Issues with RTS #1 - Company of Heroes 2

Man, talk about jumping into the deep end. I wasn't prepared for the high octane APM this game demands.

Joking aside, this does raise a comment I was meaning to get to earlier, but simply forgot. My list does not contain Starcraft 2, neither does my list of old school games contain Starcraft (1). The reason for this is simple: I'm not a very fast player. Never was, will probably never be.

In my years after leaving the RTS-genre I have kept up with the strategy genre. I've done this through 4X-games and grand strategy. They let me play more carefully and take the time to consider every move. The games plays to my strengths. RTS-games, however, play to my weakness. I have a tendency to get easily overwhelmed when swamped with several tasks, assignments and short-term projects at the same time. Multitasking is something I've never really grown used to, and when such an element is added to heavily into a game, which is supposed to be my leisure activity, I lose interest. This is something I've always had suspicions about, but the thought really crystallized while playing the first handful of missions in Company of Heroes 2.

So, on with the show...

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What is Company of Heroes 2?

Company of Heroes (or CoH2 for short) is a second world war RTS focused on the eastern front of the war. In the single player campaign the player takes control of the Soviet forces dealing with the chaos that Operation Barbarossa. The protagonist (for lack of a better word) the player inhabits is one Lieutenant Lev Abramovich Isakovich, who is locked up in a Soviet gulag. There, he is intervjued by his commanding officer and he retells the stories of his actions during the war. These stories make up the missions of the game.

I'm not saying Lev isn't the protagonist, but it's also not like the player is in control of him. The player is more like the spirit of wars passed inhabiting his mind, controlling his forces through that undeniably effective, but utterly immersion crushing, floating camera.

The game opens up at the siege of Stalingrad, where most of the basic concepts around the game mechanics are taught. After we made cheese out of the Nazis in Stalingrad we quickly move on to dealing with the quickly advancing blitzkrieg across the front. Here, we learn the penultimate lessons this game wants to teach: multitasking and quick thinking. See, the action at the front is less of a war, and more of a controlled route. Our objectives are to hold multiple strong points along the front, to allow our allies to pack up, retreat and destroy whats left. We will get overrun at some point, but we have to hold out as long as possible. Both the missions following the intro at Stalingrad have this core concept in mind: hold multiple points, retreat, hold more points, retreat, win.

I'm not a world war two scholar, but from what little I've learned, this seems to add up. It also prepares us for what is arguably the core of the CoH2 experience: the multiplayer.

PLEASE use our online services!

PLEASE use our online services!

Just look at this menu, it screams: PLAY THE MULTIPLAYER, DUMMY! Well, I got good news, and I got bad news: I'm not. Good news for me, since I don't have to add the extra stress that is performing for (or against) others, but bad for the game, since it makes its intentions pretty clear.

The game seems to want to emulate the relatively fast pace Starcraft. A lot of macro, a lot of micro, condensed into nice brief 20 to 40 minute matches. The campaign emulates this idea well in its construction. Most of the missions I've played have been at a pretty break neck pace. The enemy is quite relentless in its assaults, throwing waves after waves against your steadily diminishing numbers. It wants you to feel like you're always on the edge of defeat, it wants you cornered. The idea, I think, is to habituate the player to facing other human players. There is precious little story to be had in the missions, that is relegated to between mission cutscenes in the gulag.

Where the story happens.

Where the story happens.

So, is it any good?

Well, yeah... I guess. I mean, my knowledge of RTS-games have deteriorated over the years. I lack the backlog and experience to make a value call on a product like this. But, for me, it's pretty good. It looks great, it sounds great, and while the gameplay does not suit my particular style, I have to say that there is some entertainment here. The word coming down the grape vine has been less than charitable towards the game, but the largest amount of criticism (that I've picked up) is leveled towards the multiplayer portion of the game. Since I'm not touching the multiplayer, those issues (mostly with balance and connectivity from what I've heard) does not affect me.

The game is quite gorgeous to look at. The level of graphical quality, combined with the staggering amount of effects thrown at the screen makes the game quite appealing to the eye. Adding to that is the fact that the effects ain't only for eye candy. The game has a cover feature, every soldier under your (and your enemys) command can enter cover for a bonus to their defense. This is good, the soldiers last longer. Nearly any object can be held as cover. This however encourages defensive play, which allows the enemy to flank your forces, this is bad (for you, or your enemy). The cover isn't static either. Most man made things can get blown up, and exploding cover is really harmful for your defensive play, this is really bad (for you, or... eh, you know the drill). This constantly changing battlefield encourages at times static defense, and at times movement and flanking tactics. This, I can tell, is candy to someone really into the fast paced kind of game, but for me....

After three missions of steadily retreating, we finally get some payback.

After three missions of steadily retreating, we finally get some payback.

My experience

After playing a couple of campaign missions and trying my hand at the skirmish mode (hey, I never said I'd finish any of the games on my list, just play them), and spending some time naval gazing, I've come to some conclusions: CoH2 shines a light on two issues I get, playing RTS-games. Remember, I'm not saying that these things are faults, just things that rub me the wrong way. I know there are people who love these games for just these reasons, and to those kinds of people I would like to say: I'm envious, how do you do it?

Issue #1: Time investment

First off, it's my own damn fault for not giving a game its requested time. But hey, life's really rough sometimes. Anyways, the time investment requirement for any given match fries my nerves. The idea of investing, say, an hour into a match and then lose kind of sucks. To add salt to that particular wound, you may have lost in the first 20 minutes, without knowing it, and the last 40 minutes are just a slow downward spiral into the determined conclusion. This is mitigated with repeated tries and a keen eye for the details of any given match. Regardless of that, there is always a tiny voice of doubt in my head whenever I boot up a match, saying that I might as well throw that precious time down a well. I'll just play, lose and end up disappointed.

This is a pretty strange issue, for me personally. Because there are plenty of games I have no issue playing and loosing hours on straight. Give me any old roguelike and I can spend hours failing, making minimal progress and generally wasting my time, but I'll love every second of it. I can spend entire evenings (for entire weeks) playing, and loosing, just one match of a 4X-game. So, in short, it makes no damn sense, but it's there.

While this is an issue, I think CoH2 almost side-steps it, but only almost. Any given match played in this game is so fast paced, so APM intense and so demanding of your attention that I could hardly even think the word doubt in my head between actions and mouse clicks. Skirmish mode does also mitigate this issue, since most matches I played didn't go for longer than 30 minutes. This, however brings us to...

Run right into the barrel, Ivan.

Run right into the barrel, Ivan.

Issue #2: Intensity

I've already admitted to being quite slow, and this issue cements that fact. I just can't keep up. I don't know how people do it. But I've seen it, I've seen star craft matches that makes my head spinn.

I do believe that CoH2 might have been the wrong choice to start this series on. It's a game that demands a certain amount of attention and skill that I just do not possess, yet. This makes the game more taxing than fun, and it adds fuel to the fire of doubt that fills my head whenever I play these games. This is, however a problem that is straight forward and (relatively) simple to solve. I just need to repeat. Practice and repetition are the cornerstones to learning. So, maybe I'll have to come back here when this series is over, to compare experiences.

Conclusion

There it is, game one played. Some progress made, some issues identified and some fun had. This project started on an uphill incline, but that might have it's own advantage. I do not want this to be seen as an article valuing the game, and I especially do not want this article to be taken as some kind of review. The focus of this project is to identify my issues regarding a genre I once loved, and hopefully find solutions to those issues, whatever they might be.

New projects

Hi! Long time no see. I mean, this is kinda awkward. It feels like I said the same thing about a year ago and then I disappeared instantly. Well, life has an interesting way of tossing everything up in the air. Long story short: New city, new job, new school and a baby.

But, this blog is about escaping the problems of daily life, not indulging in them. So, let me present to you, my two next projects:

 

Project the first: The old library

Sweet memories.

Sweet memories.

I have about 490 (492 by my last count) games in my physical collection. Most of them are from the time period 2000 - 2010. I figure it'd be a nice writing exercise (and a nice exercise in wallowing in light nostalgia) to pull a game out once in a while and talk about it. Some games are good, some are bad, some are amazing. It'll be a fun trip.

The basic layout of this project is as follows: I'll go through my collection alphabetically, pulling out 1 to 3 games per letter. The discussion will primarily be about my personal experience playing and remembering the game. If the game calls for it, there may be comparisons to other titles, there might be discussions about the games legacy and whatever else it left out in the world (mechanics, art-style, engine etc.).

Project the second: Return of the RTS

As a kid, I loved RTS-games. I can't tell you how much time I spent playing Age of Empires and Red Alert. Growing up during the '90s was a blessing. Red Alert, Age of Empires and Warcraft had popularized the genre so much that stores were filled with hopeful RTS-games. 

