Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 Play Log - Blowing Off Steam, Deader Space, and Shutting Down 2014

Okay, first off, this is NOT a condemnation of Steam. I am very happy with the service and use it for nearly all my PC gaming. (The only thing I get a little worried about is having an inventory of nearly 900 games that are dependent on a single login!) What I'm doing here is listing games that, while they sounded good and the price was attractive, just didn't work for me. Hey, it can happen with any game, but there is a certain permanence when it happens with a digital download game - in short, I'm stuck with it.

 Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa's Rampage - This is a cheap, stand-alone expansion of what could best be called a janitorial simulator. Your "job" in this "game" is to cleanup Santa's workshop after he's gone "postal" and murdered all the elves. The concept of this - lots of Christmas gore - was a lot more interesting before I started to play it. Cleaning up even elf body parts just isn't fun.

 7 Days to Die - I'll cut this one a bit more slack as it's in Early Access, but still my initial playtime with it, while short, just consisted of running away from zombies, checking junked cars and trash for items, and then dying. It's got to be deeper that that, right?

Paranautical Activity Image Paranautical Activity - I bought this before the developer decided to do something really dumb (ie, threaten to kill the head of Steam, Gabe Newell) even if everyone knew he was kidding. Well, ya know, the fact that you can't buy this game on Steam anymore is exactly no one's loss. It's low-res crap, to be honest, and a complete waste of time. Sorry, guys.

 Transistor - I probably shouldn't have bought a game from the same company whose first game I didn't like, but I was never known to be particularly bright. Yeah, I didn't like Bastion, and guess what? I don't like Transistor either. Not as annoying (the narrator is less "hip"), but the combat mechanic isn't anything I want to learn how to do well.

 8BitBoy - To the developer: Congratulations, you made a game as a tribute to your fond memories of the "good old days" of video gaming. Not bad, but we could have done without the depressed gamer/Tron rip-off at the beginning. Also, it's just another platformer.

Changing gears at this point, I was looking at a "25 Greatest Sci-Fi Games of All Time" article and came across Dead Space at a respectable number 10. This got me to thinking about how much I enjoyed it and wondering why I hadn't tried the sequel yet. So, as I have it in probably 3 different locations (PS3, Steam, Origins), I decided to blast off into another horror adventure.

 Dead Space 2 - This is one of those sequels where you can really benefit from playing the original. I was only about 30 minutes into the game and I was already using my plasma cutter, the stasis effect power, directional beacon, and kinesis grab, while chopping up necromorphs into bloody chunks and stomping on crates - all stuff I was doing during the first game. There was little to no introduction to these mechanics for anyone who didn't play the first one. (The graphics look sharper, I will admit, but I don't feel the sense of scale that the I did in #1.) I can't really complain about the sameness, I guess since this is, you know, the sequel! I did find the following "tip" to be amusing.

And so, this another year comes to a close. I'll need to go over all my posts from 2014 - the first year I've documented all my gaming experiences. It will be interesting to see if it was worth the effort and what I will consider to be the highs and lows. In the meantime, I'm wrapping up the year with some tablet and portable gaming due to some family time. But time away from the consoles and computer is hardly a bad thing.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Christmas Truce

On occasion, I put stuff here that isn't about videogames. For better or worse, it's my online diary - open to all and, hopefully, preserved for (nearly) all eternity.

This year has marked the 100th anniversary of the start of what was called The Great War until another one happened, at which point it had to be called World War I. Man has done some pretty horrible things as a species, but it's very possible that nothing will every match the level of human suffering and waste of human life on such a scale as WWI.

After about five months of fighting, something amazing happened, something that made the Christmas of 1914 unlike any before or since - humanity stopped trying to kill itself. It became known as the Christmas Truce and I didn't find out about it until 9 years ago when my local paper published an article about a resident whose grandfather had been on the front lines in France on December 24, 1914. (This lack in my history knowledge was likely due to the fact that the US didn't enter the war until 1917, so it didn't make the textbooks over here.) Her grandfather was an Australian soldier attached to a Welsh regiment who survived the war and eventually moved to California where he died in 1929.

