Archives for June 2016

In My Hands

Actually, it’s a little too big to actually be in my hands, but yesterday I picked up a new Xbox One console and brought it home the only way that seemed fit:

Nice and safe in the front seat.

Nice and safe in the front seat.

Readers of the site will know that I recently picked up a Surface Pro 4. Not for gaming, per se, but gaming was going to (and has) happen with it. I’ve been extremely happy with the Surface Pro 4 for non-gaming tasks (it has worked nicely as a laptop, which I was worried about initially) but now I’m even more happy — the purchase of the surface has facilitated even more gaming in a very round-about way.

Recently, Microsoft announced a whale of a deal where you could get a Surface Pro 4 and pick up an Xbox One for a cool zero dollars.

So being with in the window of the return policy, I asked if I could return my Surface Pro 4 and take part in the deal, and the great folks at my local Microsoft Store were more than happy to help me walk out with a new Xbox One, an extra controller, a copy of Watch_Dogs and a cool 50 bucks to spend at the Microsoft Store in the future. (There’s a better than zero chance that it will go towards an Elite controller)

I had sort of decided that I was going to sit this console generation out, content with a screaming PC and the Wii-U. But this opportunity was too good to pass up, so I’m a next generation gamer I guess. Sure, I’m two and a half years late to the party, but that just means I have a nice big backlog to dig in to.

Any recommendations for what I should check out? I imagine Halo 5 will be my first foray into the Xbox One Universe.

Unsolicited Mental Objects – Fallout 4

(Unsolicited Mental Objects are a series of posts that we started as a sort of stream of consciousness to talk about whatever was on our mind, gaming-wise. I am currently making an effort to write everyday, so these should start popping up with regularity, along with other content.)

fallout_4After an extended break, Fallout 4 is back in heavy rotation. With the first two solid DLC packs having already dropped, I wanted to get through the main quest line before diving in to the DLC. That’s been my SOP for most games like this — finish the main game, then play the DLC the way the Lord intended (in the order it was released). I feel like there was a distinct order the developers had in mind and I want to stick with that.

Unfortunately for me, I put my playthrough on hold and the first two DLCs dropped before I finished the original storyline. No big deal, I’ll knock out the main quests and then work my way through the add-ons later.

So I’m working my way through a quest and it sends me to a randomly selected location to clear out some ghouls. I flip on my Pip-Boy and the quest marker is in the upper right corner of the map, a place I have never been.I dutifully head up there to find the “Eden Meadows” drive-thru. But I get up there and Eden Meadows is nowhere to be found.

It’s just a couple buildings, a dock and an older Asian couple looking for their run-away daughter.

Wait a second. This sounds like a quest that mysteriously appeared in my queue when I started playing regularly again. I talked to Detective Valentine about it and realized it was the Far Harbor DLC. I stashed that quest away to come back to later and now this randomly selected location was smack-dab in somewhere I had no intention of going until I finished the main story.

(I’ll reserve judgement on whether this was a good design choice or not for another post. Fallout 4 is massive and a marvel of development and programming. I’m not going to accuse Bethesda of not squashing a potential bug. I was helping out some Synths and Far Harbor fits that description anyway)

But this presented a dilemma, one that I have grappled with before. Do I sully my experience with the DLC, something I had been saving, to continue on with this quest? I have to further the story of Far Harbor just so I can make progress in infiltrating The Institute. I like to think my way of playing through content is the right way and now I’m forced to do something against the grain.

So I went to Far Harbor, ignored anything that might trigger another quest line, made my way to Eden Meadows, handled my business and got back to The Commonwealth. But in doing so, I still had to further the Far Harbor story a little and now it will wait, fallow, as I continue my quest to get answers from the Institute.

Sorry Mr. and Mrs. Nakano, your daughter’s disappearance will have to wait. I have some revenge to exact for my dead wife and lost son.

Steam Summer Sale 2016: A New Approach to Buying

It can neither be confirmed or denied – but we are all as sure as shineola – that the Steam summer sale will begin on Thursday of this week.

Steam has altered the way it handles these sales over the past two years, opting for a more straight-forward approach to providing discounts without all those ‘micro deals’ ala, daily deals, bundle deals, flash deals; the discount that is assigned to a game on the first day is the discount that shall remain for the duration of the sale.

