On Fire

It is March 6 and I have sent out two articles for review this semester already. I have another draft nearly ready, due to send out April 2, and another April 15. With December’s piece still out, I will likely have five articles under review by April. That is a new record. My plan to front-load the writing this year in anticipation of Baby #2 is working very well.

Trying to get in as much Kingdom Come: Deliverance as possible after L goes to bed – it’s a great game.

Most repair work done – further thoughts

I have restored most of the past content after the hack. I have also done a few more things under the hood, such as turning comments back on again. I feel a lot more talkative than I did last year, so I think I’ll be posting far more often! Registering is still required to keep spam at bay.

My About page is still missing, as are some minor associated pages. I will fix this in the comng days.

So, updates.

My son L is almost three. He’s great. Another, M, is on the way, due in May. So that is all wonderful. H is still very sick, but hanging in there.

In a post from last July I expressed a lot of depression about my career. Most of that problem is addressed, and I feel much better about the status of my research agenda now. It really helps to switch between projects when one stalls out.

Trump remains odious. If he fires Mueller, I wonder if the university would frown upon me joining a march on Washington. That would seem the only appropriate response.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is a beautiful game. If you don’t have a PS4, it is worth the whole console for just that one game.

I have starting reading Greek again, this time boning up on Attic to prep for what should be a strong article. It is like visiting an old friend one hasn’t seen in awhile.

Some of my graduate students are starting to produce some impressive work that is headed toward publication. That has me excited and engaged.

I have some medical problems that are drastically improved after a long period of reduced productivity. Mostly fatigue and blood sugar stuff. As it turns out, if you get regular sleep and don’t eat tons of sugar, those problems largely resolve! It is incredible how dense I am.

That is all for now.

The best PC games of all time, 2017

There are two rules for the following list, which are – multiple games in a series are collapsed into one entry, with one representative game examined. I also cut things off at 12 and didn’t rank them.

  • Ultima (Ultima V, the Ultima entry)
  • Thief (The Dark Project, the Looking Glass entry)
  • Deus Ex (the first one, the Ion entry)
  • Half-Life (HL2, the Valve entry)
  • Pirates! (The original, not the upgrade or the remake) – Serves as the Microprose entry.
  • Civilization (Civ II) – Serves as the second Microprose entry.
  • Homeworld (for the strategy people)
  • Baldur’s Gate (the Black Isle entry)
  • Fallout (the second Black Isle entry)
  • Batman (Arkham Knight, or any of the Arkham games,  the cross-platform entry)
  • Quest For Glory (the first one, the Sierra entry)
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown (the tactical entry)
  • Dying Light (the zombie entry)

200 days

Recently earned the 200 days of survival achievement in The Long Dark.  I have enough rifle ammo hoarded to go for 300. Perhaps the makers of the game will add more achievements in a future build. In the meantime, I have bloody mastered your game.

Luke is growing and strong. He cries when he’s hungry and sleeps when he’s tired. These things constitute his job.

I’m settling up the grades for the spring right now. I think I did a great job in two courses and a good job in one other.

Got a promising R&R on a recent article, which is a very good sign. I may have some time to work on it later this month. June is going to busy with family activities, though. Max, my soon-to-be nephew, is imminent. I may have to do the lion’s share of the work in July, which is cutting it close.

Inquisition

So I finally finished Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Short summary: So-so intro, great middle, so-so ending.

I certainly got my money’s worth. It has to be one of the longest RPGs I’ve ever played. The sheer number of quests and sidequests and fleshed-out areas to explore is mind-numbing.

I have to say, though, that I found the main quest lacking. The villain was one-dimensional – a standard I-like-chaos-wannabe-god type. He should have been dispatched in Act I and replaced immediately with someone more nuanced, like Flemeth or Morrigan, for example. Or the Plot Surprise (no spoilers) that comes in the end, instead of midgame where it would have made far more impact and led to a very different, and better, story.

I also don’t think that my BIG DECISIONS during the game made much difference on the ending. Templars vs. mages, Cassandra vs. Liliana, keeping Cole or Blackwall vs. dumping them, etc. The plot just sort went ‘eh’ when I made those decisions.

I also (this is turning into a list of the game’s flaws, isn’t it) was disappointed in the role of Power. I had over 250 Power at the end, and nothing to spend it on. I was assuming I was stockpiling it for a big battle or political maneuvering, but in the end I got a standard boss fight. Shades of ME3. Bioware, why do you always flub the ending?

I think my favorite part of the game is when the Inquistor gets to judge prisoners. Execute, imprison, let go, fine, recruit – what to do, now that you have power? Those were interesting decisions, with no clear-cut right answers. I would like to have seen more of that.

 

Thief

Concerning the new Thief game, Kotaku is flat-out negative, while RPS is more sanguine. Here’s another negative one. I can’t say I’m surprised it’s getting mixed-to-negative reviews. Anything more would be a miracle. But I’m in the mood where I could accept a flawed gem.

