Monday, October 31, 2016

Battleborn - 15/20 hours

I finished the last of the story missions today. They were entertaining, but when I look back and try and sort out the narrative, it occurs to me that there isn't actually much of a story. I think the issue is a pragmatic one. When you play a pickup game of online coop, there's no telling what levels the other people might have played, so a self-contained mini story can keep everyone on the same page. And if you play coop a lot, being able to shuffle your level order will help to keep things from getting stale. The best way to think of the missions is as episodes from a syndicated cartoon show, where the end of each episode resets to the status quo.

The status quo, as far as I can tell, is that a malevolent and mysterious forces has entered our universe and swallowed all the stars in the sky . . . except one. Solus is the last unconsumed star and the object of a long and bloody war between the forces of Rendain, who wants to help the invaders (for no reason I can discern) and everyone else, who want to stop him. Episodes 1-7 take place some time in the middle of this war and could be separated by hundreds of years for all I know. Episode 8 is probably at the end of the story, seeing as how you finish by killing Rendain, but the threat of the extraplanar invasion still remains, so maybe it's not actually the last chronologically after all. If I play through them again, I'll have to pay attention to that.

It's not super important, though. In a game like this, the story is always a thin excuse to kill tons of enemies and horde tons of loot. By that standard, the Battleborn story is a success, providing some humorous banter to distract from the necessary grinding.

Speaking of which, my next move is to try and unlock as many of the remaining characters as possible. I still have seven left to go, and I'm fairly sure that I can unlock at least two before my 20 hours are up. The rest are theoretically possible, if I were a lot better at the game and could reliably get silver medals or better on the story levels, but realistically, I'm only getting them when I grind my command rank to 40 (it is currently 13). That's a shame, because the thing I love most about this game is the characters, but it's all right, because I expect that I'll be playing Battleborn intermittently for years to come.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Battleborn - 10/20 hours

I just got done playing Battleborn and I'm still coming down from the high. That's the thing about a fast-paced action game, it really gets your blood pumping. It's great, except when you're close to your bedtime and itching to play another round. Waiting to play the game on my home internet connection was the right choice. Without the interruptions, it's actually a lot of fun.

Being on the good internet connection also means I am theoretically able to play online multiplayer. However, when I tried to do a random match, I got stuck on the matchmaking screen for about ten minutes. If Jondera hadn't come along and offered to play a private game with me, it's likely that I'd have given up in frustration before the math actually started.

Co-op mode is probably the best way to play the game. I felt a little guilty for not contributing as much as my partner, but being able to split the enemies' attention and revive each other mid-level took so much stress out of the equation that it practically felt like a different game. I highly recommend it.

Which isn't to say that playing solo is bad. It's just a lot more demanding, especially since so many of Battleborn's story missions revolve around defending a location or NPC. Escort missions have a bad reputation and that reputation is mostly deserved, but they can be pretty fun in a co-op game. I think that's because a defense mission naturally lends itself to role specializations (such as dividing the level into sections for each player to cover, or breaking your group into an active screen and passive blockers). Also, and this may be petty of me, but whenever I lose a defense mission by myself, I can't help but feel like the game failed me. Yet when I have a group by my side, the responsibility becomes more diffuse.

As enjoyable as multiplayer is, I think, for me, it's probably also this game's biggest drawback. It's difficult to coordinate schedules with another person, and you're not guaranteed to want to play the same length of time. And of course, as a newbie, it's easy to feel like you're dragging the experienced players down. And don't get me started on PvP - I can be competitive, but I always wind up feeling terrible afterwards. If Battleborn had a single-player campaign as long and involved as Borderlands 2's, I'd probably play it until I ground all the characters up to maximum level. But since it doesn't, I'm afraid of getting too involved. It's not my proudest trait, but I am an introvert's introvert. I thrive in solitude, and if I tried to make Battleborn a persistent hobby, I could never forget that I'm missing out on the best part of the game.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Battleborn - 3/20 hours

This game is on thin ice with me. It is colorful and fast-paced. The banter between the characters and villains is often hilarious. The character designs are both interesting and distinct. And the difficulty is just about right for my skill level. I have only one complaint, but it is so major that it very nearly outweighs all of its positives put together - when you play single-player, if your connection is unreliable, the game will seriously lag.

I was not surprised when the hotel's wifi ruined my attempt at a multiplayer game. Some nights are better than others, but when you're sharing a connection with a hundred other people, unpredictability is the rule. So it was with regret that I had to bow out of my game with Jondera, but I figured I would be able to practice on single-player and get ready for another attempt in the morning. Except that every time I tried it, I experienced the same catastrophic rubber-banding that derailed my multiplayer attempt.

It turns out there is no way to play this game offline and by oneself. I went online to try and find a fix for my technical problem and every source I found said that's just the way it is (though I did learn a new bit of gaming jargon - "rubber-banding" which is what they call it when your computer's latency causes things to appear as if they are teleporting around the screen uncontrollably). The reason for this is that the single-player and multiplayer modes use the same character progression and something about being always online makes it harder for cheaters.

I don't know enough about online games to know whether that makes sense or not, but it seems plausible. However, I am not a cheater (at multiplayer games, I will and have cheated at single-player games whenever I feel like I'm stuck) and I'm not so invested in online multiplayer that stopping cheaters is all that important to me, so I feel like I'm losing out on playing the game for the sake of a feature I don't want or need.

Which is a shame, because I did actually manage to get one full game in last night, possibly because there was nobody awake to share the router with between the hours of 2 and 3am. That game was incredibly fun. I didn't quite beat the level, but I came close enough that I feel encouraged to try again with a different character. Sadly, every other attempt I made was killed by network latency (I even managed to get rubber-banded off the edge of a cliff - that really stings when you have a limited number of lives).

