Posts tagged “PC

Elite: Dangerous (p)Review

Astronaut Pianist, Obvs.

Astronaut Pianist, Obvs.

Scottish Highlands. Christmas.  1984.

Bemused parents indulge a child in her somewhat atypical (or so was believed for the time) interest in both Outer-Space and “Computer Games” – a fairly natural progression from the previous year’s SuperGirl costume request.  For a computer game of the time it seemed to be absurdly expensive  – £12.99.  Previous parental protestations of “but you’ve enough games!”  – surely an impossibility when the family computer is a BBC Micro (Dad had aspirations of poshness) – are put aside, and there was always the hope that at least one of the children might become a “Computer Expert” in the future, and allow aforementioned parents to retire early.

Hopes, alas, STILL not fulfilled!

 

Even the box was impressive.

The game was “Elite” – now of course so well known (or not?) as the defining sandbox game (in SPACE!)

I must admit to not being very good at the game – I don’t think I ever really made it much past “Mostly Harmless” – the game’s stat tracker for your spaceship killing prowess, “Elite” being the pinnacle.  But being 10 years old, I had a blast trying to dock my spaceship, and jumping onto my escape-pod (bed) when I thought I was about to fail.  Nevertheless, I knew a good game when I saw one, and enjoyed much play with it before a rogue coffee killed the computer.  It would be replaced by a C64, and arcade games.

However, a soft spot was kept for Elite, and I would look in on the various ports as I got older and watched 16-bit come and go, space games go Epic (Wing Commander) and then die a near total death but for wee stalwart indie coders.   Then David Braben came along with a Kickstarter, and promise of a 21st Century relaunch of Elite with ALL THE GRAPHICS, and lo, my long dormant space-heart gave a flutter.

 

Here then, is my preview of Elite: Dangerous (Beta V1):

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As I write this, the next release of the beta is due for release, and promises much more content and an increase from 50 or so systems to explore/trade in/fight in/get lost in to a somewhat more sizeable 500 odd.  We’re now approaching a decent sized gameworld to explore, but still only the merest fraction of what will be available at final release (due this year) – a procedurally generated 400 billion.

However, I’ve got ahead of myself – let me explain what Elite: Dangerous is, should you not be familiar with this great-grandparent of the open world sandbox game genre.

Elite is a first-person sci-fi space-based pseudo-GTA.  That little soundbite is misleading, but mostly accurate aside from the car-jacking, violence, and “of the moment” bangin’ soundtrack.  By first-person, I mean that the game world is viewed from your – as yet non-customizable aside from gender –  in-game avatar’s viewpoint, exclusively from the cockpit seat of your spaceship.  Planned post-release DLC will have you wandering about your ship and space-stations, but for now you are a somewhat alarmingly headless body sat in a seat, and invisible to other players.

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At the start of the game, You – The Plucky Player – are a spacefaring person, gifted with a basic starship of modest capabilities.  By modest I mean that it has 4 tonnes cargo capacity, 2 gun mounts, and a couple of spare utility mounts.  These are used for some purchasable (using earned in-game credits) additional upgrades.  For example – a “Heat Sink” a deployable dump of your ship’s waste heat produce, used both as a decoy, and a way to vastly reduce your visible radar signature – which when used in conjunction with “silent running” mode, essentially making you temporarily invisible, complete with neat slow frosting of your canopy glass.

Later upgrades include missiles, beam weapons, and Battlestar Galactica-style projectile cannons, but also non-combat upgrades like a docking-computer.

Docking computer you say?  Yes, one of Elite’s notorious legacies is the fact that when docking your ship with the giant space-stations which in order to generate gravity… rotate.  You have to navigate your suddenly giant-feeling spacecraft through the most apparently narrowest of letterboxes to enter the safety of the station’s landing pads.  It’s deceptive in that the entrances are actually pretty large, but you get the distinct feeling of little headroom until you get a feel for your ship’s physical dimensions – no exterior views yet.

We're going to need a bigger door.

We’re going to need a bigger door.

Back in the original 8 and 16-bit incarnations of the game this was especially difficult as there were few analogue control surfaces to use.  For my part I used to point at the entrance, put the engines on minimum, and hope for the best – inevitably jumping in to my aforementioned escape pod (bed) when things went disastrously wrong.  (You could actually buy an escape pod, but I never made that much money!)  Today, things are different, we all have mice, gamepads, and even Flight-sticks that allow much more precise control of rotation and whatnot.

Old School.

Crashin’ it. Old School.

Speaking of rotation – the flight model is a curious one, in that it’s a blend of super-fun-sci-fi Star Wars type jet-fighter style, with bonus Physics™ – but with the option to switch off (and on, at a whim) “Flight Assist” – which basically makes the control system entirely “Newtonian Physics” – requiring you to apply reverse thrust to bring your craft to a halt, and apply inverse directional thrusters to counteract the proportional amount of…  look, just watch 2001: A space odyssey, or GRAVITY, then you’ll know what I’m talking about 😉  I find it horribly complicated to fly the ship with Flight-Assist off, others love it (mostly those who grew up with Elite’s 16-bit sequels: Frontier and First Encounters) – but it does have its uses.  Fancy pulling off Babylon 5 and BSG style flip-around whilst still moving in the same direction, allowing you to fire at a chasing attacker whilst still moving away from them?  Flight assist off… just remember to correct your spin with your thrusters!

I say! Did you just cut me up?

I say! Did you just cut me up?

So, what’s the plot?  There isn’t one, at least not yet anyway.  You’re basically plonked into your ship with no direction.  At the beginning, the point is pretty much to Make Money.  Money = ship upgrades.  More Money= better ships.  That’s largely it for the moment, in the beta anyway.  In the beta money is earned from various activities, more of which will be available as the game develops.  For now, here’s a few examples:

Trading products between planetary systems – a full commerce system is in place in the game, fluid and dynamic.  One system might have high demand for farming equipment, and pay a high price to buy from anyone able to transport them in.  The player might find a system whereby Farming equipment is cheap-as-chips, buy as many as they can afford and their ship’s cargo-bay hold, travel to the high-demand system, and make considerable profit.  Whilst there, they might find something sold there that is in low-demand, ergo cheap, which they can sell back at another system for a higher-price.  Trading like this can be slow-work, but it’s a good safe way to make money.  There’s also the possibility of buying something legal in one system, but illegal in another, sold to the black market at considerable profit.  That runs the risk however of the Space-Cops scanning your ship for contraband, and a: fining you or b: not asking questions and just blowing you away.

Bounty Hunter is another money-making method, though is obviously quite a bit more dangerous than being a Space-Trucker.  Check the local station bulletin boards for jobs, then head off to look for The Mark(s) – earning cash for their destruction.  There’s also considerably less legal assassination jobs to be had, though these can render you a wanted renegade in certain regions of space.  You can also fly out to some notable pilot hangouts – e.g. “Resource Gathering Sites” – where player’s go to mine for minerals etc – spot someone with a “Wanted” tag?  Take them out, earn some bucks.

Mining – take an appropriately configured vessel to mine materials from asteroids in the aforementioned Resource areas.  Watch out for thieves and bandits tho.

Courier missions – similar to trading, but often you’ll be given cargo directly to deliver to some other location.  The fee paid will be affected by how far it has to go, and whether or not you might have to avoid any “Imperial entanglements” to deal with… or Federation, for that matter.  The Imps and the Feds are the two primary factions in our Sci-Fi world here.

'Sup guys? Whatchadooin?

‘Sup guys? Whatchadooin?

So – already there’s a fair bit to do, much more is planned closer to and post-release, including World Events.  There’s already been a couple of these with a civil war breaking out between two systems, precipitated by nefarious underhand guerilla warfare missions offered to the player, and pleas for certain items of produce to be smuggled in and out.

Now here’s the interesting bit with this new generation of Elite as a game.  It’s multiplayer.  Also, it’s optionally singleplayer… but with the repercussions of the events in the multiplayer.  How so?

Well, you can choose to play the game in full multiplayer – Open Play – out there with all the other players.  That means all the usual caveats..  Trolls, Griefers, heroic saviours, co-op wingpersons, trading buddies, Clumsy docking, rage-quits et all.

Or…. You can play solo in an NPC-AI populated universe, but with the same world-state (politically and economically) as the multiplayer, but without the human player element.  This is actually a great idea,  and especially useful at the start of play when you’re getting to grips with the game mechanics and trying to earn a bit of money to get going.  Penalties are the same as multiplayer, however – you earn enough cash to buy that big new fancy Lakon-9 hauler freighter, but accidentally push the booster button and crash headlong in to the side of a station…  you lose the ship, and any cargo aboard and have to restart over with any remaining cash with the default freebie ship… unless you had enough spare cash left over to cover the insurance cost of the replacement ship!

