Friday, October 30, 2015

Fable - The Lost Chapters - 20/20 hours

I think magic might crash the PC version of Fable. It happened about two hours ago, and I was briefly worried that I might have to completely scrap my new character's build. After three reloads, I think I figured out the problem - it doesn't like it when you cast a projectile spell while the animation for a previous casting of the spell is on the screen. So with a little more dodging and a little less fireball spam, I was able to stay primarily a mage.

Not that it was super vital I did. For my second playthrough of Fable I deliberately ignored the main quest and concentrated on exploring - finding fishing spots, opening Demon Doors, and rummaging around in people's houses. Ironically, that last one gave me more evil points than finishing 75% of the main quest as a ruthless murderer.

I have three basic thoughts about Fable.

First, it is really easy. You get an item called a "resurrection vial" that will bring you back to life when you're killed. Even with the less than optimal controls and camera of the PC version, I managed to make it through 20 hours without using a single one. And on my second character, I did some moderate sequence-breaking while eschewing the Physical Shield spell.

Second, it's really fun. The big draw of the game is not really the story or the characters (which could get a bit dour at times), but the world of Albion itself. Everything is so bright and colorful, there are tons of silly little jokes (eating tofu gives you good karma, the book that teaches you how to be sexy is called "The Sock Method"), the people of Albion will cat-call you and make mention of your deeds (although due to a glitch in the game, my second character was credited with vile acts performed by my first character). It's just got this freewheeling, anything-goes cheerfulness that is immensely appealing.

Third, everything Fable does well, the sequels do better (yes, even the much-maligned third installment). There was some controversy in the second game's choice to eliminate the very possibility of dying, and in the abstract that does seem like a mark against the game, but as mentioned before, in the first game, that possibility was merely theoretical. Aside from that debatable decision, everything in Fable II is better - the level and enemy design, your clothing options, the relationship minigame with the townsfolk, and their reactions to seeing you around, the real-estate management (which I never really got into because it requires a huge time and gold investment and also mass-murder) mechanics, the story, and the off-the-wall humor. Fable III made some missteps, and you could argue that certain choices (such as making the available expressions purely context-sensitive) were unforgivable, but even then I think it built on what Fable established.

Playing this game was a real nostalgia trip for me, and while I didn't gain any startling new insights into the nature of evil (killing people is . . . bad?), I did have a fun and breezy time inside an appealing fantasy world. I really don't want to leave . . .

So I won't, at least not right away. I will be taking a couple of days off (a week at most) to replay the Fable sequels on the console. It's been a ridiculously long time since I played any of my console games, and it will be nice to sit back with a couple of easy ones.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Fable - The Lost Chapters - 16/20 hours

I've beaten the game, and I can report - choosing the evilest option available at all times while doing the main quest will leave you with slightly good karma right up until the final decision (pre "Lost Chapters" content), which, by itself is sufficient to push you most of the way towards maximum bad karma.  Once you're in the "Lost Chapters" proper, there are plenty of opportunities to make evil decisions, and your karma never has a chance to recover.

It's actually a very odd design for a karma system. Weighting it so heavily towards the end means that your evil character is going to spend most of the game mostly good. Plus, actually choosing the evil path means your character acts like a raging moron. The big decision that pushes you deep into bad karma is whether you want, after killing Jack of Blades, the man who burned Oakvale at the beginning of the game and make you an orphan, to claim the mighty sword of Aeons that he'd plotted so hard to acquire. Doing so means you have to kill your sister, who you'd previously assumed was dead and only recently rescued from the clutches of Twinblade's bandits.

But what, really, is the reward for this? You get a blade that is admittedly more powerful than the one you already own, just after beating your worst enemy, and only about an hour before you get an even more powerful sword by entering one of the expansion pack's new demon doors. Similarly, there is a chain of quests in the "Lost Chapters" where you have to collect souls to open a certain door, and the evil path involves killing all your allies because it's slightly more convenient than finding available souls. At one point in the evil path, you actually have to kill someone who is doing vital translation work for you, with no indication that there is a replacement available.

It's kind of ridiculous. Which I'm fine with. Realistically, an "evil" character should be nuanced, doing things for many of the same motives as a "good" character, but being just slightly too . . . flexible with the means. Then you'd have a person who leaves a trail of human wreckage behind them wherever they go, but who will, when confronted with their acts, close ranks and attempt to defend their actions.

Killing Briar Rose because otherwise you'd have to walk ten feet does not fit that rubric. I can't even begin to imagine how you'd come up with a rationalization for this one.

You could call it shallow, but I think it's just as likely that it's a manifestation of Fable's cheeky sense of humor. The difference between evil and good mostly boils down to whether the player presses a certain button, and thus is, in essence, cosmetic, so the "evil" playthrough is just the "good" one with an over-the-top nasty coat of paint (supporting evidence for this theory - your alignment can be swayed by up to 25% of the total bar just by wearing the right outfit). Evil is defined by senseless audacity.

Which I guess could be fun, though I think I much prefer the good playthrough, because then at least the story makes sense.

From here, I'll probably start a new file as a good character, and perhaps focus on being a magic user. This time out, I was primarily a front-line fighter, who leaned heavily on the Physical Shield spell. Fable veterans will realize that I'm basically confessing to being a real-life Jack of Blades here, but I'll explain for the uninitiated. One of Fable's keystone mechanics is the "combat multiplier." The more hits you land without getting hit yourself, the more your combat multiplier increases. Your combat multiplier multiplies all the experience points you received by its rating. The Physical Shield spell surrounds you with an aura of blue light that causes attacks to damage your mana points instead of your health points. As long as it is active, your combat modifier will not be reduced by hits. And it only ends when you run out of mana. And mana potions are just as fast to drink, and just as cheap, as health potions.

The practical upshot - I was able to max out all my relevant stats about 12 hours into the game. The only thing I had to buy at the end was the fourth rank of the Berserker spell, which I could not previously access thanks to being "neutral" for most of the game. It's a naked exploit, and I probably should be ashamed, but it made the game super easy (I made it through the whole thing without using a single resurrection vial).

I guess I figured if I was going to play an evil character, I might as well act like an evil player. Mwa, ha, ha!

I won't have that advantage as a mage (you need too many mp to cast your spells). It ought to be interesting. I hope I haven't allowed my near invincibility to make me lazy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fable - The Lost Chapters - 10/20 hours

The crash at the end of the arena happened again. Right at the end of the Arena, just as I was fighting Whisper. I had a bit of an existential crisis after that. How many times would I repeat the same hour-long section of the game? What would I do if the game simply didn't work past this point? And, more generally, what am I doing here, really?

Luckily, before I could get too deep into finding answers for these questions, I discovered that someone online had the exact same problem as me. The culprit turned out to be the lightning bolt spell. So, I went through the arena a third time, and refrained from using lightning. That time I made it through.

