Mass Effect 2 Halfway Point (Spoilers)

Continuing with Mass Effect week here on the ol’ blog…

I’m starting this draft on March 22, but again I probably won’t publish it until after I finish Mass Effect 3. There are story spoilers below if you haven’t finished the game.

Mass Effect 2 is a much, much larger and longer game than Mass Effect 1. I’m well over 20 hours into the game, and I don’t even think I’ve gotten to the halfway point yet. There are a lot more opportunities to get distracted with side missions. Omega, The Citadel, Illium: All teeming with entertaining vignettes to watch and interact with as you pass by.

The game part of Mass Effect 2 is an improvement, although it morphed from more of an RPG-style game to more of an action-style game. I find that the cover mechanics work a lot better, and the combat is more fun. (Although sometimes it drags on far too long.) I’m still playing on Casual mode, though, because I’m more interested in the story than the game.

Mass Effect 2 has a much darker tone than the original. Perhaps because of the way it starts out with the total destruction of the Normandy and Shepard’s resurrection from the dead. (It was a pretty exciting opening scene, I’ll give them that.) But beyond that, the locations seem to be darker and seedier, like Omega, the first place you visit. Shepard’s attitude seems a bit darker, too, or maybe it’s just that my choices have gotten darker. I feel like she would be bitter after being resurrected by what she would have previously considered a “terrorist” organization.

The best new character by far is Mordin the Salarian (voiced by Michael Beattie). I mean, so, so obviously. What an amazing character. Not only is he an amazing character with amazing voice acting, but the subject matter of his personal storyline is really meaty and thought-provoking (the Krogan genophage).

Miranda is okay (the fact that Yvonne Stahovski’s voice is very pleasant saves that character), Jacob is meh and fairly pointless. Garrus is still Garrus, except even more of a bitter old cynic. Jack is pretty good, but her character feels like a cliche and I thought she reformed from a sociopathic killer to a loyal squadmate unnaturally quick.

Thankfully there’s no blatant sexism in Mass Effect 2.

Grunt is probably my least favorite so far. He’s nowhere near as interesting as Wrex was. (Are Krogans supposed to be uplifted dolphins? At first I thought they looked like some sort of big featherless hawk head but now I can’t see them as anything but dolphin heads.)

I’ve just gotten to the Assassin and the Justicar, so I don’t have an opinion on them yet. (I can’t even think of their names offhand.) My first impressions weren’t that great, though. At first glance, they seemed very much like cliches (the gentle assassin and the warrior monk).

Now about the story in Mass Effect 2. Remember how I said the story was really focused in Mass Effect 1? You always knew that you were chasing Saren to stop his nefarious plans. I feel like that’s not the case in Mass Effect 2. I understand that the goal is to “stop the Collectors” but it’s not super clear exactly what needs to happen to stop them (it’s not entirely clear what a Collector even is, except another agent of the Reapers).

I feel like the “assemble the team” part of the game is becoming a big distraction from the real story. I enjoy getting to know these new characters, and I’ve enjoyed seeing the new areas, but it’s not at all clear why these particular people (what’s the word for “people” when you mean humans and aliens?) are the only ones who can get this job done. They just seem like random people whose main qualifications are that they are interesting characters.

In Mass Effect 1, the characters were clearly there for story-related reasons. Alenko was a member of the crew to start with–he had to go because Shepard captained the ship. Williams joined the crew after her squad was lost on Eden Prime, and again, had to follow orders. Garrus and Wrex and Tali joined the crew because they believed in the mission (more or less). And Liana joined the crew because she was an expert on Protheans.

Maybe it will become clear later on–maybe there will be some cut scenes that show exactly why Jack and Grunt and the rest are vital to completing the Mass Effect 2 story. But right now, right after picking up the Justicar, I feel like they are non-essential to the story and it should have been optional to complete these quests. I feel like I’m spinning my wheels, bogged down in a slow, irrelevant part of the game, and I’m anxious to get back to the main plot and learn more about the Collectors.

More on Mass Effect 2 when I finish it.

Mass Effect Andromeda Impressions

No razors in the future.

There are no story spoilers below, but I totally understand if you’re on complete blackout and want to skip. (I was, and did, and still do.)

