Cyberpunk 2077: Multiple Solution Side Gigs

60 hours in Cyberpunk 2077 and counting.

Probably 10x that many crashes, but eh, DirectX12 game on Windows 7, that it even runs at all is pretty nice, so you don’t see me complaining. Much.

(I sit around and stare at local computer parts shop catalogues and keep sighing at the current price of the RTX 3070s and 3080s. Low supply, high demand = not paying for that yet.)

My one compromise is that I’ve stripped ARK from the SSD and moved the entirety of Cyberpunk off the HDD and onto the SSD instead. Load times are considerably improved, so at least it’s quicker to get back in once the inevitable crash happens.

Appreciation of the game in many ways reminds me of Guild Wars 2’s open world.

A lot of straightforward nose-to-the-grindstone follow-the-mission-quest-text-markers-and-objectives game players are likely to miss a ton of the subtlety baked into much of Cyberpunk 2077.

It is always possible to speed through the game as a berserk maniac committing mass genocide every step of the way. It is, dare I say it, even rather fun to consider in a power fantasy kind of way and one or two of my future playthroughs might go the corporate guns-blazing Rambo route (I’m sure some corpos think nothing of the poor anyway) or a blunt-weapon berserker just smashing things into non-existence.

But, much like Guild Wars 2, the game is even more rewarding for players who take the world seriously, read all the lore bits, give space for NPCs to do their thing or poke around in unmarked and unlabeled corners just to see what’s there.

Pretty much every encounter, even the side jobs and gigs from fixers, are all hand-crafted and contain their own unique stories. Many, through their level design, will allow for multiple solutions, based on your characters’ skills and your own player ingenuity.

Take for example, this small side gig: Fixer, Merc, Soldier Spy.

(Minor spoilers for this side quest follow, but chances are, you’re unlikely to do it the exact same way I did it.)

Your local Fixer, Regina Jones (she of the incessantly calling, relatively good-hearted fame) needs your mercenary V to do a bit of thievery. Stealing a datashard from the Russians, and preferably doing it so quietly that no one even knows it’s gone.

Strolling casually by the hotel in question, I can see the telltale gleam of a camera over the counter.

Me being the paranoid, sneaky sort, I push myself up against the glass to look in, and see a receptionist at the counter, and two Russian bodyguards watching TV in the hotel lobby.

I scan the area with my Kiroshi optics cyberware and tag all of them, their red outlines showing up like a wall hack. Then I hack into the camera, and use that camera to look around and check for other cameras or other potential threats. Once done, I send the camera another remote signal to turn itself off. All from the outside of the hotel with no one the wiser.

I circle much of the perimeter of the hotel, looking for alternate entries and ways in. I attempt hopping and climbing the fire escape, and leapfrogging from neighboring buildings with my double jump cyberware. (Unfortunately, this particular hotel is quite impregnable to such casual reconnaissance – I didn’t do -that- much serious building climbing though – for all I know, it’s possible to find an accessible building and hop in that way.)

Temporarily giving up that option, I save the game and stroll in to see how the receptionist reacts.

He’s on the phone for a brief period of time. The guards watching TV, thankfully, don’t react at this point. There’s a shiny elevator access pass sitting on the counter. If you grab it at this point though, they will all turn hostile and begin shooting at you (because, after all, that’s suspicious as f–k.)

There are a number of different conversation options once he gets off the phone and attends to you, “the customer.”

You can get a hotel room to gain elevator access. It’ll cost you $4500 to do so. (Yeesh, I don’t think my Fixer is going to pay that much for the job; it’s unlikely I’ll recoup -that- expense.)

If I was a little bit more intelligent than I was (4/5), I could conceivably distract him. I’m guessing that would let me swipe the access card once he was distracted.

My Streetkid background lets me pretend to have a delivery for the Russian VIP.

What kind of delivery? Illicit goods perhaps, or illicit good (singular).

Either way, the receptionist offers up some tricky resistance. He’ll try to call up the VIP to see if he’s expecting anything or anyone. If you stay silent, the VIP will pretty much give him a earful over the phone and you get rejected. So much for social engineering.

Or you can interrupt his call and say it’s a special surprise for him… in which case, the damnable receptionist wants a bribe for turning a blind eye to this. A $1100 bribe. Cheaper than the hotel room, but sheesh.

Yeah, you know what, I’m a gonna go with the first option.

