Open Sorcery

Here’s another deliciously cheap yet good game on Steam sale:

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Open Sorcery is a primarily text-based interactive fiction game written in Twine, with judicious amounts of pauses and scrolling text, sound effects and the rare picture for narrative impact.

You play an elemental firewall (the game title “Open Sorcery” a pun about open source code) on the verge of gaining a kind of sentience.

The world cleverly mixes a dose of technological computerese with a shade of the elemental fantastical – where aetheric firewalls protect against possibly malicious spirits formed by the base elements of water, air, earth, fire, life, death, love and fear.

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Along the way you meet various characters and interact with them, developing relationships and occasionally taking surprising twists and turns, depending on your choices.

One of your first encounters is with a Air-Chaos spirit, an impish poltergeist.

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This is a screenshot of my second playthrough, and you can see I have a new option learned from the first game – where I decided to speak to it and it challenged me to a riddle contest.

Solving its riddles three made it throw a bit of a hissy fit, but also successfully persuaded it to leave peaceably.

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Besting it also taught me a new element, Chaos, that I could utilize alongside my basic Fire.

The lovely thing about Open Sorcery is that nearly all of its choices it offers you are significant choices – story changers in their own right. You can take matters into your own hands, consult with your creators, use what you’ve learned in earlier encounters and some of these might just come back to roost in the following days.

The poltergeist, for example, came back to the place I was guarding and extended an invitation to meet his queen Titania… but which meant I, a firewall, would have to leave the place I was guarding. Something which just might end up flagging me as malfunctioning to my creators.

Talk about awareness emergence, AI sentience and tricky choices.

For a Twine game, it gets non-linearity right. (I’ve played one too many Twine games which are mostly linear exercises in clicking the one-and-only next highlighted word.)

By the end of your first playthrough, you’ll be aware of the paths you didn’t take, especially if you peek at the achievements that hint to the other possible story branches and endings.

I don’t know that I’m raring to go and play through too many more times – the repetition may get to me sooner than later – but it does say something that I’m immensely content with the first ending that I got.

On the whole, it doesn’t try to twist your choices out from under you. What you choose is generally what you will get. The impact comes from the tradeoffs of that choice.

If you spend Fire to solve a problem, you will naturally be weaker for having spent that energy, which might no longer be available to solve a second more pressing problem. If you take matters into your own hands, you should not be surprised if that independence freaks people out. Yet if you fall back on humans to solve your problems for you, you might never discover potential new learning/growth opportunities and relationships of your own. And so on and so forth.

For anyone interested in some choose-your-own-adventure narrative, this is a nifty game. Short, sweet, some replayability, and currently 66% off on Steam.

(Caveat: it’s gone down to 75% before, but we are literally talking about the difference between $0.99 and $1.35. For around a dollar, this is a fun experience.)

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Holy Jumbo Humble Bundle!

Oh man, I am excite!

So excite I r losing powers of grammar! N speling…

A whole host of games that have been on my Steam wishlist for a long time just came together in one super mega awesome Jumbo Humble Bundle 6.

I practically threw money at the screen when I idly checked out the website this evening.

For $12 USD, I got:

Grey Goo – an RTS I’ve wanted to check out for some time, but was holding back due to mixed reviews

Magicka 2 – a sequel that never seemed as well-received as its predecessor, but that I was also interested in checking out some day

Warmachine Tactics + Mercenaries DLC – another mixed review game that trended towards negative, but which I was keen on checking out due to its miniatures background

Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown – apparently some kind of semi-disappointing multiplayer-esque game ostensibly set in the Shadowrun universe, but what the hey, at this price point, can’t hurt to try it and dump it if it sucks

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas – a relative unknown to me, but is apparently Zelda-like, and might pleasantly surprise

Dreamfall Chapters – some kind of adventure game. I didn’t really like The Longest Journey, never tried Dreamfall, but I’m perfectly open to seeing if the universe clicks with me with their third game

I “lost out” on Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut, in that I already owned the game a long LONG time ago, but this is a stellar standout RPG in the fantasy cyberpunk Shadowrun universe that anyone should give a go if they haven’t yet.

And there’s apparently more unrevealed games coming soon, which would be an utter bonus icing on top of the cake thing, whatever they are.

