Too many implications, not enough time to make them explicit – A blog post

Last night I wanted Wet Hot American Summer for the first time. I found it to be neither life changing nor did I find it to be, like, the worst movie ever made. The reviews had led me to believe that I would think one of those things. Still, I enjoyed it, prodded to watch it by the impending (well, now not impending) release of the TV show. I sometimes wonder how much I actually watched The State. I mean, I remember watching it. My sister had a VHS of it and I know many of the sketches by heart, but I wonder if the amount of time I actually spent with it is commiserate with how much of my mind-share it takes up. Doesn’t matter. Anyway, Wet Hot American Summer was fun if to see a bunch of performers I enjoy looking like they were having a good time before many of them were properly famous. No idea about the new Netflix show yet. Maybe I’ll watch a couple of episodes this weekend. Probably not.

Moderately annoyed that my copy of Ashes: War of the Phoenixborn hasn’t gotten here yet. I preordered and it was timely shipped but it has entered some sort of weird forwarding loop with the post office. Maybe tomorrow? I don’t know, but the idea of a card game that is not collectible but still lends itself to drafts appeals to me quite a lot. I got back into Hearthstone after installing it on my phone. Half of my old decks are invalid for some reason? Anyway, it’s a really good game. I also started playing Magic Origins and, honestly, I don’t find the game half as fun as Hearthstone. Maybe Hearthstone is shallower? I don’t know. Probably, I don’t play either at a high enough level for that question to matter. Hearthstone is more visceral and feels more fun and that appeals to me more. I’ll probably stick with Magic Origins for a bit, but I doubt I’ll ever feel the desire to put real money into it like I did with Hearthstone. I think part of it is that I hate the mana economy. To the extent it is strategic, I do not enjoy it. Interested to see if the power dice from Phoenixborn are flexible enough for me to not feel so constrained. I love the idea of each player basically only taking one action at a time.

Going to do some boardgaming tomorrow. Not much else to say about that, but it should be fun.

Trying to be more authentic lately. Not sure I know what that means. Just being honest with people about what I’m into. Video games and comics and wrestling and RPGs. Hard to get a group together for RPGs, though. Some things are still niches, I guess. Anyway, I’m trying to be a little less ashamed of that stuff or embarrassed or whatever. Most people don’t really care, anyway.

Tried watching Attack on Titan. I’ll probably finish the season, but I don’t think it’s as good as I expected. Maybe I’m just getting older? I don’t know, just not really that into it. Pacing feels weird. Off. Not slow, just odd. I do love Bojack Horseman. Already watched all of season two of that, so I’ll have to wait until next year or whatever to see the next season of it. It’s so good.

I need to work on my novel tonight. But I also want to watch shows (still only in the first season of Breaking Bad, in the second season of Walking Dead). Just have to make decisions about what is important. I try to make creating things important, but it’s hard because part of the culture I love is being engaged with that stuff so you still feel like you’re part of the conversation.

I backed The Warren on Kickstarter. It’s an RPG about rabbits. Like Watership Down, maybe? Also, it just occurred to me that I want someone to make Watership Downton Abbey. I think you can figure out what that would be. Anyway, I may never play it, but I want it to exist and I want to reward Bully Pulpit for putting it out and Marshall Miller for making it. I’m grateful it exists, in any case. I don’t back many Kickstarter campaigns these days, but every now and then one will get me. I’ve had pretty good luck with them, honestly, but it’s hard with the stream of other stuff that is coming out unless you really believe in the people behind the thing you’re backing. Similarly, I intend to buy Shadowrun Hong Kong even though my game backlog is deep. I will back the Mech Warrior game once it is on Kickstarter. D&D may have been most of my RPG play as a young person, but FASA games shaped me in a much deeper way and really opened up the type of worlds that I was interested in. I’m just happy to contribute to them still existing.

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31. July 2015 by Michael
Categories: Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

Backlog Review: Divinity: Original Sin from Larian Games

Backlog Review: Divinity Original Sin

Baldur’s Gate, Fallout and Planescape: Torment were some of my favorite games around two decades ago. Before those (along with Daggerfall and Morrowind), I had never seen a game create a world quite so massive. But, as we know, the genre of huge, open world RPGs fell off for many years (or, at least, it seemed to me that it did) and there were no successors to the isometric overhead throne upon which Bhaal sat. But that was then, and now there are many who are vying for that title with Divinity Original Sin and Pillars of Eternity  (which I have not yet played), along with the upcoming Torment: Tides of Numenera (among others) all trying to make a case for being the rightful successor.

