The Very Long Night of Bruce Wayne

I want to climb and glide off a tall skyscraper, dammit

I’m a year late and a couple months short. I know, I know.

But I guess with the constant discounts, pretty much any gamer these days has an unplayed Steam games list, courtesy of their estimation of available time being somewhat greedier than reality.

Having -just- bought LEGO Lord of the Rings and played it up to the Balrog, for whatever twisted reason my mind decided that -now- would be a great time to finally get around to playing Batman: Arkham City.

So that’s what I’ve been up to the last couple of days while taking an extended break from Guild Wars 2.

(I see the end of Jan patch has hit, so that’s a good reason to jump back in the next few days to check things out. More thoughts on that later once I get the lay of the land again.)

I really liked how they depicted most of the iconic Batman universe characters. Ra's al Ghul's character design just screams 'demon' throughout.

I really liked how they depicted most of the iconic Batman universe characters. Ra’s al Ghul’s character design just screams ‘demon’ throughout.

I don’t want to write a review of Arkham City here – the metacritic scores don’t lie in that it’s generally agreed by most to be a very good, solid game.

I’ve spent around 26 hours in game, finished up the main storyline and most side missions but 3-4 and am currently methodically cleaning up the riddler puzzles left all over the place.

A couple are quite difficult and have been left for a later time, possibly to be looked up with a guide for a suggested strategy/optimal path, though how much help that’s going to be when muscular coordination is probably the main issue is still unknown.

I understand there’s a hard mode, as well as a New Game Plus mode for both normal and hard difficulties, but frankly, having seen it once before, it’s unlikely I’ll sit through it again. I already found normal difficulty quite challenging, a bit of a surprise since I recall having an easier time of it playing through Arkham Asylum. Either they jacked difficulty up across the board for the sequel, or I’ve lost the rhythm and timing of how to fight like Batman.

What struck me as the most surprising, and inspired this post, was how I kept thinking: maybe ‘sandbox’ ain’t that great, after all.

Let me try to explain. The thought requires some careful dissection.

It’s natural that I would end up comparing the first game, Arkham Asylum, with its sequel, Arkham City, while playing through it.

One of the things that captivated me MOST about Arkham Asylum was how phenomenally immersed I was in Batman’s world. I was Batman. Prowling around the asylum. In stealth mode smashing up thugs before they saw me. In straight beat ‘em up fights when I felt like it.

And the story never let up. It was a linear storytelling sort of game.

It’s the Spec Ops: The Line or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare type of deal. You have a map level or two – everywhere else is sneakily blocked off until later, you’ve got to go to those areas and trigger the next bit of story and have the next plot twist arrive, all the way to the end, pretty much. After which, you get to play achievement clean up if you so wish by going over all the maps with a fine tooth comb and all your gadgets to collect whatever trophy bruhaha you desire.

When the villains start monologuing, the story's pretty good. It's the supposed "open world" that gets to me.

When the villains start monologuing, the story’s pretty good. It’s the supposed “open world” that gets to me.

In Arkham City, that feeling is somewhat… dispersed.

It’s not that there isn’t a main storyline filled with plot twists and interesting developments. There is. And it’s a good one.

It’s just… that I end up as distracted as a gerbil with ADD while running about the purported ‘sandbox’ of Arkham City (in the vein of sandboxes like GtA and its ilk.)

Instead of being focused on being Batman and singlemindedly following my goal of pursuing the heinous villain pulling the strings behind it all, I end up as Batman juggling phone calls from people as diverse as the Joker, Zsasz and Oracle, while stopping any street crimes I see, and those damn thugs just hit me so I’ll hit them back, and ooh, detective vision just showed me a camera so I better batarang it, and that shiny tripet of joker balloons, and there’s a Riddler trophy over there so let me stop to solve it because that’s one less to be back for later, and I’m really close to this TITAN barrel so I may as well make a short detour, dammit, that fucker SHOT me! Glide off, sneak back, silent takedown and take that, two bit thug. Some other guy is calling for help now – hang on, where was I again in the main storyline?

I mean, I understand that it’s nice to have that sort of freeform play experience where you get to make your own choices of what to do.

But in Arkham City, I don’t know if it’s just not that well done a sandbox, or if we’re just trying to kid ourselves because narratively, Batman is going to do it all anyway, right?

