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Yuri Bezmenov

It’s always interesting to dig through this interview again.

The video

Three
piece
transcription

Going through Final Fantasy XII again via this spiffy video reminded me how much I really love the worldbuilding and look of Ivalice. It’s a world that spans multiple games as well, in different RPG subgenres. It has a great sense of place and history. It’s interesting to see a game studio do that sort of thing over the course of several years.
Blizzard has done some similar things with Azeroth, and I think it serves both companies well. A big part of making these games interesting to me is making them believable. Not realistic, not really, but believable as Other Places that are more than just Potemkin Villages.  That’s what I find most unique and appealing about video games; the ability to explore a different world and tinker about within it.  It’s always nice to see thought and craftsmanship involved in the setting rather than just the splashy things like polycount, soft body physics, battle engines, progression schemes and stunt voice casting.
I do have my quibbles with Azeroth and Ivalice, like the character design of Fran and her kin (she’s actually a great character with excellent, memorable voice work, but making her race be literal bunny girls with little modesty is dumb), or the strained two-faction lore of World of Warcraft (OK, maybe I just want a neutral Tauren to play).  FFXII owes a lot to Star Wars, Azeroth leans heavily on Dungeons and Dragons and is unnecessarily goofy at times (pop culture references don’t age well).  They both have somewhat lazy writing at times and weird choices in protagonists (Thrall and Jaina are overplayed, Vaan is a much weaker character than Balthier or Basch), but are endearingly earnest in their devotion to their story.
The thing is, neither game is in my top 10 list of games, but the worlds of Ivalice and Azeroth are high on my list of game worlds that I love to investigate.
I also find that the rather slow, political, story of FFXII is easier for me to follow when it’s all together like this, rather than in cutscenes between hours of grinding in a barely-interactive combat system, all over the space of a year, a few hours here, a few there.  Call it a personal failing, but I found the story much, much more entertaining when I was allowed to get on with it instead of plodding through the game, looking for the next story crumb.  I did actually like the game sometimes, like when I just wanted to zone out and look around, but the story got lost sometimes.

Garrison Under Siege

I mentioned World of Warcraft in passing a little while ago.  I jumped back in a little while ago after picking up the Warlords of Draenor for $7.50 around Christmas time in a sale.  I figured I’d try it out a bit and see what the fuss was about.

I paid $15 for a month, then a good friend sent me in-game gold that allowed me to purchase four more months of time via the WoW Token system.  I built up a level 100 character (a new Death Knight Worgen because I wanted to get the procession boost from the insta-90 boost that came with Warlords), built a Garrison, played around a bit… then got stuck in the endless grind that is “endgame”.

Dungeons and more dungeons, reputation grinds with everyone and their ponies.  I gave it more of a shot than I usually would because I thought I’d take a shot at “earning” the ability to fly in Draenor.  I did pick up a few new flying mounts, poking around in old raids, after all.

…yeah, it’s a dumb, very dumb, exceptionally long grind.  Gating flight behind completing the main story questlines is annoying, but acceptable to a degree.  Gating it behind a ton of grind, easily months’ worth of full-time work, that’s not cool.

Anyway, I built up a Garrison that allowed me to earn enough gold to extend my playtime another few months.  I picked up Harrison Jones as a follower and was poking around in the world, again and again, using the magnificent Aviana’s Feather to pretend I could fly.

And then, somehow, the game broke.  I literally can’t get into the game to play, always getting stuck at this screen.

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It’s been like that for about 6 weeks.  Thankfully, I’m still on “Token Time”, which somehow lessens the sting a little, but man… I detest the subscription model.  This is time that the game isn’t working, but I’m still “paying” for it.

I might try a full reinstall, but with my internet connection, that means another week or so.

This isn’t a Big Deal.  It’s just annoying.  And a big reason why I’m playing nonsubscription games and tabletop games instead of zooming around Draenor on a flying dragon.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  I’d pay decent money for a standalone, offline single player version of WoW.  It might actually work, and I’d get to have fun with it.  In the meantime, No Man’s Sky might just take over the Explorer’s itch.  Once I get a few other things done, anyway.

