Happy New Year! On Reading Break…

Hope everyone had great holidays over the Xmas and New Year season.

Quick updates on my end:

Guild Wars 2 – My activity level has dropped off in accordance with the Living Story pause and Wintersday break. This is not a BAD thing. There are times for obsession, times to stop and smell the roses and times for taking a break. I’ve mostly been popping in for long enough to finish dailies.

My silk surplus has finally dried up, putting my daily bolt of damask sale on partial hold, but it’s funded a decent amount of miniatures in the meantime. My PvP grind lasted a faithful week before I started getting bored and have missed 2-3 days in a row now. Might continue, might not, depends how I feel and if I have time to spare. Somewhat like my relationship with Teq, I pop in one day and then miss two or three days and back again.

Dark Souls – With attention falling off one major MMO, I have time to focus on singleplayer games. I’m still not sure what to make of this game. It kind of strikes me as a shared puzzle game, in the sense that it seems to have been built on purpose to have a difficulty that is soulcrushing alone, but it also seems to expect that people will discuss tactics online, write wikis and share guides and walkthroughs. There is also the repetition of each ‘stage’ of getting from bonfire to the end boss with enemies that are always in the same place and tend to pwn you UNLESS you hit upon and repeat certain strategies that counter them, in which case things become fairly simple.

I’m also somewhat confused in how to deal with the variable difficulty levels of the game. In that there are certain known ‘cheats’/’exploits’/’strats’ that can make fights a cakewalk, or you could choose to tackle the fights the hard way via your reaction times and ability to dodge. But then, is it really a cheat or just smart use of known weaknesses and part of the game, given that Dark Souls is all about finding the optimum solutions to puzzle fights?

Take the Abyss Demon. If you fight it the first time, you get a dinky sword hilt that does like 2 damage. Apparently your best bet for “legit” defeating it is to strip down nekkid for best mobility and use your fists, that also do 2 damage and hit faster. Goal: get behind the demon and wail away on its backside and/or dodge its telegraphed attacks and just jump in and jump out. OR you could back down and fight it the second time, in which case you get better weaponry and the ability to do a plunge attack on it to take off more of its hp. OR you could start with a class that does ranged magic damage OR even take advantage of its fire damage weakness and choose to start with black firebombs. That last one feels patently unfair, to the the demon. One hit takes off a good quarter of its hp or so.

But then, its presence at the very beginning of the game was patently unfair to the player to begin with, right?

I got smacked around by the Taurus Demon too many times to count, but patiently repeated over and over the attempt of using plunging attacks to kill it until it finally worked. The Bell Gargoyles utterly worked me over, until I finally gave up, became human and summoned Knight Solaire, where upon the nice NPC tanked them for me and I just smacked them from behind.

The Capra Demon necessitated numerous restarts, while I alternately pondered if I should grind for more bleed resist, grind for something to augment my weapon, grind for more levels, put on or take off more armor, or just keep -trying- to dodge it and its dogs’ attacks while making it up the stairs, trying to kill the dogs while evade it and plunge it, and mostly getting smooshed from the front while staggered by flanking dogs. It was not lost on me that this was theoretically an optional fight too. Finally, I decided that if I was willing to grind to defeat it, then I may as well just do the simplest grind possible – enough souls for a bunch of firebombs, which were then faithfully lobbed in following a guide video from -outside- the boss room, turning it deep fried from utter safety.

It’s stuff like that that utterly confuses me about this game. The game REWARDS this sort of behavior. Or rather, accepts it as a valid solution. Often, you get the same reward regardless of whatever strategy you used (though sometimes there are bonus rewards for doing something the game decides is worth giving a bonus for.)

The current boss that I was at, the Moss Butterfly, smacked my melee character around repeatedly from range before it even got to the stage where it moved within melee reach. Then I learned via reading up that a) I was using the wrong shield to block its primarily magic attacks, b) I was keeping the wrong distance and thus couldn’t dodge its attacks with enough predictability and c) since I was going to alter my strategy regardless the next time, I may as well go whole hog, go human, and summon the NPC that did RANGED damage so that she could smack it around while I just concentrated on not dying. Man, she barely gave me a chance to get a hit in.

Then there’s the potential of co-op multiplayer. Obviously not as popular now, but in theory, in its heyday, you could summon help to defeat some of these bosses, and dealing with them would be naturally A LOT easier if one person is tanking while another is striking from behind, rather than trying to solo tank / survive / run around behind it with dodgy camera and controls / sneak a hit in / get out of the way of the bosses’ return hit, etc.

So is Dark Souls hard or not?! I dunno!