The lesson I learned from all this is that I should play this game exclusively at home. I don't know if the Prologue relied on the same online infrastructure as the story missions, but it worked perfectly when I played it yesterday. My hope is that my stronger, more reliable home network will be enough to let me play Battleborn properly. If it's not, I shall be very put out.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Battleborn - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

A tremendous band of badass heroes fight to protect the universe’s very last star from a mysterious evil in this next-gen shooter by the creators of Borderlands. To defend it, you’ll need to utilize every type of character and weapon you’ve ever imagined -- from cyborg hawkmen to samurai vampires to mini-gun wielding man-mountains. Slash and parry, run and gun, cast and dash, or simply obliterate foes all while building and growing your personal team of heroes.  Choose your hero and fight alone or co-operatively alongside friends in story missions, or battle against them in fast-paced competitive multiplayer matches.

Previous Playtime

0 hours

Expectations and Prior Experience

I have Jondera to thank for this game. It was an unexpected gift, but I'm not coming into this totally blind. I've had my eye on Battleborn for a while. It was a new game from Gearbox and after Borderlands and Borderlands 2, they've earned the right to at least one game that I'll try on trust alone.

As far as I can tell, this is an FPS MOBA. Individually, each genre is one that gives me pause. Taken together, I worry that I might not be able to handle it. However, I love games with excessively large casts of playable characters (that's why I own a copy of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, despite that being a patently ridiculous thing for me to have) and if these guys are brought to life with the same irreverent humor as the Borderlands series, I'll probably be able to forget my preferences for at least 20 hours.

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy - 20/20 hours

I wasn't quite able to beat the game as a dark-sider. The lightning ability made short work of basically every non-Sith I came across, and Dark rage was good for the lower-ranking lightsaber duels, but towards the end I wound up having to rely heavily on Absorb and Heal. I got up to the third-to-last level, but I wound up dying so many times that my time ran out.

I could finish the game again, but I think that after 100 hours, I'm ready to be done with this series. It was mostly fun, but I don't think it's "100 hour marathon" grade fun. There were too many frustrating spots and vague objectives for that. Nonetheless, I liked being a Jedi and even if I never play any of these games again, I'll look back upon them with fondness.

I wish I could think of a proper send-off for the series. I've spent so much time with them that I'm almost afraid I've forgotten how to play other sorts of games. What's remarkable is that there were five games over the course of eight years, but they managed to stay extremely consistent in terms of story and gameplay. There weren't any Force powers in the first, and the FMVs in the second were a short lived experiment, but other than that, the series just got steadily better by any metric you'd care to name.

I admire that sort of craftsmanship, and I'm glad that I got to end my ludicrous "play nothing but Star Wars games for a month and a half" binge on the strongest entry in the series. Good-bye Kyle Katarn, though I sometimes thought of you as a self-regarding jackass, I wouldn't mind it if you got another game.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy - 12/20 hours

Hey, I finally made it through one of these Dark Forces games without having to activate god mode. I think it must be because I got a lot more practice fighting Jedi. It turns out the Absorb power is pretty good.

The plot doesn't hold any surprises. The bad guys are trying to resurrect their dead leader, Ragnos. . . and they succeed. You fight the leader in Ragnos' tomb and beat her, but then one of those annoying cutscenes comes along that immediately reverses your victory and she finishes the ritual anyway. So Ragnos comes back as a ghost and possesses his acolyte's body.

I won that fight, but I can't help feeling like I foiled the villains' plot at the last possible minute. I suppose that's just the way these heroic narratives go. You can't win while the villains are still in the planning stage because then where's the story? It does sometimes make the heroes seem incompetent, but there's probably no way to avoid it. Maybe there could one day be a super-hero or law-enforcement game where elaborate criminal plots are procedurally generated and through your efforts you could squelch them while they're still in the planning phase.

That's putting too much on a simple action game, however. In the end, I thought Jedi Academy was a fun little romp, not the greatest Star Wars story out there, but it had Luke Skywalker. It definitely fit the series' pattern and is marginally better than all the others so far.

From here, I'm going to start the game over and try out the dark side powers, though my Healing and Absorb turned out to be so essential that I'm not sure whether I'll be able to make it to the end. Assuming time permits, I'll also try out the multiplayer mode. I heard it's pretty good.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy - 5/20 hours

The main plot of Jedi Academy is nearly superfluous. There's this cult that's going around and somehow draining the Force from certain special locations, but that doesn't concern you directly. With masters like Luke Skywalker and Kyle Katarn distracted by this sinister plot, it falls to trainees like Jaden to pick up the slack and do all the regular Jedi missions - investigating crashed spaceships, arresting crime lords, rescuing hostages, that sort of thing.

I actually like this setup and think it would have been interesting if the game had ditched the main plot and just gone for a pure "day in the life of a Jedi." After all, when your job requires thrilling heroics as a matter of daily routine, you don't really need a galaxy-spanning conspiracy to spice things up.

This gets me thinking about other games that have similar issues. Take something like Mass Effect, where there's this big, apocalyptic event that you have to investigate and thwart, but along the way you get dozens of "side missions" where you do lower-level space-cop stuff. The usual plot critique is that it makes no sense that someone on such an important mission would take time to divert to a backwater planet and chastise an unrelated drug dealer. The side missions are a distraction from the main story. But now I wonder if, perhaps, this is backwards. Maybe the main plot is a distraction from the side missions.

Video games have a unique ability to transport you to a new world. They give you things to see and places to go and characters to interact with and it's interesting to see the relationships between these things. Even in poorly-thought-out settings, there are still relationships in physical space. This thing is over here and that thing is over there. There doesn't need to be a story. The real world doesn't have a main plot. A virtual world could be the same way.

But then again, I am a big fan of survival games, so maybe I'm biased. I guess the takeaway from this is that I wish Jedi Academy had more side-missions, presented in a more organic way. Maybe instead of selecting my next mission from an interstitial menu, I could take time between missions to explore the Jedi Academy and perhaps get my missions from the various characters still stationed there. That's the way they'd do it today, though I guess 2003 was a different time. Open worlds were not yet obligatory. Nonetheless, I like what I got and am happy to keep playing it.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy - 2/20 hours

Jedi Academy has clarified something that has been nagging at me for awhile - why don't I like Kyle Katarn more than I do? On paper, he seems like a character with an irresistible appeal, a wise-cracking mercenary with a heart of gold. Yet I never entirely embraced him. There was always something "off" about the character (despite some good voice work and an appealing "generically handsome" character design).