This approach is definitely not as dynamic or, perhaps, as exciting as the hustle-and-bustle sales, and this trend seems to show that discounts aren’t generally as steep, either. I pooh-pooh’d this at first having found favor in the excitement of waking in the morning and checking what flash deal popped up while I fitfully slept and dreamed dreams of backstroking in all pool filled with all those green discount tags. Likewise, I relished in the opportunity to snatch up the deep, deep discounts, regardless of whether or not I really, truly wanted the game. And let us not forget the ‘encore’ sale when it was that last day scramble to scoop up everything on your wishlist now that the possibility for flash deals and daily deals are gone. Indeed. Steam sales were a time of a weird kind of methodological indulgence.

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I have since reversed my opinion of this new, more temperate Steam sale setup because it coincides so nicely with a personal decision I’ve made concerning acquiring new games. The rule I’ve made for myself is thus: I shall buy a game when, and only when, I am prepared to immediately devote the time and attention to striving to complete it or have my ‘fill’ of it.

It is a simple rule and one that I hope will be effective in preventing me from making impulsive, money-dumping, backlog-bloating purchases. And now that Steam sales are more streamlined, I can adopt a different kind of methodology when it comes to buying, one where the games are in charge, not the discount tags.

Steam sales, however the setup, are traditionally about two weeks long. Two weeks is quite the chunk of time, especially when it comes to playing video games – there is the potential of significant turn-around. I foresee my gametime during the two weeks of this summer sale to be akin to a sort of 3-part stage production, and the players – the dramatis personae, if you will – are a select few items from my Steam wishlist whose purchase will be methodically timed based on what type of game it is. This way I can still take advantage of the succulent discounted prices but still hold true to the golden rule that I have set for myself.

ACT I – Nuclear Throne

Day one of the sale will begin with a BANG as Nuclear Throne blasts its way into my Steam library. I am in need of a new game with some gritty crunch. For a while there I was embittered in the Nuclear Throne vs. Enter the Gungeon debate. The former is more appealing because it places precedence in firepower over exploration, which the latter handles inversely. Nuclear Throne sounds like equal parts fun and enraging, but a game where player skill waxes strong with every failed run – signs of a true roguelike. And, like a roguelike, there is the possibility that the game will consume me, or the very real possibility that I will throw my hands up in exasperation, never to return. What better way to kick off the Steam summer sale by playing a wild card?

ACT II – Renowned Explorers

Whatever modicum of exploration sidestepped by choosing Nuclear Throne in the first act will be more than made up for with Renowned Explorers. This looks like one charming little exploration game, one whose obstacles are fun to overcome. I find much appeal in how many variables there are in just about every aspect of the game – from party composition to enemy encounters. Decisions need to be made on the fly. The historical setting is also a personal plus. The whole game looks upbeat and colorful. It might be one that I play with my 8-year old son. Depending on how well I recieve Nuclear Throne, Renowned Explorers may likely take up the bulk time of the Steam sale.

ACT III – Offworld Trading Company

Offworld Trading Company sounds fascinating. Certain games in the grand strategy or 4x genre may have various victory conditions, ways to win other than painting the map your color. But, let’s be honest: These other ways aren’t nearly as much fun. OTC grabs hold of these ‘other’ ways and runs with it, making non-military your only way of winning. Indeed. Victory comes by buying and selling, sabotaging and dominating the central goods market. And from the sound of it, matches have the potential of being fierce, intense and brief. I like this idea. The game sounds like it requires practice and intuition, especially in multiplayer. This is the perfect type of the game to carry me onwards after the summer Steam sale has ended.

There is also the very real possibility that I will pick up a handful of DLCs during this sale. This is an exception to the golden rule stated above since I have already put the time into the base games required for the DLCs. Most notably I will pick up a few for Dishonored and the “Shifters” expansion for Endless Legend. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll catch up on some Crusader Kings 2 expansions, but I’m honestly just a little burnt out from Paradox games – we’ll see… Steam sales do strange things to otherwise lucid and logical people.