I mean, there’s a reason why my current first playthrough character is so gosh darned stupid. I had decided to pump stats into Body (melee, athletics, strength stuff), Reflexes (ranged, guns, dexterity stuff) and Cool (stealth, resilience, composure, sneaky stuff) and save the intelligence and technical know-how for another smarty pants netrunner playthrough.

Basically, a female cybernetic Agent 47.

Convinced there was another way around this (I refuse to be ripped off), I tested the limits of my sneakiness and tried to skirt around the receptionist as far as possible, into the elevator hall.

The Russian bodyguards remained completely oblivious. (The VIP should really fire those guys.)

Turns out, it was very possible to, and the receptionist didn’t bother raising any alarm. When I hit the elevator, I figured out why. Because the elevator requires the access card. (Dang it.)

There is a side door off the elevator lobby though. It leads to a back room behind the receptionist’s counter. In it, is a spare elevator access card.

(I know this, because in one of my scouting attempts before reloading a save, I just broke out my mantis blades, hopped the counter, turning everyone hostile, and just went cyber-berserk on them all while opening the door behind the receptionist to see where it went. I was hoping for an actual access point from the outside. No such luck.)

Unfortunately, opening this particular side door requires a level of Technical skill that I, once again, do NOT have because I’m busy pretending to be Agent 47 in 2077.

Grrrrr…

… what would Agent 47 do? (in a game that unfortunately does not allow disguising oneself.)

I attempted a bunch of “Distract Enemy” quickhacks on the electronics around the receptionist, but unfortunately, a lot of them weren’t connected to any system, and he refused to take the bait even when I hit “Distract Enemy” on the computer directly in front of his face.

Then I said, to heck with it, the Russian bodyguards look really oblivious anyway.

I triggered the “Reboot Optics” quickhack on the receptionist. This blinds them, preventing them from sounding an alarm for the critical few seconds it took me to sneak up behind that arrogant ass, press F to grab him, and be offered a Kill or Non-Lethal finisher.

Because I am a nice person *ahem* (just stingy), I non-lethally knocked him out and then yoinked his body into the back room with the two TV addicts none the wiser.

Let this be a lesson to people who think they can get some cash off Agent 47.

He actually has an elevator access card on him, so you can take it off his body, or from the table in the backroom. The backroom has a computer terminal where one can fiddle with the cameras, as well as read some background lore on this comatose gentleman (an email exchange where you learn he’s pretty open to shady dealings, hence the request for a bribe, I suppose.)

Getting up the elevator is not the end of the story though.

One side of the hallway leads to a bunch of inaccessible doors and a cleaner who doesn’t really give a f–k.

The end of the hallway leads to a glass door and a balcony just one floor below the penthouse, and a climbing route with some convenient ivy-covered railings that lets you access the first floor of the penthouse – almost directly under the noses of two Russians having an interesting conversation – one is the VIP, the other seems to be a female corporate businesswoman.

You can pretty much sit and listen to their entire conversation for more lore. Except there’s cameras that may detect you, and the first floor of the penthouse is full of floor-to-ceiling glass so one has to skip really fast between parts of the wall that obscure the NPCs’ view. The Russian VIP will also walk out from time to time for a smoke on the balcony, conveniently separating them for sneaking past or even a sneak assassination (if one was so inclined, one presumes, though that -might- just trigger alarms.)

OR one could take a right turn in the same hallway and walk through a stairwell. (If one has the technical ability, there’s a door in the stairwell that leads into the penthouse also.)

There’s also roof access from said stairwell. With a convenient forklift.

The lowered forklift provides a really convenient platform for checking out the penthouse at a distance, including taking control of the surveillance cameras and looking through the cameras’ eyes and basically, getting it turned off before even strolling over to said penthouse.

You can even see me crouched on the forklift through the camera’s eye view!

Then if you activate the forklift, it helpfully raises you up to the second floor of the penthouse, where you can also find a convenient doorway of ingress.

You can prowl through the whole second floor, more or less undisturbed while the two NPCs are conversing downstairs, and look through *unfortunately* red herring shards that aren’t the datashard you need, and a computer terminal with access to the camera network and emails about how the Russians had set up their own personal VPN and camera system for security.

(If you talked to the receptionist, he mentions how the hotel cameras on the Russians’ floor have been all turned off, so you could be lulled into a fake sense of security if you trusted him. But eh, who trusts such a greedy bastard anyway, right?)