Steam Sale Recommendation: One Finger Death Punch

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This game is nuts. A good kind of nuts. Crunchy. Flavorful. Nuts.

The stick figure graphics look absolutely cheesy, in a low budget mobile app kind of way, but hiding behind that is a gem on the level of Cook, Serve, Delicious or better.

You press two buttons. That’s it.

Left and right mouse buttons. Or if you’re a keyboard warrior, you get the options of left/right arrow, S/D or B/N.

Everything else is in the timing, plus the combos and skills that change up the timing.

This game distills that mechanic into its utmost purest form. (A one-button clicker would lack the confusion of one’s fingers trying to decide which button to press now.)

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I suppose you might call it a rhythm game meets a fighting game side brawler or something, but whatever you call it, it’s definitely worth a play.

It will teach things like anticipation, watching the enemy’s coming attacks, planning of your next few moves and improve one’s reaction time.

Skills that can be applied to any other action-combat game you’re playing, like say, *cough*, GW2. (I weep inside every time I see a player get knocked down by a champion wurm’s tossed rock. It’s one of the easiest things to practice dodging on. The player just has to make the mental connection that dodging it -is- actually possible.)

It will punish button mashing with tit-for-tat ruthlessness.

And still it will feel completely fair, because it will only attack you when you slip up and make that mistake. Press one button that failed to connect and missed, and an enemy will hit you in response. Fail to dispose of an enemy, and it again will hit you.

Get the timing and anticipation perfect, and you are rewarded with sequences of absolute martial arts combo perfection as you slip into a flow state and your corresponding stick figure glides like water and smashes the crap out of his enemy stick figures.

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Each level lasts a fairly short time, so it’s great for those quickie entertainment moments when one can’t afford to fire up a longer game (or say, when one is waiting for 15-30 minutes IN a longer game waiting for something to start.)

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And yet, there are a TON of levels with a bunch of variations to choose from (the above pic is like one small part of the whole continent map – the graphics look like shit, yes, but thankfully you don’t have to stay in this level select screen long) plus survival mode plus god-knows-what difficulty modes, so there’s plenty of game in this game.

Ultimately, you wanna pick up One Finger Death Punch for the fantastic demonstration of how merely pressing two buttons can add up into an entertaining game, and for the cartoon stick figure carnage amidst punchy sound effects that work really well.

Drowning… But in a Good Way…

What do I do now? Let me count the ways…

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Draining half my resources appears to have successfully rekindled a fire in me to start making a list of things to do (which will also coincidentally earn some gold, plus some that might take the stockpile in the opposite direction.)

I need to get my new-ish asura warrior to a waypoint in every map that has a dungeon, as he is the one character that is 100% meta compliant (as opposed to 95%), and more importantly, isn’t overloaded with 101 “fun” fireworks, tonics, spare gear sets and assorted Silverwastes junk. That kinda gets in the way of the ideal “zoom from dungeon to dungeon without pause and earn tons of gold” routine.

I suddenly have the intense craving for a number of Scientific weapon skins from the Black Lion vendors (or TP), which means I either need a ton of gold, or convince myself to spend the equivalent of a month’s subscription on being sorely disappointed on Black Lion’s Chests (or trade in the equivalent sum for gold, which would guarantee at least one skin) and/or farm Black Lion Keys and trade time instead of hard currency. To even figure out where to begin, it seems like a good idea to watch a video of all the skins first and prioritize “must-haves” versus “nice-to-haves.”

It occurs to me that I have a number of basic collections and left over collect some coin or badge or other item from Dry Top/Silverwastes that I have yet to complete. Those should be far easier mini-milestones or goalposts for the feeling of mini-wins than building a legendary…

Speaking of which, I have now used up my two Gifts of Exploration from world map completion, which means another alt has to circumnavigate the globe at some point. Each map is another potential mini-goalpost.

Speaking of alts, not only do I have alts that should be brought to level 80 -some- day, I had the vague desire to take nifty screenshots of my characters and discuss my relationship to my in-game avatars in similar fashion to Rowan Blaze, who has also been inspired by Syp to wonder about how various players fit on the roleplaying versus puppeteering spectrum with regards to their characters/avatars.

And and, if I want gold, I should really get on Silverwastes chest farms or an easy world boss train cycle to replace all those ectos nommed up by Kraitin.