I finished the first three Mass Effect games and finally started Andromeda.

First, if you’re like me and were way behind on the series, there is no connection between the original trilogy and Andromeda. Much to my chagrin, there is no need to play the first three or know anything about the previous story. I can’t explain why without spoiling the very beginning of Andromeda, but it’s a clean break and the start of a brand new thing. (And it makes sense, too, it’s not something like, “It was all just a dream.”) You don’t get to import your game from Mass Effect 3, so it doesn’t matter what you did in the past.

Still, you should play the first three games, because they are awesome, and you probably have them anyway since they’ve been on sale for years. (I did.)

Andromeda’s gameplay is also brand new in the series. It’s not like any of the previous three. It’s a much more open world game. Combat is similar to 2 and 3, but a bit more complex. I’m playing on Normal this time, so it’s considerably harder. Everything is now a bullet sponge.

My cynical side wonders if they started out making an entirely new intellectual property and then halfway through, the bean counters decided they had to put the Mass Effect label on it to sell it. It really feels like a ground-up rewrite.

I saw the buzz from the Internet about terrible animations, but that didn’t deter me in the slightest from buying it. As of this writing, I’ve played about 12 hours and I haven’t noticed anything even remotely justifying Internet outrage. To be honest, I think people are still mad about the end of Mass Effect 3 and projecting that anger onto Andromeda. There’s nothing wrong with the animations. Since the Internet pointed it out, I’ve been staring at everything, intently waiting for something bad to happen, and maybe there’s 1 second of “bad” animation for every hour of gameplay. If this weren’t the age of Twitch and memes and replaying of video clips, I doubt anyone would have noticed anything.

The facial tech is vastly improved from ME3. Better than Fallout 4, in my opinion. Skin tones are amazing. There’s a bit of oddness in the eye movements and blinking–they aren’t quite as realistic as previous games. They are sluggish, almost slow motion. You can sort of see the pupil move from side to side, and it moves farther than I think it should. So it ends up looking just a tiny bit cartoonish. The blinking looks sort of exaggerated, as when you blink on purpose instead of involuntarily.

Hair is also a tiny bit weird. It’s as if they are all in low-gravity environments, because the hair doesn’t quite “settle” on the head as fast as it should. The “waviness” is really exaggerated. Almost like Disney animation.

Is that what “hyper-realism” is? I don’t know. It doesn’t detract from the game at all, it’s just an odd thing I noticed. (I notice these things because the entire time I played Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3, I wondered how I would go about programming facial animations, because I always wonder that about software, so I kept looking at eye movements and changes in expressions.)

The game chugs a bit on my GTX 1070. On the default settings it picked (ultra, no resolution scaling), it doesn’t quite maintain 60 fps but it seems to stay over 30.

As for the story, there is a distinctly different tone to the writing. A “younger” tone, if you will. Sometimes it sounds like a blogger or a “social media expert” wrote the dialog. There’s a lot of modern vernacular slang. (It was in the old games too, but it’s really obvious in Andromeda.) Here’s a fun drinking game: Take a drink every time you hear, “We’ve got this.” Have an ambulance standing by. “It gets better” gets repeated a lot, too. I actually heard a character say something like, “I don’t want to do that … for reasons.” For reasons. I also heard a random line, “These ones don’t seem hostile.” Presumably somebody wrote that line, and an editor okay’ed it, and then the voiceover guys said, “Yeah, that sounds normal.” Meanwhile I’m over here having a grammar stroke. I’m old, and that writing sounds wack, yo.

This is still space opera, by the way. Science is noticeably lacking in this science fiction, more so than any previous game. It doesn’t bother me, but sometimes I chuckle when they try to pass things off as realistic instead of magical.

I can’t say I’m feeling as much of a hook for the story as I did with Mass Effect 1. I wrote that the ME1 story was very focused from start to finish. Andromeda’s isn’t, although I can only vouch for the start. Perhaps it’s because of the new open world nature. I have an overwhelming urge to complete every zone before moving on, but the overall story does not progress that way. (To be fair, I felt that way in the previous games too, but in Andromeda there is a thousand times more to see and do per zone.) You have to leave zones behind to continue the main story.