I've finally realized what's been bugging me. In Jedi Academy he is your mentor. You are a young padawan who has gone to Luke's Jedi Academy to learn the way of the Force and he has been assigned as your instructor. And when you respectfully address him as "Master Katarn," he tells you to call him "Kyle." More than that, he insists upon it.

And that's when it struck me - Kyle is trying to be the "cool teacher." Now, far be it for me to defend reflexive officiousness, but forced familiarity is almost as great a sin. Kyle Katarn is not just a charming rogue, he is a person for whom it is important to be seen as a charming rogue. Even when it undermines the student-teacher bond. Even when it makes his students visibly uncomfortable. Even when he is exercising authority and sending his students into life-and-death situations. He insists on being called "Kyle."

If he were a real person with a rich inner life, I'd accuse him of having vanity that bordered on the dangerously irresponsible. But he's not a real person, he's a fictional character, and I don't think we're meant to view him as a naive twit. I think what's going on is that the writers came up with the idea of the character first (what if there were a laid-back, snarky rogue of a Jedi) and then tried to fill in the details afterwards.  His persona is constructed to be appealing, but there's little substance there.

It's not a grave crime or anything. Kyle can still be fun at times, but it's nonetheless an identifiable point of weakness. Luckily, the story doesn't really focus on him. Instead, you are his student, Jaden Korr, a naturally talented user of the Force who gets thrust into a great deal of premature responsibility because the leaders of the Jedi Academy are distracted by the emergence of a new cult worshiping the infamous Sith, Ragnos. It's a good enough excuse to go places and hit enemies with your lightsaber and I don't really need much more than that.

As expected, Jedi Academy is the best game of the series, showing incremental improvements to graphics, controls, and level design. It also allows for a small degree of character customization, which is nice to see, even if it's not as detailed as I've gotten used to in recent years. It's best innovation, however, is in the Force power system. Earlier games in the series gave you a certain number of Force points per completed level and had you distribute them however you thought best. Jedi Outcast simply leveled up your Force powers according to a fixed schedule.

 Jedi Academy manages to combine the best of both approaches by dividing your powers into two types "core" and "auxiliary." Core powers level up based on the story progress and auxiliary powers level up by having points spent on them. The advantage of this is that you don't have to waste points leveling up the workhorse utility powers that every Jedi needs to use, and subsequently don't have to worry about not having a critical skill when the time comes. However, because the auxiliary powers are all optional, you still have the ability to customize your Jedi to your personal playstyle. The only downside is that I can't max-out Jump straight from the beginning of the game. I guess you can't have everything.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Forge your weapon and follow the path of the Jedi

Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy is the latest installment of the highly acclaimed Jedi Knight series. Take on the role of a new student eager to learn the ways of the Force from Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. Interact with famous Star Wars characters in many classic Star Wars locations as you face the ultimate choice: fight for good and freedom on the light side or follow the path of power and evil to the dark side. 

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

I think I've explained the bundle thing at least a half-dozen times already, and it looks like I'm going to have to do it about a half-dozen more, but it's easy enough - at less than two dollars a game, and with my unreasonable love of the Star Wars movies, this was an easy purchase for me. It was made an especially easy decision for me because this game is the sequel to the one game in the Dark Forces series I had built up as "the one that got away."

Expectations and Prior Experience

I have no experience with this game specifically, but having just finished four other games in the series, I think I have a pretty good idea what I'm in for - slightly imprecise platforming and button-mashing lightsaber combat with a hint of functional but uninspiring FPS gameplay all set in a series of levels that will only occasionally bottleneck me with obtuse puzzles all wrapped up in a plot that is clearly a labor of love for all involved but also guilty of some small amount of embarrassing expanded-universe excess.

It's possible that this is going to be the game that breaks with the series' formula, but I doubt it. That's not that big a deal, though, because it's a formula that works and so far each iteration has been better than the last. My biggest worry is that since I've played so much of it over the last month or so, I may wind up judging it more harshly than it deserves. You should probably take my opinions over the next week or so with a grain of salt.

Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast - 20/20 hours

I only had to resort to god mode twice. The last two bosses were pretty tough and I didn't want to waste too much time failing to kill them. I'm not sure whether my threshold for frustration has lowered in general over the past two years or whether I'm simply not invested enough in this series to get good. Either way, after that stealth section, I was having none of it.

The story had a pretty satisfying conclusion. It turned out the villains were doing the most obvious thing imaginable with their army of synthetic Jedi - using it to eliminate Luke Skywalker's Jedi Academy so that they may have a monopoly on the Force and subsequently defeat the New Republic once and for all. It's a more roundabout plan than the sort I normally favor, and it's on dubious ground when it comes to Star Wars canon, but there is a logical connection between the goal and the methods used to reach that goal.

I wish I could say the same thing about the romance between Kyle Katarn and Jan Ors. As expected, she did not die off-screen, but the smooching that accompanied their reunion came out of nowhere. They had an undeniable chemistry, sure, but it always felt to me like "friend" chemistry. To suddenly have them in a romance just wasn't right. It seemed almost obligatory. The series had hitherto had exactly two recurring characters so why not pair them off? It's not a deal-breaker or anything, but I did find myself rolling my eyes a couple of times before the end.

There was a lot I liked about Jedi Outcast. I loved jumping around, buoyed by the power of the Force. I enjoyed seeing all these exotic Star Wars locations rendered in 3D. I was even moderately entertained by the plot. It may not be like the Borderlands series and transcend my diffidence with the FPS genre, but it wasn't a game I had to suffer through.

I'll probably never play this game again. Aside from the jumping (I am an absolute sucker for any game that gives me superhuman jumping powers), there's not much to draw me back. I usually like a bit more RPG in my first-person games and as a Star Wars story, it just doesn't compare to the movies (even the ones that are kind of bad) or to games like Knights of the Old Republic. It was worth playing, and two dollars well-spent, but it didn't set fire to my imagination.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast - 13/20 hours

A stealth level! Arggh! Why?! It's too late in the series to introduce this type of mechanical twist. I'd gotten used to the platforming and the lightsaber duels. And now this.