At some point after he moved to the US, Fredrick John Murray put pen to paper and wrote about his experience that night. It was the only record of his war service that he documented and the yellowed, faded original was kept private by his grand daughter, Gloria Tecca, until 2005 when she had read that the last living witness to the Christmas Truce had passed away that November. The paper published a photo of Murray along with the full text of his account.

Every Christmas since then, I take out my yellowed copy of that newspaper and reread his words. I've never been able to keep from crying when I do. There's a part of me that thinks this was modern civilizations's last chance at sanity and it slipped away. I know that's an incredibly naive way to think about life and war, but the Christmas Truce showed that even in the vilest of situations, men can still recognize each other as fellow human beings regardless of what color uniform they wear or language they speak.

Here now is my transcript of Fredrick John Murray's words. I have tried as best as I can to preserve the wording as it was set in the paper. Any odd English usage is likely because this was written in the 1920's.

Snow covered ground, wet soddened trenches, cold sleety winds, filth, dirt, vermin, and all the horrors of war. What a setting on the Eve of the birthday of the “Prince of Peace”. Attached temporarily to a Welch Regiment – for intelligence – how I wished myself back in sunny Egypt among my own wild Australians. But once in, you must play the game, and as the English Tommy would say, “We’ll go west – one place as another.”

Slowly the hours til midnight drifted away, all was so calm. And still, in our sector, it seemed as if the war had drifted away and that the trench and filth, and all the attendant horrors were only a dream. Occasionally in the distance we would hear the dull boom of a big gun, or see the trailing flash of a rocket in the sky. But in front of us all was still, nothing but the ghostly strands of our own and the German barbed wire, while between the two lay the ghostly strip of no-mans-land, scarce 100 yards wide.

Midnight had passed; softly there came to us the strains of music out of the German trenches. They seemed to be tuning their instruments. Then all at once there burst forth the triumphant strains of “The Soldiers Chorus” from the opera “Faust”. The Welshmen, taking it as a challenge, waited til the Germans had finished; and then there burst forth from our trench the battle song of Wales, “The March of the Men of Harlech”. How those Welshmen sang! It seemed as if the fierce fighting blood of old Owen Glendower flowed a fresh in every man’s veins that night.

We kept low fully expecting a fusillade from the Saxons for we knew – just as they always knew the troops that faced them. Instead of rifle shots, came a burst of applause from the Saxons as the Welshmen finished. Then, from the enemy’s band, came the strains of the music and their soldiers sang the words of that beautiful old German hymn, “Holy Night, Silent Night”.

As the Saxons came to the words, “Peace on earth good will to men”, our men, one by one, slowly rose til their heads were above the parapets. Each soldier seemed like a graven image, so calm and still they stood, til the closing words, “Christ is born indeed, Christ is born indeed”.

And then a sigh, like the dying of the wind, ran through the ranks of those rain soddened, weary soldiers. Their minds drifted back to their Welsh mountain homes, where they too sang those very words in scenes, where war and its horrors were unknown.

Then a voice from the Saxons called out, “Hey Welshmen, sing one of your Carols and we’ll play”. Then, while the Saxon orchestra played, the Welshmen sang “While shepherds watched their flocks by night”.

Oh God, how those rough Welsh miners sang. I have heard great societies in many lands sing, but never did I hear such pathos in words of a song as those men gave that night. Now the Saxons would sing one of their old folk songs, then the Welsh would respond with one of the beautiful quartets, so on they sang alternately while hours oh too quickly passed away.

And then there slowly appeared above the enemy trench, a small lighted Christmas tree laden with cigars and other Christmas joys. “Come over”, they said, “This is for you. We’ll be fighting enough in the future.”

Not to be outdone, one of the Welshmen filled a sand bag with tobacco, cigarettes, candy, and plum pudding and, climbing over the parapet advanced boldly to the enemy’s barbed wire.

There Saxon and Celt exchanged their gifts, wished each other a Merry Christmas, gave a hearty hand shake, and said good bye. As the Welshman dropped into the trench, one of his comrades asked, “What did you see?” Looking his questioner squarely in the face, he replied, “Nothing except barbed wire and a man.”