Eventually, you figure out that the shard you need is directly on the first penthouse floor, pretty much next to those two Russians.

Me, I eventually took advantage of their time of separation (smoke break and bar break) to dance through the shadows of pillars like a cybernetic ghost, keeping out of view of both of them, snatch the datashard and then duck down behind a counter and snuck out the penthouse door when they weren’t looking.

I had to use the Body stat to force open a door to get back to the elevator hallway (no problems there) and I casually strolled past the two TV watchers and the missing receptionist (serves him right, still) and left the hotel environs, no one the wiser.

Your Fixer calls then, and you can have a conversation with her about this not being her typical bleeding heart jobs (turns out, even she has favors to pay off and people with a hold over her).

You still have to drop the datashard off with the client, who is waiting some distance away in a car. Turns out, they’re the Chinese. Corp vs corp, and your merc is just a small bit player in a much larger affair.

They take the shard off you, have a short convo between themselves and drive off. Fixer calls you, relieved it’s over, and pays you. If you did it quietly, you get a bonus.

All that, for just one side gig.

That is -lavish- amounts of loving detail. Which presumably, many people are completely missing, if they don’t even bother to do this side gig.

Or if they just walked in, screwed it up and decided to charge around guns blazing.

But mind you, that’s also a different can of fun. I re-loaded a game save to just try it out, for the purposes of this blog post.

Triggering the alarm will send a carful of Russians pulling up outside the hotel to provide reinforcements. The female Russian businesswoman with the VIP turns out to be a cyber’ed up bodyguard. She’ll pull out mantis blades and charge you, while ordering the VIP to hide.

She and I went at each other, me pulling out MY own thermal mantis blades, like the world’s most insane catfight gone horribly wrong with cyberpsychosis.

(I’m a little outleveled for this area by this point in the game, so I won quite handily.)

Her body contains another lore shard – which presumably you can only read if you put her on the ground somehow – lethally or non-lethally. (Much of the game contains these sort of details, a little bit of humanising of the NPCs you may have carved up or riddled with bullets thoughtlessly while fulfilling quest objectives.)

Are we all monsters then? Ah, that’s the beauty of dystopian Cyberpunk.

After taking out all resistance, you can stroll past the Russian VIP cowering behind a sofa (whom you can choose to leave alive or put out of his misery, with no consequences except questions for your own morality) and pick up the datashard.

Then calmly walk out of the hotel with carnage in your wake, call your Fixer and pass it on to the Chinese. Whatever works. You don’t get a bonus, but eh, not that it really matters. Whatever floats your boat. Or the character you were role-playing (your V could hate corpos after all, or just be a complete psychopath.)

One side quest.

The whole city is dotted with such opportunities. Small cyberpunk stories. Mini-bites and quick looks at various characters trying to make a living in Night City.

(Many of them failing the “living” part once your V hurricane crosses paths with them. Unless, of course, you choose differently and exercise non-lethal options.

Does it matter? Not in the sense that there is some kind of moralistic Paragon/Renegade counter judging your every move and enacting a final ending consequence. Cyberpunk has never been about that kind of black-and-white Mass Effect morality. It is not kind enough to tell you straight off and label Option 1: Good, Option 2: Evil, pick one to see that story path play out.)

Cyberpunk is shades of grey. It is about the journey as well, and not solely the destination. It’s not as mean as the Witcher in that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But it is about trust and betrayal – who you choose to put trust in, who you choose to be honest with – some of whom will reward it and some of whom will stab you in the back.

It is about friendship and human relations, honesty and corruption, wealth and poverty, living safely or dying gloriously, freedom and control, retro and future, and all those beautiful and bitter juxtapositions that is the sum of human existence.

And that’s what makes Cyberpunk 2077 such a pleasure to play. 60 hours and counting. And no signs of stopping.

Yes, even through 600 “Gpu Crash for unknown reasons! Callstack here is probably irrelevant. Check if Breadcrumbs or Aftermath logged anything useful” crash errors. *sighs*

Cyberpunk 2077: A Study in Contrasts

For such a visually forward game, Cyberpunk 2077 makes it hard like hell to get any good screenshots.

My Steam overlay refuses to work – it has cheerfully wrapped itself around the launcher, but not the main game. (Maybe a Windows 7 thing.)

It provides a fantastic photo mode with a whole bunch of levers and sliders and poses – that only captures PNG screenshots in 1920×1080 resolution.

