Thursday, December 31, 2015

Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, and Victoria II - The Game is Still On

I made a good-faith effort to undo my victory, and I was unable to do so. Mostly this is because in two out of my three tries, the war never took place. My only surviving save from that period (I usually rely on autosaves and save-upon exits) is from too far before it started. The RNG would not return my falsified claim. And the one time it did, I won the war handily, thanks to the Duke being abandoned by his allies.

Which I guess means my initial failure was a fluke, and thus my attempt to correct it was no more improbably than the event happening in the first place. I still wish I hadn't screwed up and succumbed to the temptation to manipulate the odds with save-scumming, but I rolled the dice three times, and they came up my way. I'm choosing to believe this means it's okay for me to continue with my successful save file.

It's nice being saved from the dustbin of history, but I will always have that asterisk hanging over my accomplishments. However, I have such a long road ahead of me (seriously, I'm less than 1/3rd of the way there, which means another 40 hours at least) that I'll probably come to forget this incident before I'm done.

Crusader Kings II - 20/20 hours

I did something I promised myself I wouldn't do - I reloaded a previous save to replay a section of failure for hopes of a better result. I suppose it's not technically cheating. I've often reloaded action games when a particularly difficult sequence resulted in my untimely death (hell, reloading was like, 75% of what I did during Dark Souls), and I didn't even have to do anything special to unlock the option, so it's not as if it's an unintended mode of play. . .

But I can't help feel like it goes against the spirit of my intention to play the same realm through all three Paradox grand strategy games. Like, if, by the end of Victoria II, I'm a Great Power, bestride the world, meddling in the affairs of lesser nations and indulging in my vast wealth, is that not possible only because I once put an unnatural thumb on the scales of fate?

On the other hand . . . I had started a war to get revenge on the Duke of Anjou, whose family had tormented mine with an unprovoked war every single generation since the very start of the game (and in one generation, they attacked me twice). I knew I had the numbers to win the war. I'd calculated it very precisely. . .

And then I made a strategic blunder. I laid siege to a castle when I should have met the enemy in the field, and this allowed the Duke's allies to consolidate their forces right around the time my mercenaries abandoned my cause for lack of pay. It was obvious, as soon as it happened, what went wrong. And that would have been the end of House Strawberry.

The Duke would have imprisoned me and revoked my title on account of being a traitor, I'd have survived briefly as the Gelre Strawberrys, and then the pagans would have eaten me alive. A terrible, ignominious end where the villain triumphed and my project ended in humiliation.

I couldn't go out like that. Crusader Kings II is just a game, but it was also a powerful enough experience that by the time I got to my showdown with the Duke of Anjou, I loathed the man, and his entire family. Living under the axe for so long (about 15 hours) had set my nerves on edge. I felt like I needed the catharsis of his ultimate demise.

And I was okay with that at first. I played the game for another 5 hours in this timeline where Strawberry survived (the 20 hours above does not count the time I spent in Europa Univeralis IV's or Victoria II's tutorials, it's pure Crusader Kings II). But as I write down my justifications for the act, I realize that while it's not technically cheating, it does feel like cheating, and my "justification" feels more like an excuse.

So, do I benefit from the fruits of my unholy legerdemain or do I act like an adult (for certain definitions of "adult" that include "taking video games way too seriously") and admit that my attempt at an "ironman" playthrough failed?

I think I'll try a third way. I will go back to the latest save I have before my save-scumming (which is about 5 game years before "the incident") and deliberately make the same error as my original game. If, by the grace of the RNG, I survive, I will continue on with my current timeline (because it is about 25 years advanced and in a game that has taken me 20 hours to advance 150 years, with more than 400 left to go, I am not wasting any more time than I have to). If I don't survive, but resume play as the Count of Gelre, then I will continue on in that timeline. If I'm wiped out, so be it.

That was the game I intended to play when I set out on this project, and that is how I intend to finish it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, and Victoria II - 14/20 hours

Crusader Kings II is unmatched at the delicate art of creating a narrative out of gameplay. It is a strategy game, but the events in the game aren't merely pieces moving around on a board. Taken together, they form a story, complete with heroes and villains and plots and sudden surprises. And the amazing thing about all of this is that it is not scripted in advance. What happens is driven by your decisions and board position and randomly generated events. It's incredible. The story in Crusader Kings II really feels like my story.

Unfortunately, my story really suck. It is a story of a family of incompetents who keep taking bad risks and failing. They labor under the sway of an ambitious overlord who is constantly scheming to eject them from their lands, though they've been lucky so far, it is only a matter of time before their luck runs out.

Maybe it's immature of me, but I like the stories where I go from strength to strength and my realm is constantly expanding. That feels like winning to me. Yet in my current position, it is a victory merely to stay alive.

In theory, this should be an interesting story. If I were reading a book about the internal power struggles of the Duchy of Anjou in the ninth century and one character was a military genius who thought he was a werewolf and his daughter was a kind, but impressionable woman who imitated her father by stripping naked and howling at the moon, and that this eccentric pair managed to foil not one, but two attempts to seize their lands with military force, then that would be a pretty amazing story, even if the ultimate ending was that the patrilineal half of the managed to lose control of the lands through an ill-considered political marriage arranged by the delusional daughter.

I would enjoy reading that story. But I'm not reading it. I'm playing it, and that means that for all the inter-generational silliness, and despite the fact that the cruel Dukes of Anjou make for great villains, I am still a hair's width away from losing the game.

But maybe that's the wrong way to look at the game. I've come into Crusader Kings II with the idea that it's a strategy game of realm expansion. My goals as a player are the same as my characters' goals - I want a rich and militarily powerful dominion under my exclusive and uncontested control, with an unbroken chain of sons to carry my family name into eternity.

It occurs to me, though, that there is no rule anywhere that says my agenda has to be coherent within the context of the game. I'm not actually a medieval nobleman trying to claw out a legacy in the war of all-against-all that was 9th century Europe. In reality, I'm sitting in a comfortable chair more than a thousand years in the future, interacting with this world through a bunch of menus and map, projected on a screen. So I have to ask myself - what am I getting out of this experience?

From my perspective in the chair, is a series of small stories really that much worse than one, big story? Is a slow-motion tragedy any different than a drawn-out triumph? Do I really need to play to win? Or can I view the fact that I could play a game for 200 hours and never see the same story twice to be the greatest victory of all?

And this is not (purely) me trying to save face with a bullshit feel-good platitude. Consider the following map:

This is the world of Crusader Kings II on its most zoomed-out. If you'll note the minimap in the corner, you'll see that the game's playable area extends to the north, south, and east, all the way to Iceland, India and bits of Sub-Saharan Africa. And all those places are simulated as I go along.

Now look at those to red circles. I played the tutorials for my three Paradox games for three hours. Everything I've done in the remaining 10 hours of playing this game has taken place inside those two red circles (and the circle on the right, I only possessed for one generation).

So little tragedies like ambitious Dukes disinheriting their vassals must be occurring all the time. To be on the receiving end of such a scheme is merely to be living in this world, and the world has so much more going on than a squabble over an unimportant county. This Europe is an alternate history where Charlemagne died of an incapacitating brain injury before he could become the Holy Roman Emperor. Where Orthodox Christianity nearly died out and then was reborn. And where Islam spread beyond the Iberian peninsula and into what would now be the south of France.

If I were to write a bit of historical fiction called "The Werewolves of Anjou," people would look in askance at my superfluous world-building. So why should I act as if the whole world was built just for my story (aside from the obvious "because if I weren't playing the game, the world wouldn't exist")?

I could quite easily switch to play another character. I could be a plucky Emir on the make, a wild nomad who demands tribute from the settled lands, a Patrician in a merchant republic. I could even play as the Duke of Anjou if I wanted to. The end of the House of Strawberry only has to be a defeat if I say it's a defeat. . .

And there's the problem. I set out on this journey with a goal - to see a small noble house survive until 1453. If that doesn't happen, I may not have failed at the game's standards, but I will have failed by mine. As foolish as it was (and boy, does it ever seem foolish in retrospect), I began this game with an ending in mind, and I have to do my best to see that ending come about.

But I'm positive that things are going to get worse before they get better.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, and Victoria II - 9/20 hours

I love Crusader Kings II, but playing it reminds me of why I hate Crusader Kings II. The game is absolutely magical in its ability to transport you to another time and unmatched in its ability to let you live another life. The problem is that it depicts a place I wouldn't want to visit and a life I wouldn't want to live.

There's just so much violence. The basic mode of play has you scanning through a variety of menus, looking for someone weak to victimize, so that you can take what they own to bolster your own realm. It's underhanded and evil, but you have to do it, because while you're looking for victims, various npcs are looking to victimize you. Playing as a count (the lowest possible rank), you have no margin of error. You have to expand, or a single disaster can wipe you out.

Still, this constant thrust of attack and defense might not seem like such a big deal, taken in the abstract. After all, a game like Borderlands is pure violence (in the sense that there is literally nothing else to do), but it doesn't affect me at all in the same way that Crusader Kings II does. The violence in Crusader Kings II feels personal.

In Borderlands, the bandits are theoretically people with hopes and dreams and families and whatnot, but really, they are just patterns of light in a virtual shooting gallery. In Crusader Kings II, if you want to murder someone, you can go into a certain screen and see what their hopes and dreams actually are. And learning about their families and relationships is the entire point. You want to kill a Duke, you'd damned well better know about his brothers and sisters and children, and you'd be best off being able to draw a line between his family and yours.