Sweet memories... aswell.

Sweet memories... aswell.

But times changed. For the genre and for myself. Something (I can't really say what) alienated me from the genre. The spark was gone, I couldn't bring myself to play RTS-games. Maybe I had gorged myself full, maybe the genre moved away from something unexplained that held me to it. I don't know. What I do know is that now-a-days, whenever I try to play an RTS-game, I'm filled with a building feeling of stress. Something about the genre really rakes my nerves over the coals. So, with that in mind, LET'S PLAY SOME RTS-GAMES!
I want to figure this out, so I drew up a list of RTS-games I'm going to play over the coming months. I will post about my experiences playing these games. I'll try to go into both how they play, and what I'm experiencing while playing them.

The list:

  • Act of Aggression
  • Blitzkrieg 3
  • Company of Heroes 2
  • Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak
  • Sins of a Solar Empire
  • Sudden Strike 4

This is not a list of games I've been recommended, nor is it a "best of"-list. This is just the games I have at hand and really want to examine. To add to this, I will also be going back to the following older RTS-games and examining them, and my experience, as well:

  • Age of Empires 2
  • Blitzkrieg
  • Empire Earth
  • Empire: Dawn of the Modern World
  • Rise of Nations
  • Sudden Strike

These lists may be subject to change in the future, but in change I mean add. I do not plan on passing any of these over.

So, there it is, my two new projects. Wish me luck and let's hope for a productive year.

In defense of Tom Clancy's Wildlands and the Division

I'm not sure about the title of this piece, it feels misleading. I don't think either the Division och Wildlands needs defending, they're pretty competent games that can stand on their own merits. They're competent, but flawed, and they're both games that get the "another Ubisoft sandbox"-treatment, both from the developers themselves and by the press.

"Another Ubisoft Sandbox" (Uboxes? Yeah, let's go with that because typing it all out is tiring and making up stupid words is fun) is a term I'm quite familiar with. As it happens, I've played alot of them, I guess most people have. But what I can say is that I don't hate them. I've never really felt the ire that Uboxes get. Some are good, some are bad, some are meh and some are actually "quite good". I guess the worst I can say about Uboxes in general is that there haven't really been a "THAT Ubox"-game yet. No great tent-pole to rest the laurels on. But with all that said, let's talk about something I find interesting about Wildlands and the Division.

This is Wildlands. There will be no screenshots of the Division, because I play that on the PS4, and I'm not up to the task of grabbing footage from there yet.

What does the two games have in common? They're both shooters! Yes... well, no, not really. One is a tacticool squad-shooter that takes its inspiration from earlier Tom Clancy games like Ghost Recon and the other is a multiplayer focused tacticool shooter that takes its inspiration from... Diablo? Really? Okay then, let's go with that. The Divisions heavy focus on looting and stats makes its combat more plodding and sluggish. This feels very jarring when compared to Wildlands more quicker and fluid shooting. So, no, not the shooting. that is not it. This fundamental difference in how the games are played are felt almost throughout the entire games. From the way you engage in combat, to the way your character moves, to where you focus your view when entering a combat arean to the bloody progression system.

No, what I want to talk about is this:

Above is an image of the structure of Wildlands. You're tasked with investigating, and dismantling a drug cartel. Likewise, the Divison is about investigating the "green plague" and figuring out what happened to the first wave Division agents. What I'm trying to point out here, is that both games have an investigatory foundation for their stories. In both games, you, the player, arrive after the fact and you're tasked with piecing it all together. This, in my opinion, is a devilishly clever way to handle stories in open-world games (or Uboxes). 

The focus on the investigation allows the player to feel justified in going off the beaten path. It facilitates a need and a reason for your exploration. It also handles the generally chaotic nature of the player, in that they're not obliged to follow the whims of the developer or story-writer. Sure, both games deliver their stories in sectioned off, scripted, missions, but how you travel to, and engage in, the mission is up to you. 

The investigatory nature of the stories also alleviate the problem that Skyrim had with its story. In Skyrim, every main-quest mission was urgent, and needed your attention. The NPCs would talk about how you needed to GO there and DO this, NOW, or EVERYTHING is lost. This approach to storytelling in and open world was like oil on water. "Sure", the player says. "I'll go over and kill the dragon that is burning down the watchtower, as we speak. I just have to steal each and every sweetroll in Markarth first." Neither the Division nor Wildlands has this problem, because what you do in those games are finding and following up on leads in a greater case. You can go do a mission, find some clues as to what is happening. And after that you can just walk about and take pot-shots at the enemy. Maybe you'll stumble into some flavortext that might contextualize what's happening, maybe not. It's all done in the name of the greater investigation that is happening, and everything you do can be justified by "I was just following up on something." Where most open-world games offer you agency and take away freedom och justification, the Division and Wildlands offer you freedom for the price of a disjointed storyline. Then again, can anyone truly say that there has been an open world game without a disjointed story. My best bet would be the Witcher 3, but in my playthrough Geralt tended to disappear onto the road at the most inconvenient moments for the story. "Hey Geralt! We need you to square things away with all this end of the world shit!" the storyteller shouted.

- Sure buddy, I just got to go pick flowers for like a months first, and I hear there are some sweet trolls hiding in a cave somewhere around here. My Geralt dismissivly answered and hopped on his horse, not to be seen again for quite a while.

Battle Brothers and emegrent story telling

So, lately I've been thinking alot about the RPG-genre. The term itself, RPG, has been used and reused ad-nausea these last couple of years. Almost every game you see in the "triple A" market has some kind of "RPG-mechanics" or "RPG-features". Character progression and skill trees has become synonymous with the term "PRG". But what does it really mean?

I haven't found the answer yet. I'm quite sure there really isn't any at all, any good answer anyways. I've managed to narrow down some personal criteria I have for the RPG-genre, but that is a conversation for another time. For now, I'd like to talk about a certain game feature that I think should take a larger place in the RPG-genre. Enter: The emergent story-telling, and Battle Brothers.

Battle Brothers

Battle Brothers is a tactical RPG (TRPG? I seriously don't know) developed by Overhype Studios. From what I can tell (after spending about 10 minutes with google), this is the first game that the small German studio has developed. It was released on the 24th of March this year (2017). My first impressions of the game are good. It's quite apparent from the lush hand-drawn art-style, the medieval inspired music and the "not bad" walls of written text (seriously, it's pretty good, to me, but I have no idea how people gauge the "writing" of a game anymore) that this is a labour of love. The gameplay, as it stands, it pretty damn good as well.

The elevator pitch for Battle Brothers probably sounded something like this: "Imagine a Mount & Blade: Warbands, but instead of the third-person action, there would be tactical turn-based combat, and instead of the potato graphics, there would be nice hand drawn pixel-art."

A more precise explanation would be: You manage and control a band of mercenaries. You move them between towns and villages on a randomly generated map. You can take contract at various places, which usually mean going somewhere and killing something... you know, mercenary work. Between missions you can pass the time recruiting new members, purchasing and repairing equipment and engaging in a rudimentary trading system. 

Believe it or not, but this is a winning battle.

Managing your soldiers is where the game truly shines. On the battlefield you control each and every one in a turn based order. Your soldier actions are dictated by their action-points and their fatigue. Every action costs a certain amount of action-points and generates fatigue. Soldier without action-points, or with too much fatigue, cannot perform actions. Luckily action-points are regenerated each turn, and fatigue slowly decreases every turn. If that wasn't enough, each soldier has a resolve score. Basically, if a battle isn't going well for someone, they'll lose the will to fight.

The game utilizes some randomization. I'm not sure I'm comfortable calling this a "roguelike", but the description is kind of fitting. At the start of a new game, a "new" world is generated. There are also a number of "late game crises" that can be set or randomized. As for victory conditions, I'm not sure. I've honestly not sunk enough time into the game achieve one, and I'm not sure that there are any to begin with, outside of "becoming the greatest mercenary group out there." I'm suspecting that the game work similarly to Mount & Blade: Warband, in that the victory is all about what you make of it.

There is, however, a quest-line of sorts. As the commander of your mercenary group, you can set goals for you group. Goals like becoming rich, or growing your enterprise, or becoming embroiled with a noble family.

So, yeah, all in all a pretty damn interesting game. I'm thoroughly enjoying it so far. Also, as a small side note: the game does not fuck around. My first playthrough, my trial-run ended like this:

Note the points-counter at the bottom right.

So, if you've grown interested, and pick this game up, here's some pro tips from the pro-newb:

1) Invest in shield for you melee-guys.

2) Invest in helmets, for everyone.

