Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Most Trick or Treating around here has been postponed until Saturday, but I'm keeping festive by reading articles about unique costumes and decorations.  Halloween was always something I preferred to observe rather than participate in, anyway.

Besides that, the election is more terrifying than any monster.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I have't floated away yet, nor felt the need to build an ark for that matter, in case you were curious about that.  Fortunately, I'm on the very fringes of this massive storm, and I'm only feeling the affects by the bit of water that's currently seeping into my basement where the wall meets the floor.  It's one of the risks of living underground.  One that I gladly accept for relative safety from a zombie and/or nuclear apocalypse.  And before you start going on about how a basement isn't sufficient protection against a nuclear apocalypse, your logic isn't needed here.  Go troll a gaming or political blog or something and rid me of your rubbish opinions.

It started raining here on Saturday, and it hasn't let up since, giving us now four solid days of steady precipitation.  It's not a downpour, otherwise there would most certainly be flooding around here.  It's basically switching between a steady drizzle and a light rain, enough to make everything wet, cold, and soggy to hell.  The wind picked up today, but so far I don't think it's gotten up to the point they were predicting for my area, which was 30 MPH.  It feels more like 15 at the most, I think.  I had to stop and get gas for my car this morning, so I was standing out in the wind for a few minutes at the pump.  It didn't feel all that strong to me.  I just checked it online, and it's showing 14 MPH.  Damn, I'm pretty good.  They are still predicting the winds will get up to 32 MPH today, however, so it might be a lot different the next time I go outside.  Probably for my drive home.  Driving in wind is a joy.

I read this morning that 7 million people are without electricity.  Hearing that, and hearing that we're getting high winds doesn't give me a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.  With the amount of devastation that has occurred on the East Coast, I certainly don't want to lose power due to a fallen tree or anything irritably minor like that.  If we do lose power, I'm quite certain that anyone qualified to fix it has been sent East.  It probably wouldn't get fixed for 7-10 days. 

The rain should stop here by Friday or Saturday.  It'll be nice to see the sun again.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

How easy is it to write something that's scary?  That was the question I asked myself this morning as I was driving to work.  In the spirit of Halloween, let's find out!

A faint, electrical thrum sounded in the driveway as a shadow lurched against the wall.  The figure tripped the motion-sensitive light affixed to the wall near the garage door, which spread a crisp, yellow light upon the darkened pavement.  A few moments later, the light clicked back off, once again plunging the surrounding area into an inky darkness.  The scraping sound of several dry leaves rose up above the sighing of the brisk wind as the dead vegetation circled in place near an empty flower box.  All else was quiet in a gloom not even helped by moonlight, as the sky was covered by thick, grey clouds.

Inside his bedroom not far off from the garage, Seth opened his eyes.  He was only partially aware that he was awake.  It was so dark in the room that he wasn't even sure he had his eyes open.  He blinked a few times before sitting up in bed, his head craning to the left to peer at his alarm clock.  He only saw more darkness.  The power was out.

Cursing under his breath, he swept the covers off his body and slid out of bed, his bare feet hitting the soft carpet. Looking down, he was given the illusion of walking over an abyss, and the dark blue floor covering was invisible to him.  It was then he realized that there was actually SOME light filtering through his window, and he peered outside to see that one of the streetlamps near his neighbor's house was still shining.  Peering around at the few houses near him, he noticed that they all appeared to have power.  He frowned.

Navigating by memory and stubbing his toe at least twice, he made his way to his bedroom door and swung it open, walking through the small hallways towards the kitchen.  There was a flashlight in one of the drawers there, though he had no idea if he had any batteries for it.  Finding some was going to be a joy.  With his hands out in front of him like a blind man, which he very nearly was at this point with how dark it was in the house, he found the edge of the wall and stepped into the kitchen.  Here, the light was a little better as his kitchen faced his neighbor's house.  The streetlamp provided the faintest of illumination for him to at least make out the familiar shapes of his kitchen furnishings.