Plus, Crusader Kings II is perhaps the most morally laissez-faire game I've ever played. This is always a tricky subject in games, because a game's entire universe is constructed ex nihilo and thus, the "bad" choices still must be deliberately included. Like, in a typical rpg, you may have the option to be a selfish, sadistic bastard, but someone had to write those dialogue options, and animate the puppy-kicking scene. This makes a lot of video game "evil" ambiguous. Are you choosing to do wrong, or are you merely watching a depiction of wickedness that someone else prepared for you?

Because in a lot of cases, the sensation of choice can be an illusion. Take an open-world crime game, like the Grand Theft Auto series. You can, obviously, steal cars, and it's infamous for the player's ability to just haul off on a random killing spree. But you can't kill children because there aren't any children in the game. You also can't set random houses on fire, counterfeit money, or even litter. There are whole categories of evil, ranging from the monstrous to the petty, that you can't even attempt, because they are outside the scope of what your digital puppet was programmed to do.

If it's the case that your default sphere of action is nothing, then surely everything that is possible must, in some sense, be permitted. Because if the designers didn't want me doing it, they could easily have denied me the option, and I would have never even known about it (for example, did you ever notice the fact that in Grand Theft Auto V, despite Trevor's remorseless depravity, you can never overwork the soil of your farm by failing to practice proper crop rotation).

Where it becomes tricky is when games attempt to emulate real life. In those cases, it can be difficult to disentangle the game's technological limitations, editorial decisions, emergent behavior, and intended modes of play. It's pretty much inevitable that you are going to get a highly selective depiction of real life, so there's always going to be a certain amount of skepticism when it comes to "the freedom to be evil." Absent hacking, mods, or exploiting a glitch, you can't break the rules of the game, you can only "cheat" in the context of a lower order of rules that exist as part of the simulation, and thus you can never be entirely sure that your "cheating" behavior is not something you were manipulated into as part of the designers' master plan.

That said, Crusader Kings II does a pretty good job of making the simulation feel neutral. You can do a wide variety of things, both noble (for a certain, medieval-centric idea of "noble") and underhanded, and sometimes virtue is punished and wickedness rewarded, and sometimes you get caught, and it's up to you to decide what level of risk is worth it.

So maybe it's entirely on me that my video game character tried to murder a child by pushing him off a castle rampart. In some sense, it felt like Crusader Kings II was encouraging this behavior, because that child was standing between me and a valuable title, and in the mechanics of the game, children are so much easier to murder than adults. Yet is it not also the case in real life that other people will have things that you covet and that the difficulty to murder someone is inversely proportional to their ability to defend themselves? Was I not merely presented with a situation, to which I could well have responded by being content with what I had and allowing the child to retain his inherited lands?

Probably. But by so doing, I would be rendering myself more vulnerable to the other, bigger forces on the map deciding that they covet what I have. So how much of my ruthless, underhanded schemes is the game steering me in a certain direction, and how much is due to my uncoerced choice?

It's that tension that makes playing Crusader Kings II so uncomfortable. As a strategy game, it's relatively bloodless, but because violence has a point, and because non-violence is always theoretically possible (though often suboptimal), it makes the idea of violence feel pervasive. Even when many game years pass without incident, that background of violence is always there. The option to kill is a constant temptation, and the necessity of self-defense looms over you at all times. Ironically, this makes it much nastier than certain infamous shooters and open-world games (it is perhaps the only game I've played where killing kids is not only allowed but rewarded).

Crusader Kings II manages to capture the oppression inherent in violence. I love that about the game. But at the same time, it is one of the few games I dread to play. When it comes time to resume a saved game, I can't help but think - when will the other shoe drop? When will my misdeeds catch up with me? When will it be time to finally die by the sword?

That, more than any other factor, is probably why I've never made it to 1453. For the sake of the blog, I'm determined to try, but I will admit, being knocked out will probably come as a relief (once the outrage of whatever betrayal that brings about my end wears off). One thing's for certain, I am, from this point forward, swearing off assassination. Even simulated, it gives me the creeps.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, Victoria II - Tutorials (4 hours)

Playing the tutorials went about like I expected. The logic of Crusader Kings II was very familiar to me, and while the refresher couldn't have hurt, it was probably unnecessary. Europa Universalis IV's basic controls were easy enough to pick up, but I've only the foggiest idea about how the overall strategy is supposed to work. And I am completely out of my dept when it comes to Victoria II.

The last one, especially, is a shame, because it looks like it could be my favorite game of the three. There's a big focus on industrial development, which is, like my favorite thing about strategy games, and the political effects of ideology, which is an interesting departure from something like Civilization, which tends to treat government as a value-neutral source of bonuses. I think I'd really enjoy taking it slow and learning to play the game properly. . .

But I won't, because I have a grandiose goal here, and I'm going to see it through. While I learned enough to operate the second two games on a basic level, I'm still committed to learning their nuances the hard way.

Here's hoping it's not too embarrassing for me.

Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, and Victoria II - Initial Thoughts

Once again, I'm grouping three games together and treating them as a single game. However, unlike previous times when I've done this, there is absolutely no chance of any of these games coming in under 20 hours individually. This time, they are all in a group because of a remarkable piece of technology. All three games are complex, political strategy games, and there exist conversion programs that allow you to import a save file from one to another. The reason you'd want to do this is because each game covers a particular time period in human history and the later games pick up where the earlier games leave off.

So, like every other strategy nerd who has learned of this fact, I had an idea - what if I started at the beginning of Crusader Kings II and played the same country all the way up through Victoria II? The main difference between me and those other people is that I am woefully unqualified.

I have 126 hours on Crusader Kings II, but I've never actually made it to the end dated before. I've started a lot of games, and it's been awhile since I've suffered a complete wipeout, but I've always gotten frustrated with the never-ending barrage of ambitious relatives and rivals that seek to undo everything you've accomplished.

Europa Universalis IV I've played even less. I got through the tutorial, but my experiments in ruling China and trying to help the Iroquois survive the European invasion both petered out when I couldn't figure out how to win a damned war.

Victoria II I haven't played at all.

Which means that I'm likely to get wiped out sometime early in Europa Universalis IV. If that happens, but it's already been 20 hours, I'll count two of the three games as completed. If I make it all the way to Victoria II and I die, I'll count all three games as completed, even if I'm wiped out just a few minutes into the game. If I fail to make it out of Crusader Kings II, then both of the other games will be bumped down on the list until I get over the humiliation. I have my fingers crossed, though, that I'll play well enough to get 20 hours into each of the three games (I have a feeling that none of them are the sort that can be "beat" in less than 20 hours).

First up is Crusader Kings II, which is probably one of my all-time favorite game premises. You're a medieval nobleman and when your character dies, you take over as their legal heir, provided the heir is a member of your noble house. Over the course of generations, your family's fortunes rise and fall as they attack neighboring domains, participate in holy wars, and scheme to expand their holdings with strategic marriages. There's so much detail in what you can do and how you can do it that it feels like you're crawling into an alternate world. I love games that transport me to places and times I can never experience first-hand.

I've already decided what character I'm going to play. Doing some cursory research on the origins of my family name, and taking into account certain family genealogical legends, it is likely that my ancestors came from the Anjou region of France and swore fealty to Charlemagne. So, I will play as the Count of Anjou, but use a custom ruler (it is extremely unlikely that I am descended from the real Count of Anjou, but my ancestors must have at least seen him a couple of times, at festivals and whatnot).

Before I get started, I'm going to play the tutorials of all three games, just to get myself acquainted (or reacquainted) with the controls. I'll write brief posts about the experience, but I expect to get through them pretty fast.

The actual grand campaign itself fills me with trepidation. I have no idea what I'm getting into, or if I can even pull it off, and that makes me nervous. But I'm also excited. If I can survive all three games, I'll have an epic story of politics through the ages. Wish me luck.

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga - 20/20 hours

The time since my last post has been spent gathering collectibles and unlocking bonus levels. This was a deceptively fun activity. The best part was the clinking sound the LEGO bits made when they hit the ground. It managed to sound both toy-like and yet strangely valuable.

The worst part was playing the original versions of the LEGO Star Wars vehicle missions. There's no permanent death in this game, so persistence is bound to be rewarded eventually, but even so the difficulty of those mission was a stark contrast to the rest of the game. I wound up having to replay certain sections a half-dozen times or more. I can only imagine the frustration that would come from being a kid and having to get through those levels without 20 years of gaming experience. Then again, kids can be surprisingly clever at figuring out their favorite games, so maybe I'm not giving them enough credit.

In the course of collecting all these doodads, I noticed something unexpected. The collecting portion of the game was my favorite part. I enjoyed it more than even the base game itself (there's just something about turning the disorder of undiscovered doodads and empty character slots into a nice, neat inventory). Yet I have no desire to continue. I think I'm getting more jealous of my time. Like, "thank you LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga, for giving me plenty of stuff to do, but I don't really need you to fill my schedule."