You can also currently bounce between solo and open-play multiplayer modes, which could be perceived to be a bit of a cheat.  Build up to awesomeness in solo, pwn in multiplayer.  Except you wouldn’t be alone in doing that.  Stuff gets too heavy in multi? Back off in to solo.

For now, however, multiplayer in terms of co-operative player interaction is still very much in its infancy.  The developers recently added inter-player text and voice comms, but it still needs a bit of work, as well as willing players.  Getting together with one or more friends though seems like a really exciting way to plunder the depths and wealth of the game, especially as the content increases in the run-up to release with options like actual recognized deep-space exploration being a career!  Of course there will be “EVE-online” faction wars and such like, which could have huge potential for multiplayer… but you might be an everyman/everywoman who just wants to get on and stay out of the war.

Planned DLC for the game post-release includes adding features like player avatar movement within your own ship and stations,  planetary surfaces (including obviously landing on said surfaces with your ship), multiplayer crewing of your vessel, and more.  That complete set of features would be beyond even the imagination of my 7 year old would-be astronaut self  – and I used my imagination A LOT to greatly expand what was on screen with those black and white vectors, I really can’t wait.

Ultra-detailed interiors already.

Ultra-detailed interiors already.

However, it’s not all joy and happiness.  You’ll either love or loathe the control systems.  It will very much depend on what you decide to use.  Elite is definitely targeted in the main towards using a flight stick/throttle controller.  After that there’s options for gamepads, and good old mouse+keyboard.   I’ve tried mouse control.  It didn’t end well.  Or start well, for that matter.  Yet others thrive using it.

The Head-up-Display (HUD) in-game can cause consternation.  Its meant to be a holographic display whereby you turn to look at the relevant area for it to appear, using your controller to select options therein.  I found this quite cumbersome until you’ve customized your controller of choice to quick-switch between the three primary menus.

And…..  multiplayer.   Like anywhere else, players can and will piss you off.  Not all the mechanics for literal policing of player behaviour is in place.  E.g. you’ll enter a system with police patrols, but they won’t always help you in time if you’re attacked by another player or NPC.  But hey, maybe that’s realistic!

Also… It’s a beta at the moment, so it *will* crash, sooner or later, and stuff will be buggy, or act strange.  I’ve been in my ship, happily parked on a landing pad only to have the station literally disappear out from under me, like Babylon 4 😉  But there’s also stuff that happens where you think… hmmm.. that’s cool.. I might be able to use that… like bringing yourself out of “Supercruise” too close to your destination only to find yourself INSIDE the station.. with only a few seconds before the intruder alarm goes off, and the cops blast you into oblivion.

Wonder if that's LV-426?

Wonder if that’s LV-426?

Speaking of “Supercruise” – some of the game mechanics might cause consternation too.  Hyperspace is the method used to travel vast distances between systems, fuel allowing.  Once arrived, you are stopped in the system by the largest planetary body, still very far away from your actual desired destination – usually a space station.  So, to speed up the travel to your “Final Destination” your ship has a mode called “Supercruise” a sort of very high speed but not quite hyperspace mode, where you designate your target destination from your HUD, and engage the drive.  What you then have is a manually controlled acceleration and steering to your  target requiring you to slow down as you close distance, disengaging the drive at a point of your choosing.  Where this can frustrate is that it’s very easy to get impatient and over accelerate, causing you to be unable to slow down in time,  therefore overshooting the target, meaning you have to pull a big turn to bring you back around, hopefully slowing down this time.  A lot people are NOT happy about supercruise, they want some form of autopilot.  I think this comes from the pseudo-MMO nature of the game.  In many other MMO’s there’s auto-run options that mean you can effectively distract yourself with something else whilst still keeping one eye on the game.  Not so in Elite.  Look away at your peril.  I suspect, however, that the Devs may make a purchasable auto-cruise system, as it could actually add to the immersion.  Think Star Wars and the Millennium Falcon crew dossing about in the lounge, but getting a warning to tell them that they’re approaching destination/under attack/out of hydrospanners.

So much is forgivable however, whilst the game is in Beta.  It’s certainly nearly cooked, but it is most definitely still in the oven.  Visually it’s a treat, and pretty scalable in terms of performance.  Aurally it’s an absolute stunner.  The sound design is utterly amazing, hugely putting you “in the picture” – the music is a bit generic Space-Opera at the moment, but hopefully will improve… or you can do what I do… put on an ambient/spacemusic radio stream!

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You have to pay a bit of a premium to get on board this currently PC-only spaceparty at the moment.  £50 at present, final release will be £35 for the game and then more for the proposed DLC.   I hope that we can have a few more women to play the game, as Space feels very much a bro-verse so far, and I hope to have a full gender spectrum conglomerate to fly with post-release.  As release gets nearer though, I can already feel The Shape of Things To Come in the imagined vibration of the ship’s hull, and my inner 10-year old astronaut self is getting very excited indeed about her childhood dreams becoming virtually realized! 🙂  Speaking of which…

 

 

Addendum:  VR – THE GAME CHANGER

Space.  It's big.

Space. It’s big.

Elite: Dangerous as it stands is a hugely promising sci-fi space game, built on a prominent legacy, and coming at a time where the combined genres of Spaceship and Flight-Sim games are enjoying a bit of a renaissance.  Elite is certainly a hugely enjoyable game already, promising much more at release.  However, everything changes when the game is experienced via a Virtual Reality Head-Mounted Display.  I’m lucky enough to have obtained an Oculus Rift Development Kit 2, and I knew that Elite had been given optional configuration for play on these devices.  It’s a bit clunky, a bit buggy, and plays sheer hell with even high-spec gaming PCs…. But…  never before have I *ever* experienced anything like it.  It is a completely different experience playing the game in VR.  Background starfields and planets are no longer just background.  They are there.  Right there, outside your suddenly very real feeling ship’s canopy.  The canopy complete with the handles you feel you must be able to reach out and touch.  The glass of the canopy feels like it’s mere inches away from your head, and whilst the planet beyond the canopy is probably millions of miles away.. it is most definitely OUTSIDE your canopy, millions of miles away and huge.  Huge beyond your normal comprehension of the definition of the term.

"They should've sent a poet..."

“They should’ve sent a poet…”

This is because everything is rendered to scale in the VR incarnation of Elite.  I look down and see arms, and hands gripping controls just like mine.  I’m completely bamboozled when I raise a hand to scratch my nose… but my virtual hands remain in place.  I’ve emerged from a space-station in my ship innumerable times playing on the monitor to the same scene.. only to come to a dead halt in the same location when playing in VR, agog at the awe-inspiring majesty of the apparent infinity of space, and the sight of a sun emerging behind a Saturn-like planetary body surrounded by a ring of debris.  In combat, rather than wrestling with mouselook controls to try and get a bead on a ship I’m pursuing, I merely follow its progress with my head and eyes, craning over my shoulder as I bring the ship into a steep turn to follow it, my head turning as I bring the enemy back towards the front of my ship as I open fire to finish it, then ducking instinctively as a piece of the ship debris bounces off the top of my canopy.

And those HUD nuisances I mentioned earlier?  Rendered moot when you simply look to your left or right to activate them!

This time around, I think VR is going to be huge, and I think it will be accessible, especially if Sony can bring their “Project Morpheus” VR headset to fruition for PS4 players, where hopefully players will be able to join in the Elite: Dangerous world (as project leader David Braben has hinted as an option) –but also most especially as the Oculus Rift matures for PC owners.  Like Morpheus said about “The Matrix”… “no one can be told what (VR) is, you have to see it.”

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Where’s my coffee mug?

 


I Might Have A Kickstarter Habit – Backing Sunset

Anyone who listened to my interview yesterday will now know that I adore story. A game with a good story will make me squee with utter delight. I’m sure no one will be surprised by this news or any news related to me being a book addict. I love me a good story, a fun story, an interesting story. When it came across one of my games news feed that there was a Kickstarter for a game that has neither puzzles or combat and is nothing but pure story; you know I nearly made an audible squeek of joy.

The Kickstarter is for an Indie game called Sunset and is made by the Tale of Tales studio. I’ve never played any of their other games, but after watching their kickstarter vid I knew I had to back this. I’d embed their video here, but Kickstarter demands iframes, but iframes are shite.

I can’t do justice to this wonderful idea, so I’ll just paste a little synopsis from their Kickstarter page.

