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?

GF
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?

Weekend Gaming – Hearts of Iron IV

Hearts of Iron IV is the first Paradox game that I plan on following from the get-go. Historically, with most other PDX releases, I show up late to the party and then decide which group to mingle with. I delay my arrival just enough so that the party can establish itself, reach a sort of self-sufficiency, and attract other interesting elements. That way, when I get there, the awkward part has long since faded, the munchies are out and the beverages are frosty.

DasPanzerJA

In other words, I waited to buy, for example, Crusader Kings 2 until 1) It was on sale, and 2) there were a few expansions and patches to smooth things out and add variety. I’ve done the same thing for EU4, Victoria 2, and EU3.

… but not with Hearts of Iron IV. Something about this game pricks me more than any other PDX game – and I am pretty smitten with Vicky2. It is the only matter in recent memory that I allowed myself to get hyped about (My cynicism can become rather crippling sometimes). Months before release I made the conscious decision to be apart of this game, to go along for the ride, and so far the price of admission has been well worth it. Following the message boards has been an absolute ride. I anticipate fantastic improvements and additions, aka, a little more depth in certain areas of the game, aka, stronger and more real numbers. Plus, any reason to not immediately rush fascism would be pretty not stupid as well.

For this weekend I plan on building my East Vs. West campaign, to see how many nations I can get away with annexing as fascist Germany before turning coat, going democratic, joining the allies and bulldozing the Soviets and Chinese into the Pacific. At this point I’m unsure about what to do with Italy. If they remain Axis, perhaps just let the UK sink the entire peninsula. We could turn them into Allies as well but I don’t think we would have the timeframe for that. Or maybe we’d just let them be an additional front that the commies would have to deal with. Decisions. Decisions.

What are you plaything this weekend? Decisions. Decisions.

Weekend Gaming – Duskers

Duskers and I continue to have a hot and cold relationship. I followed the game’s development for a while and made the purchase on its release day this past week.

In Duskers you remotely control a team of drones who explore derelict spaceships, space colonies, space stations. You’re looking for scrap and salvage and other drones to bring back to your ship in order to further the investigation into why the universe is seemingly devoid of humans. But each location is also occupied by various baddies, or ‘infestations’, that will, without hesitation, immobilize or outright destroy your deployed drones. Progress is deliberate, positioning is important and decisions must be thought out. And of this is accomplished by a command line. /line

Duskers

It’s an interesting concept for a game, one that is fairly well presented. I love how it intentionally has zero (0) music files in order to maintain the dark and dangerous setting – Especially so since the drones’ video feed is unreliable; one must place equal emphasis on listening. I love that. I get that. Upon noticing there is no music in the background, the thought of loading up my own iTunes library never even came to mind. The setting is very real and very present.

Generally, my main issue is the command line. I appreciate that Duskers is going for a neo-retro feel, and a command line interface not only compliments this but it necessary to maintaining that feel. But too often I think, ‘what I am doing now – these commands that I am giving – can still be accomplished by using a mouse.’ The basic commands of opening a door, moving a drone, rerouting power, – basically, a majority of what you do in Duskers – by command line becomes rather arduous to me overtime. This feeling is only amplified when the takeaway loot from a particular ship is piddly.

I want this game to be more tactical. I want to set up a command sequence (not just order, lets get some booleans up in here!), press enter, and watch my plans unfold from room to room. Sure, you can go a little deeper with the capabilities of the command line, but I still want to be able to do more with them and, perhaps even more so, with the loot that I find.

Despite my grumbles, I am sensing that Duskers is a slow burn, revealing itself overtime. This is why I haven’t walked away from it already. My approach to it has been in bursts. Much the same as it is whenever I play Invisible, Inc (which shares many attributes with Duskers): When I’m not into it, I’m not into it; When I am into it, I am very, very much quite into it. We’ll see how our relationship fares over this weekend.