Which isn't to say that collecting virtual LEGO bits and unlocking the video-game LEGO versions of obscure minor Star Wars characters compares unfavorably to anything else I could be doing (and it is kind of embarrassing to me that the previous sentence is 100% true), but rather that as I've gotten older, I've found that my potential hobby activities have exploded beyond all reasonable measurement. Five years ago, I could have gone after 100% completion (and I'm fairly sure I actually did) because my entertainment choices were much more limited. Now, I have all the stuff I had back then, plus everything I've accumulated in the meantime.

It's probably not a coincidence that this all started to snowball around the time I got my current job (before that, the steadiest work I had was as an office temp), but I can honestly say I did not expect this consequence of my modest prosperity, nor that my increased free time would paradoxically expand my ambitions. It's a good problem to have, but unfortunately for LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga's sake, it means that I have to manage my time far more strictly than I ever did as a broke young man doing a mentally exhausting job.

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga is a fun, goofy kids' game, and a nice change of pace from more serious, less forgiving games. However, as much as I love the Star Wars movies, I think if I ever want to take a break in the future, LEGO Marvel Superheroes is the game I prefer. The later game is simply more polished and more diverse. Both are simple enough that I stopped being surprised by them a couple of hours in, but with the Marvel game, I can mix things up a bit when it starts to feel stale, whereas with Star Wars, it was a very homogeneous experience.

That's a pretty fine distinction, though. I thoroughly enjoyed both games, and would gladly play either again. But much like last time, after 20 hours with a LEGO game, I'm ready to sink my teeth into something more substantial.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga - 14/20 hours

I just finished the main story line. My verdict - LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga is a charming game. I'm charmed by it. Its only flaw (and this is only a flaw from the perspective of a 33-year-old man blogging about the game for no discernible earthly reason) is that it completely lacks depth.

There's a certain degree of twitch skill involved in conserving your collected coins, but aside from the blow to your pride that comes from losing them, there's no downside to dying, so all you really have to do is plug away and victory is virtually inevitable (there are a couple of puzzle rooms with infinitely respawning enemies that might stop you if you can't figure them out, but, again, for an adult, they're really easy to figure out).

In practical terms, what this means is that my brain is running at about 50% capacity while I'm playing this thing. That's not a bad thing, but much like with LEGO Marvel Superheroes, I'm going to want something more stimulating as a follow-up.

I think the most interesting thing about LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga is the way that some of its levels are basically toned-down versions of levels that appear in every Star Wars game. I've lost track of the number of times I've played the "snowspeeders on Hoth take down AT-AT walkers with tow cables" level (it was one desperate plan in one of the movies, but the games always treat it like standard operating procedure, and who even puts a tow cable on an aircraft anyway).  Doing some cursory internet research (using this article as a reference), it looks like the answer is "six." Flying through the superstructure of the second Death Star, I've done at least three times. Pod racing on Tatooine, at least twice.

The non-vehicle levels were more unique. For obvious reason, they followed the same general plot as Star Wars games I've played in the past, but both LEGO Star Wars and just about every other Star Wars based action game have tended to pad their run times by including events that don't actually occur in the films (like, every Empire Strikes Back game I've ever played turns Luke's training on Dagobah into a full level, complete with invented swamp creatures, despite the fact that the training was implied to be very well supervised by Yoda himself). I suppose the reason the vehicle levels get repeated so much is because the vehicle scenes in the movies are directly convertible to video games. You don't have to invent new creatures to stage the Battle of Hoth, you just have to take that one scene where Luke takes down an AT-AT with a tow cable and repeat it a half-dozen times.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga - 9/20 hours

Sometime in the last 24 hours, Steam changed the name of this game in my master list. From my online research, the "new" name is actually the title of the game, originally, from when it was on the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360, but that makes me wonder: why change it now? Or, for that matter, why did they change it before? It's more of a pain to write out in the "new" way, but I do strive for accuracy (believe it or not), so I guess I'll adapt.

As for the game itself, I feel like I've said this before, but it is sooo cuuute! I just finished Episode 4, and little Lego Han Solo, with his painted on smirk, and awkward, rectilinear swagger is such a perfectly scaled-down caricature of the movie Han Solo that whenever I see him, I can't help but smile.

It's hard to say for sure, but going into the second half of the game, I think the split between the original-trilogy levels and the sequel-trilogy levels is noticeable. The levels in Episode IV are larger, the puzzles are more complex, there is more diversity in the set dressing, and the animations for the characters are more emotive. However, I'm not entirely confident that my preference for the original trilogy is not biasing my judgement in this regard.

I still have two more episodes to go, and I'm looking forward to them. I still have yet to see Lego Lando Calrissian or Lego Jabba the Hutt, both of which promise to be pretty amusing. I've been going relatively slowly through this game so far, primarily because it's a loud, busy action game that doesn't mesh well with my work, but since today is my day off, I'll likely be able to knock it out pretty quick.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Lego Star Wars Saga - 5/20 hours

Memory is a funny thing. I'm pretty sure that I've played this exact game before, but when I looked it up online, I found that it was never released on the Gamecube. Did I play the Wii version? The xbox 360 version? I don't know. I definitely remember the cantina, though. I just can't say from when or where.

I guess that means I should treat Lego Star Wars Saga as its own game, and a new experience. Strangely, the biggest barrier to this is not my previous time with the game, but the fact that I played LEGO Marvel Superheroes so recently. This game is four years older than that other one and it shows. The character movements are stiffer, there's less detail in the levels, and less diversity in the cast (it looks to have just about every conceivable Star Wars character as a playable figure, but they can be divided more or less into "jedi" and "non-jedi." I often find myself yearning for the more polished gameplay of the newer game.

That said, Lego Star Wars Saga is still goofy and adorable, and an absolute blast to play. I'm only up through Episode 2 thus far, but the story is like a G-rated, silent-film version of the Star Wars movies. The little Lego figures pantomime things like the celebration of Naboo's liberation or the assassination attempt on Amadala, and it's completely bloodless and the figures themselves are inexpressive plastic blocks, but when you add those to the context of a beloved movie (or, you know, the Star Wars prequels), it's super cute. I can't wait to get to the classic trilogy.

The gameplay itself is serviceable, but nothing special. Some of the action and platforming is made needlessly difficult by the game's stiff controls, but since there's no significant penalty for dying, it doesn't matter

Overall, I'd say this game is a delightful and relaxing way to kill some time, but it definitely feels like they're still working out the "LEGO {$Pop Culture}" formula (yes, technically, this is the third game in the series, but it's mostly a remix of the first two), and thus it feels, at times, like playing a prototype for better games.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Lego Star Wars Saga - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Kick Some Brick in I through VI

Play through all six Star Wars movies in one videogame! Adding new characters, new levels, new features and for the first time ever, the chance to build and battle your way through a fun Star Wars galaxy on your PC!

New Gameplay Features with enhanced Force Powers, new power-ups and new Challenge Modes.

Solve Puzzles through the use of creative thinking, teamwork and unique building situations.

Over 120 playable characters, and new characters like Watto, Zam Wessell, Boss Nass and more!

Upgraded Character Customizer allowing millions of possibilities. With character parts from all 6 movies, create cross-Trilogy mash-up characters like Han Windu and Lando Amidala.

Redesigned levels like the "Mos Espa Podrace" and "Gunship Cavalry" to take advantage of the the open vehicle gameplay of LEGO Star Wars II.

Bonus levels and missions allow you to take 10 additional Bounty Hunter missions from Jabba the Hutt in the prequel trilogy.

Two Player Local Co-Op lets friends and families play together. 

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

This was shortly after I bought that bundle with 21 Star Wars games. I was thinking that there was a big, LEGO-shaped gap in my collection, so I put this one on my list and waited until it went on deep discount. I was also influenced by my purchase of LEGO Marvel Superheroes. I bought that game because I enjoyed a version of Lego Star Wars for the console, and I bought this game because it seemed weird to have a Lego game, but not the one I knew I enjoyed.

Expectations And Prior Experience

I'm not sure if this is the same game I played back on the Gamecube, but there was a version of Lego Star Wars that I've already enjoyed, so I have a pretty good idea about what I'm getting into. An easy, light-hearted action-adventure game with a lot of silly jokes about the ridiculousness of using plastic bricks to emulate one of the most popular sci-fi franchises of all times, along with poking some gentle fun at that franchise's more risible moments. Since this game covers six of the now seven movies in the series, I'll probably have to play as a plastic Jar-Jar at some point, but that's okay.

I can't imagine there are going to be any nasty surprises in this good-natured, kid-friendly Star Wars video game. So long as it actually works and has the same ultra-casual balance I've come to expect from the series, it should be a breezy and relaxing good time.

The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot: Aftermath

Well, I got away with it. There were no attacks on my castle today, and despite leading by only 3 points, the third-place player in today's league rankings apparently did not log on and take back the title. So, I was able to achieve a rank of second place in the Minion league and advance up to Grunt league, despite being terrible at the game.

I kind of wish I'd gotten some form of comeuppance there, but I guess it's not too late. With my castle now abandoned, it's likely that over time, it will be beaten by ambitious newcomers and fellow slumming high-level players and my total crowns will dwindle to nothing. That's the way it should be. I've uninstalled the game, so I'll never know, but I can't believe that something so out of balance can remain that way for long.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot - 20/20 hours

I am sooo relieved to be done with this game. It's like a weight has been lifted off of me. I managed to claw my way up to second place in the newbie league, and it's an experience I'm not eager to repeat. See, I figured out that you get crowns even if you attack lower-level castles than your own, so long as you survive to make it to the end. So, most of my time for the past eight hours has been spent raiding castles 1-4 levels below whatever my character's current level at the time happened to be.

