The Gaming Attention Span of a Kitten

A friend of mine once commented that it was impossible to play games with me because I rarely stuck to any one game for long.

I’d find something new and fascinating, play it for a couple hours, wax rhapsodic about it to anyone who would listen, beg and cajole for interested parties to join in, and… apparently… if said people ever did jump in, I’d be off running to another game in the next few days, while they were still getting their feet wet and figuring out the old game.

(Now, I did think this was a little unfair, because I’m perfectly game to -reverse- directions and play whatever game that required the multiplayer, or be company as needed… even if it was now several games down my list of “currently playing.”

Ultimately, I think the mismatch was more that the friend and I liked different styles of games. And said friend was more the ‘mastery’ sort of player, who liked to focus on one game at a time – often something I had already sampled in my whirlwind couple of days tour and decided wasn’t really to my taste, so ‘generalist’ me promptly dumped it in favor of something else.)

Then there was the extended period of time where I proved the comment wrong by becoming glued to Guild Wars 2 for the better part of 6-8 years, even if unhealthily so for the last couple of them with the relationship having gotten as rocky as it had, between raids, company troubles and network issues.

But of course said friend is an old friend, and old habits die hard.

Without the socio-contractual obligation of multiplayer games to lock me temporally in place, I’m free and unfettered to zip at will around singleplayer games. And boy, can I zip and zoom.

This makes blogging about games hard.

Possibly even harder than trying to catch me interested in a game for enough time to join in, learn and play alongside.

See, the issue is that if I’m interested in a game, I’m probably going to be playing it, as much as I can, for every waking hour. Blogging time? Ha! I could be -in- the game right now.

Then once I stop being interested in a game, it’s not very exciting to blog about now, is it? And there’s that other shinier game that took my attention away from the first game.

Story of my December, really.

At first, there was Hollow Knight.

I’d bounced off the game once. Platformers are not a favorite genre of mine. I am mostly neutral – I can play them, I will obligingly try 10-20 times for difficult jumps but you may dream on if you think I’m doing 50-100 repeat speedrun trials for mastery sorts of challenges. But mere neutral feelings are hard to hold one’s attention for long if there are more favorite, shinier toys lying around.

The game felt a little too big and complex for me to deal with at the time. Come the end of last year though, what with the story of the real world and all, and I was ready for a Death’s Stranding, a Souls-like wander through ghostly desolate lonely environments.

I absolutely got that with Hollow Knight and its atmosphere, with a side of bug mixed with ghostly spirit.

I went pretty deep into it for a week or two, 19 odd hours, suddenly thrilled by the depth and complexity of the world map, which unfolded like one of those oldschool Final Fantasy affairs, revealing a continent, a WORLD, with ZONES full of potential.

I suppose Metroidvania players will be shaking their heads at this. “Yes, that’s what the word Metroidvania MEANS.”

Me, I’m not a platformer player though. I’ve played neither Metroid or Castlevania (beyond a few rooms in some long ago Game Boy cartridge whose name I can no longer recall.)

Dealing with the scope of the levels required a very particular state of mind. A willingness to get sucked down the worm hole and slowly learn and explore all of its nooks and crannies. Absolutely no other distractions that might detract from the mastery of the map, its items, its bosses, its entirety.

My last achievement in Hollow Knight was dated Dec 9, 2020.

Guess what launched on Dec 10.

Yep, a big Cyberpunk distraction.

I’ve already oozed plenty of opinions on Cyberpunk 2077 in three separate blog posts, so enough said about that.

10 days later, on Dec 20, I reached the Legend of The Afterlife achievement of max Street Cred (so sayeth Steam).

It’s not as glorious as it sounds. It just means that I was in that part of the game where I was patiently visiting every marker on the map, uncovering and doing side quests, and gotten into a less new, more repetitive kind of gameplay loop. Still comfortable. Still immersive. (Ditto the crashes were still a mite annoying.)