I'll probably get through it, eventually. Before this latest roadblock I had to rapidly jump between a series of narrow platforms while dodging rockets and it took me a dozen or so attempts to make it through. If I can make it through that sort of aggravation, I can probably make it through anything.

Still, I don't like stealth, especially in a game that doesn't normally require it. Jedi Outcast's justification for this sequence is that there are too many troops for Kyle Katarn to take on by himself. Except that because the level is set up as a series of narrow passageways in which I tend to only run into one or two enemies at a time, I could easily take out an almost infinite number of stormtroopers. And since I have so many Force powers and high-tech weapons, even if they did attack all at once, I still might be able to pull it off.

But the game doesn't even give me the option. If the enemies are alerted to my presence and get to an alarm, it's an automatic game over. A cutscene plays and Kyle Katarn is escorted into a jail cell, to be interrogated in a very sinister manner. You know, the typical stealth game screw-job. I'm just going to have to grit my teeth and power through it.

The game's story is interesting. I enjoyed the Billy Dee Williams cameo, though Lando Calrissian didn't have much of a role (I suspect he was only there for the nostalgia factor and to give the game an excuse to have a couple of cloud city levels). The main thrust of the plot is that there's this guy who has figured out how to do some dubious sci-fi stuff with crystals that results in people getting the Force. And this new army of synthetic Jedi is helping out the remnants of the galactic empire, presumably as part of some greater scheme to which I'm not yet privy. Also, while this is all going on, Kyle is trying to get revenge for the death of Jan Ors, but it turns out that she might not be dead after all (though, who am I kidding, the "death" occurs off-screen, so she's almost certainly alive). The whole thing has that reckless, extended universe stake-raising that I tend to feel ambivalent about.

With more than 70 hours invested in the series, I'm starting to get a little antsy about moving on to something else. It was never entirely within my comfort zone and seeing it in what may be its most perfect form (though there's every chance that Jedi Academy is better) has not converted me into a fanatic. However, I think when you sink so much time into something, it starts to worm its way into your consciousness. I want to see how it ends. I need to see how it ends. I just wish the end were sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast - 6/20 hours

I got to the level where you get your Jedi powers and I'm absolutely certain I've played this game before, but it dismays and confuses me that I forgot there was a Luke Skywalker cameo. That's kind of huge and it completely slipped my mind. I think I may be getting old.

But let's just put my personal angst aside for a moment and focus on the game itself. It's interesting the way it can be recognizably and unmistakably a Dark Forces game, but also be better than its predecessors in every conceivable way. I guess the five year break really did make a difference.

A lot of the improvements are little things, like mapping your weapons' secondary fire mode to the right mouse button instead of the "z" button. It's something I could (and probably should) have done myself, but having it as a default is just so much more welcoming.

Then there are high-level design decisions, like have real, physics-based force powers. Using your telekinesis to push an enemy and send them flying across the room is incredibly fun. And having your force power recharge quickly, instead of slowly over time, is an unmitigated move for the better. I feel more like a Jedi than I ever did in the previous games (although I have to confess that I keep forgetting I can use the Force to solve environmental puzzles).

But the biggest improvement is in the script. Conversations are more natural and realistic and even the stiff and clunky exposition does a better job at actually explaining the plot. Dark Forces II might have been slightly better at characterization, thanks to the actors bringing texture to their characters just from their mannerisms and appearance, but even that's debatable. The voice work in this game is very good. I suspect that this is simply a case of the video games industry being less "niche" in 2003 than in 1998 and thus able to attract more artistic talent.

I'm not sure that I necessarily regret missing out on this game the first time through, because it's still fundamentally a Dark Forces game and the series' combination of intense FPS action and confusing mazes is one that tends to task me beyond my abilities. I couldn't even get through the first level on normal mode and I'm constantly using a walkthrough to find my way out of trouble. With those caveats in mind, I'm still enjoying myself. I like exploring the Star Wars universe and jumping around with a lightsaber, even if I'm a complete waste as a Jedi.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast - 3/20 hours

It turns out my memories of this game are really vague. The first five minutes seemed familiar to me, but after that it veered off into areas that seemed wholly new. It's something that kept happening. I'd have a flash of recognition - the scramble over collapsing pipes in the mine level, Kyle Katarn's reticence about the Valley of the Jedi, the hangar with the Tie fighters where I got stuck - and then maybe an hour would pass by where it would all feel completely new.

It's making me question my memory. I am absolutely certain I've played this game before. The emotional turmoil that surrounded my initial purchase of the game is a very strong memory. I can distinctly remember passing the game on store shelves and thinking to myself "hey, I should buy this game to make up for the time Blockbuster screwed me." And yet the game itself has (apparently) made little impression on me.

I have to wonder how much of my experience with Jedi Outcast is confabulation. Maybe I'm thinking of another game with a similar title that I somehow got mixed up with this one. Maybe the recognition I'm feeling is nothing more than my mind latching onto a particular moment and projecting a feeling of familiarity onto it.

Or maybe it's just been a long time since I last played it. I have a test to figure it out. If Kyle regains his powers by going to some sort of forested temple and engaging in a timed platforming challenge, then I have for sure played this game before. If not, then I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

The Legacy of Star Wars Dark Forces™ and Star Wars® Jedi Knight lives on in the intense first-person action of Jedi Outcast.

As Kyle Katarn, agent of the New Republic, use your Lightsaber and the full power of the Force to combat a new evil plaguing the galaxy.

Wield over 8 Force abilities including the Jedi Mind Trick, Force Lightning and Force Grip.

Choose wisely from an arsenal of 13 weapons including disruptor rifle, thermal detonators, trip mines and Wookiee bowcaster.

Play on-line with 2-32 players or against a variety of AI Bots - and gain an additional 7 Force powers.

Test your skills in 24 single-player missions and in 6 different types of multiplayer games including
Jedi Master, Holocron, Capture the Ysalamiri, Duel, Deathmatch and Capture the Flag.

Interact with legendary Star Wars characters such as Luke Skywalker and Lando Calrissian (featuring the voice of Billy Dee Williams as Lando.)

Developed by critically acclaimed Raven Studios and powered by the Quake III Arena engine. 