Steam Sale

I have been feeling a little more financially solvent recently, and this has manifested itself in an enthusiastic attempt to clear my Steam wishlist (which dates back to 2012 and earlier.)

I haven’t completely lost my mind or loosened my purse strings entirely, but I decide it was time to actively re-look at the wishlist and ask myself hard questions as to whether I really wanted to ever play the game and/or buy it when it reached 75% off. (Yeah, my wishlist is mostly to keep track of when games I’m interested in hit that threshold.)

It helps that I’ve now decided I can watch and enjoy Youtube videos via streaming to the TV, which then helped me throw out some titles whose setting and potential story intrigued me, but whose gameplay I was left very hesitant about after seeing other peoples’ reviews. (Solution: Find a Let’s Play of the game on Youtube, watch someone else play through it for me while I do other constructive chores around the house.)

Other games, I decided to toss entirely, like Dungeonbowl – where the vitriol about it being horrendously buggy and not having any singleplayer worth speaking of suggested that I’d never actually play it (may as well just cut out some paper miniatures and play my own solo game via tabletop rules if it’s that bad) and the Walking Dead Season 2 – its setting/theme/characters just doesn’t strike a note with me, for some reason.

(I valiantly struggled my way through the first Walking Dead, alternately bored with the mundanity of everyday America and uncontrollably metagaming every time an obvious “no-win” moral dilemma scene/scenario came up. I limped my way through two or three vignettes of 400 days, and then decided there was just no way I could stay interested in these characters, which were either fated to be killed horribly by some other mortal or mortal turned zombie. Nihilism / Anomie 1: Jeromai 0. Except I guess I also win by choosing not to buy or play any more goddamn seasons.

Perhaps I’ll keep an eye on Tales from the Borderlands once it finishes, that seems a little more lighthearted and up my alley, as opposed to something like *ugh* Game of Thrones, which doubtless contains more blood-grimdarkness-politics-nowinscenarios, I’m guessing.)

Despite those that didn’t make the cut, there were a LOT of suddenly-now-75%-off games on my wishlist that were mostly under $5 that didn’t have any obvious reasons for why they shouldn’t be bought and given a try…

Self-control 0, Steam 1 (or 19, rather:)

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(Plus a few more in the $10 range that were just too tempting, solid reviews though.)

So…uhhhh… yeah… I need to find the time to install and at least -try- the games for an hour or two. No plans to complete them entirely, but I really should play them and have fun with the lot.

It’s only Day 3 of the sale. I’m doomed.

Free-2-Play Games On the To-Try Someday List

I mentioned my new TV channel surfing habit of flipping through “recommended”  Youtube videos, right?

Some random dudes made a Top Ten list of Free 2 Play Steam games, that probably turned up on my suggested watching list because they mentioned Dota 2 and my TV channel surfing account has a bunch of Dota 2 related channels on subscription, and I suddenly accumulated a list of free-2-play games that I ought to try for fun. After all, they’re free and on Steam, right?

Warframe, Robocraft, and TERA are all stuff sitting in the back of my mind, poking me every now and then that I should make a go at them, if only for a night to get some initial impressions.

They mentioned Marvel Heroes, which is one of those games which are just so colorfully attractive in terms of IP, and yet equally intriguing to me is the “Is this all there is to it?” question that hits me every time I dive into it. Kill a metric ton of PvE mobs that put up no fight whatsoever, accumulate many numbers on many things, find increasing numbers and wear those things to kill even higher metric tons of PvE mobs that put up no fight whatsoever? Surely there’s -more- to Marvel Heroes than what initially hits the casual eye… (who knows, I’ve never made it beyond the second story mode difficulty because it got so damn boring and I end up diverted running cycles through Midtown Madness instead to increment higher and higher numbers.)

Then they talk about Path of Exile, and I’m like, YEAH, THAT GAME IS AWESOME. And I’m SO going to be back when the Awakening expansion is finally done and I get to play Act 4.

And they close with the utter king of Steam Free-To-Play games… Dota 2.

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Uh… right. I was supposed to be playing a match every day.

Except I got busy, and then distracted doing a whole bunch of other stuff.

I still -do- intend to keep playing it, and learning more, of course.

And apparently they’ve JUST announced a rework of their client, calling it Dota 2 Reborn.

Which is kind of awesome, in more ways than one.

