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Caffeinated Saturday, Episode 07

September 2, 2013

The Big Update – Fall 2013

– As usual, I’ve gone MONTHS without posted. So it’s time, once again for a Big Update.

– I will note that I have actually been posting a /lot/ on Twitter (@torethril). More than anything, it’s an exercise in brevity, something I desperately need (in case you couldn’t tell). It’s worked really well; forcing me to condense my thoughts for the sake of easy consumption. In fact, when I interviewed at a big company in 2011 (and was given a job offer), it was under the condition that I learn how to shorten what I have to say. The boss told me that I take too long to explain things, that workers would get frustrated with me, so they would hire me only if I can promise to learn to shorten things up. Hah. That’s why I started using Twitter.

– Fair warning – this is a dump of fairly random notes that have accumulated over the past /year/ or so – so it’s going to have no structure and the writing will be inconsistent as hell.

– This will probably be the largest, messiest post that I’ve made to date. I’ve been dropping little thoughts on random games I’ve played over the past year into various files, and this is “go through my files Sunday” (something I do once a year, or so), and it’s time to finally bust open those notes so I can delete the files. SOME of this may be reposts, or just additions to old posts – but I need to move these blurbs somewhere, it might as well be here!

Age of Wonders III
– I’m getting very excited about this game! I’ve seen some overworld videos, and an in-depth battle play-through. It retains everything that I enjoyed about the first three games, and just ups the graphics. Sweet! I will definitely be preordering this.

On the other hand…

Fallen Enchantress
– This game basically aimed at being what AoWIII will be, and failed. It started off as the massive facepalm called Elemental, and was entirely rebuilt into this game.

X-COM Enemy Unknown
– I played and quite quickly beat the X-Com remake. I’ve got to say, I liked it quite a bit. It had its problems and quirks, but overall one of the best games of 2013. My close friend Megagit has the collector’s edition, but hasn’t played it yet; ironically I met him in 1998 because he was the webmaster of an X-Com website. <shrug> He even programmed an unofficial sequel / remake of the original that he planned on selling, and eventually released for free before completely giving up on games.

One thing that I really liked about X-Com, was after you beat it it gave you some stats on your gameplay in comparison to other players, globally…

Some things that I learned from the X-COM completion statistics:
I am average at battle.
I am quicker at almost all planning events – often accomplishing a number of tasks in half the time.
I am a science completionist, with all objectives complete, which is uncommon / rare.
I am quite a bit more conscientious about diplomatic relations and infrastructure.
I am more efficient in production – I produced fewer facilities and items, producing only 50-70% of the average.

None of that really surprised me, I definitely look for efficiency in winning a game anymore, and unlocking science and technology in games is always one of my quirks (Civ games, Master of Orion, etc).

– I really wanted to like this game… But… it’s a MOBA game… so, it comes down to a few good moments of teamwork and/or ganking, and otherwise one side very slowly getting more gold/exp/whatever and slowly grinding the other team into bone dust. And I really do mean /slowly/. The rate at which a match is won or lost is agonizingly slow – a common problem with MOBA games. however unlike RTS games (from which MOBA games spawned) you cannot gracefully retire from battle, and save yourself the gut-wrenching, keyboard-breaking, or madness-inducing BOREDOME of being _spawn camped_ by grossly overpowered opponents. In fact, Awesomenauts takes it to a new level – it not only gives you nothing for “retiring”, but punishes you by not letting you earn rewards in the next match. Holy shit… Uninstalled and I didn’t look back.

Baldur’s Gate: Enchanced Edition
– I originally linked an announcement for it (from July 2012), but that was a YEAR ago. That just goes to show how ANCIENT some of these scraps and notes are. Nevertheless, the game has since been released, reviewed, and universally panned. I’m surprised, and disappointed that it didn’t live up to the hype. What all of the reviewers said could be summarized as: “Buy the original, get some mods.” There’s also a video floating around of an “HD” remix of Baldur’s Gate II that I’m VERY interested in, however I _highly_ doubt it will come to pass given the amount of animation work required to rebuild the ENTIRE game. It would be far too much to ask of any fans and hobbyists. This is incredible work, and REALLY makes Irenicus seem like the ultimate badass.

DVDFab & Ideal DVD Copy
– I like to stream my movies from my main computer. The reason why, is we can chain movies on lazy days, and it’s far easier to cruise our movie collection that way. I had been looking for a good way to rip my movies, and DVDFab has been the best choice by far, until recently. A few movies that it couldn’t copy we found Ideal DVD Copy could manage. Thumbs up for either software suite. DVDFab has more tools, but Ideal DVD Copy has very rarely failed to rip a movie.
[EDIT 12/18/2013: I’ve found out that DVDFab has a free to use package that lets users rip an unlimited number of movies, and other than recent Disney movies, I don’t think I’ve found one movie in the past few months that it couldn’t take care of.]