So, I slaughtered Whisper, the harmless young hero who, while perhaps being an annoying rival at times, was nonetheless a familiar face from childhood and honorable as both an ally and an opponent in the arena. It was necessary to get the "special prize" from Jack of Blades, and as a ruthlessly evil bastard, I had no other choice. In becoming the Arena champion, I am walked down the hall of heroes, where champions past have been immortalized in statue form. As I pass a certain statue, I have a flashback - one of those statues is of my mother! I never knew she was the legendary hero, Scarlet Robe.

While I'm remembering all this, Jack of Blades oozes up to me to do the general villain thing where he starts insinuating things more or less at random to try and get in my head, and he tells me that Scarlet Robe was soft-hearted, just like me . . .


Immediately after the cutscene, I went into my character status menu to check my current alignment. It was half a box below neutral. Half a box! Here I was, a man who pitilessly dispatched Twinblade after he was thoroughly defeated, who abandoned a helpless traveler in werewolf (sorry, "balverine") country just to spare himself the slightest bit of risk, who, for love of gold, massacred the traders of Barrow Fields, who betrayed and murdered a childhood friend, just for the vague promise of an unspecified prize.

And I didn't even have one full box worth of negative alignment. I ruthlessly killed everyone who got in my way, and it didn't count as evil, because they got in my way.

Fable's morality system is kind of ridiculous. I think what happened here was that you get positive karma for killing "evil" enemies like Hobbes and Balverines, even if you're doing so, say, in the context of an arena where you degrade human life by participating in decadent bloodsports of money and fame. And that, because I was only killing people if there was some sort of gain for me, or if they posed any kind of obstacle or threat (or if a cutscene suggested it would be evil), my evil deeds were subsequently balanced by the automatic trickle of good karma you get just from doing the main quest.

I'll probably have to go out of my way to be a true "puppy-kicking evil bastard." I'll probably have to start slaughtering townsfolk indiscriminately, perhaps breaking their barrels and looting their cupboards in the process (Fable shares with Fallout 3 the distinction of having more bad karma opportunities in petty theft than in negative quest choices). I can also potentially sacrifice people to a dark god and snack on live baby chicks.

But maybe I won't. It might be kind of interesting to see exactly how low the alignment bar will drop if you do nothing but pursue the main quest in the most dickish way possible. How evil can I be in terms of real-world morality before Fable is willing to call me "evil?"

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fable -The Lost Chapters - 8/20 hours

I played Fable for about 2 hours, got through all the stages of the arena, and was about to slay Whisper, when the game crashed, and all my progress for the session was lost. Grr.

I'm certainly feeling very evil right now.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Fable - The Lost Chapters - 6/20 hours

I feel like I'm going to say this every time I make a post about Fable, and I know I should probably just stop beating a dead horse, but I've gotta say it - love the game, hate the controls. I've taken steps to rectify this by downloading a program that will convert my controller inputs to keyboard and mouse inputs. It works better, but it doesn't really work well. I can dodge now, but the analogue stick doesn't translate well to WASD movement, and I'm constantly having to manually adjust the camera. I'm sorely tempted to just hook up the old xbox, play it the right way, and then just leave my PC running to keep track of time. However, that kind of defeats the point of trying to retroactively justify my game purchases by playing them.

On the other hand, if purchasing Fable for the PC inspired me to replay the console version, then maybe it would be worth it in a way. . . No, no, with the controller-to-key program, the controls are adequate. I'll stick with it.

Now that I've done a few missions, I have to say, I don't care much for Fable's "evil" playthrough. Yes, it's evil, but it's a boring sort of evil, only tenuously connected to the character's motivation and circumstances. For example, there's this situation where you're in a bandit camp (which, by the way, had a mandatory stealth section - boo!) and in order to bypass a certain gate, you have to cause a distraction. You can do this by either releasing some slaves, or by hiring some assassins. Presumably, the assassins are the evil option, but they cost 2000 gold to hire, and releasing the slaves was free. So, in this case, the good option was easier, cheaper, and more practical.

Which really gets to the heart of what's wrong with Fable's (and a lot of other games', actually) morality system. It relies on the notion of evil as pure sadism, when in actuality, the worst evils of the world often come from careless expedience or, worse, a fanatical desire to do "good," whatever the cost. And that's not even getting into matters of motive and temperament. Do I save these villagers out of altruism, or because it's easy for me as a mighty warrior, and their gratitude flatters my pride? Do I kill these bandits to stop their depredations, or because they had the temerity to inconvenience me?

This is no mere theoretical issue in the world of Fable, because you do get good karma points merely from slaying the randomly spawned bandits, despite the fact that it is purely pragmatic self-defense (what, is it suddenly evil to run away from conflict without letting it turn into a fight). And that doesn't even start to touch on the ethical implications of the fact that you can grind good karma by eating massive amounts of tofu.

It's simply weird the ways in which, in order to be evil, you must defy your basic character. These people treat me politely, with respect (once I got rid of the ridiculous "chicken chaser" title you start off with), and slaying them brings me no particular benefit - I must rampage against them. These other people are rude, demanding, and dismissive - I must do favors for them in order to peacefully coexist. There's no room for mercenary detachment, ruthless enforcement of status (I'll let you bandits live if and only if you acknowledge I'm the biggest badass around), or maintaining a hypocritical facade due to overweening vanity. It's all style, and no substance.

Which is fine, actually, because Fable is a bright and fun little game more concerned with telling a fairy-tale-like story and making silly jokes than it is in being some serious meditation on the nature of morality. It's just that the "evil" playthrough is a lot less interesting than the "good" one (I can't find a source, but I seem to recall this was an issue they tried to correct in the sequel, thanks to most players reaching the same conclusion).

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fable - The Lost Chapters - 1/20 hours

Let me get this out of the way quick. I expected to hate the way this game controls, and it turns out that I do. Casting magic more or less requires you to be a finger contortionist, and while dodging seems notionally possible, I don't imagine I'll be doing much of it any time soon. Maybe I'll get used to it in time, but for now, I can only be grateful that Fable is pretty easy.

With that being said, how is the insight into the nature of evil coming? I didn't decide to do a 1-hour post just because I got distracted by reading a book and didn't get much playtime in. Fable actually has a fun and novel set of tutorial missions that make the 1-hour mark a natural break point.

You start off as a kid in the idyllic town of Oakvale, and you have to save up money to buy your sister a birthday present. You can either do good deeds, and get rewarded with pocket money by your father, or you can do bad deeds, and scrounge money from your various victims.

In addition to teaching you the basic controls, this is the beginning of Fable's much-vaunted "moral choice" system. It was a tough choice for me, because I'm supposed to be playing an "evil" character, so the naughty actions seemed like they'd fit better, but I also know what's coming at the end of the tutorial. Oakvale is getting razed by bandits. It was very tempting, then, to put my character on a complex moral arc.