Player deaths-wise, yes, you’ll go through a lot of them. But I play roguelikes where dying is half the fun and you’re expected to die to learn your way through encounters. Except Dark Souls isn’t a roguelike in the sense that you have a lot of variation from playthrough to playthrough (unless you choose to change it up.) The closest thing I can think of is that it’s a brutal puzzle game that you can choose to cheapen by reading a lot of walkthroughs and guides, or you’ll just repeatedly die and die until you devise a working ‘correct’ solution – sort of similar to a Sierra adventure game on steroids where you have to guess the exact word phrase to use or notice that one special out of place pixel or die and reload.

DarklandsJoseph Skyrim’s coverage of the game spurred me to dabble around with the classic for a night. Half of it was spent struggling with the manual and cluebook trying to figure out how to create a character, create a -functional- character and actually select a female image for my female characters and colorize them distinctively rather than have everything default to an identical confusing male knight in battle.

The other half was spent in a repeated grind cycle of sneaking around at night, fighting thieves in alleyways while trying not to die, saving and reloading, getting poorer and poorer while becoming more famous (figures, huh), alternating between making an innkeeper very rich and running out of the city to squat free-of-charge on some lord’s land while waiting -weeks- for wounds to heal.

Getting bored of this, I got a local quest to take on the local robber knight, went through a dozen saves of getting beat up by his men because one was too inexperienced and ill-equipped to handle them, finally hit upon a sequence that let me surround him alone with four very new adventurers and got lucky.

Now suddenly rich beyond my wildest newbie dreams, I went on a shopping spree. A test skirmish in the docks at night shows that I may have overdone it, because everybody is now encumbered and fighting worse than before. *sigh* Inventory management ahead for the next gameplay session.

Other Games – Picked up quite a haul with the Steam sales and Humble Bundles. Not sure when I’ll have time to get around to them, but on the to-try list: Gone Home, Gnomoria, Droid Assault, Anomaly 2, Tower Wars, Dust: AET, Deadlight, Pixeljunk Eden, Brothers, and Sang-Froid. Among others.

I’m staring at XCOM very hungrily and Witcher 2 always going on sale keeps reminding me that I’ve never made it through Witcher 1. *sigh* They’ll keep. I’m sure they’ll go on sale again at SOME point this new year.

A good deal of my game playing time has evaporated too because I’ve lost a week to reading a very intense and well-plotted web fiction serial.

Worm is a story about a teenage girl who gained bug powers and wanted to be a superhero. Except things go wrong, and she has to decide if she’s willing to do wrong things for the right reasons. It’s a setting where every character, hero or villain, is protagonist of their own personal story. Everyone is justified, in their own eyes, and conflict happens when motivations clash. People who loved City of Heroes should give this a shot. It’s darker in tone, but very well-written.

(This series was introduced to me via Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality fanfiction page, another good if lengthy read. A far more interesting, scientific and logical Harry Potter, perplexing all of Hogwarts. Don’t blame me if you end up losing hours to these links.)

Each chapter I go through, I’m in utter awe at how solid the writing craft is. Scenes force change. There’s cause and effect. Characters are compelling and have individual wants. Conflict, tension and suspense bleed through every page. Have trouble with plotting? Not this author, they keep coming up with the most compelling litany of things that could keep going wrong for the protagonist.

It’s bloody inspiring, that’s what it is, and I end up trying to devote some time to my own personal writing and solo roleplaying too.

Gaming and blogging time curtailed as a result. Will see you guys as and when there’s more stuff to talk about.

ToME4: Tales of Maj’Eyal is Out on Steam!

If you like fantasy, lots of races and classes, and a deep, tactical combat experience…

What are you still doing here?

P.S. This game ripped me away from Guild Wars 2. And you know how fanatically committed to GW2 I am. It’s that good.

P.P.S. You can download it for free to try it out at their website. The paid version is for donator features.

And 1225 Steam achievements, I guess. (No, Syl, that is not an excuse to skip it. Get the free version and don’t link it to Steam if you don’t want to.)

P.P.P.S. Waiting on tenterhooks for my Steam key, should come in a few days or less, they say. The developer is super-active and awesomely responsive. It’s everything you should support for all the right reasons.

Steam Sale Recommendation: Don’t Starve

I almost hesitate to recommend this one.

For a variety of reasons.

The biggest one is that this game eats your time. I’m not sure where the weekend went.

It’s also not the cheapest it could go, at only 40% off, but it won’t hit any longer during the summer sale. (It will probably have a daily deal after the sale at 50% though.)

Miserly me has also been sitting back on this one as it’s barely reached 50% off once, and I thought I would wait until it got cheaper.

But now I regret hesitating to pick it up then, as the thought of being able to play a good modern survival game kept preying on the back of my mind like a hallucinatory spider until I decided I would just get it, at whatever price it was being offered at the summer sale.

