Friday, August 7, 2015

Throwback Game Review - Geneforge

Geneforge is a cRPG released by Spiderweb Software in 2001, the company mostly known for their Avernum series. I bought this game on a whim since I am a fan of old cRPGs and had also played some Avernum back in the day, I didn't know anything about Geneforge though, I had never even heard of it. After having played some NWN and Baldur's Gate and gotten a bit fed up with the overly convoluted character development and combat systems I hoped that Geneforge would offer the same kind of fun I had with Planescape: Torment, and was very happy to find out it was definitely not far from.

Technically a picture from Geneforge 2 -

Geneforge is far from perfect though. First of all it's so ugly, its mama had to feed it with a slingshot as a baby. When I first started playing it I was sure it was from the mid-90s rather than the early 00 and I was shocked to find out it was actually from this side of the millenial divide. This is the same year the PC got Max Payne and Diablo 2 for comparison! It's important to remember that there is a difference between bad and bad graphics though. I know tons of people who complained about the graphics to Minecraft until they actually tried it and realized it was a perfect fit for the gameplay of the game. On the other hand I can't get myself to play a game like Don't Starve, solely because I don't like the visual style of the game (yes, call me shallow). Geneforge on the other hand is what you could call the ugly game with the good personality and eventhough I am sure the game would've been even better with better graphics, it didn't bother me in any way. It's ugly but very functional, it's easy to see what everything is supposed to be and I didn't find it any more dull than the graphics in NWN which eventhough more detailed still suffers from repetitiviness (damn that word btw).

The only time you'll hear music

The sound effects are if possible even worse than the graphics, and sound like something straight out of a 10 year olds first attempt in RPG-maker, if even that. If the graphics are one-sided the sound effects are even more so, and there is not a single musical track in the game except for on the title screen (which is a pretty good tune though). I can defend the graphics, but I can definitely understand why someone would have trouble with the sound in the game. Personally I didn't have a problem with them but the same effects get used a lot so if you're prone to being irritated by things like that then Geneforge might get on your nerves pretty quickly. I thought the few sound effects that were put into the game were fairly well chosen and eventhough you hear the same thing over and over it kind of just blends into the background. I have no idea why Spiderweb Software decided to do this, and my only guess is that they were on a limited budget and had to prioritize other things. Apparently it is something that Spiderweb Software are somewhat known for and I've got to say, in Geneforge they've definitely put their eggs in the right basket because gameplay and story make up for all the wrong of the graphics and sound effects.

First of all, characters creation and further development doesn't feel half as convoluted as in other 90s cRPGs. Eventhough every stat probably isn't equally useful, I never got the feeling you could screw yourself over as easily as you can in some cRPGs and it definitely did not require some previous knowledge or reading of a guide book to get through. You play as a Shaper, a sect of people that create beings to do their bidding. For the game you can choose to play what basically boils down to "caster", "fighter" "caster-fighter" (although they're called "Shaper", "Agent" and "Guardian" in the game). I played as a Guardian, because having been burnt from other cRPGs I tried to choose whatever seemed to be the easiest class. Casters have a tendency to be ridiculously difficult in early game and possibly overpowered in later game so I wanted something that could fend for itself a bit. Because of this I can't speak for the viability of the other classes, but I did get the feeling that they were fairly well balanced as there were enemies that were easy for me to take down as a melee and some that were easier as a caster. Combat, which is turn based and uses action points, felt well designed and rewarding overall. As mentioned, some enemies were no problem for me and some required a lot more careful tactics and use of items, which I put down to choice of approach. My conclusion was that I will definitely try for a caster when I play Geneforge 2 because quite frankly melee classes aren't much fun in the early cRPGs since they don't get many skills to use. The same is true in Geneforge, lucky then that I also had the possibility to cast spells, use wands and other ranged weapons when necessary.

If only they were all so eager to please.

The controls are simple enough and the game has a really good pathfinding AI which allows you to get through larger areas you've already traversed without having to lead your character through the entire place. Only in a few instances did I fumble with accidentally pressing my own character (which skips my turn) instead of the enemy, if they stood close. Otherwise it was easy to learn how to use skills, items and swap gear in combat and I never felt like I failed because the controls worked against me.

One of the things that made me really happy, and especially compared to games like NWN and Baldur's Gate, was that Geneforge gives you a decent amount of experience for killing things. Leveling went quickly at first, then stagnated somewhat and went quickly again towards the end as enemies became silly difficult. The difficulty can get a bit even but not annoyingly so. I actually had to turn down the difficulty to "easy" towards the end (another feature that is very welcome). Some enemies that were difficult to me didn't rewards much experience and vice versa, which I put down to choice of class. I would've probably had a completely different experience of challenge with another class, but overall the game gave me a definite feeling of good combat design.