The Secret World (TSW)
– I had a feeling that this game would end up being very “meh”. It looks like it would have made a very compelling single player game, with the “detective”-style quests and the insano amount of abilities you get, but what I’ve read here makes me quite certain that the game does not encourage players to group together. Everyone will be out on their own “mystery” to solve, and no one will want to help their friends solve their own mysteries. This is going to be another one of Funcom’s niche MMOs that eventually goes F2P, assuming it won’t be on launch. I might install it and play it, just to say I played it – but I won’t be expecting much.

Cheating in online PC games (in particular, FPS games)
This, quite simply, is why I will never, ever play another competitive multiplayer FPS on the PC in my life. Ever. It’s a shame, because the FPS genre originated on the PC, and I’d say single player games are best played on PC due to how connected the mouse input is and the power of PCs, in comparison to console controllers and graphics, respectively. Yet, PCs are also far easier and cheaper to “hack”. The fact of the matter is, hacking is insanely prevalent in PC FPS shooters. This is why I only play them on the console.

Bullet Storm killed by piracy, yeah right
Piracy and poor PC port killed this game? If that’s true, then developers need to start reading gaming sites and forums – Games for Windows Live and other absolutely insane forms of DRM _drive_ players to pirate games. Not that I advocate piracy, but I believe that it’s a sin to punish paying players with draconian DRM, while non-paying pirates get to enjoy the game DRM-free.

Deus Ex – Human Revolution – Extra Notes (err… complaints)
I’ve already written a review of the game (a very hostile one, at that), but I had some notes kicking around that I forgot to post. 🙂
– Super soldier with 11 rounds of ammo? They spend BILLIONS on his bionics, but can’t stop by Walmart to get him a few bullets?
-Having to pilfer through closets and shit of an office building for bullets? What is this, Resident Evil?
– Takedowns are stylish, but I don’t feel like I’m the one doing it. I’m not asking for QTE (quick time events), but it feels a bit disconnected from gameplay. And having to _eat a fucking snickers_ before you do a take-down? Jesus fucking Christ, you serious? Yeah, the new cyborg in town can’t do more than TWO take-downs in a row without having to recharge with a snickers or a bag of chips. Hypoglycemic little bitch.
– 3rd person to 1st person switcheroo – this is a bit dizzying at first, but probably the only way they could have retained the 1st person feel of the first two games while keeping with the modern status quo of being a cover-shooter. I still think a full 3rd person game would have been more appropriate, even though it would have given the game too much of a Splinter Cell feel, I guess. And maybe that is the comparison they were trying to avoid. Or maybe they were avoiding a far fetched, but believable Metal Gear Solid comparison. I mean, you are afterall sneaking around in vents and trying to get to your objective without alerting soldiers. It’s just missing a cardboard box, shitty writing, and big exclamation points. Oh, and anime hair.
– Performance is ridiculously sub-par, especially given that the graphics look like they are from 2005. I’ve seen much better looking original XBox games.
– I was so excited about this game before it came out, mostly due to a superb trailer. I hate it when companies pump out CGI teaser vids that aren’t anything like the actual game.

Adam Sessler’s rants
– Apparently Adam Sessler got fired (or quit?) from G4. The fact of the matter is, I think he’s one of the VERY few literate, eloquent, and passionate advocates of the medium. His rants are worth listening to, even if (I should say, ESPECIALLY if) you disagree with him.

Terraria’s Final Update
– It’s been said that Terraria will no longer be updated. Shame, really. That was one of my favorite games of the past few years, even /with/ its problems. Well, it’s about time I guess, thanks for the fish.

Realm of the Mad God
– Jeeze, this game really makes me wish I had been a game developer. It actually has my creative juices flowing… I may learn VB to see if I can’t create a stick-figure game of my dreams. It’s all about the gameplay people.

