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.

Conan Exiles, Part Three

You might be wondering why I’m still talking about Conan Exiles after trashing it for two posts in a row. Welllllll, see, it’s still kind of fun. :)

Some random shrine of some random priest.

It has that same sort of addictive crafting progression treadmill that ARK has: I want to see everything you can craft, so I have to keep leveling up and unlocking new recipes and finding more and more resources. And every time you craft something new, it helps speed up the leveling and searching for more resources. And there’s always something cool to craft just out of reach. So it’s kind of a vicious cycle that will continue until I either run out of things to craft and/or can safely walk anywhere on the map. (I quit playing ARK after I could craft winter-weather protection and a rifle which could kill any dinosaur I encountered.)

By the way, they fixed the connection issue I was having to my private server. I’ve worked out how to circumvent or deal with most of the other issues I’ve encountered, so they don’t really seem like bugs anymore. No doubt that’s what Early Access developers count on.

A place where skeletons may be found.

Most of my combat issues were solved in one of two ways: First, make an iron pike. It’s the best weapon in the game so far, miles ahead of everything else (even better than the Stygian spear, a later weapon). Unfortunately it also has the worst animations. Second, build a one-story platform with stairs near enemy spawn points and use a bow. Due to the limited functionality of the AI, no enemy will ever follow you up a set of stairs so you can safely stand on top of your platform and plunk enemies to death forever. (Once a rhinoceros broke my platform so I guess you need to repair it occasionally too.)

Platforms from which you can shoot monsters with complete immunity.

About that crafting: Exiles and ARK have the exact style of crafting progression that I like, which is so rarely found in MMORPGs. You start out making small things, then later you combine those small things to make bigger things, then later you combine the bigger things to make really, really big things. Each new tier requires ingredients crafted in the previous tier. Each tier builds on the last tier, in other words.

MMORPGs typically do crafting with no dependencies between the tiers. You craft the new tier of stuff with a new tier of ingredients that you gather in a new area of the game. It’s the same crafting just with different names on the ingredients. You don’t usually need ingredients from the old tier after you’ve graduated to the new tier.

Crafting and combat and bugs aside, if nothing else, it’s a great game for screenshots. I mean, if you like desert terrain. There’s a lot of interesting scenery to look at. In some ways, playing survival games is sort of like camping “but without all that awful nature,” as Linda Belcher would say.

Sacrificial altar where something bad might happen, according to a talking stone tablet.

I’ve made some adjustments to my server settings. Two major game design issues that have consistently annoyed me in the game: The amount of damage that enemy mobs do is ridiculous, so I set the “player damage taken” setting to 0.5. The damage wouldn’t have bothered me, but I’ve crafted three tiers of armor now and none of them had any noticable effect on damage taken, so I’m just assuming that armor calculations are completely broken and/or armor is mainly for decoration.

The other issue is that experience gain is really slow. You get to a point where you’ve crafted everything you need or want from the most recent recipes, then look up and find you still have most of the way to go until the next level and more recipes. You can either craft things like crazy or kill things like crazy to make up that experience, and both of those things are pretty tedious and grindy. So I changed the XP multiplier to 5.0. I started with 2.0, then went to 4.0, and finally settled on 5.0. It still takes like an hour to gain a level.

One other thing I wish I could tweak is the drop rate for Bark. It’s a big bottleneck in the production process.

An outstretched hand structure extending out over the river.

It occurred to me one day that playing a good survival game is almost like playing an RTS, except zoomed way in to one individual unit that you control manually. Base-building, resource collection, and manufacturing are all components in a good survival game.

Exiles is a good start to a fun game. It’s really a shame they released it too early. By the time it’s feature complete I’m sure I’ll be bored with it. Survival games with fixed maps don’t have much replay value. It’s not like I’ll get a different result if I start a new character. Maybe Funcom will release new maps someday.

Morrowind – Learning The Ropes

I’m trying a new thing here. This is both a diary of my Morrowind adventures and an index to the videos.