Weekend Gaming – Descent Road to Legend

This weekend I’ll be diving into a dungeon driven by an evil artificial intelligence.  This AI will play the role of a sadistic overlord who is determined to see me meet my fate at the end of a spear or in the maw of a great beast. It will hurl goblins, venomous spiders, and possibly even a dragon my way as I descend into the darkness below.

This battle will unfold before my very eyes in breathtaking 3d, in the highest definition imaginable, right on my dining room table.  That’s right, I’ll be playing an AI enhanced board game.

Descent: Road to Legend is a companion app to a board game that has been around for over a decade, Descent.  This game is traditionally played as a one vs. many, one player is the dungeon master (overlord) and the rest are a team of adventurers infiltrating a dungeon.  Road to Legend introduces, for free, a new game mode and campaign system.  It presents an AI that acts as the overlord so you can play on your own or cooperatively with a group of friends.

I’m really excited to try this thing out and it gives me a great excuse to pull out a fantastic game that I barely get off the shelf.  I’ve already loaded the app to take a look inside.  I’ve selected which physical descent products I own and it’s populated the experience to match my current catalogue.

This weekend I’ll be giving the tutorial a whirl to see how it plays.  I’m eager to experience this great old game in an interesting and unique way.

So, what are you playing this weekend?

Road to Legend Announcement Trailer (Video – 1:14)
Road to Legend on iOS
Road to Legend on Google Play
Descent: Journeys in the Dark on Amazon

Weekend Gaming – TBD

I’ve got a Steam backlog – not as robust compared to other users but it’s there, all right. It doesn’t haunt my thoughts or give me pangs of guilt or remorse or shame. But, still, it’s there. And I am mindful of it. I was prompted by this particular forum thread over at Gamers With Jobs this past week to add the prices paid for my unplayed games and the sum was enough to give me pause. Again, my reaction didn’t result in some kind of staggering existential crisis, but that monetary figure was heavy enough for me to ask myself ‘Is it worth it?’

I related this experience to Sir Tony ButtonMasher who suggested that just in even asking myself this question there may be ‘something more’ to this problem. Perhaps this isn’t a concern about money spent but moreso time spent or that the time and money could have be spent elsewhere.

No. That wasn’t it. Gaming is a hobby which I consume in measured increments. I have never ever felt the need to justify the time and money spent. It is enriching and not just a distraction. The video game industry is growing and maturing, becoming, I think, a legitimate focus of critical thought. And I think that is fascinating, a cause for celebration. To me gaming is not just passive consumption, hence one of the reasons I enjoy writing about it and, when I can, streaming it.

I arrived to the conclusion that by asking ‘is it worth it?’ I wonder what I’m missing in my own library. Games genres are vast and multiplicative, they morph and cross-pollinate. Yes. Video games do not just appear from a puff of purple smoke. There are people behind these damned things. And whatever the result, however (un)successful a game is, however large its impact, there was, at the very least, an effort made, time spent, in transducing it from the theoretical realm. And the very least that I can do is make the effort to interact with these efforts.

So, here’s what I did: I created a new category in my Steam library. The ‘Pick List’ is a curated collection of games that are either Humble Bundle B-sides or whose discounts were so steep that I bought them just because. Sprinkled in there are ones I dabbled in but am now judging worthy of a revisit. A few titles that populate the Pick List are as follows: Banished, Eufloria HD, Grim Fandango Remastered, The Last Federation, Penumbra:Overture, Sacrifice, Teleglitch: Die More Edition.

The angle, here, is selection. I will not even make the attempt. Curated custom list or not, I’d still feel the same analysis paralysis. No. This task will fall to my wife who is about as removed and disinterested from video games as one can fathomably be. I will sit her before the Pick List and it will be Greek to her. I will instruct her. I will say, “Honey Bunny Darling, I’m going to turn around. You will click on one of these mysterious titles. You will say nothing about which you are picking! After you click on one of these mysterious titles, you shall then click the blue ‘PLAY’ button”. I will then play this game, make the effort to give it my due attention. Perhaps I will be engaged, perhaps not. Regardless, it is here, where once it was not.