He had gone and been received as a friend, and the honor of a British soldier forbade that he should reveal what he saw.

All too quickly the night passed. Soon came the first faint glimmering of dawn in the Eastern sky that told us the truce would soon be at an end and we must again resume the grim role of war. Then, out of the enemy trenches, rose a huge fair haired Saxon, a living picture of the warriors of old, in full views of both sides.

There in a beautiful full tone, he sang the words of an old Methodist hymn, I had last heard years before, one Christmas Eve in far off sunny Australia. There silhouetted against the lightening sky he sang those beautiful words: “When Jesus was born in a manger and the shepherds came over to see and the angels proclaim that a Savior is born to a poor sinner like me.”

How strange the words seemed amidst those ghastly surroundings, “To save a poor sinner like men.” Yeh we whom He came to save were trying to kill our fellow man whom he also came to save. As the Saxon finished the last stanza, “He’ll save us and we shall be free,” he turned and slowly disappeared into the trench, just as the dull boom of the guns away to our left burst forth, telling us, grim Mars still ruled and that here the Prince of Peace had nowhere to lay his head.

Many moons has passed and many miles I’ve journeyed, through hospital bed, the rack and horrors of wounds and gas, peaceful voyage to sunny Australia again over the water to U.S.A. Here this Christmas Eve, under California’s reigns; where the troops of gay clad happy children romp and play in the toy lands of the great department stores while parents wish each other seasons greetings and good cheer.

         Yet through it all comes to me again, the snow covered fields of France, the barbed wire, the trenches, and filth and horrors of war, but above it all stands vivid before my mind, ever the figure of that blond Saxon giant as he sang: “To save a poor sinner; to save a poor sinner, to save a poor sinner like me. And the angels proclaim that a Savior is born to save a poor sinner like me.”

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014 Play Log - Just Trying Things Out

I debated whether or not to even bother with this, but I thought it would be good to at least scribe something. Most of my gaming other what's here has been tablet based as I just haven't had the initiative to dive into a serious title yet. (And by "serious title", I snobbishly say any game that doesn't have in-game app purchases as it's main reason for existing.)

I tried out a series of PS3 demos last week. They were:

Blood of the Werewolf Image Blood of the Werewolf - This one was developed by the same studio that did the 2D Bloodrayne game that I hated, and I quit it about five minutes after starting it.

Toybox Turbos Image Toybox Turbos - One of the games I used to play back in my SNES days was a top-down racing game based on the Micro Machines toys. Toybox Turbos is an updated version of that and it's simultaneously much easier and less interesting.

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode One - Zer0 Sum Image Tales From The Borderlands - I was hesitant to give the demo for this a try. While I loved the first Walking Dead game from Telltale, I didn't care for either the second one or The Wolf Among Us - was I just "done" with that style of gameplay? Add to that the incongruity of a point and click adventure game set in a FPS shooter world and you'd think it would be a recipe for disaster.  However, this one was so entertaining in the first half an hour that I decided to stop I could enjoy the full game when all the episodes are released!

LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham Image Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham - Well, first Lego messed with their winning formula by giving the figures voices in the games. Then, they managed to give what has always been a comfortingly simple game system a whole new level of aggravation by assigning multiple functions to buttons based on how you press them - quickly or by holding them down. It may make for a "deeper" platformer experience, but I just found it annoying.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

2014 Play Log - No-vember Bundle

November 2014 will be remembered as "No-Vember" since there were many things that happened that if I had had my choice, I would have said "No" to. (Not that saying "no" would have done anything.) As a result, I'm way behind in both my gaming "schedule" and updating this blog (neither of which are really very important, of course).

The month started with a bug (ie, virus) that got the better of me for most of a week. I had Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Day Zero Edition in my hands....and I couldn't stay awake at night long enough to play it. Oh well.

One game I did play a little of was...