The story starts out simple enough, you're stranded on an island that turns out to be barred for reasons unknown to you. As you try to find a way off the island you get further invested into the history of the island and it all ends (without any spoilers) with some interesting choices for you to make. What I really liked about the story is how it unfolds and becomes more intriguing as you move on. You naturally stumble into things and have to draw conclusions from what you find, read and the people you talk to in a way that compares to a well written novel. Only in one instance did I think I had screwed myself over and couldn't continue, but I managed to solve it within a couple of minutes(turned out I had just not been observant enough). There is no better feeling than to randomly manage to solve a quest because you were curious and bold enough to venture into a cave and rummage around the angry ogres bed. Quests can also be completed retro-actively of course.

I was happy to see many good both male and female characters in the game and the dialogue is overall interesting enough for you to want to read it through and not just skip through. The story is presented to you as pop-up text whenever you enter an area of interest, and sometimes in books lying around, but is portioned up well enough to keep you interested without being intrusive or feel like it takes away too much time from actual gaming.

Common for these types of games, shop keepers have a finite amount of gold, which means you can drain your favorite shop keeper of all their money and sometimes have to travel around to be able to sell your stuff. This wasn't much of a problems thanks to a fast-travel system, it just required a bit of memorizing of areas. Unlike many other RPGs, you don't really lug around "junk" to sell, rather you find gems or combat items that you don't really need to sell. Uncommon however is that most gear is found, rather than bought, but as much as I love digging around for a tiny upgrade I welcomed this more streamlined approach as the gear was "handed out" with good intervals unlike in NWN where I barely ever got an upgrade and everything you could buy was well out of my monetary reach and just served to mock me.

What Geneforge really succeded was that, without making me feel overpowered, it made me feel like I was powerful and always stood a chance. If one area was too difficult there were often several others for me to try as the map quickly forks out into different directions for you to explore. It made me feel like I could make my own choices rather than being led around and like I was pushing the story forward rather than the story pushing me forward. I would love to see a graphical remake of this game but it definitely still holds up. I had loads of fun with it and I could recommend it to anyone that would enjoy a slightly less convoluted old-school cRPG with an original story.

Time played: 33 hours
Final score: 9/10

Saturday, July 11, 2015

We Need More World-Events

In my line of work I often meet people (mostly teenagers) who share my love and enthusiasm for video games and we often end up both playing and talking a lot about them. The other day I got to hang out with a guy who was playing Runescape (among other things) and he told me a bit about it. It seems like a cool game in general although extremely grindy (apparently quests of the sort "kill 100 of these" are standard. Yes 100, that's no exaggeration) but one thing in particular stuck in my mind. He told me of an event that, if I understood correctly, happened pretty recently in-game as part of an update/expansion to the game. Players were asked to hand in buckets of sand (and possibly other things the kid didn't mention) and in the end an island (or possibly beach) emerged in the game that hadn't been there before - complete with new places to skill up different professions or techniques. Now if you happen to play Runescape and know I got that all wrong, what matters is that it got me thinking about inclusion in video games and that it is the one thing that really sets MMO's apart from your every day singleplayer game.

And they say WoW graphics are outdated (Runescape in 2007) -

It might sound weird to talk about inclusion when talking about video games, because in essence video games are all about inclusion. Their interactive nature naturally invites the player to feel included and feel like they affect what happen around them (more or less). But MMO's can provide inclusion on a different scale, one in which the individual (that is you) gets to truly feel like they are part of something bigger and like they made a difference in the world around them.

Looking at a game like World of Warcraft, Blizzard have always known the power of this and allowed players to feel included in every expansion they released. Instead of just telling players there was a new expansion coming, they allowed us to experience it and take part of it through special events in game. One of my favorites was the massive event that preluded the opening of Ahn'Qiraj. Back then I had just started playing and was far from a raider, so I had little understanding of what was going on other than that everyone, from a low level casual scrub like me to the hardcore raiders, regardless of faction, united to achieve a common goal. There was something to get for everyone, you didn't have to be part of a big guild or know a lot of people who played - you just needed to take part in the event. It just felt magical to be part of something as massive as that undertaking. The event included gathering a vast variety of items and hand them in, but everyone could chip in and that was the important part.

You had to be there -

And the events that lead up to Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King were similar huge folk festivals where everyone seemed to stop what they were doing and come together to achieve the same goal regardless of whether you were a pvp:er, raider or quester. My rose tinted goggles will allow me to ignore the fact that Blizzard obviously cleverly designed the events to entice these different groups to come together, but that is exacly what good game design should do.

I think this is different from multiplayer games in general, where you obviously also see a bunch of people work together (hopefully) for a common cause. Most importantly because these MMO events offer change - they allow the player to take place in changing the world that they live in rather than just repeating an action (like any multiplayer shooter for instance where the same goal is achieved or failed over and over without permanent change, similar to the seasonal events or pvp done in WoW.)