So far the story beats are good, but not quite great. I’m not fond of their attempts to explain open world game mechanics within the narrative. (Collect all these things out in the world for reasons.)

I’d say Andromeda is a solid triple, if not the home run of Mass Effect 1. I’m definitely planning to finish it. (And that’s despite the new Dark Souls 3 DLC being available!)

Mass Effect 1 Replayed (Spoilers)

I’m writing this draft on March 21, launch day for Mass Effect: Andromeda. I probably won’t post this until much later, because I’m very paranoid about exposing myself to Mass Effect story spoilers right now, and my vivid imagination sees everyone running to the comments to post their Andromeda thoughts even though this post has nothing to do with Andromeda. Not only do I not want to hear about Andromeda, but I also don’t want to hear about Mass Effect 2 and 3.

So since I can’t look at the Internet for a few weeks while everyone gets Mass Effect out of their systems, I thought I’d write about the old ones. As of this writing, I’ve finished my replay of Mass Effect 1, and I’m somewhere around halfway through Mass Effect 2 (I’m in the second stage of crew recruitment), which has caught me back up to where I left off with the series several years ago.

Mass Effect 1 was fairly short for a Bioware RPG–I finished it in about 23 hours. I didn’t do every single side mission in the game, but I did a bunch of them. I played on casual difficulty with maximum auto aim, so I pretty much blew through the “game” portion. I think I only died one time. (I’m pretty sure it was on that one side mission where you have to kill the AI computers at a Lunar base, where the mechs keep shooting rockets at you.)

I’m a sucker for the humans-join-galactic-civilization plot device so I loved, loved, loved the Mass Effect 1 story. I found the “worldbuilding” fascinating, if not particularly realistic. It was totally worth putting up with the sub-standard shooter game controls. Honestly after a few hours with it I didn’t even think about the controls anymore. Maybe because I was playing on super easy mode so there was almost never a point where there was any danger of failing. It was mostly a matter of running from point A to point B and shooting everything like ducks in a barrel on the way.

Given that they removed it from the sequel, I think I might be the only person in the world who actually enjoyed driving the Mako around on planets. I loved driving off of cliffs and bouncing around the mountains and seeing how much I could get it to flip over. But like a cat, it always lands on its wheels! A Mako-driving demolition derby-style game would be awesome. [Ed: I know now that there’s a vehicle in Andromeda–it’s not as good.]

Back to the story. There may be some spoilers from here on out if you haven’t played the game yet.

I liked that Mass Effect 1 was very focused from start to finish. You always knew what your mission was: Find and defeat Saren. The journey took you through all kinds of strange and spectacular places, and uncovered secrets about the history of the galaxy along the way, but the basic plot remained the same from start to finish. (More on this when I write about Mass Effect 2.)

I loved the last several hours of the game. The final set piece was amazing, when you had to go outside the Citadel and make your way to the Sovereign ship. The end reminded me a bit of the FBI helicopter crashing into the Nakatomi Plaza building in Die Hard, which was an awesome action scene. It was like that except on a more mind-blowing scale.

I guess what really fascinates me about the story is how they manage to combine thought-provoking science fiction with action-packed space opera without completely ruining both. On the one hand there’s the in-your-face examinations of culture and racism, and on the other hand there’s guns and explosions and yelling.

Racism was the major theme I kept seeing over and over again in Mass Effect 1. Alien races hating humans, humans hating aliens, Krogans hating Salarians, everybody hating Quarians. It was pretty much a celebration of racism all the way through Mass Effect 1. I learned a valuable lesson that racism is A-OK!

Just kidding. The biggest complaint I have about Mass Effect 1 is how they homogenized the alien races. Each race was a stereotype. There was no diversity of thought among the alien characters, in other words. Granted, I suppose there’s not much they can do in a 23 hour game to show the entire breadth of every alien culture, but still. It would have been nice to see a Krogan with a squeaky voice. (There is actually a female Krogan in Mass Effect 2, but I have yet to spot a female Turian–that race must all be misogynists.) [Ed: I also now know that female Turians exist in Andromeda.]