Weekend Gaming – Victoria 2

I can’t stop thinking about Victoria 2. I can’t. I just can’t. The game is just so interesting and logically constructed! Part of the joy in this game is figuring out how all the systems work and work together, and I learn so much with every passing campaign.

So, check it out:

My first campaign was as the U.S. I clicked on a few things here and there and was then promptly overwhelmed. After which I abandoned ship.

My next attempt was as Belgium. It is smaller and a little more manageable. I clicked a few more things here and there and gained a rudimentary understanding of just what the devil I was actually doing.

Like a Sir

Like a Sir

Next, I gave another shot at playing the USA because, you know… ‘Murica. Acting from what I learned as playing Belgium, I set off to create a solid infrastructure through my own resources as well as tapping into the global economy – easily one of my favorite aspects of the game. It was during this campaign that I learned the intricacies of influencing the political leanings of the populace. My people never really seemed to recover from the civil war and rebels were popping up everywhere all the time. And that, as they say, was that. Campaign = Over.

Learning what I learned. With what little wisdom I had firmly in my pocket, I gave Italy a shot. Technically, started off as Two Sicilies but with the intention of forming Italy. I learned about quick ways to rise to Great Power status and what is available once you attain that position. Not to mention, I also drank from the bitter cup and experienced what happens when you are surpassed by another rising nation (JAPAN!) and are pushed back to Secondary Power status – of which includes the inability to FORM ITALY!

Forgive me if this post reads like a dry history lesson, but it is hard for me to contain my enthusiasm for how Victoria 2 is framed and constructed. The game operates within a relatively narrow window of history (the Hearts of Iron franchise has Vicky2 beat. More on this in a later post) and it seems like more opportunities arise in closer succession. This is because the world between 1835-1935 was in fact a time of change and of opportunity. The world was becoming more global. As a player, I take a step back to see how that works. And I see that that is really cool!

This weekend, I reckon I shall give another shot at playing a secondary power with the intent of unification in some manner.

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Weekend Gaming – Victoria 2, Etrian Odyssey Untold 2

Paradox Interactive, well-known for their historical grand strategy games, is certainly abuzz at the moment. The hype train is so very, very real for their new spacey space 4x-ish strategy everything-but-the-friggin-kitchen-sink title Stellaris. This is especially noteworthy as it is Paradox’s first foray as a developer into the cosmos. And judging by the dev diaries and the previews trickling in on YouTube, this is definitely one giant leap, and Paradox fanfolk will be at the game’s heels the entire trip.

While not on the game’s heels, I have kept a measured distance. Stellaris is shaping up to be perhaps much of what I loved about EVE Online but without PDoxInthaving to deal with other players’ stupid, backstabbing, sociopathic crap. Though, I do have reservations about Stellaris, at least its initial release (not to mention its overall accessibility). History has shown that Paradox games need some TLC right at the onset, for various reasons. Reading about how big Stellaris is proclaimed to be, I can with surety expect some part of the game to go bellyup or house some void in the mechanics.

But Paradox are the masters of following up – the Masters! And don’t you ever forget it. Whatever is wonky about Stellaris upon release will be patched up and eventually buried under four years’ worth of DLC. For good or ill. Just look at Crusader Kings 2! Every time I load the game after a new DLC/Patch, the UI is all different and there’s new mechanics and limits that stop me in my tracks. The same intrusive behavior can be said about EU4; some DLCs have been proclaimed to be game breaking. Staying up-to-date with these games is work, son – for both developers and the players.