Maybe the character would start out fresh-faced and idealistic, naively doing small favors for people, imagining himself a guardian of the weak and an agent of justice, protecting young kids from bullies, retrieving a girl's lost teddy bear, and watching a farmer's barns while he steps away to piss, thinking he was noble and heroic . . .

Until he sees real evil for the first time, and in the midst of the fire and the blood he is reborn. No longer a child, he comes to see that only power matters, and thus becomes a brutal marauder, interested only in personal gain, and, perhaps, revenge.

Because it is one of the cruel ironies of life that often the worst people are also the ones who were most victimized, and that their great iniquities are often the result of them passing their pain onto others, or simply living logically by a twisted worldview foisted onto them by people who should have protected them.

However, the challenge wasn't really for me to craft a narrative of evil, but to play a "puppy-kickingly evil" character, and I came to the conclusion that the only way to stay true to the spirit of that goal was to choose the evil option whenever it appeared. So I started off as an unpleasant bully, my town got burned, and I was recruited into the Hero's Guild, where you don't really have any significant choices, period. Still, I graduated with distinction, and am poised to go on my first real mission.

I'm sure I'll find some way to be a dick about it.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fable - The Lost Chapters - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

 Fable® is a groundbreaking roleplaying-adventure game from Peter Molyneux, in which your every action determines your skills, appearance, and reputation. Create your life story from childhood to death. Grow from an inexperienced adolescent into the most powerful being in the world. Choose the path of righteousness or dedicate your life to evil. Muscles expand with each feat of strength. Force of will increases with each work of wit. Obesity follows gluttony, and skin tans with exposure to sunlight and bleaches bone-white by moonlight. Earn scars in battle and lines of experience with age. Each person you aid, each flower you crush, and each creature you slay will change this world forever. Fable: Who will you be?

Previous Playtime

5 minutes

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

Though I've been critical of my shopping habits in the past, I think this is the first game where I feel comfortable just flat out declaring - purchasing it was a mistake.

I owned Fable for the original Xbox, and it was one of my favorite games. I bought the PC version because my main console for the past eight years has been the Xbox 360, and thus my copy of Fable has been doing nothing but collecting dust. I thought it would be nice to have an accessible version of this classic game.

That was not my mistake. My mistake was buying this game just a couple of months before Fable Anniversary was released. I've since learned that this version of Fable doesn't even let you use the controller! It apparently predates the ubiquity of the Xbox 360 controller in PC gaming.

If I were a wiser person, I'd take this as an object lesson in rushing to buy things without doing your researcher, but I think we all know that I'm not that wise.

Expectations and Prior Experience

 It's been a long time since I played this game, but on the other hand, when I first bought it, I was in my cash-strapped "buy a used console game every couple of months and play the hell out of it" period, so I (used to) have a pretty extensive knowledge of the game. I don't anticipate any surprises, but that's the funny thing about memory. If I'm forgetting something, I won't even know it until too late.

I'm sort of dreading playing this on PC, though. Even though the game was delightful, I anticipate serious hand cramps trying to control it with a keyboard and mouse. Even after all this blogging, I've never quite got the hang of pure PC controls for action games. Trying to keep track of left and right hands feels less natural to me than worrying about two thumbs.

I've also got a special request for this game. Assclown from wrote:

How about a puppy kicking evil playthrough of Fable as a challenge project? Should also kick you into full rambling mode about good vs evil in games which I would like to read.
 All I can say here is "be careful what you wish for." I don't mind doing this, of course, though given the way Fable's morality system works, I can't imagine the result won't be disappointing. "The nature of evil is . . . farting on people. Seems strange, but there it is." Or maybe not. I do recall there are some pretty wicked things you can do, but even so, my memory of Fable's dark path is that it is cartoonish and petty cruelty, and not really worth any kind of discursive essay. I guess we'll see.

X3: Terran Conflict - 20/20 hours

So I finished X3: Terran Conflict just as it was getting good. Thanks to an online guide and a couple of lucky breaks, I was able to automate my two freighters . . which proved to be a huge waste of money, so I went back online and found a few tips on how to make them profitable (basically, you have to have the right location), and after awhile they started making money. I eventually got enough to buy a third freighter, and I'm just a few thousand credits from automating that one too.

And then it came time to quit.

It's frustrating, because I feel like I'm on the cusp of being successful, and that I only have a little ways to go before I enter a new and exciting stage of growth (I really want to build space stations), but I can't be entirely sure how much longer it will take to get there. I'm sorely tempted to keep playing.

However, I'm not going to. Surprisingly, this doesn't have anything to do with my timetable. I've stretched games before, and there are things about this one that appeal enough to me to make it a contender. I like the depth of the simulation, and the fact that you can get through twenty hours without firing a shot or losing a ship (though autopilot glitches brought me perilously close a couple of times). Unfortunately, the user interface is . . . not good.

I'm not normally one to complain about having to sort through menus, in fact it's one of my favorite activities, but X3: Terran Conflict really makes navigating the menus into a chore. To issue orders to one of your ships, you have to go into a menu, nested inside another menu, which itself is probably inside a third menu (provided you can't directly see the ship you're commanding). And that's if you know precisely what order you want to give. Checking the map requires you to exit out of the command screen and go into another nested menu. And if you need to consult your encyclopedia or check your credit balance, you have to go through a whole other set of menus to do it. It wouldn't be so bad if you could keep multiple windows open at once and stack them side by side, but for some reason, you can't open a new menu until the old one is closed. If the game were turn-based, I might be fine with it, but it's real-time, which means that while this is going on, you also have to pay attention to your ship's flight path (in theory you could do it while docked in a base, but you can only speed up time while flying, which is an absolute necessity, given the slow travel speed of freighters).

That being said, the menu thing is only a deal-breaker in the context of a guy trying to play a hundred games in less than a hundred years. If I didn't have anything else to do, I'd gladly put up with it, because the exploration, acquisition, and mercantile expansion aspects of the game are so satisfying. Not for the first time, I'm left feeling as if I'd be happier if I just picked a hobby and stuck to it. I did a quick check on the Steam Store page's reviews, and I saw people who had two or three hundred hours+ sunk into this game, and I'm intensely curious what their galaxies must look like.

Once this blog is all done with (hah!), I'll have to do some sort of retrospective, where I look back at the various games I've abandoned too early, and return to the one with the greatest untapped potential. X3: Terran Conflict will definitely be a contender (though I expect the issue with the menus will probably knock it out of the running).

Sunday, October 18, 2015

X3: Terran Conflict - 15/20 hours

Missions - grr! I was doing well with my two-freighter shipping empire, building up a decent cash reserve, when I decided I should try out the advice I got way back at the beginning. I bought a scout ship, fully upgraded it, and ran some missions. It wasn't terrible, exactly, but it was a lot of work for little reward, but I figured it would be a good way to build up my reputation (you have to have a positive faction reputation to buy the best ships and equipment).