3) Don't forget to buy quivers for your archers. Without them, they cannot store ammo. Also, ammo is consumed from the ammo-pool, which needs refilling from time to time.

4) Shield wall costs 4 AP and should be spammed thoroughly.

5) Keep some gold on hand, going into the negative with a bunch of bitter dudes with weapons is NOT a good time.

But what does this have to do with RPGs and emergent story telling? Well, let me explain that, with a story:

This is... was Theudobald Earthside. Theu to his friends. He joined my little group of happy murder friends in the starting village. He didn't show much promise. An ex-miner, looking to find his fortune and forget his troubles. An utterly unimpressive specimen of a man, but he did show spirit, much in his decent initiative. Maybe that was his downfall. I recruited him, shoved a spear in his hands and pointed him toward the enemy. He must have been happy, to finally get a chance to show the world what an Earthside is made of. Well...

This is what's left of the man. Talk about rough first week on the job. Death comes quick and without mercy, especially for those who chrage headlong into battle without a helmet.

In this game, every battle tends to leave a mark. They certainly left them on Theu. A couple of brushes with death, and the man was left traumatized, a permanent dent to his resolve. The man had seen the other side, had seen what happens after death, and he did not like what he saw. At first I thought him a survivor, brushing of deaths embrace, but I was soon proven wrong. He also suffered from a partially collapsed lung and some exposed ribs. Souvenirers from men much stronger, but less lucky, than him. The only reason he could maintain the temperament of "content" was because I kept plying him with alcohol. Just one more battle, I urged him, then he'd be put in reserve, and another would take his place. Just one more battle, and we can fund this group with both gold and bodies. Just one more battle, but that battle left his skull smashed against the hard ground. Maybe it was his time, or maybe I should'ave provided him with a helmet. 

There is a story here, a story about bravado and cowardice, of hope and despair. The game did not write this story, it was made procedurallywhen I interacted with the game. This, if anything, is role playing. Your influence, in concurrence with the games mechanics and systems generate a story and roles for you to play out at your leisure. 

The NPC problem

While writing the last article (the one about immortal player characters) a thought struck. All these games have an NPC you have to cart around, and none of them really work that well. So, instead of flying off on a tangent, I figured that we'd get ourselves another drink and do some more navel-gazing in this article.

So, about those damn NPCs. They're a great tool when telling stories. Having someone beside you that can act and be the center of drama seemed to be pretty popular there for a while. I mean, in 2013, the two "biggest" games on the market was The last of Us and Bioshock Infinite, and both games are about someone trying to cart a person around. Both games also revolve pretty much around the NPC. The npc in question is the star, you're the diligent janitor carting them around, solving all the problems while they have their moments of acting. Both games also solved the "problem" that is poor AI with the same trick: Make the NPC an immortal being who, when the shit hits the fan, will be both out of the way and in no danger what so ever. This, unfortunately kind of killed the tension in both games for me. Few things in The last of us made med giggle quite as much as when Ellie bumps into a dude who is hunting us. And the result of her waggling around in front of him is nothing at all, the guy is clearly blind and Ellie just scoots into cover like nothing happened. In Bioshock, Elizabeth knows how to stay outside of the players view, but it still feels really awkward when all these dudes who are supposed to be looking for Elizabeth just spend all their time trying to kill Booker instead of just grabbing the lady and running for it.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but to me it feels weird when you have a character who is supposed to be important and in need of your help be immortal, invisible and completely outside of all danger. I mean, Ashley in Resident Evil 4 wasn't that pleasant to babysit, but there was consequences for neglecting her. There was also great big dumpsters to stuff her into while the action started, so I guess there's that.

The last console-generation also saw their fair share of "co-op"-action games. Games like Army of two, Hunted: Demons forge and Resident Evil 5 & 6. The issue here was that whenever you played one of those games solo, your co-op buddy would be replaced with a slightly dumber AI-buddy. Again, not a pretty system. What those games did, however, was give you a bond and some agency with your partner. You had to help each other, or you wouldn't finish the game. So, by just looking at it coldly, could one say that Army of Two has more agency than Bioshock?

Dead Space 3 solved this pretty neatly by having the co-op buddy take "an alternate route" whenever you played solo. Carver still had an active part in the story, he didn't just disappear, but when you played, he always excused himself and went "somewhere else". While it wasn't elegant, this system was pretty good for solving the problem of having a co-op buddy following you around.

So, what can we do about it? The NPCs I mean. Well, outside of focusing on making better AI, I don't know. Or you could always make the character really bad, so that players would hate him/her regardless? Because like it or not, having a second character who can act and expose is pretty good for a story. But with that said, let's try to not make the immortal beings that wreck the entirety of the story they're trying to expose? Also, while we're at it, why do we have to have NPCs who are protagonists? 

 

God-mode as a game mechanic

So, on the subject of used games. I'd like to present some games I've found in the used pile that are interesting in the way they handle certain mechanics. Namely, the idea of the player character being immortal. Now, god-mode is nothing new, but it has always been relegated to a cheat-code or easter-egg. These games uses the idea of immortality a central piece to their games. These aren't all ”good” games, but they're all pretty interesting.

Prince of Persia (2008) – The great teacher

The critically acclaimed Sands of time-trilogy gave us the time-rewind mechanic. The idea was that if you ever screwed up, missed a jump or just plain got yourself killed, you could rewind time and try again. It was kind of like an instant one-up. Instead of going back to the last checkpoint, you went back a couple of seconds in time. The idea was sound and the following re-boot/re-release/re-whatever-they-call-it-these-days expanded on it. In the Sand of time games, your rewind ability was tied to a resource you had to gather, in this new game, you instead had a partner that would rescue you if you ever found yourself dying or failing. Said partner didn't need resources to rewind and she would always put you in a safe place if you ever failed. This took away pretty much all frustration with dying, but it also took away all the danger and tension from the game. No longer did you have to risk a tricky jump, you could just try try and try again til you succeeded. No longer did you have to play well to succeed in the fights, you could just throw yourself out there til you won. This made the game kind of a pariah in the eyes of the gaming public, and for good reason. What point is there to a game if there isn't any real challenge?

There is however another side to this. Long ago, I watched a youtube-video that explain how well the new Prince of Persia could teach new players. The youtuber argued that the game wasn't made with hard-core fans in mind, it was made for new gamers who were just trying the hobby out. People who wanted to learn how to play games, but weren't interested in playing easy (and most of the time very cutesy) games. I for one agree with said youtuber. This game provides a safe environment for new player to learn how to use a controller while at the same time looking (and sometimes feeling) like a “mature”(“adult”, you know, not Mario or Kirby) game. So, is it fun? Well, it's alright. It looks pretty good and the game gets slightly more complicated as the story goes on. But, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get into gaming.

Knights Contract – The small experiment

“What if you played God of War, but instead of having a health-bar, your health was tied to that of a squirrely NPC who followed you around?” Well, if you ever had that thought, let me introduce you to Knights Contract. KC is a game in where you play Heinrich, a burly corpse of a man looking for something to make him mortal again. Following you on this journey is the witch Gretchen. She helps you by providing some much needed magic to you sword. The problem here is that she isn't immortal, so she can die. And if she dies, it's game over.

The game is a pretty decent brawler, with the exception of the lack of a health-bar. Instead, you have to keep track of Gretchens health. As for NPC-followers, she's OK. She can hold her own against one or two bad-guys, but if they swarm in, she's in trouble. There is where the challenge comes in. You have to keep the enemies away from her and if she goes down (or is captured) you have to pick her back up.

With all that said, there is some penalty to taking damage in this game. If you take to many hits, you'll loose body parts and go down. In those moments, you'll be incapacitated for a while, which gives he enemies a good opportunity to swarm Gretchen. So, in short, this game does require some skill and mastery to finish.

Neverdead – The BIG experiment

Neverdead is a bralwer/shooter by Rebellion, published by Konami. Out of all three, this goes the furthest with their immortality mechanic, and it also kind of fails because of it. This game could have been really good, in fact, it could probably have been thee really good games, if they split up their ideas into smaller games with tighter balancing. The problem here is that there's almost too much going on in the game. Not only do you play as an immortal character (who, again, have to babysit a mortal npc), your character can also loose his limbs. The system is pretty interesting, since each limb lost affect your abilities. Lose a leg and your character will become much more clumsy. You'll dodge slower, hop in a comedic fashion instead of walk and generally be a much more stationary target. Lose an arm and you'll lose the ability to use the gun attached to the arm, and your sword swings will be weaker. Go down to just your head and you'll just roll around, looking for the rest. Also, when you're down to just your head, you can get eaten by enemies, which will result in a game over, or as the game puts it: Be relegated to spend eternity inside a monsters stomach. The also allows you to voluntarily remove limbs. So you can make your arms into makeshift turrets, or throw your head into vents for puzzle solving (and also make a sweet three-point shot on a basket). The problem with this mechanic is that it's far to easy for enemies to dismember you, so most fights end up as straight brawls while you're frantically looking for missing parts. This wouldn't have been such a big issue if it weren't for the other experimental mechanic the game has.