My favorite parts: I loved the “hold the line” speech given by the Salarian captain on Virmire. It really stood out because the Salarians are the least warlike of the alien races. Also because it was a major emotional moment in the story delivered by a random side character.

This time I knew what was coming, but that moment when you had to choose the fate of your two crewmen on Virmire was still pretty heart-rending. They did a really good job of crafting a situation that ensured you could only save one of the two, and that feeling of knowing you were cut off and could only save one still hit like a ton of bricks. (I saved Kaiden this time, which is the opposite of what I did the first time, I think. I actually find both of those characters slightly annoying, but Ashley’s expendable since she’s just a combat trooper, redundant with my Shepard’s abilities.)

I think Tali was my favorite squadmate character in terms of personality. I know a lot of people like Garrus but I’ve never liked him that much. He’s just kind of there. I like Wrex and Liana better.

I loved the dialog with “Vigil” toward the end. That whole scene was really spine-tingling because of the thumping heartbeat sound in the background the whole time.

Some of the best dialog moments occurred while riding elevators in The Citadel, when your two squadmates would talk to each other. I just wanted to keep going up and down listening to them, but sometimes you only get the galactic news (which was also good). I wish there had been a more controlled way to trigger those interactions.

Even though Doctor Chakwas (Carolyn Seymour) had a teeny tiny part, I loved listening to her voice. She might have been the best voice actor in the entire game. Joker (Seth Meyer) was a close second. (A good voice actor infuses the dialog with a distinct personality, in addition to or instead of reading the lines with a distinct tone of voice.)

I think I mentioned that I played a female Shepard this time. It was a different experience but not as much as I expected. On Jennifer Hale’s voice acting performance: I thought her tone was pretty flat throughout most of the game. But I recall the male Shepard being pretty flat, too, so I guess “flat affectation” was what they were going for as a character. Or maybe those actors were chosen more for their technical competence at consistently delivering the massive number of lines they needed to read than for their acting abilities.

Speaking of Femshep, here’s a potentially controversial topic that I’ll mention as something that bugs me in these Bioware games where characters can be male or female in cut scenes. I first noticed this phenomenon in the background characters of cut scenes in Dragon Age (the first one), and now I can’t un-see it. They apparently use the same motion capture animation for characters regardless of whether they are male or female. What that means is that sometimes the female characters move around with body language that looks more like a dude, and it’s very jarring.

Most of the time it’s not that noticeable, but sometimes they capture exaggerated dudebro walking animations or postures for the male characters–you know, where they really swagger and swing their arms wide with their elbows out like gorillas or football players. It’s comical enough when a man does that, but when a woman walks that way it’s like watching a caricature. Like a movie or sitcom where the plot is a woman who is pretending to be a man and hilarious hijinks ensue. (Or like that Futurama episode where Leela pretended to be a man to join the DOOP army.)

I’m not saying that every woman in a videogame has to walk like a stripper, but there’s some body language that you tend to associate more with men than women (like the dudebro gorilla walk), and it would be nice if they would try to think about that when they do the motion capture if they’re going to use it with a female model.

All in all, Mass Effect is one of the best story games I’ve ever played. Like others of its ilk (eg. Bioshock Infinite, Dragon Age), the story is so good that the game gets in the way of it. I would have preferred consuming it as a movie or television show. It’s one of the rare games that I completely lose track of time when I’m playing it, and have a really hard time putting down, like a great book.

Secret World Legends Announced

Totally ripped off from https://secretworldlegends.com/

There is some interesting MMORPG news out! Well, “shared-world” news, that is. Some time back, Funcom mentioned in an investor report that they were planning to “re-launch” The Secret World, and Internet speculation ran rampant. Nobody knew what that actually meant. Today, we found out.

Funcom is planning to launch a new free-to-play game called Secret World Legends (the official acronym is apparently SWL, judging from my Twitter feed). This game will be a “shared-world action RPG.” You can read all the announcement information yourself on their site.

The good news is that the existing game, The Secret World, will remain untouched and work as before. The bad news is that it will probably remain untouched and neglected for the remainder of its lifetime, which might not be very long if Legends is successful. (That is pure speculation on my part.)

