Monday, November 30, 2015

Sentinels of the Multiverse - 2/20 hours

I've now played through two random battles and  I've not yet reached any stunning conclusions about the nature of the game. I like how the board setup is like the synopsis of a comic book "The infernal emissary Apostate is up to some dastardly scheme and his arch-enemy, Fanatic, along with her allies - Unity, Nightmist, and the Argent Adept, confront him in the ruins of Atlantis, and fight his demonic hordes."

It's pretty cool. It's also a strength that originated in the tabletop game. Another great thing about the game that originated in the tabletop version is the diversity and creativity of the hero decks. Nightmist is a high-risk deck that trades character life for card advantage, Unity is tricky to set up, but when she gets going, her bots can put out massive damage, The Argent Adept is a great support character who makes the whole team more powerful, and Fanatic is an incredible tank that can absorb punishment and then get more powerful the closer she is to the edge.

I'm having a lot of fun, though I can't help but wonder if Sentinels of the Multiverse has any virtues specific to its video game incarnation. In single-player mode, you have to control 3-5 decks at a time, and I can't decide whether this is a good or bad thing. Because the game is turned-based, I don't mind the extra complexity. However, I worry that I may not be playing the individual decks optimally, simply because the portion of my head devoted to strategic planning is getting split 3-5 ways. Though, perhaps I'm overthinking it. I've won all of my games so far (though the specific example I mentioned in this post was a real squeaker), so perhaps relentless optimization is not strictly necessary.

What I need going forward is a plan to brace with the game's material. There are 14 villains, 16 heroes, and 10 environments. That's roughly 70,000 game setups with 3 person teams, and roughly 600,000 game setups with 5 person teams.  How should I deal with the sheer combinatorial diversity?

Well, for one thing, it's likely that many of these combinations are only trivially different. How much, really, would my previous game have differed if my fourth hero was The Scholar instead of Nightmist (who I've noticed have similar card-drawing focus)? It wouldn't have played out exactly the same, but I doubt it would have felt like a dramatic change.

So, I guess the first thing to do is try and systematically test each of the hero and villain decks. What I'll do is pick an easy villain deck and play four games against it, with four 4-person hero teams, divided alphabetically. Then, I'll assemble my favorite team of heroes, and try to play all 14 bosses. All of this will be done in the simplest environment, and then when I complete that, I'll take my favorite hero vs boss match-up and try it out in all nine remaining environments.

By that time, I should be at or near the 20 hour deadline. In fact, given the speed with which I've played my games so far, these 37 games should take me to nearly double my normal playtime. Perhaps I'll only do the first part of the experiment, and then take on random setups afterwards. It's not systematic, granted, but I also wouldn't be stuck on a track.

I'll need some time to think about it. Luckily, it should take hours just to get through all 16 heroes.

Sentinels of the Multiverse - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Calling all Sentinels! Do you have what it takes to defend the Multiverse? Compose a team of comic book heroes, each with their own playstyles, backstories, and grudges. Pit them against a variety of maniacal and formidable villains. Defeat your enemies and save the Multiverse!

Sentinels of the Multiverse is the award-winning game in which players join forces as heroes to combat a dastardly villain in a dynamic environment.

The digital version of Sentinels of the Multiverse plays like a comic book come to life! Control an entire team of heroes in single player, or head online and join heroes from around the globe in multiplayer. This is cooperative card-battle like you’ve never played before!

The rules of the game are deceptively simple: Play a Card, Use a Power, and Draw a Card. What makes Sentinels of the Multiverse unique is that each card has special abilities that can create powerful combos or even change the rules of the game!

Previous Playtime

112 minutes

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

A couple of years ago a friend of mine introduced me to this amazing card game where players cooperated as a team of superheroes to take down a villain that uses a deck of cards that, thanks to a handy rules guide, plays itself. It's just a great game all-around, flavorful, well-designed, and fun. I fell in love with it immediately. Unfortunately, my friend lives in about 6 hours away by car, so even though I bought the game and most of its expansion, I never really got an opportunity to play it.

So, when I saw that there was a video game version on Steam, I rushed to put it on my wishlist, for the day that it went on sale. That day was, apparently, Thanksgiving 2015, when it was less than 5$. Despite having more than enough on my video-game plate, I snapped it up (Thanksgiving pun unfortunately intended, sorry).  Then, because I'm a ridiculous person, I also spent 20$ on the DLC season pass.

Expectations and Prior Experience

I've played the physical card game a couple of times, and it was super-fun, if sometimes a little tough to keep track of the more complex modifiers and variants. Soon after buying the video game version, I played the tutorial and a single random match, and I had a blast. It was, maybe, a little lonelier than the tabletop version, but I have to admit it was nice to have computerized tracking of things like health levels and active effects.

I am not worried about this game in the slightest. I enjoyed the hell out of Magic 2014 and Sentinels of the Multiverse is a better card game than Magic: the Gathering (yeah, I said it), so in theory the video game version should hold up just as well. If I had to state a concern, it would be that Sentinels of the Multiverse doesn't have alternate game modes or challenges, so it might get a little repetitive just playing the basic game over and over.

On the other hand, "repetitive" doesn't really bother me, and while tweaking decks and attempting challenges were my favorite parts of Magic 2014, it's not like I didn't enjoy the actual gameplay.

I'm confident that I'll be smiling at the end of the 20 hours.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

SimCity 4 Deluxe - 20/20 hours

SimCity 4 is a political game. One might argue that it is not meant to be, that it treats cities as constructed things, to which there is a science, which, if you follow it, leads to prosperity. Of course, that's a highly political notion on its own. The assumption that all the sims are rational actors who respond to easily-definable economic conditions is one that is highly contentious in real life (for instance, I discovered the hard way that SimCity 4 has a rather punishing Laffer Curve).

Nonetheless, in the last five hours, I tried to play the game in a way that was consistent with my personal political philosophy (even if there were certain policies I support in real life that I wasn't given the option to pursue in the game). The city I made actually turned out to be pretty nice, though it didn't entirely go as planned. I succeeded at making a city that used only renewable wind energy and had plenty of green civic spaces, but no one rode the city buses. They ran at 3% capacity. I couldn't figure out why.

I might think this is due to the game making some sort of statement about the pointlessness of public transportation, were it not for the fact that SimCity 4's entire ethos seems to revolve around the idea of a city's transportation infrastructure being a major causal factor in its eventual evolution. Non-functional bus stops wouldn't fit in with that at all.

The only conclusion I can come to is that I never really understood the game at all. I got my region up to 300,000 people, with each neighborhood in the black (at least, at the moment I quit - some of them were pretty borderline) and many of the neighborhoods had a unique, individual character. So I can't call it a failure, per se. But after doing research online, I now realize that I'm short of a well-developed region by a factor of 10. That shouldn't be surprising, as I'm also short on playtime compared to a skilled player by roughly a factor of 10.