Then I got a mission to retrieve an abandoned ship, and it was a complete disaster. I flew my scout ship out to the middle of nowhere, claimed the ship, and then ordered my scout to follow me back to the base. Its autopilot decided to ram into me. So, of course, I have to spend time repairing both ships. After that, it's a long trip back to deliver the ship, and because the abandoned ship was a stock model, it was a lot slower than my scout. Yet it looked like I might make it under the deadline. I got my scout docked in the base, and the salvaged ship was gearing up to make a landing when suddenly I receive a message that I'm out of time, and the abandoned ship has been reported as stolen.

IT WAS LITERALLY IN THE RUNWAY TO YOUR STUPID BASE! If they'd looked out a window, they'd have seen it. Blargh!

To add to the insult, the space-cops immediately swarmed on my scavenged ship and blew it to smithereens. And then I took a massive reputation hit that closed off certain vital technologies. It was not my finest moment.

I suppose it was naive of me to expect to be able to run missions flawlessly, given that I have virtually no experience in directly piloting my ships, but it still came as something of a blow, given that the mission was marked "easy."

I'm not really sure what my next move is. I'm finding that dividing my attention between three ships is a bit aggravating. You can remotely direct your unoccupied ships to buy and sell, even from a distant sector of space, but you have to go through something like three or four layers of menus to do it. The obvious solution is to buy the automation software, which I have almost enough money to do, but can't because somehow my reputation isn't high enough.

I think X3: Terran Conflict is a game I would really enjoy if I had infinite time. Then, grinding (which I ordinarily enjoy) would not be too big a deal, and if I suffered a setback, I could just redouble my efforts and make my way back. Also, I probably wouldn't feel so compelled to try and run multiple ships at once, and spare myself some headaches that way. As it is, I feel like I have this deadline looming over me, and the time-cost of each mistake starts to feel intolerable.

Of course, I could just ease up and play X3 for as long as it takes to satiate my interstellar trading desires, but I still have a hundred games to go after this. If only each day were hundreds of hours long, but I guess, if it was, my game deadline would probably be proportionately longer.

Friday, October 16, 2015

X3: Terran Conflict - 10/20 hours

The thing about a trading sim that revolves around freight is that when the time comes to summarize it, there's not much you can do but talk about an undifferentiated blur of moving from one place to another, often carrying goods, sometimes not. I ran into an asteroid once, it wrecked the hell out of my ship and I had to reload (technically, I had 3% hull left, but there was no way I was going to recover from that accident). The weird thing was that the collision took place while I was running on autopilot, which I didn't think was possible. Apparently you can go nine hours, using the autopilot with scarcely a problem, and then BAM, out of nowhere, disaster. I'll have to be more careful in the future.

The other thing I remember is having a hull full of beef for an unreasonably long time. I bought it at a discount, and thought I was getting a good deal, but when the time came to try and sell it, everywhere I turned had a massive surplus, so that the demand was low enough to make even my discounted acquisition unprofitable. It was so bad that I became willing to sell off my cargo at the break-even price, just to free up hull space and capital, but as I was approaching the dock, and NPC ship swooped in, sold a whole shit load of beef, and halved the price out from under me. Grrr.

Luckily, I was eventually able to unload my beef after about an hour or so, for only a modest loss, and then right afterwards, I caught a couple of lucky breaks with some ore mines, and was able to double my money after only a few short trips. Then I lucked into a random mission where someone offered to sell a used freighter at a third the normal retail price, so now I have two ships with which to trade.

Unfortunately, the software upgrade that would allow my second ship to be an autonomous drone trade is way out of my price range at the moment, so I have to painstakingly micromanage both ships, but hopefully with two hulls worth of trade goods, my wealth will increase rapidly enough to make this a purely temporary issue.

The thing I'm finding about X3: Terran Conflict is that it is much like Mount & Blade: Warband in that it feels like the sort of game where the first twenty hours are a tutorial. I can feel my power ratcheting upward slowly, but I have not yet reached the tipping point where the game transforms into a different level of strategy. It's frustrating, because I can sort of see the shape of what that new strategic level would be like, and it's intriguing, but I simply do not have the skill or experience to move beyond the kid's table.

Will that change in the next 10 hours? Possibly. It depends a lot on X3's pattern of growth. In theory, now that I have two ships, that will allow me to acquire wealth twice as fast, and that will let me acquire more ships, to gain more wealth, faster, and so on in a geometric progression, and when the change comes, it will happen rapidly. That's what I'm hoping, because I'm really stoked about building bases and factories and mines and managing an interstellar trade empire. However, it's entirely possible that the growth pattern might be broken by difficult logistical challenges, or even deliberate arbitrary balancing factors. It may well be that, even after 20 hours, I'll be a small-time trader with a couple of poor freighters, cleaving tightly to a few known systems that will provide adequate profit.

I hope not, and seeing as how I've played nearly 10 hours as a humble trader, and have seen only two pirates (neither of which attacked me), I'm not super worried about a sudden, unwinnable trade war, but I also have to worry about asteroids ruining my AI controlled ships, and I may simply not have enough time to get this trading thing down to a science.

Ah well, it's perhaps too soon to worry, but then again, when you are neck deep in the fascinating world of space arbitrage, a mere 10 hours is likely to vanish before you know it.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

X3: Terran Conflict - 5/20 hours

I had to start my game over, thanks to getting some bad advice from an online guide. When you play as a humble merchant, you start with two unarmed ships - a scout and a freighter. The guide suggested I sell one of my ships to get some starting capital. Specifically, it told me to sell my freighter. This would allow me to fully upgrade my scout ship, so I could run missions, and then use the money earned from missions to buy more freighters.

Since the guide described the missions I'd do as things like deliveries, salvage, and scans, I thought this sounded like a pretty good idea. There was only one, slight flaw. It turns out I'm terrible at missions. Every one I tried required some form of specialized equipment, or more cargo space than I had available, or it needed to be completed in less time than I could manage. I can see how the guide's strategy might be effective, if you're already familiar with the game, but to a total newbie, it was pretty worthless.

Unfortunately, I was stuck without a freighter and with no easy way to get it back. Thus I was forced to restart.

At first, I figured, since I was restarting anyways, I might as well give one of the more martial setups a chance. It was a complete disaster. I chose to be a brave Terran defender, and as soon as I finished flight school, I was called into action. AIs attacked a human installation around Neptune, so of course I leapt to its defense. Using my new piloting skills, I was able to take down one of their drones, and then was immediately destroyed by a second drone that snuck up behind me.

Ordinarily, this would be the point where I shake my head ruefully and reload the game, but it turns out that X3: Terran Conflict's save system is really unforgiving, especially to people who spend a lot of time in combat. It will autosave whenever you enter a starbase, but not when you leave, and you can only manually save while you're docked. So when I died, I lost more or less all of my game.

