Star-Fired Beef


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Steam Challenge – Atom Zombie Smasher

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

I was going to play through another campaign before I wrote this post, but Atom Zombie Smasher seems to have been another casualty of my move to a new computer, and I can’t get it to work again. So, here are my much older impressions.

It took a while to get its claws into me, but I am definitely hooked. I think it will take several playthroughs to really get into the swing of things, much like in a grand 4X game like Civ. But from my experience, there is a lot of potential here.

The weird 50’s comic-book interludes and music are strangely intriguing, and the humour is well done if you like pure silliness.

Gameplay is simple: you place various mercenary units on a city map, and use them to either destroy the zombie hordes before sunset, or buy enough time for your helicopter to rescue X number of civilians before the zombies get to them and turn them. Then you go to a strategic map, where you choose the next region to try to liberate. Your mercenary units can change, and there are various levels of danger in each region, so planning is crucial.

After each operation, the zombies spread, strengthening existing areas and occupying new ones. If you cleared out the zombies from your operation, you get a base that remains zombie-free and gives you lots more points. You are basically racing the zombies for points: at certain milestones, stuff happens. Either you get new weapons, or scientists, or extra mercs, or the zombies get mega-Zombies or occasional faster zombies or suchlike.

Each operation takes about 5 minutes to play, so AZS is perfect for second-screen or sitting-in-queues or pick-up-put-down.

It’s weird, but endearing, and it somehow just works. Check it out if you can.

The Cranberries – Zombie


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On Biomes, Suffering, and Death

(CN: Morbid musings on death)

I mentioned in my post on Borderlands that the setting really bummed me out and made it tough to look forward to continuing the game. Despite the high-tech galactic society, Pandora is a rocky desert wasteland and looks more like a post-apocalyptic stage than anything – crude structures, corrugated iron everywhere, open piles of trash, putrid standing water, chemical barrels, and so on, all in a place that nobody would choose to live. A huge dump that people somehow scrape a living from.

That made me realise why I prefer certain biomes in games – especially MMOs – and hate others. It is all to do with the question of: in which ways would I prefer to suffer? How would I prefer to die?

The zones that I dislike the most, the zones that make me uneasy or freak me out or just avoid when I can – those are the zones where I would be legitimately afraid to suffer through in reality. The zones that feel alien to me. There are three main varieties of those.

Deserts

I loathe desert zones in games. This is because I cannot imagine ever living – or spending a significant amount of time – in a place without an abundance of fresh water. Dying of thirst is a real fear for me, and I don’t handle the heat very well either. The main problem for me in Borderlands was that it was almost exclusively this kind of biome. I had to limit the length of my play sessions in Fallout 1 and 2 because of this effect, too. The Egypt zones in TSW were a nightmare to complete for me.

I am putting most of the blame on the extremes here, the sandy, rocky, barren wasteland where nothing grows beyond the occasional oasis. I am a little more comfortable with the savannah-type biomes, the endless prairies. They might offer similar dangers as the desert zones regarding water scarcity and heat, but the presence of all that scrub and grass just offsets some of my fears.

Swamps/Marshes

Although there is a lot more water in these zones, it is almost always still, fetid water. I think there are two main fears for me in these biomes. One is the heat and humidity combining with the perpetual dampness to promote fungal rot and disease, or infections via insects and leeches and whatnot. This was my main reaction to Zangarmarsh in WoW’s Outland. The huge fungi – in fact the fungal theme throughout the zone – just horrified me and made me want to get through it as quickly as possible. I know a fair few people who think Zangarmarsh is one of the most beautiful zones in Outland, if not WoW altogether, and I just shiver. I can’t see it.

The other main fear for me in swamps and marshes is a slight crossover with the next biome: underwater threats. Mostly crocs and snakes. Also stuff like sinkholes and quicksand. Basically not being able to trust the ground you walk on, or not being able to see the ground you walk on because of the water. The water in these biomes is always opaque, meaning you can’t just be diligent about watching where you step – you have to have faith. I don’t have that kind of faith.