Lately, the photo mode has also just been crashing my game when I hit spacebar, and leaving a blank empty 0 byte PNG file in the screenshot folder.

The photo mode allows you to turn off all the UI – except it keeps a dumb rectangular cyan box that acts as your mouse cursor around, so I have to stuff it in a corner somewhere (in an invisible box that borders 1920×1080), hit print screen, alt-tab, paste the result into a paint program and then image crop to the point where the cyan box is no longer visible.

But because there are so many fantastic visual moments in Cyberpunk 2077, I will keep crashing the sh-t out of my system to screen cap some of it.

Take this part of the city I walked past, while on a gig to retrieve some stolen goods for a fixer.

I’d just come out of the grungy high density housing on the right, home to many poor apartment dwellers, when it hit me that these people were literally living in an area where… right across the river, this view greeted them everyday.

Swivel 180 degrees, and this is what you get:

There is a sad little side story in an apartment very similar to the ones above. A cyborg veteran sits around alone, abandoned, angry and bitter, with severe PTSD. He is severely unstable. He pulls a shotgun on your character as you go by, attempting to complete your mission. Suffice to say, whatever you choose to do, it does not end well.

If you check out his computer before you leave, there is a sorrowful email trail of some people trying to reach out to him, get him coming back to some PTSD support group… except he stopped going two months ago and cut off all contact. Just one more number in a city of night…

Which reminds me. Miracle of Sound released a remake of his 2013 song City of Night, with new Cyberpunk 2077 visuals. It is eerie how the lyrics composed seven years ago so closely match some of the visual themes of this game.

Perhaps some game designers were listening to the song on repeat loop while making it. (Ha!)

The chorus gives me chills.

Just like the casual ease the game throws you in situations where you get to see lifestyles of the rich and famous…

…and then a couple minutes drive away, areas distinctly much less rich and famous.

Then, since two faction games are always less complex than three factions… if you escape the pull of Night City proper, why not throw in some post-apocalyptic cowboy themes to boot?

The moment you really regret playing female V for your first playthrough.
(Boy, do I miss those multi-romance mods I used decades ago for Baldur’s Gate II. One can only hope it’s just a matter of time…)

Cyberpunk 2077: Crashing & Chilling in the City of Chrome

When I broke my usual rules of buying a game 1-2 years later (usually at 50-75% off) to pre-order the fresh release of Cyberpunk 2077, I had the distinct feeling that I was going to reprise my launch day, launch price experience with Evolve.

That is to say, paying a premium for the privilege of hurling myself into a den of vitriolic reviews and numerous bugs and jank, in the hopes of grabbing a craved-for experience with both hands before the chance slips away.

Add to that the fact that I am rocking a 6 year old PC with an i5 CPU, a GTX980 and Windows 7… suffice to say that my expectations were not super-high. I was mostly hoping the answer to “Will it run?” was “yes, somehow.”

Reports of the deplorable technical performance of this game were plastering the internet. So you could say my (rock bottom) expectations were met when I first started it up and it crashed about 5 seconds later.

Hoping against hope that I didn’t have to turn around and refund it on Day 1, I hit the update button on my aging Nvidia drivers and tried again.

This time, it did survive the introductory credits sequence, the main menu and about 50% of the tutorial before my incessant addiction to the cyber-Batman style see-all-enemies quick-hack-all-the-things slow-mo vision finally broke the game’s morale and dumped me back to desktop.

Undefeated, I hammered the yellow icon one more time to start all over again.

It’s a relationship I have built with this game over 20 hours of gameplay. Every 30-90 minutes, it decides it’s had enough and chucks me out with a “Cyberpunk has flatlined” error.

I refuse to give in and tell it to try again one more time. Almost inevitably, it manages to get past the point of prior resistance without too much further disagreement, and we move on for a brief spell before it finds something else unconscionable and spits me back out again.

I am married to the quicksave key at this point.

Yet I persist. Because the brief spell is a spell. It is enthralling. It is magical.

I have wanted to feel immersed in a cyberpunk city environment for a very long time now. And what better place than the eponymous Night City of Cyberpunk?

The visual spectacle is glorious and ambitious. Environmental art assets litter each scene, no doubt contributing to the groaning load of computers and consoles failing to handle the task.

A certain complicit suspension of disbelief is required.

