Bright = Shadowrun – Cyberpunk + LA Gangs

Over on Rotten Tomatoes, critics are roundly panning Netflix’s Bright, awarding it very dismal ratings.

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Me, I’d rather trust the other score.

Frankly, since it was on Netflix, I’d already went ahead and watched it, before consulting the scores just to see where my opinion stood.

I’d go so far as to award an even higher score than Tyler F. M. Edwards over at Superior Realities.

I liked Bright. I liked it a lot.

I don’t think I can stretch it to “I loved it,” because it’s rough around the edges, but it was enjoyable and entertaining, and painted an audio-visual picture of a believable enough world that’s the closest thing to Shadowrun as seen on the big screen. For now, anyway.

The plot had a beginning, middle and end, and was relatively consistent and believable.

Sadly, the same can’t be said for a good number of movies which have you going, “Wait, what?” “Huh?” “How did plot point A that led to B suddenly leap to J and P and K, instead of logically following to C and D?” and then reaching for a mobile device to look up a synopsis on Wikipedia in the hope that someone summarized it in an understandable manner.

There were some cool story moments and subtle worldbuilding scenes (amidst more heavy-handed ones – just assume they have to include those to cater to a more mainstream audience’s ability to understand.)

Case in point, the worldbuilding at the beginning of the movie is spot on.

It starts very modern contemporary, just mixing in some fantasy from time to time.

Here’s some Orkish graffiti; here’s some Orcs so you know how they look like in this world (visually very akin to the Shadowrun backstory of Goblinization of humans as magic came into the world, even if the script indicates this world has had the fantasy races for far longer for some two thousand years); here’s this Fairy that’s not really considered sentient but more on the level of a pest and people treating this magical creature as a perfectly ordinary occurrence in this particular world.

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Will Smith as human cop dad has a conversation with his daughter that situates the audience about where this world stands on fantasy race prejudice (a little bit heavy-handed, but mainstream audience, y’know.)

Then we tour the world ourselves as the protagonists drive to work.

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The districts are separated by heavily guarded checkpoints.

The elves, well… see for yourself:

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But right amidst all this really obvious situate-the-audience-in-our-world visual storytelling, there’s a small little subtle exchange that I totally missed on the first watching, and only understood on a subsequent rewatch:

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The two protagonists look out their cop car and see another orc do that.

Then Will Smith’s character says, “Even the chauffeurs are snobs” as his orc partner frowns.

It’s not until you finish the movie that you’ll understand the significance of that moment. It’s an orc thing.

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The cops exit Elftown, we see more district checkpoints, rich/poor juxtaposition… and oh hey, did you see one of the guards is really a centaur?

I didn’t, not until I took the screenshot for this blog. Frickin’ cool world.

In the orc ghetto areas, things are dirty, desperate, full of gangs and then in a nice wordless moment, we get to see how dang strong this world’s fantasy orcs are:

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See, I think the critics get it all wrong by thinking Bright is trying to blend the genres of fantasy, buddy cop drama and social commentary.

No, no, no. Those are not the genres you’re looking for.

You can try to squish it into the above mainstream boxes in the hopes that the normals understand, but it will understandably fall short, because they aren’t aiming for those genres at all, but a mashup of mashups somewhere in between.

Bright is Shadowrun, minus Cyberpunk, plus LA gangstas.

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Let me explain. Shadowrun is one of the more mashed up RPG world settings already.

It’s tech meets magic, urban fantasy meets cyberpunk, in a dystopian yet anachronistic future.

In Shadowrun, we have a far future world somewhere in the 2050s, as envisioned by RPG writers imagining said future from the perspective of the 1980s. This world contains a cosmopolitan mix of fantasy races that aren’t required to hide behind some secret supernatural masquerade, but are treated as part of modern life.

At the same time, Shadowrun is also a world of a Neuromancer-like dystopia where megacorporations hold sway and cyborg adventurers flit in the shadows like black operatives.

Bright has dropped the cyberpunk, possibly in an attempt to not violate copyrights and save money on special effects or just to simplify things for a movie-going audience. So, no hackers, no decking, no cyberware, no futuristic Blade Runner-like sci-fi.

But the “urban”, “modern,” “fantasy,” “cosmopolitan,” “megacorporation,” “dystopia” bits are still there, more or less.

Critics are going in the entirely wrong direction when they pick out heavy-handed racism depicted in the movie and call it thinly veiled, badly written social commentary on our own world.

Dudes, Bright doesn’t care. Bright is using your knowledge of “black vs white” racial politics and extrapolating it to help you understand a new, alternate reality, dystopian-esque world. Bright’s Shadowrun-like world that includes a dash of Tolkien high fantasy.

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Fantasy is all about stereotypes. The exaggeration is deliberate. That’s the genre, people.

It’s good guys vs the Dark Lord. Fantasy is a genre where racial stereotypes -are- exaggerated – elves are pointy-eared snooty pretty bastards, that’s WHY they’re elves. Dwarves are short, bearded, gold-mining armored vikings and orcs are pig-ugly tusked muscular brutes. In general, NPCs follow these stereotypes. Then you break it up with a few exceptional individuals that tend to be the PCs.

So, yes, in the world of Bright, the police are racist, corrupt and more prone to brutality than not. The orcs, as a whole, are an oppressed race; the elves more privileged and holier than thou. It’s a dystopia. That’s the point.

It’s just that Bright steers clear of setting its world in the near-future of Shadowrun, and dials it back several decades, plonking itself right down in a fictionalized LA gangs/GtA-inspired contemporary 1980-2000s era instead.

Once you get that, it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the movie for what it is.

A Shadowrun adventure where you cheer for your protagonists known as “the party,” often made up of an ensemble cast of racially-diverse individuals, as they romp through a series of contained stories that will hopefully make up a campaign, amidst a backdrop of a world filled with far more powerful factions and deeper things going on behind the scenes.

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And the buddy cop bit? It just so happens that the two main PCs are cops, one orc, one human. So you get some of that roleplay flavoring while they meet up with their third cast member that’s not quite fully a PC yet (but will probably be part of the party by the next session.)

So yeah, it’s not a full on cop procedural, it’s just got some buddy cop mashed into the Shadowrun-style story, that’s all.

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The above is one of those cool story moments. One of our PCs makes an utterly momentous decision. A choice with consequences. After this, things will never be the same. We go from “normal” life to the Shadowrun adventure that makes up the rest of the movie.