This wasn't entirely an opportunistic and predatory act on my part. At around level 18 or so, there was a turning point, and players suddenly started knowing how to make castles that were effective on the defense. And it turns out that I really suck at this game. Even with my sleazy preying on the weak, there were many castles that quite nearly defeated me (and a few that did entirely defeat me). When it came to going after equal-level castles, I was completely hopeless.

I'm not likely to retain my second-place status. There's still five hours before the day's competition ends and the rankings are finalized. It's possible that all the people who could not be up playing The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot in the middle of the night will wake up and get whittle away my "accomplishment" through a series of attacks on my castle. That would probably be for the best. Honestly, it's no more than I deserve.

I mean, if this were a single-player hack-and-slash game, I would feel no compunction about dealing with difficult content by out-leveling it. That's what levels are for. Yet, in this instance, I feel . . . icky. I didn't technically break any rule. There weren't even any suggestions for how you should choose castles to raid. So, really, I was engaging with the system in the way it was presented to me. I did exactly what I would do in any other rpg where my personal skill was not sufficient to overcome an appropriately leveled challenge. I went to a lower-level area to grind for xp.

But I can't help remembering that there are other people on the other side of those castles. Granted, from what I understand the game's multiplayer is dying, so many of those castles were probably long-abandoned (as mine will be, starting today), and I did try and go out of my way to soften the blow by writing encouraging comments and constructive criticism (especially to the ones that almost beat me), but it still feels like I did something wrong.

So, what came over me? Why did I fall to the dark side? I'm not sure it's appropriate to offer an excuse, so please, take this simply as a narrative. I was doing fine, attacking at-level castles until I reached about level 18 or so. Then I started entering castles that were curiously empty . . . except for a huge horde of enemies, all jammed into one room. Some hordes were better constructed than others, with support units mixed in the middle and ranged units near the back to snipe at me while I charged the main ranks, but even the haphazard ones gave me trouble.

To face a significant portion of a castle's defense points in one, immense battle was too much for me. I'd play the mission, get my ass handed to me, and then wince as I saw my crown total go down significantly (at first, each loss was taking about 10% of my total crowns). I guess I just snapped. I told myself that it would be alright if I went after level-1 castles. And when those started beating me, I went a little lower.

At first, I was doing it just to find castles that were an appropriate difficulty. Then, I noticed that I was really close to the top ten in the league. I just need a few more crowns. And as I took down a couple of easy castles, I noticed that the next rank was just a couple of crowns away. So I kept doing it. Once the initial taboo was broken, each additional offense no longer seemed quite so bad. I was already compromised, so why not go all the way?

And that's how I got to second place in the league. First place probably did something similar, given that they were level 30, still in the "minion" league, and had nearly twice my crown score. That doesn't make it right, of course, but that was the environment I was in.

I am glad to see the back of this game. I don't like the cutthroat competition, and I especially don't like the person I became under the influence of that competition. It also doesn't help that the actual gameplay of The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot is not entirely polished, and that I experienced many control hiccups and a persistent frustration with its cash economy. There's a good game underneath all this, but I'm not sure it's worth sticking it out to find it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot - 12/20 hours

The competitive ethos of this game is really starting to bum me out. The individual activities of castle-building and dungeon-looting are things I normally enjoy, but once you add a score to it, which goes up when you succeed and down when you fail, and is compared on a moment-to-moment basis with the scores of other players, and then suddenly it starts to feel . . . tawdry? Risky? Embarrassing?

I don't know exactly how to put it. It's like, now my ego is on the line, but a part of me recognizes how silly that is. I don't exactly pride myself on my unique dungeon-crawling abilities, and while I would like to think that I'm a decent dungeon designer, my philosophy of design ("a good dungeon is one that fools you into thinking that victory is not inevitable") is at odds with my goals as a player ("kill the intruder as quickly and efficiently as possible"). So being bad at The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot is not really something that should impinge on my self-image. . .

It's just that The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot distills the notion of "self-image" into a single numerical value, that I can see go up or down (you have a thing called "crowns" that you gain when you successfully raid a dungeon or your dungeon kills an intruder, and lose when you fail to do those things), and I feel myself changing my behavior to pursue the anonymous, mechanized validation that comes from seeing the number go up.

I've got kind of a weird thing with competition. I hate to lose, but I don't especially like to win either. Okay, so everyone likes to win, even me, but I always feel a little guilty about it. I greatly prefer cooperative games, like Borderlands or Sentinels of the Multiverse, or at the very least, games that allow for joint victories and ties.  I feel like "victory," for me is finding a way for everyone to be better off at the end of the game than at the beginning.

That said, the frustration and self-criticism that I experience with losing is a powerful motivator, and so, I fluctuate in my gaming style. With The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot, I've done some things I'm not proud of, like attack underleveled castles, or castles that have weaker defense than the average for their level rating. I've also done some foolish things, like throw good money after bad to resurrect myself in a castle that was kicking my ass, or drink a bunch of potions to finish a castle whose reward was less than the value of the potions themselves.

I've not been exclusively underhanded and bullheaded, though. I have had an angel on my shoulder, encouraging me to pursue a spirit of good sportsmanship and honest, healthy competition. I've sometimes even listened to it, but the shoulder devil has been much more persuasive.

I think The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot is a game I want to enjoy, but that damned crown meter keeps getting in my way. I wish I had the maturity and the self-control to just ignore it, but I don't. It's gotten under my skin, and it's making me irritable and morose. I'm going to try and power through the last eight hours so I can put this whole sordid enterprise behind me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot - 8(?)/20 hours

The question mark in my time count is due to a weird "feature" of The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot that I recently discovered - apparently, when you quit the game, it continues to run in the background of your computer, and only shuts down when you go into the taskbar and shut it down from there. At first I thought it was a bug, but according to the sources I found online, it was something the developers deliberately put in.

Why it does this, I couldn't possibly say. One theory was that Ubisoft is trying to manipulate Steam's metrics, which strikes me as unethical if true. The other is that it is meant to make loading the game faster, presumably to serve those people who play online games for just a few minutes at a time and then take significant breaks before jumping back in again. However, when I tried to quit and reload the game to test this function for myself, I didn't notice any appreciable difference in performance.

What this means is that my true playtime is somewhere between 5 and 8 hours, and I couldn't tell you what it is. I think I'm just going to go ahead and count it. If they programmed their game in such a way as to have Steam's counter track it as being played even when it's turned off, then I have to assume that it being off is part of the intended play experience. I'm not a complete sophist, however. In the future I will try and be careful about manually shutting it down when I'm done playing it.

When it comes to the non-un-playing playing part of the experience, I am tentatively starting to warm up to it. I like the concept, if I'm not entirely sold on the execution.

The basic problem with The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot's system is that the attack and defense portions of the game require an entirely different skillset, but draw upon the same economy. Now, in a way, this helps to serve the game's theme of conspicuous consumption - your castle purchases feel more "real" because you got the money for them from looting other castles - but it plays hell with the game's difficulty curve.

My castle has been invaded four times, and completely failed to repel the looters. A substantial portion of the reason for this is because I couldn't afford to buy the security precautions necessary to stop them. That's not a sour grapes reaction, though. Because I was able to easily make back the money and more from looting other low-level castles that themselves could not afford the precautions to stop me.

In effect, what's happening with the game is that the players are being conscripted as level designers, but their palette of tools is limited. Which might make sense if it were only the case that high-level monsters and traps were out of reach, but you've also got an arbitrarily limited amount of low-level defenses, so, at least at first, offense is strictly superior to defense. It's possible that in time, this balance would change, but I'm still not sure of the wisdom of enabling (and indeed requiring) underpopulated levels. The ones I've been to (and some of them have been good) have all either been very sparsely populated or needlessly cramped (the amount of defense you get increases with the size of your castle, but not linearly, so a small, dense castle can be more effective than a big one).

The other big flaw with this idea is that because you lose money whenever someone beats your castle, you're given an incentive to make your castle as deadly as possible, meaning that providing your attackers with an enjoyable play experience is not even a glimmer on the agenda. I've not yet run into any extremely annoying and frustrating levels, but that's almost certainly because I'm still in the low-skill area, and as I advance up the ranks, more experienced players are going to be able to shut me down without breaking a sweat.

A difficult game is not necessarily a problem in itself, nor is an easy one, but the big draw of the castle-defense portion of the game (for me, at least) is that it is a creativity toy, but you aren't given the tools to build a high-concept castle (unless you want to be recklessly extravagant at the real-money shop) and all your incentive is against trying things that are kooky or amusing or thematically relevant, because anything that is not an optimized killing machine is a good way to loos money. I'm sure, as I advance, I'll see some cleverly arranged deathtraps, but I can't help feeling like, personally, I'd rather design a fun action-rpg level.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot - 2/20 hours

I have a feeling of trepidation about this game. In many respects, it is your typical dungeon-looter game, with fairly standard action-rpg mechanics and a conservative loot system (you know the sort: different equipment in different slots on your character's body, each of which may possess independent rarity ratings and power levels, all of which you find randomly dropping from monsters). It's a lot like the game I just played, Path of Exile, but with simpler character customization and a more light-hearted, cartoony look.