This game has a sword-swinging-system that feels like a poor mans metal gear rising. When you have your sword equipped, you lock onto enemies with the shoulder button and use the right thumb-stick to swing. The system isn't as responsive as MGR, so it ends up feeling quite clunky. The controls also play their part here. See, when you have our guns equipped, the shoulder buttons are firing and the right thumb-stick is for aiming. But when the sword is equipped, the controls change. This makes combat even more clunky, since you have to manually switch between guns and sword, and adopt a different control-method for each.

So, to summarize: A standard battle in Neverdead looks like you fighting the controls while trying to keep track of all your limbs, while you're also murdering monsters and trying to make sure that your pet NPCs don't get killed. A pretty hectic affair.

Don't get me wrong, this game has some really neat ideas, I just wish that they had a better balance. Maybe ditch the sword-mechanic in favor of having melee attacks mapped to a face-button. Or maybe make the main character more sturdy and less prone to falling into pieces as soon as an enemy hits you. I don't know. Maybe if they split the sword-mechanic and the dismemberment-mechanic into separate games, they might have a better time to shine, instead of fighting each other?

Closing remarks

I find these three games to be pretty flawed, but very interesting. Playing in god-mode has been a pass-time for many gamers since the early days of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D and I believe that you could make an interesting game with immortality. You could explore some pretty neat avenues if you didn't have to worry about the player screwing up and dying all the time. While none of these games truly hit the mark, I think that the best one was Knights Contract. Simply because they went the safer route and used a genre-staple as their base game. With that said, I must congratulate the devs of Prince of Persia for their willingness to welcome and teach new players. And lastly for the developers of Neverdead: I love the ideas, I just wish that they got more time in the oven and maybe some space to shine.

Dumpster diving for fun (and sometimes profit)

[Disclaimer: This article talks about the used market for games primarily on consoles. But the ideas in the discussion can be used for steam-sales on the PC as well.]

Going to a game-store in this day and age is usually a pretty droll affair. The new games are too expensive, the stores might be filled with more ”swag” and ”loot” than games and the employees (bless their hearts) accost you with ”game-protection” and pre-orders. But, despite all this, I still make time to go to one every once in a while. I do this because of the magical place called the ”used games aisle”. Now, before we get into what I dig about used games, let's just clear the air (no housekeeping?).

Used games/pre-owned games is a controversial topic. There are good and bad arguments on both sides of the debate and I do not really wish to have that debate right here, right now. It is an interesting topic with two very entrenched sides, but this article is not about that. So, please leave those thoughts at the door for today.

Buying used games offers a great opportunity for anyone interested in broadening their horizons. You can get yourself some games you would probably newer buy at a pretty heavy discount. In a perfect world, games would be both affordable and profitable, but unfortunately that world isn't ours. Games are expensive, and buying a new game can be a pretty steep gamble. So, the oh so controversial used market exists.

Pictured above is a game I really liked, that I didn't think was for me, that I bought used.

Now, with that said, the risk of picking up something you don't like is just as big on the used market as the new. The real difference being that you might be spending 5 to 10 dollars, instead of 60. I've gotten a fair few stinkers, but I'm pretty happy with the turnout regardless. Because every game you play fit into your own catalog of games, and playing something you don't like will help you be able to formulate what you prefer. A good crap game can be the coffee between two really nice muffins. You need the bitter to appreciate the sweet.

 

Used games will also let you experiment. Is there a game you might want to play, but you just can't justify the price? Well, getting it used might soften that blow. You might even find something that you will grow to love, something that you never thought you'd like in the first place. That is the primary reason why I sometimes buy used. Here, in Sweden, a new game cost somewhere between 600 and 700 SEK, that is about 70 to 80 dollars. That's a lot of money, and I'm the kind of person who has a hard time forking over that amount of cash in the hopes that a game is good. Now, I wish I could just play a demo and see what was in store for me, but that doesn't seem to be the case much anymore. So I make good use of the used market, to try new things out, to take risks, so to speak. Simply because the price of entry is so much lowered. So, from a collectors stand-point, I would recommend the used market. We will, however have to discuss the weird financial ramifications the used market had, but that is a discussion for another time.

Let's chat - DOOM (2016)

So I just finished the DOOM (The one from 2016, Doom 4?) and figured I'd talk a little bit about it. There might be spoilers in this article, so keep that in mind. SPOILER WARNING IS IN EFFECT!

Pretty neat alt-cover.

While I really enjoyed the game, I want to start off by saying that it's not fair. It's not fair that they should make a new game in this series, it's not fair that they named it the same as the original and it's not fair to put them up against each other. Doom has a very special place in my heart, and in my collection, and I doubt that any new game can truly do it justice. And I said that with my nostalgia goggles off. On any given day, the original Doom and its sequel (Doom 2) wins out over pretty much any game I can think off. So, it simply isn't fair to me or this new game to be called the same.

With that said, the game was pretty damn great. I think that ID software struck a pretty neat balance in keeping it old school while still adding some newer mechanics into the game. It ran well, it played well and it was stable. All in all a solid game. Not a gold-star-pillar-of-the-industry like the original, but a solid game nonetheless. 

While the game is solid, it does have some flaws. To me most of them are small and petty, but some deserve to be talked about regardless. One such flaw is the slow opening. Out of the gate the game moves at a quick pace, doomguy is fast and deals a lot of damage. You'll be bunny-hopping around and taking fools heads (and other limbs) off with ease, and then suddenly the game just pulls on the brakes and makes you sit and listen to characters talk and expose. It was quite jarring when it happened, and it happened fairly early on in the game. It really threw me off when I was murdering demons six ways from Sunday and then suddenly got locked in a room while the two supporting characters talked. Thankfully, moments of such jarring pace-change were relegated to the beginning of the game. It does make me wonder, though. Why have a story that requires such moments at all? I mean, in Doom, the story doesn't need to be complex, and surely not so complex as to require moments where other characters expose to each other. But that is just my opinion.

The early trailer for Doom 2016 really didn't sell the combat well. The guns looked pretty weak and the "glory kills" seemed to break up the focus of the player. Having played the game, I am happy to say that my early estimations about the combat was wrong. The guns feel satisfying and powerful. There really isn't any other game on the modern market that can make a double-barreled shotgun so useful and satisfying as in Doom 2016. As for the gory kills, well, they serve a pretty cool purpose and discovering all the horrible ways you can end your opponents lives is a fun little puzzle. Their purpose is to facilitate more murder. See, if you kill an enemy using a glory kill, said enemy will drop health, armor and ammo (if you're low on it). It is very handy to use the glory kill system since ht enemies hit hard and you loose health and armor quickly. So instead of running away and looking for power-ups, the game encourage you to wade in and finish off a couple of enemies to continue the fight. The system reminds me of the health-system in Space Marine (that one Warhammer 40k brawler/shooter), where you would only gain health from finishing off enemies. These systems are fun because the encourage a more fast and fluid play-style, and they also fit thematically, since both the protagonists in their respective games are unrelenting bad-asses.

So, in closing, will Doom 2016 stand the test of time, like its predecessor? I doubt it, but for now, the game is solid and fun. I would probably recommend this game if you're the kind of person who likes your shooters fast and gory. So, for now, RIP AND TEAR!

Jacks over kings

So, over the last couple of weeks I've been putting some serious time into playing both Fallout 4 and The Division. While exploring these two open-world giants, a couple of questions came to mind. Questions I couldn't answer. So, let's do the sensible thing and ask the internet (what could go wrong?). Can a game that is considered a "jack-of-all-trades" be better than a king in a single genre? Is it even fair to compare the two? Can you put two so different games next to each other and grade them the same (or with the same system in place)? But before we dig into this extravagant piece of navel-gaze, let's do some housekeeping.

I own one deck of cards.

This is a topic of discussion without a good end-point. Since any and all answers that come out of it is purely subjective and up to ones own taste. But I think that the topic is pretty interesting to think about nonetheless. I also do not harbor any specific dislike for any game I will talk about and I would like you, the reader, to not misinterpret my usage of them in this article for dislike.