Try not to talk to the NPCs who are there as background set dressing. If you trigger them by pressing F, they’ll come out and say something horrifically random and immersion-breaking, usually at the top of their lungs. If you leave them along to follow their scripts, then the environs feel believable, in a ‘there’s all this other stuff also happening around us’ kind of way.

Try not to follow cars for too long – they get held up at traffic lights, end without warning at some points on a freeway, and generally display less AI awareness than say, Sleeping Dogs’ cars.

Ignore the occasional graphical glitches of people models winding up in the standard T pose, guns floating in the air, a motorcycle falling from the sky (or at least ricocheting out of nowhere and landing in front of me – I did ride it, far be it for me to look a gift motorcycle in the eye.)

Mirrors seem to be permanently broken in my game. The original apartment mirror provided a full range of visual bugs, as reported by thousands elsewhere. I very nearly had a progression-breaking event in The Heist chapter, where your character is asked to go into a bathroom and given a choice to wash their face or smash a mirror. Both options led to repeatable crashes – it hated the thought of rendering water AND a mirror. (I finally lucked past that by opting to not walk into the bathroom in the first place and triggering yet another scripted series of events.)

Console folks, as far as reports seem to convey, are mostly screwed over for the time being and should probably hold off for now.

Skills and weapons probably need some kind of balance pass at some point. I picked up a knife-throwing from sneaking skill, only to find out that the knives are not retrievable, which is nonsensical when other guns can output ridiculous amounts of damage for renewable ammo. Then I crafted a tech sniper rifle, which can basically shoot right through walls when charged up – almost hilariously unfair once combined with tagging enemies through hacking cameras.

All that said, I am still eating, drinking, breathing and dreaming Cyberpunk at the moment because of the environments, the story and the lore.

I can run faster than cars and climb and hop from rooftop to rooftop in a neon and chrome, dark and grimy city filled with glorious contrasting excess between the tallest of sleek black corporate highrises and dockside slums built from rusty corrugated metal.

The cops and the corporates are corrupt and bullies. Gangs control each city district. Fixers offer mercs and solos jobs from vigilante justice to smuggling.

“Never Fade Away” is a short story / mini-adventure found in every edition of the tabletop Cyberpunk RPG and suffice to say, it is front and center in this game as well.

There are small visual callbacks to historical Cyberpunk, where hacking was still done with terminals and decks, as opposed to implanted chips.

Much like the world itself, the game is a monument to glorious ambition, hubris and excess. When and where it works, it purrs with cyberpunk detail like a blinged out cyborg mech punching above its weight class. When and where it doesn’t work (and there are lots who fall through the cracks), then it all comes tumbling down.

Steam Award Nominations By Someone Who Hasn’t Played Any This Year

This is a curious year for the Steam Awards.

For one, it feels like there haven’t been as many notable games launching this year, compared to other years. I presume something called a pandemic may have had something to do with that.

For another, a portion of those notable games have been coming out on different platforms and are thus not eligible for the Steam awards. The Final Fantasy 7 Remake immediately popped into mind, as well as the more recent and presumably relatively popular Assassin’s Creed Valhalla as another example.

Then there was Animal Crossing: New Horizons taking over peoples’ lives in the early part of the year, and totally not on Steam as well.

Add to that the strange weirdness of the ridiculously popular Among Us, which definitely became something of a zeitgeist in 2020 (of which I felt like the only lone hermit who did not partake), being quite ineligible as well. Apparently, it released in 2018 and was only re-discovered and re-hyped by streamers this year.

So we end up with a smaller than usual list, whittled down even further by the necessities of having a Steam release date of 2020.

And oh, did I mention I am a patient gamer who only buys things on heavy discount and have thusly played a grand total of zero big popular games released in 2020?

Steam wound up suggesting eligible “games you’ve played in 2020” like Fae Tactics and Metal Unit – which came in one Humble Bundle or another, which I taste tested for an hour or so. Nothing against either game (although Metal Unit is distinctly still in early access), but they are eminently small fry and would not even make a blip on the radar of awards that are meant to consolidate collective popular opinion.

Yep, definitely an extra special interesting year for the Steam Award nominations.

To add salt into the wound, Warframe is no longer eligible for the Labor of Love award, having swept up that category for goodness knows how many years running. So I went for the other obvious standby.

Arguably, Terraria may be another popular contender for this category, having had one big final update that even got me revving up the game for some time. But then, “This game, to this day, is still getting new content after all these years” and a -final-, journey’s end update don’t exactly mix, do they?