Granted, the ‘magic’ part of Bright’s fantasy element is quite heavily simplified in the script. It’s a touch grating to hear the main MacGuffin of the movie named as a “Magic Wand” over and over. If an audience can deal with Voldemort’s Horcruxes, surely it’s not necessary to use such a simplistic, lore-unladen term for a major artifact?

The dialogue is a little hit-or-miss. Some lines work with some people and make others twitch and grimace. I just let it wash over me and assume the ‘obvious’ stuff is to help explain things to someone far less into a Shadowrun-style setting so they can appreciate and understand the story. (Still not obvious enough for the critics. Oh well.)

Apparently, the director David Ayer rewrote Max Landis’ script. So depending on who you detest more, you can pretend that all the bad lines came from that person. Guess we’ll never know for sure unless the original script comes to light.

Still, it’s a pretty fun romp overall.

I definitely want more.

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The Month, The Year in Review

I have been trying to write this post for a month now. I think this is draft 4, or 5… I’ve lost count.

I’ve been searching for a way to write a post that doesn’t sound negative, or depressed, or tired, or recount a billion unimportant incidents in roundabout fashion. (That is, “unimportant” to me, specifically.)

Suffice to say that a couple of things have happened in the intervening month that have helped to reshuffle priorities that were already mid-change process. Thankfully, none of them were serious, drastic or tragic things, but meaningful enough incidents that shook loose some established habits.

For example, GW2 raid-wise, after 2-3 weeks of in-retrospect overblown anxiety and frustration at not being able to kill the Vale Guardian due to the vagaries of my guild groups, I decided to take matters into my own hands and resolved to devote the next week to all-out 100% game time spent mercenary-ing until I encountered enough raid groups to luck into one that -could- kill VG.

That first Monday night, on the very first PUG group, we killed the Vale Guardian. Just like that.

(Albeit with the potion of elemental slaying still in effect, and a raid leader that cherry-picked OP classes, but still, VG dead, using cc strat, no other shenanigans besides the potion.)

Doing that suddenly cured me of the desire to race any further ahead. It was possible, yes, but I’d have to over-devote my time to a very specific aspect of the game, go hunting for a likeminded guild in my timezone, and then spend way too many hours practising and specialising in that one thing with a limited group of people.

I realized that I had the most fun in TTS training raids, where there’s a pool of 20-30 odd interested individuals – small enough to get familiar with names and large enough for some people to not be able to attend on certain days while the group still continues on and improves their general ability. (There have been the odd success as the weeks past; I was in on one of those, so twice VG down now – alas, in the same week as the PUG, so I only got a shabby exotic once.)

Another guild that I joined to try out their raid plans has pretty much demonstrated much of the issues and drama of a casual raid (from plenty of no-shows to people who show up frighteningly unprepared, thus virtually guaranteeing failure,) to which I can only look on with some distant hilarity. (Better to laugh than get angry and upset, right?)

We’ll see, I plan on giving everything another month or two to settle down, since the Christmas period is kinda hellish on everybody’s schedules, but to be honest, I don’t know if I’ll be one of the devoted any longer at that point and may back out gracefully after some time.

You see, some of those things that have happened in December has also helped me reassess what GW2 has become for me.

It’s become a game, like any other.

Not a world. Not somewhere immersive to play out my characters’ stories or discover new things. Not a lifestyle or social club / network where I must needs make a name for myself or build a reputation in order to succeed at future goals.

Hell, it’s become a place where I can’t even fool myself with the comforting escapist illusion that I can win all the things or achieve all the goals (or most of them) or collect all the minis or what-have-you.

These days, you have to choose. If you spend 3 hours every day playing PvP matches to rise in divisions for one shiny, you don’t have the hours to chase another shiny such as the fractals backpack, or a new legendary, or an old one, or raid shinies, or festival shinies, or well, whatever.

Having to choose makes the artificiality of ALL the choices more evident to me. I become more aware that whatever goal I pick is an arbitrarily chosen one that I decided to value at this point in time, for fun, for entertainment purposes (since it would be quite sorry to believe any different and over-invest too much value or meaning into a certain goal.)

It is like the mobile games I have taken to playing (another one of those December things):

I suddenly had the urge to revisit my Dragonvale park this month. So I did. I clicked all the things, collected the gold and food that had been stored up to the max limit for eons, and then checked the little goals notebook for something to do. There seemed to be a hundred new goals and new dragon eggs to be bred and hatched, so I picked one at random, googled for a little helper guide to suggest the best dragons to put together to produce what I wanted, then clicked some more. After 1-3 days of what is essentially a random dice roll on a table, I felt cheered up to see the egg I had set my sights on turn up.

Amazingly, I felt more cheerful and happy at this than doing anything in GW2, including winning a Vale Guardian fight (which was mostly a neutral relief.)

I don’t think the level of challenge was a factor for me, I suspect it was more the shorter term time between setting out on a goal and receiving a reward, and the novelty factor of me imbuing more meaning and value into something new and unique and pretty, as opposed to “more tokens, another orange, meh, ok.”

That’s not to say that the latter is wrong, or that GW2 should take a 180 degree U-turn and award a unique and pretty skin for each raid boss killed (I might -really- freak then), but I suddenly recognized that I was over-investing way too much time and over-valuing one particular game when other games might give me whatever buzz or emotion I’m looking for in a faster, easier, less stressful, less time-consuming manner.

That’s not to say that I immediately ragequit or dropped GW2 like a hot potato either, I’m still playing it, pretty contently. Nibbling away at dailies, being an opportunist and jumping into group content as and when free time and mood coincide. But I hope, a little less one-sided or obsessively.

I also downloaded Freeblade onto my iPad, which is a pretty fun Warhammer 40k game where you pilot a sort-of mini-Titan, an Imperial Knight (not a true Titan, according to the fluff I haven’t had time to read) a one-man combat walker death machine (call it a mech or by any other name, it all sounds good to me.)

The aesthetics and graphic quality is pretty true to the franchise and good for an app game. Gameplay involves aiming a reticle with your finger for a light weapon burst, two finger targeting for a heavy weapons shot, and double-tapping for a little extra boost from a secondary back-mounted weapon, while the titan (ok, knight) marches on automatically following a preset path.

It rather reminds me of some of those old arcade shooting games that work in similar fashion, where you’re just concerned with manipulating a gun and shooting and aiming while the computer does all the behind-the-scenes work of moving and offering you plenty of targets to shoot at. I found it pretty fun.