For me personally, Legends sounds like a good thing. Details are sketchy, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a combat overhaul to something a little more modern (possibly console-friendly?). TSW combat has always been an odd hybrid of tab-targeting and action combat, doing neither very well. I also found the progression in TSW a bit too strange so I would welcome a change there too. And, I’m completely anti-social in MMOs so the ability to play the whole game solo is a plus for me.

People who won’t be happy about this are those who have invested a huge amount of time and effort into TSW, and like the game the way it is. Funcom isn’t saying this, but I can’t imagine they are going to run and update both games in parallel, at least not for long. I could see them shuttering TSW in a year or two, although I think it would behoove them to leave a server running in maintenance mode as long as they are able to.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m definitely interested in learning more about this new game.

Mass Effected

Over the weekend I tried to do three new gaming things: Play Mass Effect 2 (to finally finish it), play Mass Effect 3 (for the first time), and play Mass Effect 1 (over again).

I installed Mass Effect 2 from Steam, hoping beyond hope that by some magical time-space temporal vortex I would be able to pick up where I left off years ago (probably at least two computers ago), but of course I had to start over. My goal was to play through the game quickly so that I could then finally start Mass Effect 3, a game I’ve had for years but never played.

I got through the first cut scenes, remembered what great characters these games have, wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, then reached the point where I first have to control my character and do stuff and immediately remembered how awful the game part of these games are. I gave up after about 15 minutes and uninstalled the game. I couldn’t stand the thought of playing double-digit numbers of hours with that clunky, ancient-feeling control scheme and weird squad and cover mechanics.

I was left with no choice but to install Mass Effect 3 (on Origin, blech) and jump right into it. At the time of this writing, even though it happened literally two days ago, I have zero memory of what happened. There was a cut scene, then there was some running around, there was a kid (so obviously a plot device it might as well have had a neon sign), there were explosions, there were people I vaguely remember from Mass Effect 1, there were people I thought died in Mass Effect 2, there were people missing from when I played Mass Effect 2, there were other people I’ve never seen before, and there was a dream sequence.

The gameplay was marginally better but not by much. I was dumbstruck that there was no controller support in the game. There were like 3 actions bound to the spacebar: Running, jumping, and for some inexplicable reason, activating things.

I played ME3 in four different sessions over Saturday and Sunday, playing for about a half hour or less each time before having to put it down because I just didn’t “get” it. As I’m typing this I’m remembering more and more of what transpired, but it was obvious that I was jumping into the third act of an epic story and there was no hand-holding to catch me up on the story. I can deal with weird gameplay if the story is engaging, but the *story* felt alien, and I couldn’t deal with it.

So I thought I’d look for some YouTube videos that summarize the Mass Effect 1 & 2 stories. I found some 10-minute summaries, but I found them unsatisfying. They were so short that I couldn’t really follow them. I got the basic gist of the Mass Effect 1 story but it’s because I played it before. Having only seen half of the Mass Effect 2 story, I didn’t understand that one at all.

Next I looked for full cut scenes. I found a 3 1/2 hour YouTube video showing all the cut scenes from Mass Effect 1. I started watching it. I remembered that I really enjoyed that game, despite how godawful the gameplay was.

As I watched, I realized I didn’t particularly care for how the video was put together (it skipped stuff for brevity), so I re-installed Mass Effect 1 from Steam and started playing it again.

The gameplay remains godawful, but I feel like I have to play it to get into the story again. I set it to casual and maximum auto-aim and everything I could think of to move from cut scene to cut scene as fast as possible.

To make things more interesting, this time I’m playing a female Shephard, which I’ve never done before. I like it.

Mass Effect is a great example of a series that raises the question: When is a game *too* story-rich to work as a game? This is a topic I hope to explore in another post someday.

P.S. I will not be buying Andromeda when it comes out. I’ll just wait for the inevitable $10 Origin sale.

Snap Judgment – Shroud of the Avatar (Free Trial)

I read on MassivelyOP that Shroud of the Avatar was having a free trial “test” (whatever that is) so I downloaded the game and tried it out last weekend. I’ve seen increasing buzz about the game and I was curious to see if there was anything to it.