Sunset is a narrative-driven first-person videogame that takes place in a single apartment in a fictional South American city in the early 1970s. You play a housekeeper called Angela Burnes. Every week, an hour before sunset, you visit the swanky bachelor pad of Gabriel Ortega. You are given a number of tasks to do, but the temptation to go through his stuff is irresistible. As you get to know your mysterious employer better, you are sucked into a rebellious plot against a notorious dictator Generalísimo Ricardo Miraflores.

 

If that doesn’t sound intriguing to you, well fine. I am very stoked for this idea. They have reached their goal, but there is still 27 days remaining and they said they’d do stretch goals. Also, more money means more awesome.

I think I have a Kickstarter indie game backing habit. This isn’t the first one.

~Donna


All I Need Is A Little Transistor

Every now and then a indie game dev will come a long and put out a game that immediately draws my eyes to it. SuperGiant Games has done just that with their recent release. Transistor is such a beauty to behold that when I watched the trailer for it I just didn’t care how it played; I needed to see more of it. This is a game that has some wonderful graphics. It’s like you’re interacting with a painting.

Have a look at this little video I did to show this very thing off. It started raining and things got a little fuzzy like rain drops on a windscreen.

 

So the story has a very Noir crime detective feel to it. Like 1930s type old school detective noir books. Bad guys and bad things went down in the place you’re singing at. Your character Red doesn’t speak. Her voice was stolen by the bad guys when they invaded the place, but your sword does talk. The sword is holding the “soul” of a man who appears to be your greatest admirer. The narration has this third person feel since Red doesn’t speak. If you play this on the PS4, go into the settings and turn on the controller speaker. All of the narration then comes out at your hands like you’re holding the sword. It does so much to the immersion.

 

 

The gameplay isn’t anything new, hit bad things with your big sword called Transistor. Now you can just hit things with the abilities your garner and combine or you can go into a screen freeze and chain moves. When you come out of the freeze the moves action as you planned them. This is especially useful when fighting bigger bad guys.  As you go through the game and the city, called Cloudbank, you gather other “souls” which give you abilities. These abilities can then be used as is, combined with other abilities to make something new, or they can be boosted with skills you earn. This makes for a lot of options when you’re playing and something isn’t working.

 

 

I have really enjoyed this game. It has some wonderful ideas about combat options, but above all that it is so amazing to look at. The artists at SuperGiant Games should be commended for the wonderful visuals they have provided. It’s indie developers like them that take something so simple and they give you something so interesting in return. I would put this game up on the same shelf as Flower and Journey. It is a game I recommend everyone play.

~Donna


The Late, Mass Effect Trilogy review

*note that I do not review the multiplayer element of ME3, as I’ve barely played it, hopefully someone else can cover it – I did find it mildly enjoyable, however!
*also note that whilst this review is as spoilerfree as is humanely possible, links to videos and the like will not be!  The key reason of this review is to convince the 6 remaining people in the world who havent played any of the series – especially women – to play it!

Now, let me be clear.. up until recently it was not entirely certain where that comma in the title would be placed… because it was only very recently that Mass Effect 3 (and by association the entire trilogy) was truly finished. Also because prior to the “little” addition of the Extended Ending brought about due to fan outcry it could be classed as “late” as in dead.. dead to me and dead to many of its fans.  The addition of the extended ending (in my opinion) saves the series and makes replaying it viable. It is frankly baffling that they thought the original ending was satisfactory in any way.  However, I get ahead of myself, lets talk about the games first, and then after we’ll talk a little about the debacle that was the conclusion to the series.

The *real* Commander Shepard, looking badass.

Mass Effect was launched in 2007 exclusively on the Xbox, though it was later – thankfully – also released on the PC, and the subsequent sequels on PS3, PC, and Xbox.  It has to be said that PS3 players have got a bit of a raw deal with Mass Effect. No first game, 2nd game delayed by a year, third game’s extended cut released nearly 2 weeks after everyone else got it.   The game was a departure from Bioware’s staple of RPG style gaming, aiming as it were to introduce shooter elements, along with squad management and resource/weapon modifications.  It was also a brave new move for the gamestudio, as here was a completely new setting featuring original characters in a wholly new created sci-fi story world.I picked up the first game cheaply in 2009 on the Xbox (not my preferred gaming platform) and after initially grumpily grumping about the controls quickly warmed to it, though I largely ignored the whole weapon upgrading and squad special power management thing.  I was hooked on the whole RPG element of the game, especially due to the option of playing as a female protagonist in a world where the gender of the lead character was completely irrelevant = equality, feminist fans 😀

There is something just so cool about wandering the corridors of a military starship that you are the Executive Officer of and seeing the crew salute you as they encounter you.

BAD REAPER! BAD!

The story was an interesting one; in some ways it reminded me of Halo, in that it almost felt like you were being plunged into an already started storyline, and you have to pad out your knowledge of the world you’re exploring.. well.. by exploring it.   2183: The Human race struggles to find its place in a vast galaxy governed by a stern and suspicious multi-cultural Alien council at the apparent onset of war with an invading ancient force known as “Reapers”.  Characters are well defined, superbly animated with lots of emotive behavior complimented by superb voice acting.  Later on in the game there are some pivotal choices to be made that cause genuine pause when the player is confronted with them.

So… about those head tentacles…?

The repercussions of those decisions are felt not just within the game itself, but ultimately in the sequels too; hence the importance really of playing all three.  It is because of these decisions shaping branching personalized elements of the plot, that so endears the games and their characters to its fanbase – making some events so desperately affecting later on.  This level or attachment to game characters was something very new to me I have to admit.

Is it still a big fall if it’s in zero-gravity?

Mass Effect 1 ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, but most satisfactorily so, in a way that meant that even if it never got a sequel, it had a definite feeling of self-contained closure.

ME1 Gameplay summary:
RPG, lots of shooty, lots of pickingup/buying resource management, lots of squad power management,  some puzzles (mostly doors)

WooHoo! Mass Effect 2 begins and everything’s hunky dory!

The sequel was released in 2010 (which I bought on day one this time!) and introduced a few changes to the game dynamic.  Many of the micromanagement elements of the squad and special power/weapons were simplified; good for me, but perhaps less so for others.

Another feature that was dropped: the “Mako” sections from the first game, essentially an awkwardly controlled vehicle used to explore and travel between areas.  I for one missed this, as I thought it added a larger open exploratory element to the game. Though ME2 had a much more linear plot direction.  The game has an incredibly dramatic start that re-introduces you comfortably to your familiar setting and characters from the first game before violently taking them away from you (and vice versa).

THIS kick-ass girl band’s gigs are worth seeing..

What follows is essentially a “magnificent seven” style building of a new squad/crew that may or may not feature characters from the first game.  One interesting plot device element is the removal of your love interest (if you developed one) from the first game, leaving you to either develop something new with someone new or remain faithful to your original love interest, in the hope of reuniting later.

This second iteration of the series introduces many new characters and elements, now all very well established in the narrative’s universe, with even better performances from the leads. Martin Sheen puts in a fantastic performance as the shadowy puppet master “The Illusive Man”.

The second game also introduces much heavier repercussions to decisions and/or lack of development of resource finding. The latter being quite an unnecessary nuisance I thought, but again, I was never one for the whole resource management/finding/buying stuff… I would go on to quite painfully regret this at the conclusion of my first run of the game!

Some of the characters introduced new in the 2nd game are somewhat two dimensional, others prove to be very interesting. Jack, the fierce biotic jailbird being one and Miranda the seemingly cold, perfected human being another.  Characters met in the first game returning get much better fleshed out, BessyMate Garrus, I’m looking at you 😀

Miranda’s bum was unavailable for comment at the time of this review.

Some new elements introduced this time around prove to be a little annoying, I was often very concerned that Miranda seemed to be talking out of her improbable arse a lot of the time, as in literally,  simply due to the amount of camera-time aforementioned derriere got.

ME2 proves to be quite the successful sequel, with a gripping conclusion that has multiple branches (including one where you – the lead character – die!) albeit giving a portent of what was to come with a sort of colour coded finale.  Another welcome new introduction are the “loyalty” missions that you do or don’t, these determine how close a relationship you develop with your crew members, which may or may not affect the conclusion of the game, and its final chapter.

I’m sorry, did I break your concentration?

One thing I will confess is that I found the shooty element of the 2nd game quite fatiguing… so much so that 2/3rds into the game I took a several month break from playing it, as I was genuinely tired of some of the relentless sections in the lead up to the final “suicide run”.

