Categories
Computer Games

EGX 2019

Moving house is tomorrow, so lets do this instead.

Last weekend I went to EGX 2019. I’ve been once before, on a day-pass in 2011, where I was unimpressed by the queue to play time ratios, and the lack of anything to do that didn’t involve queuing for things.

This time I went for the full experience, Thursday through Sunday, nearby hotel. I arrived Thursday afternoon, when it had been open for a few hours already. I hadn’t gone in with any major plans. I wanted to see the latest on Cyberpunk 2077, I’m interested in Death Stranding and Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and I was booked for both the Friday & Saturday D&D sessions with Outside Xbox/Xtra.

Thursday was mostly wandering around getting my bearings. The ExCeL centre is huge, and EGX did well to make it both manageable and navigable. Some places could have done with better signage.

Thursday Encounters

Cash ‘n Guns

Cash & Guns with Dicebreaker

(Watched, Tabletop) Cash ‘n Guns is a board game for 4-8 people, and I watched Dicebreaker play it – you can watch the video of that on youtube. I like the mechanics – you could reskin it fairly easily to not involve pointing foam guns at each other, but the physicality plays in to the game really well. From watching, it’s not a game I’d play with strangers – I can all too easily see a version of this with an interplay of injokes and noodle incidents on one side and a couple of players smiling slightly, and there are some people I would never play this with due to griefing concerns, but it does seem like a lot of fun if you’ve got the right group for it.

MediEvil Remake

(Played, PS4) I missed the original MediEvil on PS, so this was my first introduction to the game. Wikipedia summarises the reviews of this as:

MediEvil received mixed reviews. General praise was directed at the game for its story and visuals, which were considered to be faithful to the original MediEvil. General criticism was directed at some aspects of the game’s gameplay, which was perceived to be outdated

MediEvil (2019 video game) – Wikipedia – 2019-10-27

And… yeah. Felt very much like playing an early 90s 3rd person action game, but with nicer graphics and high-res textures. Complete with a mix of rapid-reaction platforming sections with dodgy cameras and no clue as to what you should be doing. A new game in this series might be interesting, but this remake was faithful enough to be a good reminder of why we don’t do it like this any more.

Control

(Played, PS4) Control is a Remedy game, and a direct line from Max Payne through Alan Wake (and apparently Quantum Break, though I didn’t play that). You start off the game as a mysterious person with a past, and the player has no idea what the fuck is going on. Soon, some things are explained, which does not make anything better.

In this case, the background is a world where iconic objects – the service pistol as a concept, the Red Hotline from the cold war – become objects of power which can be bound and wielded.

Control is a well-executed shooty game with a strong narrative element, told in Remedy’s distinctive style of live action video, cut scenes and environmentals. Live Action video in a game still has the uncanny mountain problem it’s had since FMV games in the 90s, but it’s not distracting in context.

The half-hour I spent on it at EGX convinced me to abandon my hatred for the Epic Game Store long enough to buy it there, and the several hours since have validated my position.

Friday

Friday I went in with a Plan. Primarily, to get in early enough to get to see the Cyberpunk 2077 demo. Cyberpunk 2077 was probably the best managed queue system I saw at EGX, although not without problems in itself. You would queue for a ticket that would be for a certain time, and then when your time popped, you headed back to the booth to see the show. This did mean if you didn’t get to the booth in time to get a ticket you couldn’t get in that day, but crucially did not mean you were waiting in a massive queue unable to do anything else, which only moved once an hour.

I arrived at EGX at 9:30, thinking I’d be early for the “Early Bird” 10am opening, only to find a queue of hundreds in front of me. Eventually and with purpose, I headed to the Cyberpunk stall and queued for a ticket, eventually slightly surprised to find I was early enough to snag one for the first show at 11am. The rest of the day was watching Live shows or wandering around the Indie stalls having taken one look at the queues for the other stuff and just going “Nope”. I was interested in the Avengers demo, but it was a long queue that only moved every 25-30 minutes as the entire set of players rotated. About halfway along was a sign saying “Waiting time is about 2 hours from this point” and I just… didn’t. Doom Eternal had the same problem.

A couple of hours in, that plan was absolutely scuppered by running into my best mate from school, who I hadn’t seen in about 25 years. So I spent the rest of the day wandering around with James, which increased the whole experience several-fold.

The Oxventure Begins

That evening I went to see the Oxventure, a D&D live game run by Dicebreaker’s Johnny Chiodini, and played by the crew of Outside Xbox & Outside Xtra. (Both OXs, Dicebreaker, Eurogamer & EGX are owned by Gamer Network, which in turn is owned by ReedPOP, which in its own turn is owned by RELX, who I used to be employed by as part of their subsidiary company Elsevier. If that sounds like a stretched connection, it really is).

Oxventure is a really good example of comedy D&D adventures run to the narrative within the rules. They’re really fun to watch, especially as the players rise from newbies to actually invested players over the games. You can see the rest of the adventures again on Youtube, and I recommend them highly.