I only played for about an hour, and while I can’t say I was dying to play more, I did find it interesting enough to leave it on my games to continue watching. It had a number of things you just don’t find in traditional MMORPGs.

The biggest problem (or perhaps feature) I saw was that the game felt a lot more like a single-player game than an MMORPG to me. I didn’t see any compelling reason to play it in the multiplayer environment. There is a single-player offline mode and a single-player online mode. And for those people who actually have gaming friends, there is also a friends-only online mode. I can’t imagine why anyone would play in any other mode. In this day and age, strangers rarely do much to enhance my online games.

Still, I played the multiplayer online just to see it. I saw a grand total of perhaps a dozen people in the game, most of whom were fellow visitors. Nobody tried to talk to me or emote at me or even look at me, as far as I could tell. Most everyone was interacting with an NPC.

The game’s conceit* is a bit of a cliche, if you ask me, but it’s at least worth mentioning: Your character finds the game world on the Internet, basically. That is, your character finds arcane texts and rituals and whatnot on the Internet, invokes them, and is pulled into the game world. I don’t think it’s ever been done before in an MMORPG (with the possible exception of The Secret World), but it certainly has been done a lot in fiction. (The Thomas Covenant series and Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger books are two that immediately spring to mind.) I even wrote a short story once with that cliche myself.

After the cut scene that sets up how you found Britannia on the Internet, the game starts with an unusual character selection process. The “Oracle” asks you a series of questions to decide your class. I didn’t care for it, honestly. The game tells you that you should play an archer if you’re new, no matter what you picked. Regardless of what you pick, the mechanics appear to be skill-based, not class-based. I give them points for that, at least. I greatly prefer skill-based games. Now that I’m writing this, I wish I’d looked more closely into the character system.

NPC interaction is done through Morrowind-style hyperlinked text. I thought it was an interesting concept in Morrowind where you have all the time in the world to read NPC text and respond but I don’t see it working that well in a modern MMORPG scenario. I especially don’t like typing responses to NPCs. We as a species have evolved beyond Zork-style RPG interfaces, in my opinion. I suspect they got a lot of negative feedback about the typing because there are also selections you can click on so you don’t have to type anything.

After character selection you’re taken to a solo instance to teach you the basics of the game. You get to run around a burning village and rescue a kid (or not, if you want). There were a surprising number of things you could do in the little instance if you looked around.

Combat is very, very strange. The game tells you to point at targets and shoot them, but in fact you can point anywhere and still shoot your target. Somehow you “lock on” to a target and your arrows go there no matter what direction you’re pointing. I’m not sure I can explain it. It’s a weird hybrid of tab-targetting and action combat.

When you finish the burning village instance, you click on a boat and warp to the starter village, and at this point I started to wonder about the technical implementation of this game. It’s pretty clear that you’re always in an “instance” of some kind, and never in a big open seamless world like you’d expect in an MMORPG. (Though honestly, very few MMORPGs do seamless worlds any more.) The starter town is an instance with fixed boundaries. When you leave the starter town you enter an “overland map” instance where you move your tiny little avatar like a Monopoly game piece around. When you get to a place of interest you transition out of the overland map back into another instance. And so on and so on. It feels very much like a single-player game, like Dragon Age, for example.

I understand this game is built from the Unity engine, so it’s not that surprising to see it running into technical limitations with large seamless maps. As far as I know, nobody has ever implemented a full-blown MMORPG with Unity. (Not at the AAA level at least.)

Graphically, the game looks decent, if not great. It’s good enough that it wouldn’t stop me from playing it, and maybe even good enough to become immersed in the world. (I didn’t take a single screenshot while I was playing the trial though. The images in this post were grabbed from the video I recorded.) Character animations weren’t that great, though. The jumping animation made me laugh.

I’m glad I looked at it but I suppose I was left more puzzled than anything. It really feels like a single-player game that they’re trying to convince people is an MMORPG. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I feel like they would be more successful marketing it as a co-op RPG. I mean it feels like a game that was literally designed from the ground up to be a single-player RPG. I don’t understand why they wouldn’t try to sell it that way.

* I’m embarrassed that I used the word “conceit” in a sentence like that.