There’s the usual gear level sort of design where you find that you end up needing higher and higher stats and crave shiny purple and orange stuff to more easily get through higher level missions. In usual microtransaction fashion, you can do it for free, super slowly, in time-limited fashion and reliant on RNG and patience, or you can put money down and be decked out like a god and skip all gameplay (*ahem* speed to more advanced areas without wasting any time and presumably complete the game or reach endgame faster)…

Some people loathe the monetization of the app, which pretty much pulls out all the stops and does it all, but I’m quite immune to this sort of thing and have cheerfully ignored stuff like Dungeon Boss’ attempts at eyebrow-raising money grabs that ask for minimum sums of $20 and go all the way up to $160+. (Obviously, they’re catering for whales far richer than I.)

I found Freeblade’s monetization to be priced more reasonably in general, with lower ranges of $3-$10+ and ramping up from there to catch the big whales.

I was mildly amused and even entertained by the stuff given as a freebie, in exchange for watching ads. Not any random annoying ad, mind you, these were very well targeted – iPad game apps that I found myself quite enjoying (at least, until you see Star Wars; Galaxy of Heroes for the 40th time, no thank you, I really detest the Star Wars franchise, I’m a heretic, I know.)

I even learned that the company that made Dragonvale, Backflip Studios, was pushing out a new Dragonvale game called Dragonvale World. That was ad success right there, because I rather cheerfully and agreeably downloaded that. (In a stunning reversal, Dragonvale World has apparently launched onto the Philippines and Singapore stores first, before places like North America. It seems to be a variant of Dragonvale with 3D dragons and a little bit more MMO-like in terms of cycling daily quests and longer time to level up dragons and being able to send them out gathering stuff for you – possibly like garrison followers, though I don’t play WoW, so that may be a very off-the-mark guess.)

I played Freeblade for free up to chapter 5, though I had to wait a couple days for patrol missions to reset so I could earn the necessary unlocks to get to the next chapter. Around that time, during an expected plot twist which changes the enemy type you’re fighting, a bundle offer popped up for three nice purple weapons and some miscellaneous goodies for 50% off, $10 dropping to $5.

That was the microtransaction that got me. It wasn’t necessary, per se. It was just pitched so reasonably that I felt it was time to pay for the app that I’d been enjoying for free, and that the gameplay offered was worth 5 bucks to me, and well, if you want to give me some extras in return, it’s mutual win-win.

Beyond playing app games in casual fun-seeking fashion, yet another December thing that happened was a sort of half-assed search for meaning.

Mostly the daily grind and GW2 routine had gotten to me, and some random Googling and e-library searches led me to a guy called Eric Maisel. He’s a bit New Age Psychology (“natural psychology” is part of his special terminology) and has written a frightening amount of self-help books targeted at the creative, depressed, anxious, self-defined intelligentsia. Much of the content of his books is fairly repetitive, and I can only recommend them if you a) don’t mind new-agey, self-help pep talk, b) get them for free, aka temporary loan from a library and c) skim-read.

In between the padded wordage, I found some insightful nuggets that helped my current thinking quite a bit. In essence, he suggests that “meaning” is a very subjective experience, that different people can imbue the same situation as being with or without meaning, depending on their perspective and where they’re coming from.

He also suggests that the best way to find meaning is to “make” it, to knowingly choose opportunities that may give rise to an experience that feels meaningful to you, rather than wandering around in a hopeless search for meaning or waiting for it to stumble into your lap.

(I’d personally disagree with him about the search for meaning being meaningless or valueless, but certainly, the concept of choosing to purposefully ascribe meaning to particular moments/opportunities in life is something I hadn’t actively considered or been working at, having been operating on autopilot for a good many months, maybe years.)

Another concept I found fairly valuable was that it’s perfectly acceptable to operate on “meaning-neutral” mode for parts of your day. Not every last waking hour -has- to feel meaningful, or else… Life just doesn’t work that way and it’s ok.

The basic idea is to just balance those parts with intentionally chosen activities/states of being where one -hopes- that meaning will arise once given the chance, but doesn’t feel put upon if meaning doesn’t arise, at least one tried to make opportunities for it.

So yeah, from now and into next year, expect me to be re-balancing stuff in my life that has gotten somewhat out of whack.

I forsee that much of the time to do this is going to come from the one over-prioritized thing, which is mostly GW2 time. The good news is that some of that re-balance may be a re-dedication to blog posting, which is, after all, a creative outlet where one can make and derive meaning.

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This, by the way, is my lazy person’s shortcut to summarizing my major games played in the year 2015. (Checked are those to be displayed on the graph below.)

Or rather Mar-Dec 2015, since that was when I had the urge to set up ManicTime, a time-tracker software Endgame Viable was using, and never got around to uninstalling it.

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And the graph by weeks.

I actually “played” a bunch of random Steam games for less than an hour or so, but I thought the graph was getting a little too messy.

GW2 was naturally the biggest time-suck, especially when the expansion came around.

Objectively, I have been spending more logged-in hours post-expansion than pre-expansion. (Considering most of this year was mainly waiting for the expansion and doing dailies and lacking motivation for anything else, that’s not exactly hard…)

Subjectively, however, I am not sure those hours were terribly enjoyable, which does suggest a pressing need to re-balance priorities and time.

Path of Exile and Trove were the two backup secondary games, at different times of the year, with Minecraft a very close third.

One might observe that I keep trying to fill the gaps with singleplayer narrative or story-heavy games, usually of an adventure game-ish bent, with branching story choices, which is the one thing that my main games haven’t been doing very well, since they are mostly multiplayer and action RPGish or MMOish.

All in all, it’s been a very purposeful game-playing year – I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend anything on the above list, besides Pixel Piracy and Savage Lands as the major exceptions, and X:Rebirth as the minor one.

Not that they were bad, I spent a decent amount of time playing them and having fun, it’s just that Pixel Piracy is quite basic and doesn’t feel entirely finished (even though it is a finished game) and Savage Lands is still an early access work-in-progress sandbox. X:Rebirth, meanwhile, is of the singleplayer spaceship trader genre, which I suspect only appeals to a limited subset of people.

Everything else is definitely worth a play. You still may or may not like them, but they either do things differently enough to be worth experiencing once, and/or they do what they do very well.

Blagust Day 10: Savage Lands – Early Access Impressions

Sun, sea and surf....