Thus it was back to being a humble merchant. Building up wealth through trade is a slow process, but I like its steadiness. My plan is to explore the various sectors, finding new markets and learning where advanced equipment and ships are sold. Once I build up enough of a nest egg, I'll try missions again, but not before I learn to use jump drives, which from what I gather is essential equipment for any time-sensitive mission.

I feel a bit guilty about abandoning the galaxy in the face of the AI threat, but I was really ineffective in combat. Sorting through menus is more my speed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

X3: Terran Conflict - 2/20 hours

Two hours into X3: Terran Conflict, and two things are clear. One, I could probably really get to enjoy this game. I've managed to go two hours into this space combat sim without firing a single shot. I chose the "Humble Merchant" start, and not only does it allow you to be a merchant, it doesn't actually give you any weapons with which to defend yourself . . . a fact that took me two attempts at finishing the "Flight School" mission to even realize.

Which leads me to my second realization - I don't know what the hell I'm doing. I may have started out a merchant, but it wasn't until I'd played for about an hour that I even learned how to buy and sell things. I made a few embarrassingly bad deals in the "barter" screen before I looked up a guide and learned the actual, physical controls that would allow me to use the much more efficient "trade" screen. (You have to click on the commodity to buy or sell, and then use the right or left arrow buttons, respectively).

Once I learned how to do that, I had a pretty good time making some preliminary deals, and wound up tripling my starting money. It mostly involved looking through menus and letting my ship fly on autopilot, which sounds tedious, but is actually exactly the sort of gameplay I love. However, I came to realize that this opportunistic shuffling of goods within the starting sector was probably not the best way of experiencing the game, so I went online to look up some trading strategy guides . . .

And holy shit, am I out of my depth. There are apparently a bunch of ship upgrades I should be buying, and if I acquire more freighters, I can set them to automatically ply some of my trade routes, and once I get enough money, I can build factories and mines of my own, which all sounds like exactly the sort of thing I like to do, but I hadn't even realized it was possible. Nothing in the game itself tried to point me towards this sort of economic activity. Hell, I didn't even realize that stations with available missions had a special icon in the scanner. I don't know what I thought those dollar signs and light bulbs meant, but I guess I assumed they'd become obvious as time went on.

I guess I have a choice here. Do I try and figure out the (apparently) dizzyingly complex trade system, puttering around the maps in my unarmed freighter moving goods from one location to another and more or less completely ignoring the central premise of the game, or do I start over with one of the other game setups, and potentially get involved in the game's actual story? I'm torn. I really like the idea of building a trade empire, and spending an unreasonable amount of time sorting through menus. On the other hand, that really wouldn't be doing the game justice, and I should probably at least try and get involved with the galaxy's major issues (which, I'm guessing from the intro animation, probably have something to do with dangerous rogue AIs and massive ideological battles about the proper role of technology in society)..

For now, I'll stick with trade, but if I haven't made much progress after a few more hours, I'll reconsider that stance.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

X3: Terran Conflict - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

It is the year 2938. The long wished-for encounter of the X Universe and the Earth holds both joy and sorrow for the people. Despite flourishing trade, the clash of the diverse races, cultures and life forms creates new tensions, mistrust and open conflict that need to be overcome!

Experience the brilliant climax of the legendary X-Trilogy , and take your place in the history of the X Universe.

Largest X Universe ever.
New faction: the Terrans – inhabitants of the Earth.
More jobs and non-linear missions than ever before.
More than 100 new spaceships, new ship classes and weapon systems.
Re-designed user interface for comfortable control by mouse, keyboard and joystick.
New group management tool.
Large battleships can be boarded by an outside team.

Previous Playtime

0 hours

Expectations and Prior Experience

I am going into this one almost completely blind. The Steam Store description is not a lot of help. I know it's a strategy game, and that spaceships are important, but I don't know if it's primarily a ship combat game, or whether economy and exploration are more important. It's also apparently the fourth game in a series, but Jondera, who I have to thank for this game, assures me that the plot will be adequately summarized relatively early on.

Looking at the screenshots and videos, X3:Terran Conflict seems to have plenty of sci-fi spectacle, which I like, but also, at least vaguely, looks like it might have RTS elements, which makes me nervous. However, I really have nothing to base this on. It could just as easily be one of those games where combat is rare and/or easy enough to not be too much of a problem.

Basically, it boils down to the ratio of spaceship porn to my precious spaceships getting unceremoniously blown up. If it's favorable, I'll probably like the game. If it's unfavorable, I probably won't.

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes - 20/20 hours

The thing I love most about LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is that it feels like a generous game. There doesn't feel like anything's missing from the game, if that makes any sense. I've played better open world superhero games, but none that give you such a huge cast of characters. It's 20 hours in, and I haven't even discovered half of them yet (and I still have some unlockable alternate costumes for some of the ones I do have unlocked). I don't know much about comic books, but I get the impression that if there's a Marvel hero you love, they've probably been included in the game (NOTE - as I wrote that last sentence, I went ahead and looked up a character list - several prominent X-men, most notably Rogue, were not in the game, so I guess I was wrong).

At 20 hours, I have about 33% completion, which means, in theory, I could be playing this game for another 40 hours.  I expect it would probably go faster than that, considering that as I gain more experience and unlock more of Deadpool's red brick bonus powers, the pace of unlocking appears to increase. However, that's still a damned lot of game.

But it's not limitless. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is not an open-ended game like Minecraft or an endlessly replayable game like Civilization. It doesn't even have the engrossing complexity of something like Skyrim. It's big, but not unimaginably so. Which is an interesting niche for a video game. It's not a "one and done" game, like some of the artier indie games (or you typical movie tie-in game, for that matter), but it's also not a "lifestyle" game. It gives you stuff to do, if you still want more, but it is easy and casual enough that completionism doesn't feel like an unattainable goal. I don't feel rushed, but I do feel like I could finish.

I like this approach. My favorite games are "lifestyle" games, games that could be hobbies in their own right, but there is something satisfying in the finitude of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. It's relaxing to know that there is an end. Which, I guess, raises the question of why, if I like endings so much, don't I have more love for shorter, more economical games.

And look, Portal is pretty much a perfect game. I get that. My feeling (and I realize this is ridiculous) is that it's greatest flaw is actually its very perfection. When Portal was over, I was left wanting more Portal.

I've heard the argument that games should "respect the player's time," and not wear out their welcome by needlessly extending their playtime, and that's an argument I respect, but there's a primal part of me that comes into play here. When I like a thing, I want more of that thing. I like the sensation of surfeit, of having more than you could possibly want. It makes me feel . . . safe.

On the other hand, if there's anything this last year and a half has taught me, it's that surfeit comes with its own perils. You start to take things for granted, and get into unhealthy patterns of consumption. Realistically, I should still be playing Anno 2070 - I'm sure that I'd have only now started to master it.