Has it really been six months since I posted last?  Sorry about that, it’s been somewhat crazy around here.

I do have more Operation Backlog things to write about, and a bit to say about a recent sojourn in World of Warcraft that ended on a sour note, but for today, it’s a quick mention of a new Tinker project that we have up and running over on Kickstarter.  We’re going to get a bunch of these little guys made:

TinkerMeeplesOnDice

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tishtoshtesh/tinker-bits-i-steampunk-metal-meeples

We’re funded already, thanks to some fantastic early adopters, so at this point, we’re just looking for as many people as we can to get these spread far and wide.  I would love to see these little guys all over the place, popping up in different games and locations, always making people happy to have them.

No, things like this aren’t necessities, but there’s just something fun about little bits of treasure like this.  If you’re interested, please check out the campaign, and maybe tell a few others about it.  The more the merrier!

The Christmas and New Year break allowed me to spend a bit more time with my Steam library.  So, it’s time for some more mini reviews!  This time I’m looking at Avedon: The Black Fortress, Awesomenauts, Banished, Breach and Clear, Capsized, Crayon Physics Deluxe, Crazy Taxi, DiRT 3 and DiRT Showdown.  I’ve mentioned DiRT 3 in passing before, but as I’m plowing through these things more or less alphabetically, it’s time to look at it a bit on its own.

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I’m going through my Steam list (and then some, as it happens) alphabetically, picking up games I own but haven’t played to see what’s there.  15 minutes each is all I’m budgeting, but I reserve the right to get sucked into a cool game.  Some I’ve played already, though, so I’ll mention them in passing here and there, giving them a rating like the other games.

I’ll be giving each of these Backlog games a rating of sorts, as follows:  Regret (uninstall and forget), Remember (uninstall but wish for more time), Revisit (leave installed for later) and Recommend (wish for more time to play this right now).  This is a squishy continuum of sorts, and deliberately imprecise.  This isn’t an in depth survey-and-review, it’s Spring Cleaning of my video game backlog.

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First up is Avedon: The Black Fortress.  This is, to me, a relic of a bygone era.  It’s a modern game, but it has the look and feel of a Baldur’s Gate game from almost two decades ago.  If you liked those games, as I did, this is a bit less polished, but should scratch the same gaming itch.

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It’s not a slavish Baldur’s Gate clone, it simply has a similar feel.  The titular Black Fortress is an interesting setting, and the writing (tons and tons of it, if the first 15 minutes are any indication) is solid and sets the tone well.  The visuals are good, and while the bird’s eye view seems a bit too distant compared to what I’d expect, it works well for the sprawling maps that are offered.

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Combat is a tactical affair, with a handful of distinct unit classes plaowing through enemies in a straightforward “tank, mage, healer” sort of scheme.  It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it works well.

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That’s really the backbone of what I got out of the game: more of the same that I’ve seen and played elsewhere, but since it’s the sort of game that I like, that’s good.  It is a game that really deserves more than 15 minutes, but I’m giving it a Remember rating.  I probably won’t get back to it any time soon, but it’s solid and worth investigating if slightly behind-the-times RPG gaming is something you like.

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Awesomenauts is, well… as near as I can tell, a 2D platformer MOBA-ish game.  You choose a character, then go jump around and shoot/slash/detonate other player characters, ‘bots and/or their hapless minions and weapon emplacements.

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Characters have a variety of possible weapons and abilities to use, some unlocked through a vendor that you can visit near your base.  You earn coin to buy these abilities as you go destroy other characters or emplacements.  Controls are tight and responsive, and the visuals are clean and effective at communicating information you need.  I know, that seems rather pedestrian to note, but it really does matter in games like this that hinge on quick decision making.  Clean, appealing visuals go a long way to making the overall presentation work well.

There’s an interesting balance to the game, with characters functioning better in different combat niches.  It’s also interesting to get a feel for when to push with your team to try to make headway against the other team’s automated defenses.  The match doesn’t seem to be easily decided by the loss of one emplacement, which is good, but you definitely need to get a feel for when to push hard, even in the face of personal defeat, in order to move your team forward.