Being all newbie and stuff, I’m especially intrigued by the advertised new tutorial, as well as the feature that will allow one to “demo a hero” to try out their abilities and practice last hitting, which seems like a quick and convenient way to get a feel for various heroes and learn their abilities, as opposed to having to click a bunch of buttons to start an entire bot match just to do so.

Seems like next week, they’ll make some kind of announcement regarding custom games, likely building it in as part of the client’s UI and streamlining the process of downloading/trying out/joining custom games, which might make the subgenre more popular and possibly attract more folks to work on such stuff, potentially yielding all that player-generated content that saves the devs from needing to focus on such things.

(Hey, maybe we’ll eventually see a few maps/modes that support singleplayer gameplay, which would be amusing to try out. Casually skimming the existing list of custom games reveals a great deal of apparent junk, but also a few intriguing sounding maps, such as survival against various enemy waves or a new map that is almost RPG-esque in its looks but presumably plays like a normal MOBA. Presumably good stuff will rise to the top in time.)

Regardless, there’s plenty of extra shiny that seems to be coming Soon(TM).

Gratuitous Screenshots of a Real Life Kind

With this many games that I could be playing, what have I been doing instead these past weekends?

Playing tourist in my own country.

Beyond visiting various heritage enclaves (Chinatown, Geylang Serai, etc.) and sampling all the highly recommended food therein, the family finally got around to visiting one of the newer attractions the other day – Gardens By the Bay.

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The infamous boat atop the Marina Bay Sands, as seen via the Dragonfly Lake in the free public areas of the Gardens.

To my surprise, it was a lot better than I expected. Seems several years passing has given the plants a chance to settle in and look a little less sorry.

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The iconic, yet rather weird-looking, Supertree structures.

Ostensibly some sort of marriage between urban modernity and nature, the outer layer is covered by a vertical garden and apparently lights up like a Christmas tree at night (something I have yet to get around to seeing.)

We found ourselves more impressed by the “green” sustainability story around these structures. There are apparently photovoltaic cells atop them that store energy during the day and provide the power to light themselves up at night (and maybe a nearby fountain or two.) Some of them help to vent air out of the cooled conservatories (aka giant greenhouse domes,) yet another plant-like function.

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The lighting’s poor in this one, but hey, there’s actually plants managing to ascend and partially cover the horribly bare purple and green metal “fake branch” canopy on this particular Supertree.

I suppose they might actually look tree-like in another decade or so… assuming the vines don’t barbeque in our tropical sun and wilt, falling off the structure (seems someone may have been a tad idealistic in hoping the plants would cooperate regarding this design.)

The cooled conservatories, which are ticketed, were really quite nifty.

Ah, the irony of the tropics. In temperate countries, people build greenhouses to keep their plants warm and create humidity. Here, we air condition the greenhouse to make it cooler and more temperate.

The Cloud Forest aims to simulate a tropical or subtropical environment at higher elevations, atop mountains and so on. So only the temperature is cooled and the humidity is left to run hog wild.

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A seven-story concrete structure covered by plants to simulate a “mountain,” er… “a hill,” er… ok, ok, a “mound.”

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It really is pretty though. And the cool, damp environment is extremely pleasant to walk around in, as contrasted with the outside weather.

We managed to be in the right place at the right time to catch one of the scheduled mistings.

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Feeling a little like stepping back in time to the Jurassic.

Then I turned around and went, “OMG, GW2 god rays!” (sure sign one plays too much) and started snapping like a madman.

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*dreamy sigh* Right out of an Anet landscape… Heart of Thorns, eat your heart out.

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This bromeliad was pretty cool. Looked to be one of those that form its own mini-pond community, aka a tank bromeliad that has a phytotelma. (Ah, the things one learns from Google and Wikipedia.)

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A rather sizeable pitcher plant.

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A metric f–kton more pitcher plants.

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Amusing myself with different shutter speeds.

I managed to burn through a new set of batteries (forgot spares) before we even hit the Flower Dome, which left me a touch sparse on good pictures.

The climate in there was glorious though. The air is run through some sort of dehumidifying system, along with being cooled, and it absolutely felt like walking around in a temperate country. Definitely going to revisit again. Cheaper than an air ticket.