P. S. Don’t spoil anything for me, I haven’t finished the game yet. :)

Morrowind 1 – Arriving in Seyda Neen. Story. I’m a Dark Elf Witchhunter. I was released from prison and transported by ship to Seyda Neen, on the southern coast of Vvardenfell island in the Morrowind district. Apparently I was released by a personal decree from Emperor Uriel Septum VII. After answering a series of questions, I was given some gold and a package to take to a man named Caius Cosades in the town of Balmora, who would have more information [15:20]. I found a healing ring in a barrel. I was told by a helpful stranger that a silt strider (a creature which to me looked like a giant long-legged tick) could transport me to Balmora. I encountered a man named Fargoth [25:45] who claimed the Imperials had taken his healing ring. I said nothing. Tee hee. Eager to find out why I’d been released, I took a silt strider to Balmora for 15 gold.

Morrowind 2 – Finding Caius Cosades In Balmora. Story, Thieves Guild. After arriving in Balmora, I began searching for Caius Cosades. I was told to ask for him in the South Wall Cornerclub. There, I encountered a Khajitt named Sugar-Lips Habasi and joined the Thieves Guild on a whim [13:40]. After many fruitless attempts at persuading the people of the corner club, the owner finally told me where to find Caius Cosades’s house. I made my way there and found the impressively shirtless Imperial Blades Spymaster Caius Cosades [23:05]. Caius read over the package I delivered, then, by order of the Emperor, made me a Novice in the Imperial Blades (a spy organization). Caius ordered me to establish a cover identity as a freelance adventurer by joining the Mages Guild or the Fighters Guild.

Morrowind 3 – Exploring the Countryside. Mages Guild, Random. I decided to join the Mages Guild in Balmora, since it seemed like it would fit my skill set better than the Fighters Guild. I talked to the local recruiter Ranis Athrys [5:05]. She accepted me into the guild and told me to find Ajira to learn my duties. Instead, I walked into the wilderness to try my luck with my starting weapons [13:40]. I found and explored the vendors in the Moonmoth Fort [15:05]. I learned to use my Ancestral Ghost conjuring spell [21:30]. I went up a hill, encountered a mage on a bridge, and died [23:55].

Morrowind 4 – Collecting Mushrooms for Ajira. Mages Guild. Back in the Balmora Mages Guild, I found Ajira in the basement and asked about my duties. Ajira, a student herself, asked me to collect mushroom samples from the swamp on the Bitter Coast for a report she was writing. I made my way to the swamp and encountered a Nord named Fjol, who demanded 100 gold, then killed me when I refused to give it to him [15:15]. I wandered through the small fishing village of Hla Oad. I fought Scribs and Mud Crabs using my trusty Bound Dagger spell, the only weapon I found to be viable. I collected samples of two out of the four required types of mushrooms before getting killed by a Nix Hound.

Morrowind 5 – Lost In The Swamp. Mages Guild. I found and investigated a cavern door to Zanabi [3:15]. I found the ruins of Hlormaren [6:30]. Eventually I collected the remaining mushroom samples. On the way back to Balmora I got lost in the swamp and fought many creatures, somewhat ineffectively, with a Bound Dagger. I found a door to the Andrethi Ancestral Tomb [12:20]. Eventually I returned to Ajira in the Balmora Mages Guild. Ajira rewarded me for completing my first duty with some potions [26:05]. Then I accidentally picked up an alchemy device from a table (I thought it was an alchemy station) and was killed when everyone in sight rushed to stop me from stealing it.

Morrowind 6 – Ajira Versus Galbedir. Mages Guild. In the Balmora Mages Guild, Ajira asked me to plant a fake soul gem in fellow student Galbedir’s desk so Ajira could win a bet [2:30]. On the way, I talked to everyone in the guild to find out their roles. I discovered that Masalinie Merian in the basement could teleport me to various destinations [15:40]. I bought the conjuring spells Bound Longbow and Bound Longsword from her as well. I planted the fake soul gem and returned to Ajira. Ajira then asked me to collect samples of four different kinds of flowers from the shores of Lake Amaya for her report [17:20].