 The Binding of Issac: Rebirth - There was always something about this game that put me off. The original (I played the updated version) has been on sale several times on Steam for practically nothing and has very high ratings, but the image of the little crying child/baby, lying on his side surrounded by monsters, bothered me so much I didn't want to buy it. If it hadn't been one of the "free" PlayStation Plus games for November, I still wouldn't have tried it. Now that I have tried it, I guess it wasn't as bad as I thought, but it is a bit unsettling anyway.

The story starts with Issac and his mom living a happy life together. Then mom starts hearing the voice of "God" tell her that to save her son, she has to sacrifice him! Mom grabs a knife and Issac jumps into the world's worst basement in history. What follows is a very Rogue-like game (more on that later) where dying happens a lot but the levels are always randomly generated. This gives the game considerably more replay value than something like, for example, Pix the Cat. If you die, your run ends. You don't really advance unless you clear 4 levels and a boss. Needless to say, this is not a game I will ever finish. I played it on the PS4 and Vita (since I got both versions in the deal). As a little diversion/time killer, it's not bad. I don't get killed so often that it's annoying, and have even taken out a level mini-boss once in a while, but it's still a rough game. A simple enough concept (sort of a Robotron-esque design) with some fun power-ups. I'll probably pick it up for a quick fix between other games - which isn't a bad thing to be.

Now, as for the issue of "Rogue"-like games: I'd like to go on record as being one of a rare cadre of gamers who can say, "I played Rogue, on a PC, in colored ASCII characters, somewhere back in the mid '80's." It looked like this:

...and it ate up huge amounts of my time!

The other game I played most of No-Vember was one I didn't even buy for myself. I got it for Diane because someone had mentioned on a podcast that it was like Animal Crossing with better quests. What it's like is a cross between a Zelda game and Skyrim, and I can't stop playing it!

Fantasy Life Image Fantasy Life - It seems odd in a way to be spending so much of my gaming time (something I don't have a lot of) on a fairly simple handheld game. I own a number of HD consoles and numerous unplayed Triple-A titles, but when the hour gets late, all I want to do is settle down on the sofa with my 3DS and do more missions and explore more areas in this game. There's no voice work - it's all reading and lots of it! My character doesn't talk but there's a "butterfly" that does the talking for me. Her dialog is really rather funny and everything is done in a fairly kid-friendly manner (it's rated E10, presumably because of the complexity and combat). But it wasn't until my first "boss battle" that I started to have real respect for the game.

The game gives you the option of about a dozen different "Lives" (ie, classes). Some are just for crafting items, and others are for combat. It becomes clear pretty early that you need to have experience in a few of them so that you can defend yourself and create items that you need to either save money or make it. I started as a Carpenter, added Tree Cutter,  then Mercenary since I needed to be able to fight well when I went looking for trees and when I was on the story missions. As I progressed up in levels for my Mercenary Life, I was able to knock out most creatures with little or no problem. (One thing I liked was that the game had some creatures in the wilderness that were not aggressive - I mean, would a deer just attack you in the forest? - which makes it more realistic.)

When I did all the quests and objectives for the level I was at, I found I had two to go that were much higher in value, but the game was insisting that I do at least one to advance. I headed over to the first one, which was closest to my area - a creature named Silverfang. I whacked it once with my great sword...and it did almost nothing to it! Silverfang then turned around and killed me in about 5 hits. Lesson learned; I'm not ready for this! So, I continued on my travels, visited the next city, bought armor upgrades, bought a new great sword, added an NPC to my party then went back and tried Silverfang again. The battle lasted a long time (I don't know exactly how long), and I used nearly all my healing potions while running around the boss and reviving my NPC (who was basically used as bait). When it finally fell and left behind a bounty to turn in I felt unusually proud of my efforts and realized that this game was deeper than I had given it credit for. Definitely a memorable boss fight! I don't know if I'll finish the whole game, but when I play it I will consider it a privilege and a good use of my game-time.

4 Elements Image 4 Elements - This is probably the most "casual" game I have ever played not counting Windows Solitaire. It combines hidden object, three or more matching, and find-the-differences mechanics into a single game with good graphics and sound. It's a pleasing way to pass time which this month has so desperately needed. When things are going to shit, a fun distraction is just what you need.