In any case, there is the Dark Mod to play, which I tried out last week. If the mainline game fails to meet expectations, I’ll be running through the fan missions that seem popular from the forum discourse. To be honest, I’ll do that anyway, regardless.

The Last of Us

I finished The Last of Us the other day on the PS3.

It is a very, very good game, one of the best I’ve ever encountered, but kinda rough on the emotions. It’s going to take some processing before I’m ready to play anything like it again. It is probably the most violent game I have ever played, and I use the word ‘violent’ in the emotional sense as well as the physical. Playing it for a few hours sends you on a bit of roller-coaster of fear and apprehension. My jaw hurt after each session, because I’d been unconsciously clenching my teeth while playing. That is immersion.

Saying even a little about the game here will easily spill over into spoiler-territory. H, watching me play, was less apprehensive  simply by virtue of reading the Wikipedia page and thus revealing the important plot points. I did not and experienced it directly. I can’t say if some advance warning for certain parts of the game might have helped with the mental bruising. I doubt it; it’s a very visceral experience.

So brief spoilers for those having played follow.

Obviously the opening sequence is particularly brutal and sets the tone of the entire game – bad things are going to happen. That said, the sequence below the hotel where you have to start up the generator was pretty scary, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t felt before. The death of the little kid and his brother was horrific, but I saw it coming.

What really disturbed me, though, was the entire sequence in the abandoned restaurant, with David stalking Ellie. Now Ellie had more than taken care of herself up until that point – and continued to do so – but for god’s sake, she’s still 14. The real tragedy of that particular version of a zombie apocalypse is not humans killing other humans – that’s always going to happen – but 14-year-olds having to kill, and do it alone, as she does with David. Not to say that anything Joel does – murder, torture, etc – is automatically somehow more acceptable – he’s older, is all.

The ending, I thought, was particularly effective. There’s no big boss fight, no Ellie-kills-Joel or Joel-kills-Ellie. Just a quiet moment of realization about how complicated their relationship has become, to the point that Joel lies to her and she lies – at least in my mind – about believing it.

Saga

What’s in a word? Quite a bit of money. I’ve written about Candy Crush Saga here before. Now King has gone and done something with the boatloads of money it has earned from its titles that deserves major opprobrium: try to push around a indie PC studio whose game has nothing to do with clicking on candy. Stoic’s game, The Banner Saga, isn’t an iOS game. It’s an epic Viking narrative that I’ve played that actually knows what the word ‘saga’ means. Completely different market, type, platform, you name it. No way anyone’s ever going to confuse the two things – save a lawyer.

Oddly enough, giving someone a taste of power – in this particular example, a Scrooge McDuck level of money – transforms what should be the relatively ethical enterprise of making games into “defending trademark,” which is, I argue, an essentially odious activity that has zero to do with being human. Now King does face a real problem in that they are facing copycat titles that attempt to associate themselves with their brand. What do I have to say to that? Tough cookies.  It must be difficult to swim in that vault full of cash. So sad!

Solid copy, Commander

I’ve been playing the expansion to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which is called Enemy Within. It adds a great many things, including a new alien-friendly enemy, but perhaps the largest amount of fun comes from the new MEC troopers. These poor souls have all their limbs amputated so they can be fitted into giant mechs (not that anyone ever thought of NOT amputating their limbs and creating mechs that can be run by normal, four-limbed humans). The resulting combination is so fast and deadly that it’s hard for normal humans to keep up.

Also, I went back to State of Decay and finished it by avoiding the cheap death trap entirely through the judicious use of manually backing up the saved game folder. This felt only slightly dishonest.

State of Decay

It’s quite possible that this game, State of Decay, is simply not for me. Normally I like a zombie apocalypse or two, but this one has two features that make it difficult to like.

One is permadeath, even though it is just the kind that makes you switch characters. I must have killed a few hundred zombies and convinced myself of my general competence  before one uber-powerful one came out of nowhere and kicked my ass. It was nothing I could have prepared for. Maybe it was realistic, but not fun. Sadistic, really. Why continue? I was sort of attached already to my character and his cheap death didn’t exactly win me over.

Two is offline death, where characters die and resources dwindle while you’re not playing the game. This was even more insult to injury. I am lucky enough to have a job and a life; I can’t babysit a game. I’m lucky these days to play on weekends. I’m already addicted to caffeine. I need something I can play, then stop, and return to, as I see fit, without randomized penalties.

A game that did permadeath pretty well in single player PC in recent memory was XCOM. That game allowed saving and loading, there was no offline deaths and draining of resources, and death still mattered. (And they did it turn-based, too! Kudos!)

Why can’t State of Decay manage the same?  I can understand why the developers made these  two decisions – there are plenty of young, masochistic gamers out there who will replay a game again and again after a largely randomized death. What to me is crummy design is to them a badge of realism.  I’m older, more temperate, and have less time on my hands, alas.

What particularly frustrates me, if it is not already clear, is that I would like to play more of the game. I really would. I would like to work around its weaknesses and derive enjoyment from it. But I can’t justify the attempt, and that makes me conflicted – again, not something I want in a game.