There, housekeeping done. So, as I said, I've spent some time playing these games over the last couple of weeks. They're pretty similar games, on the surface. Both are open-world affairs with a lot of shooting and looting. There, however, the similarities stop. One has a pretty robust salvage and building system while the other has a pretty engaging multi-player mode. But it's not THESE games I wish to compare. No, I want them to go up against Metal Gear Rising and Super Meat Boy.

Okay, that last sentence REQUIRES some explanation. See, Fallout 4 and The Division are big games with a lot of systems in them, but because of the size and the large amount of systems, a lot of the games feel kind of half baked. Their systems, their stories and their worlds feel shallow. The pond is wide, but not deep. On the other hand, MGR and SMB are comparatively small games. They're shorter, tighter and have fewer systems. But, what they do have are polished to a mirror sheen (I know the story in MGR is hokey, but I like what I like). So here, the pond is narrow but deep.

I've heard the debate about "shallow and wide vs narrow and deep" before. But what I haven't seen is a debate about whether these two kinds of games belong in the same grading system. What does it mean when a site grades a tournament fighter the same as an open world game? To me, that feels like comparing a great album made by a band with that of a grand opera.

The problem also comes up in conversation. Where I can pinpoint my love for MGR and SMB, when I talk to friends about games like Fallout 4 and The Division, I'm always short of words. The individual parts of those games aren't that interesting, but when put together, they become almost more than the sum of their parts. But is it still fair for me to say that one of those games are better than a smaller game, given that their parts are worse? Is it also fair for me to say that I got more time out of a smaller, narrower, game than one of these games, what with their magnanimous size and all?

There really isn't a problem here, unless you run a professional reviewing site. The questions I ask are simply for the exercise of thinking too much about video games. Still, how do you compare the two?

Solside stories - chapter 20

There are certain things you come to accept when wandering the Krater. You accept the fact that you have to watch your step for ant-hills at every turn. You accept the fact that everyone you meet will either want to murder you, or cower in fear of you murdering them. You also accept a certain level of cognitive dissonance. You KNOW that each and every cave, building or hole in the ground is filled with and endlessly repopulating gaggle of beasts and bandits. You KNOW this, yet you go in anyway. You go in, kill whatever lives there and do whatever some fancy piece of work in town wants you to do. Mostly, it's fetching. This time, it's reveres fetching, or ”placing” as the graybeards and scholars of this world calls it.

Back when we stumbled into Solside City for the first time, we picked up a mission. The fancy piece of work who gave us the mission also gave us five of these “nano-whatever-thingamajigs”. We were asked to place them in five separate caves around the city. We couldn't just pop in and throw it down wherever, it had to be placed in certain locations, preferably a bit down in whatever hole it was. So we went.

Luckily, we managed to place the thingamajig in Treacherous tunnel on our first pass, so that one we could write off early. Varghaala however, needed a re-visit.

Varghaala, second encounter. Börje is indeed flying through the air.

You could see the eyes of our band of mercenaries glance over and go a shade more gray as they went. Stomping every varg on their way. Nothing in this cave gave any resistance. Börje merely had to look at a varg to kill it. But on they went, because some fancy piece of work wanted something done, and our mercenaries wanted to get payed. They said that mercenary work would be the easy life. Get payed to kill stuff and pillage things. Sure, it is the easy life now, but no one said that the easy life would turn into the worst thing for a mercenary. It would turn into routine.

One more thing placed, one item struck from the list. Now only three more to go. The band made a unanimous decision to go to one more, before heading back to Solside City for some much needed R & R, and maybe to go find that one lady we were supposed to. So they picked the hole closest to Solside City, so the trip to the bar afterwards would be that long. Unfortunately, the closest hole was “limbo”.

Some say that Limbo is bottomless. That you could spend weeks in that hole without finding the bottom. People around Solside City claim that few people who decide to go down that hole every return, and those that do come back scarred and not the same. Good thing our band of mercenaries are about as smart and full of character as a pile of wet planks. So they went, down down down. The strange thingamajig had to be placed on the second floor of Limbo. No problem. But curiosity got the better of our group, so they kept going. People weren't lying when they said that some didn't return, since the walls of the cave were littered with skeletons. But even more strangely, those who had survived the onslaught of gnags, björns and bandits had been compelled to set up shop on “safe” levels. Be it by some strange power of Limbo or by some eldritch design, these “safe” levels were every fifth level. Our crew made it down to level 12, before packing it in. It wasn't the mediocre resistance of the enemies that made them do it, it was the sheer level of apathy generated by murdering the same monsters, tracing the same steps. Plus, doing all this spelunking, our crew had worked up a fierce thirst.

In Limbo

After a couple of round at the bars, our crew decided to start looking for Emma. That scoundrel Walter had stolen her away from St. Rehlins and taken her here. But Solside City is large, and our crew quite drunk. Interrogating some locals told us that the one place to go if you want to disappear would be Snarstuck Alley. According to the locals, the dark and seedy alley is littered with most of Solside Citys worst scum and villains. The truth, proved to less dramatic.

A bunch of kids had made the alley their home. These rascals, no larger than one of Börjes feet, were “the worst scum of Solside City”. Hm, good joke. The kids were easy to bribe, some food, some candy and some beer was all that was needed. The only reason for the bribe, however was that Börje had issues with threatening kids. Neither Ola nor Gunde saw the problem, but they knew better than to question the gentle giant when he got in a mood.

Walter, being... straightforward?

The kids led our crew to a basement, a safehouse, that Walter had set up. Inside, we found Walter, Emma and her silent partner. We prepared for a fight, but none was had. Walter was content with letting Emma go without conflict. We wondered if Börje was really that threatening. But leaving the safehouse, Emma revealed that she had given Walter what he wanted. That one item that she had, that we weren't allowed to know anything about. Well, she hadn't given him THAT item, she had given him AN item. A fine contraption of cogs and buttons that surely would keep Walter and his cronies content until we had gotten out of dodge, or Solside City.

Emma, being resourceful.

Emma told us that the last leg of her journey would take her to Broderbo. And to get to Broderbo, you had to take either a boat, an airship or a cable car, all of which went from Farsta Strand. At the mention of that horrid place, a small fire could be seen lighting up in Gundes eyes.

Going to Farsta.

Let's talk - Cryptark

[DISCLAIMER!! This is an early access title. So for those of you completely allergic to the concept, please do what you feel is prudent with this information, be it reading on or passing along. No hard feelings! Personally, I don't like the system, but this game is one of those rare exceptions, which I will try to explain in the article proper. Please take that into consideration as well. Another issue I wish to address by creating this article is the criminally low discussion I've seen about this game. It's a great game that I feel deserve more coverage that it has gotten.]

[EDIT 28/1:  I've added some extra screenshots at the end of this article.]

So, how does on start when talking about early access? I mean, the system in itself is kind of broken. "Here, pay up front for a "near-finished" version of our game! If it's broken or non-functioning, discard it, and if it's good and polished, please get your fill of our game in this early version, so you're good and exhausted with it when it comes out!" That's usually the way I see it. It's really hard to find a good middle-ground here, and even worse, some developers seem to depend on early access to carry them home. This creates a system that screws over both parties in the long run. The developers cash in early, earning small (but sometimes crucial) revenue, and the customers get to play with a non-finished version of the game, running the risk of either leaving them with a bad taste in their mouth or exhausting their enthusiasm for the game early. With all that negativity in mind, let's talk about Cryptark, one of those "one-in-a-million"-games that transcend the early access trap and actually feels like a great game, with some polish left.

What is Cryptark? Well, it is a ship, a flag-ship, and you have to get to it, break in and salvage all the alien technology inside. So, what is Cryptark, THE GAME? 

It's a 2D shooter developed by Alien Trap Games which has the player controlling a salvage operation on long-dead alien ships. The problem here is that while the alien crew are long dead and gone, their AI-systems and self-defense systems are all well and functioning. So, in order to salvage all of these delicious ships, you have to hop into your spacesuit, get whatever guns you can buy and take care of the internal (and sometimes external) defenses "the old fashioned"-way. By old fashioned, I mean you have to break in and destroy the main AI-core of each ship, and possibly other systems as well. Each ship being a randomly generated maze with randomly generated systems and goals.

Capturing screen-shots from this game is very difficult, because when the "shit hits the fan" you'll most likely need all your faculties for "not dying".

The true beauty in this game is how it balances hectic and desperate firefights with careful planning and execution so well. See, each ship you enter (on your way to the titular Cryptark) has a cash-reward if properly disabled, and adding to that, each ship also has a couple of side-objectives that if completed will earn you bonus pay. So, you earn money for  each completed salvage op. The problem is though, that you have to pay up front for all the equipment and hull-points you bring to the op. So, for example, a ship might have a value of 110K$. If you bring equipment valued above 110K$, you will be spending more money than you earn. But, said ship might also have 3 side-objectives that have a combined value of 100K$. So, for you to earn a profit on this op, you'll have to do some, or all, of the side-objectives. These objectives might be simple as "destroy X system" or "keep X system intact" to "max 3 hull points" or "max load-out 35K$" (that last one can be quite hard).