The Pros and Cons

So. Divinity: Original Sin. I have not played a Divinity game before, although I have been aware of the series for a long time. Luckily, Divinity: Original Sin does not demand any previous knowledge of the game series in order to be enjoyed and I cannot say with any certainty whether or not there are things that those that played the original game might get out of it that I did not. So, with all of that said, here are the pros and cons of Divinity: Original Sin:

+ The game is massive. It took me around 70 hours to beat the game, by which I mean that I completed the main story line. There are side quests that I did not complete, but I do not feel the need to go back and visit them. I saw a lot of the game, and it takes place across several large maps.

+ The combat provides for some really neat strategic options. There are several effects that can occur on the battlefield (fire, lightning clouds and the like) that react with different kinds of magic. This allows you to, say, shoot a poison arrow out and then use a fire spell to cause a massive explosion. It’s a very neat combo based system.

+ Divinity: Original Sin is well-written. There is plenty of dialogue in Divinity: Original Sin and much of it is well executed. To be sure, Divinity: Original Sin occasionally veers off into the realm of overwrought fantasy, but that is a trope of the genre and so, in this context, does not bother me. The world is large and well developed.

+ There is strong character customization. There are lots of different skills that give you access to different magic powers or lockpicking or identifying items or whatever. You get skill points (as well as talent points for more unique bonuses) as you level up and you can really end up with all of the characters in your party designed how you want as you micromanage their attributes, skills and talents.

+ I really liked the in character conversations. Occasionally, your two characters will have a chat where you get a chance to define how they view the world. It’s a nice touch and my two each had defined personalities that added a lot to the game for me. I would, however, on occasion game the system because I wanted a given decision, but I tried to have the characters argue how they would and then resolve it with a game of rock, paper, scissors (which is how everyone resolves arguments in this game, with a bonus from high stats to get you to the required number of points).

– I never quite got the hang of the combat, honestly. Again, I played this game nearly six dozen hours and I was never quite able to figure out how to effectively engage in combat on Normal difficulty. This might not be a negative for you. You might be great at it. I wasn’t. Maybe it was how a customized my characters to better complement each other? I don’t know. I felt like I had a well-balanced party (I ran with a rogue, a warrior/mage, a mage and an archer) and I felt woefully underpowered and I didn’t feel like the game was tactically engaging. Enemies moved freely and tended to move far enough that I found any sort of strategic placement felt like a waste of time. I mean, you get a free swing at the enemy but it never seemed to deter then from charging the mage or Archer. I ended up turning the game on Easy mode in order to enjoy playing through it and still felt like there was at least some challenge to it. This may be more of a reflection of me than of Divinity: Original Sin, but that was certainly my experience.

– Status effects. Look,I loved them when they worked for me, but all to often I found my whole team shocked or frozen the first turn off combat. It’s a good system but it added more frustration than strategy for me.

– I found that the game dragged on. As is often the case in this sort of game, I found myself frequently running back and around the same areas. That is part and parcel of this sort of game and the is a quick travel system, but it just seems a little too deliberate.

– There are some really annoying “puzzles” involving finding tiny, tiny switches. I put puzzles in quotes because they don’t require ingenuity, they just require you to stare really hard at your screen. There aren’t tons of them, but there was more than one occasion where I got completely hung up because I couldn’t find a tiny switch hidden in an obscure place. I don’t think that is fun, guys, and to the extent it is challenging, it is not the sort of challenge I am interested in. There are other puzzles that have somewhat obscure answers, but the game does give you something to work with generally. These, on the other hand, not so much.

– The story really isn’t much to talk about. Really, it all feels a little disjointed, overall. It’s neat to see the world, and there are some really neat set pieces, but it never feels entirely coherent as a game world. The fiction is good and the writing (as above) is good, but I never felt like the world was terribly in danger.

– I really hate having to constantly change between a billion weapons and armor with mildly different stats. I hate it. I know it’s a thing in a lot of games, but it really doesn’t do anything for me. I felt like there were several times I had to do a thorough review of identifying a meticulously comparing weapons to make sure I was appropriately equipped. Across four characters it is tiresome.