Yet I can't help feel disappointed that I didn't "solve" the game. How ridiculous is that? What kind of game would SimCity 4 be if a mere 20 hours was sufficient to reveal all its secrets? It's clearly something that takes a lot of time and care to master, which is, of course, good, but it certainly doesn't further the illusion that I'm some sort of brilliant, game-analyzing genius.

Not that that's what I look for in a game, mind you (::shifty eyes::)

My final opinion is this - I like the game, I love the genre, but I'd like it even more if it weren't such a mystery. In many ways, it is probably superior to a game like Tropico, where you have to micromanage the food, shelter, and employment of all of your individual citizens, but having that hands-on control makes me feel connected to my simulated creation in a way that I never quite felt with SimCity 4. For much of my time playing, I felt like I was merely reacting to the latest crisis message, or building to the physical constraings of the map. The city more or less emerged from the geography of its plot and my reading of the RCI demand graph, bypassing my plans almost entirely. Even the city I built to try and explore the game's potential for political expression was only half planned. I wound up having to build a whole bunch of extra commercial zones just to get enough of a tax base to support my unused public transit system and excellent hospitals and schools (though it was worth it to see all of those green public opinion bars filled).

Yet maybe that sense of disconnection is a good thing. Maybe it helps create the illusion of a living world, with simulated people who are not mere puppets awaiting the player's inputs, but who must be understood and who need to be coaxed rather than commanded.

On the other hand, things like this exist:

So maybe I would have gotten there in time. Ultimate SimCity puppetmaster is not such a bad accomplishment to have on one's resume. I, however, will have to settle for "broadly educated gaming dilettante" because I'm moving on long before I could even come close to such an accomplishment.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

SimCity 4 Deluxe - 15/20 hours

Playing SimCity 4, I'm struck by the tenuousness of my control. My tools for city management are incredibly broad. I can declare an area a commercial, industrial, or residential zone, but the simulation itself decides what to build in those zones. In theory, this gives you the opportunity to take a step back and concentrate on the big-picture problems of your city, but in practice, it means that much of its shape and character are determined by chance.

On a certain level, you can have an effect with the placement and proportion of zones, and I've made a couple of nightmarish industrial cities that are heavy with pollution, but moderately successful. Yet, attempting to go deeper into a specialization is still beyond my skills. I took a thin stretch of coast and tried to make it into a high-class, glamorous coastal playground for the rich and famous, but it turned out to be just another middle-class suburban sprawl.

The problem might be that I've plateaued in skill. I managed to get my main city up to 130,000 people with a balanced budged and effective services, but then I ran out of space and growth stalled. I think the big barrier for me is traffic. I just can't get a handle on how to manage it effectively. I want to take my cities to the next level, but the aforementioned lack of specific control makes me feel like all of my solutions involve guess-work and happenstance.

So, the question I'm left with is - is it the game, or is it me? Given that there are people who have successfully built cities with millions of people in them, it has to be the case that mastery is possible. I just don't know how to proceed from here. Look at online guides, maybe. Attempt radical experiments. All I know is that the game itself won't help me. It's not very transparent with the logic behind its mechanics.

Which, I suppose, is part of its charm. You're delving into a mysterious world where the connections between cause and effect are not easily seen, and small, seemingly innocent decisions can have massive consequences. In some small way it mimics the murkiness of real politics. What does it mean, and what does it matter when, say, a vacant field gets sold to a big corporation to allow them to build a supermarket near a busy intersection (a thing that recently happened in my real-life hometown)? What is the connection between the city planner, a typical citizen, and the city itself?

In real life, these are difficult, perhaps unanswerable questions. By its very nature, SimCity 4 must attempt to answer them, because otherwise how could it possibly be a responsive simulation? Assumptions about the nature of urban life, the role of government, and the ramifications of economic and political decision among local elites must be baked into the game's very code. Those assumptions are what make it a game.

Yet, after 15 hours with SimCity 4, I couldn't tell you with any precision what those assumptions are. Part of that is, of course, my lack of skill with the game. But I suspect a larger part is my lamentable lack of savvy when it comes to local politics. Why didn't anyone ever tell me this stuff was important?

Friday, November 27, 2015

SimCity 4 Deluxe - 10/20 hours

For me, the most difficult part of SimCity 4 has been coming to grips with the notion that growth can require a disruption to a stable equilibrium. You have to take something that works, break it in some small, but definable way, and then pour effort into fixing the bigger, better, but broken thing that emerges in the aftermath.

There's probably some important life lesson about risk and growth in there somewhere, but I'm not sure I want to hear it. I'm just generally pretty risk-averse and I like it when whole things stay whole.

That said, I think I've more or less figured out the city-management aspect of the game. I've been able to keep a balanced budget, get all of my public opinion bars up to maximum, and deliver adequate civic services. The one thing that still hangs me up is traffic management. There's so many options, and I can't really get a handle on the strengths and weaknesses of each. I like to think this is subtly educational, and that by getting good at the game, I may learn a thing or two about how real cities manage traffic, but I've not seen any evidence that SimCity is particularly realistic in this regard.

I also think I might be getting the hang of this regional play thing. My current city has 50,000+ people, and almost no industry, thanks to being adjacent to a highly industrial city to which my sims can commute.

I don't know if I have any special goals for the last half of the game. Try to keep things on an even keel. Hopefully reach 100,000 people in a single city map. Maybe fill up a whole region. I'm not sure how ambitious these goals are. The last, especially, feels more tedious than difficult, and would probably take more than 10 hours besides, but I'm almost certain I can reach 100k citizens.

My feeling at this point is that SimCity 4 is a game that rewards a light touch. If you have a willingness to sit back and let things happen, you'll get better results than if you're constantly fiddling with the controls, trying to squeeze out greater moment-to-moment advantage. Although, that could just be my inexperience talking. Maybe there is a way to micromanage your cities and have them grow super fast. However, if there is, I'm unlikely to discover it in my remaining time.

So, almost by default, it's slow and steady for me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

SimCity 4 Deluxe - 5/20 hours

The trickiest thing about SimCity 4 is learning to think in terms of regions. My second city was a little more successful than my first, but quickly reached an equilibrium where my city was functional, but no longer growing. It turns out that you simulated people will commute from city to city within the region, and that the best way to maximize population is to specialize your cities. Make one that's heavily industrial and another that mainly residential and both will grow much more dramatically than two generalized cities.

That's not the way I'm used to playing a city-building game. My habit is to think of each city as self-contained. It's going to take a whole new approach for me to build a successful city.

Provided, of course, that I conflate "successful" with "highly populous." Perhaps it would be better to just focus on making a series of habitable and prosperous small towns, and leave the exercises in excess to those better suited to them. There is something to be said for elegance. I don't always have to go for the bigger thing just because it's out there . . .

