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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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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Steam Challenge Miscellaneous Bits and Bobs

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

So along with the games that I have been documenting in this series, there have been a number of games I have passed over due to not getting into them, and have effectively finished with them. So, since I’ll be moving house next week and internet is not guaranteed to be available, I thought I’d do a bit of a summary now.

Roommates

This Visual Novel is pretty much what I imagine is a “vanilla” dating sim. Not really all that interesting, but I stubbornly saw it through to the end to see what happened. No crazy premise like Hatoful Boyfriend, no cool gimmicks like Magical Diary, and no harrowing narrative like Analogue: A Hate Story. Bland and boring.

1Heart

This horror game has a very dark graphic novel aesthetic, but I couldn’t make it past the intro without scrambling for the quit button. A stupid premise, really bad writing – both grammatically and stylistically (I am pretty sure the writers are not as fluent in English as they think) – and overly dramatic voicework just shut down any interest I might have had.

Rigonauts

I liked the look of this one, but the tutorial was very unhelpful and frustrating and ultimately I didn’t think it was worth the effort to do research simply to play the game.

Hero Academy

I love these tactical turn-based PvP games, but unfortunately I had to give up because the game simply did not work for me. Every time I went to take my turn it wouldn’t show me what my opponent had done until after I’d submitted my moves, which made it all somewhat pointless. I would have liked to get into Hero Academy, but alas it was not to be.

Canabalt

I am led to believe that this was the original endless runner? Not very exciting, fiendishly difficult and no personality to it. Played long enough to get the trading cards.

Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip To Japan~

Another Visual Novel with hints of dating sim. This one actually made me angry. First, while it admittedly does have some interesting factoids, it is little more than a glorified tour of Tokyo and some Japanese customs. Second, the “romance” attempts were clumsy, out of place, and usually with more than a hint of creepiness. Third, the whole premise – that you have been studying Japanese and been chatting online with these friends (who you thought were guys but oh ho ho no they turned out to be gals) – is massively undercut by a) the protagonist’s lack of knowledge of some basic facts that anyone interested enough in the culture to learn the language would have discovered by now, and b) his total amazement at such facts (OMG! Convenience stores are open 24/7! What a strange culture!).

Just, no. Grrr.

Ceville

This 3D adventure game hinges on the humourous antics of the main character, who is – to put it bluntly – a horrible git. Unfortunately it is only okay at this, and the puzzles are unusually obtuse, so I quickly became frustrated with it. Since I have a bajillion other adventure games still to play (seriously, at least 30 at last count), many of which I KNOW are better than this, I have shelved Ceville indefinitely.

Eh, I am sure there are a half-dozen more that I have forgotten about, but that gives an idea of the kind of thing I’ve been sorting through in the last few months.

331Erock – Rains of Castamere Meets Metal


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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


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Is Jeromai an Elitist? (Spoilers: Probably Not)

Jeromai discussed their thoughts on GW2 news in this post, and it made them realise that they were kind of elitist…maybe? In a way? I started this as a comment but it grew too lengthy so I decided to make a post instead. Disclaimer: I may not make any sense here.

I think that one of the misconceptions about elitism is that the elitists are making mistaken assumptions about the motivations of those “beneath” them. Or, at least, many of those beneath them. Your motivations don’t make you elitist per se, but they become so when you decide that it is the motivations that make you better.

That is something that you, personally, might recognise and understand – that different people play for different reasons, and no reason is inherently better than another – but I think too often, elitist attitudes come into play because they assume that everyone who plays the same content has the same motivations.

So, PvP elitists assume that those they crush are just bad at being the best PvPer around. Raiders assume that if you step into a raid, you aspire to clear the raid as fast and efficiently as possible. And so on. But that is not the case, people jump into content – even competitive content – for a variety of reasons. 

Elitists treat everyone as if they have the same motivation, and so they seem very hostile to those who do not actually fall into that category. If your primary motivation for doing a certain raid is social, for example, then being told you are “doing it wrong” is not very likely to encourage you to try it again. Likewise, if you are denied admittance to a group because they think you aren’t good enough, then you are not going to have a bond with them.

I think most elitists are probably fairly accepting that people have different playstyles and enjoy different parts of MMOs. The problem comes when those “different” people want to play in “their” content. In guild-type groups, you can be fairly upfront about it: “Sorry, we only want to play with people who think like us in these particular contexts.” But in any random group that is impossible.

The end result is that people self-segregate. Which, when you think about it, is possibly for the best. People like Jeromai, who are goal-focused, find others who are Achievers in the same way. People like Bhagpuss go and do their exploration alongside fellow explorers. The problem is, the ones who had bad experiences with elitists will tend to assume that all raiders/PvPers are the same, and they will therefore not seek out other, like-minded people. Especially if they don’t have the time, willpower or personality to create such a group. Thus the chasm grows wider.

All we need is to have some technology that will read our minds and group us up with the most compatible people for our playstyle and motivations. Get on it, Science.

Tool – Schism


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Until Next Year

Blaugust is over for another year. This was my first attempt at participating. I started off well, but I became overwhelmed by RL stuff mid-month, so my posting dropped off dramatically. I did make the halfway mark, so that is a good benchmark for me to aim to better next year.