I wasn’t ready to be -done- with Cyberpunk. So I was avoiding triggering the main quest and rushing toward an ending. Nor was my system really ready to be -playing- Cyberpunk properly – minimally, Windows 10 sounded like a good idea and maximally, a brand spanking new graphics card with a new computer everything to go along with it.

The supply chain and economics were mostly laughing at that second part, so yeah. Kinda left in limbo.

(Though as of writing this post, I see a new hotfix has dropped today, so maybe I might check it out again soon.)

In the midst of this waffling, Christmas sales waltz right along, and I’m thinking, “Eh, this year, of all years, I definitely deserve to treat myself with stuff I was putting off. Just to be grateful for being alive and being able to still afford such luxuries.”

Before you know it, I’d racked up a collection of assorted games on sale for ~$36 USD, some of which I’ve yet to get around to. What else is new?

  • Morphblade – not tried
  • Heat Signature – not tried
  • It’s a Wipe! – amusing indie that lets you manage an oldschool-feeling MMO raid group by yourself, complete with spammy, scrolling text. Bit primitive and clunky, but is what it is on the cover.
  • NEO Impossible Bosses – same idea as above, except with RTS/DOTA controls, and impossibly hard bosses with different raid phases and all. Given that my grasp of RTS controls is about as skillful as a first-time FPS player managing mouselook and keyboard, this moved the difficulty level from “Impossible” to “Inconceivable / Died Repeatedly to Tutorial Boss.” 18 minutes and as many deaths later, I finally gave up. Refunded.
  • Mini Healer – yet another spin off with the same idea, except you play the MMO healer keeping your four character party alive against ever more difficult bosses. Best gameplay loop of the lot; captures the action of combat casting and juggling heals over time, instant heals, buff/debuff/dispels, group movement, boss phases, etc. while still simplifying it enough that a single player can manage and find it fun. Recommended.
  • Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition – not tried (I’m sure it’s lovely. Stop screaming already.)
  • D&D Lords of Waterdeep – have the iPad version, so I knew what to expect, just wanted it on PC to overheat the iPad less. Basically port of the board game. Worker placement, collect resources, spend it on quests, accrue points, sabotage other players in an attempt to earn the most points. Mix of randomness and strategy, I just like the setting and theme.
  • DOOM – not tried (yeah, yeah, I know, I’ll get around to it. Some day.)
  • West of Loathing – not tried

I -was- going to give West of Loathing a spin next, as I’d really missed Kingdom of Loathing and have been pining away for its standalone sister game for several years. (Just you wait, it’ll show up in a bundle now that I own it.)

Except that I got really really antsy staring at the Hades banner on the Steam store every time I logged in.

It is an EXCELLENT game. Everybody says so. It looks like polished perfection. It has that glossy cel shaded Supergiant aesthetic.

It was nowhere near my usual rule of 75% off for Steam games, nor even 50% off for stuff I know I will play immediately.

Then again, it is a low priced indie game, so the -absolute- value is not exactly prohibitive. The Steam regional price at 20% off put it at around $17 odd SGD, which is around $13 USD, so that’s already very reasonable and quite a bargain…

… BUT it’s not at the discount that I -swore- I’d stick to for most games. It’s the only way I control my Steam purchases and my predilection to amass the most ridiculous Steam games library of all time.

By the way, not interrupting the argument between you two parts of the same brain, but did you know that you can also find Hades on the Nintendo Switch store? It’s also on the Sales and Deal page, but not as cheap, of course. It’s $19.99 USD. Guess Nintendo has to take their cut, and there’s that whole non-regional pricing thing. But you know, just sayin’.

The Nintendo store is not the Steam store. Your sales discount rule doesn’t hold there. We acknowledge that console games are pricier. Do you think we might ever want to play Hades in a portable format? Like on your bed or sofa? It’s an action game. Maybe gamepad controls are better than keyboard/mouse?

But we -are- better at keyboard/mouse controls than gamepad controls… so I dunno… And $19.99 USD is undeniably objectively more expensive than $13 USD.