Morrowind 7 – Collecting Flowers for Ajira. Mages Guild. On my journey to Lake Amaya, I discovered that the Bound Longbow spell is useless without arrows [2:30]. I encountered a lovestruck lass named Maurrie Aurmine by the road, who asked me to find a bandit [9:55]. I refused, because I was busy picking flowers. I collected samples of three of the four kinds of flowers required, but the Stoneflowers remained elusive. I passed a wooden door to the Lleran Ancestral Tomb [15:35]. I encountered another woman Nevrasa Dralor on the road [16:15], who was looking for a holy place at the Fields of Kummu. I agreed to escort her because she promised to pay me 100 gold.

Morrowind 8 – Advancing In The Mages Guild. Mages Guild. With Nevrasa Dralor tagging along, I finally found samples of Stoneflowers and returned to Ajira to complete my guild duty [8:50]. Ajira gave me more potions and asked me to buy a ceramic bowl for her. I stopped by Ranis Athrys and she promoted me from Associate to Apprentice to Journeyman in the Mages Guild [11:00]. I also heard a rumor that Larrius Varro at Fort Moonmoth wanted to talk to me. After delivering the ceramic bowl [14:35], Ajira asked me to find her two reports which she believed rival Galbedir stole. Galbedir told me a rumor that the Balmora magistrate Nolus Atrius was “on the take,” but denied stealing the reports [20:12]. 

Morrowind 9 – Escort To The Fields of Kummu. Random. I bought the Bound Mace spell, since my Blunt weapon skill is better than anything else (or so I thought). Since Nevrasa Dralor was still following me around, I decided to set aside my guild duties for a while to escort her to the Fields of Kummu. On the way we passed Fort Moonmoth, and I spoke with Larrius Varro [9:10]. He asked me to deal with a nord bandit on the road to Hla Oad (back in the swamp). I continued to the Fields of Kummu with Nevrasa Dralor [19:15] and she rewarded me with 100 gold. I then returned to Balmora.

Morrowind 10 – Confronting Fjol. Random. Continuing to ignore my duties, I left Balmora to track down the nord bandit for Larrius Varro. I passed a campsite at the Shulk Eggmine [1:10], and was surprised to find them harmless (I had previously avoided them, thinking they were bandits). I arrived again in the fishing village of Hla Oad, and talked to some of the residents [9:50]. I was killed by an assassin after resting [27:15]. After many unsuccessful attempts, I finally killed the Nord bandit Fjol using Bound Bow when he got stuck on a fence post [32:00]. Returning to Fort Moonmoth, Larrius Varro rewarded me with 100 gold.

The Prestigious Endgame Viable Awards 2016

It occurred to me that the end of the year is approaching, and it’s time to do one of those year-end posts that bloggers love to do. Unfortunately I kind of hate doing them. It’s a lot of work. You have to actually look things up and think and count and multiply and divide and things like that. That goes against my normal principal of blogging by “just typing words into a text editor.”

Here are the 2015 awards. This year I’m going to award Biggest Disappointment of the Year, MMORPG of the Year, MMORPG Expansion of the Year, Game of the Year. In another post I’ll also be revealing my Most-Played MMORPG, and Most-Played Game.

2016 Contenders

As I defined it last year, my selections are based on the best game that I bought and played in 2016 which was also released in 2016. I also consider Early Access releases, to punish developers for releasing their game too early. You can have money, or you can have an award, but not both. :) Anyway since I only buy a handful of new games every year, the pool from which I can pick is often very small. Based on my extensive research of Steam emails, these are the 2016 released games that I’ve bought and played:

Battlefield 1
Black Desert Online
Blade and Soul
Civilization VI
DarkMaus
Dark Souls III + Ashes of Ariandel
Devil Daggers*
DOOM
Far Cry Primal
Riders of Icarus

* I can’t find out if there was an Early Access version available before 2016. Steam does an admirable job of “hiding” that games were released in Early Access before they were actually released.