ME2 Gameplay summary:
Lots of RPG, too much shooty, less weapon/resource pickup, but mining/planet searching element added and tied heavily to ship upgrades, more puzzley bits.

You lookin’ at me, Punk?

…which brings me to 2012 and this finale of the series which introduced a “Story Mode” to a joyous me.  Story mode removes the reliance on shooty bit proficiency in order to progress the story, and features much more story development *during* those sections, as opposed to the previous game’s “talkalot,shootstuff, talkmore,findstuff,shootstuff,talkalot” apparent structure.  What Story mode effectively offers the player is a heavily dialog involved version of events that means you don’t have to be so good at shooter style games in order to get through the game, a real welcome option for players like myself.  The other two options available hopefully fulfil other player’s desire for full-on action with little dialog, or a “normal” mix of the two.

I’m going to need a bigger gun…

Mass Effect 3 starts ominously, darkly, pulling no punches, and featuring a sequence of events before even the title appears that had me having to be consoled by one’s otherhalf, as I was a blubbing mess!  Once the preamble of the story is set in motion, the game falls back into fairly comfortable shoes treading the path defined in the previous game – exploring, team building, plot development.  The linearity of the plot is tightened further than the previous game, but still allows for going off the beaten path.. though this is problematic due to the overall plot-spine being so strong – you feel that sidemission “fetch” quests and the like are stupidly unimportant in the grand scheme of the things, so I felt that there should be a talk option along the lines of “What?! Are you mad? There’s a war on! Find your own damn <object> !” – however, at least this time around they have the conceit that doing these wee tasks contributes a small part towards the greater war effort by adding to your “Effective Military Strength” or “War Assets”

This… cant be good…

It is ME3’s action setpieces where some truly awesome plot development occurs and how these events play out is often highly influenced by decisions in the previous games.  There are some parts of this final chapter that present some squeamishly difficult choices to make, and it is a testament to the quality of the writing and story that they are so difficult to make at times.  At one point such a dramatic moment occurred that I could not bear the thought of continuing with that decision/event made canon, that I went back a whole series of saves to try and “correct” it – only to learn that the game was effectively giving me – to throw a Star Trek reference in – a “Kobyashi Maru” – a no-win scenario… how ever I played it, there was going to be some form of terrible repercussion.

You’d be upset too if you couldn’t get your hair colour to stay the same between games!

For me, this is why Mass Effect 3 is the strongest of the trilogy, as by now you are familiar with the characters, the environment and the illusion of your choices creating a unique and personal story to you creates a player/game involvement that I have never before encountered.  I found it very difficult to objectively review this game, as to me it seemed to transcend the definition of “game” into something beyond the kind of emotional investment that a really good movie might engender in its audience.  You might say that the Mass Effect Trilogy as a whole was a synthesis of the medium of cinema and videogames. Ha!

I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

ME3 gameplay summary:
Player tailored, but as it pertained to me: Lots RPG, perfect level of shooty, zero *required* resource /squad management, minimal puzzles. 90% plot/character interaction driven.

One of the game series’s other controversial (at least if you happen to be FOX news) features was the Love Interest.  In the first game it was possible to romance one of 3 characters, this was expanded in the 2nd and 3rd game, allowing for faithfulness to the first game’s LI or not.  The first two games featured the option of lesbian relationships which were nice enough, though likely mainly for male titillation, as it would not be until ME3 that gay male relationships would be an option.  I’ve watched how these unfold via youtube (does this count as watching porn?!) and think they are lovely, though the option of recently bereaved shuttle pilot Steve as a potential Male-Shepard conquest annoys me!  I’m amused at some player’s love triangles they have created themselves throughout the course of the games.  The actual lovemaking scenes themselves are (I think) very tastefully done and, certainly in the case of the third game (I can’t speak for ME2 – Monogamous Kate Shepard, see), add to the emotional gravitas of the story.

Star Wars eat your heart out…

It was therefore a tragedy to me (and a large number of ME fans) that the last 10 minutes of the trilogy finale seemed to throw a leftfield turn of direction with a seemingly abrupt nonsensical ending filled with more questions than answers, which was very much the opposite of what was promised by Bioware in the very high profile marketing campaign leading up to the release of the game.

I think even Bioware underestimated how invested in the story their fanbase was and how actually emotionally hurt they were by the game abrupt ending.  This feeling of loss spawned some great things though, with enterprising players dealing with the very real feeling of grief they were experiencing by advancing the story through art and storytelling; there are some absolutely stunning fanmade works out there, I’ll put some links at the end of this article.

Hmmm. Must be injured more than I thought, my arm seems to have shrunk.

Now, there’s no doubt that either through a bizarre overinflated sense of “artistic integrity” Bioware decided to create a very ambiguous set of endings that leave story threads blowing in the wind,or they rushed the game out in the end to meet deadlines.

I for one believe it to be the latter, as there were many other little inconsistent failures in quality assurance in this final chapter at launch.  Throughout the trilogy one of the most important and awesome features is the ability to import your save from the previous game, continuing your “universe” based on your choices previously in the series, as well as your own custom appearance.  The import worked in ME3, but not the appearance part; forcing you to redefine your appearance as best as you could.  This was not fixed until well after a month following the game’s release,  by which time the majority of players had finished the game and were probably suffering PME3TSD.  There were also other glitches that affected gameplay and player story immersion.  Getting stuck on bits of scenery, terrible terrible character animation clipping and an increase of “uncanny valley” factor in NPC performances with some very notable exceptions (love interest characters in particular are so emotive in their face animations it hurts! – though aforementioned bugs caused my love interest to disappear mid-snog at one point!)  If there was one thing that was definitely a mistake on Bioware’s part it was that the last words you essentially see at the end of the game are “PURCHASE DLC”  – it was like after wooing you with 100’s of hours time invested in an involving story… ABRUPT ENDING! Hahahah! Buy more DLC!

On the subject of DLC; ME1 had a few bits and bobs of DLC, nothing particularly earth shattering (so to speak).  ME2 had some very notable packs; most especially “Lair of the Shadowbroker” and “Arrival”, but ME3 caused controversy by having day one, on the disk DLC that arguably should have been core content in the first place.

Who’s the bloke in the middle?

So it seemed that Bioware were so taken off guard by the subsequent huge outcry (most of which was valid, though there were a few that really were hurt and wanted a genuine 100% happy ending) that they relented and announced a forthcoming “Extended Cut” version of the ending would be released for free.  This unprecedented announcement was treated with hope by many of us and disdain by others. I would hazard a guess that the disdain mostly came from those who played the game as shooters first and foremost with little emotional investment in the story.  Around this time talk of the fan-based “Indoctrination Theory” was at its most intense and whilst I admit to being disappointed that in the final analysis it was rendered nullified by the EC, I think that what we got restored my love of the series and made the thought of replaying it genuinely viable. Whereas without the EC it felt as no choice in the entire series ultimately mattered, so why bother to replay?

*no caption due to author bawling*

With the EC DLC in place the 3 original endings that were 95% similar in content have been replaced with a possible 5 key iterations with subtle further variations within each based on player’s choices throughout the entire series, as well as some small other additions to the story in the run up to the finale, including a beautiful if improbably set farewell to your love interest.  Also, very importantly each of the choices becomes an actually viable choice with “lots of speculation” as to its repercussions beyond what is now fully expanded in the new endings – a previous choice that was largely written-off as “BAD” seems to now have captured fan’s attention for its possibilities beyond what the game actually shows.

So, I can now say unreservedly say that the Mass Effect trilogy is to me,  the finest, most involving, emotional gaming experience I have ever had, and that description is a disservice to it.  As I’ve already mentioned I feel it transcends interactive media as we know it, it is more than game, more than a film.  The combination of solid writing, a good sci-fi story, stellar performances, cinematic sound and music design elevates it to a level beyond anything I’ve seen before, as long as you get “into” the story and those characters, which both my partner and I did through the associated audiobooks, and comics.

Oh, the music… ME1 and 2 had some fantastic music, memorable themes, but by the third game the ante had been upped to such an epic level, the involvement of cinematic composer Clint Mansell working with the existing composers raised the bar highest of all.  Even now, listening to the soundtrack as I write this, I feel myself welling up when certain tracks play.  When it comes time to vote for Game of the Year, I might find myself umming and aaahing about ME3 the game, but the music+sound  will wholeheartedly get my vote.  This is the year that a Reaper’s “HwAAAAAAAAAAAM!” may match R2-D2’s warbles for zeitgeist familiarity!  That was something I wrote about in my own blog, in that Mass Effect may have become a new generation’s Star Wars, but I feared it might have been similarly struck down by its original ending as Star Wars was by a director with CGI OCD!