Conclusion

Overall, would I recommend Divinity: Original Sin to you. Yeah, if you want a big, meaty CRPG game, I would. It is not perfect, but it is a highly polished game that does way more right than it does wrong. I really wish I had found the combat more engaging, but I did enjoy exploring the world, even if I never quite engaged with the story. There  is also an upcoming Enhanced Edition that makes the game fully voiced (the reading didn’t bother me, but there you go) and adds a reworked story. It will be free to those that already have the game, so you might go ahead and grab the game and just wait for the huge patch to hit. The game was already very good, so it’s exciting to see it will be even better. So, maybe it’s not Baldur’s Gate or Planescape or Fallout 2, but it’s a solid game in its own right in a genre that I love.

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12. June 2015 by Michael
Categories: Video Games | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Game Chef 2015 RPG Design Competition Launches June 13, BattleLore 2nd Edition Shambles Forward With the Undead, Steam Summer Sale Launches

Game Chef 2015 RPG Design Competition Launches June 13

Game Chef, the tabletop RPG competition challenging designers to make a game in only nine days using 2 – 3 of the announced ingredients, will launch on June 13. The contest has been running since 2002 and gives the participants a limited time to make a game with the theme and ingredients assigned. The ingredients and theme will be announced at June 13th at 12:01 a.m. New Zealand Standard Time and the contest is being run in seven languages, with the winners of each competition then going against each other in a final, global round. You can check out the full rules if you are interested in competing. The designs must be original and under 4,000 words. I can only imagine the length of the texts turn in without the word limit, and I really like the constraint in forcing you to be creative with the design of your game. Previous themes include “There is No Book”, “Last Chance” (a game that can only be played once), and “Journey”, to give you all an idea of what might come out. I have never competed in Game Chef before, but I may well do it this year. It sounds like a fun intellectual challenge.

BattleLore 2nd Edition Shambles Forward With the Undead

Fantasy Flight Games has announced an upcoming expansion for BatteLore Second Edition. The two army packs – Terrors of the Mists and Heralds of Dreadfall – will each contain an entire new army for use in BattleLore Second Edition and include units like Death Knights, an undead dragon called a Barrow Wyrm, Banshees, Wraiths, and Skeleton Archers. The two army packs can also be combined to make a single horde of the undead. The new expansions will be available in the third quarter of 2015 (so sometime in the next three months, basically). No price was announced, but previous army packs have had an MSRP of $39.95 and have had more than 30 figures, so that might provide a guide as to what to expect for the two new BattleLore Second Edition army packs. BattleLore, of course, is based on the Command and Colors system that powered the original BattleLore, as well as Memoir ’44 and Command & Colors: Ancients.

Steam Summer Sale 2015 Launches

The Steam Summer Sale (called the Monster Summer Sale) has officially started as of June 11. As for first day sales, I can vouch for XCOM: Enemy Unknown for $7.49 and Valkyria Chronicles for $4.99. I am also sorely tempted by the inclusion of the Homeworld Remastered Collection for $13.99 and Tales From the Borderlands for $12.49. Still, I am trying to abstain as best as possible this year, no matter how much I would love to build a ridiculously large backlog of games. In recent months, I have come to realize that I am better served playing the games I have and buying a new game (even at a higher price) when I am prepared to play it than I am by investing in additional games that I may not get to for months or years, even at amazing prices. Still, it’s hard to argue that there are bargains to be found. As usual, the sale includes Flash Deals  that change every twelve hours, as well as a new mini game that, when played, unlocks new bonuses at the start of each day. I haven’t gotten to play the actual game yet, as all I have gotten is an error, but it certainly seems like an interesting system to keep people engaged with the sale. The sale runs through June 20, so there are many days of sales ahead, with new daily deals unlocking each day. Sales on Satellite Reign, Pillars of Eternity and Sunless Sea, although not currently available, are some of the games that I would have to think hard about caving in over if they are to go on flash or daily sale. Still, there’s already a good selection, and I’m sure my resolve will be worn down under time. Is there something you’re definitely grabbing or hoping to see on sale?

 

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11. June 2015 by Michael
Categories: Board Games, RPGs, Video Games | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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