So, the game has a "load-out"-phase where you buy stuff to bring in? Big deal, right?! Well, it get's more complicated. Each ship you salvage is large, some even huge. They're all larger than what you will have time, ammo and health for. So you have to plan ahead, make a route. You have to figure out the optimum way of dealing with each ship in order to actually win. Do you carefully dismantle all the annoying secondary systems before you go for the core? Do you just take care of the alarm-system and shielding for the core? Or do you go "all in" and just rush down the core with the heaviest ordnance you own? These are all questions you have to ask yourself at the beginning of each op. And these questions will most likely pop up during your op since the game does have a very good way of screwing with your fine and well laid plans. 

Map of a ship. The yellow line means that a system is connected to the core, the red lines are locked doors. The green line is a waypoint I set.

When said plans do go out the window and you're trapped in the middle of an alien ship with drones and turrets all bearing down on you, what do you do? Well, you reach into that reptilian-part of your brain and activate your twitch-skills. The meat and potatoes of this game is a very fast and quite difficult 2D shooter affair. You dodge and weave, shoot and strike at your opponents all the while navigating a the maze-like structure of each ship. This is where your careful selection of equipment comes into play. There are drop-pods in most ships, that for a price, will either repair your hull or refill your ammo. These pods are on the other hand few, expensive and most of the time placed in awkward spots. So you're most likely be relying on what load-out you brought with you. And believe me when I say that you do NOT want to hear your gun go "click" and be empty when you're elbow deep in enemies right by the AI-core.

Load-out screen. Note that everything you bring with you has a price.

With all this said, how is the "early access" version? Well, I'd say pretty damn good. The game-play is very solid and feels just right. The developers have implemented voice-work and movies int he game, something that I figure would come in quite late in the development of an "indie-title". So I'm going to guess that the game is quite far down the line to done. I've spent roughly 5 hours in the game, and only encountered one major bug. Said bug knocked out the sound of the game, which was fixed by a quick restart. I haven't encountered any game-breaking bugs like crashes or the like. But take whatever I say with a grain of salt, since this is both an early access game and a PC-game (PC-games are fickle beasts that work differently on different systems). But all in all, I'm very pleased with Cryptark as it is currently. The random nature of the game, and the solid game-play, makes this a title I will return to many times and probably won't grow tired of until it release.

Pro-tips!

So, you picked up the game and are having a hard time? It's OK! The game is hard and can be unforgiving. Here's some of my tips for any new player out there!

1) Go for early artifacts! You unlock new suit-types by gaining artifacts. Said artifacts are gained by completing special bonus objectives on certain ships. Going for these can be difficult, but they are easiest in the early game, since the earliest ships you encounter have the lowest difficulty rating.

2) Unlock some suits! There are a number of different suits in the game. Each one has a special skill (like a full shield or a turbo boost), each suit also a unique starting weapon load-out. So, if you hate the load-out on the standard suit, unlock another one and try that one out. Weapons are less of a numbers affair and more of an "understanding and mastering"-affair.

3) Melee all day! The Gunheads melee weapon is a powerful but quite unwieldy ram spike. While not great, it is powerful and doesn't take any ammo. Even better, the Salamander suit has a Saw arm weapon that deals heavy damage and knocks enemies back. Best of all, though, is the Rook. The Rook-ruit has a...

4) Tractor beam every day! The tractor beam is a lovely tool. It costs no ammunition and has great range. The only true downside is it's slow charge. When you "shoot" an enemy with the beam, it will attract said enemy to you, locking it in place right in front of you (weapons facing outwards). Now you can use said enemy as a shield for incoming fire. When the beam has charged up again, you can fire the enemy straight out. Shooting te enemy into a wall deals good damage. Even better, shooting the enemy into another enemy will deal great damage to both. This can be tricky, since enemies are fast and the beam charges slowly, but with enough practice you can become a god of destruction while spending almost no ammo. Just remember to bring some bombs or something, the beam is quite useless against most systems.

Salvage op completed! Clearing side-objectives can be hard, but rewarding.

EDIT!

So, in one of the captions, I moaned the fact that I'm having a rough time grabbing screenshots of this game. I got some, enjoy.

Problem: AI-Core, Solution: Mini nuke

 

The shit has indeed hit the fan.

Note the non-existent health and ammo.


Captains Journal - Entry 1

Entry 1

I will dedicate this journal to my vengeance. My name is Sue Plata, son of Juan Plata. THE Juan Plata. To most, he is known as the legendary musician who traveled the twenty seas, to me, he is the dirty dog who left ma and me with nothing but a guitar and an empty bottle of booze. The pain of neglect stings, but not as much as the curse he places on me before he left. He gone and named me Sue. So, for that, I will follow him. From shore to shore, from sea to watery grave. I will find the old man and make him pay. Today I begin the journey to claim vengeance.

I've commissioned a ship, which I named the Revenge, and am currently in the process of recruiting sailors and fitting the ship. Tomorrow we set out to the open sea, to find my father and make him pay. Mark my words, dear journal, a year from now, I will have snuffed the old bastard out!

 

Entry 1....1

So, um, Captain Sue Plata died. Writing this now is the NEW captain. CAPTAIN NISESON. Myself, Freeman and Tanner were recruited by the strange guy to go "on a quest of vengeance and gold." Heh, too bad for the fart that he ate the wrong side of a dagger on the first ship we boarded. Sooo... being the entrepreneur (whatever that means) that I am, I have taken command! First order of business: Abandon this old cog. Those scallywags we tried to keelhaul had a nicer boat, and they won't be using it anymore.

I've taken the liberty of naming my crew. Tanner is now known as the killer, since he's real good at it. And Freeman is now called the cleaner, because if he doesn't clean the ship, me and the killer will beat him!

I've also taken the liberty of refocusing the mission. We're not going on no fools quest. We're going for THE fools quest, the quest for gold and glory. To assert this to the men, I have set sail for a small cluster of island, which we will plunder and pillage.

Entry 1.2

Those islands payed off. Three of them where inhabited. Two of the locals resisted, we killed 'em and stole their cows. The last local surrendered to us. I've come to calling him Tribal Trent. For a man who has chicken bones stuck in his nose, he is a pretty good cook, and he reliable in a fight. We will now set sail back to port to pawn off some of this booty.

Assaulting some tribals.

Entry 1.3

The deck is full of shit. Need to supply Freeman the cleaner with more beatings.

Poop-deck

Entry 1.4

Back at port once again. Pawned some stuff off. Surprisingly no one wants to buy the shitting cows. Honesty, I've grown attached to one of them. I call him Lyman. 

Hired two more crew: Salvadore Ogletree and Valu Hershey. Note to self: Remember to pay the wages.

Entry 1.5 

Set sail towards unknown waters. Encountered stiff resistance on a pretty stiff cog. Valu Hershey payed with his life. Stoned in the eye, and I who never got to name or beat the old cod. Maybe Valu stone-eye-dead-meat is good enough. Less wages to pay though.

Time to teach the boys some valuable lessons.



New Tuesday series/New old schedule

So last week we wrapped up Adam Smith plays Torchlight 2. It had been going on for about a month, and I'd gotten pretty settled in my schedule of doing longer written series (Let's play? Let's write?) on Mondays and doing something shorter and lighter on Tuesdays. So, why mess with something that works?

So, here's how it's going to work moving forward:

Monday is longer let's play/let's write. As of writing, the current series is Solside stories. 

Tuesday will be "random narrative"/shorter let's plays. I will take this time to play around with different games, different set-ups and different narrative styles. 

Wednesday is still going to be personal update/"blog". 

So, introducing the first in the "random narrative" series:


PIXEL PIRACY!

According to the steam page, pixel piracy is a 2D Pirate Simulator. It's a game about getting a crew together, building (and upgrading) a ship and going out to the high seas to experience adventure. It's kind of a rouge-like affair with a lot of procedural generation and randomization. I am hoping that the random element will bring lots of interesting situations and fun narratives. I'm not sure how long this series will run, but I'm thinking about a month. After that I'll leave another little update like this and introduce another new game that I'll be writing about. So, for now, why don't you join in and enjoy some adventures on the high seas!

As my first act of scallywaggery, I will post the first update on this new Tuesday series tomorrow, on Wednesday!

Solside stories - chapter 19

We were going to find that Niklas fellow and clear our names. We were going to be goody-two-shoes who do everything according to the law. Then we got lost.