LEGO Marvel Superheroes reaches a happy medium, I think. It definitely gives me the feeling of having enough, so I don't have the nagging feeling that the game should have been twice as long, but its ability to consume my life has a built-in expiration date. If it weren't a kid's game, it would be perfect, and while I doubt it would last long enough to become a chore, I don't think I'll pursue 100% completion. I started playing this game because my reserves of mental energy were running low. Now that they've recovered, I think something a bit more challenging would be a better use of my time.

Monday, October 12, 2015

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes - 12/20 hours

I've finished the main story of LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, and as expected, it was as shallow as shallow could be. That's not a problem, though, because it was so damned charming that any pretensions of depth would have spoiled it.

In the end, the heroes and villains have to team up to stop Galactus, who is being controlled by Loki and made to devour the Earth (though I suspect he would have done so anyway). It is so cute, like seriously.  There's a scene where they're all hanging out in the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier's break room, playing games, and then suddenly a huge brawl breaks out, and it's pretty much everything you'd want from a kid's super hero story.

After Galactus is defeated, the villains are rewarded with a 30 second head start, which is both silly and dangerously irresponsible, but like I said in my previous post, the heroes and villains are more like rival sports teams than deadly enemies, so it fits in perfectly with the tone.

I guess all I have to do after this is various open world content, and going back into my previously played levels to try and find all the collectibles. On the surface, this sounds pretty dull, but given that each of the side missions so far has been a cute little joke, and the game's levels are filled a variety of side niches to explore and puzzles to solve, going after that elusive 100% completion is likely to be an amusing diversion.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes - 6/20 hours

ZOMG! This game is totally adorable! All these familiar super heroes, running around in LEGO form, their stubby little arms and legs flailing around, climbing buildings, punching enemies, and just generally being super cute. If I had one complaint about the game, it's that only the destructible and activatable set dressing looks like it's made from LEGO, the actual terrain is just standard 3D modeled stuff. I suppose it has the advantage of making the difference between background and foreground clear, but I'd have liked to see a LEGO New York City. Ironically, I imagine it would probably have been more difficult to draw.

The plot of the game so far is your standard video game (comic book?) folderol. There are these things called "cosmic bricks" that have some vaguely sinister, but unspecified powers. The villains are going after them, and the heroes have to stop them. For some strange reason, it appears as if all the Marvel villains are working together on this scheme, so of course, all the Marvel heroes are in play as well. It's a story completely devoid of moral complexity, and the heroes and villains often seem more like opposing sports teams than people divided by any great ideological differences.

Which is fine, because I'm entirely sure that LEGO Marvel Super Heroes doesn't need some kind of challenging, intricate plot where alliances are tested and the heroes are tempted to stare into a Nietzschean abyss, where the pleasures of power and righteous violence act as a subtle drug to corrupt them into excesses worthy of the most depraved villains. Though, how hilarious would that be? LEGO Game of Thrones is probably the best video game that will never get made.

I've also had a few, brief opportunities to explore the game's open world, and I'm really liking the concept. I ran into Blade, who challenged me to some kind of scooter race, and I did a bunch of short, funny missions on the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. Including one where I had to get some snakes of the gosh-darned helicarrier (paraphrased slightly from a command by Nick Fury). I'm looking forward to doing more of the open world wandering around nonsense, but my plan is to first finish the story, so as to get a maximum number of characters unlocked.

Honestly, I'm not sure whether I'll be able to get it all done in 20 hours, which seems like a hell of a thing to say about a silly, casual game.

Friday, October 9, 2015

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes - 2/20 hours

The thing that leaps out at me most obviously about LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is that this is clearly a game for kids. I don't mean that as an insult, far from it, but it is an undeniable fact. The main piece of evidence for this is that it's filled with kid jokes. Like, when you spray water on LEGO Sandman to get him to congeal enough to smack around and he screams, "I'm melting! I'm melting! Oh, wait no, I'm solidifying. I'm solidifying!"

As an adult, I find that amusing. Twelve-year-old me would have bust a gut. The reversal of the famous quotation and the awareness that the word "melting" has an opposite are just challenging enough to have made young me feel smart, but the joke itself is simple enough that it wouldn't have gone over my head. An extremely well-crafted kid joke.

Which makes playing this game weird, because I can't help shake this shadow sense, this subtle awareness of the game I could be playing, were I still young enough and inexperienced enough to access it. It really makes me want to play multiplayer with an actual kid, but unfortunately, I don't know anyone who qualifies (also I don't know any parents irresponsible enough to let their kids play video games at 3'o'clock at night).

But aside from that weird self-awareness, I am loving this game so far. It simply oozes charm, with plenty of visual gags and goofy super jokes (like Mr Fantastic turning into a giant screwdriver). And while it is ridiculously easy (the only penalty for dying is the loss of a few "coins" - you don't even have to restart the level - another indication that this is primarily a kid's game), there's enough exploration and gently non-trivial puzzles that it doesn't feel tedious.

Plus, while it is clearly a kid's game, it also appears to indulge the sort of deep comics nerdery that only adults (and super focused kids) can attain. I'm not much of a comics reader, but I respect anyone who has a thorough knowledge of a specialized subject, and when I see the huge list of unlockable characters, marked so far only with question marks, I know that before this is done, I'm going to be seeing some obscure cameos from the farthest corners of Marvel lore. And you know what, the thought thrills me. I cannot wait to see what LEGO Marvel Super Heroes has to offer.

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

LEGO® Marvel™ Super Heroes features an original story crossing the entire Marvel Universe. Players take control of Iron Man, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Wolverine and many more Marvel characters as they unite to stop Loki and a host of other Marvel villains from assembling a super-weapon capable of destroying the world. Players will chase down Cosmic Bricks as they travel across LEGO Manhattan and visit key locations from the Marvel Universe, such as Stark Tower, Asteroid M, a Hydra base and the X-Mansion.

Smash, swing and fly in the first LEGO videogame featuring more than 100 of your favorite Super Heroes and Super Villains from the Marvel Universe, including Iron Man, Wolverine, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Loki and Deadpool.

Help save Earth as your favorite Marvel character with your super-cool strengths and abilities:
  • Iron Man flies, hovers, shoots missiles and unleashes a powerful unibeam directly from his chest.
  • Spider-Man shoots webs, uses his spider-senses to spot objects invisible to others, crawls up walls and, of course, web-slings.
  • Captain America throws his mighty shield at objects and enemies, embeds it into a wall to create a platform, and protects himself from damage.
  • Hulk smashes!
Perform new and powerful moves as “BIG-fig” characters like Hulk and Abomination. Leave a path of destruction as you smash through LEGO walls and throw cars using hyper strength.

Discover LEGO Manhattan like never before, and travel to iconic locations from the Marvel Universe, such as the X-Mansion, Asteroid M and Asgard.

Create unique Super Heroes with customizable characters.

Enjoy an exciting original story, filled with classic LEGO videogame adventure and humor.

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

This was another one of those on-sale impulse purchases that have become such a thorn in my side recently. I bought it because I was in the middle of a bunch of super serious games (I believe this was around the time I was playing Velvet Assassin) and its colorful, safe-for-kids aesthetic seemed really appealing by way of contrast.