Games Of Friday

Cyberpunk 2077

Queues at the Cyberpunk booth
Queuing for the Cyberpunk booth

(Watched, XBox One)

This year’s Annual Hour Of Cyberpunk Gameplay was a “Prove your worth” RPG quest to convince an ally to give you the next step on your main quest. It consisted of going into a new area where you’re not really welcome, meeting a contact who slowly walks you to a contact who lets you through a door to meet a contact who slowly walks you to his office so he can give you a quest to go to another location and stealth/murder your way to the objective.

Queueing to get a wristband that meant I could queue to get into a presentation to watch someone else play a computer game seemed like to apt a metaphor, I guess.

The gameplay looks like a lot of fun. In the demo, they switched between a couple of builds and redid bits of the level (Not possible in the game, but mocked up for the demo) as either a stealth or strength based character.

I liked the gameplay loop a lot, the layout did seem to be a lot more “This is your playspace, go forth” rather than “Pick a road, Stealth or Murder”, which makes me hope that you can play the game with a build you find interesting rather than hyperspecialisation or bust.

Less positive were the mentioned chain of zero-worth NPCs to get to the quest. In game this might feel like a slow infiltration of layers of a secret organisation, but watching just didn’t feel like a good use of time.

I’m still a bit worried about the ability to build yourself into a shit place, but we’ll see how that works out.

I find it really strange that a game so much about impressions and how you look to fit in has gone entirely first person, too.

Epilogue Simulator

Epilogue Simulator protagonist, alongside a thing that will enable a bit of your… items menu? Maybe?

(Played, PC) Epilogue Simulator is the weirdest game I saw at EGX, which is not a low bar to clear. It starts in the aftermath of a something, and you start with nothing. As you begin, you pick up movement keys to let you go in different directions, and keys that bring up the beginnings of menus that mention spells and items.

The world is corrupted, and your spells are corrupted. There’s one that turns the world into a glitched-out hellscape, and another that overlays a soundscape of atonal noise. Other spells can reverse some of these, but not all.

A great little piece of weirdness, and one I look forward to exploring.

Bird of Passage

(Played, PC) You are some kind of ghost in Tokyo. You get into taxis, and you talk to the drivers though a conversation system. Then you get out of taxis. Eventually you… work out what you are?

A strange and meditative game, reminds me a lot of Glitchhikers from the opposite direction. I’d like to play more of this too.

DnDice

Not a game, but a dice store. They sell some beautiful dice, including this £400 Damascus Steel set. I bought some dice. They are blue.

Some dice. They are blue.

Beyond A Steel Sky

(Played, PC) Beneath a Steel Sky was one of my favourite graphic adventure games. It combined a well-realised setting with a great script, some well written jokes and a low level of stupid puzzles.

The sequel looks great – it’s in the same 3D engine as the newer Broken Sword game, and the 15 minute demo I played had some decent jokes, some nice puzzles, and some good gameplay. I’m not in love with the new art style, but it’s not a deal-breaker, and I fully intend to check this out.

Hardware

A tripped out gaming PC
A tripped out gaming PC at EGX

Corsair, Overclockers, Asus and various other hardware providers were there in abundance, a constant reminder that my current PC build is no longer top of the tree, nor even very high up it. I still don’t need a neon flashing case with plasma screens and dioramas inside. But I could do with an upgrade. However, this week we move house. Then we look at future things.

Nuts

(Played, PC) Nuts is a game about finding squirrel hoards. You set up cameras, watch their overnight recordings, then reposition the cameras to try to work out where the squirrels are going. It’s fun, frustration, and the colours are weird.

Legends of Runeterra

(Played, PC) What happens to your game when the Sauronic Eye of popular consciousness is drifting? League of Legends is a game that capitalised good and hard on the lane-based game craze inspired by the Defence of the Ancients mod for Warcraft III, but recently their dev team announced nine new games based on the same universe. This is the first to be released, a collectable card game!

It reminds me a lot of Hearthstone. Like, a lot a lot. The dynamic cards, the escalating mana system, the character barks, the flow, the art style.

It’s not a bad game, really. It’s hearthstone, but with an alternating turns system that puts one player on the offensive and one on the defensive each turn. It’s well-produced and crafted, but I’m not sure there’s any reason for it to exist.

It’s also weird that the second product out of a company that came out of a Warcraft Mod is so clearly going directly after a different Blizzard game.

DOTA Underlords

(Played, PC) What happens to your game when the Sauronic Eye of popular consciousness is drifting? DOTA2 is a game that capitalised good and hard on the lane-based game craze inspired by the Defence of the Ancients mod for Warcraft III, but recently their dev team announced a new game based on the same universe. This is it, a grid-based strategy game!

The new game in the DOTA2 universe coming out of a mod for DOTA2 feels comforting. Valve have once again taken a mod for one of their existing games and pumped money into it and called it a new game, as Counterstrike & Team Fortress had before, and in an age where Valve games are rare – and Artifact was a dud – it’s good to see.