See, it all began as we left St. Rehlins. We bought some implants, which left us skint, then picked up some bounties, in the hopes of not being skint in the future. There was one bounty for Juiced Maules in the treacherous tunnels, one for a bunch of monster in Varghaala and one for the finding someones wife who had “gone a bit crazy” and bounced. Said wife, called Saxhand, had apparently found a grotto “on the the way to Hesselby, rim-wise” and we were asked to search it. Problem was, the directions weren't that good.

View of the Krater.

We started our search around the rim of the Krater, this was a bad idea. Apparently, since the Krater is the center of the civilized world around here, all the worst of the bad-asses collect there. We ran into all manners of mean bandits who wanted nothing more than to take our cash and shoes. Fortunately, we're pretty bad-ass too, but not bad-ass enough to take the punishment they were dishing out indefinably.

The bandits around here rely on these dudes called Fetsluggers. They're these big dudes wielding big clubs. They don't look too threatening, but looks can be deceiving. Apparently, someones been juicing these guys up something fierce, because they could soak up mostly anything we threw at them. Explosive grenades, check, Zappers, check, chemical grenades, check. While we managed to take some down, at a heavy cost, we quickly figured out that we were going to need bigger weapons to stay competitive. So we left the rim of the Krater to look elsewhere.

Farsta Strand in all her glory.

At the dead South end of Krater, we found something magical. A place, seemingly untouched by the horrors of the end of the world. We found, Farsta Strand. A dirty pit ruled by monsters and bandits, so exactly like it was before the end. The only trouble was that the gate was sealed shut. Something that royally peeved our band of mercenaries. How dare they close the gate on us? The most prestigious dungeons clearing crew in the business! So we continued onward, going back towards the center of Krater.

Another thing that collects at the center of the Krater, like hair in a drainpipe, are “mysterious traders”. We ran into 6 of these guys on our relatively short walk. By visit number 4, we started to figure it out. Seems like there aren't multiple of these guys, it's just one guy, who's really good at disguising himself. Too bad for him we saw through that ugly fake mustache. Too bad for us that he managed to escape before we could question him.

Feelings slightly despondent, we decide to clear out the dungeons closer to St. Rehlins. Both Treacherous tunnels and Varghaala are close by, and the friendly länsman has marked Nattkvart mines on our map, so we don't have to worry about that. Varghaala, is like the name implies, a haven for Vargs. Well, it used to be, before our visit. We clear it out, post haste. Most Vargs posing little resistance against the triple-headed axe/club wielded by Börje. Treacherous tunnels are another thing entirely. The bandits in there have been juicing vigorously and our only means of dealing with them is the ancient honorable tactic of the Kite. Pull one, kill him, pull another, kill him, repeat. The juiciest of the juiced bandits are called juiced maulers, and it is them that we need to kill. Some of them had crawled out of the tunnels and harassed an acolyte of St. Rehlins, and he wants payback. Battered and bruised we emerge victorious. With two out of three bounties in the bag, we head to Nattkvart Mines to finally do what the länsman asked. Another fetch quest and we're free.

Nattkvart Mines is located in between St. Rehlins and the jewel of Krater. Solside city is just a stone-throw away from the mine, and, being responsible upstanding mercenaries, we couldn't help ourselves. We just had to have a peek.

Solside market.

Solside city truly is the capital of the world. Not only is it big, not only does it have the largest market in the Krater, but it has TWO BARS. Who would have thought? A city big enough to support two drinking holes? The possibilities are staggering and even put Ola off balance. He can't decide where to start. “What would happen if we drink at that place, and then when we get thrown out, go there?” He asks, no one in particular. It's just his head making up grandiose plans. But we have to work before we play. Besides, where not rich enough to drink at two bars, let alone one. So we leave for Nattkvart.

The mine is dark, damp, brown and filled with monsters. So, like every other place not inhabited by bandits in the Krater. These monsters, on the other hand, glow. Much like our earlier encounters with irradiated beasts, it's a messy and greasy affair. The blighted björns have developed a new defense mechanism, the dreaded vomit. While the greasy substance tingles on the skin, it relies more on the smell than anything else to chase off would be predators. Good thing for us that we have a big stash of flowers that we can shove up our noses, just for situations like this.
Börje isn't particularly pleased with the treatment of his best friends/food, but Ola reassures him by promising him all the nose-flowers as desert after the cave is cleared.

Björn vomit.

At the bottom of the cave (as usual) we find Niklas. He has dragged two innocent and pretty angry looking acolytes with him. He explains that he's down here looking for some holy documents of St. Rehlins. He absolutely refuses to leave, nor even Börjes imposing visage will move the man. So Ola and Gunde quickly come up with a plan. They grab some scraps of paper from their packs and explain to the acolyte that the torn pieces are what's left of the documents. “Hunds ate it.” they explain. Niklas, to our amazement, buys it. Not even questioning why Hunds would eat a holy document deep in a cave filled with nothing but björns and boars. We take the victory and leave.

Coming out of the cave, we spot something else. Another cave, in fact, THE other cave. Saxhands Grotto. Those directions were indeed pretty crap. Since it is neither close to Hesselby nor the rim of the Krater. Regardless, we enter to finish off the last bounty.

YES! More ghasts! Good thing for us, these guys are nowhere near as bad-ass as those in the tunnels underneath St. Rehlins. We take is a cathartic experience. Stomping down these weakling really does help to lesson the pain from our previous failure. We find Saxhand, the wife, deep in the cave. Or what's left of her. The “gone a bit crazy” turned out to be a full-blown ghast infection, and she has now fully transformed into one. Having no other choice, we put her down humanely, by having Börje stomp on her til she stops moving. Picking the brains out of his boots, we return to St. Rehlins.

A gaggle of Ghasts.

Länsman Gunilla officially pardons us on the spot. A good deed done, payment for a bad deed blamed for. Justice is served. After the little ritual, she confides in us that she knew we were innocent, she just needed some help. To quell our groups imminent rage, and to save her face from Börjes mighty fist, she offers us information. The killers went to Solside City, and she implores us to follow them, and leave her in peace.

Just this once, we abide by her and leave. Solside City does have two bars.

Saxhand, in all her glory.

The so-called mysterious Shopkeeper.

Solside stories - chapter 18

The sun is shining, the birds are singing and we are currently staring down the barrel of a double ambush. Some nice fellows in some even nicer gear caught us off guard, and some even nicer fellows with some even nicer gear caught THEM off guard. So, how did we get here? Well, we were told to take Emma Bendixen to St. Rehlins, for a nice payday, and everything was going so nicely. The weather was perfect for a walk and the bandits were keeping away, and then suddenly... these fellows. Before we can react, the second ambush springs on the first, and the nicer group falls into the nice one. After the brawl, the leader of the nicer group approaches us. He wears a nice pin-stripe suit and calls himself Walter. Ola swears quietly to himself that he's seen him before, he just can't put his finger on it. Maybe... back at Astrids? Probably, no matter, the important thing is, he isn't killing us, yet.

Nice gear, bud.

Walter says that the first (the nice one) group was part of RISC, Riget Internal Security. They've been tracking Emma with the purpose of bringing her back. His group, he says, are Storsäk. The natural enemy to RISC. He goes on to explain the two groups history, the war they've been waging in the shadows. Real cloak and dagger stuff, too bad most of our group has already fallen asleep, and Börje is off picking flowers. Walter seems to enjoy telling this story so much that he goes on, knowing that no one is listening.

Several long, boring, hours later we arrive at St. Rehlins. Walter takes Emma to the sickbay and urges us to find Ola, that one guy from Petsamo, other Ola. He tells us that time is off the essence and we need to make haste. Our Ola assures Walter that we'll find other Ola as fast as possible.

Our group starts, and ends, their search at the bar. After looking about, concluding that Ola isn't there, they settle down with some beers. Some beers later, a local jackass talks Gunde into exploring the old mine behind the bar. It all started with some small talk and ended with a bet that he was too chicken to enter. Gunde in is state, vowed to enter said mine and retrieve said chicken. So off they went.

One scary giant mutant down, a hundred more to go...

And back they came, with their tails between their legs. The sign warned for tentacles and it wasn't lying. The mine is filled with giant mutated ghasts. While their lives were spared, their honor was now permanently stricken, especially Gundes. Before he could finish his solemn vow to re-enter the mine and clear it once and for all, the fuzz was on us.