I said, almost immediately realizing that it was completely antithetical to my whole personality. I think I may just be resentful because my cities' growth started stalling out after an initial period of rapid growth, and I don't have the knowledge or experience to get past the hump. I've been reading online tutorials and forum posts, and it's occurred to me that there is a lot going on in this game that I've been totally unaware of.

What makes things difficult is that I'm not sure where to go next. I think I should probably just start a whole bunch of cities from scratch to fully explore the early game. I've been relying on the drag function to automatically fill out my street network, and that's probably handicapping my traffic later down the line. Also, I've been setting the game speed to its fastest level. Apparently you aren't supposed to do that. As much as I might like seeing things grow, it would be better for me to have time to react to problems as they crop up.

Any way you slice it, there's a long learning curve ahead. And, once more, I run into the problem of a game where "the first twenty hours are where you learn to play." In theory, this is a problem I like to have, because it means the game has depth, but of course, it's not particularly compatible with my "wandering tourist" approach to games these days.

The road to mastery is long and steep, and something that, realistically, I will never complete. I should, therefore, try and find a way to play SimCity 4 that is enjoyable for a dilettante. Though I worry, if I do actually find such a way, am I still playing the game? Is the quest for mastery not the whole point of the exercise?

I have to think that it's not, otherwise the game would be completely inaccessible to the vast majority of players . . .

Oh, yeah, that's an entirely plausible possibility. Still, what would this world be like if we were all the same? (SimCity?)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

SimCity 4 Deluxe - 2/20 hours

The good news is that it turns out my worries about the budget have turned out to be unfounded. Either the economy has been rebalanced or my younger self was needlessly profligate with social services. Probably a combination of both.

The bad news is that I'm not sure I want to continue growing my city. Not because I'm bored or frustrated or anything, but because I've reached the edges of the map, and in order further expand, I'll have to pave over my farms and replace my small, single-residence houses with apartment buildings.

I'm faced then, with the choice between expanding my city or preserving its unique rural character. It may seem perverse to worry about the gentrification of a simulated video game city, particularly when growing the city is the only obvious goal. Yet, somehow, the simple farming community of Concord feels real to me. To disrupt the patchwork of fields in order to make room high-rise apartments and office buildings doesn't seem right.

Luckily, I can start a new city, one that from the very beginning is geared for its eventual expansion. This isn't quite an admission of defeat. SimCity 4 is played over a region, where the various city maps are connected and can engage in deals and trades. So far, Concord is the only city in my region, and thus even if I stuck with it and built it up, I'd still be missing out on a good portion of the game's content.

So, I guess, for now, Concord is complete. It's not a bad little town. It's got about 15,000 people, good schools, a stable and sustainable tax base, low crime, and only the occasional traffic jam. It's probably destined to be overshadowed by its neighbors, but I'm certain that its small-town charm will make it a favorite suburb in the region for years to come.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sim City 4 Deluxe - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

SimCity 4 Deluxe Edition includes the bestselling SimCity 4 and the all-new SimCity 4 Rush Hour Expansion Pack. Create the most massive region of cities ever, with a farming town, bedroom community, high-tech commercial center, and industrial backbone. Take complete control of your city's transportation system, and solve U-Drive-It missions — from fighting crime to tackling disasters. Watch your population skyrocket as you get your Sims on the go and create the ultimate living, breathing megalopolis — the most expansive SimCity 4 compilation ever.


Create an Entire Region of Cities — Weave together a tapestry of cities linked by a fully integrated transportation network and watch them share and compete for resources.

Wield God-like Powers — Sculpt the landscape to create a world based on your imagination, then summon volcanoes, tornadoes, meteors, and lightning.

Be a Responsive Mayor — Build a world-class city with stadiums, airports, universities, and real-world landmarks. Deploy emergency vehicles and join in the action as they battle blazes, mobs, and more.

Get Insight from Your Sims — Read the rhythm of the city, from commuter hell to mellow cruising, noon-time crowds to night-time calm.

Previous Playtime

1 minute

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

I'd owned the game on disc for years, but the Steam version included a DLC I didn't own and had the convenience of not requiring a disc check. So I waited until it went on sale for 5 bucks and then bought it to save me the hassle of digging out my disc and reinstalling. I was initially very resistant to the idea of digital purchases (and I'm still not entirely comfortable with them), but I do have to admit that they're very convenient.

Expectations and Prior Experience

My first SimCity game was the original SimCity port on the SNES. I loved that game because it was so unlike anything else I'd played up to that point. After that, there was a long gap in my SimCity gaming, primarily due to the fact that my computer was never quite powerful enough to run the latest game in the franchise, and yet prior games in the series were not that easy to find. Then, a few years (and two computers) ago, I just happened to have a brand new computer at around the time that SimCity 4 was old, but available, so I picked up the disc.

I built a few cities, but never quite got into it. It's not the fault of the game, I think I was just so excited about having a new computer that I bought too many games at the same time and it got lost in the shuffle. I bought it around the same time as I got Spore, The Movies, and Civilization IV, so it never really stood a chance.

I'm therefore looking forward to playing it now. It feels like I'm rectifying an old mistake. I'm certain that I'll enjoy it. I love building things, and having the fate of an entire virtual city in my hands is right in my wheelhouse. My only worry is that the last time I seriously played a SimCity game, I was practically a child, and not very good at managing budgets and the like. I like to think that I've grown since then, but I may come face to face with some hard truths in the course of playing this game.

Planetary Annihilation - 20 /20 hours

In the end, I didn't get a chance to play against a fellow human. The realities of my schedule precluded it.  It's probably for the best. Even if I did find someone willing to play an RTS at two in the morning, it's likely that we would have been interrupted at least once.

Which just left me with a hard-mode galactic war to get through. It wasn't actually that hard. I probably screwed things up by rushing a boss fight first thing, and subsequently getting a lot of technology for free, but perhaps it should not have been so easy for me to rush a boss fight. After that first, somewhat tricky battle, everything else was pretty much autopilot. I've been dragging out winning the war just so I can see if there's a maximum tech level. I didn't quite make it to then end, there. I still have about 10 battles I need to go through, provided I don't want to simply dispatch the final boss.

Maybe, someday, I'll finish it out of curiosity, but seeing as I am still concurrently playing Fallout 4 (80 hours and counting), I don't really have enough time to waste on idle whimsy.

The tricky thing about Planetary Annihilation is that I'm not sure whether I wanted it to be harder. I suppose, if I wanted to look cool, I'd yawn derisively and say, "it was scarcely a challenge for one of my tactical abilities." But I don't think that would fool anyone, not unless the "my" was really sarcastic.