Party with the dead -

Could you implement something similar in a singleplayer game? Would we even want that? I am thinking both yes and no. On the one hand I always think it's interesting to see how you could develop new gaming experiences, on the other hand I feel like singleplayer and multiplayer games deliver very different gaming experiences and that's ok. Naturally there are things in multiplayer you can't do in singleplayer and vice versa and I doubt you could conjure the same feeling of scale in a singleplayer game as you could in a multiplayer, unless you somehow managed to hook up singleplayers making it a sort of inbetween like Dark Souls. Could you make multiplayer games other than MMOs adopt this idea? Could a game like Team Fortress 2 or CoD include this kind of gameplay? I am sure they could, in fact I would love to see it be done more often. Instead of just giving players a new map/arena/whatever, you could have an in-game event regarding it. Whether it would go down well or people prefer things to be as static and predictable as possible in these kind of settings I don't know - personally I would love a bit of gameplay diversity (which might be why I don't play those kind of games much).

And what kind of content should have these kind of world-events? Anything? Free stuff or pay for stuff? It worked in WoW to have everyone engage in a world-event that essentially preceded something that you still had to pay for to experience but I am not sure that works in any kind of game. But I am probably getting way ahead of myself here.

I haven't played enough other MMO's to know to which extent they incorporate this kind of gameplay, I can't recall anything like it in the few months I played Warhammer though. I do realize it is probably a huge undertaking for a game developer to try to achieve but the reward must surely be worth it. I can only speak for myself but all of the world-events I took part in in WoW, which was pretty much all of them from Vanilla to early MoP, became some of my fondest and best memories of the game.

My personal opinion is that the experience got watered down as WoW progressed, but it might also just be that every new world-event became less and less of a big thing for me. It was just another expansion with another world-event. I like to think that is not the case and I'm not that jaded, but rather that Blizzard included the players less and less. If I compare the level of player commitment required for the Ahn'Qiraj event with that of the Mists of Pandaria event... wait, did MoP even have an event? I can't remember it if it did. But Ahn'Qiraj wasn't even for an expansion, just another (or technically two) new raids. In Burning Crusade we got to work together to unlock the Sunwell Isle. I would've loved to see more events like that, that changed parts of the game, big or small. To me nothing else ever came close to making the world feel as alive, real and worthwhile as those all-player-including world-events ever did.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Baby & Game (Part 2 - All Fun And Games)

A couple of years ago I read Jane McGonigals book "Reality Is Broken" and eventhough I wasn't overly fond of the book in particular (you can read about it here) I did like the core concept - that through presenting seemingly dull tasks as fun games there is a lot of manpower to be put into useful things. As an example I remember a game that allowed "players" sort through thousands of snippets of old documents found by archaelogists, marking the ones that had letters on them (and which letters), thus saving the actual archaeologists tons of time. I tried this game myself and it wasn't fun, or should I say ellaborate, enough to spend hours on (but then some game concepts are very simple yet keep you hooked) but good enough to jump in every now and then. Even if only a couple of thousand people try it out and spend in total an hour playing it, there is alltogether a lot of time saved for what in reality is a menial task. Hence, Reality Is Broken. The title is actually quite catchy, since it pinpoints something crucial about the world around us. It's easy to make things boring, but it's also not that difficult to make things more fun.

Personally I've noticed that trying to make things more fun for yourself is a much more difficult task than to do it to someone else or have someone else do it for you. Maybe it's a bit like tickling, where it just doesn't work if you try to do it to yourself. Anyone who's tried it knows that sticking to a diet, gym regime or quit smoking all by yourself is a lot trickier than when you have friends who're in it with you. Or if you have some sort of app that allows you to track your progress. I mentioned to a friend at work the other day that the way she was tracking points and progress on her diet was a lot like a game. You're presented with a challenge that you need to overcome and the app gives you clear visual feedback on your progress, something that might be difficult to see if your just checking the scales. I know there are apps that do similar things for smoke-quitters - tracking how much money you've saved and "life you've gained". I once tried a browser game that was meant to make daily chores more fun in allowing for my character to level up and become stronger if I managed to do the laundry and dishes, or die if I failed (I died pretty early on...).

So eventhough the book was so-so, I am a big fan of the idea that by making things more gamey, ie fun, there is a lot that can be accomplished. Both on a society-scale and a personal-scale. I am sure you've also had the thought "if only I put all these hours into a degree/learning an instrument/learning another language/actually writing that book I always wanted to write I'd probably be rich by now". I read the book before I decided to try for a kid and I had embraced the idea long before I read the book but I also think I had fused the two in my head a long time ago. That having a kid could in many ways be seen as playing a game. I made the comparison to Tamagotchi in a post once, and mentioned then that I obviously understand that having an actual child is a lot more serious than "just" playing a game. After all it's another person we're talking about here, not my personal object of entertainment. Unlike a game, a kid is not something to give attention to when you feel like it and ignore when you don't. Nerdraging and rage quitting are not options you should consider. Rather than seeing child-raising as a game, I tried to think about how game-playing could affect my interactions with my child.