7DTD – The Great Minibike Catastrophe

I’m now 56 days into my Navezgane 7 Days To Die game. I’ve built a forge and a workbench and a cement mixer and my base is getting upgraded to concrete and reinforced steel. Just in time for the bigger zombies like policemen, soldiers, and weird alien “feral” zombies.

I also found some iron veins to mine. I had a hard time finding them because I kept hearing that you’re supposed to dig where you find gravel but it’s not actually “gravel” that comes out of the ground, it’s sand and stone (which combine to make gravel).

It took a long time to assemble the parts, but I put together a minibike. The way it works is you plop down a “minibike frame” on the ground somewhere and then add the rest of the parts as you find them until you get a working machine. You need to scrounge up an engine, a battery, handlebars, tires, etc.

(I built mine inside my base but I wouldn’t recommend that because once it’s complete you have to drive it out and it’s not super easy to navigate a minibike through doors and spike traps.)

I got some of the parts by buying them from the secret stash at traders (there are two different traders in range of my base). Some of the others I scavenged from cars with a wrench. I only recently learned that you can use a wrench to “take apart” items out in the world, like cars and air conditioners and refrigerators. You get things like gasoline and springs and mechanical parts and electrical parts. I had a bunch of wrenches lying around but I never thought to use them before. That was how I got enough mechanical parts to make a workbench.

Eventually I put the last minibike part in place (the seat) and I was able to sit on it (Ayyyyyy, says The Fonz). It needed gasoline so I filled it about 30% full and then dropped all of my stacks of gasoline in the minibike storage so I’d have some in case I got stranded somewhere. (I had gotten gasoline by scavenging from gas station pumps and cars.)

It was night time when I finished the minibike so I had to wait patiently until morning before I could ride it. When morning came, I crept out of my base and around all the spike traps and hit the open road. Minibikes are really fast, compared to running. And for some reason, it switches to a third-person view while you’re driving, so you get to see yourself.

There’s some graphical clunkiness that goes with the minibikes, but it’s a small price to pay for long-distance transportation. The biggest problem with the minimike is that you can’t see the map while you’re riding. You have to stop, get off the bike, then open the map. Which was probably a contributing factor in what happened next.

I drove and drove and drove, going farther than I’d ever gone before. I wanted to do a big circuit around the map and try to find as many city centers as possible. I figured I’d be able to drive all over the map and get back before dark, because I’d gone a huge distance and it wasn’t even 9:00 AM yet.

Then suddenly I started taking damage. What? Did I hit a spike trap? Was I starving? Was somebody shooting at me?

Nope, I’d driven off the side of the map into the radiation zone, where you get killed pretty fast. When I realized what had happened, I turned around in a panic (bumping off the road and through a desert terrain filled with cactii, which in real life undoubtedly would have given me a flat tire and a a faceful of thorns) and drove back as fast as I could. But it was too late, and I died.

*headdesk*

If you haven’t played 7 Days To Die, maybe you don’t appreciate how much of a blunder that was, so I’ll try to explain.

First, when you die, you drop everything you’re carrying at the spot where you die. Nothing in my backpack was irreplaceable, but far more infuriating was the fact that the minibike I’d spent forever building also got left back there where I died.

When you die, you respawn on the last sleeping bag you set down, which means I spawned waaaaay back at my base. It had taken no time to drive out to the edge of the map on a minibike, but running back there would take most of the (game) day. And as I’ve mentioned before, generally you don’t want to be out in the open at night in 7 Days To Die.

But it gets worse because I’d died in the radiation zone. That means I would have to run out into the radiation, get my stuff, and run back (on foot) and hope I didn’t take too much damage in the process. I didn’t know how far I’d have to run or how much damage the radiation would do.

I had collected some parts of a hazard suit, which is supposed to resist radiation, so I put those on, grabbed some basic gear, and started running. I almost died of heat stroke on the way out there because it was mid-afternoon in the desert by then, but I made it. I put down a sleeping bag in a house near the radiation zone so I wouldn’t have to run so far in case I died.

My temporary base at the edge of the map.

Fortunately my backpack and minibike where not too far over the border into the radiation zone. Un-fortunately it was still too far. I ran out there in my hazard suit, got to my backpack, picked up everything, turned around to run back, and died before I could take a step.