Its one really innovative idea is that you can use the gold you get from plundering dungeons to build a castle, placing monsters and traps in order to protect your hard-won wealth from those who would steal it. . .

And that's what gives me pause. In The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot, the dungeons you raid are not just random caves and tunnels that you just happen to have to pass through to fetch sundry items for lazy NPCs, they are things that individual humans, your fellow gamers, built, out of limited resources that are not trivially replaced. And the money you get from clearing out a dungeon is not just a bit of code that causes a certain number to increment meaningfully, it belongs to someone. It's scarce and precious.

This makes me very uncomfortable. I suppose it's not technically theft. There's a social contract involved here. Money is, presumably, not stolen and hoarded so much as circulated in an unconventional player economy. I steal from them and they steal from me, and so long as we are both near the same level, the net result is probably a lot like trading. Except it's not voluntary.

I get that it's a game. There's no version of Chess where you and your opponent just shake hands and decide that all those pawns and rooks and whatnot would be better off as part of a constitutional republic. There really should be no hard feelings when a competitive game is played competitively.

It's just, I don't like wrecking other people's shit, and I don't like it when they wreck mine. It's an attitude that's served me well in real-life, but I think, in the cutthroat world of video games, it might be a disadvantage.

Or maybe not. I don't really understand how the respawning and economic mechanics work. I logged on after I started writing this post, and I saw that my castle had been looted for about 250 gold (out of my 1000 gold total), but all my monsters and traps were still in place (although my castle was basically just the bare minimum design you get from completing the tutorial), so if it's just losing money, then maybe that's something I could handle. All I have to do is make sure that all my money is spent at all times. And this, presumably, would result in a deadlier castle where my remaining funds would be all the safer for my profligate spending.

I'm just not sure I'll feel comfortable doing the sorts of things necessary to get that gold in the first place. I was pretty sanguine about losing my gold because I just started the game and I didn't lose too much. But what if I'm really successful and I manage to swipe a significant chunk from an established player? Logging on to find that you were robbed can be a distressing experience. The fact that there's another human on the other end of the computer, whose day may well be ruined by my success, manages to take some of the fun out of dungeon-raiding.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

 The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot is a brand new game from Ubisoft Montreal that thrusts you in an outrageous medieval fantasy world called Opulencia where wealth, status and showboating are the name of the game!

As a newcomer to Opulencia, you will hack n slash your way through hundreds of castles designed by the ingenious minds of your fellow players!

Don’t forget to show them who’s boss by constructing deadly keep of your very own – in this kingdom, size really does matter!

Previous Playtime

0 hours

Expectations and Prior Experience

I like the title of this game. It really gets down to the basics of what I expect from a game like this. I want to be given quests and I want to be rewarded for those quests with loot (why I need a reward for doing something I want to do is one of those awkward questions that I'm just going to skip past for now). That the quests are "mighty" and the loot is "epic" just goes to show that they know what their audience wants.

It's unclear yet whether the title is parodying me or pandering to me, but I'm prepared to accept either one as potentially amusing.

What worries me is that the Steam reviews are "mixed" (which I've noticed is pretty rare for anything but a "bad" game), so maybe all that it has going for it is a cute title. I'm not entirely sure how one screws up hack-and-slash dungeon crawling, but it's probably not impossible to do so. This is another free-to-play game, and if it's balanced against the assumption that players are going to spend significant amounts in the real-money shop, then it may well be virtually unplayable.

I think the most realistic worst case scenario is that it is merely tedious, with a lot of necessary grinding and a bunch of pointless deaths. In that case, I'll just endure it and move on. It's also possible that The Mighty Quest For Epic Loot lives up to its title and is just an over-the-top silly good time. At this point, either is possible.

Which is what makes starting a new game so exciting.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

XCOM: Enemy Unknown - 20/20 hours

Time for me to confess a minor personal embarrassment. It was not until hour 18 or so that I first noticed that "XCOM" is not hyphenated. I can't say for sure why I thought it was. Possibly because you pronounce it as two words. It wasn't until I did a Google search for how to activate the Gollop chamber that I learned that I'd gotten it wrong. Oops.

Anyway, the last three hours were not as bad as I feared. It turns out that I was basically at the end. I had two more story missions and a couple of random missions left to do. So the fact that I almost immediately lost Argentina and Mexico to the alien threat had no effect on my effectiveness.

Of course, the primary reason for that is that a large portion of my effectiveness was due to my habit of saving at the beginning of every combat mission and reloading if I didn't like the result. Most of the time, it was unnecessary, but I did save a few of my squadron's lives that way. It was only in the final level itself that I saved and reloaded multiple times while in the level (and it's lucky for me that I did, because I only barely survived the final boss' area attack).

I think, in retrospect, that I may have been playing the game wrong. At the very end, you're give a list of your statistics, and a comparison to "world" statistics that I assume are the average of all the other players out there. Now, some of the stats are clearly in error (like the one that said the average player had thousands of scientists), but of the ones that seemed reasonable, I found that I got through the game having acquired much fewer resources than average, in less time than average, and with fewer losses than average. I expect that reloading whenever I lost a soldier screwed up my statistics, and that had I played the "right" way, I'd have had to spend a lot more time grinding levels for my new recruits and attempting to gain total satellite coverage over the world.

Having gotten to the end of the game, I think I understand the plot. Basically, the aliens were trying to create a perfect superbeing who could achieve the ultimate in physical and psychic potential, and they were testing human beings to see if their genetics could provide the raw material for their experiments. With one exception, all of the enemies you fight in the course of the game are their previous failures.

In the end, they get their ironic comeuppance when XCOM succeeds at achieving their goal, using stolen research, and then proceeds to use the psychic superbeing to blow up the alien mothership. Which, you know, is an entirely predictable consequence of their plan, and something they really should have taken better precautions against.

And for that matter, why all the terror, coercion and kidnapping? The thing they were trying to do was achieved by a volunteer using pirated research. Surely, if they had just stated their intentions outright and then asked for volunteers of their own, plenty of people would have taken them up on their offer and they'd have gotten the same results in less time and with less deadly, power-armored hit squads being dispatched to assassinate their leaders (indeed, if they'd just stayed on their ships and not attacked, it would have been unlikely that humanity would have unlocked any of their technology at all).

And it was never adequately explained why XCOM and the Council were so secretive. Maybe it's because they have access to cutting-edge research into dangerous alien technologies, but then, I sold so much stuff on the "grey market" that access couldn't have been exclusive (at least, not for long). Indeed, the very fact that it was a grey market means that XCOM's secret research was not illegal for civilians to possess. I have to conclude that it was purely done for the sake of genre feel, and that the apparent secrecy of the anti-alien coalition doesn't exactly map to any concrete thing in the game's setting.

Story nitpicks aside, I greatly enjoyed XCOM: Enemy Unknown. If I didn't have a hundred other games to play, I might be tempted to start this one over from the beginning in ironman mode and do it right. It was an interesting and challenging strategy experience, and it would be satisfying to actually get good at the game. However, since I'm on a schedule, and I got to the end of the main campaign, I'll save that for another time (although, at this rate, I'll probably have to start a second blog about all the games I've resolved to replay over the course of the first blog).

Friday, December 11, 2015

X-COM: Enemy Unknown - 17/20 hours

I think playing on Normal mode might have been a mistake. I'm doing all right in the battles (it's been hours since I had to reload), but on the strategic layer, my entire situation is going to hell faster than I can stay on top of it. Egypt panicked, dropped out of the Council, and is now covered in some kind of sinister purple mist. Much of South America is likely to follow. I'm making progress on the story missions, but I can't help feeling like my infrastructure is going to fall apart from underneath me.

It's probably all part of the story, and it's not like I was getting a great deal of use out of those countries anyway, but I feel like the walls are closing in on me. The aliens are everywhere, and I don't have the resources to stop them.

I can see now how replaying this game could be very satisfying. I went into it not knowing how to manage my economy, and it only after reading some online guides that I realize I should have front-loaded my satellite production for more money and better UFO protection in order to have a bigger budget going into the late game. As it is, I'm continually strapped for cash, and my small stable of powerful soldiers is spending way too much time in the infirmary. If I don't get to the end of the game soon, I may well fall irretrievably behind.

So, it would be nice to go into the game forewarned, and thus build my force into an efficient and orderly fast-response unit capable of taking on the aliens from a position of strength. But to do that would require going back to the beginning and applying what I've learned to a blank slate. I'm far too deep into the game to do that now.

But I have to admit, I don't like this feeling of being pressed, of having few resources and many expenses, of facing a foe of overwhelming power and hoping for a miracle to win. As much as it's true to the situation that the game depicts, it's kind of stressful in real life. Whenever I start up Steam, I can't help but wonder, "is this the time I finally fail?"