There’s no real choice per se, only the choice of what order to do it in. Batman doesn’t fail and have to live with the consequences. He doesn’t kill, the end. Or wind up with a hostage accidentally killed. He succeeds, full stop, or it’s game over, replay or quit the game. Ie. a more evolved form of the manual save/reload.

At most, you have the choice of incompletion. Perhaps I won’t be arsed to keep gliding about the city looking for assaults in progress to progress the little side mission bar until it’s done.

Yet, we as gamers can’t really seem to handle choices with consequences either. In other games, like Witcher and Mass Effect or what not, when faced with what seems to be an indelible choice that’s going to affect the storyline one way or the other, what’s the thing we most often do? Google it. Check the guide that tells you exactly what happens down either path, and pick the one whose plot you like best, or whose shiny reward is the most optimal (depending on your player personality and how important the game makes the reward.)

Which sometimes makes me think that linear story games have an elegant finality about them. I -finish- a lot more linear story games, and feel good about clearly finishing them. Bioshock, Portal, Heavy Rain, World in Conflict, whatever.

I’m still not ‘done’ with Assassin’s Creed (I’m way backward, I know), Prototype, a number of GtA variants, Saints Row 2, Red Dead Redemption and stuff like that. I haven’t picked them up in years, so I probably won’t get back to them any time soon either.

Mind you, this is already somewhat cleaned up. I'm on the third hostage of Riddler by now.

Mind you, this is already somewhat cleaned up. I’m on the third hostage of Riddler by now. There were a lot more question marks before.

Perhaps it’s just the Achiever part of me conflicting with everything else, I see a shiny icon on the minimap or the radar and I may as well check it out, or pick it up, or do whatever it is to pick up the shiny because it is there. And there are usually 404 or 606 of these tiny tasks to do.

Ironically, I never complete all of them either because the Explorer part of me is howling in fury by the 264th shiny and will sneakily divert my attention to the next shiny new game I haven’t played yet. The Achiever, who is somewhat simpleminded as these things go, promptly gets distracted by the next game’s 2 of 99 shinies.

Still, it’s a small nitpick in what is ultimately a good game – that I’m not as immersed in the Batman role, thanks to my metagame mind always counting and planning the next ‘task’ to hit.

A part of it could very well be the level design. I can’t walk six feet without stumbling across a green question mark. And that fact is even pointed out in some of the thug dialogue.

The city itself is not as varied as it could be. Or maybe one just spends too much time in the air above it.

Or it's the fault of Detective Mode again. Late game, I spent more time in it than out. Practically every thug has a sniper rifle, assault rifle or shotgun, so you've -got- to see them before they see you.

Or it’s the fault of Detective Mode again. Late game, I spent more time in it than out. Practically every thug has a sniper rifle, assault rifle or shotgun, so you’ve -got- to see them before they see you.

It’s a dark, dismal, depressing, gothic prison with leaning buildings and lots of convenient gargoyles for Batman to grapple on to. I would have loved some really tall commercial skyscrapers like we see in the background but never get to ascend.

There are no pedestrians, no innocent passerbys to avoid, just thug after thug of one sort of another, and the harmless innocent NPC labeled ‘political prisoner.’

What is the point of immersion if it doesn’t even feel like a city to begin with? Just a concentration camp full of criminals to beat up?

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with "S." Still more thugs.

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with “S.” Still more thugs.

Immersion is easier in Bethesda games like Skyrim, Morrowind, or even Fallout 3. There’s more of a sense of world, and it’s your own character you created so choices feel more meaningfully significant.

I did like the Catwoman ‘choice’ at the ending of her section though. I stood for a long time at the door to purported freedom and riches, feeling Catwoman’s conflict and eventually thought, well, what would Selina Kyle really do? And sighed, sashayed over to the ‘save Batman’ door, mourning the soon-to-be lost shiny stuff and headed out.

I hear the game will actually end there and show the dismal consequences of the other choice, before giving you a chance to retry and pick the ‘correct’ one. Which, of course, sounds a bit cheap on first hearing, but if you think of it as a automated save/load feature, then it’s not so bad. You could, of course, end the game there, but if you want to see the end of the Batman story then yeah, restart away.

Every time I play Catwoman, I feel the urge to go "Meow." Surprisingly more immersed by her this time around. Maybe it's just new and novel.