So I lost my hazard suit in addition to my supplies and minibike.

Next time I ran out there I died before I even got to my backpack. I tried a couple more times but it was pretty obvious I was never going to recover the backpack or the minibike, unless I happen to find some Rad-X in this game.

So I ran all the way back to my base. (Actually to be honest, first I rage-quit* for a while.) Then, to add insult to injury, as soon as I arrived back at my base after a long run, a zombie dog got inside and killed me before I could put down a new sleeping bag. So of course I respawned alllllll the way back at the house on the edge of the map and I had to run back to base again. (After waiting through the night because it was dark by then.)

All in all it was a very depressing first minibike adventure.

The only good news is that it won’t take too long to build a new minibike, because while I was out getting killed and running back and forth, I stumbled across a “Minibikes For Dummies” book, which means I can now build the parts for a minibike, instead of hoping to find or buy them. (All but the tires, at least.)

* Rage-quitted? Raged-quit?

Snap Judgment – Revelation Online

Yes, that’s a miniature panda on my head.

Last night I took a look at Revelation Online for the first time. I played for about 45 minutes. I don’t have much to say about it, except I didn’t particularly care for it.

It’s a solidly average anime-style MMORPG that takes no chances. It’s an Asian version of a WoW-clone. (A Lineage-clone?) I saw nothing that advanced the MMORPG genre in any way.

I didn’t think it looked that great. They went for a more cartoony cell-shaded sort of style instead of a more realistic style like Black Desert or ArcheAge. It looks a bit like that 2D style that you see a lot in fighting games. I didn’t care for it or the character animations. Everybody moved around like they were playing Mortal Kombat and did not need to obey the laws of physics.

I picked a Gunslinger class. I lost interest in the storyline within about ten minutes. It starts out with mundane tasks to teach you the game. You can literally have the game do the quests for you. It goes beyond simply auto-running to the quest location: It will actually kill the quest mobs for you, too. Is that the only way to fight bots in MMORPGs now? Build the bot behavior directly into the game?

Beware nuclear fallout.

It’s not very efficient if you let the game play for you, since it only uses auto-attacks. But the combat is so easy that auto-attacks are still overpowered. I saw nothing particularly interesting about the gunslinger combat (there was plenty of movement and flashes and sounds but it all just ran together), except one “grenade” ability that sort of looks like a mini-nuke explosion. You get way more combat abilities than you actually need at the beginning.

Double-tapping any movement key makes you dash about a mile in that direction. Double-tapping and holding forward makes you run like The Flash. You get wings so you can fly around, too, in case you get tired of running. I found it a bit difficult to control the flying. It goes so fast that if you blink you’ll zoom past where you’re supposed to go. And you can’t just take off and land like you’re accustomed to with flying mounts, you have to hit a special “fly” key.

Fly! Be free!

I’m getting bored just writing this. I wasn’t into this game at all. It was a big chore to play for 45 full minutes. :) There was nothing new or fresh or exciting to be seen, it was all “more of the same.” The environment was bland. The story was bland. The gameplay was bland. I didn’t see anything that might pull me away from a game I was already playing. Here are the only two things that really made an impression on me:

First, the game starts off in a window for some inexplicable reason, and I could find no way to change it. You have to go through the whole character creation and a cut scene and enter the world before you get to a point where you can configure the game settings to go full screen. (You can hit alt-enter to switch to full screen but it was the wrong resolution for my setup.)

Second, the idle animation of the gunslinger actually shoots birds out of the sky. Your guy shoots straight up like Yosemite Sam, and then some blue birds and a big white duck plop to the ground. It was pretty funny. That was definitely the highlight of my playing time.

In a nutshell, Black Desert, ArcheAge, TERA, and even Aion are all better Asian imports and I would recommend playing any or all of those first. Play Revelation Online if you’re a games journalist and have to play it to write a review, or if you’re a streamer and have to play new games constantly to keep your audience. Otherwise I could only recommend it if you’ve already played everything else and you’re really bored.

P. S. I did not see any bugs or connectivity issues typically associated with a launch, so there’s no worries there.