Next, we have the standard dilemma of overlapping games that can easily qualify for multiple awards, and attempting to partition them out in some way.

Popular multiplayer game fads this year that came to mind as things streamers were jumping on: Fall Guys, Among Us (mentioned above), and Phasmophobia. Nearly all multiplayer games are, by definition, “Better With Friends.”

(I mean, is there really such a thing as a multiplayer game better with enemies or people you severely dislike? Sea of Thieves? Eve Online? A MOBA? Neptune’s Pride / Solium Infernum? But but.. the joy comes in backstabbing people you know, right? Not strangers. But I digress..)

After a brief period of self-debate, I passed it off to the more light-hearted Fall Guys, for the sheer -quantity- of friends it allows in a game.

Phasmophobia also, I felt, deserved a highlight for breaking an innovation boundary of successfully bringing in and using voice chat / voice recognition as a significant part of its gameplay. (Other games have tried before this, but did not quite make it to being this popular.)

The other super obvious game that would -have- to make it on some kind of category was Hades.

The game seemed to have taken over the consciousness of pretty much every gamer in existence. There are only 1.1% negative reviews on Steam. If that is not close to being universally appealing, I don’t know what is.

Holding out being a patient gamer for this game has been hard. (Maybe in the winter/Christmas sale it might get to 33% off. Let’s see if I can wait till 50% off.)

Game of the Year contender? Definitely. Soundtrack? Possibly. Game You Suck At? Most Likely. It’s a roguelike after all, it’s built into the design.

But I ultimately gave it this category:

It is undeniably a stand out in how it looks. Most Supergiant games are. They are visually distinct and drip, nay, gush with style and panache.

The other visual style contender was Ori and the Will of the Wisps. The play of light and color in that game’s screenshots are riveting.

But then, as I juggled listening to the soundtracks of Hades, Ori and Doom Eternal on Youtube, there was only one soundtrack I would definitely be willing to sit through for all 3 hours and then put on repeat loop.

Moving into the “I’m running dry, let’s abuse Steam release dates since they’re already so unfair anyway” territory, I spied Factorio on the list of -ostensibly- released in 2020.

That was easy. Have you seen my spaghetti base way back in 2019? (And I was pretty late to the Factorio party.) Some day, when I wrastle up enough courage, I’ll try again.

Story-Rich Game was hard. So hard. Final Fantasy 7 remake was the obvious contender, but you know, console exclusive. The ever so polarizing Last of Us 2? Yep, you know what.

(Ghost of Tsushima would not exactly be my first choice for story game per se, but hey, it’s a popular game released in 2020 – also moot for the same reason.)

I briefly stared at Vampire: The Masquerade – Coteries of New York (which I did taste test as part of a Humble Bundle, and found it “meh” aka decent, but not earthshaking). Then I read the Steam page for Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Heart of the Forest, which seemed to be more positive review-wise, but didn’t strike me as something I could vote for sight unseen.

Finally, I decided to just abuse Steam release dates some more and go with something I played on the PS4 and know has a solid emotional story.

Come to think of it, if we’re sitting around abusing Steam release dates for PS4 games, another obvious contender for story-rich game has just come to mind as I write this blog. Detroit: Become Human. But come on, it’s released on the PS4, then it released on Epic last year, and then finally on Steam. It’s tough to consider it ‘new’ at this point. (At least HZD released at the same time on both Epic and Steam, making it somewhat questionably ‘new’ for the PC.)

I saved the Sit Back and Relax Award for an indie I have been patiently waiting for and craving. I love coffee and the cafe culture. It seems right up my alley. Just got to #patientgamer a little more – it might bundle at some point!

VR Game? You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m still waiting on building a PC with Windows 10. Covid spanner into 2020 plans and all that. Who has the spare cash for a VR headset? Who would keep track of VR games without owning a VR headset?

What’s that, you say? I need to vote for all categories in order to complete this meaningless little task checkbox so that I can get a meaningless (but shiny) award/badge/xp?

*heads to the VR section of Steam in the hopes of finding something that pops out*

No worries, Valve. I understand shilling for your platform.

(It’s apparently quite good. I wouldn’t know.)

And of course, finally, in another rehash of abusing Steam release dates for PS4 games, comes the final contender that was busy duking it out with Hades for Game of the Year, and was also being considered for Innovative Gameplay and maybe, but not quite, Story-Rich Game.