Like, I never even used base defenses. They were simply not necessary at "normal" and "hard" difficulty. My stockpiled troops were always sufficient to repel any of the AI's halfhearted attacks, with an attrition rate so low that the only time I really had to worry about building a second wave was when I got impatient and prematurely attacked with my first. Towards then end, I'd reduced the number of units I was building from 500+ to around 200.

I have to admit, I liked winning, but I can't help but wish that I'd been forced to win in a more epic way. More massive superweapons and planet-covering legions, and less sending out a half-dozen advanced bombers to snipe at the enemy base from beyond the range of its turrets (though, parking a couple of orbital lasers above the enemy commander and taking them out with a precision strike was always oddly satisfying).

I wonder, though, whether I would have been able to cope with an RTS of greater complexity and more demanding difficulty. Probably not. The parts of the game I enjoyed most - seeing the various units and watching my base grow - are not exactly conducive to victory, and really, the only reason I want more complexity is because then I'd have more units to look at and more base improvements to build.  So, really, did I want more challenge from the game, or did I just want a different game?

Still, in the final analysis, I had fun, and that's what's important. Planetary Annihilation may not be at the top of my list for classic games, but I was pleasantly surprised to find an RTS that didn't make me want to tear my hair out in frustration. Plus, I liked the cartoony look and over-the-top scale (even if I didn't get to operate on that scale as much as I wanted to).

Planetary Annihilation therefore gets a qualified recommendation from me. It's worth playing, but if you enjoy a strategic challenge, you're almost certainly going to want to play against another human.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Planetary Annihilation - 15/20 hours

I went ahead and tried a skirmish match, and the AI was, indeed, noticeably better. Not quite good enough to win, but I did, at least, face some opposition. That gave me the confidence to try the Galactic War on hard mode. I think it might still be too easy. I was able, with barely any technology, to knock out one of the three opposing AI leaders. Since the whole premise of the match mode is that the AI leaders are tough fights where you have to build up your technology to even have a chance, that suggests to me that the difficulty still needs some tuning.

The real question is whether I'm going to bother. It's likely that I won't finish my currently galactic war before the end of the 20 hours (although, given how easily the first AI fell, maybe I will), and so trying the game in "relentless" mode seems like a bit of a superfluous cap to my Planetary Annihilation experience.

Then again, maybe the game will surprise me. I feel like I have it all figured out, and unlike, say, Starcraft, it doesn't have asymmetrical factions or a complex (or, indeed, any) storyline. I've been having fun, but there is no doubt that Planetary Annihilation is a simple game, and thus it probably doesn't have the longevity to become a serious obsession.

At least, not in single player. I understand that the real meat of this type of game is in online multiplayer, and I should probably give it a try, just to get the full experience, but let's get real. I would get creamed. At the end of a match, it gives you a breakdown of your various stats, and in the most important RTS statistic - commands per minute - I'm abysmal. I believe I topped out at 10. To put this in perspective, a professional gamer can do 300 or more.

I may well try a multiplayer match, just for the sense of perspective, but I'm almost certain that it will be a quick and humiliating defeat.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Planetary Annihilation - 10/20 hours

I did, finally, get to annihilate a planet. It was literally the last thing I did before I quit the game to write this post. It was something like my third or fourth attempt. On previous occasions, I'd gotten pretty far along in the process of building a superweapon when the enemy commander just happened to wander into my line of fire and get destroyed.

Of course, that's probably my just punishment for attempting to delay the end of a math purely to deliver a superfluous, planet-destroying coup de grace. Luckily, for my last match, building the giant laser really was the most efficient way to win. I was on a system with multiple planets, facing multiple commanders, and it was either blow up an enemy planet all in one go, or launch a complex interplanetary invasion. The laser saved me the trouble of having to scout out the enemy's location.

However, I think my victory was only possible because the AI on normal mode was really weak. Not once did I have to repel an attack on my base, and for almost the whole of the galactic war, I was able to seize mineral deposits virtually uncontested. Only when I accidentally strayed near the AI base was I in any danger of having my units destroyed.  It was useful for practice, and I think I've got a pretty good handle on the tech tree, but it doesn't make me feel especially proud of my skills.

I've been told that the AI in skirmish mode is stronger, so I think I'll give it a try next. I'm not sure how hard I want the game to be, exactly. One of the toughest parts of the genre for me, after the annoyance of having to divide my attention, is that I don't like losing units and structures. It's a weird reaction, I know, but having built those cute little guys, I hate to see them wrecked by my brute of an enemy. I wish I could play the RTS without having to labor under the threat of war, but then, what would be the point?

Since Planetary Annihilation is not a city-builder, but rather a war game, I think I'm going to have to accept some level of destruction if I want a decent challenge. I guess I'd want to find the hardest difficulty where it's possible for me to expand slightly faster than my stuff is destroyed. That will likely take some fine tuning.

Still, I'm halfway through the game, and it's been relatively painless thus far, so I'm optimistic about the back half. Even if harder difficulties prove too frustrating, I'll still be able to kick it back down to normal and coast my way through my remaining time. It may not be dignified, but it's an approach that works for me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Planetary Annihilation - 5/20 hours

Five hours in and I still haven't annihilated a planet. I may be getting closer, though. I actually saw a structure that could do such a thing in my build orders, but the strategic situation was not quite right to use it. So far, it's simply been much more efficient to win the game with a huge wave of basic units, which I suspect might have something to do with the fact that I'm playing on the easiest difficulty ("Normal"). The AI has not been especially aggressive, and I've wound up running away with all of my matches thus far (except for one, where I spawned on the same island as the enemy commander, and then the game didn't pause correctly when I went to the bathroom, so I was killed while I was away from the computer).

I really want to see the high end stuff, though, so I may have to either kick it up to a higher difficulty or just toy with the enemy while I mess around with superfluous building. I don't like the latter plan, because it reeks of hubris, but ideally I'd like a chance to explore the tech tree while I'm not under fire, so I can get a comprehensive view of what exactly you can do.

I have to say that despite my reservations, I'm actually enjoying the game thus far. The fact that I have an uninterrupted (embarrassing outlier aside) winning streak helps. I'm not sure galactic war is the best introduction to the game, though. There are all sorts of gaps in what I can build, and I don't know whether they'll be unlocked with future technologies or whether they're simply blank spaces in the UI. I also get the feeling that my limited toolset is deforming my approach to the game. You probably don't want to build a massive fleet of basic tanks to deliver an early rush in a more typical match. I imagine against a prepared player, that's just an invitation to waste a huge amount of resources.

Still, I'm going to stay the course for now, and try to finish my current galactic war. There's something immensely satisfying about having a force of 600 tanks at your command, even if it's so far proven to be gratuitous overkill.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Planetary Annihilation - 2/20 hours

This game is not very newbie-friendly. It doesn't have a tutorial, and while the controls are pretty standard for the genre, a lot of the more nuanced commands you can give are off to the side on buttons whose functions are never adequately explained.  This is complicated by the fact that units and buildings are not very distinct, visually, so on multiple occasions I wound up mass-building construction units instead of light tanks. It's not just embarrassing, it's suicidally foolish.

