Archives for November 2018

Crusader Kings 2 ‘Holy Fury’ Expansion Released Today

At long last the latest expansion for the Strategic Medieval Life simulator Crusader Kings 2 is now available to the masses. What is undoubtedly the largest expansion to date, Holy Fury looks to integrate itself with nearly every culture, dynasty, timeline available in the game. Many of the previous expansions simply tack on their respective features, thus increasing the scope and breadth and flavor of the CK2 world. So, not owning all expansions could be considered ‘necessary’ to experience what the game can do under the hood. However, Holy Fury seeks to embed itself under all of this while also throwing in its own unique features.

Indeed. As seen from the outside looking in (I’m downloading the expansion and free base-game update as I type this), Holy Fury looks to bring Crusader Kings 2 around full circle, helping bolster what made the game unique and so dang fun to play since the very beginning. Religion now has more power and presence in the fabric of this medieval world. Dynasties and genetic traits are now more manageable and exploitable. More societies. More political motivations. More Africa. More. More. More!

With Holy Fury, nearly every culture and region now has MORE.

Back in April, Strategy Gamer posted the opinion that CK2 has lost its way; that, essentially, the expansions have watered down what made the game so special in the first place. It is a great read and wonderful food for thought. I hope to have a response post to this article, along with a review for Holy Fury within the coming days.

But until then, you’ll have to excuse me. I have a medieval eugenics program to develop.

Weekend Gaming – The Council

Praise be to a medium that has the diverse history and abundance of flavors that games of the video variety have. One of the primary reasons I have taken up gaming as a hobby is because no matter what mood I happen to be in, no matter how awesome or plaguing a week has been, there is enough of a variety that I can load up just about anything to sync with my current mood status. Even when I don’t feel like playing anything I still end up playing something.

I’m shifting gears this weekend. Up until tonight I’ve been shuffling chits in The Operational Art of War IV or creating wildly cost-prohibitive and clunky alchemy machines in Opus Magnum. Both games require an amount of patience, dirty work, trial and error, and even more patience on top of the patience already listed – mainly a patience in oneself, which, at this juncture, I am pretty much devoid of. Let us turn to matters of a more theatrical and humanistic nature, shall we?

I don’t trust George any farther than I can throw him.

Yes. The Council is an episodic adventure, ‘choices-matter’ game taking place on a secret island during the closing years of the 18th century. You play as a young potential-initiate of a secret society populated by an elite group of individuals who represent their respective countries or territories. It is on this island that these power-players discuss and initiate matters of political and social concern. So, of course in such a core setting like this there is duplicity, power struggle, side-taking, hidden meanings, and things left unsaid in the many dialogs available. Add in some occult flavor, twinning, murders and perhaps an immortal character or two, and you’ve got a recipe for an evening of fun!

Four out of the five episodes have been released, of which I left things hanging at the beginning of episode three way back in August. I feel like immersion this weekend, folks. I feel like plugging in the gamepad, putting my feet up, and parsing the dialog trees of the powerful leaders in this time of change to determine who is on the up-and-up and who is full of duplicitous crap, discovering myself in the process. Much Existentialism. Very Talking. Wow.

What are you playing this weekend?

Diablo Immortal…NotLikeThis…

The title for the next iteration of Diablo is such a contradiction, considering it might already be dead!

I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed in what the next iteration of Diablo turned out to be. Seeing a title like, “Diablo: What’s Next?” on the schedule for BlizzCon opened up the hype gates like Tyrael parting the sky from heaven on his way down to Sanctuary to slay some demon spawn!

Blizzard even had to temper the enthusiasm from the Diablo fan base with a post because everyone was hoping for just a glimpse of Diablo 4. Just a peek would be all we needed but, alas, it was not meant to be. I’ll tell you what was next though, a big heaping pile of #notmydiablo!

If I’m being harsh it’s because I have been fan of Diablo from the beginning. I can remember playing the original Diablo over local co-op on the PlayStation with my brother, so many hours with Diablo 2 on the PC, and finally with Diablo 3 on the PC (over and over again – thank you seasons). I don’t think anyone was looking forward to a smartphone version of Diablo (if you can find someone that was clamoring for it, let me know in the comments – genuinely asking here folks).

This will be the first Diablo game that I won’t play… wow… that’s a hard one to type. I choose not to play it because it’s not the game I want and certainly not the Diablo I want. It feels like the powers that be at Blizzard (or maybe Activision) are not aware of what the fan base wants or they don’t care. Since we don’t know what the pricing is or what micro-transactions are going to be available in the game, we can’t say it was just a cash grab…yet. Whatever the model ends up being doesn’t really matter. What does matter, and I HOPE Blizzard is listening, is that they missed the mark. No amount of hype, or faux hype at the BlizzCon announcement can make a game desirable when it wasn’t wanted in the first place.

After perusing some of the Diablo 3 subreddit (I mean, where else would you go to get the pulse of a community?) I found a very concise summary to the whole thing from user j005e and to sum it up; I share it here:

Card

The phrase that I’ve seen used a lot in defense of Blizzard/Activision is, “You can’t please everyone.” and while that’s true, you could at least satisfy the Diablo fanbase. Sadly, I don’t know if any lessons will be learned or anything good will come from this whole thing. I do hope I’m wrong and Blizzard give us all a mea culpa but, what are the chances of that?

Thea 2: The Shattering Coming to Steam Early Access

MuHa Games announced that their newest offering Thea 2: The Shattering will be entering Steam’s Early Access later this month. Thea 2, the sequel to MuHa’s 4x/survival/card battle/uber-hybrid Thea: The Awakening, looks to expand and polish many of the aspects of its predecessor, which is welcome news.

