Adventure Journal: Introduction Proposition

As an avid /r/gamedeals watcher, I’ve picked up a number of titles this year during various seasonally themed sales, holiday sales, bundles, and random check-out-my-online-store sales. While most of them have been standard fare RPGs, action games, shooters, and MMOs, I’ve also started picking up more games in the point-and-click adventure genre. I’ve actually got formidable selection at the moment:

Of course, my interest was piqued after playing Telltale’s The Walking Dead, which is one of the best games I’ve ever played. I imagine I’ll write a Cheap Review for it eventually, even though almost every dedicated gamer probably already played it a year ago. Also, Ragnar Tornquist’s Kickstarter for Dreamfall Chapters got my attention. Tornqist was one of the geniuses behind The Secret World and as such I’d follow him through metaphorical Hell (see Overlook Motel of Savage Coast, Maine). I had never heard of Dreamfall or The Longest Journey before and I was surprised to hear so many random internet voices hail them as their all-time favorite games. Thus, when I saw them for sale on GOG, I grabbed them. Soon after, other acquisitions followed.

I do not intend to do straight forward critiques of these games because God knows I haven’t worked up the writing chops to make it worth reading. However, I do want provide some impressions that my readers can reference when they’re considering buying these games or when they’ve played them and they’re settling their conclusions about their experience with the games. I may even edit and get some gameplay video up just to quickly deliver some thoughts that don’t require punctuation.

tlj

I don’t know exactly what to expect since before The Walking Dead the last adventure games I played were King’s Quest VI and Noctropolis. I’m hoping compelling stories, satisfying problem-solving, and simplicity. I’m going to start of with The Longest Journey and figure out where I should go from there. I’m still playing TSW, Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines, Crysis, GTA IV, Mount & Blade Warband, and trying get myself into Star Trek Online and back to the Neverwinter Foundry; so clearly these adventure games aren’t the only games on my docket. Nevertheless, I’m going to install them and force them into my rotation.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

-casualslacks

Steam Summer Sale Melts My Face

You know, I actually intend to use this blog as more than a soapbox for my thoughts about video games. Lately, I’m reading The Maze of Mormonism, listening to Snow Crash, studying CCNP certification materials, and getting into Big Brother Season 14. Yet, games have definitely got of my attention more than anything else.  Then the Steam Summer Sale started this afternoon. Since I’m compelled to write what I’m excited about, this is as good a topic as any.

The best discounts I’ve seen today have been the big Pack deals that generally go for $50 and includes 4 to 20 games. The 2k Collection is small, but includes a $45 game that was just released 3 weeks ago (Spec Ops: The Line) as well as 6 other hits from this year (Darkness II) back to 2009 (Borderlands).  The THQ Collection includes 14 games without a single one that goes for less than $10 normally. I also already own Darksiders and Space Marine, so the set loses a little value. The only game left that I was craving, Saint’s Row: The Third, will be on sale for $12.50 until 2:30am cst (7/13/12). So, yeah, I own that now.

There’s a whole lot of temptation in this candy store. I think tomorrow’s payday as well. Yet, I will try keep my purchases limited to items on my wishlist. The Bethesda Collection has 3 games (Skyrim, Fallout: New Vegas, Brink) on my list that I could check off in quick fashion if I only let my wild lust for game acquisition wash over me. Perhaps Steam sales are a game all by themselves and I’m really lucky that the difficulty level is easy. With the exception of the Flash Deals and Community Choices, I don’t have stay up late or get up early to catch something that I might miss. I don’t have to worry that the initial discount on a $59 game is not the deepest discount that’ll be offered and that I’ll be screwed by waiting. All the initial deals are good for the duration of the sale ending on 7/23/12; so I can just wait until the end.

Games I want to see severely discounted from my wishlist (that I haven’t mentioned yet):

-Casualslacks

Character Assessment 4: Fallen Earth

¡Cuidado!

Fallen Earth was first released in 2009. Originally a subscription-based game from Reloaded Productions, but is now managed as free-to-play by GamerFirst. It is a first- or third-person MMORPG in which a variety of firearms are you primary weapons. It brings to mind Borderlands and Fallout, but as one might expect from an MMO, not as visually-appealing as either. I tried this game out because I like shooting people. I thought I would also like shooting them while leveling up a character. Instead, I have been playing a lot more Blacklight: Retribution because that game is fast, furious, and fun. Nevertheless and as usual, I am not going to review Fallen Earth gameplay, only the game’s character creation tools.

Here we have another game where the developers either lack the resources or the desire to allow the player control over how their character’s bodies look. Granted, this game gives the player more options concerning faces than Star War: The Old Republic, a triple-A pay-to-play game, but that is not saying much. It would be one thing if the bodies in the game were reasonably interesting to look at as they are in SW:TOR, but they are not. The initial clothing lineup, as should be expected, is a choice between short, long, and no-sleeve nondescript tops of three colors, straight-leg blue jeans, and a selection of low-profile sneakers.

Where He’s Going, Only The Faces Need to Be Camoflagued

Configuring a face involves picking one out of a line-up. That is not awesome. Playing with presets is about as fun as drawing over comic books with a set of color pencils. Below is a rundown of the options.