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I’ll just leave this photo here which seems to encapsulate most of its contents. Brilliant succulent garden, a collection of baobabs/bottle trees, a lot of plants enthusiastically blooming.

Oh, ok, maybe one more. Because I love these little critters.

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And this is a gaming blog, right? So here’s your mini-game: how many stone plants are in this picture?

(Stay distracted. Kthxbai. Back later with actual game stuff. I hope.)

This Summer’s Steam Sale Haul and Quick Reviews/Impressions

Whee!

The whole of last week has been a singleplayer Steam sale extravaganza indulgence.

This time, as some other bloggers have also resolved, I don’t intend to just buy and then promptly forget about them and never play them.

I’ve been buying a little more consciously, asking the question “Will I play and install this now, or at least sometime between now and December?”

(Considering my hard disk has only 10GB space left after installing a bunch of the latest haul, this does actually make a difference. I decided to put off Dishonored, fer instance, until the GOTY edition hits 75% off, probably during Winter sale or a daily deal, since it’s 9GB and hasn’t gone down as far as it could go.)

Then as Aywren in the link above mentioned, I proceed to install and at least play for long enough to give the game a fair shake. I’m a little less concerned about cleaving strictly to at least an hour and so on, probably because I don’t really dismiss games I choose to buy. -Something- about the game interested me to begin with, so I’m already motivated to give it a shot.

Should something start to turn me off from the game, I can usually put a finger on the specifics of why quite quickly and then make a decision to play on or “leave for another time.” That’s me. I have the opposite problem of not being able to throw away games.

Here’s the haul so far:

Monaco – Played 51 minutes – $1.49

A cute colorful top-down game with a unique style and flair, one takes on the roles of various crooks and criminals (such as a locksmith who picks locks, a mole-like digger of tunnels) and runs around interacting with objects related to the heist theme (locks to be picked, computers to be hacked, terminals to turn off laser motion detectors, bushes to hide and take cover in, etc.) There are guards to be evaded or slaughtered, depending on your preference and availability of any handy weapons, and generally some rather varied ‘flavor’ objectives (eg. one mission will have you escape a prison, another rescue someone, yet another retrieve a valuable object, etc.)

One couldn’t help but get the feeling that one was losing a distinct element of the fun by only playing it single-player. There does look to be a moderately intriguing overlapping storyline of some kind where various crooks tell their side of the story/heist, and also the possibility of beating your own time by accomplishing speed runs, but I just can’t shake the impression that this would be a lot richer played co-op. Dungeon Defenders is another game that felt like that, and to a lesser extent, Magicka also. This sort of deflated me from attempting the game further, because a) I can never seem to find people on at the right time to play these things with, and b) if I played it singleplayer now, wouldn’t I be spoiling my multiplayer experience on the off chance that I do?

Oh well. Filed for “Perhaps another day, with friends or when I finally get bored enough to see what the story is about by myself.”

State of Decay – Played 2 hours – $4.99

A purported zombie sandbox game I’d been keeping an eye on for a while, it popped up on consoles first, before finally making its way over to the PC.

I wanted to like it, but my first overwhelming impression was “OH GOD SO ORANGE.”

Someone made a stylistic choice of overwhelming the aesthetic with an orange tint, and for whatever reason, it doesn’t sit very well with me. It makes everything much harder to see, and I confess I almost look forward to night time when it just gets dark and shadowy and cooler in color temperature. I even Googled to see if there was a way to mod the awful orange out, and unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a simple fix, though it may be possible to manually edit some of the engine’s configuration settings or something like that.

Not willing to delve into the innards of the xml files just yet, I gritted my teeth through the orange to be dismayed yet again by the poorly animated models. I think I’ve gotten spoiled animation-wise after playing a sequence of games which, regardless of whatever faults one may think they have, are undeniably polished animation-wise: GW2, Dark Souls, Wildstar, XCOM, A Wolf Among Us and so on.

In State of Decay, one swings hopefully at the air with a melee weapon, assuming that one is doing damage to the zombies very near to you and seeing them recoil somewhat, despite never actually making contact.  Conversely, they come up near you and take swings at the air, which you -think- they’ve missed, but it turns out in the next second that the game will show you a lovingly animated sequence of the zombies grabbing and immobilizing you. *sigh*

Or I guess you shoot guns, which at least seem to work like how all FPSes work, but then there’s the worry of limited ammo supplies and all the noise you’re making. Or I guess you can creep slowly in slow motion everywhere, and we’ll see how long your patience lasts with doing that.