In the grand scheme of things, it's a minor annoyance, but it's one more annoyance than I had three days ago. I think I could grow to love this game, if I ever got good at it, but I'm not sure I have the mental endurance to make it to the end of my current playthrough without losing hope.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

X-COM: Enemy Unknown - 9/20 hours

I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up. I thought for sure this time I'd actually understand the plot of a video game. It seemed so simple - you're a secret quasi-government anti-alien agency, fighting a shadow war against aliens that are abducting humans for some nefarious purpose. Then the aliens attacked a major metropolitan area, complete with screaming people on the news, and I became totally confused. Why is X-COM secret, again? And why is The Council so sinister and mysterious?

Maybe I was mistaken about my organization being secret. I have been in negotiations with various private corporations to sell my scavenged alien parts, Which would be weird if nobody knew about me. I suppose corporations could be privy to the conspiracy, as is so often the case, but it's never made entirely clear.

Uncertainty about my role in the world aside, the game is going well. My squad is pretty powerful, though paradoxically, that has made the game somewhat more difficult. Because my people are too valuable to lose, any shortcoming is disastrous. I've taken to resetting my missions whenever one of my soldiers dies. This is probably against the spirit of the game, but I've grown too attached to my little guys and I can't stand to lose them.

I'm sure it's a weakness that will come to haunt me in the future, but for now, I'm just going to keep reloading and pretending I'm actually good at command.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

X-COM: Enemy Unknown - 2/20 hours

It's still a little early to say, because most of my first two hours was spent playing through the tutorial, but it appears as if X-COM: Enemy Unknown straddles the line between story-driven and randomly generated game. I may be wrong, but the missions where you have to decide between saving one place or another feel procedurally generated to me.

It's an interesting approach. Because X-COM: Enemy Unknown has a story, with voice actors and everything. I have to assume the cutscenes are triggered by the "additional objectives" (such as capturing a live alien) which can be done in any random mission.

That's my working theory, at any rate. I haven't seen too much of the plot yet. Luckily, it appears that I may be able to understand it for a change. Aliens are abducting people all over the world, and you are the commander of a secret, multinational military organization (called X-COM) that is trying to stop them. You get your funding from the national governments of the countries you protect, and you answer to an even more mysterious organization called "The Council."

I'm a little fuzzy on some of the details, like exactly how widespread and obvious all this alien activity really is, or anything about The Council's goals, identity, or mandate. Clearly, the alien threat is serious enough that all the nations of the world put aside their differences to finance and organize a joint defensive effort, but not quite serious enough that they feel the need to be publicly seen to have a response. And I'm completely baffled as to why the Council representative appears only shrouded in shadow. I'm part of the conspiracy, so who am I going to tell?

Hopefully, future revelations will clear things up, though I suspect most of the mysterious seeming-inconsistencies are merely genre conventions. It wouldn't be much of an alien-invasion story without a shadowy government conspiracy, even if it doesn't make a great deal of sense.

From a gameplay perspective, X-COM: Enemy Unknown is not yet as difficult as I feared. I've lost five soldiers so far, but no more than one per mission, so I think I must be doing adequately. I don't like losing troops, however. As weird as it sounds, I feel like I've failed them as a commander. Like, maybe if I didn't make such bad decisions, they'd be able to make it out of the missions alive.

I suppose that you can't fight a war without expecting some casualties, though often in video games you can defy the laws of reality and achieve the impossible. Sometimes, it's even expected that you do so. Whether or not my losses are small enough to endure the extended campaign remains to be seen.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

X-COM: Enemy Unknown - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

XCOM: Enemy Unknown will place you in control of a secret paramilitary organization called XCOM. As the XCOM commander, you will defend against a terrifying global alien invasion by managing resources, advancing technologies, and overseeing combat strategies and individual unit tactics.

The original XCOM is widely regarded as one of the best games ever made and has now been re-imagined by the strategy experts at Firaxis Games. XCOM: Enemy Unknown will expand on that legacy with an entirely new invasion story, enemies and technologies to fight aliens and defend Earth.

You will control the fate of the human race through researching alien technologies, creating and managing a fully operational base, planning combat missions and controlling soldier movement in battle.

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

This was one of the games on my original list. I bought it during my first big Steam sale, back when I thought having more video games was an unalloyed good. Mostly, I bought it because it has a good reputation, and I couldn't resist the rush of finding a bargain.

Expectations and Prior Experience

I know two things about this game. It is very well-regarded. And it is notoriously difficult. The vague impression I have of it is that it's like a sci-fi Fire Emblem, where you have little guys you command in battle and if you make a mistake they permanently die.

The base-building elements come as a bit of a surprise. I'd never heard about that aspect of the game, and I have to say, I'm intrigued. I'm hoping there's a lot of scope for customization and different base strategies, but given that the focus still seems to be on tactical combat, I'm not going to get too excited about it yet.

My biggest worry going into this is that the difficulty will be too unforgiving and my progress will by stymied at every turn. It's probably an exaggerated concern, but every account I've ever heard of this game has been "you will die, early and often." How much of that is an accurate assessment of the game and how much of it is a cultural performance among the game's fans?

Still, even in the worst case scenario, it probably won't be too bad. I've beaten Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance on normal mode without losing a single character (albeit with more resets than I'm comfortable admitting), so I'm no stranger to punishingly difficult turn-based strategy. At the very least, I possess the tools to cope with it emotionally . . .

In theory.

Path of Exile - 20/20 hours

So far, I've played three free-to-play games for my blog, and I have to say, Path of Exile is by far my favorite. I think it's because it cleaves closely to a proven formula and doesn't deliberately screw it up for the sake of revenue.

Which is a bold choice, come to think of it. I never expected to have what is, in essence, a complete game, for free. I feel like I should definitely give them some money, purely to encourage this sort of behavior in the future. The only problem I have with that is that there's not much in their cash shop that I'm interested in purchasing. Or, at least, nothing that I'm willing to purchase at the price they're charging for it.

It's weird. If I had paid, say, ten dollars for Path of Exile, I'd have counted that purchase a good one. It's just a genuinely fun game that I could easily play for a hundred hours or more. Yet, if I dropped 10 bucks into their cash shop for 100 store points, and then spent 70 of those points on a hat, I'd feel like I was throwing my money away. Seven dollars for a digital hat! It's nothing but a scrap of code, maybe a megabyte or two worth of data, and infinitely replicable at basically no cost. There's just a stodgy, old-fashioned part of me that rebels at the very notion.

I think what I'll do is, if my friend is amenable, keep playing the game for a couple of hours each weekend, mostly as a way of hanging out and keeping in touch, but also because the loot-and-grind is so satisfying. Then, when I finally run out of stash space, I'll drop a few bucks for more. On some level, it's just as objectionable as buying a hat, but at least I'll have something functional to show for it. It's an absurd distinction, but there it is.

Part of me worries that I may be ungrateful towards Path of Exile, and that I should just buy the damned hat to demonstrate reciprocity. They gave me a fun game experience, and so I gave them some money. It's only fair.  I know that it's fair.

It's just that I'm not sure whether fairness has any coherent meaning in my personal gaming landscape. To illustrate what I mean, consider the game Secret of the Magic Crystals. I played that game for 26 hours. Compared to 20 with this game, or Sentinels of the Multiverse or Endless Space. Which is bonkers, because while I don't especially hate Secret of the Magic Crystals, the amount of enjoyment I got out of it wasn't even in the same class as those other games. So what is my time worth?

Similarly, I got both Secret of the Magic Crystals and Path of Exile for free, and I paid a similar amount of money for both The Last Remnant and LEGO Marvel Superheroes, and I've found in each case that the amount of money spend did not noticeably correlate to my enjoyment either way. And that's not even counting the hundred or so games I've bought but not yet played, and thus gotten no enjoyment from whatsoever. So what is my money worth?

It all just seems so disordered and arbitrary. Whether I spend money on a game and how much depends entirely on superfluous things like my mood and financial situation at the time of purchase, the effectiveness of the game's advertising and Steam Store pitch, and whether or not my friends and online acquaintances have expressed interest in the game to such a degree that I feel I must play it simply to be well-informed.

To be able to pay for a game after I've gotten enjoyment out of it is exceedingly reasonable. It means I can decide to withhold money from a bad gaming experience, and I can make my reward for a good experience proportional to the enjoyment I derived from it.

Yet, the after is a sticking point, isn't it? I've already had the bulk of the enjoyment that I'm going to get out of the game, and declining to pay can't retroactively take that away, so what's the point? What do I get out of it? Is this not just karmic payback for having spent more money on games I've enjoyed less?

These are not worthy thoughts, but the mind is treacherous. I can't help thinking them. Yet, now that I have them out in the open, I can see what I'll have to do to counter them.

For fairness' sake, I'll have to buy the damned hat.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Path of Exile - 15/20 hours

For me, the best part of playing Path of Exile has been hanging out and chatting with my friend. I can't really lay the credit for that at the feet of the game, except in the sense that it was the catalyst. I should probably do this sort of thing more often. I guess I'm just so used to being the only person in my social circle to be awake that I forget it's an option.

Leaving aside the social aspect of the game (which, seeing as how we used 3rd party software to voice chat, seems fair), my main thought is that I really should play Diablo 2 someday. That's not a dig on Path of Exile, it's simply becoming clear that the Diablo series (and Diablo 2 is the one I hear most frequently called out for this) is so widely influential that when I play a game like Path of Exile or Torchlight II or, hell, Borderlands, it would be nice to know what was borrowed and what was original.