I have no idea if this game is any good or not. The lore is baroque and confusing, the creature stats don’t appear to mean what they say, and winning seems both consistent and arbitrary. From the same point, me and my colleague testing this at the time had vastly different experiences. I put some creatures out and wiped the floor with my CPU opponents until I hit a wall. At the point I hit the wall I had no idea why my team were suddenly dying, and I didn’t have the money to switch anyone out. So we just kept dying, because you gain money by winning, and I wasn’t.

James had roughly the same experience, but earlier in the level progression.

Unto The End

(Watched, PC) It looks like this, and plays like this too:

Unto The End

Deathtrap Dungeon

(Watched, PC) Deathtrap Dungeon is a Fighting Fantasy Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book by Ian Livingstone, and one of the most popular ones. It was made into an awful 1994 3D Action Game, but now is coming out as an “Interactive Storybook”

Basically, it’s Eddie Marsan performing the book at you, while you choose the next path. It’s really well performed from the videos I saw. As a “The pictures are better on radio” kind of guy, I’m not entirely sure about it, but with any luck it’ll bring these fun experiences to a new audience, and I look forward to giving it a go.

Everspace 2

(Played, PC) If you would like to get into a space-ship and fly around shooting things, you miss X-Wing vs Tie Fighter, Wing Commander and that kind of game, and you’d like something to tide you over until Star Citizen disappoints you, Everspace 2 works, it’s a lot of fun already, and it’s up on Kickstarter now.

Warcraft III

(Played, PC) No, not the remake. Towards the end of the day we played 2 player deathmatch of the original WC3 in the retro games area. I lost, but it was a lot of fun. In light of recent developments, I’m not sure I can recommend Blizzard right now, but if you’ve already got it, it’s worth a replay.

Saturday

By Saturday I was a little burned out. I overslept a bit, so missed the first set of tickets for Death Stranding & Final Fantasy VII, then went in to look around for new things.

Games of Saturday

Super Mario Maker 2

Played some co-op levels with a stranger. It was interesting, but while the gameplay loop of trad Mario games is a carefully crafted thing of perfection, it goes alongside some beautifully crafted level design. This had the mechanics, but some truly horrible level design (and these were pre-downloaded levels by Nintendo)

A long queue for Doom Eternal
Queue Eternal More Like!!!!!

Doom Eternal

I have a policy. If I stand in line for half an hour without moving, I leave. Because by the time I get to the front of your queue I’m going to be dead.

Death Standing / Final Fantasy VII

By Saturday, Square Enix had abandoned physical queues altogether, and in order to get into presentations / demos for either of them, you had to go for tickets. Tickets were released on the PlayStation Experience app at 9am for the morning sessions, and 1pm for the afternoon sessions. I missed the first window (I was asleep), and by the time I got to the app in the afternoon all the tickets were booked.

That you had to use the app was signposted nowhere.

Epilogue

At that point on Saturday Afternoon the place was heaving and everything I hadn’t seen had queues. I went to find a couple of presentations, but due to audio issues and timings these didn’t work either. This set of disappointments was enough to make me nope-out, so I spent the afternoon writing up notes for an RPG campaign, and then went back for the second OxVenture panel, which was – again – great.

Doing this again, I think, would be better with a set of friends to hang out with – the afternoon I ran into James and we went around discussing things was great – rather than on my own, and probably maximise Thursday for the big popular things if I can.

Queuing up for 50 people to see a half hour demo on screen of a thing, especially when the event has thousand people cinemas where this kind of thing could scale far better, is a wasted opportunity.

Timeslot based experiences like Cyberpunk work far better, because you can do things while you’re waiting, but online tickets seem just to be a disappointment engine. Also I wonder how many people missed their appointment.

So not perfect, but I saw a lot of games I’m interested in for the future. We’ll see about next year.

By Saturday I was thoroughly tagged.
Categories
Computer Games

The Secret Lore: The Morninglight

I’ve been doing readings of The Secret World / Secret World Legends’ lore entries for a while, initially as a way to learn how to do sound mixing with Garageband. It’s been a couple of years since I published one, but I did a new one a couple of weeks ago. So when I wanted something to play with to learn After Effects, I decided to do a video version of that. I’m quite pleased with the results, although it’s a bit “baby’s first steps in After Effects”

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Computer Games Gaming Personal Piracy Inc RPG Shebang WRPL

Week Ten – Once Is Chance, Twice is Coincidence, Third Time Is A Pattern

Work

First weeks at work are generally a bit chaotic, new accounts, new processes, new people. This combined with a few other complexities (We had a Virgin Engineer around to fix the fact that every so often my ping times hit 20 seconds or so, a side effect of a fix of an issue a few months ago, when some gas engineers took a back-hoe to the fibreoptics) made the week slightly less relaxing than ideal.