The last reason to hold back on the purchase would be what people typically say about Don’t Starve, it’s a hard and challenging game in the survival genre and thus may not be to everyone’s taste.

But ehhh, those words don’t describe it very well at all.

Don’t Starve is part of an as yet rare breed in the PC world, a true survival style game in the vein of games like Lost in Blue (Nintendo DS) and Unreal World (PC ascii rogue-like.)

The key is the hunger meter, a ticking time bomb that steadily drops as the hours and days pass, and your goal is to strive to maintain it for long enough to accomplish other goals like exploration and crafting and possibly story progress, depending on the game.

Entropy relentlessly wears away at it. Mistakes are costly to recover from. Many game turns or days are spent running back and forth involved with repetitive action while one strives to maintain a happy medium between progress and bar maintenance.

This repetition is sometimes criticized, but really, if people can mine endless tunnels in Minecraft looking for diamonds or play farming games like Harvest Moon, there’s really no difference except whether the player has accepted it as part of the goal and gameplay.

What Don’t Starve has going for it is, first of all, a very unique aesthetic.

It’s a Tim Burton-esque style of dark, quirky, macabre and comedic and it works very very well. The game universe has a bizarre logic to it, even when you run into the strangest of oddities and are expecting an unpleasant surprise.

Your first days and first games, will, in a rogue-like vein, be mostly a learning experience as you run headlong into all manners of horrible ways to die.

Totalbiscuit, in his WTF of it, has commented that Don’t Starve is very much a wiki game, in that reading the wiki and all manners of guides are pretty much accepted and expected – the game does not handhold you.

Then again, Minecraft and Terraria are also very much wiki games after the first few discovery and exploration attempts (did anyone really try to figure out redstone circuits from scratch?) and Don’t Starve is no different. You may choose to play the first few games unknowing and enjoy the process of learning through repeated deaths, but eventually, I think most players reach a point where they reach the limit of their own resources and start to type things into google to find out how others are handling the same thing.

And from that wiki understanding, your next games will be deeper and richer and so on.

I started a new game to take screenshots, as I didn’t want to jinx my existing game. The following will describe various occurrences and mention in brief some strategies of play, so if you don’t want to be spoiled, please look away now and just buy the game already.

I took the opportunity to play a completely new to me to character, Wolfgang the Strongman, described as being “stronger with a full belly” and “is afraid of the dark and monsters,” which didn’t tell me very much.

Day 1: Wolfgang wakes and runs around.

thenightmareneverends

Exploring one’s surroundings is critical to getting an idea of where all the various resources are, and where best to place one’s camp.

Totalbiscuit’s other criticism of Don’t Starve is that the starting layouts can be rather arbitrary. Some may place you in a good position, and others may stack the deck against you from the very beginning. On this, I think he’s spot on, though I think there can be some mitigation once a player understands the game well enough to hunt around for a good base camp site.

I immediately realize that this is a much better arrangement of resources than my last two games.

firstdaysmap

I find a rocks biome to the north, which will provide rocks, flint and gold. There’s even a tallbird nest or two.

I run into a cobblestone road, something I’ve never seen before prior to this, only encountering dirt paths in my previous plays. It’s an excellent speedy highway, which reveals lightly forested land to the northeast (which will have twigs and berry bushes), deepening to denser forest (more trees) and expose a spider den, which I give a wide berth for now (good silk and monster meat for later farming.)

There’s a pond that will produce frogs near my original start location, and south of that is savannah, filled with grass and rabbit holes.

This is the spot, I decide, as the day is evaporating fast. Camping out near an accessible road and near rabbits for a constant source of food, a decent amount of various resources nearby.

Having learned the hard way in the first few playthroughs, I have been grabbing every last tuft of grass and twigs to create traps as I explore the map. It isn’t until the day is nearly gone that I realize that I’ve almost forgotten to get wood to start a fire. I hastily assemble an axe and make a mad dash for a tree or two for logs.

The controls are not obvious. I’d previously ended up clicking a lot trying to find an ideal rhythm for woodcutting and stopping and starting. I’ll tell you now that one has to hold down the left mouse button or spacebar, and that seems to chop the easiest.

I’m fast enough that there’s enough light left and I decide to go for broke and race to mine some boulders for rocks and get an efficient firepit going since I’d decided on my base camp spot, rather than the dinky little temporary campfire that one normally starts off with.

I have not done much of anything about food, having not encountered any berries or carrots yet. Wolfgang’s gnawing stomach and plummeting meter makes itself known, and to my surprise, he physically shrinks and becomes wimpy.

allaloneinthenight

The first night, with only a small supply of logs to hold back the encircling darkness.