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Your character is replaced/respawned in fairly short order, so you’re not out of the game forever, but there’s a risk/reward calculus always in a precarious balance.  Hitting that sweet spot is a lot of fun, realizing that a push netted you a critical character or emplacement kill even though it was a gamble.

It’s simple, effective and fun.  It’s a game I Recommend to anyone interested in MOBA gaming or just fun platforming.  I’m not sure how it plays online these days, as I didn’t get to play with other players, but friends of mine who have played the game have reported that it’s good fun.  I liked noodling around with the AI-bot version of the game, at least… so maybe it’s really awful or really awesome online, I just can’t speak to that from experience.

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Banished is pretty and pretty tough.  You are tasked with helping somewhat bumbling people survive in a harsh wilderness.  It’s not impossible, to be sure, but this is a very different sort of city-building game from a SimCity or A World of Keflings.

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Banished is relatively simple, in that you’re not building a metropolis so much as just trying to survive.  There are a lot of moving parts, though, and the UI can get a bit cluttered.  It’s tricky sometimes, keeping track of everything, and mistakes can be catastrophic.

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It’s not quite a “roguelike” game since playthroughs are on the long side, but you’re almost certainly going to fail a few times before really getting it.  I certainly failed, and never did really succeed much.  I felt as though I could with more time and planning, though, and that is what makes the game hold my attention even in the face of disaster for my villagers.

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It’s a game that I Recommend for anyone with an interest in city-building, strategy or simulation games.  It’s not what I’d think of as a hardcore game in any of those genres, but it sits in a nice space somewhere between all three.

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Breach and Clear claims to be used to teach tactics to military trainees.  That’s curious, but I can see how it may well have started life as a tool and was slowly gamified, given that it’s not the most polished game.  XCom it isn’t, but it’s solid enough as a tactical simulator.

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It feels like it sits in a space between Frozen Synapse and XCom, with more real-world tactics and situations, a streamlined approach and simple design.  That’s not a Bad Thing, since what it does it does well.  It’s simple, clean, clear and effective.

Mistakes I made during missions were mistakes of my own tactics, not interface problems.  There are some weird bits in the endgame where fully-leveled characters get near-magical abilities, but the heart of the game is earnest and entertaining.

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I like the game quite a bit, and I Recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in tactical games or military games.  It’s not a real-time first person adrenaline rush like a Halo or Gears of War, but busting down a door into hostile territory can still be nerve-wracking.  “Stack up and own the angles” seems to be solid advice, and it makes for a solid game.

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Capsized is a quirky little 2D platformer-shooter game.  It’s very nice to look at, with a cartoony, etherial style for its alien worlds, shipwrecked astronauts and weird aliens.

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Control is akin to Awesomenauts, with keyboard controls for motion and mouse controls for shooting and grapple gun use.  You have a lot of functionality right out of the lifepod, and it’s fun to just move around in the game space.  It’s not as strict as, say, Braid or Super Metroid, with more forgiving level design and more movement goodies to start with.

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One bit that I didn’t quite get used to was the optional weapons peppered throughout the levels.  There are some fun options, but your weapons (all but the basic rifle) disappear at the end of each level.  I didn’t realize this at first, so I hoarded the special shots like shotguns and rockets.  I tend to do that with weapons with limited ammo.  As such, I wound up clicking too much to fire the single-click-single-shot basic rifle, when I could have been using more effective weapons.  It’s an odd design choice that I’m not quite happy with, but I recognize that my own expectations run against the design, so I can’t harp too much on it.

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Overall, I will Remember Capsized, but it’s not really one that I’ll go back to finish.  It’s a good game, I just have others I’d rather play.

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Crayon Physics Deluxe is, well, a game about drawing stuff with crayons and letting them play out using physics.  It reminds me a bit of Line Rider, given that it’s about drawing and seeing what happens with the stuff you draw.  It’s a more sedate and directed experience than Line Rider, but it’s a great game for experimentation and goofing about.

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My kids love it, too, which earns it bonus points.  The visuals, music and overall design makes them comfortable, and while some levels can be deviously tricky, there is still fun in trying to solve them.

I’ve had this game for years, and I’ve played it for many happy hours, but the first 15 minutes of a replay give a good impression of what the game is about.