Going to a new place is often a point of comparison, and it’s possibly worth writing up some of the practices and theories of operation of doing AWS stuff at enterprise-grade that I didn’t have the mental energy to get permission to write about before I left. All theory, anyway, since I can’t refer it back…

Play

This week we won a RL battle of getting all the people lined up to play the third session (And first with everybody there) of Doug’s Trail of Cthulhu game, the Charybdis Protocol. I’ve got an IC writeup of the second session (my first. Scheduling is hard), and I’m working through the writeup of the second (Slightly harder. I’m attempting to walk the line between “useful session notes” and “one-sided account” in a session where I kind of lit a jerry-can of explosives on fire and threw it at the rest of the character party) (In my defense, shit got weird). Those will appear on my IC Diary site – The Hero Diaries – assuming the rest of the PCs don’t mind, and I’ve got their character names right.

Video-Game-wise, I’ve mostly been playing Warcraft, as I’ve been attempting to get my Monk to the end of the levelling campaign. Right now I’ve hit one of my least favourite bit of WoW end-game mechanics, the “Do tiny repetitive missions that reward junk and reputation to get through the reputation gateway” bit. Happily, I’ve managed to get my gear up to the level where I can do pick-up Heroics, so I’m balancing that with knocking out low-level achievements (Explore these zones, Poke this NPC, Poke that interactive object) while watching Twitch channels.

Twitch is my current background noise. Annoyingly I can’t get my old username back – I had a Justin.TV account before they were Twitch – but I did just realise that I could do the same thing as I did for this, so my new Twitch channel is Twitch.TV/Aquarionics. My first experiments in streaming had some mic-quality problems, but it is something I intend to experiment more with.

This may be combined with the fact that SWTOR is picking up speed in my local community again, so might end up doing more of that, and the idea of live-streaming a character path appeals. We’ll see.

Rest

I’ve had no beer explode this week, which can only be a plus. Brain-gremlins are down, sociality is up. I never really realise how badly stressful environments screw up my headspace until I’m out of them.

The lack of Odyssey meetings and discussions is kicking in to my calendar, and I’m kind of itching to run something game-like. This, coupled with Torment coming out and a block of Cipher-system/Numenera setting content that I backed with Kickstarter years ago turning up all at once is making that look like a short-run Numenera campaign. Tempting.

However, existing projects exist. I tidied up a bit of The Book, and it’s looking a lot better than I thought when I gave up on it. I almost don’t feel the urge to ditch it all (again) and rebuild. What I probably need to do is go over the first few chapters, redraw the arcs, and get a second opinion on whether the style actually tells the story. And then: Pirates.

Categories
Computer Games Gaming

Warcraft Attempt 3 – Pandaing to the masses

One of the benefits of having had this website up for 17 years is being able to trace things through history. So in 2006 I gave World of Warcraft a heavy go. Nobody in my local circle was really playing it (or, if so, hadn’t mentioned doing so), and I was deep into City of Heroes at the time. I bounced off fairly hard due to the grindy questing (Kill 10 rats. Now kill 20 Superrats. Now kill enough rats to get 12 Rat Pelts with a 20% drop rate. Now kill the Rat King. Now kill 10 wolves. Now kill 17 Superwolves…) I did the same shortly before Cataclysm rewrote the beginning in 2010 and then with more success afterwards.

2010 attempt
2010 attempt

The 2010 attempt was a Horde Hunter run that got as far as the Burning Crusade content and then bounced off again when I hit the same grinding that made the 2006 attempt frustrating. I enjoyed a lot of the new Cata content, the phased areas that really felt like you had changed the world, the more variety and substance to a lot of the questing.

This year I decided to make another attempt. I tend to phase through MMOs, spending a few months cycling through Lord of the Rings, Neverwinter, The Secret World, & Wildstar. With all of them not appealing for various reasons, and with Blizzard granting all the prior expansions to everyone ahead of the new Legion launch I took a run at that with the new Pandaren Monk options.

2016 Attempt
2016 Attempt

The Alliance 1-60 levelling experience did not fill me with the same level of satisfaction as my 2010 run. The badly dated CSI:Miami post-tutorial opening area didn’t really work for me, and a lack of any real stakes or observable difference in the world, along with a lot less variety in the questing – still a lot of kill-10-rats, but without the interesting custom-mechanics to break it up – made it a bit more of a slog.

On top of this was a distinct lack of an overarching narrative. Blizzard are really good at making large and lore-filled worlds with big epic stories, but none of that appears to come across in the world itself. Some of the zones have nice consistent arcs with interesting twists, but barely anything seems to persist between zones or relate to the rest of the world story. Five or so of these small arcs and I hit Burning Crusade with the traditional wet thud.

It’s possible that part of missing story was by skipping occasional entire zones because I’d levelled past them. More than once I entered a new area and the first set of quests included the traditional “Thank you for all your help, go over here and help these people next”. But since I didn’t see any sight of it when I *was* paying attention, I guess not.