Every time I play Catwoman, I feel the urge to go “Meow.” Surprisingly more immersed by her this time around. Maybe it’s just the ‘new and novel’ effect.

I almost thought we’d get to make THE ultimate choice of Batman at the ending of Arkham City. (I’m speaking in a roundabout fashion to avoid too many spoilers for those who are even further behind on their games than me. Probably not that many.)

The cutscene that took away that choice was somewhat disappointing. Narratively just, perhaps. But rather convenient.

I honestly wonder what difference it would have made if we did get to make the choice. If we chose to let Batman cross over that single line, ‘don’t kill’ and do it, why not? It’ll taint him into villainhood, sure, but what a fantastic thing to think and talk about, and the ending cutscene would still be the same.

And if we chose to offer mercy and spare the villain’s life in the end, ie. what true Batman would do, THEN show us the cutscene that takes the choice out of our hands.

That would have been fantastically poignant, methinks.

I can only guess that future sequels might have been hard to plan for if Batman made that kind of irrevocable decision at the end of only game 2.

GW2: The Avalanche Has Already Started

One moment of perfect beauty

And it is too late for the pebbles to vote.

Take a break for two weeks to write, and it appears Isle of Janthir will not last until the WvW update.

Well, that’s that.

To be honest, I felt an urge to move some time ago, but felt a certain obligation to stay while ND was still around, because those guys are inspirational. I loved their siege, their tactics and the force they could bring. If/once ND leaves, I told myself, nothing holds me back from transferring off to check out other servers.

(No offense to any other IoJ guilds, my prediction was simply that if/when ND left, IoJ WvW would take a gigantic hit.)

The reality is even worse now, uA and AVTR, the other Oceanic time stalwarts have also left. Plus a string of assorted guilds. Followed by TL also bailing out the sinking ship.

With free transfers ending by next week, the impetus to move around has hit pretty much everyone. I’m no exception and I find myself trying to plan and choose a new server.

The WvWers may not realize it, but IoJ PvE hasn’t been that rocking either since Wintersday. I figure this is simply attrition and boredom (I mean, I haven’t been online either) but consolidation of any existing population makes sense. Full servers are simply more fun than empty ones.

I find myself torn between two potential choices, Tarnished Coast or Sea of Sorrows, and the last choice of yielding to inertia and staying on Isle of Janthir (at least until free transfers end and we see the price of paid ones.)

Sea of Sorrows would be the pragmatic, maximum utility option. It’s the other Oceanic server, it’s bound to have crowds in my timezone. It probably has TONS because they’re currently number 1 in WvW rankings, and my countrymen love nothing better than not-losing and being number 1 – even if they don’t do anything but ride on coattails for it. ND has gone there, which is going to shore up whatever considerable WvW population is already there.

Downside, WvW queue times wouldn’t be great. But then I’m not a serious WvWer anyway, if I just want the WvW bonuses, it makes practical sense to flock to a winning server.

Thing is, I’m… just not terribly keen on joining the masses. The image I have of the average Sea of Sorrows occupant (which is purely imaginary, mind you, and may be way off base) is that of an Achiever/Killer in Bartle terms. Highly competitive, focused on goals like winning, amassing loot and gold, running plenty of dungeons in the fastest way possible and nevermind a few exploits here and there, spelling and full sentences optional, voicecomm all the way. A hardcore WoW raider type, possibly. People from the Freedom server, for those City of Heroes players who might recognize the analogy. It’s a very common player type.

I could play like that for a while. But I don’t really derive maximum fun out of it.

Tarnished Coast, on the other hand, has the “RP server” brand name. RP servers tend to attract the older, more mature crowd who are generally more relaxed about game play. I love GW2 lore so much, it’s tempting to actually try roleplaying a little, and where best to do it but the RP server? Community on RP servers are typically very positive and long lasting – you couldn’t pry me away from Virtue on CoH with a crowbar, and my biggest regret of LOTRO was not going to Landroval or Brandywine. TC has been doing decently well in WvW, likely as a slow buildup of its community, it’ll probably keep hovering between T2 and T3 which are comfortable tiers for a casual.

The only thing I worry about is the size of the Oceanic community on Tarnished Coast. It’s never going to be as sizeable as Sea of Sorrows. It may be very comfortable in the NA timezone, but what is TC like during mine?