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

I'm going to swerve slightly from my usual "it was in a bundle" spiel. Yes, it was in a bundle and that was the primary reason I got it, but it just so happens that this particular title is one of the reasons the bundle was so attractive to me. I actually briefly owned this game on the Gamecube. For about a day.

This was back around the time when Blockbuster was still a thing, but slightly after the Gamecube was culturally relevant. The Blockbuster was selling off their used stock of previously rented Gamecube games and this one caught my eye. So I bought it, took it home, and when I played it, it almost immediately froze.

When I took it back to the store, they gave me a free disk cleaning and sent me on my way. This appeared to work at first, but then the game crashed repeatedly on the level where I finally got my Jedi powers. I was able to get a refund, but ever since, this game has been "the one that got away."

Expectations and Prior Experience

I've played the first couple of levels of this game and I thought they were pretty decent. And I wouldn't say that I've built up a mythology about how great the Jedi levels I didn't get to play must have been, but I would say that I've probably set myself up for some mild disappointment.

I've played three games in the series so far and the experience has not conflicted with my memories of the fourth. Since the quality of the games has been consistent so far, what I'm expecting is a serviceable shooter with a thin story and the occasional frustrating maze level.

Nevertheless, what I'm hoping is that the series' five year hiatus has led to a greater refinement in gameplay and storytelling. All of the Dark Forces games thus far have been pretty decent, but if this next-gen offering can bring some much-needed polish and flair, it may well transcend its predecessors and become great.

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith - 20/20 hours

With seven hours left to play, I started the game over from the beginning and once again got to the final level (although, just like last time, I had to activate the invincibility cheat during the Dark Mara fight and then leave it on for the remainder of the game). It's nice being able to go through the levels without being confused about where to go, though it's kind of distressing to think that navigational confusion took up roughly 50% of my time on the first playthrough.

I wound up finishing my second game with about twenty minutes to spare. That gave me a chance to try "medium" difficulty, which quickly kicked my ass. More evidence for the supposition that I may, in fact, be terrible at shooters.

Overall, I'm glad to have played this game, though I'm finding the series as a whole to be pretty shallow. Which is fine, you know. Not everything has to have deeply layered symbolism or characters of subtle complexity. But I'm not sure if any of the Dark Forces games I've played thus far have any particular niche in my personal gaming environment. They're in a genre I don't particularly care for, they're burdened by certain unavoidable artifacts of their age (Mysteries of the Sith's map was basically unusable) and their story is not particularly memorable or interesting. I can't think of a single reason I'd ever want to play this game again.

I suppose that's just how things shake out, though. Not everyone can like everything, and I'm sure I have a gaming compliment out there who loves the heck out of this series but has had a lukewarm reaction the various Civilization games. It would be a funny world if we were all the same.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight - Mysteries of the Sith - 13/20 hours

I did not think very much of the end of this game. The holocron I was defending as of my last post turned out to be nothing and Kyle Katarn's mysterious business turned out to be discovering an ancient Sith temple and then suddenly going evil for no reason. It's something that's always bugged me about the less sophisticated "corrupted by power" stories - power is only attractive when it's the power to do something. And so, a misguided hero who seeks out power is doing so in order to accomplish their heroic goals. If they then find that, say, their incomparable battle skills, which served them so well in defeating the evil empire, are a more expedient way of getting their allies to "do the right thing" than the sometimes messy process of persuasion and democracy, then that is corruption. To be like Kyle Katarn and go from loyal Jedi holding a significant leadership position in the new Republic to cackling Sith madman bent on universal conquest doesn't make a damned bit of sense.

Oh well, nobody ever accused the Star Wars franchise of an abundance of subtlety.

It's funny but the back half of the game played out almost exactly as I expected. I got to the final level around hour 12 and had to activate the invincibility cheat for the last couple of levels because the enemies suddenly got very difficult. But don't worry, I didn't have an easy time of it. The last level alone was a huge maze which took me more than an hour to beat, even with the help of a walkthrough. In the end, I wound up wandering around for far too long because I didn't realize that certain murals were part of a puzzle. Mazes and I don't really mix.

My plan is to just start over and play the first part of the game until my time runs out. Mysteries of the Sith was a damned good value as an expansion pack, being just as long and complex as the base game and despite the story taking a random turn into a completely untelegraphed character betrayal, it was still recognizably a Star Wars story, and Star Wars stories are always fun - even when they're kind of crummy.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight - Mysteries of the Sith - 6/20 hours

Mysteries of the Sith makes the odd choice of changing the viewpoint character after the first four missions. I get that they might want to set up a "passing the torch" situation where a series that had previously been about Kyle Katarn is now going to focus on Mara Jade, but why that needed to be more than a single starting level, I can't say.

I'm not sure how I feel about this Mara Jade character. She's got "attitude," which tends to be entertaining, but is so "90s" it's almost embarrassing. I wouldn't ship her with Luke Skywalker, but she seems like an interesting enough character to stand on her own. I'd say it's more or less a lateral move from Kyle Katarn.

I've got no idea about what's going on in the game's plot, however. I think Mara Jade is just running various errands for the new Republic. In my latest mission, I have to protect a holocron from space pirates, which gets my narrative-detection senses tingling. I have a feeling that there's going to be some shocking secret revealed in the course of defending this ancient artifact, but that's only because the game is long overdue for something significant to happen.

It doesn't really matter, though. I decided that I was not particularly interested in the Kyle Katarn saga somewhere around halfway through Dark Forces II. It's a functional enough video game plot, but that just means it's an excuse for running around a series of 3D maps blasting enemies and hitting switches. So far Mysteries of the Sith is doing well on that front. The levels are a bit more open-ended than Dark Forces II, but not quite as confusingly laid out as the original Dark Forces. They also use their verticality more than those from the first two games in the series, so I'm guessing that by1998 game developers were pretty comfortable with 3D.