All the while, Victoria 2 is just sort of there minding itself. It is not the most contemporary Paradox game but it is nonetheless a very integral part in the patchwork of the company’s history – And recent enough that it continues to have a healthy player base and modding community. It is also somewhat of an exception to the habitual addition of DLCs to Paradox games. Vicky2 only has two major DLCs. The game operates in a narrow window of time and hasn’t spiraled out of control as its younger siblings have. Vicky2HOD

Because it is ‘contained’ like this, I found an appeal. I tried playing CK2 recently, but the Conclave DLC (which I haven’t bought yet) and accompanying patch (which everyone gets regardless) rearranged stuff and I quickly lost motivation (non-aggression pacts? C’MAAAWN!). Personally, I have to get amped to initiate a grand Paradox campaign. It takes days to mentally prepare. And within the game, I need to know where my tools are and what they can or cannot do. The slightest change from what is familiar and I have to walk away. Petty, I know – but truth.

Anyways, with only two DLCs, I perceived Victoria 2 to be far less impenetrable than, say, to take a step back and see what EU4 is right now. I like that the focus is on industrialization and a global economy. The sociopolitical aspects are relevant to the game’s time period (1836-1936) and promise to keep the passage of those years interesting and varied, as opposed to just using time to make your military numbers higher. Industry, Prestige, Military – These are equal factors in determining a nation’s rank, and they all influence each other. Indeed. Each nation isn’t just an island rushing and crushing for numerical superiority. There’s competition, absolutely, but because of all the industrialization there’s a bit of a co-dependency nations have on each other. An internal and external balance must be sought in order to climb the ranks. I can dig on that.

This weekend I shall be developing a wicked case of vertigo as I continue to tread the infamous Paradox learning curve.

… Oh, and playing Etrian Odyssey Untold 2. I’m slowly making my way through the labyrinth and devising all kinds of oddball recipes for the populous to eat. I sort of regret playing in story mode bcs I want to try out different classes. I might make use of the extra save slots and start a game in classic mode just to see what it’s all about.

What are you playing this weekend?

Weekend Gaming: Spring Break Edition

1352293438_3c76a6fbeb_zThis coming week is Spring Break for the young buttonmashers, so we’ve been playing a family trip to the Big Apple. I’ll be driving the majority of the way there, so while we’re on the road they’ll be jamming with their 3DSes and Fire HD’s while I slave away in the driver’s seat. I don’t anticipate a whole lot of gaming for me for the next week or so.

Of course, being the Buttonmasher that I am, I am planning on a trip to the Nintendo Store in New York. Besides filling up our 3DSes with Street Passes, I’m looking forward to the kids’ reactions to two floors of Nintendo gaming Nirvana. If there was such a place when I was 12, I’d have to be dragged out, kicking and screaming. The Statue of Liberty has the history and the Empire State Building has the views, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to be Dad of the Year when we walk into the Nintendo Store.

But we aren’t leaving until Sunday, so in the meantime, it’s extremely possible that I pick up a copy of The Division before I head out of town. I think the communal love-affair with Diablo III has waned and we’re all looking for something new to play. Right now, The Division has risen to the top of everyone’s wishlist.

And you know, with the game set in Manhattan, I could actually say I need to get this game. It’d be a great way to ahem familiarize myself with the city.

Especially if the Apocalypse hits while we’re there!

What are you playing this weekend?

Weekend Gaming – Etrian Odyssey Untold 2: The Fafnir Knight

There was that time just a few years ago when I was looking into buying a Nintendo 3DS. A very thorough article on Kotaku caught my attention. Its enthusiasm for the innovation of the StreetPass system was convincing. Likewise were the testimonies of nearly every single 3DS owner I spoke with. There was a delight in voice and sparkle in the eye, as well as an inability to articulate just why they love their DSes so. I had never seen such tickled affection for an inanimate object.

I didn’t understand the sensation at the time, but now, as a 3DS owner myself, I do. And I too can only attempt to articulate the delight in knowing my DS is so near. It is a low-pressure mobile gaming device, but unlike other mobile devices, I do not have a compulsion to check up on a notification or text or any other countless distractions. The DS just kind of hangs out, always on standby and is ready when you’re ready.