If you think about it, they do have a lot in common. There are things you do in games that aren't in themselves particularly fun but that you do anyway because the overall goal is worth it (ie grinding for an item). In the same way there are things you need to do with a child that aren't in themselves particularly fun but that you do anyway because it makes you happy to see your child happy (ie change diaper, read the same book/play the same game for the hundredth time). Most importantly, gaming requires a lot of patience. After having died 150 times to the same boss (yes, it happens), after having failed with the same platforming jump for the 30th time, after having spent 20 minutes on trying to crack a puzzle - having fun will give you the patience you need to give it another go.

Having a 1,5 year old, I realize that whether I say "yes" or "no" about something really comes down to patience. No I don't have the patience to make sure you don't break these things, so I'm not going to let you see them. No I don't have the patience for this to take three times more time, so I am not going to let you "help" me. No I don't have the patience to make sure you don't hurt yourself, so I am not going to let you go there. I decided early on I wanted to avoid saying no to my son just because I didn't have the patience to do it. I wanted my "no's" to mean something to him, hopefully making him understand that when I do say no, it's because it really means no, not because mommy doesn't feel like it. And dealing with a child really requires immense amounts of patience. Even if they're completely well behaved they can require so much energy. It also requires so much more patience since you're dealing with someone who has no concept of time and has very little patience of his/her own.

That's why I figured I would probably do us both a favor if I tried to make things more fun, for myself and for him. It definitely helps that I have the time to not have to rush things, I imagine it'll be a new challenge once I am pressed for time, trying to get to work while getting kid and everything else ready (that'll probably be matters for a future post). But now I have the time to let him help out with cleaning, in fact he has so much fun doing something I find quite boring, it gets more fun for me to do as well. Because he loves watering the plants it actually gets done every now and then, I used to forget about it until my plants started turning dangerously yellow (I am sorry!). Because he loves throwing things in the bin we don't have crumpled papers (like receipts) lying around anymore (and have sadly lost some other things when not looking). We can make a game out of putting away things when you're done with them, getting dressed, brushing your teeth (works some of the time at least), sweeping the floor (he loves that too). If he is having fun with it, I don't have to see it as a chore and it's a lot easier to have patience and energy for it. And to be fair I might as well make the most of it while he thinks it's fun, because I am pretty sure that won't last for much longer.

And obviously not everything is fun and games all the time. I can't have my kid help me with everything (like cleaning the toilet) and I can't be available 100% of the time (he still doesn't really get why I need to go to the bathroom). But the mindset definitely helps offsetting a lot of frustration.

In essence, I think games have taught me not to see an unhappy child as an obstacle but as a challenge, an opportunity for me to learn something and maybe try something different. They have helped me to keep my focus on the goal rather than to feel stuck at a problem, knowing that eventually I will get to the reward even if it feels like hard work at the moment. Those countless wipes in WoW definitely helped me forge that way of thinking and I actually think it has helped me in my everyday life.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Top 5 Video Game Music Composers

A question asked way too rarely is - what kind of music are you into? Everyone loves to go on about their favorite music band, but a lot less people like to hear about it, unless they happen to love that same band (which is almost never the case). However, let's assume someone hypothetically asked me this question - I may even dare say it's actually happened once or twice during my lifetime - what would I tell them?
I could tell them I enjoy listening to everything from Prokofiev to Bj√∂rk to Prodigy to Kate Bush to Frank Zappa to Infected Mushroom to Busta Rhymes to electro swing to whatever this is but frankly they would've probably got stuck on "Pro... what?". A much easier way for me to keep their interest, or at least sum up what kind of music I'm really into in as few words as possible is for me to simply say - video game music.

Now "video game music" in itself is a confusing term since there is a huge difference between music from say Super Mario Bros and Mass Effect. Then there's also Bitpop and Chiptunes which is music made with the same "instruments" as video games to varying degrees, but that doesn't actually feature in any video game. Some video game music we like for nostalgic reasons and some we like because they're just simply damn awesome. This is a list I've been wanting to write for some time now, because I feel like Video Game Composers often don't get half the recognition they deserve. Most people know the names of a dozen artists they dislike only because they're mentioned every ten seconds on the radio, but can only mention Nobuo Uematsu when you ask them about VGM, eventhough they might love the music from so many more. I'm not saying I'm much better unfortunately, but I've really been trying to improve. This is one way to do it, I guess. This has been a challenging post for me though, mostly because I've needed to limit myself, like a lot. The Top 5 was pretty easy for me to do, but to then grab only a handful of songs to represent those people! Almost impossible...

In the name of fairness I will mention that the people on this list haven't necessarily done work on these songs on their own, sometimes it's in collaboration with other artists. But they're listed as the main creator, as far as I know.

5. Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka
Hirokazu Tanakas music perfectly encapsulates something that I've always had the utmost respect for regarding the whole 8-bit era - the ability to create something brilliant from such limited technology. Although 8-bit games are not among my favorites to play (with some few exceptions) for reasons I can only speculate about, I've always been fascinated in how these people could squeeze out so much from so little and the inventiveness that must lie behind it. I am very happy to see a throwback to those days in the new indie-scene but obviously there is never anything like the original style. Hip Tanakas does with music what the game designers did with programming - he manages to make music, some that I am sure you've all heard by now, easy to listen to, recognizable and charming with what limited capabilities the NES sound chip had, keeping it brilliant in its simplicity and in something that sounds like it squeezed every last drop of energy from the sound chip. With only a few notes he manages to make anyone smile or just wanna get up and dance. It's so great because it's so minimalistic and yet makes you feel like it fits the game perfectly.

4. Nobuo Uematsu
I have something of a love-hate relationship with Nobuo Uematsus work. On the one hand he can bring me close to tears with the pieces I have a connection to, ie the music from the FF (or Chrono Trigger) games that I have played. On the other hand, I feel nothing for his music if I haven't played the game it's connected to. I'm not sure what to make of that. He clearly manages to create very catchy tunes, but they're not much outside their setting. They basically need the surrounding and the story for you to understand their greatness, they live off of bringing you back to those places. They are brilliant at being memorable, but only if you have a memory of them. For instance, I think basically every tune on the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack is amazing. And since I've played almost every Final Fantasy I am a pretty big fan of any of those soundtracks as well. But he's done a lot of work I don't care much for, like the Final Fantasy spin-offs (Chrystal Chronicles comes to mind, Blue Dragon). But there is no denying that Uematsu is probably the VGM creator I've listened the most to and I hold his work in very high regard.

3. Naoki Kodaka
Although I only discovered this composer recently and aside from Blaster Master never played any of the games he's composed for I immediately fell in love with this fantastic piece of music. How can you listen to that and not turn your speakers up to max and start bopping your head? Impossible I say. And it's not an isolated event either. Or this. You know in fact, just go listen to the Journey to Silius soundtrack and you will know what I mean, otherwise I'll just end up linking the entire thing here. And yes, that is a NES sound chip you're listening to. If you think Journey to Silius is the only time he got it right (because you're crazy and didn't like the Blaster Master tune), let me prove you wrong. Kodaka manages to create music that make the game seem unworthy. He is a perfect example of what I mean when I talk about video Game Composers that deserve more recognition because all this really good music deserves to get listened to a lot more than just when someone happens to stumble upon the game. So go listen to them.

2. Michiru Yamane
Michiru Yamane is most famous for her Castlevania music (although the music for the first Castlevania on the NES was actually done by another woman, Kinuyo Yamashita), but she also did work on the soundtracks of the Rocket Knight games and Contra: Hard Corps to mention a few. Michirus Castlevania music is some of the very first VGM I got really into listening to, that was long before I even played any of the games myself (which I didn't really do until just last year). So even without any nostalgic connection to the music I was immediately hooked by the tunes. I think a big reason for my love of her Castlevania music especially (although the Contra: Hard Corps music is epic as well) is that I am big fan of classical music and this strikes the same chord within me. Her tunes manage to capture the essence of the game and bring out the exact right mood while also being fantastic tunes just on their own.
Like I mentioned I've since played a couple Castlevanias, mostly the handheld ones (GBA & DS). I've decided to save what I think might be the best for last - Symphony of the Night. And this song that is actually my mobile phone ring signal at the moment. Now if that isn't proof of love, I don't know what is.

1. Yuzo Koshiro
The main reason Yuzo Koshiro ends up as number one in this list (because frankly, it's been damn difficult to grade) is because his music always makes me think "why is this music so damn good?". Somehow the music he creates manages to feel like it perfectly fits the game it's in without in any way falling into the obvious tropes of music creation (like bongo drums on the jungle stage). Koshiro has his own inventive and very recognizable style that just makes me go "hells yeah!" when I hear it. How does this not make you want to punch faces with rage. Yet there is no no agressiveness in the tune, just pure upbeat to get your blood pumping. Even when you start thinking a tune is nothing special he just puts something in there to pique your interest and make you go "oh? This is cool!". There is just so much in each tune to listen to, they're almost stories in their own right.
Here, still recognizable yet with a completely different feel to it. And you know shit got real when you hear something like this.