Expectations and Prior Experience

I played the original LEGO Star Wars back on the Gamecube, and though the game was somewhat shallow, it was also a breezy and effortlessly humorous good time. I really enjoyed reliving the movies through a goofy, LEGO-themed lens, and especially enjoyed unlocking its huge cast of characters. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes looks to be more of the same, though hopefully with a decade's worth of experience to draw upon to make it more sophisticated and satisfying.

Of course, I have not particular reason to think that it will, seeing as how the LEGO games are still primarily directed towards children, but honestly, even if it's just as simple as I remember it, I'll probably be happy. Sometimes you want a deep, engaging experience that will challenge your limitations and force you to think in new ways, and sometimes you just want to smash stuff against the backdrop of a silly story while controlling an appealing character.

My expectation is that LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is a game that will deliver on the latter.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director's Cut - 25/20 hours

Well, towards the end of my time with "Dragonfall" I wound up having the opposite problem I did before. I only wanted to play it for a little while, in order to gather enough material for a blog post, and then I wound up playing it for 10 hours (in three sessions of about 3 hours each). What happened is that I kept thinking I was only a little bit away from the ending.

First, I finally got the 50,000 nuyen necessary to pay off Alice, and when I went to hand it over, my fixer-guy, Paul, was all "Are you sure? Once you do this, there's no turning back." Which is universal video game code for "final dungeon ahead." So my thought was that I'd beat the game real quick, write a post, and then play one of the custom mods for awhile.

Only it turned out that before I could rescue the scientist and confront the dragon, I first had to deal with the mansion's AI security system, which by sheerest happenstance was in an entirely different area.

But after that, then I could go and assault the mansion from the beginning of the game. But it turns out that, in contrast to some of the skyscrapers I'd previously infiltrated, the mansion was huge. There was a long dungeon to get through the exterior defenses, and then a long dungeon to get to the scientist.

And it turned out the scientist I was planning on rescuing was actually the mastermind behind the whole thing, and once I confronted him, I was sure that I'd reached the end. I talked him out of his evil scheme to use the subdued dragon Feuerschwinge to spread a virus that would wipe out all the world's dragons (and probably also destroy humanity in the process as an unintended side effect). I thought the game was over.

And then his lieutenant swoops in out of nowhere, kills him, and I have to go through two sub-basement dungeons before I get to the real final battle.

Which wasn't a problem, exactly. When I like a game, I generally prefer for there to be more of it, but it did mean that I kept pushing myself to play for just a little bit longer because I didn't want to have to write a post describing most of the game, and then half an hour later, write another one describing the end of the game. Of course, in hindsight, I really could have written a 20 hour post after all.

My verdict on Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director's Cut is that I really liked it. Had I played it two years ago, I'd probably even now be starting over so I could experiment with a new main character (once my shaman got going, she was pretty powerful, but I mostly wound up using Haste on my stronger party members, because I didn't want to "waste" my spirit fetishes) and possibly see the alternate endings (the last few hours throw you a lot of genuinely difficult moral choices, and I can't help but wonder if maybe a different path would have led to better results).

Which is, of course, the other half of my changed relationship with games. The blog motivates me to force myself to play games I'm not really in the mood for, but it also gives me incentive to stop with games that I might still be able to wring some enjoyment out of. Although, I'm not sure I can lay all of the credit on the blog.

The way I used to play games was that I would buy a new one two or three times a year (or perhaps rent one every month or so) and then play the hell out of it in massive marathon sessions, allowing it to become an obsession for days or weeks at a time, trying to get 100% completion, or at least as close as I could without having to do super annoying chores or impossible challenge missions, and replaying the story until all the novelty was gone.

And the reason I did that was because, until quite recently, video games felt rare to me. They were a luxury that had to be savored because once you were done with one, there would be a significant wait before the next on came along. Part of that was due to the fact that I didn't have a lot of money (especially while I was growing up) and part of that was because I was slow to embrace digital distribution. I only tentatively dipped my toe into downloading games (my first few Steam games were all physical purchases that used Steam as DRM), and so, until quite recently, most of my games were either expensive day one purchases of major franchises, rentals, or bargain-priced used copies of years-old games (I didn't get an Xbox until the 360 had been out for about a year, for example).

Then the Summer Sale that inspired the blog came along, and it was like a dam burst. In the last year and a half, I bought more than 100 games, because it was easy and cheap. I don't think I paid more than 10$ for any but a dozen of the more desirable games in my library, and most of them were under 5$. Somehow, a mental switch has flipped, and I've started to think of games as disposable. It matters less if I get the most out of a game or not, because my investment was small. Just some spare change I had no other use for.

It's hard to say whether this change was positive or negative. I'm having a whole lot of new gaming experiences that I would not have bothered with while games were expensive (although "Dragonfall," in particular, is exactly the sort of game I would have been inclined to buy), but I can't help feeling that it is extraordinarily wasteful. What the hell is even the point of buying a game unless you intend to play it to the fullest?

Hence the blog. Sometimes people wonder why I bother to play a game like Sakura Spirit for 20 hours, when I could easily find more productive and enjoyable uses for my time (hell, I often wonder myself), but when it comes down to it, I think it reaches to the heart of this blog's mission - I have essentially declare war against waste, against the habit of thinking of games as disposable.

If I'm being brutally honest with myself, I have to acknowledge that most of my games I bought because I was psychologically manipulated into doing so. Not to say that I'm blameless, but it is well known that the perception of scarcity, and the suggestion that you are missing out on a limited-time deal are powerful lures to get people to spend money. And I took the bait. I'd see something that generally looked the sort of thing I'm interested in, and then I'd see the little, green -75% sticker, and the discreet little timer underneath it and I'd think "oh, wow, I'd better buy this now, because who knows, maybe a time will come when I'll have the free-time and the desire to play this game, but it will be four times as expensive, so it would be like throwing money away not to buy it."

Which, when I type it out like this, looks profoundly foolish. Thankfully, I have the blog to rescue me from this foolishness. As long as I keep focused, and don't lose hope, I know that I will finish all my games, and that none of them will be wasted. And if that sometimes means that I have to sit through a game that was, genuinely, a bad purchase, or a cruel joke by one of my readers, then that is a small price to pay.

Which ultimately has nothing to do with "Dragonfall" except that if it weren't for the blog, I'd have had a hard time squeezing it into my schedule (in all likelihood, I would now be playing Civilization: Beyond Earth in anticipation of the expansion pack that comes out tomorrow), and thus it would be sitting on my hard drive, always a low priority, but never quite low enough that I'd regret buying it (because at the time, I really, truly did want to play it, and I'm not quite sure why I didn't finish it as soon as it came out).