I suppose the only way to know is to go there and play for a while. If I manage a transfer within the next day or so, it is theoretically possible to transfer again (after 7 days have passed) before free world transfers end.

Getting those transfers in might be also a little tricky, with the two abovementioned servers reading as full, which may make my internal debate a moot point.

A strong argument in favor of inertia and not moving anywhere is the existence of my personal solo guild. It’s got a guild stash (with stuff in it I assume I have to clear out before moving,) a bunch of banners and the guild armorer unlocked. That’s a lot of influence to earn back for one person who’s not intending to play as crazily as during launch time.

Still, I don’t suppose it takes that long to clear out and hold temporarily on a character or two, and I’ll never know what the community is like on other servers if I don’t visit.

The other fancy alternative is to utilize the guesting option that will be coming. Presumably, I could guest on Tarnished Coast and enjoy the PvE community without ever needing to set foot in their WvW.

Then I could continue to hang out in Isle of Janthir and earn influence for my personal guild – assuming I don’t meet any guilds on TC that I get impressed by and want to join – and assume WvW as a lost cause. Which frankly, ain’t realistic and doesn’t bode well for my potential length of stay in GW2.

I could also coat-tail ride and hie myself to Sea of Sorrows, diving into their WvW there as I feel like it, and utilize both the PvE crowds on SoS via home server and TC via guesting.

Or I could do the exact opposite and make Tarnished Coast home, delving into their WvW, and guest on SoS if TC feels too deserted during my timezone.

Decisions, decisions.

I might just jump to the first of either server that doesn’t read “Full” in order to check out the real community there, instead of just imagining it in my head.

Where I’ve Been: Retro-Gaming, Writing and Sales

Pixelated landscapes can still be pretty.

Yeah, I know I’ve been gone for more than a week.

It’s funny, but with the flip of the new year, MMOs have been the last thing on my mind.

I blame the recent GoG sale. Even though I’ve not played a single one of the games I bought so far. But it brought my mind way back into the past.

I picked up a copy of Darklands to keep. It’s a phenomenal game I intend to cover on this blog some day, set in a medieval fantastic Germany. I played it way back when, and even bought a CD copy of it a decade ago (god knows where it is now, digital distribution is too convenient.)

I picked up a collection of space games, and instead of playing any of them, ended up with a sudden intense nostalgic craving for Project Nomad – which is fortunately available free as abandonware. The highlight of this space trading and combat game is the interaction with the diverse spacefaring NPC races – who speak in characteristic Sound Blaster powered tones ranging from cute growls, snorts and chiming melodies, while your ship translates their words into English text that scrolls across your screen.

Trading with the enemy

Trading with the enemy

I spent a couple days starting a new character and trying to get to the comfortable level of power I remembered it was capable to achieve. Much trickier than I remembered. I got blown apart multiple times by Korok cruisers, vainly trying to remember the most powerful upgrades I was supposed to get for my ship, and wondering how it was possible to barter trade for them when starting off with goods that essentially have the trade value of cotton wool. I’ll post in more detail as I make more progress. There’s some depth to this game that I used to know once upon a time, and have by now, completely forgotten.

I played Alpha Centauri‘s Alien Crossfire expansion for a night, mischievously trying out The Hive and Sheng Ji Yang. In the old days, I would gravitate without fail to the green planet-hugging faction led by Deirdre Skye, partly due to school-influenced brainwashing on the importance of environmental intiatives and recycling and “green” issues, and partly because mindworms own. I’ve been tooling around with a writing/solo roleplaying campaign setting that’s a mix of cyberpunk, superheroes and the supernatural, with the ever popular megacorporations as the bad guys trope, so it seemed like a fun idea to play an industrial drone type of faction.

I made allies with the Morganites, economic megacorporation faction and all that, seemed narratively fitting. Bumped into the Spartan military faction, made temporary peace, but soon realized the continent wasn’t big enough for all of us. Wiped them out for lebensraum. Attempted peace with the Nautilus Pirates, a new faction from the expansion, me on land, they on water, seemed doable. Except when I was busy wiping out the University for the Morganites who were having trouble with them enroaching onto our joint continent, the Pirates took issue with this. So I cranked into naval war footing and made them public enemy number one, taking over the seas and crushing them back to the point of pathetic surrender, where they offer a Pact of Brotherhood, and promise never to bother you again, essentially becoming an annexe state to your faction.