If one can get past these annoyances, there’s -some- potential in State of Decay. You get to gather a group of survivors, apparently characterised by an assortment of traits like “Team Mom” and “Cop” and “Liked Gardening” and so on. You can apparently work on befriending them enough to switch into their point of view and play them as your current protagonist. They have sufficient AI to accompany you and do a decent job defending you (and it’s a lot safer to let AI attack AI, given the cruddy animations.)

Much of the gameplay involves sneaking around and going to various houses and structures to search for supplies to fortify up your home base (wherever you’ve chosen to set it up) – a very standard zombie trope, and doing your best to make the surrounding areas safer by clearing out zombie infestations, etc.

I can’t help but get the impression that there are a lot of potential building blocks for someone to pick up and generate a decent emergent narrative out of, but that it’s still lacking a little something to make it happen more organically. One has to work at it quite a bit to craft some semblance of narrative.

So far, I got my survivors out of the tutorial area and to the initial home base of a church, meeting other survivors and am working to retrieve sufficient food, medicine and building materials to expand. We found other survivors and added them to our number, which was helpful for getting more hands and runners to take supplies back to home base without me having to haul each one back. I got a less melee-adept NPC killed by having her wander out alone at night looking for supplies when my more combat-oriented one was taking a break to rest off his fatigue. Oops? I wish I could say this was some kind of tragedy but honestly, I had no connection with her beyond being a controllable avatar/tool I could use to do what I wanted to do, and my only worry is that I’m down to two controllable characters from three.

Maybe if I got adept enough at the game that I could actually roleplay them differently, but frankly, survival needs all force them to behave the same anyway. I need supplies to expand, so -everyone’s- got to go out and search for them and bring them back. I only have so many guns and ammo, I can’t just keep shooting willy nilly so everybody better get used to sprinting a lot and meleeing to level up your fighting/survival skills. Who knows, maybe it’s different later on. Maybe not.

The last aspect of State of Decay that was intriguing was that the game supposedly goes on without you and your input. Your survivors will continue to do things or whatever. So far, the second time I logged in after 12 hours, there wasn’t much change. So I’m leaving it for a longer period and seeing what happens after a week or so. We’ll call it a mourning period for the NPC I managed to run into a roomful of zombies. (Well, duh, one has to open doors and walk into rooms to look for supplies, right?) If they all end up starving to death, I can’t say I’d be terribly crushed, or further motivated to keep playing.

“One more try, then possibly shelved until further notice.”

Shadowrun: Dragonfall DLC & Don’t Starve: Reign of Giants DLC – Played: Not yet – $9.98

I’m intending to get around to Shadowrun soon.

I’ve been putting off Don’t Starve because I’m kind of scared of the increased seasonal difficulty, to be honest. My last Don’t Starve game has me relatively set-up aboveground, but I still haven’t mastered safe cave exploration by any means (Depth Worm attacks past Day 100 are something I’m still struggling to solve) and have never ever gotten to the Ruins level yet. The thought of making aboveground not-safe-anymore with the Reign of Giants DLC is frightening. I just picked it up now because I’m sure within these six months between now and winter sale, I’d want to be playing Don’t Starve again and might eventually progress to the point of being able to take on the DLC.

XCOM: Complete – Played 27 hours – $16.49

In my book of 75% off deals, I paid for it too soon because $16.50 does not, by any means, resemble $7.49 or $10.19 type of sale prices.

I also don’t give a shit about sticking to my miserly ways after playing the demo and LOVING this game. It’s a miracle I managed to wait as long as I did, I think.

I missed the XCOM classics during their original era, but gave them a try during a Steam sale or other. I remember being utterly bamboozled by the arcane interface and lack of any explanation whatsoever (Ah, those good old DOS days when you just get thrown into the deep end and/or have to read manuals as thick as a flight simulator’s to play ’em), struggled to do anything, struggled with DOS/Windows incompatibilities and crashes, and got half of my squad or more massacred in the first fight because one had very little clue on how and where to even begin playing.