From afar, Savage Lands looks gorgeous.

I have to admit that I was initially attracted to it, as opposed to most other survival sandbox games, for this somewhat shallow reason. It looks kind of like Skyrim. Could it recreate the immersive feeling of Skyrim, in a survival setting?

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I wasn’t keen on finding out at the full price, while it was still in Early Access, avoiding such games as a matter of habit, but Steam cleverly read that a lot of people had this game on their wishlist and slashed prices by 60%. At $8, being able to try it out as it undergoes various updates over time and supporting its developers seemed like a steal.

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Up close, however, it gets somewhat more disappointing. The seams of the textures become obvious, the resolution is not that great, many of the bushes appear to have no substance whatsoever, being almost flat textures, and so on.

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The animations are awkward as hell, when you look at your own shadow.

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Each mouse click that swings an axe or hammer basically looks like this: Picture yourself taking a crouched haka stance… now freeze every part of your body, and swing one arm. Just that one arm. Up and down.

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Ugh.  It’s stiffer than a mannequin could achieve, and breaks practically all the rules of Animation 101.

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The sky’s still pretty, though.

The above anecdote about its visuals pretty much encapsulates the rest of the game as well, with the caveat that everything is still in Early Access, so the extent of the changes from now to launch is still unknown.

On the face of it, Savage Lands has something going for it here. Survival in a Skyrim-esque setting, with the promise of local singleplayer, friendly PvE multiplayer and free-for-all/hostile PvP multiplayer servers.

Hey, look, they managed to cater to all three subgroups of survival-liking players, how awesome is that already?

What it has does function, if in a basic manner.

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You start out crash-landed (via boat) on the shores of the Sundered Isle.

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There is a basic quest tutorial about stuff that you can collect and build.

Helpful items are spawned/placed fairly nearby so that you don’t immediately starve to death or otherwise die before figuring out what’s going on.

There are three meters that need to be looked after and maintained – fairly standard tropes in a survival game – Cold, Health, Hunger.

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Hunger, thankfully, doesn’t plunge as fast as certain other games *cough Don’t Starve cough* so there is time to putter around without a supreme sense of urgency. Which is good, because it takes a while to source out food.

There doesn’t seem to be any farming in the game as yet, so one is constantly foraging – either via the random hacking down of flora in the hopes that some berries or tree nuts pop out (disappointingly, there don’t seem to be any visual indicators as to plant-based food sources as yet either, so it’s been mostly Grand Theft Lumberjack) or via hunting animals.

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The hunting of deer is one of the better done ‘gameplay’ moments in Savage Lands so far.

Deer spook and run easily when you get close. So you have to “walk slowly” aka press the Ctrl key and “pretend to crouch and sneak through grasses” (no animations for those yet) and sneak up on the deer, if you hope to clobber them with a melee weapon.

It takes at least three hits to down the deer, so some patient stalking is in order.

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Fortunately, after a few repeated backstab rogue impersonations, you generally earn enough hide/sinew to make a bow.

Hurrah for ranged attacks. After crafting some flint arrows, the next hurdle is get the hang of actually using it. Right mouse button draws back the bow, left mouse button fires. The arrow arcs, and doesn’t quite go where your crosshairs are, so you have to compensate by aiming a little higher and/or shooting a few tracer arrows.

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The whole process ends up a pretty satisfactory simulation of deer hunting without making it impossibly annoying and time-consuming, and feels extremely rewarding because you almost always welcome the deer meat and you’re perpetually bottlenecked on animal leather products like hide, sinew and strong sinew.

Wolves are a little weird, aka the AI might still need to be worked on a little.

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Normally, the only way I realize a wolf is around is when I hear the growl and look down to see one of them nipping at my heels. It’s like they just appear around my ankles.

They take around 5 axe hits to slay, and the first few hits usually end up as an exchange of blows (with one caveat) and after they’re wounded, they seem to like running away for a short distance or running in wide circles…

Ok, this fella is a plague wolf and takes about 10 hits. Similar AI though.
Ok, this fella is a plague wolf and takes about 10 hits. Similar AI though.

…though ironically, they almost always come back, so it’s just a matter of letting them run themselves around a mulberry bush and taking another swing when they approach.

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Skeletons move slowly and otherwise seem to aggro like wolves initially. Then they’ll just inexorably close on you, and keep coming.

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Fortunately, the general caveat of -any- fighting in Savage Lands presently is that all you have to do is melee kite the buggers, and they’ll take a swing and miss, at which point you run up and whack them once or twice and then back off once again before they can take a second swing… which also misses, rinse and repeat. Really, just back away and most of the damage is minimized.

Nothing has seemed terribly challenging as yet, but then I haven’t fought bears or -the- dragon, which is just as well, while I’m merely getting my feet wet.

This fellow... the pride of the loadscreen, he is.
This fellow… the pride of the loadscreen, he is.

Health, by the by, is maintained by not getting hurt, using bandages when the bleeding effect is on you (I bled to death once when I didn’t have any on me), and bandaging up or eating food for a little health recovery.

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Knew I was a goner. it was just a matter of trying to get as close to base camp as possible before bleeding out, to make corpse retrieval easier. (It’s cute that we call it CR out of habit, when “item” retrieval is more appropriate these days.)
Lesson learned. Bring bandages.
Lesson learned. Bring bandages.

If you die, you turn up at your spawn point, having left your possessions at the corpse, which you can go and retrieve.

They kindly put an icon for you to indicate where your corpse lies. Which is all very good, because it'll probably be like hunting for a needle in the haystack otherwise.
They kindly put an icon for you to indicate where your corpse lies. Which is all very good, because it’ll probably be like hunting for a needle in the haystack otherwise.

Not too horrific in a singleplayer or friendly game, it’s not permadeath by any means, but I suppose it’s pretty much wave goodbye to your stuff on a PvP server.

Cold is the nastiest and most punishing meter to maintain in the Savage Lands. Wandering anywhere without shelter or clothing, especially when it starts snowing, plays utter havoc on this bar. Naturally, if it drops to zero, bad things happen to your health bar after that. The sound effects when your avatar gets cold and starts shivering and panting do offer pretty immersive and useful audio feedback. To recover one’s body heat, you are essentially required to stand by a campfire or other shelter for an obnoxiously long period of time.