I was advised if I wanted to skip BC, I could do so via dungeons and extra-circulars, and this was reasonably easy. I took up a flying mount and went on an archaeology binge with the Dungeon Finder queue up, and this was so effective I had to start filtering down which dungeons I had done so as not to outlevel some before I’d done them once.

Eventually I hit 68 and was eligible for the 2008 Lich King content, the point where WoW storytelling kicked in again. Mostly I’m finding I’m levelling too fast through it (Borean Tundra levelled me passed Dragonblight, so I’ve cleared Grizzly Hills and was working through Zul’Drak when I hit 80. So now I’ve stopped XP gain while I finish off the storyline through WotLK and get to Cataclysm content.

I’m finding the WotLK content far better than slogging through BC, although the themes and stories of BC seemed really interesting, the wiki was doing far better than the quests for going through it. WotLK still lacks cohesion in its overarching plot – that the Lich King pops up every so often doesn’t a narrative make – but things like following the rise and fall of Drakuru through a zone/dungeon/zone sandwich is satisfying and I’d like to see more of it. Much like the NPC-Hero/PC-Questgiver stuff I enjoyed from the new early zone refresh, though, this kind of stuff is spotty and rare at the moment.

Categories
Computer Games computing Python

Sorting Steam Screenshots

So Steam, by default, when asked to take a screenshot will merrily scatter them hither and yon across your hard-drive with unwarranted abandon. Specifically, it’ll put them in the app’s home directory. This isn’t great, because what with cloud-saves and game streaming, I tend to treat the hard-drive with my games on it as transient, and not backed up.

However, Steam also has developed a setting called “Save uncompressed screenshots”, and if you set that and a directory, it’ll put all your screenshots in one place! Hurrah!

Except now all your screenshots are called things like “306760_20160825142347_1.png”. Now, the bit before the underscore is a Steam app ID, so you can look up the game name and file things nicely into the right folders.

So here’s a python script to do that thing.

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Computer Games

Obduction – Absolutely not Myst 6

I am a fan of the Myst series. I like their aesthetic – the desolate, long abandoned feel, the giant mechanics, the multivarious worlds – I like the sparse storytelling. I like the way the puzzles build on each other and make you feel like you’ve learnt rather than solved them.

The things that fade into memory are the absolute disrespect for the players time, the occasional falls to obscurity, and the bits where “sparse” falls away to “absent”.

Something about the initial world makes me watch out for roadrunners.
Something about the initial world makes me watch out for roadrunners.

In the first minute of Obduction you are teleported from somewhere in mid-america to a place that’s weird. Weird because it looks like a western set, weird because the western set appears to have a white picketed suburban house in it, and weird because beyond the recognisable it is a completely alien landscape. It’s a tribute to Obduction’s universe building that by the time you end this game, all this will make absolute sense, including how it happened and why the ground is that shape.

A carefully spoiler-avoidant pile of notes
A carefully spoiler-avoidant pile of notes

It’s a Myst game in all the important ways. The world has no other people in it – all interactions with humans are done using FMV, in a way that was amazing when Myst did it in 1993, adorably retro when Zork did it in 1999, and flat-out nostalgic when Obduction does it in 2016. It works fairly well when you are supposed to be looking at a recording or hologram, and shatters your suspension of disbelief if the person’s supposed to actually be there. Navigation is either by standard 1st person camera or click-to-move a-la Myst/Riven. Puzzles are solved by clicking things & buttons, and by shifting levers. They range from the simple, to the “That’s obvious because real world”, through to “That’s obvious because consistent universe” to ones that might fall into the last, but either I missed the example or it was cut. There are a few places where the game draws attention to something by movement so you pay attention to it and remember it later. I’ve got a notebook from the first time I played Myst which maps out and documents loads of codes, mazes and symboles I’ve seen, and the working for puzzles while I was solving them. A couple of decades later and the screenshot function of Steam replaces most of those, but my desk is littered with memo-block pages with the same purpose.

There’s a numbering system in one of the worlds that’s the biggest in-game example of this. The game teaches you it fairly early on, uses it for a couple of simple puzzles, but if you don’t entirely grok it, it’ll screw you over later on in the game. Partly solving this is a machine/teaching aide that will directly solve things in an early area, but there’s a point where you’re separated from it and need to use the number system to progress.

...revels a little in its crap FMV...
…revels a little in its crap FMV…

There are another couple of universe-shear points where the game-world changes because you advanced the quest, but there’s no in-game way for that thing to have moved, or that thing to suddenly work now, or in-game dialogue to tell you that you should check that place again. I imagine it’s due to puzzles cut for time – there are a couple of weird content-holes too – but it is annoying. I went through the game pretty much on release, so there weren’t any walkthroughs or guides around, but I did seek out Reddit & the Steam Forums when I got absolutely stuck for more than half an hour, and was fairly happy that all the times I did, the clues I got on the forums were things I would never have thought of doing.