Tomorrow, food is a big priority. I need to forage urgently. I need to find a biome and a promising direction to go in. Nighttime is a good time to decide on the next day’s goals and open the map to make plans.

In Don’t Starve, one has to constantly think ahead and plan how best to spend the few precious hours (really, minutes) of light.

forestberries

Day 2: Wolfgang strips the bush of anything edible.

I hurtle southward along the road, hoping to find a more hospitable forest with berry bushes and carrots, while collecting the world’s biggest collection of twigs and grasses.

I forage it bare, as I might not have done on an earlier, more cautious game with Wilson, as Wolfgang appears to have a cavernous stomach and an enormous hunger meter to fill, and my main plan to sustain his hunger is really to set up a whole bunch of rabbit traps near my savannah base.

Except he better not starve before that gets going.

day2

Daylight is running out again and more importantly his hunger meter needed to be filled. I rush back to “base camp” or the one lonely firepit with a handful of berries and some carrots, and cook them all, then scarf them down. It’s not much, but it’s something.

I realize to my annoyance that I can’t make beams from logs to burn yet. I forgot a Science Machine. (Or rather, hunger came first.)

Another lonely night is spent, slowly feeding in logs every 90ish seconds or so before the fire goes out. I weave some more rabbit traps in the meantime.

They will be dumped on top of the rabbit holes first thing tomorrow morning.

(Which seems to be the most efficient way to catch rabbits. My initial game wasted a lot of resources trying to bait the trap with carrots, and placing it a distance from the rabbit holes.)

Day 3: The Quest for the Science Machine

rocksandaringwut

I run up to the rocky area with a pickaxe to mine for gold for the science machine. I also find a strange ring surrounded by evil flowers. (Dear gods, this is a dense layout I’ve gotten. I have no clue what it does and don’t want to wiki it up yet. I leave it well alone.)

chasedbytallbird

Mining is interrupted by a tallbird, who seems to think I’ve gotten too close to its nest, and aggressively attacks. Brave Sir Wolfgang gallantly runs away.

Cowardice seems to be the better part of valour in this game. There’s a lot of kiting involved, even when one is equipped with a spear and log coat armor for combat. I haven’t as yet tech’ed up to the ranged weapons, so I don’t know how that goes. And most times, leading monsters into traps or other monsters to let them fight it out seems to be the best way to profit without being hurt.

I get back at around dusk to check on and reset my traps. Dinner is served.

roastrabbit

Oh, that terrible squeal when you murder them. I don’t suppose cooking them alive is any better.

The brilliant blaze courtesy of the new science machine, which helped to prototype the technology of “beam” – ie. a plank from 4 logs, which according to the wiki, burns for 360 seconds and can generally last the night. It’s a lot easier than trying to feed in 4 logs without risking the fire going out.

day4map

Day 4’s map is more developed. South of my basecamp is a beehive, and a patch of swampland that has a ring of Tentacle monsters (never saw those before either) surrounding a skeleton, a beefalo hat, and some hound’s teeth. While a scary sight and a big shock when I first ran into them (runaway runaway!) these will turn out to be be my most favorite saviors later on, as hound attacks are easily dealt with by getting them to fight each other.

day5bats

Day 5: Wolfgang is chased by very angry, very toothy bats.

I unplug a sinkhole (that leads into experimental caves that I have not DARED to venture in yet.) I do this for the guano they leave behind, which is apparently good fertilizer later on if I ever get around to making farms. They also burn as fuel in a pinch.

day6charcoal

Day 6: Wolfgang lights himself on fire.

While burning up trees to make charcoal. Which we need for drying racks. I’m already worrying about winter, which I was under the mistaken impression arrives on day 15. (It’s really day 21, as I found out later.) It lasts for 15 days, which is probably where the confusion came in. This guy’s stomach is insatiable and I was already having trouble keeping up with the original Wilson.

Day 7: Wolfgang stuffs his face. He does that a lot.

day7homesweethome

This is a good place to end off the post before it gets too long. Base camp is beginning to look more set up. The first of a few drying racks are placed. I rushed an alchemy machine for lightning rods, because I lost my entire berry bush farm in my last game to a lightning strike (oh.. the flames…) Some collected saplings are laying on the ground to be put up in a twig farm once I got another lightning rod in place.

Hunger is still a constant companion that I didn’t quite begin to crack until the middle of winter and the beginnings of spring – around day 31-35. And there’s still a ways to go on that.

Don’t Starve is a great game. Full of things to discover. The next update is apparently due in nine days, which should have even more nasty surprises.

Is it worth $9? Hell, yeah.