Before the EC DLC, the idea of playing pay DLC set during the story arc leading up to the end was unthinkable “Whats the point?” being a common reaction amongst players, but now it seems like a much more viable option. Rumour of elements from a forthcoming DLC being stealthily delivered as part of the EC DLC only fuels interest.

Across the stars

And thats the important difference, we are now left wanting more, as opposed to sitting in baffled, hurt silence needing more, in terms of an explanation.  Mass Effect was never meant to be a bleak 70’s style sci-fi with an atonal soundtrack and a huge “?” final frame.  Bittersweet, emotional – yes.  Twin Peaks or LOST – no.  Its also worth noting that even with the EC, several of fans’ complaints still won’t have been addressed; and by that I mean collected War Assets – only the key biggest ones feature in the end game, when likely some will want to see them all, but these are minor complaints given what they have fixed.

I now outwardly firmly place myself in the “battleworn, sad, but content” camp now its over.. but secretly I’m a very upset geeky fangirl that I wont be witness to any new adventures of Commander Shepard (I will miss Jennifer Hale’s voice performance in particular), and not be around to raise any little blue children with Dr. Liara T’Soni :*(

Fan-made content of note:

Koobismo – maker of the fantastic alternative timeline ending comic: Marauder Shields – his Audiobook version is a thing of awesomeness.

Neehs – maker of animations and stills that fulfilled many a player’s emotional needs post-game! Linked picture is still my wallpaper across all my devices! His Alternative-ending video was a truer bittersweet end before the EC was released!

#femshep on Deviant art and femshep.com – for all your fabulous Ms. Shepard artistic and narrative needs!

My own mass effect music playlist on youtube


Saints Row the Third + DLC

“How long until the helicopter gets here?”

“Oh… about two waves of SWAT guys, I guess?”

That little exchange right at the beginning of Saints Row: The Third gives you an example of the tone, self-deprecating humor, and.. so very anti-Grand Theft Auto this game is. Not anti as in antagonistic, merely that it goes out of its way to show how different it is from what would be a possible natural first impression of the game. I know it was mine!

I played a lot of – but never finished – GTA:Vice City, wooed by its apparent comedy, completely awesome (to this child of the 80’s!) soundtrack and open sandbox gameplay. I skipped an installment and picked up GTA:IV upon release, and whilst I was agog at its visuals and scale; I was left cold by its story and niggling friend/cousin micro-management.  So I barely played it at all.

So… in 2011 Saints Row the Third arrives on the scene with some completely “whacky” adverts on the TV and, most crucially of all (to my personal tastes), a full campaign co-op multiplayer mode! I love co-op in games, especially those with big story arcs to follow, it just makes such a difference to be able to play through a game with a friend in this way. This is exactly what SR3 allows you to do, but that alone doth not a great game make, fortunately it manages to be that too.

As I alluded to earlier, the game takes the basic gameplay style of GTA, (driving, shooting, gangsters city exploration), and does away with any attempt to paint it in any kind of gritty realism in favour of bright day-glo colouring, larger than life characters, story, and events.

I am…. a toilet.. ?

The game allows you to play as male or female, (and um, change that if you so desire later in the game!), with full performances from the player-character for each. In fact, somewhat bizarrely you have a choice of voice-performance style to choose from at the start. (for female: default, Easter-European accented, or NEW YAWK accented !) These options are all defined about half-way through the (playable) intro with the usual character appearance customization, which is quite detailed in this particular game, I spent the usual half-hour or so tweaking it – I would later discover you can change your appearance in-game!

Now, I approached this game not having played any of the previous SR games, so I was initially a bit baffled by the characters and setting, but quickly warmed to it – especially when early on your co-gang member Johnny shouts “PROTECT THE BOSS!” – and I was all looking for the boss, until I realized it was me! This seemed all the cooler due to the simple fact that here was “Me”, the apparent female leader of this gang.

What follows is a rollercoaster action ride of the first 20 minutes of the game which forms the basis of an introduction, after which you’re in sandbox territory and, unlike GTA, the entirety of the city is at your disposal from the very beginning.

Head out on the highway…

As you explore, your map populates with shops, services and notable locations. Want to fly a plane? Head to the airport. Want a change of clothes? Find a clothing store. Fancy a bit of plastic surgery, a tattoo or pimped vehicle? – Just find one of the many places on the map that offer the service you want, right off the bat.

You pick up the primary story arc through interactions with your homies via your phone (which doubles as your GPS/map) as well as sideline quests of the usual escort, assassination, and fetch ilk.. and some slightly more unusual events.

The basic premise of the story is that by this installment of the game The Saints Row gang are celebrities, not really doing much gang-work, more into public appearances and product endorsement. During a bank-robbery “stunt” featuring the star of a Vampire-related TV show, it all goes wrong. The Saints are locked up and then taken to the leader of a crime Syndicate who expresses their intention to take over the Saint’s assets. This sets the basis of the story, The Saints reclaiming their mojo, taking on the Syndicate, and taking over the City of Steelport.

“This is some rescue!!”

This is an adult game, make no mistake, both in terms of language, content, and most certainly violence. If anything its more violent than GTA, with yours and other gangs at war with each other, the police, military and government. The violence is offset by the day-glo colour scheme, comedy, and sheer absurdity of it – but from a purely superficial standpoint it can look very violent, especially early on. Perseverance pays though, as you soon not so much get used to it, but are laughing at the ridiculousness of it. Weapons including a baseball bat with a huge purple dildo attached, the hilarious sound-effects of the Genki mind-controlling reluctant octopus launcher, (no, really), and the Land Shark launcher soon had me guffawing at it, not to mention the “car” chase played out with gimpsuited sex-slaves pulling carriages which, yes, as is customary, explode upon crashing! Did I mention this was an “adult” game?

Just another day in Steelport…?

What really sells this is the tongue-in-cheek performances of the actors, as well as some really good animation, and I absolutely *love* the fact that the characters interact with you “the Boss” the same regardless of your gender, this makes for a really satisfying experience playing this as a female, much the same as Mass Effect, there’s really Zero instances of “hey, sweet cheeks” – and when there is it is there regardless of the character’s gender – as my male co-op mate found out to his dismay in one scene where you’re drugged and staggering about the place naked (humorously “pixelated” bits, of course!)

There has been some comment however on the other females as depicted in the game, and I will put my Feminist hat on and say that yes, there is a huge element of scantily clad “bitches and ho’s” who seem to be mere objects and scenery in the game, but I’ll say that this is offset by the strength of the primary lead characters as written in the game – the player, and Shaundi, your right-hand-woman. Its likely something that everyone thinks, but I can’t imagine the game playing out with anything other than a female lead as the boss, and this is a good thing. One thing that did bother me was in the character creation – for some reason the developers think that anyone over the age of 10 has some serious wrinkleage, when I put in my actual age I was horrified at the apparent wrinkley face I supposedly must have if my character was anything to go by. Perhaps its all that sunny weather. On the other hand I was all ready to be incensed about the “Sex appeal” slider being the Boob-size adjustment, but upon checking I found that the same slider affected the size of the male sausage compartment, ha!

Also, there’s a good share of male objectification in the game too. Another nice touch is that you can choose the “uniform” of your entire gang so if you want your girls and boys running around scantily, or sensibly, you choose so yourself.

I’d be lying if I didn’t mention the fact that I absolutely loved the whole “dress-up” nature to this game which is one of its selling points. You can inexplicably walk around the city green-skinned, with a mustache, wearing a space helmet, Lady GaGa-esque couture dress, and combat boots. The clothes shops are simply and comically themed (“Let’s Pretend!” – cosplay fun, “Nobody Loves Me” – Goth/emo fashion, “Leather & Lace” – well.. you can imagine)

Today I will mostly be… Steampunk

As I’ve mentioned the game is very bright, colourful, and graphically very nice, though the characters suffer a lot from the “Uncanny Valley” – I guess we’ve been spoiled by other games recently with character emotion depiction as SR3 is definitely not the best at this, but it hides this with unsubtle exaggerated design.

The game itself was just a pleasure to play, and replay in single player as well as co-op. The winning factor is its sense of fun. I frequently found myself laughing or staring agog at the screen with incredulity.

I picked up the game not that long after release cheaply including a “season pass” to DLC, and the DLC has been a mixed bag of “costumes”, vehicles, weapons, and missions. The missions vary from being small little diversions, to fairly large chunks of standalone fun. I’ve seen the game only (no DLC) this week for sale online for £7 for the PC version (reviewed) which I bought as well so that my niece(teen) and I could replay it for this review.