Giant machines in their natural environment: A Myst-style game.
Giant machines in their natural environment: A Myst-style game.

There are a couple of puzzles of the annoying kind where having worked out what to do, it’s going to take another half hour to push all the pieces around, but once you’ve got the hang of how the cross-world puzzles work, they become enjoyable to solve. Like all Myst games, there are some points when you’re going to have to spend a while going the long way around, and while it’s not particularly respectful of the player’s time (no quick-travel here) it’s imperfect without being rage-inducing. Except one puzzle, where it’s horrid.

But it’s a Myst-style game, with all the production values (except in FMV) of a well-made 2016 game. I completed it without particularly hurrying in around 13 hours play, I’m entirely happy with the $25 I kickstarted it for. It has some beautiful environments; a well-observed, consistent world; and a sparse but engaging story. If you like this kind of thing, you’ll like this kind of thing.

Categories
Computer Games Gaming

The Park

‘Tis the season to be jump-scared, fa-lalalala, lala la la.

One of the possible ways to review this game is a content warning list, thus: Content warning for jump-scares, player-gaslighting, violence to children, dolls (dismembered), discussion of obsolete (and violent) treatments for mental health.

As someone who loves the world and stories set in The Secret World, the reveal of The Park – a single player experience set in the universe of that game – is something I am massively in favour of. The Park doesn’t need you to have played TSW to play it, though if you have done the mission set centred around the same park location in the game, the setup and some of the backstory will be familiar to you. (It’s not *necessary*, or even a plot point, to know that the park is built on a Indian Burial Ground and influenced by the Illuminati, but it does explain a lot). It’s a slow paced horror game, kind of, based around a woman – Laura – who has lost her child. The interactions in the world are move, toggle run, left click to interact, right click to shout for your son. Shouting – which gets more intense as the game gets on – results in a sonic clue as to which direction to aim for, and a visual bubble like a lens over the next interactive object. There’s no combat, no puzzles, and the closest thing to a failure state is three achievements (out of 14) that require specific action (finding an object, etc.) rather than following the game.

The story is interesting, and disturbing. It uses the medium well, but if you don’t like your pacing slow, your tension high, and your ability to shoot things limited to screenshots, it’s not going to be your thing.

It ends in a very dark place (probably. The ending isn’t… conclusive, but it’s not nice), and the journey to get there is winding, but it clocks in at between 70-90 minutes playtime. None of that’s filler, though. There’s no going back and forth with objects, no reloads for combat retries, no arbitrary game-over screens; it sets out to tell you a story though an interactive diorama, and it succeeds – in my opinion – very well.

There’s a long list of people I’d not recommend this game to – anyone who uses the word “walking simulator” as a pejorative; anyone who flinches at anything in the content warning – but if any of the above sounds like Your Thing, it’s about 8 quid for an experience that I’d recommend.

(Plus, anything that keeps Funcom afloat at the moment is good for my long term ability to play The Secret World…)

Buy The Park on SteamFind the lowest price for The Park on Is There Any Deal

Categories
Computer Games Gaming

The beginner’s guide, a review thing

The beginner’s guide is a game in the style of the author’s previous game (for which he was part of a team), The Stanley Parable. It’s similar in that the mechanics are you walk though and experience it more than you play it, the game is in the narrative.

It’s presented as a compilation of one-shot games by a developer named Coda, that Davey wants to present to the world.

The game is dark, and deep, and what you see at the bottom may depend on who is looking.

It is the dark mirror of the Stanley Parable, and exactly as explicable. I love that it exists. I love the game. I will now delete it from my hard-drive and never be tempted to launch it again.

The rest of this article contains spoilers, and you shouldn’t read beyond this unless you’re pretty sure you’re not going to play it by the above.

The dark mirror within

Towards the end, it becomes clear that by imposing his need for more games that *he* would enjoy, the narrator has driven his muse to stop producing games at all. In fact, Coda – the developer – begins to feel trapped in his own outlet, games he made for himself, for his own entertainment, for his own personal expression have been hijacked and analysed and then “fixed” by the narrator, and then the narrator – a fictionalised version of the game developer, Davey – has bundled them together for release in order to “encourage” or, to put a better way, pressurize Coda into developing more games for him, Davey. Coda becomes the only way Davey can look at himself, and placed high on that pedestal, cannot deal with being someone else’s idol.

“Davey”, in turn, uses Coda’s games – shops them around to friends, and eventually puts this up on Steam – to feel part of them, to feel like they were his in some way, and presents his public over-analysis of Coda’s game designs as depression, as shutting himself away, when it’s actually Davey’s appropriation of his games, and Davey’s own unresolved problems, that’s making it hard to produce. On Coda’s side there’s a lot in there about pressure, about having to explain everything as a psychological basis, about being in public, about opening yourself up for evaluation.

On Davey’s side there’s a lot about the need for external validation, and the escalating need for more. About the perils of relying on other people as perfect templates, and the pressure it puts on them and on you.