Note: I could conceivably add The Division, but I only played an hour of open beta, so I’m discounting it. Same for Overwatch. Neither would have won anything anyway.

And these are the MMORPG expansions I’ve played this year:

Rift, Starfall Prophecy
World of Warcraft, Legion

These are some games I bought and played in 2016 but were disqualified from contention:

Bastion (Released Aug 16, 2011)
Black Mesa (Early Access Release May 5, 2015)
Immune (Early Access Release March 25, 2015)
Miasmata (Released Nov 28, 2012)
NEO Scavenger (Early Access Release Dec 15, 2014)
Novus Inceptio (Early Access Release Oct 5, 2015)
Salt (Early Access Release Aug 22, 2014)
SOMA (Released Sep 22, 2015)

On to the awards!

Game of the Year: Dark Souls III

I mean, come on. Not even a contest. Other games on the above list are play-once-and-forget-about-it games (yes, even Civ 6, in which I have not even completed a full game, and kind of wish I’d waited for a sale), whereas I could replay Dark Souls III an infinite number of times and not get tired of it. I’ve played it through at least six times already.

MMORPG of the Year: Black Desert Online

Riders of Icarus barely rates a mention. It was between Blade and Soul and Black Desert, and to me the easy winner is Black Desert Online. I had a lot more fun with BDO. I’m not sure I even made it out of the tutorial area with Blade and Soul.

MMORPG Expansion of the Year: Legion

This was a tough one because I played both Legion and Starfall Prophecy for roughly the same amount of time: Less than a month. Both expansions are basically more of the same in their respective MMORPGs. It’s a toss-up, but I gave the edge to Legion. Legion had less bugs and an impressive array of cut scenes, while Rift had more friction with some frustratingly difficult gameplay.

Biggest Disappointment Of The Year: Far Cry Primal

I was really hoping that Far Cry Primal would have more survival elements. I was hoping it would be the first AAA survival game that wasn’t just a rushed-out-the-door indie train wreck. But it wasn’t a survival game. It was a Far Cry game, set in prehistoric times. It was fun, and they have a good formula, but it was essentially “more of the same.” (I have the same expectations for Conan Exiles now: That it will be the first AAA survival game.)

Morrowinding

I was sick a lot last week, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the world of Bethesda games lately. First it was New Vegas, but I got a little burned out on it so I turned to Morrowind and now I’m totally into that.

Morrowind is enormous. I thought Oblivion and Skyrim were pretty big, but Morrowind seems to dwarf them. (Admittedly part of that could be because the movement speed is so slow it just feels bigger.)

The story seems quite a bit more complex, too. I can’t even remember Skyrim’s story except it was something like “kill that dragon.” And Oblivion was something like “kill those demons.” (I might be misremembering them.) Morrowind seems a lot more grandioise and interesting in scope.

I solved the problems I was having with the graphics settings. Apparently you have to run the game as Administrator to actually save your settings from session to session. I still can only run it in 1280×960 though, one of those old timey resolutions that used to be so high you could only dream of running a game that detailed. (I once had a roughly 100-pound 19″ monitor which could run graphics at 1280×960.)

I also discovered that the unofficial Morrowind Code Patch (MCP) which I thought I’d installed in the beginning wasn’t installed. I downloaded it in the Nexus mod manager thingy and clicked “install” and thought that was all I had to do. But nope, you have to actually run the MCP setup program so it will then patch the Morrowind executable. Whoops. (Also the Nexus mod manager installed it in the wrong place.) Fortunately there doesn’t seem to be any harm in installing it after I’ve started. My saved games are still working.

I got curious about the first two Elder Scrolls games, too. I didn’t see them on Steam or GOG (the only two places I even know about to look for non-EA games anymore), so I wondered if they were gone forever. But it turns out you can just download Arena and Daggerfall from the Elder Scrolls site for free. The first one is about the size of a floppy disk, and the second one is about the size of a CDROM. So adorable! I haven’t tried to run them yet since it involves a DOS Emulator and I’m a bit skeptical about it actually working on my PC.