Let’s face it. From what I understand of it, Hades is a gamer’s game. It seems to be technically perfect from an execution standpoint, of fast hitting action, of challenge, of repetition, of being visually outstanding and tying in gameplay mechanics to its story and design. It excels in execution.

But in vision? In innovation and breaking boundaries? Of being that sort of classic that polarizes and confuses some people for being just a little too forwardly thinking out there?

Let’s put it this way. I’m willing to build a PC to get Windows 10 going in order to play Death Stranding. I don’t think I would go through the same effort for Hades. I’d get to it when I get to it.

My threshold price for Hades is probably 33-50% off. If I had a computer capable of playing Death Stranding, I would have bought it immediately at launch price.

Then there’s the whole creepy synchronization between the themes of Death Stranding – isolation and connection, the working class and those being delivered to, life and death and the apocalypse with the entirety of real world 2020.

When we look at it that way, how could it not be Game of the Year?

For the First Time…

So where have I been?

Nowhere. Still quarantining at home for the most part. Occasionally coerced pointlessly back into the office, with masks. Figuring out how to navigate this new world of shaky supply chains and logistics, where grocery shopping for balanced nutrition while remaining as socially distanced as possible are consciously planned actions.

Juggling the bliss of pure introversion becoming a societally benevolent survival strategy with the downside of extraverts and ambiverts mentally breaking down all around me and absorbing some of that stress leakage in assorted ways.

Achieving a number of firsts in the past couple of months. (Though I use the word ‘achieving’ extremely loosely.) Perhaps ‘encountering’ would be a better term.

I lost an entire month or more to catching up with the entire saga of The Wandering Inn. That’s a first. I can’t even recall being so ‘with it’ with Worm or Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I’ve forgotten most of the details of the latter two web serials, but I feel like I’ll remember every single one of the Wandering Inn’s cast of wacky characters.

I guess I have to take back my initial impression of LitRPG being weird. If the writing can captivate me for that long, I have zero leg to stand on.

At the same time, for the first time, I have divested myself of Guild Wars 2. As in, seriously, consciously let go of it. The hardcore achiever collect-it-all mindset. The endless frustration about the endless lag. The twice weekly raid obligations. The mental drag of forever full bags.

Burnout had been a long time coming anyway – I might have clung on three more years than I should have. I gave the fractal update a pass. I skipped Halloween. I might get around to -very- casually dipping a toe into the latest story chapter at some point, but I’m four days late to the party and I don’t really care that much. If I don’t log in, I don’t have to deal with any of the weighty matters above. One less mental burden in this crapsack 2020 year.

I could be doing other things. Like catch up on my reading. I blazed through the latest Dresden Files – Peace Talks and about 7/8 of the way through Battle Ground – in a couple of days.

The past three months have also been a nouveau experiment in a new style of gaming.

I haven’t quite pinned down a proper term for it yet.

I mean, we’ve all heard of patient gaming by now, where one chooses to wait for a period of time before buying and playing a video game – aka doing one’s best to avoid the launch hype and the launch price.

Every so often in the respective reddit, someone pops up with the eternal lament about dealing with one’s “backlog” of games they want to play, and others return assorted advice about creating a structured list and sticking to it, limiting one’s options, reframing perspectives and erasing the word “backlog” and replacing it with “collection” or “library,” relaxing the obsession with game completion, etc. etc.

Infrequently, I chime in with a slightly more left-field strategy of cycling as many games as one desires for 15-30 mins or some other random block of time.

It’s meant as a short term tactic of satisfying the urge to try out the many games on one’s mental list of “stuff I want to play” while trusting that one might eventually bump into something that sticks for longer or worse case scenario, one covers a lot of games territory while encountering nothing captivating.

It works, for me, at any rate. I have a large amount of already collected games at any one time and ridiculously diverse tastes, so the limited focus, specialization strategies don’t work as well for me.

What I -was- experimenting with was a larger scale, variant application of this idea, and stealing some of the theme behind Krikket’s “Play to Satisfaction” policy.

The working term is “Unfettered Gaming” as inspired by the Stephen R. Donaldson poem about Unfettered Ones – the quote that keeps echoing through my mind is “Free Unfettered Shriven Free”

It’s a mouthful, but it encapsulates the idea of loosing all restrictions. All “shoulds” and “have tos” and “ought tos.” It’s the antithesis to the Five Game Challenge, which is more one of those limited focus strategies.