After a few false starts, I was able to finally win a battle against the AI, so I think I might have the basics down, but this just leads me to think that maybe this game isn't very deep. It's hard to say. I've been playing the Galactic War mode, which starts you off with limited technology, so it's possible that I've simply not yet had the opportunity to explore the deep end of the tech tree. However, as far as I can tell, the basic strategy appears to be "build a lot of shit, very fast,"  with everything else being just details.

I'm fairly positive Planetary Annihilation is not going to be the game that breaks through my stony heart and teaches me to love RTS games. It has the same basic problem I have with all the rest of the genre - there's no "downtime." You have to constantly be on the lookout for new things to do. Idleness is death. But it's not just the constant activity. It's the fact that you have to be constantly building, constantly scouting, and constantly directing your troops. Doing one thing without a break, I could handle, but there's just something about the way my brain is wired. If I succeed in doing one prong of the fork adequately, the other two will suffer from neglect. That's the dark side of having a deep focus. I can multitask for shit.

Planetary Annihilation adds the wrinkle that its economy seems to function in the exact opposite way from most other RTS games I've encountered. You've got two type of resource-extraction buildings, and the each function the same way - they give you a resource income per second, with a relatively small cap on how much of a buffer you can save up (there are buildings you can construct that give you a bigger "bank," but in galactic war mode, that starts off locked). The upshot of this is that if you're not using close to all of your resources at all times, your minerals and energy simply go to waste.

I'm more used to the Starcraft model, where crystal and gas are in limited, finite supply, you have a fairly strict cap on the number of units you can control, and if you lose too many, you can make the game unwinnable. In Planetary Annihilation, that does not appear to be the case. As long as your net income is close to 0, you can keep building with no apparent upper limit (presumably there's a soft ceiling when it comes to your computer's ability to render all this stuff, but I'm guessing mineral deposits are rare enough that this is a non-issue). In fact, not only can you build a massive, superfluous army, you should do exactly that. Even if you don't use the units, it is better to have the minerals and energy take some solid form, rather than vanish into the ether.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, it makes each individual unit less valuable, which makes combat feel more forgiving. On the other hand, when I finally won the battle against the AI, I had a reserve force that was at least as large as my attack force, and more on the way every second. It's just one more thing to pay attention to, exacerbating my basic problem with the genre.

Where I come down on the issue depends greatly on how the game progresses, going forward. Presumably, the first battle was a gimme, just to help me get a feel for the game, and things will become more complex and frantic as time goes on. If the massive unit surplus I experienced is eventually used up in battles of larger scale, that should be fine. If it instead turns out that I'll need o use my giant armies for complex patrols or battles on multiple fronts, then it may well be intolerable.

It's really too early to say. Hell, I'm two hours in and I haven't even annihilated a single planet. That means that I likely have a lot of the game left to see.

Planetary Anihilation - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Colonize solar systems, annihilate homeworlds, and exterminate your foes in epic interplanetary battles with multiple players and thousands of units. Planetary Annihilation takes strategy gaming to a never-before-seen scale -- and gives players powerful tools to control the action.

Blow up everything, anywhere; dominate with punishing spacecraft, robots, and other futuristic machines of war. Arm asteroids and send them on planet-destroying collision courses. And take over an entire galaxy in a dynamic single-player mode with procedurally generated content. Don’t just win, annihilate! 

Previous Playtime

0 hours

Expectations and Prior Experience

Colonizing star systems and blowing up planets intrigues me, but this game looks like an RTS, and that's a genre that's always been difficult for me. I like the cartoony look of the screenshots, but the game's reviews are really poor.

Color me ambivalent here. I think I'll probably enjoy it if growth is easy and I get to use a variety of cool buildings and units, and I will hate it if I feel like I constantly have to tread water just to stay ahead of the enemy.

My big hope is that the game is as over the top as its title and description make it sound.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fallout 4 - Wrap-Up (50 hours)

Fallout 4 has definitely got its hooks into me. It is, at heart, the same basic game that Bethesda has been releasing for years, but that game is so absurdly strong ("put a world in a box, and let the player explore it") that I'm not sure I could ever get bored with it. In the past, the end of my time with Fallout 3 or Skyrim (or even Oblivion) has always been the result of me being distracted by the new, exciting thing, or simple fatigue at the sheer scope of the games (and even then, usually at the 80+ hour mark - for the console version of Fallout: New Vegas, I had a single character that broke 150 hours, made after I'd already bought and played two different versions of the game).

Nothing of substance has changed this time. I beat the game with a character, had something like 35 hours into it, and decided to start over from scratch with a new character to try out a different build. Between the two of them, I'd be very surprised if I've seen half the map (even early into my second character's career, I've been discovering new things), and I've barely scratched the surface of the settlement management system.

Let me take a moment to highlight that last statement - Fallout 4 has a settlement management system. You have to coordinate infrastructure. Infrastructure!

It would be hyperbole to say that I need never play another video game after this, but if I had to pick one, it's starting to look like a really good candidate (I can't wait to see the DLC).

And that is the very reason I must stop. I could spend weeks or months playing Fallout 4 and be satisfied by the experience, but I still have 100 games left in my Steam library and if I want to get through them all, I have to keep moving. If it feels like severing a relationship too soon, well that's just this project in a nutshell.

My intent is to keep playing Fallout 4 off and on, during my free time, while simultaneously blogging about different games, but only time will tell if that's even possible. I tend to hyper-focus on one thing at a time, so it's likely that I'll wind up shelving Fallout and then forgetting about it for the next year and a half.

It's kind of depressing to think about, but on the upside, that will give me the opportunity to start the game over from the beginning once more.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Fallout 4 - The Big Spoiler Post

I completed the main quest at around 35 hours. It has potential, but I felt like it fell a little flat. Part of the problem may be the faction I chose to back, but I wonder if any of the others could possibly be any better.

Here's the story in a nutshell:

You're an average Pre-War schmo, with a spouse and a baby. You've been selected to go into a nearby vault in the event of a nuclear war. The nuclear war happens, and when you get to the vault, you find that it's a shady cryogenics experiment. You're frozen for some indefinite period of time. At some point, you wake up and see that your spouse and child have been unfrozen, and a lady in a creepy white environment suit and a grizzled-looking mercenary dude take the child by force, killing your spouse in the process.

The cryogenic pods are started up again, and then some time later, you wake up again, but this time the door to the pod opens. The vault is completely abandoned, all of its inhabitants dead. Of the various people in the cryogenic tubes, only you survived.