Apparently, in our absence, Ola, other Ola that is, was found dead behind a dumpster. Some local had fingered our group for the crime. While we pleaded for our innocence, claiming to be nothing more than a lousy couple of drunks, the länsman of St. Rehlins reminded us that it is a crime to drink without a license to operate heavy machinery. Us, not knowing the customs of the land, were trapped. The länsman, or länswoman, Gunilla also said that prisons were in short supply. In fact, there is not one at St. Rehlins. So instead of hard time, we got a hard mission. Some dude by the name of Niklas had gone missing in and old mine not too far from St. Rehlins, and the länswoman wanted him found.

“So, a dungeon-clearing-person-fetching-mission it is then?” Ola said and cracked his knuckles.
“Just leave it to us!”

St. Rehlin, post mine debacle. 

Adam Smith plays Torchlight 2 - Day 5

To be completely honest,  I never expected that his experiment would go this far. When I entered the game in hardcore-mode I was fully aware of the fact that I would probably screw up somewhere on the second or third day and that would be that. But that didn't happen, and here we are. To celebrate this occasion, I've created some graphs that will be posted at the bottom of this article. They're not very pretty, but they convey the information well enough. I plan on creating new graphs for every fifth day that passes. So, now that I have thoroughly jinxed this experiment, let's go over the day.

Day 5, start

Today I had the pleasure of wandering into the Forsaken Vaults and killing the Artificer. This is an area that is packed floor to ceiling with small annoying enemies that swarm, hurt and generally screw with any and all gold-per-monster-calculations. Well, screw with is probably stretching it, but it is kinda sad to see the numbers suffer because the enemies favor swarms rather than fewer stronger dudes. But such is life in Torchlight 2, we just have to deal with it. 

The fight against the Artificer wasn't anything special. He went down like his little minions. A small note, though,  is the time it took. Last time I went here, I was playing as an Outlander. A class specializing in ranged dps. This time, I'm a melee tank, and the Artificer has a tendency of teleporting. So it was more a matter of chasing the dude down, rather than taking the dude out. Luckily the build works, and works well. Just a shame about the speed of things. 

All of that was lying underneath a skull in the desert. I am clearly in the wrong business here.

I also took some time to explore the area after the boss, the Salt Barrens. This was a risky move, since the area has a recommended level of 30+. Now, these recommendations are just that, recommendations. But having a hard-core character on level 26 going in there does still cause no small amount of worry. But again, the build works, and works well. I ended the session with doing one side-quest in the Salt Barrens and passing up on an ether rift. I intend on visiting the rift, but today, it felt a little too risky.

Another small note: I do not know if I've mentioned this before, but I am playing this without mods. I want the experiment to be as "pure" as possible, so all mods (even simple UI stuff) are turned off for the duration.

These bastards keep running away while I'm trying to smash them and pilfer their pockets.

So, let's make the count.

Today, 19822 gold was earned. That brings the total gold up to 81429. We're slowly working our way towards 100k. Maybe then, we can retire to a small bungalow in some sunny paradise. I don't know.

1178 monster bit the dust today, so the daily GPM landed on 16,8. The total GPM now lies at 18,0. This is an appreciable decrease since day 4. While I like to blame the swarming monsters, I cannot shake the feeling that we might be leveling out here. Maybe this is where the adventuring life stops being super profitable? 

3657 steps were taken today, which bring the total steps up to 17956. That makes the daily GPS 5,42 and the total GPS 4,53. While the GPM is slowly leveling out, the GPS is rising steadily. 

We also looter 71 "lootables", which bring the total lootables looted to 293. The reason why I'm not exposing further on the subject of "lootables" is because I'm not sure what a "lootable" is. Is it just chests? Or is it chests and random items in the world? Is a skull you flip over a lootable? If so, is a pot you smash also a lootable? I don't know. 

So, I promised graphs. They will be below the end of session screenshot.

Day 5, end

The reason Day 1 GPS is set to zero is because I failed to grab data that day. Mea culpa.


Solside stories - chapter 17

A few kilometers, some hockey-players and a shady figure later, we find ourselves in Grabbtuna. We figured our best plan was to simply crash the gate and kill enough of the guards for the rest to lay down their weapons. Our plan worked beautifully. Our group was called into the office (an old outhouse behind the sickbay) of Peter Forceberg, captain of the Owles. He's not pleased to see us, but he is happy that as his boys stopped fighting, so did Börje. He figures that a trade is in order. His physician will take a look at Emma, and we take a look at his deity.

We are lead back to the rink. There has been nothing done to the blood or the corpses on the ice, but in the corner, by a big white machine, there has been a shrine elected. Flowers and tributes have been draped all over the machine. You could easily mistake this for a shrine, but it is in fact a grave. The side of the machine has a big hole, and in the hole are destroyed parts and circuitry visible.

“This, is the ice-maker.” Peter Forceberg says with no small amount of reverence. “Your... man over there threw our goalie straight into it. Both the goalie and the ice-maker died on impact.” He continues somberly. “We can replace the goalie, Krater is full of willing and unwilling souls to take part in our games, but we cannot fix.... HER” he says and lowers his head. Gunde peaks his head into the hole, makes some notes and turns to Peter Forceberg.

“She just needs some spare components. I can fix... HER, easy!” he says cheerily. “But where do we find components?”

Peter Forcebergs face lights up in jubilation. “There are scavengers living in Saly Katt caves, maybe they will be willing to trade! Or... you can just take what you need!”

“So, we F.E.T.C.H these things, have Gunde here put... HER back together and you guys will take care of Emma while we're away?” Ola says.

Peter agrees and our group leaves for Salty Katt Caves. One fetch quest richer, but also happy in the knowledge that Emma might pull through.

Somewhere, down the line, Gunde got tagged and needed to see a doctor.

At the now ruined gates of Grabbtuna, a surprisingly well dressed fellow intercepts our party. He introduces himself as “Walter” and he has come with a warning. Apparently, a group known as Riget has taken note of our actions and may be planning to end us. Before we have Börje pummel him to the ground, he explains that he is neither with, nor a friend, to Riget. So we spare the gentleman and leave, without thanking him for the info. We've had enough of shady business and we're clearly in over our heads. So let's just keep it simple and go stomp some bandits and fetch their crap.

Since we're out and about, we decide to take care of some contracts we picked up when leaving Frisktorp. First off is Truffles. A lady by the name of Andy is trying to woo some dude and wants to cook him something special. So, off to Howl's mine again. The place hasn't changed. The gnags, boars and björns have repopulated the place, so we clean it out again. A small pang of melancholy strikes our group when they realize that practically all of their “dungeon clearing”-expertise is for naught, since the places seem to repopulate the minute they leave. But no matter, some cash is made and some truffles are found.

How does a man carrying a big club "shoot first"?

After that, off to the “wretched hive”. A man by the name of Greedo hides there and his head needs removing. We've been warned that the man has a habit of “shooting first”. This offers some confusion, since when we meet him, we realize that he isn't even carrying a gun. But again, no matter. Some cash is made and a head is claimed. Lastly, we're supposed to visit the “Bohemian retreat” to trade for some tools. We've been told to be gentle, since the bohemians that live there are peace-loving and friendly. What REALLY lives there is a pack of salivating blood-thirsty bandits. They do, in fact, shoot first. Unfortunately they did not shoot last.

To finish off our small walk-about, we head to Salty Katt Cave. The place is a dungeon, like any other. The two note-worthy things here are the nice interior design and the slightly more bad-ass bandits. Too bad they're only slightly more bad-ass, were they moderately more bad-ass, they might have stood a chance. We clear the place out and led Gunde search the ruin of their home. After some time he comes back, carrying a battery, a radiator and a compressor. Everything he needs, he says.

At Grabbtuna we are greeted by a very pleased Peter Forceberg and slightly more healthy Emma Bendixen. That fancy fellow Walter must have taken off, since he is nowhere to be seen. Gunde and Börje set straight to work, Gunde fixing the machine and Börje “helping” by eating all the flowers and tributes off...HER. Ola checks up on Emma. She's feeling better, but not great. She says she still has some fever and could use a better sickbay and a doctor who's specialty isn't “stitching player back together”. During her stay, she's been in contact with Astrid. She's been told to go to St. Rehlins and await further instructions and she wants the group to escort her there. Ola agrees on the condition that we she tells him why.

Apparently Emma Bendixen was once part of Riget, a powerful and (to our group, at least) mysterious organization. She's now defected and is searching for protection. She is carrying a package that is to serve as a bargaining chip, and the less we know about it, the better we are off. More than that, she cannot say. What she can do, however, is pay us, handsomely. If we take her to St. Rehlins, we're going to be 6000 kr richer. “That'll do nicely.” Ola says, and the two decide to sit by the ruined gate and wait patiently for their two partners to finish up, so they can all leave.

What follows below is a small collection of the small nick-knacks and stuff you can find in the Krater.