Midway through this war, the next most powerful faction, Miriam Godwinson’s Lord’s Believers took fundamental issue with Chairman Yang’s expansionism. Hello, it was self-defence! (Sure, right.) Which led to an interesting and escalating modern war of more and more powerful lasers and aircraft bombings – all fortunately conducted on Believer soil, using nearby Pirate bases.

Alas, -something- happened, which to this point I am unsure exactly what… but the movie for a captured leader came up and I suddenly appeared with a small group of soldiers and one lone colony pod, with the message that “Fortunately, you escaped” or something along those lives, with all of the Hive’s previously owned cities hidden by fog of war. My best guess is that my capital city got taken over, but I could have sworn nothing was even on that continent. I have this vague suspicion it might have been the Morganites, despite our Pact of Brotherhood. I saw them with more than a dozen probe teams during their conflict with the University, but have no proof. Or maybe Miriam fired a nuke. Are there nukes in Alpha Centauri? I don’t remember anymore.

Not inclined to struggle uphill against insurmountable odds, I called it. That was the end of that.

I got in some Magic: Duel of the Planeswalkers 2012 time. The regular games against the AI  felt a little slow, though I enjoy the puzzle challenge scenarios. I found the Ghoulkeeper deck quite amusing to use in the campaign.

Where Guild Wars 2 is concerned, I’ve dialed back very hard on time spent. Playing the same game for over three months 5+ hours a day does get old. Instead I’ve been taking it a heart or two and a personal story chapter each time in Metrica Province, inching my Asura up a level a day. I haven’t even bothered to complete the daily, looking about for five events has gotten boring.

Guild Wars 1 used to have a chat message alert that would count off the hours you’ve spent online. I’ve been tickled to use the coincidence of my crappy WinXP computer and the propensity of GW2 to crash out of memory after zoning a couple times as my 1.5h alarm clock that it’s time to stop playing GW2 for the day.

I did intend to catch the New Year character slot sale day, but somehow, the shop failed to connect to Paypal when I tried to buy gems, and I had to log off to tend to RL. On coming back later, the promotion had passed. I picked up the two slots I wanted regardless. I had wanted them for some time anyway and was willing to pay full price. My potential engineer and mesmer is now taken care of.

When I’d actually choose to roll them up, we’ll see.

What has suddenly taken me over the last few days is a strong compulsion to write and continue scenes in a solo roleplaying game cum novella for fun that I got several pages into last year and then stopped.

I dunnno how it happened. I was just idly rereading stuff I attempted to write over the last seven years, which mostly consists of aborted attempts a few pages long. In between being mildly tickled by a Neverwinter Nights solo RP diary (there’s another game I oughta play again some day), I stumbled across a story that actually seemed viable to continue.

Which I did, for a couple pages. Then found myself thinking about the next scene, GM-like (or author planning-like) throughout the day, and couldn’t wait to get back to it the following day.

You know what. I’m not arguing. I haven’t been bitten this strongly by the muse and the narrative bug since Nanowrimo 2006 or so.

I’m only getting about 500 words a day, not even a third of Nanowrimo’s usual standard, but I’m having fun and I don’t care.

I’ll be back, when I’ll be back.

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. There’s just the vague hope I’ll get more old games played this year. I’d like to get some The Secret World played again, now that it’s F2P – I got it updated, then didn’t log in.

Some more writing and roleplaying? Hell, yeah. (There’s a DrivethruRPG / RPGnow sale going on, by the way, if any tabletop gamers read this blog. 40% off, with this additional 15% coupon code for a whopping 55% off. In a moment of weakness, I’ve succumbed and picked up a bunch of megacorp cyberpunk / post-apoc settings to fuel ideas for my own. Seems urban sci-fi fantasy is now the in-thing.)

Steam is also running a midweek madness sale for Spec Ops: The Line at $7.49. That’s $2.70 cheaper than when I bought it over Christmas.

See, I was right when I was convinced Steam’s Christmas sale this year was priced higher than it could have been.

I got the game out of my system though. About ten days earlier. So well, I won’t fret about it.

It’s not too bad a price now for anyone sitting on the fence. Though you know, it -will- go down to $4.99 one day. Maybe the Summer sale. Up to you, can you wait six months?