I think I'm going to have a pretty easy time finishing this game, though I'm predicting that it will come in at about 12 hours for my first playthrough. It's possible that there might be an impassible difficulty spike before then (I found myself reloading the prison level way too many times thanks to the way it stranded me without weapons), but if that happens I'm likely to just cheat my way through, so there's pretty much nothing that's going to stop me from getting to the end.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight - Mysteries of the Sith - 2/20 hours

Time has not been kind to Mysteries of the Sith. The game itself is about the same as Dark Forces II and thus pretty decent, but the translation from late-90s CD-ROM to 2016 digital download was clearly not a smooth one. Whenever it switches over to a cutscene or whenever I enter a menu, the game window shrinks to a little 640x480 box. And when the game is "big" it still has a windowed border that cuts off the top part of the screen. Also, the game crashed several times. It's playable, with a little patience, but if it weren't for the blog, I'd have probably washed my hands of it.

I'm not sure about the plot of the game yet. Apparently the light-side ending of Dark Forces II is canonical (it's just as well, because the dark-side one sucked) and Kyle Katarn is mentoring a new Jedi while developing his own powers and aiding the new galactic republic. I don't know much about this Mara Jade character except that in the old expanded universe she was Luke Skywalker's wife, but since that plot point seems unlikely to return in the new movies and probably won't happen in the course of this game, I'm just going to ignore it.

But so far, Katarn hasn't done much of anything. He escaped from a Republic base as it came under attack by some kind of remnant imperial force, but then he landed on an asteroid and has been dicking around ever since. I think the asteroid was weaponized in some way and that's why Kyle is so interested, but it's not clear exactly what the problem is.

Finally, I couldn't help but notice the lack of FMV cutscenes. It doesn't quite feel like a true Dark Forces II expansion without them. Sure, they were cheesy as hell, but they had an earnestness to them that charmed me. The animated cutscenes actually work a lot better and allow for more complex dialogue, but, well, nobody's going to remember them 20 years later.

Star Wars Jedi Knight - Mysteries of the Sith - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

"I have chosen my destiny, and it lies here..." - Kyle Katarn

It is five years after Kyle's victory over the seven dark Jedi. Invading Imperial forces advance upon a quiet Rebel outpost, interrupting Kyle's training of a brave new Jedi, Mara Jade. First introduced in Timothy Zahn's award-winning Star Wars novel, Heir to the Empire, Mara Jade blends her past experiences as a one time smuggler and Emperor's Hand with her apprenticeship as a Jedi Knight. Armed with four new weapons and five new Force powers, Mara must secure supplies desperately needed by the New Republic while Kyle, believing it a part of his destiny, pursues the secret treasures shrouded in an ancient Sith temple.

Can the New Republic's boldest female Jedi protect the Rebel base, negotiate with Ka'Pa the Hutt, then ward off a phalanx of enemies?

Will the ancient secrets of the Sith unleash new powers?

Are Kyle and Mara strong enough to resist the temptations of the dark side, or will new entanglements seduce them? 

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

You know the story by now. Super cheap bundle.

Expectations and Prior Experience

This one is interesting because it's an expansion pack to Dark Forces II Which means that I'm expecting more or less the exact same game I just got finished playing, but for there to be less of it. This does worry me a bit. I don't think I'm going to have any trouble on my first playthrough, but I was able to finish all of Dark Forces II in 13 hours and then do it again in another seven. So how many times am I going to have to sit through Mysteries of the Sith?

I've got my fingers crossed that it will be no more than two and a half, but I'm still left wishing I knew this game was an expansion to Dark Forces II beforehand so I could have bundled the two games together and saved myself the trouble.

Here's hoping my stubborn pride doesn't catch up with me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II - 20/20 hours

Confession time - I didn't really want to replay Dark Forces II. I had a decent enough time on my first playthrough, but the repeat didn't have much to offer me. I first tried to find all the secret rooms, but that lasted approximately a level and a half. The game did not let me alt-tab out while it was running, so going back and forth between the game and a guide did not work very well. I had to shut it down every time I wanted some information from the walkthrough. It just wasn't worth it.

That just left the dark side powers as my main draw to return. Unfortunately, they sucked. I don't know what I was expecting. I guess telekinetic blows that tossed enemies around like rag-dolls. A force-choke that lifted a victim into the air, where he would flail helplessly as the life drained from him. Lightning that would cut through groups of enemies like a scythe. It may be that games like Mass Effect and The Force Unleashed have spoiled me, but Dark Forces II's powers felt dull and weak to me. There was never a point where I felt like I was better off using the Force over a gun.

There was an alternate ending to the game when you played as a dark-sider, but it made absolutely no sense. Kyle Katarn kills his friend and co-conspirator, Jan and taunts Jarec by saying that he will seize the power of the Valley of the Jedi for himself, and in the end, he does, becoming a new galactic emperor. I don't even want to go into all the ways this violates the logic of the setting and undermines the established traits of the characters involved. Suffice it to say, it follows the "evil means you have no motives besides being a dick" pattern that I always found to be absolutely ridiculous.

My final assessment of the game is that it is not as historically important as its predecessor, but it holds up better when taken purely as its own experience. The levels are still a little confusing for my tastes, but they don't have quite so much early 3D jankiness and the ability to look up and down with the mouse is an improvement which by itself makes the game about a hundred times more playable.

I think I will remember this game fondly, even given my rather disappointing second playthrough. It's still more primitive than I need to put up with, given the options available to me, but there was no point where I was aggravated enough to curse the game, and thus no great flaws that I might seek to blame on its primitiveness.

I still have three games to go in the series, but I feel like I'm over the hump. They may not keep getting better, but I doubt they'll get worse. As long as the other games can be at least as competently executed as Dark Forces II, I'll be fine.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II - 13/20 hours

I just finished the main story for Dark Forces II. I had a little bit of help with the final boss, in the form of an invincibility cheat, but that's only because light saber combat in this game is a mess. The controls are so sloppy that I couldn't really develop a skilled technique. I wound up just flailing around randomly in the hopes of landing a decisive hit. As a result, it didn't really feel like I was giving up when I skipped the real fight.

Anyway, about the story. Kyle Katarn's father was a Jedi (despite the fact that the game is set after the third movie, which would put him in the same age bracket as all those Jedi Darth Vader was supposed to kill) and he had a mysterious artifact that, when combined with a certain map will lead to a location called "The Valley of the Jedi." At the start of the game, a dark Jedi by the name of Jarec kills Kyle's father in the hopes of gaining the information necessary to go to the Valley and claim its awesome power for his own. Obviously, Kyle wants to stop him, but is constantly one step behind and thus doesn't get to confront Jarec until his plan is, like, 99% complete.