Indeed. Thea: The Awakening performs quite the juggling act. And a beautiful, intricate act it is. Were one element out of place the entire game would collapse. The problem is that some of the ideas and systems seemed only half-baked: The night/day cycle could be even more influential; The UI could use a facelift; Greater variation in the narratives of playthroughs are needed. These examples are but slight hiccups in an otherwise wonderful and unique strategy game.

The Thea community spoke out and MuHa Games listened. Thea 2: The Shattering has learned from the shortcomings of its predecessor and is ready to take action. Some of the new features include:

* Rich, randomly generated and diverse new environments and biomes to Explore

* Battle through the vast array of creature as you Exterminate your way to victory, or simply strive to survive till sunrise.

* Build towns, widen your territories or chose to remain a nomad, as you Expand your influence in the world.

* Discover new and vast resources, collect materials and craft them into your equipment as you Exploit the many wonders of the land.

* Free DLCs

As is evident, MuHa seeks to embrace more of the elements of the 4X genre than Thea: The Awakening did. The fact that the player can build more than one settlement is exciting to see (though we all have a special place in our hearts for our beloved hamlet of Ostoya). Perhaps this means that more of the map will be less of a grind to reach and exploit.

Despite Thea 2’s leanings toward a more 4x system, I hope it doesn’t fall into the usual, dull entrapments of a typical 4x game. In other words: If I have to paint the map I will be sorely bummed out. The light of hope burns bright, though, considering that MuHa plans to expand its Slavic-influenced storylines and other RPG elements. I would be more than happy to trade conquest for narrative.

Will this hope be realised? What tweaks will MuHa makes to the card battle system? How will the storylines and dialog trees influence the progression of exploration and party management? Will campaigns come to as abrupt and blood-splattered ending and in Thea 1? Come November 30th, the story of Thea 2: The Shattering will commence.

And for those interested parties, Thea: The Awakening is available for 50% off during Steam’s midweek madness sale. I give it my unsolicited recommendation, as I have jabbered and raved about it in the past.

Monitor Sync’ing – Let’s Figure It Out

Having looked at monitor refresh rate, another aspect to consider when selecting a monitor is deciding what type of synchronization works best with the system’s graphics card.

There are three major offerings for sync’ing the video signal output of a give GPU to the monitor: V-Sync, G-SYNC and FreeSync (they will also be dropping a dope album in 2019).

V-Sync (vertical synchronization) has been around for a long time, going all the way back to CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors. V-Sync was devised as a technology that attempted to match (synchronize) the frames per second of the video card with the refresh rate of the monitor. The biggest hurdle to getting this to work was that a given GPU’s frames per second are in constant flux, making this synchronization difficult. New frames would be available before the monitor had finished drawing the previous frame. This fluctuation leads to the phenomenon known as screen tearing, where the refresh rate is slower than the GPU output and the monitor can’t keep up, drawing half of one frame and half of the next. The V-Sync technology evolved to use a buffering system so that it only grabs frames that are complete (if the video card is faster than the refresh rate of the monitor, drawing frames faster than can be displayed, it will put a frame in a buffer and start working on the next frame while the monitor displays the current frame in the buffer). This works well when the GPU fps is outpacing the monitor refresh rate. It breaks down (as most of these technologies do) when the frames per second drop below the refresh rate. It is also limited to refresh rates that are multiples monitor refresh rate (60 fps, 30 fps, etc.) (This post on HardForum really gets into the nitty gritty of V-Sync).

NVIDIA’s G-SYNC and AMD’s FreeSync look to alleviate the problems plaguing V-Sync in two different ways.

NVIDIA’s G-SYNC solution is hardware based, meaning work is done both on the GPU side and the monitor side. A G-SYNC capable monitor has an NVIDIA chip that communicates with the NVIDIA GPU and syncs the refresh rate of the monitor with the fps of the GPU. This obviously caps the possible fps to the monitor specs, but the ability to modify the refresh rate dynamically provides a noticeable image quality improvement. Screen tearing and input lag (the time between moving the mouse or hitting a key on the keyboard) improves due to the increase in screen refresh. (This probably only applies to high-level professional gamers, but we all think we’re Pros, so…) It does increase the price of the monitor given that the monitor manufacturer has to include extra hardware. (As stated earlier, as frame rates drop, the syncing technology suffers.)

AMD’s FreeSync technology is GPU-only and therefore doesn’t require any extra hardware on the monitor end (but does require that the DisplayPort input be used). FreeSync takes advantage of “Adaptive-Sync” that VESA has built into the standard DisplayPort standard. From the VESA website: “DisplayPort Adaptive-Sync enables the display to dynamically match a GPU’s rendering rate, on a frame-by-frame basis, to produce a smoother, low latency, gaming experience.” An AMD Radeon GPU is required to utilize FreeSync capabilities, (just like NVIDIA and G-SYNC) but FreeSync offers a wider range of monitors able to take advantage of the adaptive synchronization.

When making a final decision on which monitor is the best option, cost and technology preference are the two deciding factors. By most accounts, NVIDIA’s G-SYNC offering edges out FreeSync in terms of performance, especially at the high end. That performance comes at a price, however, as the extra hardware that is added to G-SYNC monitors increases its price. Without first-hand experience, I am not in a position to recommend either. I started the process of researching components for a new PC with the intention of using an NVIDIA GPU but now I am being swayed into AMD’s camp with the cheaper, more diverse FreeSync monitor options.

Either way, the current setup and future plans for your setup will dictate your monitor choice.