So it wasn’t a comfortable game for me to play. As the metanarrative became clear, the revealing of the narrator as antagonist, the clear metaphors of unsolvable puzzles and being held responsible for someone else’s happiness…

Plus, Coda and Davey are the same person, possibly. One interpretation is that it’s Davey before his games got popular (supported by something he wrote a little while after The Stanley Parable went supernova, and some other stuff). My personal theory is that the narrative of the game is of two people, but the reason for the game is that they’re both the same person, and I’m doing that thing, and I should stop.

Yeah, 1am on a sunday night wasn’t the best time for me and this game, it’s going to be a long player in the background of my head. My relationship with feedback’s never been especially healthy, and it’s been a bad few months for creative works for me in part due to that.

Categories
Computer Games Gaming Larp Piracy Inc Projects web development Work

Week 33 – Long Time Passing

That I now have to make a decision on whether weeks begin on Sunday or Monday for this is probably a bad sign. It’s Monday, anyway.

Work

My current contract is coming to an end, and with the company on a different footing to the last year, my position of emergency relief may be coming to an end. I kind of have to assume it is, anyway, so I’m looking for more different things. I’ve got an interview on Wednesday for a full time contract, which will be something of a novelty after working 3 days/week for the current one. Part of their interview process was this intensive logic-based Aptitude Test, and if I’d seen it coming I maybe wouldn’t even have applied. It’s the kind of mental-gymnastics “Could you get into Mensa” test that I’ve traditionally done really badly at – which means I panic, which means I do worse. I got the Face to Face interview before they sent me the test, though, and they haven’t cancelled that yet. Doing it on Wednesday put me on edge, though, which made a sudden explosion of drama in one of my corners of the internet hit a bit hard, so Thursday was crap, and then Friday, by dint of an astounding series of coincidences that built up into a *huge* pile of shit, was worse.

So it’s been a weird week, and this week isn’t looking much quieter.

Rest

LARP

The drama’s based around my “big” larps, those run by Profound Decisions that I help crew for, and was based around how well PD deal with abuse reports. To clarify: My role at Odyssey occasionally means dealing with the first part of these, in that I’m usually the first person people end up speaking to, but I’m under strict instructions – which I almost always follow – to directly redirect such complaints to non-volunteer staff (Sometimes the player doesn’t want to, sometimes other things get in the way). Paragraphs deleted here. I’m not getting into it.

Part of it is that I’m going to be running events, I hope, in the future; and I can’t see a clear path where I would have done it better or even particularly differently. The numbers are low enough that statistics become inferable to specific cases too easily, and I fundamentally disagree with last-action policies. That is, if you know someone is attempting to deal with anger issues, and you poke them with a stick so you can then point at them and say “This was going to happen anyway”, my sympathy is significantly less than if you poke them with a blunt stick and they bit your head of on spec. I don’t even begin to know where the answers are on events that happen out of the game that affect people’s ability to feel safe in the same tent/camp/field/county; and the line between asking people quietly to fall in line and publicly being seen to make a stand isn’t clear cut either.

It’s a hard problem, it’s a disservice to everyone – organisers, crew and players alike – to pretend there are heavy black lines around all of the areas (Yes, some actions are clearly bad), and the initial explosion of righteous “They’re being stupid”, “They’re being oblivious” didn’t help. The more nuanced discussions later were a lot better, but that was after the initial damage.

Pirates

I spent most of Saturday on PiracyInc, the long lost Pirates Game I’ve been working on for years. It’s currently an excuse to learn Node – I do a lot better at learning languages by building things in them – and rebuild the visual mechanics of the game as a Cookie-Clicker style percentage bar system, but backed onto something akin to an MMO engine. There’s almost certainly better ways to do almost everything I’m currently doing, but right now I have the basics working, and can now start putting meat onto the bones.

Lifestream

I’ve also been working on my personal data archiving project, Lifestream. Right now it’s drinking in data on a lot of things in my life, and storing them in a database. A lot of that’s reproduced as part of NicholasAvenell.com, but some of it is on two timeshifted accounts, Aquarions Of History, which reproduces my tumblr of four years ago in real time, and @timeshifted-aq, which does the same for my Twitter stream. The new updates for the Twitter side replace “@” with the unicode ? symbol, to avoid sending notifications to people for tweets 4 years ago. On the tumblr side, I’m using queueing to make the times slightly more accurate (Twitter doesn’t let you schedule tweets with the API, so they appear when the script runs, every 15 minutes)

Other

My iPhone 6S arrived on Friday, and I’ve been experimenting with it over the weekend. Battery life is a lot better than my (2 year old, >800× recharged) 5S was, Using it to navigate to a new place was – as expected – a large drain, as was being in a low-signal house for a while. Staying in the same place with low signal but wifi calling appears to have only lost 10% over the day, though, so it’s looking a lot better.

I’m looking at porting my Trello-based voice-mail system – Vox-ex-machina – from its current mess of hand-coded PHP into a nicer Node-based system, but that may come after Pirates gets a bit more love.