The core of this game is pretty solid. You control a fantasy character from a third-person overhead view and can map powers to various buttons. The character I'm playing now has a double-strike on the left mouse, lightning field on the middle mouse, and flaming teleport dash on the right mouse, so cut up powerful enemies by right-clicking on them, disperse crowds of weaker enemies by middle-clicking on the ground in front of me, and escape from or advance into combat by right clicking the appropriate part of the environment.

This creates an almost hypnotic rhythm of play. See an enemy, click, see more enemies click a lot, enemies gone, sort through loot. I could probably play it for weeks, easy. It's not very deep, but it is just intellectually engaging enough that that doesn't matter.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Path of Exile - 5/20 hours

Most of my last three hours with Path of Exile has been spent getting to grips with the character progression mechanics. Not directly, mind, because gaining levels is still something that takes significant amounts of time, but I've been playing around with alternate characters and advancing a couple of levels, just to see what my options are.

I think I've got the hang of it. All the character classes are notionally identical, except they start at different parts of the same huge, sprawling skill tree. You gain skill points as you rise in level, and theoretically two different character classes could build towards each other, eventually overlapping in capabilities and being more or less identical.

The trick is that all of your character's active abilities (fireballs, double-strike sword techniques, etc) come not from their class, but from magical gems that slot into their equipment. The abilities they learn from leveling up then make certain classes of equipment more powerful. Thus, if you build your fighter (marauder) as a mage (witch), you can slot as many spells as you like, but since all the nearby nodes of the skill tree enhance physical attacks, you'll be basically wasting your levels. So, if your plan is to bridge the classes, you have two choices - be prepared to accept that you're suboptimal, or play as a marauder for the 20-30 levels necessary to get to that part of the tree and simply bank the best of your witch weapons until that happens.

Although, maybe that's not such a bad plan after all, given the inevitable gear turnover that happens in these sorts of games. Since, as a witch, you'd have to replace your wand every 3-4 levels anyway, maybe junking all the witch gear you find until you're ready to make the transition is your best bet. My only worry with such an approach is that you might get used to playing in the marauder style, and thus have a painful period of relearning the game's mechanics right around the time most builds start to get powerful.

Also, you'd dilute your character's abilities and have a lot of superfluous strength abilities that you might not need as a magic character. From what I can tell, you might be able to mitigate that with respeccing, but the process is so byzantine and time-consuming that the only reason you'd do it is if you absolutely wanted to use the marauder's character model (a big, beefy dude) instead of the witch's (a waifish looking woman).

Which, now that I mention it, does seem a little odd that they would tie the character models to specific classes. I know a lot of people have some very strong preferences about how their character looks (especially when it comes to gender), and were I one of them, I'd have to count this mandatory appearance/ability connection as a weakness of the game.

Still, a lot of the stuff in the player shop is cosmetic, so next time I have a few idle minutes, I'll have to check and see how much you can customize a character purely with vanity purchases.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Path of Exile - 2/20 hours

I'm pleased that I got a chance to play this game with my friend, but sadly, our session was cut short by an emergency errand, so this post is only going to be half-multiplayer.

My general impression of Path of Exile is that it's a shockingly good game for a free-to-play, which is to say, it's a good game, and only the "for a free to play" is shocking. As far as I can tell from the first couple of missions, it's basically Diablo, but with a few novel ideas.

For example, you don't have gold pieces. Instead, your basic currency is identify scrolls and gems which enchant weapons. Similarly, you don't buy consumable potions to restore your health and mana. Instead, you have "health flasks" and "mana flasks" which fill up as you kill enemies.

Taken together, these two things represent a clever distillation of the Diablo-esque gold economy. In similar games, you can pretty much represent your gold total as a function of time played and assume a certain amount of that gold will be filtered into basic utility items.

Path of Exile's approach simply cuts out the middleman. The basic unit of trade is also the smallest unit of utility (okay, technically, the smallest unit is 1/5th of a scroll, but still that's not much of a difference), which means you don't have to worry much about pocket change. It's an elegant idea which I'm surprised I've never seen before. My only concern is that since my money is useful in its own right, I might be hesitant to spend it and because my useful items can be saved up for extravagant purchases, I might be hesitant to use them. Intellectually, I know this is the same thing as bartering junk in a game like Fallout, but with one fewer step. Yet, I tend to be a hoarder in those sorts of games too. Only time will tell if Path of Exile will mitigate or exacerbate that instinct.

I've immensely enjoyed my time with this game so far. I have two characters built up to level 4; one I played with my friend Daniel, and another I played after I got back home after being suddenly called away. It's still too early to fairly compare the experiences. I really liked hanging out with my friend while playing a game, though I might have to ask him about setting up some kind of voice chat, because having to drop what I'm doing to type in the chat box meant we couldn't talk as much as I'd have like.

On the other hand, my second time through, I had a vague idea about what I was doing, so the first few missions went a lot smoother (I know I died unnecessarily a couple of times with my first character because I was too slow to use healing flasks, not knowing that they automatically refilled).

It's my hope that today's multiplayer session was not a one-time thing, and that we can coordinate our schedules to play again in the future. Still, I'm learning to my regret that gaming with adult responsibilities can sometimes be a little rough.

Path of Exile - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

 You are an Exile, struggling to survive on the dark continent of Wraeclast, as you fight to earn power that will allow you to exact your revenge against those who wronged you. Created by hardcore gamers, Path of Exile is an online Action RPG set in a dark fantasy world. With a focus on visceral action combat, powerful items and deep character customization, Path of Exile is completely free and will never be pay-to-win.

Previous Playtime

0 hours

Expectations and Prior Experience

I'm not sure what to expect. I've never really gotten into the whole MMO thing, and I'm not sure what makes Path of Exile different than a game like Dungeons and Dragons Online, but it came recommended by a good friend of mine, and I trust him not to lead me wrong (besides, he's agreed to play with me, so if this is some kind of trap, he'll fall into it as well).

Still, it's hard to go wrong with a fantasy-rpg, so I'm definitely optimistic.

Age of Wonders - 20/20 hours

I managed to squeak in, just under the wire. Part of me wishes I could play every game like that and just blaze through the rest of the blog project. If I did my other 101 games at the same rate as Age of Wonders, I'd be done in a mere, um . . .7 months.  And the price for that speed would be nothing more than the bulk of my life.

Which is not to say I haven't had times in my life where I spent every waking moment obsessively playing a game. It's just, usually, those games were ones I really loved. Doing the same thing with Age of Wonders was a unique experience.

It's not that I especially disliked the game, it's just that I could never quite get onboard with its rhythms. I mostly played a single scenario on an extra large map, and while I would estimate that I was winning (for a certain value of "winning"), a large percentage of my time was spent moving my units to the front lines and chasing around rogue enemy units that snuck past my large and indefensible frontier. It felt like I was playing a huge game of whack-a-mole.

It would have been pretty fun, if the pace were just a little bit faster. It didn't help that a huge portion of my mental energy was devoted to keeping track of which of my units had moved, and which of my cities had unused production. I'm fairly sure that I wound up accidentally skipping turns do to a lack of concentration.

So to play this game marathon-style was mentally fatiguing, but since the underlying concept was so strong, it wasn't as emotionally draining as a game like Ship Simulator, where I had to force myself to keep going.

In the final analysis, I cannot recommend Age of Wonders. It's a decent game, and I can understand why it spawned a franchise, but it's too primitive, too unfriendly to the user. However, if the sequels solve the user interface problems, I could definitely see them being a seriously addicting strategy experience.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Age of Wonders - 13/20 hours

Not quite as many crashes in these last 8 hours, but those that happened were quite annoying. Aside from that, I'm finding Age of Wonders to be fairly enjoyable. I wish I had more control over cities, and actually getting to see upper level units in action has so far been difficult, but the actual game itself is perfectly adequate. I might enjoy it more if I didn't know that there are three more games in the series, and thus, presumably, more feature-rich versions of the same game I could be playing.

There's also a bunch of user-interface features that I had not realized I was taking for granted. Intellectually, I know that there must be PC strategy games that don't recognize the mouse wheel, because I remember first seeing the mouse wheel as an adult. But I still catch myself trying to scroll and zoom with it, and the actual mechanics for doing so are a lot less convenient. And I have to think that auto-jumping to the next unit to need orders is something that late 90s technology was capable of (. . .and I just went and double-checked Alpha Centauri, and yeah, there's no excuse for Age of Wonders' unit queue). And using the left mouse button to both select a unit and to choose its movement destination is just a bad piece of design. Numerous times, it's caused me to attempt to move my units on top of each other.

The most difficult part of writing about this game is trying to pretend the previous decade and a half hasn't happened. What would I have thought about Age of Wonders back in 1999? It's definitely interesting. I like the tactical battle view, where you can control and position the individual units in your army for maximum advantage, though I find that like Civilization V, the limitations of the AI give the human player a significant boost (it's kind of sad to think that this wasn't a problem that got solved in the subsequent 10 years between the two games' releases). But would this formula of light strategy and heavy tactics have appealed to my seventeen-year-old self?

That's a tricky question. Age of Wonders does not appeal to me half as much as the big PC game I was playing back in '99, Civilization II, and yet it was only a couple of years later that I got really deep into Ogre Battle 64. So a game that straddled those two genres, a turn-based tactics game with both rpg and strategy elements, would seem to be right in my wheelhouse, but I can't help but think that Age of Wonders' strength is also its weakness. It's not quite one thing or another, and thus it might not make the same impression as a less ambitious, but more focused game.