Weekend Gaming – Grim Fandango

I need a break of Paradox games. It feels like these past three months have been exclusive to either Victoria 2 or Hearts of Iron IV. I am a weary of clicking through menus and moving sprites around from province to province.

… and don’t even get me started on diplomacy. I have always bristled at diplomacy in strategy games, just in a general sort of way. Sometimes this bristling is more severe than others. In my most recent HoI4 campaign as Germany, I became full-on aggro porcupine.

In what I called the West vs. East campaign, I had the idea of starting as fascist Germany then going democratic, joining the allies and facing off against the Soviet bear. I needed some diplomatic savvy to accomplish this, and Germany, out of any other country on the map, has the political power to do so. But, instead of diplomacy being another avenue of strategy, In HoI4 it often feels like hurdles, obstacles that we need to work around. My plan to reform Germany and join the good guys was stopped cold by every ally nation having an unpurgeable ‘Base Reluctance’ towards me, healthy positive opinion towards me be damned – do you not see that I have dethroned Hitler and given power to the people, UK? Do you not see my firm stance against the wall of communism just east of my borders, USA? Do you not hear me barking these rhetorical questions at you, game? C’maaaawnnn!

This very specific and contextual situation was enough to prompt me to take a gigantic step back and, seeing how much Paradox-ing I’ve been doing, realize that I need to shift my focus to something entirely different… and praise be to an industry with the options and flavor and history to accommodate such a decision!

The last time I played Grim Fandango I had to put the compact disc into a plastic casing and then insert that into the CD-ROM. So, that was, what, a million years ago?

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So much time has passed since then that I honestly couldn’t tell you exactly what makes Double Fine’s remaster a remaster – certainly not the cut scenes! Despite this, the game has aged well due mostly to its unique (mesoamerican meets film-noir) setting and the strong story and voice acting. Grim Fandango has a singular charm that makes it both fun and engaging. The key to this game, from what I can remember, is to talk to everyone about everything, to parse those dialog branches down to their very barebones – to get to the point where initiating a conversation with another character immediately and automatically leads to leave-taking.

Luckily, like I said, the story is fantastic and the voice acting is superb. So the process of developing a conception of its afterlife world is never dull and is critical to cluing you in to what exactly you’re supposed to do with all those items your skeletal protagonist has stashed in his suit jacket. Grim Fandango is one of the very, very rare games where I kind of, sort of, care about the story and setting in equal parts to mechanics and gameplay. And I kind of have a thing for art deco. Neato.

What are you playing this weekend, Menso?

In my Hands (Gaming on a Surface Pro 4)

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So I didn’t pick this up for the express purpose of gaming (I built a new PC for that last year (I should probably write a post about that)) but I do expect to do some gaming-on-the-go when the opportunity arises. I don’t expect to pump out the eff pee esses at an alarming rate, but I do plan on putting this Surface Pro 4 through its paces.

So far, I’ve installed Steam on it and I’ve installed Dota 2 (Because of course that’s what I’d do).

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I spectated some of the Manila Major and it did just fine. I was running it at its native resolution (2736×1824) and it looked great. (Seriously though, the screen on the Surface Pro 4 is FANTASTIC. I can’t stop raving about it). I haven’t tried playing Dota 2 on the Surface Pro 4 yet, so I can’t comment on in-game performance yet, but I anticipate having to back down the resolution and tone down the settings. That remains to be seen.

The other test I was able to try so far was using Steam In Home Streaming. This harnesses the power of my gaming PC (Seriously, I need to write about that) and play anything in my Steam library on the Surface Pro 4.

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For this test, I hooked up an Xbox 360 controller to the Surface Pro 4 and streamed some Fallout 4. Aside from a slight (but noticeable) input lag, the game ran fine and looked pretty good on the little screen. I’m not sure what resolution the game was playing at but it looked fine. This will probably prompt me to buy a new wireless Xbox One controller, as this can be synced directly with the Surface Pro 4 (and I could eventually stream Xbox One games to it (if I ever breakdown and pick up and Xbox One)).

So my initial impressions are that it’s not going to replace my PC anytime soon but for gaming, the Surface Pro 4 seems like it’s going to be a competent little machine.

(And yes, this post was written using a Surface Pro 4)