will be introduced in the next expansion (or the next one after that)? Cryptic references to deaths, births, creation or destruction, of major NPCs and/or things and/or places?

There would, of course, be false prophecies. Rumours that got out of control. Misinterpreted signs. Deliberately false ones created to protect the secret, true ones. NPCs that are simply high on something and are just spouting nonsense.

Maybe these prophecies could just be teasers included for fun, or maybe they could replace patch notes and PTRs with regard to lore. Datamining is a big problem, of course.

It’s probably a pipe dream itself, but I thought it was fun to think about the “what if?”.


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The One Reason Your Dream MMO Will Never* Be Made

Other people – people who have to want to build it, and people who have to want to pay for it and play it – are not you.

Q.E.D.

*Perhaps when the Singularity happens, and you can copy your personality a sufficient number of times, you – all copies of you – will be able to design, build, and populate your dream MMO. The ultimate in playing with yourself.

(NSFW – language)


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Blizzard is just phoning it in now.

I couldn’t help but get caught up in Aywren’s excitement in January, for the Manderville Gold Saucer in FFXIV. The addition of a new area dedicated to entertainment rather than combat or grinding dailies, as the cornerstone of a major patch, was pretty impressive to me. The one thing that got my attention the most, was the chocobo racing. And breeding. It just felt like a serious effort to add a long-lasting, addictive in-and-of-itself activity that deepens the player experience and enjoyment.

Contrast that to WoW’s latest 6.1 patch, which also added racing. At the one area of the game that is supposedly dedicated to entertainment rather than combat or grinding, the Darkmoon Faire. Yet instead of FFXIV’s intricate, in-depth system that pits players against each other in an exciting race to the end of the race, Blizzard has offered…a solo, time-trial experience. With no progression. No competition. No reason to repeat. No investment for the player. The WoW-chocobo mount is not yours to train, all mounts are exactly the same, and there are no rewards that affect future races (afaik).

When I first got wind of Darkmoon Faire racing, I was actually excited. Sure, it was yet another case of Blizzard trying to rip the wind out of another major MMO’s sails by blatantly copying their ideas, but usually there is a unique spin on it that adds value and makes it worthwhile. This, though…this is disappointing in the extreme. To me, it reeks of a major lack of care and commitment to quality from Blizzard. It feels like they are just throwing in whatever hot new thing they read about, with minimal thought and effort, just so they can point to WoW and say “look, we have it too!”.

It’s just sad.


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Steam Challenge – World of Goo

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

I’ve come to devise a new system for my steam challenge – I’ve put all of the pure puzzle games in their own category, and thus they don’t muddy the waters when it comes time to choose my next game. Instead, I choose one of the puzzlers and make a habit of playing through one or two levels every day or two. Just a 10-15 minute dip into the game, but it is perfect for getting that sense of progression, keeping my mind muscles toned, and avoiding the frustration of being stumped and hitting my head against a wall repeatedly. I’ve become much better at letting it go if I do hit that wall, content in the knowledge that I’ll come back to it tomorrow. Since I don’t have that pressure of wanting to finish it before I move on to the next game, it doesn’t bother me that it might take weeks to complete.

The first beneficiary of this new system is World of Goo. I’ve already written about their second game, Little Inferno, and my experience with that were amazing, so I went into World of Goo with very high expectations. Turns out, I was not disappointed in the slightest. For one thing, the puzzles themselves are a joy to work on. There are many ways you could solve them, as you are building your own path to completion. The different types of Goo balls make for an interesting variety of challenges, too. I really liked how in some levels, you look at the starting setup and think, “oh my gawd this is impossible”, but once you start building and experimenting the process gradually reveals itself to you. It might take several tries, but you are rarely just shooting wildly in the hopes of hitting on a solution.

The soundtrack is incredible. It manages to combine a sense of mischief and fun with a sense of sombre gravity, in a way that no other game I have played has been able to do. The sound effects are cute, the art direction is very distinctive and extremely well done, and the story…well. In both this and Little Inferno, games which could very easily stand on gameplay alone, the storytelling style is both intriguing and lighthearted. They manage to tell a serious story, with deep social or philosophical commentary, in a fun way. It’s difficult to describe exactly, but I am a great fan of being led through a story via cryptic clues and odd questions, rather than exposition.

The only problem I have with World of Goo is the lack of video and audio options. The other options I don’t mind so much, but I very strongly disapprove of not being able to control the volume in-game!

Anywho, two massive thumbs up for World of Goo. Definitely worth it at full price if you are a fan of puzzle games, otherwise still worth checking out if it’s on sale.

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