Still, I think I like it. And I think I would have liked it. My big wish is that I could play a more polished version of the same basic idea. And as luck would have it, I can. . .

Just not right now.

Age of Wonders - 5/20 hours

It turns out that Age of Wonders is not quite the sort of game I thought it would be. It's a turn-based strategy game where you control territory, but it is not a 4X. The distinction may be fine, but it mostly comes down to "feel." The economy and technology of the game are broad, but shallow. There's a lot of stuff you can build, and many spells you can research, but as far as I can tell, you don't build things that allow you to build faster, so there's no real sense of advancement, only one of expansion. That makes Age of Wonders almost purely a war game.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just that fighting wars is my least favorite part of the 4X experience, and I'd have preferred it if the game allowed me the option of being isolationist and infrastructure-focused. Or, at least, moreso than has been apparent so far.

That said, I'm mostly enjoying myself, and I only have one real problem with the game. It keeps crashing for no apparent reason. I must have had to reload a dozen times at least. It's gotten to the point where I'm now saving after every significant action, to minimize the amount of loss when the game inevitably takes a shit.

It's weird that our most technologically advanced form of entertainment is so fragile. I'm used to not being able to play games because my hardware was too primitive to handle them, but this opposite problem, where an old game is not compatible with modern hardware, feels wrong to me. It's like, "running Age of Wonders on a home computer" is a solved problem, people have done it successfully in the past, so how did we forget how to do it? Why are we allowing the past to slip away from us so quickly? I mean, it's a serious problem that early movies and television programs have been lost forever due to the past's unconscionable apathy, but I'd have assumed we've learned our lesson here.

Then again, maybe Age of Wonders is not the worst example of such a thing. It does work something like 90 percent of the time. So, my fears about old games being lost forever are possibly a tad overblown. Yet I do worry. When will the axe finally fall on backwards compatibility? When will upgrading to a new computer forever lock me out of things I've enjoyed in the past? Surely, as time goes on, the number of "old" games increases at a prodigious rate, and thus the effort to ensure that they're all playable will become far greater than the perceived advantage in having them available.

It's probably not that big an issue for me, personally. I'm not an archivist or scholar. Yet I dread the day when I buy a new computer and it turns out Alpha Centauri won't run on the machine. I wonder if anyone feels similarly about Age of Wonders?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Age of Wonders - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Welcome to Age of Wonders, the authentic turn based fantasy strategy classic that started the hit series. Age of Wonders’ intimate atmosphere with painterly graphics still shines today. The game’s fully patched up, start building your fantasy empire today!

The Age of Wonders, once a time of magic and peace. An age swept into the ravaging gale of chaos by the arrival of a single, uninvited race: the Humans. The fragile balance that existed between the ancient races, Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and others, has changed into a struggle for power and survival in the wake of the turmoil the Humans have brought to the land. Prepare for a strategy adventure where you will uncover wondrous ancient artifacts, awesome magical power, and the secrets of a shattered empire. Ally with the forces of light or darkness to determine the fate of the world in the Age of Wonders! 

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

It was on sale for 75% off, in a bundle with its two sequels, and I don't know. I guess I had this bizarre feeling that maybe I didn't have enough games? This was a post-blog purchase, and it sort of vanishes into my vague sale memories. The likely answer was a sublimated desire for more 4X games. If I recall, this was in the middle of my long Fallout streak.

Expectations and Prior Experience

I love the genre, so if it's even halfway competent, I should enjoy it immensely. It's going to be a little weird, playing a strategy game from 1999, but even that's not any kind of dealbreaker. Back in the early 2000s, I was positively obsessed with a 1999 strategy game. Of course, Age of Wonders is going to have to really blow me away to compete with Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, but I'll do my best not to compare them too much. I'm sure Age of Wonders is wonderful on its own terms (you can't always tell, of course, but I always feel good about a game that managed to get two sequels).

The one, slightly unusual wrinkle to my playing this game is that I have an appointment to start Path of Exile on Saturday morning. This is not an appointment I intend to miss.  The plan is to rush through it in the next two and a half days, but if I can't make it, you'll see a Decadent Gamer first - two games played concurrently, one in the morning and one at night (at least until I reach 20 hours with one or the other).

Sentinels of the Multiverse - 20/20 hours

Having a random party really is a significant disadvantage. I lost to both Spite, who was previously pretty easy, and the Ennead again (it's that damned Shu, who is immune to the two most common damage types in the game). I was so sore about the last one that I loaded up a special anti-Ennead hit-squad, which was really just my regular group, but swapping out Ra for Expatriette. Still, I enjoyed playing different characters, so I will definitely keep Sentinels of the Multiverse in mind for my regular "have an hour to kill" rotation.

Then again, I've said that before. I still haven't fired up a casual game of Hand of Fate or Magic 2014, and Civilization: Beyond Earth is untouched, despite having recently been updated. And did you know that Origin is giving away Jade Empire for free?

Sometimes I feel like it's just all too much. Even aside from the question of finishing my blog, if I were just casually playing whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it, I would still have more in my queue than I could ever realistically get around to. In a way, it's miraculous. I need never be bored. So long as I have electricity, I will always have more entertainment than I could ever conceivably consume. On the other hand, what's the point?

It's a weird feeling, this sensation of drowning in culture. I'm an ardent materialist. So it's not like "simplify your life and get in touch with your inner spirit" is a thing that I'm particularly inclined to do. Stuff is important, and I don't believe that the pleasure I've gotten from these games is somehow "hollow" or "fleeting." I actually admire the hell out of the design of Sentinels of the Multiverse, and I feel privileged to have witnessed it. I don't even really want to stop playing it. I also don't want to stop the progress of my blog (I genuinely enjoy writing these posts, however much my complaining might make it seem otherwise). And I want to go back and play some of the better games on the list. And do some Exalted homebrew. And write a novel. And there's about a hundred things on Netflix that I wish I could watch. And there are books I could be reading

And the crazy thing is that none of it seems like a waste of time.

Which is to say, I don't feel like I am wasting myself on it. Because that's what time is - the raw material of the self, the blank page upon which your thoughts and feelings, and actions are written, and however much potential you might have, however many millions or billions of ways the individual letters can be arranged, once they are down on the page, there's just that little bit of space used up. There is no going back, no eraser, what is written is not just what happened, it's what you are.

I'm not embarrassed that a not-insignificant portion of my own story will wind up being "and then he played 100 video games in a row." Most of them have been works of remarkable craft and inventiveness, and it's very likely that had I, say, followed my talents and stuck with academic mathematics, I'd at this very moment be failing to solve a ridiculous problem no one's ever heard of and only a few people would even be able to understand. There's probably not some great and noble service to humanity that I could be doing, and I mean this not as some kind of self-pitying rationalization, but just as a simple recognition of truth: not everyone can be elite. Pyramids need bases.

So if I have any kind of purpose or destiny it's probably to be a pair of eyes and ears. I live in a brilliant culture, one that creates whole worlds inside itself. I've just dipped my toe into two. Some of things experts can do with SimCity are art, and I've just barely scratched the surface of Sentinels of the Multiverse. I never played any of the advanced forms of the villains or any of the unlockable variants. There's so much nuance to the strategy that is completely lost on me. And I could easily spend weeks piecing together the implied comic-book universe from the cards' flavor texts.

But the weird thing is that all these marvelous works, they're incomplete without an audience. These games are only worlds because people choose to live in them. I know this from experience as a novelist and blogger (yes, I wrote a novel, no, it's not very good). I've often wondered about ways to increase my readership, and I've come to the conclusion that I'm not cut out for the sort of social media hustle necessary to build up an audience from nothing.

But that leaves the question of what the point of all this is? What's the purpose of the blog, if not as a participant in the larger, impossibly fecund creative culture of the internet? And it may sound disingenuous, but I think the point is to be an audience, to leave a record of the experience of being an audience.

I'm reminded of something I did way back when I first got my night job and still viewed the time as something to be grappled with. I offered to read people's rpgs. And the weird thing was that despite the fact that I had no particular reputation or skills, people went out of their way to give me stuff to read. So much so that I eventually got way too stressed to continue (I feel bad about that still, because I had about a dozen games left to get through). I was nobody, but suddenly I had this responsibility.

This blog is not quite the same thing, because by the time a game gets to Steam, it's already enjoyed a certain degree of professional success, and so the creators aren't hungry for an audience the way unpublished authors often are, but nonetheless I don't think my work here is entirely superfluous. I may only be part of an audience. But there's nothing whole in this world that can exist without its parts.

That being said, I think I've persuaded myself to expand this blog's mission a bit. If you're a struggling creator who is willing to send me a review copy of your game, even if it's not on Steam, I'll go ahead and play it and write a post or two about my thoughts. It's not going to be a great path to exposure (and, in fact, I doubt very much that any of my readers actually fall into the category of people who'd be interested by this offer), but you know, you might be able to get a few favorable blurbs about it.

Anyway, about Sentinels of the Multiverse, it's a great card game, translated well into digital form. I enjoyed it immensely, particularly the clever interplay between mechanics and narrative. You should play it if you get the chance.