The updated XCOM does away with all that, providing a touch more modern graphics, a slicker (if console-like) interface, a lot more handy in-the-moment tutorials and pop-up tooltips and explanations. It also provides a relatively interesting beginning, middle, end narrative to overlay over the actual gameplay of mission to mission randomized map turn-based combat.

I enjoyed this game so much I managed to complete an entire campaign (just the base game, on the easiest setting, since I’m a beginner to XCOM and a wuss after the ‘classic’ experience) this week, and have just started a new one with the expansion options and a more normal difficulty setting. I intend to cover this more in a separate post, so I’ll stop here.

Conclusion: “So worth it. Playing the shit out of it. XCOM adds a ton more rep to Firaxis’ awesomeness, as befits the company that made Alpha Centauri.”

Epic Battle Fantasy 4 – Played: Not yet on Steam, Probably a couple hours on Kongregate – $2.99

Here’s an interesting one. It’s a free flash game that I tried for the hell of it when I was bored waiting for a boss to spawn in Guild Wars 2 and needed something on the side to keep me going. It’s not going to win any super-professional graphics awards, but it’s not ugly and has a relatively consistent anime-ish look to it.

It follows a lot of the standard JRPG tropes. You move an avatar around, fight a bunch of monsters, leveling up in experience, items and gold with each encounter. Combat is turn-based Final Fantasy-eseque, you have your skills and spells that you select to do damage to monsters, they do the same to you, there are elemental resistances and susceptibilities and so on to keep in mind and exploit.

If you presented it to me right off and asked me to pay for it sight unseen, I probably wouldn’t. But because I had nothing else to do and wanted some nostalgic but quick-firing spurts of JRPG style action, I ended up playing it and getting sucked into its basic storyline (retrieve magical plot devices of some kind, meet a host of characters to join up with you along the way, etc.) and rather habitually cranking it up every time I had to wait for Teq or Wurm to spawn and enjoying the wait time where I otherwise wouldn’t have.

I unfortunately fell out of the habit after losing interest chasing Teq/Wurm daily (plus the wait times got more streamlined and the TTS leaders started to demand more un-AFK attention for shorter periods of time, so there was less opportunity to play a JRPG in the other screen uninterrupted)  and stopped playing Epic Battle Fantasy 4 as a result. It left me with a favorable impression though, and when it got to an affordable amount on sale, I decided to pick it up to show my support and thanks to the developer for entertaining me when I needed it.

“I may get around to playing it later, maybe figure out to transfer my Kongregate save to Steam, or not. But not at this moment. Still, it’s definitely worth trying out for free.”

Sleeping Dogs DLC Collection – Played: Not yet – $6.99

As mentioned in an earlier sequence of posts, I did quite enjoy Sleeping Dogs and was intending to get the DLC.

I’m not entirely sure when I’ll find the time to play it, but I’m sure an opportunity will crop up between now and the winter sale. At 80% off, it was a steal anyway, and worth feeding back a little money into the developer’s pockets (minus Steam’s cut, of course) for some hope of a sequel.

The Wolf Among Us – Played: 9 hours – $8.49

Another slightly overpriced from 75% off game that I don’t bloody care about sticking to my rules because it’s SO BLOODY GOOD.

It -says- I played it for 9 hours, but it feels like a lifetime. It’s THAT rich and atmospheric and densely packed with story. I played it in one continuous marathon sequence because it was impossible to put down.

It’s a Telltale Game. You know how they go by now. A mix of the adventure-ish and their own unique dialogue/meaningful choice genres that add up to some kind of self-constructed self-tailored narrative assembled out of a couple of branching storyline possibilities.

Personally, I liked it a TON more than the Walking Dead that catapulted Telltale Games to fame. The Walking Dead was *sigh* zombies, mixed with a dose of ordinary people in a hopeless setting. Bleak, apocalyptic, full of no-win scenarios that posit the despairing theme of all the ways people will sacrifice their humanity in order to survive in the new dog-eat-dog nihilistic world, or die. How one doesn’t end up feeling depressed, is beyond me.

The Wolf Among Us very faithfully recreates the Vertigo Comics brand – a name which is synonymous to me with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Mike Carey’s Lucifer, and of course, Bill Willingham’s Fables, which it draws from. Vertigo Comics, to me, is about adult/mature (but not necessarily pornographic) themes. They veer a little or a lot darker than what you might expect from the word ‘comics’ in a superhero sense, and tend to mix in a dose of fantasy or the supernatural, but they’re not necessarily depressing. A number of them follow a more epic heroic or superheroic story arc structure too.