  • 25 faces
  • 3 complexions
  • 15 skin tones
  • 4 ages
  • 12 eye colors
  • 26 hair styles
  • 34 piercings
  • 5 facial hair (male)
  • 5 lip sticks (female)
  • 5 eye shadows (female)
  • 8 sneakers
  • 4 leg tatoos
  • 8 arm tatoos
  • 4 body piercings
  • 16 shirts
  • 45 face tatoos
  • 25 face paints
Objectively (and sarcastically) I could says that there are so many combinations, the choices stagger the imagination. Practically, there is probably enough variety in the preset faces to have at least one to suit every player. Thus, it is incredibly fortunate that players only get one character slot for free. It all works out.

Score One Point For Including An “Urban” Hairstyle That is Neither Dreadlock Nor Afro

Once a player picks a preset face, skin tone, and complexion, all the rest of character creation is accessorizing. Piercings, tattoos, and crazy hair do little to interest me in real life and they do so little to differentiate player characters in MMOs that having the options bore me. Devs, until there is impact on the player character’s silhouette in your character creator, please do not bother me with nose studs. I will probably have a mask, helmet, or some other gear on when I run into other players and I will only see my character from behind most of the time I play.

I included the above video just to point out that here is a group of guys having a good time, but one cannot be told from the other except their dance moves. That wouldn’t be okay even if Fallen Earth were a single-player RPG, like Elder’s Scrolls. In an Elder’s Scrolls game, the player is developing a character of distinction and renown. Those games all begin with the player defining who their character is in terms of stats and appearance. The emphasis in Fallen Earth seems to be to get the players into the game quickly without giving a second thought about who each character will be among the thousands the producers hope log on. There are no classes in Fallen Earth. There are no combat roles, but there is an AP point distribution system where the player can put together their build which affected how well they can do what they do. But I don’t really want to do anything because I haven’t created a character that I really want to play.

Character Assessment Grade: D

Ain’t No Dang Crows Gonna Get At This Corn. Not On My Watch.

In CA#3, I gave Global Agenda a B. These two games have a some elements in common being MMORPG shooters. I wonder how much playing the game affected my view of the character creator. Firstly, Global Agenda has a far superior character creator where the preset faces serve as a launchpad into a deeper system. If I had time to play it, I would find that I like gameplay in Fallen Earth more because of the optional FPS-style interface and effects (there are bullets, not lasers, and recoil). Instead, the lazily implemented character creator and barely interesting tutorial turned me off from the get-go. Global Agenda gives a much better first impression while Fallen Earth was apparently snacking on cloves of garlic before our date.

-CasualSlacks

This Game Needs to Exist: The Repopulation Update

The Repopulation Kickstarter is three days away from completion. Contributors blew away Above and Beyond Technologies original $25K goal by the middle of the campaign, but backing has slowed down since then. From all indications, there’s no doubt that this sandbox, sci-fi MMORPG will go live some time in the next year. It is only a matter of how much more ambitious the initial offering can be at launch. Looking over their stretch goals, I see they want to improve character customization (little things, but huge to me), enhanced gameplay and UI options, and a whole new zone. The team behind the game needs to cash do it all and polish the hell out of it. Looking at their very first alpha-build trailer, I’d say they’re on their way:

 

The developers are all creating this game as a side project without the influence of any major publisher or financier. It will be a free-to-play game, but do not let that distract you. It will free-to-play because it is independent and full of the innovation and vision that bigger production houses can not risk.  The game will survive or fail based on how much value the players give it. Thus far, I am impressed by the ideas they want to implement to make The Repopulation uniquely awesome (crafting as primary gameplay option, player-built structures, dynamic quest generation, etc) . So, I encourage all MMORPG fans to at least check out what these guys are doing.

-CasualSlacks

Character Assessment #3: Global Agenda

Once upon a June 2010, I played Realtime World’s All Points Bulletin at its original launch. APB remains one of the high watermarks for character creation in MMO games. It offered players an unprecedented variety of options to shape the way their combatants appeared in the comically bullet-riddled streets and structures of San Paro. However, the Scotland-based developer had poorly managed the development and financing for APB. It was underwritten by ridiculous expectations of immediate success and subsequently went into administration (bankruptcy court) by mid-September. That same week, HiRez Studios’s Todd Harris acknowledged the loss of APB by offering a 30% limited-time discount on his sci-fi MMO-shooter, Global Agenda, hoping to funnel one community into another. I did not have the hardware specs to play the game at the time, so I passed. Twenty-one months later, APB has been relaunched as APB: Reloaded, both games are free-to-play, and my new laptop laughs at any 2 -year old game. I will revisit character creation in APB eventually, but it is time to review people-making in Global Agenda.

You’d best come at these guys from behind

As usual, this is not a review of the entire game, but a look at the tools the game gives the player to determine who they will play in the world. This game does not start off with any eye-popping cinematic, but gets right down to having the player decide their character’s class; Robotics, Medic, Recon, or Assault. The classes break down into familiar pet DPS, healer, stealth DPS, and Tank MMORPG roles respectively or, if you like, the Team Fortress 2 Engineer, Medic, Scout, and Heavy roles. A short description comes up for each class giving the player a very good idea the kind of gameplay they have in store. Though nothing about the story is revealed.