Posing, casually, but awesomely.

If you can laugh at toilet humour, comedy sex, innuendo and tolerate people being shot (a lot) then I think you’ll enjoy this game very much.  The game has lots of little nods to films, other games, and even ye olde retro text adventures at one point.

Special mention for the soundtrack, that whilst featuring the usual assortment of in-car radio stations (though not as full of character as GTA’s) also has some real standout work, including a song sung by the lead characters, a Michael Bay-esque orchestral score for a scene involving… Well, the shooting of a movie… and a totally left field (but oh so wonderfully appropriate) turn of music for the very unusual finale!

Finally, merely listing the keywords associated with the game should provide you some idea of its bizarre nature:

Guns, shooting, gimps, pimps, zombies, Burt Reynolds, sky-diving, toilet,  gangstas and spaceships.

~K8bit

Gangstas…. in SPAAAAACE!


Botanicula (Amanita Design)

OMG OMG OMG OMG!! It’s finally here. The wonderful Botanicula from Amanita Design is out!! I adore Machinarium and can’t wait to get my hands on this. Go get the Humble Bundle; you’ll thank me for it.

[youtube http://youtu.be/UxeaS4Pq4EY]

My (not so)Gaming Update

I’ve been really busy lately. First off, I still haven’t even finished Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. I really want to finish so I can move onto Batman, but I keep getting stuck. That game really messes with my head sometimes. I’m still about 50% through and I wanted to steamroll through the game while my boyfriend was out of town. Of course, when I have more free time due to less love life, I get a part-time job, and get busier with photo projects. Eventually, I’ll finish it. It’s just slightly over-whelming to go from job-less bum to 1 job + assistant to 2 photographers + writing for this blog and newly writing on Destructoid blogs, etc. Oh, and I’m exercising now too. Oh, boy.

I’ve been playing a bit more Left4Dead2 lately as well. I recently got back into it because more of my friends are playing, so it’s fun to play against people you know. I stopped before due to the huge amount of younger kids that play that game and aren’t very good at it (haha).

I’ve been wanting to play Zakk & Wiki again lately. Have any of you ever played that game? It’s a puzzle game, except really really hard. It’s a game that most people probably can’t beat it without help. And by help, I mean I played through most of it whenever friends came over and could help point things out in the puzzles. They are THAT elaborate. I never did finish that game, though. A friend of mine lent me Super Mario Galaxies II, so I figure when I hook up the Wii again, I may as well play some of that, too!

Once again, stuck. Too many games, too little time! And not enough motivation to spend my actual free time playing through new content opposed to going on Steam for a few rounds of zombie killing. Maybe when my boyfriend gets home (it’s been a week) I’ll be a little less of a boring drone.


If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

The gaming at my house hasn’t been all that great at my house in the last month or so — we’ve been a little pressed with home repair, dealing with insurance, firing our insurance agent and starting the hunt for another insurance agent, and oh, researching a good breeder to buy a dog.

But the last week, we decided we’d get a new game. Or rather, I decided that the husband and I were getting a new game, because it was on sale on Steam; $40 bucks got us both the game, and all the DLC available for Borderlands. It was a clumsy game, but honestly, the weekend of the fourth of July was the happiest we’d been in weeks.

It’d been hard to face facts, but now we broke down and handled things. I ordered a new — bigger and better! — laptop from Dell. We are making a game plan on how to replace the electronics and in what order of priority. (Camera, PS3, Wii, games, etc.) As well as what we’re not replacing, and instead putting the money ito a Puppy Fund. Tabletop gaming is getting back to normal as well — we’d not exactly been shining there, either as hosts or as players — and so life seems to be returning to it’s pre-burglary state slowly.

But then Blizzard came and crapped on my pancakes.

RealID. It’s a bad idea. 4chan, bless it’s soul, easily illustrated why it’s a bad idea– especially for women who game. The general idea is to strip away the veil of anonymity, face John Gabriel’s Internet Fuckwad Theory head on and strip away the anonymity that trolls use to protect themselves.

Only we know that’s not the case. Trolls are going to be trolls no matter what light you shine under their bridge. What they are opening us up to is new levels of harassment, especially for women, transsexual and other ‘unprotected’ classes of people… and even the average dominant white male who didn’t’ know the douche bag who he denied entrance to his guild was mentally unstable enough to hit Spokeo and see what info they could dig up to hurt someone with later. People do crazy things. Gamers, sadly, attract more then their fair share of people who cannot cope with reality and use games to escape it. It’s simply a fact of the fandom, as it were.

It’s pretty scary what you can dig up with a name and an email. I’m not saying how much of my information is in that thing, but it was enough to make me squirm a bit. One of the Blizzard blues found out the hard way when he put out his name to prove it was ‘safe’ and then had his phone number, home address, parent’s home address, Facebook, and other pertinent information all linked within seconds.

So, ladies: What are we going to do about it? Take it passively as our rights to privacy are stripped? Walk with our money to a new game? Scream into the void until something is done? I’m honestly not sure yet — I really like my game, and the people I play with. I don’t want to try and build the relationships I’ve made OR endure the learning curve. I’ve played WoW for 5 years and never, ever missed a payment or taken a break.

But there might be a time for it. This might be that time.


Sleep Is Death gives us a new way to play

I don’t play many games that aren’t on a console but every so often my attention is peaked by something. In this case it’s a game called Sleep Is Death by indie creator Jason Rohrer (the dude who made The Passage).

There is quite a bit of hype surrounding this game and you’ve probably heard words like “innovative” and “limitless possibilities” thrown around about games before. The interesting thing is that in this case, it’s true. Sleep Is Death is for 2 players, one playing the “controller” of the game world and the other being the player exploring the world. The player has a 30 second timer in which to move, pick something up, speak to someone or say something. The game, in turn, reacts to whatever it is you do. But it’s not the game itself reacting it is the “controller” – the other player. This means that you literally can do nearly anything and get a response from the game. Think about it. In how many other games can you say what you want or smash what you want or kill what you want and actually have the game react specifically to what you did? The entire problem of intelligent design in games is wiped away by simply putting another human in control of the environment.

The controller interface is pretty easy to understand – it’s mainly drag and drop. The simple sprite based art means that new characters, objects and environments can be created with astonishing speed. The pared-down art style also means that players remain focused on the story without getting distracted by how “good” things look. This is important when you have only 30 seconds in which to create the environment or consequences for the player. There are also prepackaged assets that come with the game (and more available to download) so you don’t have to do all the work yourself if you don’t want to. If you are going to be the controller then you can also create scenes and characters that you can store in the game’s library for future use. The player interface is even simpler; point and click.

There is one very obvious downfall to this game. It depends on the creativity of the controller and the responses of the player. Even so, you can pretty much guarantee that you won’t know what is going to happen until you sit down to play. Even the controller has to react to the player! How many games can you say that about? If you’re not playing with a friend you can find people to play with at Sidtube where people also upload screenshots of their games and you can find new resources.

You can download Sleep Is Death here – payment is donation based so give what you can afford and support our indie developers!


Playing the Beta: Put to the Test

So, I acquired a beta key for StarCraft II a couple of weeks ago from a friend to got 2 two many. Naturally, I’ve been spending as much time as I can playing, since it closes on the 30th of this month (for a little while).  From what I’m seeing the past couple weeks, the game will be phenomenal. I’m going to start with the graphics: GORGEOUS. Most of the maps have beautiful galactic landscapes and I’ve already lost a couple matches because of wasting precious seconds to stare at the backgrounds. Actually, now that I mention it, I’ve lost a LOT of matches.

When I started playing, I just kindof went by what I used to do in StarCraft 1, forever ago. I got used to long games and complicated strategies, not much rushing. The players I’ve encountered on this game are mostly interested in wiping out opponents as quickly and efficiently as possible. At first, this upset me greatly, because it wasn’t fun at all to be at the starting stages of developing my base just to have 4 punk goons from the other base come and wipe my defenseless drones. The more I play, however I’m learning how to make production much quicker, and counter-attack more effectively (and win matches!). I originally was placed in the gold league (highest of 3 tiers) – because during the placement matches (5 preliminary matches to determine starting rank) a few people lost connection and I auto-won the games. After a few losses in the Gold league (I was flattened, totally), I got re-ranked into Silver league. Guess who’s kicking butt now? This girl. Right here.