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director's Cut - 15/20 hours

Progress on this game has been slow. Part of it is that I've just not been feeling well for the last few days, but I don't think this is a sufficient explanation. I think a bigger part of why I've not yet finished the game is because I've gotten into the pattern of doing a single mission, upgrading my equipment, and then quitting the game.

I guess what's going on is that "Dragonfall" feels more difficult to me than "Dead Man's Switch." Cover is much more important, accuracy rates are lower, and damage is much more widely varied. This makes combat feel more unpredictable while ensuring things like movement and positioning are much more important. I like it, but it can be mentally exhausting. I've fallen into a pattern where I play the game for an hour, walk away for the better part of a day, and then play for another hour.

Which isn't really all that bad a way to play games, all things considered. In fact, in contrast to my usual way of sitting down and doing 3-6 hours in a single session, it's downright healthy (don't worry about me, though, I work the night shift, so my social life is pretty much a non-starter anyway). The only problem is that it takes a long time to blog through.

It's likely that writing this blog has changed the way I relate to video games. Whereas before, I'd play a game obsessively if it caught my interest and for maybe an hour or two at most if it didn't, now my awareness of the clock colors how I approach these games. I'm now forcing myself to play games, even if I don't particularly feel like it. Which is definitely a change of pace from when I used to play games purely to relax.

That's not a complaint, by the way. The structure this brings my hobby is a welcome one. I'd have never played many of these games at all without it. Shadowrun: Dragonfall would probably not have been one of the unplayed ones, however. It's exactly the sort of game I ordinarily like, and if I were in different mood, I'd have sailed through it like I did with the original Shadowrun Returns.

It is likely only a quirk of fate that I happen to be playing it while my mental energy is low.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director's Cut - 10/20 hours

The last couple of missions have presented me with difficult moral decisions. Do I continue to work for the mysterious secret society that deceived me about the intent of my mission, tricking me into planting a bomb when I thought I was merely setting up some surveillance devices? Do I turn over the prototype cyberzombie, when it is clear that there is still a sentient troll inside it, being tortured by its prison of metal or do I grant it the release of death?

These are the sort of choices I enjoy. It makes me feel like I have some control over my character when there are real consequences for taking a particular path. However, I'm not sure I approve of the way that "Dragonfall" implements these choices. It was clear to me that by telling the Lodge that I was no mere thug who would perform without question that I was closing off a whole line of quests. And though the cyberzombie client's threat to "never hire me again" struck me as empty (it just felt like a one-off mission anyway), I don't care for the implication.

It's not so much that I mind these particular NPC dissociating themselves with me as it is that I worry by making the "wrong" choices, I am being punished with being able to see less of the game. It's a tricky balance, I know. If the consequences of your choices aren't dramatic enough, then good and evil will feel like mere reskins of each other, a single story with a light or dark coat of paint. But if they are too different, you basically have to make two games in one, and your players will probably only see one or the other.

I'm going to reserve judgement on "Dragonfall" for now. There's probably more than enough missions that the loss of the Lodge questline is no big deal, but if it turns out that it gets referenced later, then I'll probably feel quite put out.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director's Cut - 6/20 hours

"Dragonfall" is overall a better story than "Dead Man's Switch," but it has one slight plot hole that is kind of bugging me. So, you track down the man who set you up on the disastrous opening mission, and you discover that he's been investigating a dragon, and purposefully sent you into its lair in the hopes of getting some vital information from your death. You find him dead of the same mysterious super-IC that killed Monika, and far from this being poetic justice, you realize the dragon will track down and kill anyone who knows its secret.

Given this dire situation, your only possible plan is to find the scientist who designed the weapon that brought down Feuerschwinge the first time, in hopes that he can repeat this performance. But the scientist has fallen off the grid, so in order to find him you have to secure the services of the legendary hacker and information dealer, Alice, who wants 50,000 nuyen for the task.

So far, it makes sense, but here's the plot hole - in order to get the 50,000 nuyen, you have to risk your life going on dangerous shadowruns. Problem: you're afraid of being killed. Solution: invite people to shoot guns at you.

I guess it's not technically a contradiction, because it's possible that being on a dragon's shit list is certain death, whereas living the desperate life of a criminal-for-hire is only likely death, but it still feels weird to me. On the other hand, whatever. I bought a game called "shadowrun" so I obviously want to run the shadows. Anything that gives me even the flimsiest pretext is fine by me.

I like doing these mini missions. They don't have any grand, overarching plot (as far as I can tell), but they do make me feel like I'm part of the Shadowrun universe. Breaking into a Humanis operation and busting the place up is exactly the sort of thing I've always wanted to do.

Honestly, I don't particularly want to advance the story. I'm interested in the conspiracy surrounding this dead (?) dragon, but it's the central paradox of open world games. The more you enjoy yourself, the more you have to avoid the game's central activities.

I'm curious to see exactly how much game there is here. I get the feeling that there are few enough missions that doing them all will not make the main quest absurd, but I'm really hoping I'm wrong.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director's Cut - 2/20 hours

"Dragonfall" starts you off in the middle of a mission. You are invading a fancy looking mansion in the hopes of stealing something or other (it's actually kind of vague what the goal is), and you've got a team of colorful characters helping you out. Naturally, something goes horribly wrong, and the team leader, Monika is killed by what appears to be an experimental Black IC (a deadly computer program that can seriously harm hackers who try to direct neural interface with the setting's virtual reality computer networks).

As she lay dying, Monika utters a single word, Feuerschwinge, but without any context, the information is meaningless. After her death, the run falls apart, and me and my companions must flee the scene. Monika's friend, Eiger, blames me for her death, and though it appears we will work together to find her killer, relations are tense.

Then I wandered around town for about an hour, poking my nose into various shops, because the hub map is much larger than "Dead Man's Switch's" Seamstress' Union.

My first impression of the game is favorable. It definitely looks nicer than baseline Shadowrun Returns, and though it's probably just an artifact of me having a much lower skill level, but it appears that the combat numbers have been tweaked to make misses more likely. This plays in to the more complex cover mechanics, and makes combat a longer, more drawn out affair. It's a little early to say, but I think I like it.

My plan to check out the new spells and items has so far been a bust, though. The problem, I'm now coming to realize, is that I am currently playing an elf shaman, a character type I never tried before, which means that I am in a poor position to judge what is new. All of my previous magic users have been temporary hires, and though I'm seeing some spells I've never used before, I don't know whether they are new to the game or if they simply weren't equipped by my previous compatriots. I guess it doesn't really matter, they're new to me, but I am a little disappointed that I won't have the experience of seeing new things.

What I'm enjoying most about "Dragonfall" is the art direction. It's much less confined than "Dead Man's Switch" even at this early point. The mansion map was huge, and the hub area, the Kreuzbasar, is even bigger. Yet neither of them felt repetitive. I also liked how they were visually distinct from the first campaign's Seattle. I'm just an untraveled oaf, but the Kreuzbasar felt "European" to me, while still having all the necessary cyberpunk genre markers.