Underwater

I hate hate hate underwater zones. I am of the firm belief that deep water is an alien environment for us – we are intruders at best, hopelessly unprepared and unequipped at worst. Note that this is under the sea, since I can’t remember any game where I have been in a freshwater zone like a lake. I think the reason I would hate being in this environment so much is that you are basically reduced to relying on your sight for everything. Hearing and touch and smell are pretty much useless in detecting threats when you are submersed. Yet, literally everything else in the environment is adapted to it and thus has an advantage over you. For some reason, that extra dimension of threat vectors – down – freaks me out a little too.

Although I held this fear before I started playing TSW, the familiarity with the Cthulhu mythos that it has begun has done nothing but cement my position on this.

The “Good” Stuff

To show that this is not all just a list of me being afraid of danger, let me go through a couple of harsh biomes that I actually quite like.

The Frozen North

I love these zones. Snow, mountains, glaciers, ice caves, you name it. Whether it be an alpine zone like Iron Pine Peak in Rift, a winter wonderland like Whitevale in Wildstar, or a mountain fastness like Dun Morogh in WoW, it all appeals to me. Even the harshness of Icecrown or the eternal winter of a game like Little Inferno make me comfortable, in a way. The reason? I wouldn’t mind dying in such a climate. I would much rather freeze to death than succumb in any of the ways detailed above. Being cold isn’t the torture that thirst and heat is, to me.

The Dark Woods

I suspect that a lot of people like forest zones, and I would bet that nobody is surprised to find that they are my favourite biome. But I wonder how many feel that way when the forest turns dark and spooky, haunted even? I’m thinking Duskwood in WoW, and the Shadowy Forest in TSW. To me, even when they are corrupted or harbour darkness, forest zones still feel like home. I might not want to die, but unlike the zones above, I wouldn’t be regretting ever coming here if I did.

 

Does all this make sense? Does anyone else base their reactions to biomes on stuff like this, or am I alone?

Lindsey Stirling – Crystallize

 

 


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The Secret Lore – The Breaks in Time

See all the Secret Lore here.

Issue 6 was the first DLC not bundled with the base game when I first started playing The Secret World. It is an Indiana-Jones-inspired romp through the Scorched Desert in Egypt, and I found it to be a pretty good homage to the genre. This is the lore that was introduced for that Issue.

The Breaks in Time

TRANSMIT – initiate the quantum foam – RECEIVE – initiate the wrinkles in time – THIS WAY – see how you are drawn to it – WHAT’S PAST IS PAST – nostalgia for the absolute – WARNING – may cause melancholy – WITNESS – the mechanised longing of the THIRD AGE.

Lower the water levels, see them cast their ships; memory blown across the sea, back to the old continents, the broken ziggurats and cathedrals, shhhhhhh…

LISTEN – the echoes of iron prayers.

They sought the Second Age like you seek the Third, clawing back to the magic of primal places, the wellsprings of anima, raw and powerful.

Scratching through the surface of Agartha they stripped what they needed to construct engines of time. A and B connected by C – WARNING – please keep your extremities inside the tomb. We are now approaching the limit.

The Third Age built machines for every purpose. Their minds strained forward as their hearts clawed back. In the desert, among the remnants of the old cities, they charted where the black holes rotate. They focused their energies, energised their focus.

Harness the machines, reclaim the hocus-pocus!

Countdown to blast back: zero, zero, zero. Cue the cosmological nightmare.

WITNESS – the speed of memory. The boundaries blur.

The time, they are a-changing.

TRANSMIT – Kakudmi and Urashima – RECEIVE – the zero point module – EASY DOES IT – slink past the suns of Caligula – WITNESS – the shifting tides.

The universe is a warped water park. A series of slippery tubes. You’re not the first sweetling to slip back in search of…what? The Primordial Pool? The Big Splash?

Roman sticks and supplies?

Cue the Casimir effect.

Your current curviture breaks the mind but feeds the heart. Oh, sour sweetlings, how you long to change the past. We know the things you did tomorrow. We know the fear, the ache, the sorrow.

You shifted what you’ll go to shift, recall what others will occasion. You saved some then so others die when. It just doesn’t seem fair, will it?

Cue the cause.

Their time tombs were functional, but imperfect. They couldn’t transport them to the pre-break moments they sought. Limited by their construction, limited by cosmic continuities, limited by the need for anima, limited by their conceptions of time.

LIMITED TIME ONLY!

Cue the system of singularities. Peepshows of the past; fuels of the present; bombs of the future. Look long enough and see the void in all things. Every age a snowflake, responding in its own way: the age of paradise; the age of awe, worship and sacrifice; the age of the engine; the age of fear.