When you emerge from the pod, you see that the world is a blasted wasteland, one in which you have to strike out and find your kidnapped son. During your epic manhunt, you discover that your son was kidnapped by the Institute, which is like a boogeyman to the people of the wastes, due to their habit of making lifelike robots that infiltrate human society, and that your son is not the first person they kidnapped.

It also becomes apparent that years have passed since the kidnapping, and that your son is at least 10 years old. Long story short, you join up with one of the Institute's many enemies to raid their base and rescue your son . . . only to find out that 60 years have passed. Your son is now a grey-haired adult man, and, in fact, the head of the Institute, who had hitherto been your sworn enemy.

That's where the story falls apart for me. The problem is that you've been led to believe that you're playing out a revenge story, but then things get way too complex for that. This, of course, could be the foundation for a much better revenge story, but it doesn't quite prove to be complex enough for that. The writing feels really strained, and there's never really a satisfying emotional payoff.

The way I see it, the Institute doesn't stop being your enemy just because your son happens to be in charge. Yet your son doesn't stop being your son, just because he's 60+ years old and the leader of the villains. A good story about this situation would be about your attempts to thread the needle, establishing a relationship with your lost son while attempting to preserve your principles.

And to be fair to the game, it at least seems to try. Your son is pleased to see you, and immediately invites you to work for the Institute, explaining that it has a noble purpose, and that he feels more like he was rescued rather than kidnapped. This could be interesting, where you start off a little dubious, but willing to compromise your principles just a little for the sake of family, but then gradually have to face the fact that your son's work is unconscionable.

Unfortunately, this character arc spans exactly two missions. The first mission your son assigns you is to track down and capture a rouge synth (android) who has become the leader of a band of raiders. It's already been established that the Institute uses synths as slaves, and that many of their more advanced models are fully sapient, so it's a little tricky ethically - you're returning a person to slavery, but he is a bad person who deserves it.

Your second mission is to assault an abolitionist stronghold and recover a group of escaped synths who, when you finally find them, are terrified of going back to the Institute and beg you to let them go. And at this point, I can't help but think about Kellogg, the mercenary who kidnapped your son and shot your spouse. Thus far, he's loomed large in the story, even after his death, a figure of legendary ruthlessness and cruelty, and my thought was "oh shit, my son is trying to groom me to become the next Kellogg."

That's a neat idea, but it needs room to breathe. The confrontation between parent and child comes too fast, and the falling out between them was almost immediate. It would have been nice for there to have been time for a bond to grow between your character and their son, one that was undercut by his creepiness as the head of the villainous organization. Maybe I just picked the wrong dialogue options, but there didn't seem to be any of the ambivalence I would expect from someone thrust into this situation.

But I could probably have accepted that as video game shorthand, if not for what happens next. After he abandons you to go back to the Institute, your son orders a military attack on the faction that helped you find him in the first place. In my case, it was the Minutemen, a group of do-gooders committed to fighting the raiders and making the wasteland safe enough to reestablish civilization. It was a completely unprovoked assault that was beyond the pale, ethically.

So, of course, there is a counterattack, and because you're the player, it's extremely effective. You manage to destroy the Institute's primary (and only) base, and as you're on your way out, you find your son, confined to a sickbed and possibly dying . . . and the confrontation between the two of you completely misses the point. You don't even get a chance to offer to rescue him from the upcoming explosion, only to be rebuffed (or, at least, I didn't see one, and I was looking for it). It's just such a basic oversight.

The last conversation doesn't even address the subject of anger. Not from a character perspective - your son knew who you were working with, and basically tried to have you killed, nor a player perspective - the assault on your allies was a really tough fight, one that consumed a huge amount of precious resources and left my power armor wrecked, nor from the intersection between them - you've just spent all this time with your son as a MacGuffin, and when you finally find him, he's an unctuous twerp. I'd have really liked to have some closure on that issue.

Finally, the biggest sin of the ending is that it doesn't give you an epilogue. Do the Minutemen succeed in rebuilding the Commonwealth, what happens to the Institute survivors you went out of your way to save, does the Brotherhood of Steel continue to cause trouble? We may never know (though, I suspect there might be a different ending, depending on what faction you choose).

Overall, I wouldn't say I hate the game's main story - you get to meet some cool characters along the way, and there's some fantastic spectacle - but it definitely falls flat when it comes to emotional nuance. Luckily, the story is not really the game's main draw. Exploring ruins, killing monsters, and hoarding junk are more fun than they've ever been, and that's easily enough to sustain me for 30 hours more.

(yes, it really does look like it's shaping up to be that long)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fallout 4 - 20/20 hours

I am going to try and make this quick, because I really want to make it back to playing Fallout 4 as soon as possible. I reached 20 hours, I estimate that I'm about halfway through the main quest, but it's hard to tell, because it's been at least 10 hours since I last pursued it. I'm just having too much fun poking around ruins and doing random sidequests.

This is ordinarily where I'd make a post trying to summarize my thoughts about the game, but I think it might be too soon to do that here. I still have half the map completely unexplored, and of the half I have explored, I've got 3-4 uncleared locations for every one I've thoroughly emptied. I don't expect to spend less than 50 hours on this game. Luckily, that should only take about a week.

My plan going forward is to keep doing one post a day. I'm starting to feel like my initial character build was mistake. I focused heavily on Charisma, for the extra speech options, but haven't really gotten enough out of it to justify shorting Strength and Endurance. But now that I'm approaching level 20, I'm starting to feel like the game's level scaling is outpacing my character. Fights have been getting steadily harder, and I'm chronically short on ammo (usually, by this point in a Fallout game, I'd have reached the tipping point where ammo is abundant).

I think what I'm going to do is try and finish the main storyline, and then write one, big spoiler post dumping all of my thoughts about it. Then, I'll start over with another, more exploration-focused character, and try to be systematic in my approach to sidequests.

To sum up: At 20 hours, this game gets a big thumbs up from me, but I feel like I've just barely begun to play it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fallout 4 - 17/20 hours

I wound up losing track of time and breezing through another nine hours of this game in less than a day. It's weird. I think I've started to divide the world into two categories - Fallout 4 and Things That Take Me Away From Fallout 4. And it doesn't take much for the second category to earn my sudden and unmerited resentment. Ugh, I have to go buy groceries, why is life putting me through this hell?

It's a silly attitude. I don't think it comes down entirely to the virtues of Fallout 4 as a game. It has many faults. I've played games with better shooting, better resource management, better stories, better art design, better character customization, and just generally better gameplay. However, what makes Fallout 4 so compelling as an experience is that it genuinely feels like it's giving me access to another world.

It's a world that's in almost every conceivable way worse than this one (though it does have cool noir- detective robots), and not somewhere I'd want to visit in real-life, if given the opportunity. Yet, in this world, your character is a person of consequence. He's a guy who can find a broken vacuum cleaner, strip it for parts, and then use those parts to improve a struggling frontier settlement. He can talk gangsters out of killing people. He can get his dog to more or less obey him. In other words, he has autonomy and independence, two things that are, in the real world, in very short supply.