I'd love to hear what VGM you like listening to, if any!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Best of 2014 Gaming No-Shows

I stumbled upon a Swedish PC Gamer magazine from early 2014 the other day (practically a relic by now) and found a big list of games to look forward to in the upcoming year, that is 2014. As I read through it for the second time, I recalled reading it a year ago and reading about some games that I got really interested in but never heard from again. As the year passed and my brain got filled with other stuff, so did these tiny fragments of information get pushed out for other ones. Re-reading it however I got curious as to what had happened to these no-shows. Had I simply missed their release, were they delayed (as seems to be the cool thing to do among game developers nowadays) or did they just vanish into obscurity? Here's my pick for the best 2014 no-shows;

This point-and-click adventure game caught my attention when I saw that it was created by none other than Doug TenNapel, the guy behind Earthworm Jim and The Neverhood. That's got to be interesting, right? I don't know much about The Neverhood except that it has a pretty cool soundtrack and an even cooler graphics style in claymation (love claymation!). Armikrog looks to follow this idea and looks a lot like The Neverhood. It was said to be released in July 2014 in my magazine, but the homepage now states a release for 2015, though not further specified when. At least it seems to still be in the works, but it also looks a bit like another Kickstarter take-foreverer (that's a word). It's also worth noting that the Wikipage says that Rob Paulsen, whom my bf has a huge man-crush on, will do one of the voices in the game. Rob Paulsen being the guy who voiced Raphael (1987 TMNT), for some inexplacable reason Donatello (2012 TMNT) and Pinky in Pinky & The Brain.

I swear something is behind you! -

A Hat in Time
I only mention this platformer because it takes its inspiration from some games I think are really cool, like Banjo & Kazooie and every other 3D platformer on the N64 basically. Otherwise I'm not so fond of platformers, but the N64 era is just special to me for some reason. There is something about that blocky graphics... A Hat in Time seems to smoothen out the graphics a bit but I swear some of the animations look like they're taken directly from Mario 64. Although my magazine says it was to be released in Q1 of 2014 this game is still in its Alpha build. There has been talks about a release on the WiiU but as of now it's only been greenlit for a Steam-release. Apparently initial previews have been positive so I am definitely still looking forward to this.

Suits on the beach? That's crazy! -

Hyper Light Drifter
HPL (as I am going to call it because I am lazy) is another one of those games that owned it's own Kickstarter and got more than 23 times the money they were asking for. No wonder, just reading the first few lines about it on Wiki makes me reach for my wallet;

"The game is a homage to 8-bit and 16-bit games of the late 20th century, and is considered a combination of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Diablo. ".

Unfortunately, all the extra money expanded the game enough to force the developers to delay it for more than a year. Health issues also came into play. Not much you can do about that, just keep your fingers cross this baby is as awesome as it seems to have potential to be.

Pixel graphics at its best -

This is just the kind of game I could sink endless hours into. It's about building colonies and it is set in space. I love it already. This one is actually on Steam (yay!), albeit in an Early Access form (boo!). The initial reviews are mixed, which I am going to put down to it being in EA, without even reading them. I am definitely going to keep my eye on this game, but it still seems far from complete.

First thing to do, get better lighting -

Radio the Universe
I can't find much more information on this top-down sci-fi RPG than this other article from PC Gamer from early January this year stating that it is indeed still around. People are falling between hope and despair however because of how silent the creator has been and how little progress there seems to have been made. By the looks of it it's expected somewhere in the middle of 2015, but I think it's probably best to not hold your breath. I really hope this isn't going to be another one of the Kickstarter failures, because it really does look like fun.

Missiles on the dance floor? -

This isometric 2D adventure game reminds me of some classics like Planescape: Torment and the Fallout games. According to its homepage it will also be scored by Mark Morgan who did work on Fallout and Wasteland 2. It's still in development and seems pretty open with its progress, so I've got high hopes that this will come to a release. Cleverly enough, no release date has been set on the homepage however, so it's yet another wait and see (or wait and forget about in my case).

Seriously though, why so dark? -

The world doesn't seem to be for want of awesome gaming ideas, nor the money or people with money to create them. What really seems to be lacking is the actual people creating the games (which is interesting considering I know so many who say they want to be game designers). Another lesson that should've been learned by now is to never underestimate how much time and work it takes to complete a game, this seems to be a mistake that far too many game developers do all the way from the one man studio to the big AAA game developers. It still baffles me how, especially the game developers who by now should know better (I am looking at you EA and Ubisoft), they still either release incomplete products and hope no one will notice (?) or push the release date over and over again. Wouldn't it just be best to give yourself more time and if you happen to complete it sooner you'll make everyone happy, rather than make everyone disappointed with the opposite? I don't know, seems like simple logics to me (although I realize it's probably not that simple in the world of money).

Friday, February 6, 2015

To WoW or not to WoW

So I started playing WoW again. I had decided somewhere in november, actually just after the release of Warlords of Draenor, that I was going to make a come back come the new year. My bf was sceptical, worried that I might get sucked in when I don't really have that much time to put into playing anymore. I was worried as well, not that I might neglect my daily chores but that I'd neglect other games. Because that was the one issue I always had with WoW - it was all or nothing with that game. Every other game had to step back. So when I finally took the step to quit, a process that in itself took several months for me to actually go through with from first thoughts to cancellation of account, it was sad but also somewhat relieving. I would finally have time to play other games.If I felt that WoW ever made me miss out on anything, it would be that. It was worth it of course, I regret very few things about WoW. Some harsh words said on occasion perhaps, but not the time invested.