Let's see, from 21%, it needs to rise to 100%. *sighs* *admires my other campfire in the distance for lack of anything better to do*
Let’s see, from 21%, it needs to rise to 100%. *sighs* *admires my other campfire in the distance for lack of anything better to do*

Apparently, this contributes to a communal gathering of manly men around a campfire on a friendly server, and I suppose produces enough boredom in players that they might start socializing with each other to kill time, but in a solo singleplayer game, it’s mostly a good excuse to flip screens and look for a video to watch.

As for resource collection and crafting, there is nothing terribly new or earthshaking here, it seems to stick to the same conventions as its genre – conventions that I wasn’t used to and did throw me off for a time.

Use axe to chop trees to get wood sticks and logs. I got that part. No problem. Seems “realistic” enough.

Except for the part where all my logs insist on rolling away from the campfire because of a tiny nearly imperceptible gradient
Except for the part where all my logs insist on rolling away from the campfire because of a tiny nearly imperceptible gradient change in elevation.

Get leather and sinew and hide from hunting animals. Got it. Makes sense.

Get stones and flint. Where the hell do I get those? I ended up operating off vague recollections of A Tale in the Desert’s gathering of flint from shorelines and picking up bits of stone from the beach. It took a significantly longer time before I remembered Don’t Starve and thought to a) make a hammer, and b) hit rocks with it.

Manna from rocks...
Manna from rocks…

Oh my. What a sudden bonanza of flint, stones, coal, and metal ore of varying qualities and more…

Things Survival Games Taught Me #1 – If you’re ever trapped on a desert island, you just need to break rocks with a sledgehammer and you’ll be fine and on your way out of the Stone Age.

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The crafting window in Savage Lands is also somewhat ugly in terms of UI, but functional. Pressing K brings up an entire window of options, with tabs for different things like armor, food, miscellaneous gear, repairing tools. Select the option you want, click the “Craft” button, and given the availability of resources and any necessary buildings in the vicinity like a firepit or a forge, it will auto-magically appear with a clang into your inventory.

The last interesting bit about Savage Lands at the moment is its lack of a map.

This, coupled with the biome presently being all snowy trees and bushes and plenty of grass and undulating gentle slopes and random bits of rock scattered possibly procedurally across the landscape, makes for an instant recipe of getting lost in the wilds fairly quickly and makes exploration rather difficult, to say the least.

Hell, every time I take off after a deer that takes off, my stomach clenches slightly because it’s liable to take me far into the woods and make it hard to find my way back.

Fortunately, it is possible to craft a rudimentary compass that assists somewhat with general directional navigation.

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So far, my main strategy is that I’ve set up camp by a scenic part of the beach, with mainly three directions I travel in. Along the shoreline in one direction, along the shoreline in the other direction, and more or less a straight line inland.

Following the shoreline is relatively easy, and allows me to navigate back by virtue of turning around 180 degrees and following the shoreline back the other way.

The straight line inland has been more of a challenge, even with the compass, and I have concocted an awkward strategy of setting up multiple firepits and campfires (since I need to keep warm constantly anyway) in a straight sight line (any foliage in the way is chopped down) so that I can follow the trail of firepits back to base camp, even if the fires have gone out.

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My lifeline firepit on the horizon… Home lies thattaway.

Savage Lands, unfortunately, has a present dearth of content. Beyond the occasional wolf, deer, skeleton or even plague wolf and armored skeleton encounters, traveling inland generally leads to seeing trees, trees and more trees and the odd burned out ruined building every once in a blue moon.

Biggest village I've stumbled across. All abandoned though.
Biggest village I’ve stumbled across. All abandoned though.

Oh, and the dragon responsible for said burned-out buildings can be sometimes seen circling in the sky or perched on a rock being a right terror.

Apparently, when you're the king of a deserted island, you amuse yourself at night by spraying fire
Apparently, when you’re the king of a deserted island, you amuse yourself at night by spewing fire around at nothing whatsoever. Or maybe he just -really- doesn’t like mosquitoes.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to have much of a brain, or it fancies itself too high-and-mighty to worry about a little mouse busy making the world’s largest smoke signal with a line of burning firepits and it hasn’t flown down to investigate yet.

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Every so often, I think about lobbing an arrow in its direction to begin the “dragon boss” combat encounter (as is announced in the scrolling ‘updates’ bar before you start the game proper) and then just as frequently think the better of it and decide to do more tree and rock-punching until I accumulate enough resources to craft the ‘best’ armor and weapons first.

The game does have some potential. What it has, does function. With more content and interesting things to see and do and fight when exploring, it may be fairly promising.

As of now though, this is pretty much what you expect to see everywhere you go. Trees, trees, more trees, and oh, that dragon taunting you.
As of now though, this is pretty much what you expect to see everywhere you go. Trees, trees, more trees, grass, snow and oh, that dragon flapping around.

This post was brought to you by the letters B for Belghast and Blaugust, S for (not-quite) Skyrim  and Started-Early-On-Blog-Post-For-Once, and the number 10.

Trove: First Impressions

Why do all the games I like have a floating castle?

Trove.

Simple, colorful, pixelated and addictive in the vein of Free 2 Play + Cash Shop games like Spiral Knights or Realm of the Mad God.

It has the blocky building nature of Minecraft, albeit only saving and preserving your creations in certain approved areas (Cornerstones and Club Worlds.)

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It uses procedurally generated biomes, producing the endless (yet similar and possibly ultimately recognisable) variety and novelty that explorers often like, especially when they discover a treasure trove of needed resources.

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It dots the landscape with player-created structures – aesthetically attractive dungeons and lairs filled with platforming and traps, where it’s sometimes even a challenge to locate the entrance IN – taking advantage of crowdsourced content creation to sate the Adventurer subset while giving Creator types that all-important audience and sweetening the deal with extra reward perks.

It’s probably what Landmark hoped it could be.

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Comparing the various popular games in this genre:

Landmark stresses more heavily on voxel creation/building and ‘realistic’ immersion, before crafting and game aspects.

Minecraft places the focus more on ‘survival’ exploration, creation (building/crafting) and immersion, while many Minecraft mods tend to lead up the intricate crafting and tech trees to focus on mechanical design.

Terraria is a lot more about game (in terms of boss combat) and gear progression, with creation as a runner-up, with less care for anything resembling immersive exploration.

Trove very much follows in Terraria’s footsteps as more ‘game’-focused. It’s an MMO (complete with gear progression, soloable and group content) meets Minecraft, in a smoother, slicker Adventure Mode, with a sidelong helping of mobile-browser-like F2P that takes care to make things colorful and attractive, while dangling ‘speed-up-now’ conveniences for cash.