It’s about even deliberately playing against those mental restrictions, if one becomes aware that some baggage is bogging them down, so that one realizes the world won’t end when doing so.

Example – “I should complete all games when I start playing them.” “I want to see the story to the end.”

Heck, no. That is a LOT of baggage to deal with. The reality is that I don’t complete most games. Nor do many other people. So why put that expectation on myself? I’ll play the game up to the point I no longer feel like playing it. Once it gets too onerous, I shall decide to stop and decide on the next action.

Am I just not interested in the gameplay? But still keen on finding out what happens next? I shall check out a written synopsis or skim through a Youtube Let’s Play, and call it done.

Am I stuck? Do I not know where to go? I shall use a walkthrough and disregard the “real gamers don’t use walkthroughs” guilt trip glomping around in the back of my mind.

Is the game too hard? Too frustrating? I shall find a cheat. I shall lower the difficulty. I will MOD the shit out of the game until I like it again.

(Which is, by the by, how I spent 2-3 weeks in the past months playing ARK singleplayer. The default setings are bullcrap. Harvesting and resources and dino taming settings were tweaked to be easier. I played until I bogged down, realized the weight limit sucked, and turned up the player weight and dinosaur weights.

No point owning a bunch of Brontosaurus if carting things from them is annoying as hell with 250 weight limit. Yes, the tamed dinos have all overrun the place. #firsthousesyndrome
This new slightly more sizeable compound brought to you by a 1600 weight limit and the resources stone and wood.

Argentavis speed is terrible? Mod it for classic flyer speed. Classic flyer speed still too damn slow? Fiddle with the config file for TWICE the speed. Now I can actually solo fly across the island in decent time.

Wheeeeee!

It’s not at all cheating oneself if one will actually stay -longer- with a game when doing so. Ditto Sunless Sea and ship speeds. So goddamn turtle slow.)

Am I truthfully just no longer interested in the game for the current moment? As in, not likely to click on the icon in the next week or so?

I used to just keep the game around… just in case. Well, part of deliberate unfettered gaming is to loose that fetter. UNINSTALLED.

Gone from the hard disk. What’s the harm? I can always re-download it again when I get the urge to play it again. The save files are mostly all intelligently maintained or cloud saved these days.

And truthfully, if I don’t come back to the game within a week, I have probably forgotten how to play it and will usually have to start a new game rather than pick up half way in a save I don’t remember at a difficulty that is now too ramped up for the unfamiliar.

This part is probably the biggest personal mental habit that I have been deliberately working against to break. I hoard. I cling. It’s what I do. I accumulate stuff. I accumulate installed games all over the place until my hard disks are crammed full.

I am slowly, ever so slowly learning, that the world is not going to end if I just make a little virtual note that I might play X game again someday, and then strip the thing from my hard drive and have the Steam list a bit more greyed out than usual.

“I should play this game properly” “I want to be optimal” “I need to learn the exact ratio of X to Y in order to make this as efficient as can be” “I can’t enjoy this game unless I’m playing it in a properly approved best practices manner.”

Yes, some people enjoy doing so. That’s how they play their games. All power to them. You? You don’t have time to do so. Learning to be an expert is going to take longer than you’re likely to stay with the game in the first place, given your distracted honeybee mind.

So if your virtual city’s roads look like a Mayan hieroglyph…

… and your new highway flyover is daring the city’s denizens to commit suicide if they accelerate up it too fast…

…you know what? They’re just going to have to deal. (Anyway, it makes all the cars and lorries slow down before they attempt the sharpest angle turn of their lives. It’s fine.)

So my Steam games activity list has looked something like the above for the past month or so. A new game “for the first time” every couple of days.

Whatever I feel like playing, I play.

However I feel like playing, I play.

Whatever I don’t feel like playing, I don’t play. (And uninstall it after some time.)

Whenever I don’t feel like playing, I don’t play. (And do something else, like reading, or watching Youtube videos, or eating, or even *gasp* exercising – on a small scale, with microworkouts.)

It’s been harder to blog about because I’m not about to write a first impressions post or paragraph for every last random game I play. And then drop happily after a couple hours or days, having enjoyed most of my time spent with most of them. That becomes an obligation and we’re doing Unfettered Gaming here.

That’s the whole point.