Just make sure you don’t have anything scheduled for the next eight hours when you play it.

Steam Sale Recommendation: FTL

I’ve been losing GW2 play time to two roguelike games picked up from the ongoing Steam sale.

First up is FTL: Faster Than Light.

Ironic story: I’d waited for months for FTL to go on 75% off to try it out as it didn’t look that appealing on first glance. The whole spaceship system looked so alien and complex, and the graphics nothing spectacular.

GOG got there first with the 75% off offer and I nabbed the DRM-free version. Played it, found it quite enjoyable and worth $2.50. And now Steam comes up with their 75% offer with trading cards but no Steam-linked achievements. After agonizing for a while, the deciding factor was the soundtrack version and I decided to pick it up…again. After all, I’d only unlocked a quarter of the available ships and was still getting considerable play value out of it.

Is FTL worth $5?

I’d say yes, now, but one has to play it to figure out if one likes it.

In truth, FTL doesn’t have much roguelike resemblance, save for the fact that “normal” mode is harder than one would expect, occasionally arbitrary and that dying and restarting new games is all part of the grand plan.

The closest thing I can link FTL’s basic gameplay to, is a real-time strategy game, or RTS.

Except it’s not entirely real-time and has combat more similar to the old Baldur’s Gate games of yore.

There is a lot of spacebar-pause stop-and-start to give time to think, and to reallocate your orders to crew and weapons as best befits the current situation (which can change in a second.) The mouse is used to select crew and order them to move from room to room, with keyboard shortcuts an option.

The symbols are new and strange at first, but a few playthroughs will quickly get you understanding which represents the various spaceship subsystems – the shields, the weapons, the engines, the oxygen supply and so on. Further playthroughs will increase one’s familarity with what types of weapons opposing ships are carrying and how best to prioritize disabling or destroying the other spacecraft as needed.

The overarcing goal is to move your ship from place to place in the galaxy, having a bunch of random encounters and leveling up one’s systems and weaponry by means of the currency of “scrap,” staying just one step ahead of the pursuing rebel fleet which prevents one from staying too long in any one place, while preparing and buffing up for the final boss fight of the Rebel Flagship at the last stage.

There is some emergent narrative that could occur, but not too much, in my opinion. A well played game means most or all of your crew stays alive and enemy ships are swiftly demolished. If you get to a stage where your last crewmember bravely puts out all the fires on board, repairs everything and takes the helm and manages to limp from encounter to encounter, chances are more likely that something will wreck you, or that you won’t have accumulated enough scrap to survive the endgame, rather than you making it to an encounter which replenishes your crew and recovering well enough to defeat the final boss. It -could- happen, but not that likely.

Of course, at the moment I’m primarily playing it on Easy. The joys of a game that allows you to adjust difficulty to one’s preferences. I find the encounters less arbitrarily unfair that way. And it’s easier to unlock the variety of spaceships FTL offers to play around with.

The beginning ship, the Kestrel, is a good general all-rounder ship for learning the game with. Its starter crew of humans has no particular strengths, but no particular alien weaknesses either. Piling on the lasers and the shielding tends to give a good run, though one might not complete the game if one hasn’t planned on a specific strategy to defeat the final flagship and built for it.

In this demonstration game, I’m running a ship I’ve been itching to play since I unlocked it, a Mantis ship.

The Mantis are preying mantis-like aliens whom you might be able to guess, specialize in hand-to-hand combat. They are fast, but they repair poorly.

Their ship starts off with no sensors, which leaves one a bit blind, and a weak basic one shot laser. However, they do begin with a teleporter, which dictates their initial engagement playstyle to be very different from the norm. The boarding party strategy of killing all the crew was something I was dying to try out, as it yields more scrap than simply pummeling the ship and blowing it up like most other ships would.

mantisstart

This is one of the earlier engagements. I’d lucked into an encounter that gave me a second Engi crewmember (Engi are robotic lifeforms which are doubly good at repairs, but poor fighters, and often serve as slaves aboard Mantis ships, from what I gathered via the game lore.)

One Mantis, Kietzkin, has been assigned to pilot the ship. You might call him the captain. This enables the ship to evade (as long as engines are also operational) and charges up the FTL drive during combat, so that one can jump out if the situation is really going bad. I’d have preferred a non-Mantis pilot, as Mantis make really good boarders and his improved hand-to-hand fighting is wasted here, but beggars can’t choosers.

One Engi each has been put to work in the engine room and the shields. The engine room worker increases the ship’s evade chance, currently at 20%, which lets it dodge enemy fire (lasers, missiles, you name it). I’ve learned that improving evade chance can actually help survival more than rushing shields, as missiles can go straight through shields. The shield room Engi enables my shields to recharge at a quicker pace, which does help deflect enemy laser fire too.