Any form of ‘realistic’ immersion is cheerfully thrown by the wayside in favor of a more cartoon-y whimsical genre blend of fantasy and sci-fi and steampunk and dragons and ghost pirates and candylands.

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It does, of course, mean that one has a vast variety of costumes (pixelated they may be) to play dress up with. Especially since those are also player-created.

And boy, does it have gear progression. It has it in spades. So many spades that it reminds me of Dungeon Runners, the only other game I’ve encountered that cheerfully used rainbow as an item rarity level. (I’m sure there are some MUDs or Asian MMOs that have this too, but I couldn’t name them off the top of my head right now.)

Biting down on my automatic revulsion of anything that pegs performance to ever-increasing stats (and rest assured, Trove does), if you accept the premise of grinding for better stats in order to defeat essentially identical but enemies with numerically-superior stats for shinier numerically-superior gear rewards so that you can repeat this treadmill over and over and look shinier/more glowy/blacker-than-black-cool with wings and flying mount things and feel good about yourself, Trove does this very very well.

It feels very good. You go from green uncommon gear, to blue rares as you level. (Wow, rares, sounds cool already.) Next comes purple epics. Orange legendaries will drown you as you hit the mid-level of 10+. Occasionally you find a red relic. Then oh wow, is that RAINBOW resplendent in quality?

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(Darn, too bad it doesn’t have the stat spread you want. *flush* into the item deconstructor it goes.)

And all of it will apparently become meaningless when you hit max level 20 and realize that you can only level up further by increasing your gear to edgy /shadow/ levels that go from Shadow-1 to Shadow-6.

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Oh, and the last update apparently now brought -Radiant- item rarity, because glowy white is the new black, I guess.

(I lied, some Googling reveals that Radiant is indicated by yellow text surrounded by a bright blue outline. I like the phrase though, and I’m keeping it!)

While I’m usually not a fan of this sort of hamster wheel, especially since Shadow Arenas are apparently meant to be defeated by a manually-LFG-assembled group of 8 (smells like a raid, to me!) I am heartened by reports that -some- people find it possible to solo the higher end content with a good solo class (and presumably overpowered stats out the wazoo) plus good tactics.

If it is possible to get ‘there’ in the end via both group or solo means, even if solo is a touch slower than grouping, it makes the game less of an immediate write-off to me.

Anyhow, as a secondary game, it’s unlikely I’ll even get ‘there’ before I get distracted by something else to play.

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(I’ve realized that when I play vertical progression games where rising stats are pegged to improving performance, I tend to play them solo. In this way, it becomes a game with -myself- that I’ve willingly entered into, to grind for improvement like how the game wants, so that I can feel that ‘sense of progress.’ And when I no longer enjoy it, I just walk off the treadmill and stop the game there, until I want to experience that feeling again.

Grouping makes the whole system grate more, due to that possible unevenness in playing field. Someone might be stronger numerically than I, or the other way around. And once there’s a disparity there, it tends to lead to negative attitudes regarding the perceived ‘weak link.’ Not just from the stronger party, whose thought patterns will tend to follow along an elitist ‘don’t waste my time’ mindset, but also from the weaker party, who may worry that they’re holding back the group or not performing up to par.

Skill disparities are fixed by knowledge, learning, time and practice. By challenging oneself to reach a higher state.

Stat disparities are most typically fixed by repeating a doable activity over and over until one gets lucky with RNG. No learning there, just a lottery. Meh. But I digress.)

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There are two big attractions of Trove to me, and this is subject to personal taste, is its straightforward simplicity (but without handholding) and its action combat system.

Many of Trove’s systems are simple and straightforward to grasp. You can fish. You can harvest things. You can venture into lairs and dungeons and kill stuff. You can buy a boat to let you sail on water. You can craft rings for more stats. You can garden for decorative items and several useful resources. Unsoweiter.

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But it won’t pull any punches or make it super easy for you. This is what is needed. Yes, it may take some time to accumulate what you need to accomplish what you want. Your job: Figure out how you’re going to get what you want. Play the game while you’re thinking about it. Or just play the game and let what you need come with time (kinda like GW2’s legendaries.)

Playing the game, of course, involves my other favorite thing about Trove. Its action combat system, simple but not overly so. After GW2, I can no longer adapt well to static tab-targeting combat, I like to press a mouse button or key and see a sword swing, a spell fire, my avatar dodge in reaction.

More importantly, I have to be able to -move- as I do it, and preferably jump as well.

Trove absolutely lets you run and gun (with possibly some skill exceptions.)

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Jump? Haha. Heard of double-jump in 3D shooters? Trove takes it over the top. Triple and quad jump are not good enough. Here, have +6 Jump as a stat on your gear. Take +7 jump on your ring, if you want. Subscribe as a premium member? Enjoy 5 extra jumps in mid-air.

You can literally hop and float in mid-air as you navigate strange gauntlets of platformer-like traps, mostly negated by running along at mount speeds and +15 jumping your way to freedom (or the big boss at the end of the gauntlet.)

There’s probably an upper limit of usefulness (which feels to be in the 6-7 jump range, imo, but depends on your class,) but it sure is pretty ludicrous fun.

The dodging is a bit more slippery, and it may be a latency issue, as I simply can’t time dodges right for the life of me. I see the cue, I hit dodge, I usually get hit anyway.

But fortunately, there’s jumping, which throws off the AI a little more, there’s kiting in circles, kiting at range, and in perfectly good Minecraft vein, there’s being able to build your own pillars or walls to flummox dumb enemies if you were so inclined.

You have one character/account, but can switch classes, similar to games like Marvel Heroes, and unlock a variety through time spent playing and earning a special currency or shortcutting the process with cash. This does tend to extend the longevity of a game, as folks switch around and get the variety of leveling up different classes.

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The classes I’ve unlocked – Knight, Dracolyte, Shadow Hunter – all feel quite different in playstyle and reports are that Trove has done pretty well with varying their feel for the other classes too.

Skill-wise, there’s less variety than in traditional MMOs, resembling more of a MOBA.

You get one skill as a left-click attack, another typically stronger one with some extra flare (like AoE damage, a control aspect, etc.) as your right-click, button 1 is a little extra flavor and button 2 is an ‘elite’ on a timed cooldown. And a fifth passive skill that gives extra class flavor and synergizes with some of your active skills.