The plot's biggest strength is that it has that classic pulp feel. It's a race to uncover an ancient archeological mystery with a dashing hero and a thoroughly loathsome villain who makes the mistake of making things personal. It's not a story that holds many surprises, but it's perfectly serviceable.

The biggest weakness of the story is that it sometimes feels like it's trying to one-up the movies. Kyle Katarn is a Han Solo-esque rogue and also has Jedi powers. There's more magic, the stakes are higher, and the villains are more depraved. As much as I would have hated to miss out on the magic powers, I think the story would have worked better if it had the confidence to a low-key story and Kyle Katarn would have worked better as a clever, but mundane mercenary.

I still have another seven hours to play the game. I don't think there's anything left in the story for me to uncover - it's as straightforward as it gets. However, there's still a lot of secret areas and the Dark Side powers and medium difficulty. I'm going to try for a 100% completion, though there's obviously not enough to do it. It's just a thing I have to do.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II - 10/20 hours

I think I'm getting into this game. I played it all night last night and I didn't find my attention flagging much at all. There were a couple of rough spots. I got stuck a few times. I had to activate one of the cheats in order to beat a certain boss. But otherwise, it was pretty fun. Call me a wimp if you must, but I'm glad the game is much less maze-like than the original.

Having experienced more of the live-action cutscenes, I have to say that I'm not a fan. Even setting aside the cheesiness of their execution, I feel like they take me out of the game. I think a large part of it is that they are in a completely different art style than the rest the game. However, that can't be the whole explanation because I've played games in the past where the cutscenes are hyper-stylized and it's never bothered me before.

Maybe it's because I've been playing games for over twenty years now and live action simply isn't how things are done. In fact, I don't think I've ever played another game that's used this narrative approach. I was vaguely aware that it enjoyed a brief period of popularity in the late 90s, with Night Trap and whatnot, but back then my game system of choice was the SNES. By the time I got a system powerful enough to run those sorts of games, the fad had already passed.

I wonder why it wasn't more popular, though. It seems like it could at least have found itself a niche. Human actors are much more expressive than even our most advanced animation. You don't have to have a whole team of people working to make sure their mouths crinkle correctly when they smile or frown. You don't have to do that silly thing with the mocap balls to get a realistic walking gait. And of course complicated technical problems like cloth animation more or less solve themselves. If you really want a game to tell a story, it seems like live-action is a good way to cut out a lot of the bullshit.

As far as I can tell, the reason live action did not become more widespread is threefold. First, games tend to have at their heart fantastical premises. Even if you do live-action for the main characters, if your game takes place on a spaceship or in a magical land, you're still going to have to use cgi for the sci-fi technology and/or dragons and wizards and such. This means that game studios would have to have both a strong computer graphics infrastructure and a strong filming and editing infrastructure.

In addition to the expense of maintaining two non-overlapping production facilities, I imagine that it would be difficult to cultivate and hold onto the institutional knowledge necessary to run what amounts to a miniature film studio. I don't know the specifics that go into making a movie, but I'm guessing that even if you didn't have all of your cinematography, editing, and casting specialists in-house, you'd still need to retain the services of someone who knew how to tell a good cinematographer from a bad one and who knows how to hire actors and is familiar with the logistics of running a set (making sure everyone is fed and no one has to hang around too long waiting for their scene, etc).

 It seems like it would be a real problem keeping someone like that around. What would they do during the long periods when your game is being bug-tested and optimized? Video game cutscenes are essentially just short sketches bound together over an over-arching plot. Would producing them even prove stimulating enough for someone with a high level of expertise? How much more do you have to pay your live-action specialists just to keep them from jumping ship for a job that is much less boring?

The second reason I don't think live action works as well is because, frankly, most video game scripts would make for terrible movies. Don't get me wrong, there is some great video game writing out there, but game writing is an entirely different art than movie writing and if you forget that the result isn't pretty. The big problem with trying to write a game like a movie is that most of their actual screen-time, your characters will be acting completely ridiculous. Remember that scene in Star Wars where Luke has to run back and forth between two guard rooms to hit their switches quickly enough that he can then dash over to a nearby bridge and cross it before it automatically retracts (a real thing I had to do in the game)? Of course not, because that would be a stupid thing to film.

There are basically two different approaches you can take to solve this problem - 1)make your cutscenes into their own standalone movie and more or less pretend that the gameplay stuff has no narrative significance. 2)Really lean into the over-the-top nature of your subject matter and have your story take place in a heightened, video-game-esque reality. Live-action could work with the first approach, but then you run into the problem that it's really hard to write a movie that's compelling to watch in five-minute intervals, separated by hours of inattention. And when you try live-action with the second approach, well . . . lines that are fun and badass coming out of a cartoon can often feel forced and unnatural coming out of a human being.

The third reason I think the industry moved away from live-action is that it looks really different from the games themselves. This isn't just a matter of immersion. If you have a setting with a really strong art-design, like, say Rapture from Bioshock, how are you going to keep that up when you transition from gameplay to cutscene? Are you going to try and build a practical set in decaying and water-logged art deco style? Are you going to green-screen the whole thing? Will there be a huge difference in quality between the game's environments and the ones the actors interact with? And what about a situation where you have a villain give a speech that immediately leads into a boss fight? Is the character even going to be recognizable? Will they retain the same sense of menace and danger?

Granted, these aren't exactly 100% solved problems as is, but using computer graphics to tell your story not only saves you redundant work, it allows you greater artistic consistency throughout the whole game.

I think, in retrospect, it was inevitable that live-action would be a short-lived experiment. However, given the current gaming environment, where it seems like no idea gets permanently discarded, it might be interesting to see what people can do with it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Force II - 2/20 hours

This game is absolutely adorable! As soon as I started a new game, I was treated to something that I could not possibly have expected - the cutscenes are live action! This is such a profoundly bad idea that it almost circles around to being good. The production values of these little interstitial dramas are about the same as an above-average youtube video, and while none of the performances are what I'd call "good," the actors are clearly having a lot of fun with their Star Wars cosplay. It can be cringe-inducing at times, but I'll admit, I'm on the hook. I want to see what they'll do next.