But then it’ll be portable! And if Hades ever turns up in a bundle, you won’t curse and swear and you’ll ALSO get it on Steam eventually.

Hmm… Hang on, did we ever check whether Hades supports super ultra-widescreen? We always have that spectre to deal with on PC.

Hrm. I dunno. Let me google and find out… Funny, there’s not that much mention of yea or nay. Maybe it doesn’t? But wait, there’s some bits here that says there is some kind of widescreen support. Maybe?

But is it super-ultra widescreen support? Some games are okay with the 2560×1080 resolution, but we have that chonkingly ridiculous 3840 x 1080 that we still very much like, but is admittedly quite nonstandard for some games to cope with.

Oh, oh wait. Oh. Apparently Hades copes with widescreens by putting these decorative skull pillars on either side of the screen where the black bars are…

… WHHHAAAAAT. Are you SERIOUS?!?!

I mean, I guess it’s not so bad on 2560×1080. It’s kind of pretty… if a bit distracting. How about this Redditor who has a 3440×1440 screen?

A BIT? We have a 3840 x 1080. We’re going to have the WIDEST chonkiest decorative skull pillars (admittedly, the art is pretty, but it doesn’t mean I want to look at them forever), and about 50% of the screen actually moving at any one time. There’ll be more skull pillar than actual game.

We could play on Windowed mode?

Give me the browser. Let’s go to the Nintendo Switch Store. $19.99 it is. It’ll be portable. It’ll blow up to our monitor resolution without skull pillars and just plain non-distracting black bars. Done.

And that was the longwinded story of how my brain persuaded my brain to buy myself Hades for Christmas.

Suffice to say the PC didn’t get very much use for the next week or two.

Hades is exactly as excellent and polished as they say.

As long as you’re okay with, or won’t freak out over action style combat in the vein of Bastion or Cat Quest, you will very much like Hades. It has self-contained endless replayability down to an iterated science.

It took me 49 attempts to finally reach victory point #1 and escape the Underworld, and surface from my intense love affair with the entire game. The core combat, the atmosphere, the elegance of its roguelike mechanics and loops that unveil that aphrodisiac of game content – story progression – by also losing and dying, not just saving it as a drip fed reward for victorious gameplay.

Apparently, one has to escape the Underworld ten times to maybe exhaust the entire main story. Let alone the side stories. Not to mention, there’s the item / weapon / skill / decoration unlocks. And set-your-own-difficulty challenges. Plenty of gameplay left. Possibly the most worthwhile $19.99 ever spent game-wise.

Absolutely no regrets. Highly recommended.

That landmark day of victory was the 9th of January. Surfacing from the depths of the Underworld back to the land of the living, that is.

For some inexplicable reason, I started to think about Path of Exile.

One Google later, I learned that my internal alarm clock was surprisingly, frighteningly accurate. Heist League, which I’d skipped, was ending. The new Ritual League was beginning on Jan 15.

Perfect timing. One week or so of build research, plotting and planning, and we would be off to the races. (That’s only a metaphor. I play super relaxed SSF.)

I wanted to play a summoner, as it’s one of my easier, favored ways to push deep into the Atlas. But then three days before launch, there was word about lots and lots of necromancer / spectre nerfs or something. So I pivoted to MELEE summoner. Dominating Blow, whoo. Seems to be doing okay so far. Ahh.. the pleasures of screen covered in minions actually doing the dirty work of fighting.

One week later, we are back in the early maps endgame, tinkering along at a comfortably slow and steady pace. It’s getting dangerously close to that stage of “fun, comfortable, still good to play, but maybe there’s something even more interesting on the horizon?”

We’ll see. There’s always a shinier, newer, distracting game at some point.

Without anyone to reel me in or anchor me down, I have the attention span of a kitten. That’s where the “wandering worlds” part of the blog byline comes from. Proud to give it full rein.

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?