My only real complaints about the game are that the hotkeys don’t really stick well for me. I’m not sure if others are having this problem, or if it’s just me due to wireless keyboard (except I’ve actually never had this problem..), but yeah. I waste time jamming the hot keys when I could just do it all with the mouse. I just don’t like having to click through every single command, but I suppose I’ll have to get used to it for now. Seconds are precious in this game…

I’m trying to play it as much as possible before it closes up a bit. Until last weekend, there was just 1v1 and 2v2, now there’s 3v3 and 4v4, and eventually there should be a Free-For-All mode. There are a few basic achievements (such as: winning a first game, winning 5 games as each of the 3 races, winning a match 2v2, etc) with rewards, like profile images. The best part is, the is windowed, full screen and full screen (windowed) modes, with many choices for resolution and highly adjustable (and volumous) video and sound options. Great news for players with PCs of all shapes and sizes.  Speaking of players of all shapes and sizes, as soon as I acquired a beta key, I realized I actually know a good amount of people that are also participating in the beta. We already have the option to add each other to a friend list in the client and play against each other (or team up and play 2v2+)! It is all very exciting. I haven’t played with any of my friends yet, but this weekend was a good one for networking, so I’ll finally be able to play against (or with) people I know. Hurray for Skype and play!

Last note: The pictures in this post are screen shots I’ve taken while playing. They look terrible after I edited them (for size), so if you kind-of squint and turn your head sideways, it might look a lot cooler… (just kidding, but you get the idea, right?)


I Cho Cho Choose You

We all have our favourites.

Favourite food.
Favourite comics.
Favourite writers.
Favourite guilty pleasure TV show.

Favourite gaming platform.

When we all make a choice, oh wait…erm…okay. When most make a choice of what platform they will favour and play on they have a reason. If you’re me you never make a choice completely. The question is, why do you favour one platform over another? I don’t mean, which is better, but why do you like it so much that you’re willing to sink your hard earned cash into it.

I lie, I do play favourites. I have an irrational and rational bias towards the Sony platforms. In regards to the Playstations, it’s usually been a hardware and game bias, mostly hardware. I do love my DS, but there’s just something nice about the shiny PSP that makes me love it.  That aside I do own all 3 consoles, both handhelds and a kick ass PC. Not to mention the board games and tabletop RPGs. I flit from platform to another, but most people aren’t like me.

So here’s my question to you: Why’d you make your choice?


Multipass!

The computer is your gateway to new and exciting people! Yes, some may be sociopaths or pedophiles, and some of them are simply dicks. But still, what would the world be without people?

On second thought, don’t answer that.

I like to play with people. I like cooperative games a lot more then I like competitive games. I enjoy being a story with fellow players in my tabletop games, and I enjoy smokin’ a Spitter before she vomits all over my team mates in my newly discovered love for Left 4 Dead (1 or 2, they’re all awesome.) I enjoy it. I enjoy the broader (and usually older) community on PC connections then I do on say, XBox — in fact, XBox Live is a reason we chose to go PS3 instead of XBox (along with the Red Ring of Death, general catalog being superior on PC, etc). It’s got a bad reputation. I just wasn’t interested in dealing with it. So the computer is my box of choice. I prefer single or dual player on console, and I enjoy a broad range of games from puzzlers to shooters on my PC.

And now I’m using it as a Tabletop aid. A friend of mine, who I have known for going on ten years now, used to run a tabletop Exalted (2nd edition, for the curious) game online as his regular gaming group spread over several states. They added a few other friends, and wa-la! They used Google Wave as their first tool for it’s ease of sharing documents and having a ‘bot’ dice roller you can ‘invite’ your group communications. (This is still how they do dicerolling.) But to expedite the communications process, they set up a group Skype and now we all spend 2-3 hours voice-gaming over the internet.

So now I have a new Thursdays group, and I look forward to seeing how this works. I’ve been gaming — roleplaying specifically — since I was about eleven years old. I am now thirty-two. This is two decades of gaming books, and if I wasn’t ashamed of it’s well loved, tattered shape I would photograph the first gaming book I ever bought — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness. Fangirl? Yes. Do I care? No. I’ve done statted, non stated, consent-based, ICC=ICA, you name it, I’ve played it across various platforms and tools. But I think, after the laughs shared over Skype Thursday night, this should be a fun experience if my schedule allows me to keep up with it.

In the other end of the spectrum, I’ve found the cooperative campaigns of Left 4 Dead to be highly rewarding with good pals, some laughs, and even getting the husband involved. I bought both games while they were on sale on Steam after The Passing DLC had become available. It lead to a lot of fun times with friends, and I eventually convinced my husband to get it. We did some with friends and some friends-and-bots campaigns, and enjoyed every minute of it. He’s a little frustrated with some of the gameplay elements, but I think it’s all part of the fun. I’m on Steam if anybody wants to give it a crack, and welcome others into my gameplaying circle. Just be aware I tend to have friendly fire accidents. Shooters are not normally my usual choice for gaming, but I’m getting much better with them!


I feel no life ahead of me…

So game-wise, I’ve got a lot piling up on me. For one thing, I still need to finish playing the last 2 parts of the Monkey Island 5-part finale. The game is a total riot, but I stopped playing it because it was holiday season and I  simply didn’t have time any more. Then, of course, the usual. You get out of the groove and it’s hard to get back. I’m concerned now because I’ve started playing a few games recently that I want to finish as soon as I can. That way, I will have my time free’d up for other stuff in the next month or so. The games I’m playing now? Final Fantasy XIII (PS3), Borderlands (Steam), Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS). I must say, so far FFXIII has been very disappointing. It’s beautiful, but I was hoping for more. Maybe later on in the game I’ll enjoy myself, but I hate that I have to play upto a certain point in the game (15+ hours, I’m told) before it actually gets interesting. It’s ~15 hours I feel like I got ripped off when I purchased the game.

Borderlands continues to be fun for me, but I’m trying  not to play it to death. If I sit in front of that game for hours, chances are I’ll just lose interest. I’m at a phase where it’s still pretty challenging, because I’m still low level and haven’t enough EXP to just blow through the missions. I’m also still really enjoying the artwork. As for Phantom Hourglass….holy epically long game, Batman! WILL IT EVER END?! Geeze… on the one hand, it’s great that it’s taking me so long to beat it, I’m saving money that I’d be spending on more DS games. On the other hand..I’m so ready to just finish the game and move on already. Apparently, there is such a thing as too long of a game (when it has an end, of course).

What I’m dying to play when it comes out: Doctor Who! I’ve been watching the new series with friends, and they got me hooked. Now we found out there’s a free game for PC coming out in June! The other game I’m anticipating is Super Street Fighter IV. I’m usually not one to buy those fighting games, but I was sold on one of the new characters, Hakan. Hakan is an oil wrestler from Turkey, who from what I know is looking to make the best olive oil on the planet, and he loves his daughters, “They are so pretty!”. I highly recommend all of you readers to look up his trailer if you haven’t seen it. If anything is going to sell you on that game, it’s him (if you share my sense of humor, anyway). His special attacks are ridiculous and hilarious! I’ll even go a step further and provide a link to you tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mK3oMkNvQrI No excuses!

So, I have a lot to look forward to. SSFIV comes out next week, and I want to have time to play it. At least I only work 2-4 days a week…


The week (and then some) in review

Things have been hectic here; we picked up Final Fantasy XIII (gorgeous, but I have a lot of gameplay complaints that can really be summed up in Penny Arcade form), bought and beat (with an Angel of Death score) the Chaos Rising expansion for Dawn of War II, and also picked up a new monitor that is lovely and really makes gaming easier on the eyes. A 23″ Samsung LED that’s crisp, bright, and was a little over my budget but so worth it. We also had tabletop last Friday, and will have the alternate game this Saturday (Iron Kingdoms and Shadowrun, respectively; Paladin of Menoth and Wolf Shaman, for the curious), but there’s nothing really exciting to report on that just yet.

Right now work – or more appropriately — the husband’s work — is eating what couple time my husband and I find together, so I got a lot of gaming done this week. I’ve knocked off some hours of FFXIII, and I finally got my Shaman to ding 80 and then ran a ton of 80 Regular Instances (ICC 5’s and ToC) to get her some gear and prepare her for the heroic’s grind…. which I already do with a Protection Warrior, Holy Priest, Hunter, Warlock and the Death Knight I almost never play. I mentioned sixth eighty, right?

However, Twitter has brought a gem to my door; the local Big Boy Nerds, the The Geek Show, is produced by Zack Shutt. He’s put out a call for at least one people-person geek and web developers. As the former and not the latter, I don’t expect to make the grade on his new project and get a job with him, but I am curious and I figured, what the hell. So I’ve DM’d him and we’ll see what happens there. I can’t say I’m unhappy with my current job– but I’m not happy there, either (and I am often situationally unhappy there, but that’s another story for another time).