Thanks to Belghast for once again organising the event, and keeping track of everyone in it. I was impressed at how useful Anook was in both logging your posts and consolidating everyone else’s to make it easy to follow them. 

Finally, congratulations to everyone who participated, those who achieved Survivor status, and a big congrats to those who completed Blaugust.

/salute

Supreme Beings of Leisure – Truth From Fiction


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The Next Step

I was watching the features video for the latest patch of Diablo 3, and it looks like Blizz is getting more heavily into rewarding fluff – portraits, pets, exclusive transmog gear or dyes, banners.

Then I remembered the cross-promotional stuff they’ve been doing for years, with pets and mounts – Hearthstone -> Heroes, Diablo -> WoW, Diablo -> Heroes, Heroes -> Hearthstone…

And then I remembered that they recently upped the ante by giving the Diablo hero away in HotS if you own a copy of D3.

So the logical next step, is for Blizzard to start having pets or card backs or portraits or other fluff attainable by completing tasks in other games. Defeat this rare in WoW to unlock a pet in D3. Reach max level in Hardcore D3 to get a HotS mount. Win X games in Hearthstone to earn some transmog item in WoW.

What do you think? Possible?


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On Team Competition, Casual Play, and Guilt

Last night I played a bunch of ranked Heroes of the Storm with Pam and one or two other friends. They were all seeding games (i.e. counting towards determining our assigned starting rank) and we only won I think 2 out of 8. It was a little frustrating overall, though in most of the games I had fun.

I don’t know how good I am as a player – certainly nowhere near very good or great – but I like to think that I usually don’t drag a team down. After the results of last night, though, I have to wonder. I had a few games where I did some really stupid shit, and that undoubtedly contributed to our loss, but was that the end of it? Most importantly, is my casual approach to the game hurting my friends and holding them back?

I play Heroes of the Storm like I played (unrated) Battlegrounds and Arenas in WoW. It’s a personal challenge, to see how far I can get and have some fun along the way, without becoming consumed by it. I play ranked because it is the only meaningful measure of progress – quick matches just give me stats, and don’t tell me what my skill cap is or whether I’ve reached it.

In order to maintain the fun factor, I turned off team chat in games. I don’t need that shit, even if it is not directed at me. If I didn’t have that option, I simply would not play the game at all. It is part of my personal challenge to see how high I can go without chat, as I am aware how valuable it is in a team game. In that respect, I know that I am handicapping the team somewhat, although my aim is to be aware enough to compensate. I also, after the second instance of being hunted down in /whispers and told to kill myself, found this lovely button in the options that auto-blocks messages from anyone not on my friends list.

When it comes time to pick heroes, I try to draft in order to plug gaps – playing a support or warrior if there isn’t one already. But I also choose based on what dailies I have, which means I might not take the “best” hero in that role. In addition, I am a reflexive contrarian. I loathe being told how to play my game, and the culture of “optimal builds” “best class” and what have you that has dominated so many multiplayer games in the past decade. I automatically shy away from the “OP” heroes, the ones that top the metagame. So, my support of choice in HotS is Tyrande, even though she is not one of the Top Three. I have been doing my best to master Nova, despite many games where people try to shame me for choosing her. I like E.T.C.’s playstyle, even though Muradin and Johanna and Arthas and Anub’arak are considered better tanks. I love Gazlowe, despite the top players assigning him to the lowest Tier (i.e. the least desirable) of heroes.

I get that this is a team competition. I get that I am not the only one affected by my choices. But I am not a troll. I am not actively trying to sabotage my team. I just want to play and have fun. I don’t really mind if my skill cap ends up being rank 30 or so, which is what I reached before the rankings reset. One of the hate messages I got before I found the blacklist button, insisted that I was not good enough to play ranked. This is ludicrous, even at first glance. Of course I am good enough to play ranked. I made it to 30, after all, so I am not that bad. What they likely meant was that I am not good enough to reach rank 1. That’s probably true. But is that a reason to leave ranked altogether? To go back to quickmatch? Fuck that.

I can say things like “fuck that” when considering my impact on others in a solo queue. But when I am grouping up with friends? How much do I owe them to stick to the meta? To prioritise winning over having fun, or protecting myself from hate chat? These are the thoughts that make me feel guilty, when I have a losing streak like last night with Pam & Co., and I know that my blasé attitude to the game could have contributed – or been the direct cause – of them losing.

NSFW – language

Rage Against The Machine – Killing In The Name


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Further Than I Thought (Blaugust Day whatever)

As you can no doubt guess, I’m done for Blaugust. I was going well, but a confluence of events has led to my demons becoming too strong for the moment and stress has made my arthritis flare up, so even regular typing is at best uncomfortable. It’s hard to care about a blogging challenge when so much other shit is taking up all your mental space.

I’m glad I made the Survivor membership, it gives me a tangible reminder that I made it the majority of the way. I wish I had more to offer, but that’s the story of my life. Thanks for reading. I’ll continue to post when I can, but it’ll probably just be the Secret Lore for a while.

Cheers to Belghast for organising this challenge, and to all who participated as either challengers or cheerleaders.