Global Agenda Is an Equal Opportunity Employer

Each class in Global Agenda has its own unchangeable models for tough males and sexy females. The armor seen on the Class Select screen is some of what the players have to look forward to as they gear up. There are also various dies throughout the games used to color armor and weapons. Players will start the game tutorial barefoot in a default skin-tight high-tech leotard. Jet packs, armor, ranged and melee weapons can all be recolored later. Once again, there is no customization for character physiques.

However, once the player gets to put their face together, the real character creation process finally begins.  I have played few other games with so many options for sculpting a head and a face. Once the player picks a class and a sex, they will be met with 18 female head presets and 23 male presets. Presets are a deceptive start, but one that allows players who want to get right into the game without futzing about over a face. Once a user double-clicks a preset, they can configure the individual elements at a basic level with a Mr. Potato Head-style selector and at an more advanced level with a slider.

Depth Perception: Null

You’re better off being female and Asian in a video game than in authentic tentacle porn.

In tribute to my wife, I made an Asian chick. In total disrespect to my wife, this creation looks nothing like her.

In case it’s too hard to see from the screen shots, here is a breakdown of the options:

Both sexes:

  • 8 basic head settings:
  • 30 hair styles
  • 8 Eyes
  • 6 Mouths
  • 10 Noses
  • 8 Ears
  • 14 Skin Tones
  • 15 Primary Hair

Females:

  • 18 advanced head settings
  • 12 advanced eye/brow settings
  • 7 advanced lip/mouth settings
  • 10 advanced nose settings
  • 4 advanced ear settings
  • 9 advanced skin/eye/makeup settings
  • 2 hair and hair accessory settings

Males:

  •  20 advanced head settings
  • 11 advanced eye/brow settings
  • 8 advanced lip/mouth settings
  • 10 advanced nose settings
  • 4 advanced ear settings
  • 3 advanced skin/eye/makeup settings
  • 1 hair and hair accessory settings

There are an insane number of combinations available for faces and players will get to see their creations on the generic bodies during normal gameplay and in cinematics whenever they remove their helmets. The tools lend themselves easily to simulating faces from pictures or crafting whatever the player finds interesting.

Two-Thirds of a Tebow

Hatless in public? What is this; the 1970s?

I made a couple of characters in Global Agenda to try out its customization tools. Characters do not have their own names, only the user name. That is one less layer of immersion. Nevertheless, I played a few levels into my character to see other players and get a taste of the character progression. Unfortunately, there is no “hide helmet” option in the game settings. Consequently, in the low level areas, I have not seen a single player ever neglect their 10% health max boost by removing their helmet. Characters gain stat boosts with levels and skill points every two levels. The skill trees remind me a lot of World of Warcraft talent trees. In fact, running around in 3rd-person with a castbar across expansive landscapes doing kill quests for NPCs travelling from quest hub to quest hub reminds me a lot of WoW.

The similarities might explain why once I started playing, I did not want to quit until I fell asleep in my chair. I had thought that Global Agenda would have more similarities with APB than WoW, but only character head creation holds that distinction. While, I would prefer the illusion complete control over character creation, Global Agenda does so much in that one major area that I can’t help but feel like I own a part of their world once I’ve shaped a face I like. So I need to water that face lest it whither.

Character Assessment Grade: B

While this review is not about gameplay, I have to say that Global Agenda is fairly engaging and I anticipate logging into it every once in a while. I do not think I’ll join a agency/guild or ever do a boss fight in it, but I would like to see what characters can do at higher levels. I’d like to know if I’ll ever get a real feeling of power as I progress. One of the biggest weaknesses of the game a lack of visceral feedback. When I fire my gun, lasers and rockets come out without recoil. When I use my melee weapon, enemies dodge around until they fall dead. When I fall from 100 feet, I hit the ground without any screen rattling impact, just a crouched landing and wave effect on the ground. There is little sense of consequence. Nevertheless, there’s some MMO crack cocaine in this game I think. If you’re curious go download the client here. Then check out the wiki here. And if you’re ready, here’s TenTonHammer’s guides. I’m CSlacks in-game.

-CasualSlacks

Metro 2033: Brother, Can You Spare a Bullet

Metro 2033

One of the great things about a Steam sale is that you can buy a game without the feeling that you are taking a huge risk. Sixty dollars is a lot to risk on internet hearsay. That is not to say that developers and others behind a game do not deserve to get as much money as they can get from players when they provide a quality product. However, once a game has been out for 2 or 3 years, long after the review scores have been averaged and the investors have been paid back, is it not good for them to make a buck off of a guy like me who decided to buy a game to test a new laptop? Continue reading

Six Years Late to the Oblivion Party

I finished the original content of Borderlands last week and decided to give Elder’s Scroll IV: Oblivion another shot. I bought it during the big Steam Christmas sale of 2011 just as everybody else with 70 spare dollars was getting into Skyrim. But that’s the great thing about single-player games; who cares when you play them? Continue reading