Normally, the recommended strategy for early game is to target and disable the enemy’s weapons as quickly as possible. This allows you to pummel them into submission at leisure as they can’t fight back and damage your ship while their weapons are down.

My basic laser has been deactivated, as the enemy ship has a one dot shield. My basic laser only fires one blast, doing 1 damage, so the shield would just suck it up and likely recharge before my laser can fire again.

Instead, I enabled the other weapon, a Smart Bomb, which consumes a missile for ammo. This does no hull damage, but can do 2 damage to systems. And targeted it on the enemy ship’s weapons, prepared to knock it out to mitigate some damage coming my ship’s way.

Meanwhile, my real weapon, the Mantis boarding party pair, have teleported across into the piloting room. In theory, this should disrupt the enemy pilot, and if the ship plays by the same rules, their evade chance should be lowered as the pilot is now occupied battling my Mantis. Whatever. I really just want them skewered on my Mantis’ claws.

Monitoring their health is tense, as my level 1 teleporter is still recharging and I can’t bring them back for healing if things go wrong. At least only two crew can enter at a time in this small room, and they have no Medlab (First Aid symbol) to heal up. Upgrading the teleporter to a level 2 for faster cooldown is a major priority once enough scrap is accumulated.

mantisstart2

A minute later, the smart bomb has hit and damaged one of the ship’s weapons (which is now retracted), leaving only a beam weapon that cannot pierce my shields. I’d killed off the two thankfully human crew in the pilot’s room, and teleported my Mantis back for healing. The newly healed Mantis have then beamed back to catch the last crew member, struggling to operate or repair his weapon system. He doesn’t last long and the spoils of victory are soon ours.

autoscout

Each ship encounter can be different, with valuable things to know either learned from prior games and good observation skills or reading a wiki/guide voraciously. Here, we face an auto-scout ship. These tend to be fast, unmanned, evasive buggers from prior experience, and this one has a cloaking system (the eye symbol) which prevents my weapons from locking on and charging up (this tend to help them both evade shots if cloaked, and delay us for their weapons to charge.)

But the most important thing to know about an auto-scout, is that it has no oxygen. All the rooms are an airless hazard. Not only does this make setting them on fire very difficult (without oxygen, the fires go out – this is an important firefighting strat for one’s own ships too,) chucking a boarding party over there would be an invitation to suicide – especially since the ship may cloak at a bad moment and prevent my teleporter working to bring out my crew.

Luckily, this ship in the early game has no shielding either. So my mantis boarding party chill out in the healing room, presumably having themselves a party drinking whatever passes for ethanol for them, while I dink around with my one shot laser and eat up its hull one dot at a time.

I -could- have chucked a mantis in the weapons room to increase the rate of recharge of the laser, but I’d deactivated the ship’s weapons very rapidly so I was perfectly safe now as I just needed to keep hitting the same area to keep it unrepaired and causing hull damage. Auto-scout goes boom, and I drink in the scrap it leaves behind.

moreresistance

Other battles are dicier. This ship has an attacking drone, which combined with its weapons system, managed to set my oxygen room on fire. This is, naturally, not good, and steadily depletes the ship’s oxygen – as evidenced by the rooms steadily turning pinker. Below a certain point, the rooms become striped and an asphyxiation hazard. My Shields Engi has been hastily yanked off the shields for firefighting and repair duty.

I could also have ventilated the room by opening up a sequence of doors leading to the outside vacuum of space, but I was a little reluctant to do that with this ship’s layout as it would mean making three rooms an airless hazard just to reach the O2 room, and get in the way of the healing/teleporter access route. And with O2 down, the rooms would be hard to resupply with air. (One could open out all the other doors and hope the remaining ship’s oxygen vents into the rooms, but it just seemed a scary prospect.) So I decided to keep shuttling the Engi back and forth between the medlab and the room aflame and make him operate a fire extinguisher instead.

At the same time, a furious battle is raging on the other ship’s bridge between my half wounded boarding party and a new crew member who has rushed in to take the fallen captain’s position. Their ship’s weapons have been destroyed for the moment, but they are also desperately charging up their FTL drive to escape. Meanwhile, I’m desperately scanning my ship for ideas on how to prevent this, because if they successfully fire it up, they’ll take off WITH my boarding party.

Either the piloting system or the engines have to be damaged to delay this. Do I let my mantis duke it out with the crewman and hope he’s the last crew on board (which would end the encounter?) Will they have time to damage the piloting room after killing the crewman, if there is more crew around? Do I teleport the mantis back and let the ship go? Do I spend another missile ammo and use the smart bomb, which is halfway charged, and aim it at either pilot or engine and hope it hits?