ASC (Anti Sanctus Chaotica), my old Warhammer Online guild has fallen apart
– /sarcastic: Big shocker, really. I still have screenshots of the huge war that broke out after one of their non-leader officers* (NLO) blasted everyone’s PERSONAL email with a long dissertation on how to pronounce his ridiculous, make-believe video game name. Hugely ironic: he was corrected on HIS pronunciation. Anyway, I got upset and I posted, as did MANY others. I use that email for work (several jobs no less!), for school, and for family business. It is NOT to be used for some 19-year old goth nerd that lives in his mom’s basement (TRUE STORY) to tell me how to pronounce his play-time make-believe name. Of course, having officer privileges, he could censor people on the forum. He deleted my post (but didn’t delete someone’s reply to me which included ALL of my post! whoops), and I won’t stand for censorship in a hobby. We are there to have fun, to have a good time, and not only was he wrecking it because of his ego, but he was censoring those of us who were unhappy with his behavior. I quit outright, but first I sent a fairly scathing email to the GM. They had recently merged with another large guild – the leader of that merger guild started a flame war on the forum and quit the guild – taking his members with him. The guild fell apart very rapidly after that, I think if nothing else because the GM felt grossly embarrassed about the NLO’s behavior. Apparently there were sporadic posts over the years since then, but the majority of the activity took a dive. <shrug>

– I quit playing Warhammer Online after that anyway, as the game wasn’t fun, and I was only staying in it because of the guild. I only returned once for a very short return to check out the F2P mode. It still runs like ass, the gameplay is WoW-Lite, and the PvP is imbalanced, laggy, and uninteresting.

*Non-leader officer: Someone that has been given an officer rank and privileges in an MMO guild, but does not exhibit any leadership traits. It’s very common in MMOs for relatives, real life friends, coworkers, and long-time members to be statutorily promoted to officer, regardless of their ability to lead others or manage guild affairs. It’s like promoting your buddy Tom to assistant manager, even if all he does is sit around watching others work, picking his nose, and cussing at employees and customers.

World of Warcraft: Talent Trees going full circle
– WoW seems to be moving past the entire Talent Tree system it pioneered with Diablo II, and reverting to a handful of choices. Blizzard’s design philosophy has come full circle. At first, there were no talent trees. Then, with 1.08 the “simple” 31 point talent trees were introduced… then, more sophisticated 41 points in BC. Then, a staggering 51 point system with Wrath. It was stupid the number with countless inane, useless talents to figure out. Ultimately, only a few talents in any 51 point tree were even worth worrying about. So, with Cataclysm it was trimmed back down to a much more managable 31 points… just like it was in 2005. And finally, with the upcoming expansion the “Talent Tree” will be reduced to SIX choices the player makes. That’s right, there really won’t be talent “trees” at all -players will just be picking a few flavor choices, very few of which are specifically geared towards any particular gameplay style.
– I think this is rather brilliant, because it allows Blizzard to focus on other things that /matter/; rather than inventing, tweaking, nerfing, buffing, and reinventing those asinine little turds. The only negative that I can think of, is that other MMO / RPG developers will be afraid to embrace this system, since they’d be copying WoW /again/, in a fairly pathetic me-too arms race for market share. The plagiarism would be too obvious, and they’d be afraid of being called out on it. It’s better to copy the Warcraft of yester-year and retain some kind of hipster cred, I guess, than to copy a current model that actually works. I see this happen in almost every single MMO that I’ve played, especially the ones that plagiarize excessively (e.g. SWTOR).

Guild Wars 2
– I haven’t played much GW2 lately, even though the devs have been adding incredible amounts of solid content to it. I’m not too entirely sure why, other than none of the characters really click with me the way a WoW Druid did. With each of my toons in GW2 I “miss” abilities from another toon – I always feel like I’m missing out. Plus, just like any other MMO, it does require quite the investment to do just about anything fun, once you’ve seen most of the open world content.
– WvW still has the most potential of any PvP system I have played. This could’ve been the only content in all of Guild Wars 2 and I would probably still have bought it. It’s almost impossible to convey the scope of this semi-open-world zone that 3 sides of massive numbers of players battle over. It’s like having 20 old-school Alterac Valleys all lumped together.
– I love that you can create a character from scratch of any class and be playing at max-level PvP with it in under 5 minutes. Entering the PvP area of the game, via an icon in the menu temporarily gives you the full stats and gear of a level 80 PvP god–so everyone’s on the same level in a fight. Also, having a games browser that lets you hop in and out of matches like an online shooter is amazing–why hasn’t everyone done this by now? This should be STANDARD in MMOs.
-Is GW2 Fun?
It’s not only “fun”, it has been for me the most enjoyable MMO that I have played to date – excepting some outstanding Vanilla raids.
– Overflow servers ( Probably the most brilliant, but obvious idea that had NEVER been implemented in MMOs. This is something that could have worked in Ultima Online, or better yet, EverQuest (since it has “zones”). God Bless for being willing to implement OBVIOUS improvements in the medium / genre.