It mixes in a dose of the very noir Sin City, with its stylish graphical flair and dark urban underworld, but gives it color and brings to life a series I’d previously never followed. (Which I’m now correcting by going through a bunch of Fables comics and enjoying them too.)

You play Bigby Wolf, otherwise known as the Big Bad Wolf of fabled fame, and end up quickly embroiled in a murder mystery that has ramifications for all of Fabletown (the tiny community where the Fables reside in our mundane world.) The game does a good job introducing its settings and characters in an understandable fashion to anyone unfamiliar with the Fables universe, and serves as a rather intriguing prequel to the Fables comics series. (On reading the comics, there are a number of significantly more poignant echoes regarding certain happenings, due to having played the game.)

I really enjoyed the whole thing because it felt like the protagonist The Wolf Among Us had a lot more character than Walking Dead’s protagonist. Maybe it’s just me projecting because I have this thing about wolves *cough* but I do think Bigby Wolf feels more capable and a man of action, with more freedom to go dark and “be bad” as befits the story. In the Walking Dead, the protagonist feels like more of a blank slate, where one is gingerly stepping around trying not to be politically incorrect or racist, and applying one’s own social mores and morals onto a tabula rasa cardboard character to act as an extension of the self. In the Walking Dead, Lee is the everyman, it’s up to you to shape him however you like. In The Wolf Among Us, Bigby Wolf is larger than life, he’s a Fable, and he’ll never let you forget that he’s the Big B. Wolf.

I found choices much easier to make as a result, and was never stuck agonizing over “what is the right decision” as I did in the Walking Dead. After all, you never knew what kind of a horrible unexpected effect and nasty plot twist your trying to be good in Walking Dead would do to you later. In The Wolf Among Us, the right decision was always the one that Bigby Wolf (as -I -conceived him) would do, and damn the consequences, Bigby would be up to dealing with whatever it was that happened after.

The story also flowed a lot more naturally and followed narrative logic and conventions – reflecting a more cause-and-effect style fairy tale – rather than Walking Dead’s unending litany of “hey I just thought of a great moral dilemma to dump these characters into next! Let’s figure out how to join these together with the bare minimum of story, probably by just saying they walk/drive to the next place where this happens!”

My naturally played save game is ready and waiting for Episode 5 with bated breath. In the meantime, plans are underway to re-enjoy the story at a more leisurely pace, probably at least twice more, to see the roads not taken.

Is there any conceivable reason why you shouldn’t get this game? Only if you really don’t like dark, noir, urban fantasy themes and think they’re Satanic or something.

“If you don’t buy this game, I’ll huff-and-puff and blow the money out of your wallet to help you get it.”

Magicka: Dungeons and Gargoyles DLC – Played: Not Yet – $0.99

Continuing in my theme of buying super-micro-sized transactions to support a game I really enjoyed once upon a time and hope to get around to playing again, preferably with other people, but I’ll solo it otherwise.

“SoonTM

 Space Hulk – Played: Not Yet – $2.50

It’s a Warhammer 40k game. It’s SPACE HULK.

Yeah, I understand it’s probably a buggy horrific mess of a WH40K Space Hulk game, which is probably why the price has collapsed so quickly, but for a couple of bucks, it’s worth trying out because it’s SPACE HULK where you get to shoot tyranids in Terminator armor.

“Will share first impressions soon, when I get around to trying it.”

Civilization V: Brave New World DLC – Played: Not Yet – $7.49

Well, Civ V’s a good game. It’s the expansion I don’t yet own, and maybe need to give me a kick in the pants to have another go someday soon.

I’m sure sometime between now and Winter, I’ll have the urge for a game that can create a decent enough emergent narrative, and I’ve found Civ V to be not half-bad at producing these sorts of alternate history stories.

“Be on the lookout for a grand tale of warring nations, maybe sometime this Fall?”

So, in total: $62.40 for 6 games and a lot of DLC for 6 games, some of which are expansions in their own right.

This or a full-retail-price box on launch day?

I’ll take this any day.

*swims around happily in games like Scrooge McDuck swims in coins* (Yes, DuckTales is also on the wishlist. But not this Summer.)