I have this theory about freedom. I think that what we call "freedom" is actually an amalgam of three different things - choice, autonomy, and independence. Choice is having multiple options presented to you and being able to select the option you like best. Autonomy is doing things for your own reasons, and not because someone tells you to do them. Independence is not having to rely on other other people, or factor in their actions as a constraint on your own.

The line between these categories (especially autonomy and independence) can be a little blurry, but I've come up with a few examples that might illustrate the differences.

A person stranded alone on a desert island would have high autonomy - there's no one to tell them what to do; high independence - they don't need anyone's help to go about their daily routine; and low choice - everything they do is constrained by survival, and the limitations of the island's resources.

A person who is a successful investor in a robust capitalist economy would have high choice - there's an absolutely dizzying array of investment opportunities to choose from; a high autonomy - as one of society's elite, there are very few people to tell them what to do; and low independence - once they invest the money, even if they take a leading management roll in the venture, the success or failure of the investment depends a lot on the actions of other people  (workers, customers, fellow investors etc).

A medieval serf would have high independence - they farm the land directly and personally make most of their own material possessions; low autonomy - the landlord tells them what to do, and backs those commands up with the church and the sword; and, well, honestly, a low degree of choice, due to the fact that the medieval economy was not especially diverse, and they were poor besides, but I think you get the basic idea. It's easy enough to imagine a medieval serf with 100 different cable channels, but no more political say in their own destiny.

So, the thing about a modern, capitalist society is that it's great at maximizing choice. There are so many things to buy, so many fashions and entertainments and varieties of mayonnaise that you can never exhaust them all (something to which this blog is a testament). Yet autonomy is a luxury. Unless you are wealthy, you answer to a boss. For eight hours a day, or about half your waking life, you have someone who literally tells you what to do, how to dress, how to feel (or at least, how to appear to feel, can't have a crabby day in front of the customers, can you). And the shadow of this hangs over even your non-working life - can you get fired for things you do in your off-hours, things which might be an "embarrassment to the company?" Only by becoming your own boss can you possibly avoid this.

But even then, even if you are a well-off person with every conceivable luxury and no employer holding the threat of unemployment over them as a spur for compliance, you still cannot buy independence. The supply chains behind all those wondrous assortments of products are too complex for any one person to bypass. The knowledge necessary to create and improve all our incredible inventions is too vast for any one person to learn. Maybe, if you went "off the grid" you could reach some semblance of independence, but then, you are no longer part of our society. The only way to have that sort of freedom is to renounce everything else capitalism has to offer.

Or, you know, you could build a virtual world to simulate it. That's what I think makes open-world games like Fallout 4 so addictive. Even the most complex video game is going to have fewer choices than the real world, but autonomy is trivial - so long as quests are not mandatory, and success or failure isn't tied to time limit. And independence is even easier - don't require multiplayer, and don't make your NPCs too finicky or demanding (even when you "require" NPCs for some character needs, like food and such, if they are simple and easy enough, they will feel like tools for the player to exploit).

The virtual world, then, is a surrogate that supplies a variety of freedom that's rare in the physical world. It is a chance to be autonomous and independent (and, probably not coincidentally, powerful) in a way that would otherwise be unavailable to the player. Add in a dose of the fantastic, to make it fun to talk about, and you have a potent tonic against the stresses of everyday life in a capitalist society.

And if that makes playing video games sound kind of sad, well, I'm not sure that it is. What's the alternative? I don't think there's any way to maximize all three forms of freedom and still remain recognizably human. Maybe our society doesn't get the balance exactly right - in fact, I'm sure that it doesn't, though the specifics of how it can improve, or even what improvement would actually look like, are the subject of very passionate political disagreements - but I don't think there's a future where individual humans are an economy unto themselves, or a society unto themselves, or a world unto themselves. So long as there are two people who want to live together, they will face constraints on their freedom. Which means that escape valves, like Fallout 4, will always be pleasurable.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fallout 4 - 8/20 hours

I'm having trouble writing Fallout 4 posts, because I can't shake the feeling that I'm not currently playing Fallout 4. It's been a while since a game has made me feel this way. It hasn't quite started to invade my dreams, but I'm guessing that's probably because I haven't gotten much sleep since I started playing this game.

It's a weird feeling, exploring the world of the Boston wasteland. I've played several Bethesda games for this blog, but every one of those was one I'd already played extensively before. I knew their landscapes and potential even before I went in, so I was more of a tourist than an explorer. Here, everything is new, which is not something I've experienced in a long time. I can see diversions from the main quest, and I don't know whether it would be interesting or fruitful or simply inconvenient to swerve away from my determined course to check them out.

It's thrilling, but also a little overwhelming. There's just so much to see and do, and even the stuff that isn't a big deal can be fun and worth a detour. There's a neon-lit noodle stand that is almost certainly an homage to Blade Runner, staffed by a Protectron that only speaks Japanese. The Brotherhood of Steel has an airship. The first time it appeared, it crashed my game, but I reloaded and got a good look at it and it was sooo coool! There is even spectacle in the random environmental effects. I got caught in a radioactive storm with boiling green clouds with lightning jumping between them, and I was so awestruck, I could only stand there and let myself get irradiated, and for all the hundreds of hours I've played Fallout games, this was the first time I really felt like I was in an alien world whose dangers I could barely comprehend.

There are so many paths to go down. So much potential spectacle lying around every corner. I want to see it all. I want to do it all. Yet I know that my time is limited, not by my blog deadline (obviously, this is one that I'm going to go past 20 hours on), but just by my life. How long am I going to put my other hobbies and interests on hold to explore this game? How long before I become jaded by its particular brand of spectacle, and seek some other diversion? How much of the game will be wasted, and what will I lose out on when I inevitably move on?

I never finished Skyrim. That's one of my big gaming regrets. This game feels even bigger and more interesting. So now I have two monster games that I'll desperately need to revisit later on (and that's not counting all the other, not-quite-so-big-but-even-more-deep games that I've had the pleasure of prematurely abandoning). It feels like a big responsibility. Which is ironic, because if I let myself be irresponsible, then it is a duty that is a joy to perform. I want to go down a hundred blind alleys and poke my nose into various ruined buildings, to obsessively collect the various plungers, broken bottles, and screwdrivers that will become the raw material for wasteland settlements (not to mention the occasional odd high-tech super weapon). I want to meet a bunch of strange npcs and do random favors for them. I want to get lost.

But is that something you can do on purpose? I know myself. My mind will begin to wander. I won't lose interest, but I will gain interest in something else, and there will come a point where my enthusiasm for continuing will be 99%, and my enthusiasm for, say, building a rocket ship in Kerbal Space Program (yet another game where I quit due to sudden distraction) will be at 100%, and so I'll take a "little break," and then before I know it, it's years later, and I'm doing a Fallout 4 retrospective just in time to have to cut myself short to make room for Fallout 5.