As for the game itself, I'm still on level 2. I haven't gotten a good feel for it yet. I still don't have any of the promised Force powers, but I expect that the mysterious artifact I recovered might have something to do with it.

I've also noticed a bunch of small changes that make the game much more playable than its predecessor. You can save at any time, instead of just at the beginning of the level. Your vertical look is mapped to the mouse instead of the pg up/pg down buttons. The levels are easier to navigate and make better use of their verticality. And it's astonishing how much 3D graphics had advanced in just two years. Textures are smoother and more diverse and things look more like the things they're supposed to be.

I don't think the subsequent hour are going to be too much of a problem for me. This game isn't one of my usual genres, but it seems competently executed. So long as there isn't any sort of unexpected difficulty spike, I should be fine.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II - Initial Thoughts

About the Game (From the Steam Store Page)

Dark Forces™ set the industry standard for first person action in the Star Wars® universe. Now Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II picks up where the award-winning game left off...with even more features and firepower in dazzling 3D graphics. As Kyle Katarn, you must acquire the lightsaber and learn the ways of the Force to become a Jedi Knight. Confront old foes... Greedo, Boosk, stormtroopers. And new enemies... seven dark Jedi who plan to harness the power of an ancient burial ground for unsurpassed evil. But take heart, your 10 weapon arsenal and over 12 Force powers make you a force to be reckoned with. 

Previous Playtime

0 hours

What Was I Thinking When I Bought This

Oh, you know, "massive Star Wars bundle," "less than two dollars a game," yada yada yada, etc.

Expectations and Prior Experience

I just got done playing the original Dark Forces and I'm a little tentative about the sequel. If it improves upon the core gameplay and incorporates some more modern quality of life improvements (like mid-level saves) then it'll probably be pretty fun. If it's as maze-like and confusing as the original, it may take me awhile to get through.

I'm pretty optimistic though. The Force powers look like they could be fun to play with and it's likely that 3D level design had become more assured in the two years since the original game. I figure the worst thing that can possibly happen is that it's no worse than the first Dark Forces. And I already know that I can get through that with a minimum of problems.

Star Wars: Dark Forces - 20/20 hours

My last hour was basically just dicking around. I beat a couple of levels on medium difficulty, but I didn't actually notice much difference, except perhaps that ammo was scarcer and it was now possible to screw myself out of a level completion by being too loose with my gunfire.

I don't have much to say about the game that I haven't said before. It was interesting to play something from near the beginning of the FPS genre. It gave me some new perspective on level design and pacing in this sort of game. From now on, I'm going to think twice before complaining about the "tube of enemies" school of level design. It may not be exciting, but I can see the advantages now.

And though the thing I'm going to remember most about this game is all the times I stared helplessly at a wall while trying to figure out where to go, I can understand why it is so highly regarded. Twenty years ago, there wasn't quite this same saturation of entertainment as we have nowadays. While I was playing Dark Forces, I simultaneously binge-watched about three and a half seasons of television, just because I could. Everything, from books to games to movies, is less expensive (granted, my memory of the 90s is even poorer than the reality, because I was a broke teenager back then, but the numbers back me up - a $20 VHS would be $30 now, and that's not even taking into account streaming or the $5 DVDs you can buy at any Walmart.) And you were at the mercy of network schedules or what your local stores had in stock. It's funny, I lived through it, and even I'm having trouble remembering what it was like.

So whatever Dark Forces' intrinsic value as a stand-alone entertainment experience, it is important to remember that in the 90s, it really did stand alone. To the people who played it for the first time back when it was fresh, it must have been a magical experience. It's the Star Wars universe, in glorious 3D, you can poke your nose anywhere you like. You fight Boba Fett and foil one of Darth Vader's evil schemes. What must that have been like for someone who's never seen anything like it before?

I know that I'm being just a little bit patronizing here, but this works both ways. How jaded have I become in the last twenty years? I've lost the ability to be blown away by a game like this and that's something I'll never get back. The closest I can come is when I get a glimmer of recognition and see something that seems to be a precursor of features I will come to enjoy in more sophisticated games. I can only imagine that the spark of possibility was there, even to players who did not have the benefit (?) of foreknowledge.

It did spawn four sequels, after all.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Star Wars: Dark Forces - 19/20 hours

I skipped doing a post at 15 hours because I felt like I was close to beating the game, but I didn't count on the 1995-ness of it all. It turns out that Dark Forces is the sort of game where you can get all the way up to the end of a 45-minute level, fight a powerful boss, lose, and then have to start over from the beginning. I suppose it could be worse - the game could have lacked a save function entirely - but I wasn't thrilled to have to repeat levels I've 90% completed just because I choked in the last five minutes.

Nonetheless, I managed to get through the whole thing. There was a part of me that was expecting a big narrative payoff, but Dark Forces isn't really that sort of game. I think it is a product of the early exuberance of the 3D era, where simply being able to move around in an immersive world is novelty enough. So it can afford to have a bland story, ineffectively told.

I don't want to be too harsh here. I'm sure that the game is operating on some pretty severe technical limitations which stop it from devoting too much memory to a story, but I think it's also clear that people hadn't figured out how to tell an FPS story yet. The levels mostly didn't have any sort of build to them. They were pure mazes and any context to where you were or why was relegated to the debriefing text between missions. The notion that gameplay could inform the doesn't seem to have taken hold.

I have some hope for the later games in the series, though. Despite not thinking much of Kyle Katarn's adventure to stop the Dark Trooper program, which struck me as trying entirely too hard to expand the Star Wars canon without actually capturing the spark that made the movies great, I still want to see the later chapters in the series. If they can bring a greater narrative sophistication, more fully drawn characters, and levels that don't make me want to slam my head against a wall in frustration, then it's possible that I could grow to like this Kyle Katarn fellow.

For now, I'm just going to replay some of the earlier levels on "medium" difficulty and kill another hour or so. I don't expect to get much of anything out of this, but it'll be nice to have the round number to go along with all the others.