Choices like this are the meat of FTL gameplay.

mantisvsmantis

In this later fight, Mantis goes against Mantis in one of the most drawn out, unwilling to back down conflicts ever. They send a boarding party. I send a boarding party. They have a healing room. I have a healing room.

They have a battery of weapons, including a very annoying missile – and no worries about conserving ammo for a final fight, that has set my shields on fire and is tearing my hull apart from hits. I’ve upgraded my dinky one shot laser to one that produces three laser shots in succession, except I don’t have enough system power yet to operate it, my teleporter, my medbay and my shields all at the same time, and power has to be shunted from one system to another in a frenzy of juggling. (Thank you, pause key.)

I could have jumped out long ago, but this was a matter of Mantis warrior pride here. So I let my ship soak up hull damage from the onslaught while I painstakingly worked on slaughtering their crew while keeping their medbay disabled or destroyed. A bunch of missiles were spent in the process, making this an exceedingly costly action.

In this final cleanup, the Rock member of the boarding party has been co-opted into firefighting duty with the poor Shield Engi, as she’s immune to fire. My mantis have teleported back, knowing they’ve won. And I’m holding back on destroying their hull, which I could, if I just started up my laser…

goodbyecruelworld

…because I was waiting for the final humiliation, and an achievement I had yet to obtain before this. Death by Asphyxiation.

There was a lot of repair work to be done after, and frankly, it would have been far wiser to just jump out and leave the ship behind as I’m not sure I came out ahead in scrap after that, but well… choices.

endgame

Successfully getting over the early game hump made the Mantis cruiser a ship to be feared by the end though. I picked up a scrap recovery arm, which combined with nearly always boarding ships and killing crew, and easy mode increased scrap rewards, left one superbly upgraded ship by the end of it.

Mastering the final boss fight takes a bit of trial-and-error (and/or reading up on the cheese strategies via the forums.)

Here, I use the standard tactic most use (having been blown up many times prior to using it.)

Basically, send in boarding parties to take out all the isolated crew on the weapons but one. The laser is usually left as its three shots have to go past shields, evading, cloaking, etc before damaging your ship. I tend to prioritize the missile weapon first because I HATE missiles going right through my shields. I also don’t think the beam weapon is much of a threat, as long as one’s shields are up, but it’s safer to take down in case a subsequent lucky Power Surge breaks up your shield and the beam weapon then decides to cut through your ship.

The isolated crew member is left so that the ship does not go onto Automatic AI mode, which allows it to self-repair its systems.

Then slaughter the rest of the crew in the middle, which does involve a bit of a scrap, and being able to keep them from healing up.

With no crew left to resist, destroy the ship’s shields from within, remove thyselves, and then take out the rest of its hull.

A similar boarding party tactic is used for the next two stages. With the inclusion of deactivating the drone control system early on in stage 2 so that the incoming combat drones don’t do too much damage to your ship, and keeping a level 1 cloak on standby to evade the Power Surge drones in stage 2 or the all direction laser shot in stage 3. Fire the cloak only when you see the Power Surge weapons pop up, so that it can hopefully recharge by the next Power Surge.

In truth, with 55% evade and 4 dot shields, I purposefully left the cloaking off once or twice and found the gritty little ship soaked it just fine. I kind of envision this small, nimble elite craft flying circles around the big Rebel Flagship, while its commando crew beamed in to recreate an Aliens scenario.

wesaluteyou

To Captain Kletzkin, the intrepid duo of Lana the Rock and Magne the Mantis aka the first boarding party, Aisha and Jorlack aka first ship defenders, team repairers and secondary boarding party, Fleischy the super-safe and super snug Engi running the engines for beautiful evasion, Banks the human weapons banks master, and Elnubnub the forever put-upon firefighter, shield operator and all-around repair guy…

…we salute you.

And if you’ve read all this way and haven’t bought FTL yet, don’t be an idiot like me and just go straight to the dev’s website, where you can buy it for the current sale price ($2.50 for the next 7 hours, and probably $4.99 till the end of the Steam sale – both very reasonable prices) where you can get both DRM-free and Steam versions for the price of one.

Steam Linux Sale: Two Weird Gems

Steam’s currently having a celebratory sale for Linux-playable games.

Of course, since all the Linux games are also playable on PC, it just means I get to trawl the collection and go bargain-hunting.

I want to highlight two gems that may be less obvious than things like FTL at 50% (still waiting for 75%, yarrr.)

Eversion

Hitting little brick blocks with one's head? Check.
Bright and shiny colors? Jumping on little moving sprites to defeat them. Hitting little brick blocks with one’s head? I’m surprised it’s not Mario!