The intensity of said delight may ebb and flow but it is nonetheless always there, and right now it is pretty stinkin’ high. Etrian Odyssey Untold 2: The Fafnir Knight is the reason. Yes. What began as an inquiry into the new Fire Emblem games now sees me nearly 15 hours deep into EOU2 and still getting my sea legs.

Like many other 3DS owners, Fire Emblem:Awakening was my first exposure to the franchise. And, like the majority who played FE:A, I could not and would not shut up about the game. It is fantastic and made a great impression. The follow-up games, Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright and Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest were released in the US a few weeks ago. Naturally, I was interested, especially at having to initially choose one title over the other. I did some investigating and came to the conclusion that, despite the differences between Birthright and Conquest, they are more or less ‘Awakening 2.0’ with a focus on either character matchmaking or aggressive tactics.

The thought of playing a familiar game held zero (0) appeal. I was feeling adventurous, ready to branch out. The 3DS, being the low-pressure, mobile platform that it is compliments this longing. EOU2

Etrian Odyssey is another franchise with a solid reputation. Untold 2, being the most recent release, is reported to uphold this high standard – And, get this: you actually utilize the touchpad! Not just to cycle through inventories or pan maps, but to create the maps! The game has a strong emphasis on exploration. Plus, it has both a story mode and classic mode as well as its own little sim building mechanic. A crafting system that, so far, is not arduous. AI that can’t be baited. Anime aesthetic and a great OST. Dialog between characters that doesn’t get too gabby…

It is a conglomeration that is all so wonderful and new to me. This, combined with the inherent, unspeakable delight of owning a DS, has me excited to take the time to play – which cannot be said about my steam library.

Alas, part of the motivating factor for choosing EOU2 was to get me away from habitually booting up my desktop and vacantly scrolling through my game library or, most recently, convincing myself load Diablo III. It’s time for a hiatus, son. The weather is breaking and the world beckons us forth from our winter shelters. So, why not grab the DS, trade some Grimoire stones via StreePass, and see what this spring has in store?

What are you playing this weekend?

Weekend Gaming – Diablo III

I wish to speak about plateaus.

Not the land forms, nor the pun that they are the highest form of flattery. I wish to speak of the emotional plateaus that can form when playing games of the video variety.

There comes a point when we discontinue our time investment in a particular video game and turn our attention to another. The motivations behind this transition are varied. Sometimes it may be a lethal ragequit. Sometimes it is a victorious completion. Sometimes we can bounce off a game before getting too far into it. Sometimes the game design just kind of shrugs, stops offering new challenges and variety, forcing the player to do the same things over and over again – plateauing.

I forsee myself plateauing with Diablo III. It is inevitable. I will plateau hardcore. Sure, difficulty levels can increase, enemies can hit harder and I can tank more; these numbers increase with every increased difficulty level (in all honesty, is there cap to greater rifts?) And, sure, there are a plethora of builds to experiment with. But in all the game boils down to click > kill > loot > repeat. Loot is needed to create stronger builds, even if loot drops are random. So, aside from escalating grifts levels, and the blind hope for sweet loot drops, there really is not all that much to strive for. This method will not hold my attention forever and I will turn my sights elsewhere.

But not this weekend! No no no. My wizard is finally at a point where she can hold her own in Torment 3. At first, I admittedly had no idea how to build a wizard, trying to make her play like a crusader. But as the orange items starting trickling in and my Kanai’s Cube library filling in nicely, I’ve been able to make her a bringer of fire and vengeance. Likewise, my crusader unleashes havoc no matter what he’s doing. Brother could be standing still and he is bringing the pain.

It has been awesome to create builds that have so many different components, so many different kinds of synthesis. Doing what you can with what you’ve got. Though D3 is maddeningly obscure with its numbers and mechanics in some places, sometimes you’ve just got to observe what is happening in the playing field for the best evidence of a build’s performance… Unless you’re in a set dungeon – at that point it’s like your playing in a quantum level Twilight Zone.

What are you playing this weekend?