When I heard that the new expansion was everything everyone had hoped for (albeit the launch was a shamble as always) and a bit more, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to jump back in. I knew of course that all the things that had made me quit in the first place were still a factor. The fact that I don't have time to raid, the fact that most people I used to play with don't anymore or that I don't really have contact with them anymore. But I thought I had come to a point where I could go in and not need those things anymore. Turns out I was right and wrong.

I remember back when I started playing WoW, it was definitely the social aspect that got me hooked. I got interested because the game is very well designed and extremely rewarding to play, but what made me stay for 8 years and countless hours (seriously) were the people and the interaction - the good and even the bad times. Early on I didn't have those things yet, I was just another scrub questing around I recall playing for an hour or so and feeling like I was done, like I was bored and wanted to do something else. In my heyday I could literally play all day and not be bored because there was always something to do with someone. This "someone" was the key, I realize now. Even if I did random dungeons on lowbie alts with strangers, it was still the interaction with the group I enjoyed. I loved tanking or healing, because making the party run smoothly was the whole challenge to me. Even if we never said a word to eachother (which rarely happened, I loved to chatter), the silent actions of people spoke plenty.

With changes, streamlining and simplifying many things a lot of the challenge for me disappeared. As I've said many times before, I never felt like these changes made WoW a bad game, but we've grown apart. When I saw other social aspects around me going away as well I felt like WoW had turned into just another game to me - and as such one I had spent way too much time on. It was time to move on and try other things.

But I missed it terribly. The olden golden days of raiding, sure. All the fun in guild chat, of course. But mostly just running around in Tirisfal Glades and listening to the ambient music. Swimming in the waters outside of Stranglethorn Vale and killing pirates. Questing in Howling Fjord. I miss Shimmering Flats, Desolace, Duskwood, Blasted Lands, Zul'drak, Barrens and almost every other place in the game (Borean Tundra not so much). I wanted to go back and reminisce about old times the same way you go back to where you grew up as a kid and think about all the fun you had running around in the fields, forests and playgrounds. Although I don't need those things anymore, I want to go back and remember what it was like. For this, WoW is still brilliant, although I am a bit sad that Cataclysm had to change so much of Azeroth.

In every other aspect however, WoW has failed to draw me in. I can see how the Garrison is addictive, and sending your followers on missions is definitely fun. Questing is still an entertaining past-time, but I still feel instancing is too easy to be very rewarding. Raiding, even LFR is still something I just don't have time with, and frankly the thought of LFR (which is the only raiding option for me) doesn't attract me at all. The fact that WoW doesn't make it easy for you to just up and leave at any moment makes it further difficult for me to find a good time to play. They've made a couple of changes to the game that I find quite neat though, like the rare mobs you can find around the map and the way you get loot in instances. I can see what everyone loves so much about it, but somehow I just feel like I am part of it anymore. It reminds me of when I tried other MMOs while playing WoW. Be it Guild Wars, Guild Wars 2, Warhammer Online - I always felt like I was a visitor. WoW was home, I knew that place inside and out. Every other game was like going on vacation - at first you were excited about all the new things and how they did things differently, but I always ended up missing my own bed to sleep in. To me I get that same feeling of being a stranger when playing WoW now. Like I don't really belong.

Now I am torn between two places - the one that wants to leave and the one that wants to stay. Now I log in maybe every third day, send some followers on a mission, do some quests, maybe an instance if I have time (with 30 min queue time that is rarely so). I don't feel like I need WoW as a game. But I do feel like I need WoW as a memory. I still want to be able to log in just to be able to walk around areas and relax. I need WoW as a place to visit. There is no other game I can do that in.  Does that warrant the monthly fee though? I haven't decided yet.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

My Gaming Highlights of 2014

Merry belated Christmas everyone (where applicable) and happy new year as well. I have not made any new years resolutions actually, in fact I think I rarely do. I'm not sure if it's because I don't feel like there is anything I need to change or improve on or because I know I won't stick to it anyway. So how was my 2014? On a personal note, just splendid. The son has been growing like weed, and although not always easy to handle all in all a great kid. It's been loads of fun to see his own little personality starting to emerge and in general we have a really good time together. Although he doesn't speak yet, he is quite good at communicating his wants through facial expressions and gestures and he is at the age where he wants to touch and play with exactly everything he sees.