Coupled with moving and jumping and dodging and positioning, it generally is sufficient enough to be engaging, and simple enough to immediately grasp.

Timing and staggering them for best effect though, while managing your available energy, may be trickier to get the hang of.

I personally enjoy the combat of Trove more than I do that of Marvel Heroes, which has nearly always struck me as more punching bags gratification (as long as your stats are overpowered enough.)

Trove complicates the simple action combat just a little further with some mobs that have overhead swings that do knockback, some that do ranged attacks, some that lob arcing bombs at you and so on.

There’s no complex raid dance pattern to learn, just some basic patterns and typical things certain mob types do, but nothing Dark Souls or even GW2 hard. It’s ‘just right,’ skewed towards the easier side of the difficulty spectrum, but not insultingly simple.

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It’s structured well for short play sessions.

One ventures into an Adventure world of appropriate level range.

One instantly calls up a mount with a keypress and zooms toward a small lair or large dungeon, navigates as one likes to the boss of that locale (aka speed past all trash or treat it like a dungeon crawl, up to you), defeats it, badabing, a quest reward of xp and a chest of items are yours.

Rinse and repeat as often as you like.

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With more time on one’s hands, you could putter around with crafting and building, fishing, harvesting resources (mining ore and collecting crafting ingredients) and so on, interspacing non-combat activities between all the swordswinging and spellflinging.

Trove bears the social design of the more modern-day MMO. Xp and resources are automatically shared (as in doubled, individual loot to each person, not divided into half.)

It errs on the side of generosity, shrugging about leechers. Galloping through a dungeon or lair and some guy speeds past you on their much faster mount and slays the big bad? No matter. You get the quest complete xp anyway.

It is possible and does speed things up if one does lairs in an unofficial group – I’ve had the occasional duo or trio that decide to follow me or vice versa for a time, but it seems many playing are soloists at heart and will eventually go their own separate ways after a string of lairs and then both seeing something else shinier in different directions.

The groups, I suppose, have already found their way to the top, in their Clubs (guild-equivalents, of which you can join 5. Hoorah! And each has a separate club chat!) and private parties of friends they already know.

It’s not the first game I would think of, if someone is looking to meet up and form firm bonds with new friends that last for years. There are other games for that sort of thing. (Though I’m sure there are exceptions, even in Trove, such as clubs that spend all their time building musical creations and socialising and so on.)

Trove is more of a dip-in, dip-out, loosely attached temporary alliances, group for a time or solo at will sort of affair.

It’s an affair that I am happy to dally with.

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P.S. If you’re tempted by this post to make an account, please feel free to use this Refer-A-Friend link so that I might conceivably get a really cool black Elder Dragon mount one day!

(They did, however, set the bar quite high by requiring the recruit to hit Mastery Level 30… I haven’t even hit Mastery Level 20 myself. But eh, I can always dream, right?)

GW2 Hype Meter Unmoved & Quickie Steam Game Impressions

The whole Early Access phenomenon, coupled with Steam sales, has produced some rather odd behavior in me.

I don’t know how to get hyped up over anything anymore (or more precisely, when.)

Guild Wars 2 announces some sweeping, massive changes to traits, gears and stats for all classes in a pending patch.

I think, “Wow. Ouch. Wow. Er, ok. Hrm. Eew. Hrmf. Wow. Hmmmm…” and end up curiously neutral, uncertain as to how it’s all going to pan out and resolving to wait and see before emotionally overreacting, positively or negatively.

(I don’t like the idea of making Ascended gear more important or effective over Exotic, because of that whole level playing field thing and the perennial tendency of players to exclude others and become toxic under the influence of beliefs that don’t even vaguely resemble true fact. I don’t like being forced into vertical progression, and I’m ready to drop a game at any point if they tell me I now have to do such-and-such activity in order to get such-and-such stat reward, or else become useless or below par.

However, some quick Excel calculations later, my hypothesized extrapolations suggested that while the patch note percentages -look- big, the actual effective stat change is kinda… not that big a deal. It’s like a 5-7% primary stat difference now between full exotics and ascended, and we might go to 7-9% primary stat difference with the change.

Then there’s comparing Ascended trinket+weapon+exotic gear versus full Ascended, which is the more usual state of affairs since it’s the Ascended armor that is prohibitively expensive. The difference in primary stat is now somewhere between 1-2% going to 2-3%, which sounds a bit more negligible.

Of course, since all the stats on both exotics and ascended rose, maybe both are objectively better than what we’re already operating with. Except except they’re doing something with the level scaling again, and there’s the condition damage change, and I have no idea what this would actually translate to in terms of actual damage done after all’s said and done with the new traits, new gear stats, new level scaling, new everything.

So, you know, fuck it. Record damage done and stats now. Wait for patch drop to compare, paper theorycrafting is kinda useless with so many moving parts changing…)

Guild Wars 2 announces some big things regarding guild halls at E3.

I think, “Kewl. Mental note: Watch Youtube or Twitch video at some point in the future to know what was said” and stay unhyped, having not actually seen the video yet.

Guild Wars 2 announces that pre-purchases for Heart of Thorns are now available!

I go, “Sweet!” and rush to the website…. then promptly deflate at the available options, having mentally calculated that I’d probably pick up the best Ultimate deal, but eesh, that’s a lot of money… and for what, uncertainty right now. We haven’t even see how the pending patch changes are going to play out. We haven’t even heard half of the elite specializations yet. We’ve seen -one- Heart of Thorns map (that is, if you qualified for the betas, and half of it seemed unpopulated anyway.)

Come on, we’ve all been here before. It sounds exactly like something out of Early Access. Please give us money now to support us as we’re developing the game you want to play!

I rarely ever buy into this Early Access thing, so it’s not a scheme that works for parting me from my wallet. Steam sales have trained me to wait for the magic 75% off mark if I don’t urgently -need- to play this game now. (And with so many games available on my plate, be it from the Steam guilt trip list, free-to-play MMOs or other games, it’s a rare game that I -need- to play right this moment.)

Furthermore, I find myself confused over the best time to hype (or feel hyped) about something now.

Early Access spreads out the excitement. Ok, some people are playing it now. Some other people are playing it now. Some are still waiting for launch. Some are waiting for sales. The hype has spread out into one long tail, there’s no more spikes of excitement. (For me, anyway.)