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You can always make more of it than might be obvious at first blush, too.  That’s the joy in these freestyle games, like Minecraft or Line Rider.  Some of the most elegant solutions and some of the most insane solutions are out there on YouTube.  I Recommend the game, and have for years.

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I first ran into Crazy Taxi as an arcade game, vying for space with The Simpsons and Cruis’n USA in my local arcades.  I never did play it much, given that I wasn’t too fond of the limited time on offer per quarter, but it seemed solid enough for a simple and quirky driving game.

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Playing it on my PC some 15 years later, I find it to be marginally more fun than the arcade version, but it has definitely aged.  The timer is still in effect, and you have to be fast and a bit crazy to pull off a long string of completed rides.  I’m not that good at the game, so I wind up frustrated more often than not, but I can see some fun in the concept.  A map would have been a huge help, but I suspect it was left out to make the game more challenging and/or encourage replays.

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Yes, you can just generally follow the big green arrow, but it’s not always the best when it comes to planning the next couple of turns.  The start-stop nature of picking up and dropping off passengers is a nice change from the usual “go fast all the time” in most racing games, though, and I can see where better familiarity with the game’s cityscape would mean better scores.  That fits the theme nicely.

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Oddly, perhaps, it reminds me a bit of the fun to be had in 720°.  That game was certainly more constrained, but you could footle about for a while, just experimenting with the fun hook of the game.  The timer killed any real sense of exploration and experimentation (a persistent complaint I have with subscription-based games, actually; that ticking timer nags at me), but that was sort of inevitable given the arcade quarter-hungry nature of the game.

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If you’re in the market for an oddball 90s arcade driving game, this could be a Recommended game, but I can’t give it more than a Regret in my library.  It just doesn’t stand up with gems like Burnout Paradise that lets me just drive around a city at my leisure, maybe doing missions if the mood strikes, or FUEL, where I can just pick a direction and drive, willy-nilly.  The visuals don’t do it many favors, but really, the play’s the thing, and it just isn’t all that great compared to games I’d rather play.

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Speaking of driving games I prefer, though, DiRT 3 is near the top of the list.  It’s not as freestyle as Burnout Paradise or as delightfully destructive as Burnout Revenge, but it’s a fantastic, fun, beautiful game.

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It’s probably best characterized as an “arcade” driving game, given that it’s not hardcore in its realism or simulation, but it’s more sensitive to physics than those arcade games above, or even the Burnout games.  It’s also more philosophically grounded than the Motorstorm games (I love the Apocalypse version, as noted previously), but it has a similar driving feel.  You can also turn up the difficulty and get a more punishing experience, if that’s your itch.

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Controls are very responsive with my wired XBox 360 controller.  I played it for a while via OnLive back when they were still functional, and their controller worked well for the game, too.  It’s a smooth, tight system, and all the mistakes I made while driving felt fair, as though I had misjudged the turns and speeds, rather than fighting the controls.

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The game is gorgeous, though it’s largely taken in at a breakneck pace.  It’s not quite as appealing to me as the more stylized world of Motorstorm: Apocalypse, but DiRT 3 has a great “real world” sort of appeal to it.  The setting that it uses works fairly well for this, too, with a co-driver calling out turns and a career manager coaching you through the game.  It’s a different sort of tutorial or learning curve, but it works well.

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I’m just a “filthy casual” with too little time to play and hone my skills, so I play the game at the simplest setting.  It’s not too punishing but it certainly isn’t going to just give you a win if you just hold down the accelerator.  I have a lot of fun driving around the game’s tracks, at least, so I Recommend the game.

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DiRT Showdown is a freestyle/crash derby/gymkhana offshoot of the DiRT series.  It’s largely the same as DiRT 3 when it comes to responsiveness, visuals and overall play feel, but the focus on more rough and tumble play makes it a great side title.  The “sumo wrestling” platform event is especially fun, and something that works well in this sort of not-quite-real world.  It’s a simpler, more arcadey game overall, but whether or not you like that is a matter of taste more than anything.  I like it for what it is, and if you find anything appealing in the DiRT games, it will fit in nicely.  I Recommend it as well.