My year could've ended better however. We spent 1,5 week at my dads, and the son must've picked some bug up at the airport. The first night after arriving he started vomiting in the middle of the night and although he was fine the day after, my boyfriend got sick with the same thing two days later. Then me two days after that, my dad two days after me and my dads girlfriend held out the longest and didn't get sick until on new years eve, lucky her. It's a pretty funny story now that it's over and done with, but the rest of us did not recuperate as quickly as the baby and it obviously meant we basically had to cancel all our plans, like me meeting a childhood friend of mine. Even still, we had a nice. Just not all at the same time.

Must touch everything...

I calculated that I bought about 88 games in 2014. When I had tallied it all up I just sighed to myself. What am I going to do with 88 games? And that's 88 games just this year, that's not even taking into account all the games I bought 2013 that I haven't gotten around to playing yet. But you know, it can't hurt. Or at least that is what I think every time I see a game at a bargain, because almost all games were bought pretty cheaply. Let's look at some of the ones that I am more excited about;

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
This was the year I decided to finally get into playing some of the Castlevania games. Eventhough I have always been a fan of the series, especially the music, I had never played a game until this year. Don't ask me why, I guess I never really considered it my kind of game. At the moment I have played all the games on the GBA and a couple on the DS but Circle of the Moon is still my favorite out of the handheld ones that I've played. We'll see if Symphony of the Night beats it when I get around to trying it sometime this year.

Whoooppa! (ie the sound a whip makes) -

System Shock 2
Although I haven't finished it yet, I can already say that this is a great game. If you haven't played it I couldn't recommend it more if you have even the slightest interest in fps, sci-fi or horror games. I had heard so many good things about it and since sci-fi horror are one of my favorite genres I decided I needed to try it. I am not disappointed, it was in fact a lot more fun than I had imagined.

I had never really played a stealth game before I tried Thief, but I guess this was a good choice for a first game in the genre because daym is it fun. It's obviously not very realistic, but I don't care a single bit when it manages to make you feel so cool as a proffesional shadow sneaker instead. It's one of those games (as the other classics on this list) that manages to make you feel clever without holding your hand. That is some great level design right there.

Ugly zombies are creepy too -

Deus Ex
I guess this could be summarized as the year when I got around to realizing what everyone else had already known for years. Deus Ex is another game that everyone said was so great and I felt like I needed to finally give it a shot. Yes, I can confirm. It is loads of fun. The platforming isn't as well programmed as in System Shock 2, but fortunately there isn't that much of it and a quick save function makes the constant ladder falls at least a tiny bit less infuriating. Everything else is awesome.

Darkout / Steam Marines
Two vastly different indie games that I recommend checking out if you're looking for something to play. Darkout is similar to Terraria, but with a very different feel to it - darker (obviously) and overall more interesting if you ask me with tons to craft and dig out. Steam Marines is a nice little rogue like, which was still in early access when I played it. I guess yet again the sci-fi setting got me interested and it was already fun enough to keep me playing for hours.

Googling Koudelka was a surprise -

I haven't got around to playing this game yet, but I was so happy to get my hands on it on an auction site. I've been wanting to play this game for years.

And in 2015...
Already sometime in November I decided that 2015 was going to be the year when I venture back into World of Warcraft, however long for. Literally everyone I spoke to about Warlords of Draenor that had tried it said "it's so much fun, you should really try it". Obviously I got incredibly curious. Maybe this could be the perfect opportunity for me to check out some WoW before I go back to work again?
So yesterday (2 of January) I set everything up. I bought the expansion, I downloaded the game. Today I subscribed for a month and logged on for the first time in 1,5 years. I had left Zinn flying in Hinterlands, poor girl. For a while I didn't even really know what to do first. I got the quest to speak to Khadgar, but I wanted to sort out my UI a bit. I didn't really remember which addons I was using at the time I quit or if I still wanted those, but after I had sorted something out and flown to the Dark Portal I decided that the questing could wait a bit. Instead I logged onto a warrior alt and tanked a Violet Hold just to see if I still had the tanking flow in me. I did (although in all honesty, you could smack your face against the keyboard and still succesfully tank Violet Hold). After that I didn't really feel all that enthusiastic about anything and logged off.

I think my problem, if I can call it that, is that my main - Zinn, the priest, isn't really a questing character. In the past when I've done the tedious questing as disc or even holy it's been with the promise of raiding at max level as motivation. I could go as shadow, but it's actually not sounding all that fun to me right now. But Zinn doesn't have to be my first character to max level of course, I don't have to experience the quest chain the first time on her. That's just sentamentality telling me that. Instead I think I will try it out on another character, probably my mage. Or maybe I will start a new character and level about a bit like I used to love doing.

To be frank I am happy this is my first reaction to the game, because I was worried it would be "too much" fun. The fact that I can take a step away from it and feel like I want to do something else is exactly how I wanted it to be, just like I feel about anything else I do. But, that might just be because I spent some 30 minutes gaming and haven't actually gotten into any of the fun stuff yet. Time will tell.

So how was your 2014 and what are you hoping to get from 2015? Either way, I hope we all have an awesome year!