Initiate the FNF frequency. Don’t fear it. Fear Nothing. Fear the Foundation. It’s no wonder; they say once you hit four, it’s all downhill from here.

You, of all ages, have so much reason to claw back. So much has been lost.

So feel free to punch your ticket to the past. Go ahead, glance back. Don’t sweat it, sweetling. You won’t turn to salt and you can’t make yourself impossible. History will conserve itself. The continuities will hold.

You’ll slip back as into a dream, sift through the sands of your collective mind map. The best you can hope for is to wake up, suddenly remember where something was buried.

Such sweet scrabbling in the dark. This. The age of what? Fear. Nothing. Stopping the second can’t undo the first. Nothing would have and nothing will. The one break in time. The greatest event of all. Nothing. It has ripped through all possible past and unmoored the future.

There are no clocks in Tokyo. This is the end, o honeyed friend.

This is the end.


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Steam Challenge – Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP

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

Hmmmm.

This is a tough one.

First off, let’s just get that whole pixel-trash art style out of the way. I keep saying I don’t like it, and I keep trying these games in the hope of finding a gem anyway, but the graphics choices mean the rest of the game has to be all that much more perfect to compensate.

Superbrothers doesn’t have that. It starts off pretty well, the first 15 minutes or so of the game are quite intriguing actually. But then it just…loses its way. Veers off into some psychedelic wonderland that only the creator understands. 

One description I saw in the Steam reviews summed it up as “mythopoetical hipster”, which I think describes the project quite well. I can’t remember where I saw this, but I remember reading that the soundtrack was an original album, created before the game. It makes a lot of sense to me that someone took this album and tried to make an art project out of it, to adapt it to a visual medium. And to a certain extent they succeeded – although I found it rather boring and pretentious, I appreciate the effort.

I can’t really make a recommendation for this. It is pretty simplistic in game mechanics, so you’d be playing it for the story and experience. But this is one of those cases where it is impossible to judge how you’ll react to it until you actually play it yourself (or watch a Let’s Play).

All I can say is that I didn’t enjoy it after the first 15-20 minutes.

Regurgitator – ! (Song Formerly Known As)

 


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Steam Challenge – The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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

Time played: 4 hours

You. Guys.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is SO GOOD.

Seriously.

I won this game last year in a raffle that Pam (of Cannot Be Tamed) ran on her blog, and I’d been intimidated by the probability that it would wreck my machine. I finally upgraded a few months ago, so when I had enough download limit left to install it, I plunged in. And Oh My Goodness was it worth it.

It’s best not to learn much about the story before you go into it, because it unfolds so well, and experiencing it for yourself is simply amazing. All you need to know is that you are an occult investigator, and you have been called in to solve the mystery of what happened to Ethan Carter. It is spooky, but not horror. The Lovecraftian touches raise the stakes and elevate the tension, but are not intrusive enough to take over the story.

The graphics are simply incredible. I believe that they used some new technique to achieve photorealistic environmental graphics, and although the people are not as perfectly represented, they are done well enough that they seem natural.

The game is broken up into chapters, small self-contained stories that are also puzzles, which ask you to recreate the events from evidence found around the area and using your special ghost sight. Each story is stumbled upon individually, and while I think they can be done in any order if you are an explorer (except the last part), solving each one gives clues as to where the next one can be found. It all follows a loose narrative, too, so even though you can easily put the story together in hindsight, the more you do them “in order” the more sense it makes as you progress.

Once you have access to the final part, you are presented with a map of the game world and the locations of the stories out in the wild. You need to complete them all before you can finish the game, and I was very impressed with the way the designers handled it.

The ending was way more satisfying than I had thought possible. So many games I’ve played recently have been making me angry with the way they finish the plot, but Ethan Carter was just thought-provoking and sad. There were some homophobic slurs at the end, which I found shocking because there was no justification nor relevance to it. It was completely out of place, even in the context of the situation. I can understand wanting to show how mean and intolerant a character is, but there were so many other options to draw upon that would have made more sense. It’s the only bit of writing that I have a problem with.

It’s short, extremely well executed, and I cannot recommend this game enough.

Thank you Pam!

Australian Crawl – Reckless