I’ve owned this for quite a while and rarely see it on sale. It’s going for two bucks, which I think is the perfect price point for the six or so hours you may get out of it (if you chase all the achievements.)

And even if you don’t complete the game, it’s worth two bucks to see the neat genre twist involved. (Assuming you are at least vaguely familiar with the platforming tropes of Super Mario Brothers – else it may possibly be lost on you.)

Suffice to say, things stay only bright and cheerful and kiddy and bright and bouncy for so long.

It’s like The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing for platformers, which by the way, is also a great read if you’re into dark and creepypasta stuff.

Fair warning: You have to be okay with the frustrations of platforming games – rehearsing pixel perfect jumps and getting one’s timing -just- right may be an issue in certain parts. And dying and being sent back to the start or the nearest checkpoint if you miss. Over and over if you’re having an off day.

I know I personally have trouble with getting the hang of the timing when just starting out, but get it down after a while. There is also one notorious spot in particular that causes immense rage and failure for quite a number of people – including me, and led to staring at video guides and trying it 30x and still failing. I got past it eventually and seeing the ending(s) and experiencing the whole game was worth it.

There’s a less graphically attractive free version floating about the web too, but I think for two bucks, it’s worth spoiling yourself with the full-featured version. The 8-bit style music’s pretty fun and fitting too.

Magical Diary

magdiary

No, seriously, WHAT?

I know I’ve mentioned that I have a soft spot for cheesy casual games before, but this didn’t look like anything I’d be remotely interested in at first.

I don’t have a huge allergy to anime style cartoon graphics, but this game’s images are a touch on the amateurish side in places. Some characters look good/okay, and some look really strange to my eye.

Purely on principle alone, I don’t think I’d mind dating sims or visual novels but honestly have had very little experience with either genre.

(The closest to a dating sim I’ve ever gotten is an ADRIFT text/graphic adventure game called The PK Girl, submitted for the 2002 Interactive Fiction competition, which I found I quite enjoyed. It’s received some criticism for portraying things in a sexist light, but I was mostly more intrigued by the branching possibilities, multiple endings and ability to develop relationships with characters in an IF game, using a language that wasn’t Inform/Z-Code.

As for visual novels, Analogue: A Hate Story is about the closest I’ve gotten around to trying so far. Not bad if it’s on sale too, by the way.)

More of a buzzkill is the fact that it’s set in a magical school, and your protagonist is a magical student that has been raised as a Muggle (redacted for copyright reasons), unaware of her destiny until approximately high school age.

Your default character’s name starts out as Mary Sue (until you change it in haste.)

And you’ll even have a cheerful and helpful female professor as your ally, while there’s this sour-faced lanky, evil professor whom you smash into early on, whose life purpose appears to be making yours miserable.

*resists urge to puke at Harry Potter overdose*

sappy

For $25, or even for $15, I’ll never buy such a thing.

But you know, Rock, Paper, Shotgun has reviewed the game and been somewhat positive about it, and it’s now on 75% sale on Steam, making it a much more palatable $3.75…

… and there’s even a free demo.

Welp, the demo did its job really well on me.

I gritted my teeth through the initial overdose of sweet sappy cheesiness, smiled tolerantly at the most obvious tall, dark and arguably handsome stranger who showed up as the most likely potential boyfriend for my character, and to my surprise, found myself getting into the flow of the story, experimenting with various twists and turns and options, suspecting there was significant branching narrative potential here, and most of all, wanting the story to continue when I reached the end of the demo.

That is how you sell a game.

What I’m most impressed by is the multitude of scenes and occurrences that the writer(s) have concocted for the setting. No shortage of writer’s block here. Global school events occur over the course of the term. Vacations come and go. You’ll have the opportunity to develop relationships (not necessarily solely romantic ones) with a plethora of characters. Conflict and drama pop up everywhere, sometimes when you’re least expecting it. Time passes. Things change.

And ultimately, you do feel like you’re living the student life of the protagonist you’ve designed, and that there’s room to try another kind of protagonist for another replay at the very least.

What I would recommend is to at least give this game a chance. Don’t immediately judge it by its appearance. Download the demo to try it out – it will give you a good idea of whether you might like this style of game/visual novel at all.

I also apparently suck at magical exams and indirect, clever solutions, hitting on potential solutions a touch too late. Next game, I swear I'm making a sporty and physically inclined, direct magic flame-throwing protagonist instead.
I also apparently suck at magical exams and indirect, clever solutions, hitting on potential solutions a touch too late. This has earned me numerous detentions and demerits. Next game, I swear I’m making a sporty and physically inclined, direct magic flame-throwing protagonist instead.