Play

Still playing AdVenture Capitalist. Can clearly give it up any time I want to.

Batman Arkham Knight

In an attempt to use my PS4 a bit more, I picked up Arkham Knight for it – also affected by the reports of the PC version being shoddy. I like the Arkham games a lot, they’re hands-down the best representation of the concept of Batman in video game form and the gadget-centric progression fits the model of the character really well. That said, Knight’s push bigger has lost focus somewhat. The explicit mission tracking is welcome, but the scope and repetition of some of the tasks aren’t doing so well. Primarily, the Batmobile is massively overused. I understand they want to fit all the things they wanted to do with it over the last couple of games, but the Batmobile as puzzle-solving device gets old quick, and the shooting-gallery of tanks is just frustrating. It would be better if there *wasn’t* a concept of clearing out the islands, because it makes the one-line notification of “oh, BTW, there’s another stack of tanks to beat” frustrating. AND THEY RESPAWN. One of the leading lights of the Arkham series’ vaulted combat system was that when you got into a fight, you could see there are twenty guys, and then you’d beat 20 guys, and you’d win. Here – and it’s not just in the batmobile sections, they do it in the hand-to-hand too – there’s a high chance of multiple waves, without telegraph, that means you can never tell how close to success you are. The number of special-combo-to-beat enemies appears to have gone up too, turning many fights into effectively quick-time events as the tutorial window pops up with “Press X-X-O-Meta-Bucky-Five to disarm quantum field generators” with the added bonus of having to abort halfway though as some other fucker throws a TV at you from off-screen.

So, while I’m enjoying Arkham a lot, it’s not without flaws. Most of the reasons why I’m enjoying it a lot are where they’ve improved the original concept, and most of the places where I’ve not is where they’ve stretched it.

They’re making me bored of the Batmobile, though, which is an achievement in itself.

Pillars of Eternity

With the new expansion released, I’m also retreading though Pillars of Eternity. I’d got though to Act 3 previously, but when I came back to it I had no idea where I was, so I’ve restarted as a Moon Godlike Chanter, going from the least original class/race combo in the series to something distinctly more interesting. The replay’s going fairly well, I’m remembering most of the major plot beats and getting slightly different results, but the game’s still got a problem with leading you into fights you can’t possibly win at your current state, which I’m hoping the expansion’s better at. Though since by the expansion the party will be at a significantly higher level, it may work out anyway.

 

 

 

Categories
Computer Games Larp PHP Projects

Week 27 – A Blunderbuss For House Hunting

Last couple of weeks have been a little hectic, and the next couple seem to continue this trend. So:

Work

Shifted to a new primary project at work for the first time in quite a while. Enjoying new challenges, and a more modern codebase to work from. My side of Skute has wound down a bit while others fan the spark a bit, which gives me a chance to plan the next bits for the API.

Play

Still going though SWTOR, mostly. I’ve not had a lot of playtime.

Rest

Moving House

We have the keys to the new flat, big move is this weekend. We moved a few dozen boxes yesterday (Thanks Dan & Jenny for being awesome). Between that and Odyssey, I’m mildly dead now.

Odyssey

I’m a head ref for Odyssey, and work closely with the Story team to help everything go smoothly, and one of the things that didn’t go smoothly last time was our “Blessings” system – the system by which we add reactionary special statuses to characters (Blessings from their Gods, Curses, Long term effects of magic spells, transformation into bloodless monsters, Roleplay effects, Extra hitpoints, everything). Previously we worked with a somewhat Heath-Robinson contraption built of Excel and Access-based PDF generation.

Previously, I built a system called Mimir, which tracks the kudos priests and other characters can earn with their gods. We’re a more narrative-based than stats-based game, so the numbers get fudged a lot, but it’s a decent guideline. It’s also got a fairly fully-featured blogging engine, which is for debriefs.

Screenshot from 2015-08-12 15-45-00_croppedMy last couple of weeks not-working time has been spent extending and expanding that a lot. Folding in an Autocomplete library that linked to the current list of active players and the Blessing system (complete with three-stage approval process and player-facing PDF generation), and then a general once-over on the design has swallowed a lot of my coding time.

When I built it originally a few years ago, I built it in PHP (because I wanted to be able to make quick changes on the fly during an event) using a custom lightweight microframework, and Idiorm/Paris as the database/ORM model. I’m slightly surprised how well that’s held up. I didn’t need to edit the framework at all for this major revision, and Idiorm & Paris worked really well for me. The frontend’s built in Bootstrap, which gives me style without much effort – though I do need to bite the bullet and shift up to v3 – and I’ll be releasing it as Open Source once Odyssey is over, alongside graphs and statistics generated from the actual dataset.

I should put up another post later on about how well Odyssey went, but now I should be getting ready for work.

(Header photo: A Greek Shield Wall, at Odyssey. Photo by Charlotte Moss for Profound Decisions)