Rift and the Illusion of Choice
– I jumped back into Rift F2P recently (August?) just to poke around. It still runs like absolute shit on my machine, but it looks pretty… even for an EverQuest 2 clone (thematically and visually speaking). It’s still too complicated to play casually, as it’s basiclaly a dollar-store remix of Warcraft – in terms of core gameplay.
– I’ve already talked about that lame Adventure thingo. I had a few new notes on that. What I didn’t talk about that was the introduction of prefabricated “best” talent specs. Once you hit level cap you can spend your xp on some new, non-talent tree. So, it’s really nothing more than /another/ talent tree. EverQuest II did the same thing, /half a decade ago/. As per GhostCrawler’s recent (and very revealing) post about Catalcysm, talent trees are kind of stupid by the time you get to end-game. There is always a right build and everything else is basically wrong. While the pre-fabricated talent builds Rift offers each class is a BIG step forward, simply cutting past the foreplay of theorycrafting and math, and just telling us what the ideal builds are for specific roles. Yet, this only helps illustrate the point that talent trees are an obsolete idea – a quaint, over-used, copy-paste idea. It’s just a confession to the fact that talent trees really don’t offer much choice – they only offer the illusion of choice. At least in Rift players can mix and match minor souls for a bit of flavor. Nevertheless in a raid or PvP environment I’m sure everything in Rift gets “mathed” down to the optimal build for every class-role combination.

– Ilussion of choice links in gaming (just a few that I found):

B.F. Skinner boxes
– I’ll let you look it up. My version is: the use of positive reinforcement (giving you something you like) to get you to perform a repetative activity. This is becoming a common theme in many games, at the very least in the form of achievements / trophies. In a more sinister way, some games (MMOs in particular) use it as a business model to keep players addicted and paying for years, or decades (we are past ten years of Ultima Online and EverQuest!). These Skinner boxes are essentially just a method to add Value to a game.

– Yet, some find it therapeutic? I think the majority of WoW players that I know were living examples of a gaming Skinner box test subject. They push the button, they get the reward, and they repeat this action until it becomes a conditioned behavior, to the point of becoming a /lifestyle/. I’ve got to admit, sometimes I just want to get +1 stat to whatever imaginary stat my character has, if nothing else to waste my time a little bit better than /sleeping during the day/; so I’ve fallen into that same trap before. Nevertheless I think it’s a fairly cheap mechanic that developers like Blizzard are abusing.

Value – The New Kid On the Scene
– The term “value” is relatively new, I’d like to believe, when being applied to gaming. The notion is, you are getting more value out of a product if you get more play time out of it. The basic rhetoric emphasizes volume, and can be expressed with the following example: a $50 game with 100 hours of gameplay is ten times the value of a $50 game with 10 hours of gameplay. The argument loses a bit of steam when you compare relative entertainment during those gameplay hours. I believe there’s something to be said for easy addition of value via unlockables, replayable or variable content, but I think the idea of artificially inflating gameplay time for the sake of doing well in reviewer’s “value” rating is folly.

Mac vs PC
I don’t know why, but the topic has come up at work a lot lately. We only use PCs, but almost everyone uses an iPhone and spits up on themselves about how fantastic Apple products are. In part, people bitch about Windows being “hard to use”. Anyone that has a problem with Windows 7 seriously needs to just stop using computers entirely.

Coincidentally, I was cruising around for VLC and found 4 different VLC versions for 4 different upgrades to the same Mac OS? Really? I remember when I couldn’t use certain programs or play certain games unless I updated to the next decimal version of the same Mac operating system. WTFH? Windows versions of VLC: 2. 32 bit and 64. Oh, and 32 bit runs on 64 bit, so really there’s only a version and a half. X-D

No Reservation / Anthony Bourdain
– In 2012 I spent a LOT of time watching Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservation. I thought the show was amazing, you get about 70% culture and history of a particular nation, and 30% cuisine. Basically it was giving people more about the world than any other prime-time show (other than news and the Daily Show), and suckered them in with the thought of exotic flavors from around the world. Anthony spends most of his time rattling out a rolling exposition of the country he is visiting before diving into the food. Occasionally he also finds fairly profound personal stories as well (such as the Liberia episode). No matter what, I was not bored watching his show. My girlfriend enjoyed it just enough to watch it with me, most of the time. I realized that one of my top 5 “dream jobs” would to do what Anthony Bourdain does: get paid (lots) to travel the world, immerse myself in foreign cultures, and dig into their culture through their cuisine.


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