I hope to find some time to write about the two latest expansions I dealt with: Dawn of War II’s Chaos Rising and Dragon Age: Awakenings, but I’ll save that for the weekend, I think. I’m told it’s All Hands so I’ll have a lot of free time without the husband.


The MMO black hole..

I have been pretty good about keeping myself away from MMORPGs since last year. I started playing Final Fantasy Online back in 2004, and for the next (almost) 5 years I went through the supposed 9 rings of gamer hell. It starts off casual, you just play for a few hours a day. Eventually you peak at obsessive gaming, playing every day, waking up at ridiculous hours to make specific events or hunts. After the obsessive stage, comes the burn out. I burned out last year. I stopped playing the game on a regular basis for nearly a year and got to free up all those hours to play other things, to study more, go out with friends more, all the good stuff.

This was the first warning sign: I didn’t cancel my account. I’ve been paying the monthly fee for a game I haven’t been playing for months. I keep thinking, yeah I’ll cancel it at the end of this month, and it’ll be over. But then the month goes by and I don’t update the client and actually cancel the account. This month, I finally went and installed the client (and the game) to my new PC. I did it mostly out of curiosity – I built the PC in January and I wanted to see how the graphics looked (opposed to on my laptop where I’d been playing FFXI all these years). Oh man, the game looks so beautiful! I’m still going to cancel at the end of this month, but for right now, I’m feeling that pull, that gravity that MMOs seem to have to suck people right in.

So, everyone cross your fingers that I hit that cancel button in 2 weeks!


The Most Fun I’ve Had In A While…

So, a lot of things have been keeping me from games lately; “A lot of things” being dating an absolutely wonderful someone for the past month and a half. Recently, a friend of mine found a nice little deal on Steam for Borderlands. It was marked off 50% to begin with, but there was also a 4-pack priced so each copy of the game came out to about $18.50. I must say, it’s the best $18.50 (or more…) I’ve spent on a game in a long, long time. I’ll give three reasons why I play this game (and you should if you aren’t already):

1. I can play it at my pace (single player) whether I have 20 minutes or 3 hours at a time to entertain myself. I’ve found lately that I can’t play games that take up too much of my time any more. Between working, dating and pursuing a real career on the side I almost always choose to spend my free time out of the house instead of indoors. That being said, I need to play games that I can dedicate very little time to (on a daily basis). No more 5-hour EXP grinds for me.

2. I can play it with my friends online whenever we’re all online (huge bonus…it’s the same reason that sold me on Titan Quest, actually). It’s the same deal with a lot of games I’ve come to enjoy.

3. It’s got one of the most simple UI I’ve seen lately. There is absolutely nothing unnecessary cluttering my screen. I’ll even add a fourth reason hanging off of this one: the little robot is the most hilariously adorable character for a shooting/looting game EVER. Yeah, cute robot. Come on, how could I say no? Oh, and have I mentioned the artwork is totally awesome (hand-drawn technique)? Now that’s 5 reasons.

Total win? Yep…


A Look at Book 7

I completely forgot to let people know that the Look at Book 7 piece for Lord of the Rings Online was up.

Book 7 is live in the States, but we’re still waiting for Codemasters to pull ther finger out so we can have it here in Europe. One of these days we may actually get a book release when Turbine actually releases it instead of a week or two later, but I won’t hold my breath.


I’m Free!!!

Today was my last day at the piece of hell I’ve called a job for the last 2.5 years.  On monday I start for real as the CS Manager for an online game that’s coming out soon. I wish I could share what the game is because it’s quite good. It’s not my normal game genre, but it’s fun and interesting.

Still now both of my jobs are in games and I’m returning to somehting I enjoy in an industry I enjoy.


New Job

I’ve jsut quit my day job today. Two weeks notice. Normally I wouldn’t give such short notice when my contract explicitly states 4 weeks but I really don’t have any other option.

So why am I posting about such a mundane thing? Well the new job is the reason. You’re now looking at the new CS Manager for Dexterity Networks. Basically, I’ll be handling the online game support. Of course I can’t say for what game(s), but if you look hard enough you may find me. (Not that I’d tell you if you did find me)

So the countdown to leaving hell begins now.


*BEEP* *BEEP*

So turns out my motherboard was slowly enacting seppuku upon itself.  Due this unfortunate turn of events I had to buy parts for a new computer. Since I hadn’t upgraded anything other than memory and video card in the last 3-4 years I had to replace everything. So I got new memory, hard drive, CPU, motherboard (obviously), video card and PSU. I also bought a 1TB external hard drive when I thought it was my hard drive going tits up. Luckily it wasn’t, but now I have a backup drive.

Wasn’t terribly costly to buy the new parts. All told was about £250, not including the TB drive. Took me a week or so to get everything re-installed and sorted out. But being the geek I am, I enjoyed every moment of it.

Now that I have a dual core CPU and a PCI-E vid card, the games look OMFG wonderful. LotR:O looked wonderful already, but now it looks super wow and runs so smoothly. I think I need to re-install Bioshock jsut so I can look at it in amazement.

So my computer is all fixed again and you can all breathe a sigh of relief.


I live

Yea well I’ve been lazy about posting. Busy with work lately and real life gets in the way and some days I jsut don’t feel like going near my computer when I get home.

I went to Connect ’08 a couple weeks ago. Birmingham is such an ugly ugly ugly city. But it is the best place to have any kind of convention since it’s in the middle of the country. Here are the 3 pieces that came out of that though.

Jumpgate Evolution

Lord of the Rings Online

Dungeon & Dragons Online
It was a good time and I got to meet people and play games and get paid for it. Oh what a horrible job I have. I have to play games and write about them. Or the horror.


If only….

So, thanks to a special someone I’ve been playing around in Pirates of the Burning Sea on a buddy key. I didn’t realise just how much I’ve been looking forward to playing PotBS until I got that little code. Once I finally managed to find the download page, with unexpected help from the SOE FAQ, I was well on my way to waiting 24 hours to play. I had to download it twice because the first one was corrupted. Not sure why, shit happens. Once I had it installed it took another 12 hours to patch. I wish I was joking about that amount of time but I’m not. I trully astonished me jsut how much patching was needed.

It was eventually ready though and I was ready to get in there and be a pirate. So I did and I was having a bit of fun trying out being a scourge of the sea. All is good and well until I log in one day and the harbour I’m in happens to be over shadowed by a nearby port’s siege. I think nothing of it figuring that high level people won’t bother with me since I’m obviously only level 6 and definately a newbie. Ya know I wish I could say this all has a happy ending, but I can’t. I was attacked of course. No biggie right? I am after all in a PvP zone so I should expect someone of a similiar level to me to have a go at PvP. Definately not the case. For my first PvP experience in this lovely game I get jumped by big boys and not just 1, but 2 of them teamed on me. Yes my dears, it took two level 40+ ships to take out little level 6 me with nothing in my hull but a bit of default ammo. This was not the only incident like this unfortunately. I had several scenarios like this one happen to me and it did not make me happy.

I am not what people term as a carebear. If I willingly go into a PvP zone then it is my own fault if I get attacked. What I object to is having a PvP zone thrust upon me and thus having my choice taken away.

I am more than aware of the nature of this game. I know that PvP is a part of it. The nature of the game doesn’t mean that everyone wants to do it. There are PvE shops out on the open seas that will attack you. There is anything but safety out on the open waters, but to force people in PvP when they don’t want it is a bad choice and it will drive people away.

So as much as I enjoyed playing PotBS, the PvP really makes me not want to play it because I don’t like having that choice taken out of my hands.


Planetside Glance

The Planetside:At a Glance article is up. I’m a little annoyed that it’s jsut today been posted as it was supposed to go up on the 1st, but oh well.

Anyhow it’s late so no long posts tonight. Sleepy time for me.


Deadline

At this very moment I’m doing a write up about Planetside. Not a full review, mind you. Just a basic overview of the game with some first impressions. I still haven’t decided how I feel about this MMOFPS. I’ve been playing FPS games since the beginning of time and online since Quake World. So this isn’t really new territory for me, but it is different.

The article is due tomorrow. And as usual I’m writing it the night before. Although technically it’s due today since it’s after midnight. Still it’s only about half done and it’s 2am. I’ll get it in on time. I always do. Only once have I ever missed a deadline.

I should get back to work. I’ll make sure to post up a link when it’s live on the MMORPG.com website.