It's a distressing cycle, and one that I know in my marrow to be unnecessary - for years Alpha Centauri was my only PC game, and I loved it - but I don't really see any way out. I live in a time of abundance, but there's only one me. I just have to accept that modern games live and die according to a pattern, and that my waxing and waning attention is part of that life. Like summer turning to fall, the initial high of post-release binge playing must eventually give way to benign neglect. It's the only way future games will have the space to live at all.

And while it's undeniably sad that I'm going to lose Fallout 4 before its time, that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate its beauty in this short time we have together. Summer may not last forever, but for now, it's long enough.

Fallout 4 - 2/20 hours

I didn't want to stop playing long enough to write this post. "Luckily," I have my nightly hotel paperwork that can't be put off, so I was more or less forced to take a break (this is part of the reason I can get through 4Xs so fast - I don't have to turn the game off to write on my clipboard).

I had a bit of a scare starting the game up. It crashed to desktop instantly. My rage was not quite incandescent, but that's probably because having a meltdown at work would not have been a good idea. A little research was able to mitigate the problem. I have to play on windowed mode, which is not ideal, but could be a lot worse. Leaving aside the fact that the edges of my desktop are visible as I play, the game looks great, even on "low" settings and it runs smoothly. The new laptop has pulled through.

So, what about the game itself? I love it. It's Fallout. You're in this fantastic, retro-futuristic world with all this gorgeous desolation to rummage through and explore. I never want to leave. It's exactly as I expected it would be. And though I haven't got far enough into the game to really dig into the crafting and settlement-building aspects, I can already tell that I'm going to love them. More than any other game in the series, Power Armor feels like a badass weapon of war that makes a decisive difference on the battlefield.

And now for the complaints . . .

There aren't really very many, especially since I've decided to avoid specific spoilers until I encounter something that either delights or outrages me, but in general terms, as much as I enjoyed seeing a glimpse of the prewar world, your character feels like less of a cipher than in previous games. You get a real sense of his motivations, which theoretically is good storytelling, but . . . well it is not a new problem for Bethesda rpgs to have this amazing open world to explore and also a main quest that feels urgent and time-sensitive, so you feel like kind of a jackass for ignoring it.

I'm going to mull over whether I want to talk about the plot, because I do have some things I want to say about it, but maybe I'll save them for one, big, spoilery post. In the meantime, I can't wait to get back into it. I've only scratched the surface of post-apocalyptic Boston, and there's a ton more I want to see.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Fallout 4 - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Bethesda Game Studios, the award-winning creators of Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, welcome you to the world of Fallout 4 – their most ambitious game ever, and the next generation of open-world gaming.

As the sole survivor of Vault 111, you enter a world destroyed by nuclear war. Every second is a fight for survival, and every choice is yours. Only you can rebuild and determine the fate of the Wasteland. Welcome home.

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This


Expectations and Prior Experience

I've played the previous games in the series several times, including once for this blog (though I never finished Fallout: Tactics), and have been ridiculously hyped for this game for quite some time. Expectations, then, are sky-high. It is clearly going to be the best game I've played since the start of the blog, possibly of all time.

And if it isn't . . . well, it would still have to go out of its way to actually disappoint me. There hasn't been a Bethesda open-world rpg yet that I haven't loved, and though it may be premature to say this, I really don't see any way the formula can go wrong, provided it's done by people who care what they're doing. So, while it's possible that Fallout 4 is going to break the streak, I don't consider that a very likely scenario.

My biggest fear is that my new computer won't actually be able to run the game. I got a new laptop a few months ago, and even though I did my research and bought the best one available in my price range, my price range was not super high, and the technical specification for PC gaming advance so fast . . .

But this is a depressing train of thought. I like my new computer, and I have faith that it has what it takes to at least handle the minimum settings. Plus, it's already bought and preloaded, so it's too late to turn back now  . . .or is it? I don't quite understand Steam's return policy, though I don't like my odds, given my tendency to do everything in my power to get games to work - it took me nearly two hours to realize Dark Souls was broken, and that was embarrassingly obvious in retrospect.

Assuming it works, I imagine by this time tomorrow, I will be hip-deep in post-apocalyptic Boston, having wandered far off the main track of the game to collect scrap metal from ruins and search for bobbleheads (or whatever the FO4 equivalent turns out to be). I'll likely delight at the gentle skewering of the excesses of Americana, and devolve into some kind of pseudo-sapient frenzy of bloodlust as I lay waste to the mutant scum.

It'll be just like coming home.

Thoughts About the Fable Series

Okay, so it's been ten days since my last post. That's too long, and honestly, I thought I'd be done with the Fable sequels by now, but I'm still less than halfway through Fable 3. I don't think I'm going to finish, though. Partly because I miss blogging about games, but mostly because Fallout 4 is going to be out in less than 24 hours, and there's no way I'm missing playing that on release day.

What can I say, then, about two and a half Fable games? Well, Fable 2 is the perfect sequel. Everything that was good about the original was either preserved or improved upon, and most of the original's faults were, if not eliminated entirely, at least smoothed over. It was more or less "peak Fable." I said the original was not quite a classic, and I stand by that, but Fable 2 might well be worthy of the designation.

Which makes Fable 3 a real shame, and something of a mystery. It's not a bad game, and I'd even say I prefer it to the original, but it takes Fable 2's finely tuned formula and then makes a series of weird and inexplicable innovations that make it an all-around less pleasant experience. Like, why get rid of menus so thoroughly? It's a decision that works all right for changing clothes, but trudging along the "road to rule" in order to spend my experience points is a pain, and I apparently have no inventory where I can review exactly how many gems, toys, and various other doodads I've managed to accumulate, which makes giving and receiving gifts needlessly problematic.

It's just one of a host of complaints I could make (the social system is streamlined to the point of uselessness, black dye is a fucking DLC), but what makes Fable 3 especially frustrating is that it is, in other ways, a very well made game with some good ideas (I especially like the upgrading weapons). I don't know. I'm not likely to finish it, due to scheduling, but I think even with its rough parts, I'm going to have to give it a tentative thumbs up. I may have my issues with it, but I admire the fact that it's willing to take risks with an established series. The people at Lionhead were not content to rest on their laurels and simply remake the second game (though it seems obvious to me in retrospect that that's what a lot of people, including myself, secretly wanted) and so they took their enormously successful franchise and used it to experiment with the limits of game design. Which is a bold thing to do, even if all of their risks didn't quite pay off.

I think the Fable series will always have a fond place in my heart, though it kind of makes me sad to think that I'll probably never again have the sort of time necessary to give it its due.