Anyway Morrowind is a cool game, even if the graphics are dated. The real meat of the game is in the NPC interactions and story anyway. And it’s really interesting to see how little their core formula has changed from Morrowind to Oblivion to Skyrim. They have a laser-focused vision for the world of Tamriel in that series. And I have always loved the flexibility of the character progression system in Elder Scrolls. (I’m playing a Witchhunter this time, something I’ve never done before.)

Devil Daggers

I saw Devil Daggers on Steam when it first came out and thought, “What an odd-sounding game.” I saw the “Too long, didn’t play” guy on Gamers With Jobs call it “punishingly hard,” and use it as the benchmark for measuring hard games ever since. I put it on my wish list. I laugh at hard games! Ha!

Recently it went on sale and I bought it for $2.99, along with some other stuff I might play some day (including another one of the Batman games–I have them all now but haven’t played any of them yet).

20161123183547_1

Welp, Devil Daggers is pretty hard all right, but it’s also fun. Basically you run around a big round platform and shoot weird floating skulls and other demonic monstrosities until you die. Supposedly you’re throwing daggers really fast but it looks more like you’re shooting a stream of alien goo. That’s pretty much the entire game.

Average game time is somewhere around 10 seconds when you first start out. After an hour you might get that average up to about 30 seconds. After about a week I’ve advanced to the point where I can survive 60-70 seconds per game. That’s how you “score” a game, by the way: How long it takes you to die, to four decimal places. My absolute best time so far is 108 seconds.

I love this game. It’s really fast and smooth and responsive. It’s almost hypnotic. After you die, you can hit ‘R’ and immediately start a new game. Like instantaneously. How awesome is that? How many games today let you restart instantaneously? Almost none, that’s how many.

The other awesome thing is that it takes about 5 seconds for the game to startup after you click the desktop icon. You think to yourself, “Man I’d love to veg out with a dumb game for a few minutes,” click the game icon, and you’re right there. What a concept. It’s like the PC equivalent of an Android game, except even faster!

The sound effects are really understated but effective. You can tell they put a lot of work into it. There’s no music, just weird ambient creepy sounds.

The only flaw in the game is their insistence on artistic integrity by using a pixelated low-resolution software-rendered Quake look. You don’t even get to pick your screen resolution. It always looks like a 512×384 resolution game in 1997. I would much prefer it render everything with smooth edges at 2560×1440. But it’s a small quibble.

Snap Judgment – Novus Inceptio

I should be really excited to play Rift: Starfall Prophecy but to be honest I couldn’t care less about any MMORPG right now. I’m just in one of those moods.

Instead I installed one of the many games on my Steam list that I’ve never tried so that I could bring you another (cue huge reverb and echo) … Snap Judgment! .. judgment .. ment .. nt.

vlcsnap-error851

Novus Inceptio is yet another Early Access survival sandbox game. You gather materials and craft things and explore. Currently it appears to only have a single-player mode, but multi-player is supposed to be coming.

I played it for about 30 minutes. I like the overall concept. I like the direction they are heading. I like the UI. I like the realistic art style. I like the complexity of the different crafting resources you can gather. I like the plump rabbits that look like roasted turkeys with bunny ears.

However, they have a long way to go yet before they reach the point where this game will be truly enjoyable. The key bindings are not yet configurable. The frame rates are slow, and everything has the look of the generic sets of free textures and models that come with game engines. The sound effects are somewhat jarring (I swear there is a Tivo blip-blip sound in there). It feels like there are just programmers working on this game, and no artists.

Perhaps a year from now the game will be in better shape.

IntPiPoMo: Friede and Bugs

I thought I would try IntPiPoMo this year, because NaNoWriMo didn’t seem like enough to do in November!

intpipomo2016

Since I’m currently playing Dark Souls 3’s Ashes of Ariandel, most of the screenshots for now are probably going to be from there.

This is Friede. She seems nice, right?
That is Friede on the right. She seems nice, right?
It's just a room with blood and corpses and giant flying insects.
It’s just a room with blood and corpses and giant flying insects.