My reaction, more often than not these days, is to simply wait-and-see.

Some early adopters will grab it first, stream it, review it, tell me what they think. I can get a better picture of what it really contains, what it really offers, whether I might like it or not.

With that information, I feel better about my decision to purchase, rather than buying it sight unseen, on wisps of hope. Gimme evidence. Gimme facts.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll be over here, playing games that are actually already made and launched, and better yet, on sale.

inverbisvirtus

In Verbis Virtus

The concept sounded ridiculously cool and innovative. Cast spells using your own spoken words, picked up via microphone.

Immersion is one of the things I’m constantly looking to experience, in games that care to offer it to me, and actually having to learn and memorize arcane words of power is as immersively mage-like as they come.

Except… I’m not one for using mics. Ever. There’s the hassle of setting it up, of making sure you’re not blowing somebody’s ears off (including your own) with misconfigured volumes, there’s having to put on a headset instead of relaxing free and easy with 5.1 speaker surround sound, there’s the weirdness of hearing your own voice come back to you, not to mention the general weirdness of talking to a screen (in tongues!) while your family wonders what you’re doing, and oh, it’s late at night and all is quiet and folks (including neighbors, land area is scarce here, people are packed into buildings where sound might travel through walls, floor or ceilings – I can hear kids bouncing balls on the floor above me) are asleep, and HERE YOU ARE, ARTICULATING STRANGE NOISES TO YOURSELF, YOUR MICROPHONE AND YOUR COMPUTER GAME.

All of that can kinda wreck the immersion.

I’d resolved to save the money and watch a Let’s Play of it instead, enjoying someone with a more resonant voice than I have perform on my behalf.

Somewhere along Video 6, I found myself caving in to the temptation of the personal experience and ended up buying it.

The first caveat is that you have to not mind puzzle games. In Virbis Virtus is not a first-person shooter, in the sense that there’s not going to be a million and one enemies to kill. (Lichdom: Battlemage might cater to that more. Not sure. I bought it. On my to-try list.)

It’s about learning a bunch of weird spells, like light and telekinesis spells, so that you can solve door opening puzzles with them. Along the way, there might be some platforming and jumping, some speed reactions and rehearsed sequences at certain parts, block stacking and object manipulation, plus riddle-like clue reading and thoughtful thinking interspersed.

The second caveat is that you have to be a little bit more competent at setting up (or already having a microphone configured) than I am.

There was a great deal of preliminary cursing and swearing at the beamforming microphone that was -supposed- to be built into the Audio Control Module of my Soundblaster ZX, but turned out to have ridiculously wimpy pickup (had to turn boost and volume up all the way to even catch something, with awful garbled noises and feedback threatening each step of the way.) There was a debate with oneself on whether to use the secondary backup of a plug-into-USB and go headset, but that seemed like wimping out from the problem device. There was digging around and de-dusting of another microphone to plug into said ACM to test (obviously pickup is -much- better when the microphone is nearer my mouth. Duh,) unsoweiter.

That said, the game itself deals rather well with audio recognition, better than I expected, certainly (though it can fail about 5% of the time, often at critical moments when you’re panicking and trying to remember the proper enunciation in order to not die and promptly fail miserably. Lesson learned: I would make a very good -dead- mage if I lived in a fantasy world. It’s certainly ‘realistic’ and immersive in that sense.)

I had occasional bouts of broken immersion every time the microphone tried to poke me in the mouth, but that’s probably just me being an old-fashioned text user. All the newfangled voice-preferring users of TeamSpeak and Mumble and Ventrilo and Twitch should have very little issues on this front.

The best praise I can offer (being such a staunch anti-mic hermit) for In Verbis Virtus is that when it all goes well, it really does feel magical.

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It’s as close to virtual reality or a holodeck as anyone has come so far, until someone either figures out how to pair it with an Oculus Rift or writes a game that does both.

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Pixel Piracy

We now take a complete 180 into the land of the cutesy and comical.

I am still trying to figure out what is so utterly appealing about this game that I lost three hours to it and wouldn’t mind playing on.

It’s pretty simplistic, it’s no elaborate Terraria, it’s a game about leveling up your pirates so that you can earn more gold and more loot to buy new and better gear and items so that you can blow up bigger and badder ships owned by other pirates or slaughter savage natives on tropical islands so that you can take their gold and loot to rinse and repeat.

Yep, an incrementing numbers game, along with a “just one more turn” schtick, in the form of one more ship or island.

Combat is RTS-like, in the sense that you just tell your units where to go, and after that they’ll take over the fighting from there. (Better hope you prepared them well with good weapons and levels and training and such!)

I suppose part of the appeal for me is the sense of unknown discovery – like the first time one plays Minecraft or Don’t Starve and -doesn’t- refer to a third-party source to tell them what to do. Some things are not that well explained or documented in game, so there’s a bit of trial-and-error experimentation involved to figure out exactly how this little part of this system works and fits together.

Forum reports are not terribly positive regarding bugs and such as the game progresses though, so only pick up at a sale price where you won’t regret the expenditure if stuff breaks later on down the road.

julia

The shipboard AI wakes you from cryo-sleep.

The spaceship’s on fire, it’s venting poisonous gases and there’s runaway electrical shorts all over.

You’re a xenobiologist by occupation.

Oh, and incidentally, everyone else but you seems to be dead.

Fortunately, you don’t actually have to physically go out there and turn firefighter. There’s machinery that can solve your various problems for you, but curiously, the computer seems to need your brain and input to operate said machinery.

After dealing with the immediate crisis, you promptly turn detective as you piece together the last moments of the crew on the research station on the surface of the planet that your ship was orbiting around… a grand saga of paranoia and poisoning and murder.

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J.U.L.I.A. is essentially a point-and-click adventure game with an intriguing premise (and apparently, according to reviews, a decently good story.)

It does away with some of the tropes of the adventure game – there is no avatar you have to watch walk around the screen ever so slowly, instead you’re ostensibly giving commands to a remote bot that does the actual work. Both the bot and computer are capable of conversing with you, providing the necessary NPC dialogue chatter to keep you company while you poke around at clues and try to figure out what’s going on. Pixel hunting is kept to a minimum, as the bot can ‘scan’ for interesting objects which are highlighted for a short time.

I’ve not completed the whole game yet, but it definitely seems like a game worth trying, as long as you like a bit of mystery, exploration and puzzle-solving in a sci-fi story.