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aaaaand that’s it for this post!  I have more than 100 more games to go, so this is going to take a while, but it’s fun when I can get to it.  See you next time!

World Dice Day

Happy World Dice Day!  (Once upon a time, “National Dice Day”, but it has expanded a bit.)

The Tinker Plastic Dice are now available for purchase online (at this convenient link), and I’ve been doing a little new design experimentation to celebrate.

Maybe someday I’ll get to make these happen as physical dice, but for now, they are just concepts.  These are three different themes for “Fudge” or “Fate” dice, each with two “+” faces, two “-” faces and two null or “0” faces.  I have been mostly building around the Fates dice, named for the Greek Fates, demigoddesses of, well, fate.  I’ve also designed a quick game around that set (rules below).

Fates Dice

Fates

Tinker Fudge Dice

TinkerFudge

Rock Paper Scissors Dice

RockPaperScissors

Tinkering With Fate Rules:

Goal:  Be the first player to collect ten points.  (Or some other number agreed upon by the players.)

Setup:  May be played with 4 Fudge/Fate dice, even if you need to make your own out of standard dotted/pipped 6-sided dice.  If each player has their own set of four dice, the game might go faster, but it is not necessary.  Paper and pencil/pen are handy for keeping score, and it’s useful to have a nice hard surface to roll the dice on.

Play:  A player’s turn consists of the following steps: Cast Lots, Fudge Fate (optional) and Take Toll.

Cast Lots:  Roll all four dice.  You may Take Toll (count your score) at this point, or you may choose to Fudge Fate, rolling up to two more times to try for better results.

Fudge Fate:  Choose at least one die to “bind to fate”, and set it aside, ready to score at the end of your turn.  Roll the remaining dice.  Each time you choose to roll again, you must bind at least one more die.  You may Fudge Fate twice.

Take Toll:  You score one point by cutting one mortal’s coil of string.  This requires one pair of scissors and one string.  (One “+” side and one “null/string” side.)  You gain a bonus point for each measuring rod (a “-” side) you have in addition to the scissors and string, as this makes that mortal’s life longer.

Scoring examples:

[+,+,-,0] would be two scissors, one measuring rod and one string.  This scores two points; one for the scissors-string combination, one bonus for the rod.  The other scissors are ignored.

[+,+,0,0] would be two scissors, two strings.  This also scores two points; one for each scissors-string combination.

[+,-,-,0] would be one scissors, two measuring rods and one string.  This scores three points; one for the scissors-string combination, two bonus for the rods.  This is the highest possible scoring combination.

[-,-,0,0] would be two measuring rods and two strings.  This scores no points, since there are no scissors to cut the strings.

[-,-,+,+] would be two measuring rods and two scissors.  This also scores no points, since there are no strings to cut.

Proceed to take turns, Casting Lots, Fudging Fate and Taking Toll, until one player reaches ten points.  Each other player then gets one final roll of all four dice to try to catch up or get ahead.  They do not get a full turn, so there will be no more Fudge Fate operations.  This is just a last chance to invoke the blessing of the Fates.

The player with the most points after this final casting of lots is the winner.  If there is a tie, and a clear, single winner is desired, those were tied for the lead continue to Cast Lots (without Fudging Fate).  Each rolls once, scoring if possible.  Repeat as necessary until one player scores more than the other(s).

Gnomish Hunters and Fish Tanks

In a shocking, earth-rattling decision, Blizzard has finally allowed Gnomes to be Hunters.  Maybe.  Possibly.  Probably.  At least, this screenshot swiped from Twitter seems to indicate as much:

GnomeHunter

I guess I need to update my shirts over on Zazzle (based on an idea by the Big Bear Butt himself).

Why Gnomes Can’t Be Hunters

BBBFishCleanGnomes

…oh, and Blizzard?  If you want to make a Fish Tank Gnomish Hunter Pet, I’m very happy to build you one that looks like this.  I’m very familiar with modeling, texturing, rigging and animating video game characters, having worked in the game industry for almost a decade.  I’m also presently open for contract work.

I also find it interesting that this is happening at the same time as a melee-based Hunter spec.  Coincidence or conspiracy?  Dun dun dunnnnn!