He stopped short as one shape did not look so familiar.

On the other side of the kitchen table between the sink and refrigerator, he saw a strange figure.  It looked like a person.  Seth blinked and rubbed his eyes, figuring he must be seeing things and blaming it on the fact that he'd just been woken up in the dead of night.  He looked again, and the figure moved.  It turned towards him.  And with the faintest amount of icy light coming through the window above the kitchen sink, Seth saw a white, distorted face now looking at him from across the room.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Since we've now established that Dishonored is quite good, I can now talk about the game without worrying about being critical.  The game has its faults as any game does, but they are easily over looked.  And to be honest, this game is such an under-appreciated genre  that I feel it demands my attention.  I also realize that the game is not for everyone, and that some people may be hesitant to try it out.  As such, perhaps my thoughts on the minute details will help sway them.  We'll see.  

The first thing I would like to discuss is the game world itself, to include it's immersion, art style, sound design, and how your character fits into the world.  This is the first thing that came to mind when I want to talk about the positives aspects of game, and this is because it's the most prevalent to me.  When I sit here and think about this game, I think about how wonderful, albeit dark and sinister, a world the devs have created.  Sinister is SUCH a good word to describe it.  I didn't want to use gritty, because that doesn't quite work.  I also didn't want to use the word steampunk, because although it very much has that element, it doesn't have that big of an impact on the story.  The steampunk technology is just there and it's part of the world, and it seems to BELONG there.  That in itself is a testament to how good of a job they've done in creating the world.

For a stealth game, it's very important that you feel as though you belong in the game world.  Otherwise, the illusion that you're sneaking around is broken, and thus the immersion fails.  Dishonored has accomplished the illusion very well from the way you hide bodies in the dark places of the world, to the way you hide out of sight and watch the people around you for opportunities to strike from the shadows.  And most importantly of all, the fact that you can choose from many different paths in order to reach the same goal.  "Gee, I wonder if I could get into his building from over there instead of from where I am now?"  The answer is most likely yes, along with about four or five other paths that you just haven't seen yet.

I think the best way to continue on would be to talk about the screenshots I've taken thus far.  They will help me remember what I want to talk about.

Given how the missions are summarized, I've decided I'm going to play the game as such:

1. Be as sneaky as possible, killing only when necessary or deemed the preferred method of elimination.

2. Always find all the runes and bones.

3. Do not worry about finding all the coins.

4. Choose powers and upgrades that make me sneakier.

I am surprised by the amount of supernatural elements within the game.  I honestly wasn't expecting that.  With a game so focused on sneaking around, realism is pivotal.  Magic can very easily break the immersion, making stealth seem moot or too easy.  Fortunately, the magic within this game is quite subtle and not overpowering.  It's just strong enough to give you a bit of an edge over the other people in the game, but it's not strong enough to make you unstoppable.  If magic existed in the real world, this is how I imagine it would look like.  Very subtle, and not even noticeable if you weren't seeing it directly.  It's the kind of thing where you would see someone on this impossible ledge, and without seeing how they got up there you were left to wonder "How is that even possible?"  It's that type of thing that the magic in this game allows.

The arsenal of gadgets in the game, conversely, did not surprise me.  In a steampunk world based on stealth, it was a given.  The loadouts do not disappoint, and everything is interesting and useful.  My weapon of choice tends to be the mini-crossbow with the sleep dart, and of course the heart so that I can find the runes and bones.  I'm constantly switching between gadgets and magic, and that's a good thing.  One should not be more useful than the other.  That would be boring.

Also, I freaking love this guy.  He's probably my favorite character in the game thus far.  He's got this quirkiness about him that's endearing.  He's basically the steampunk version of a nerd.  You can really feel his passion for his creations, and that he really loves what he does.  I actually feel really bad when I don't have coins to purchase an upgrade from him when I talk to him.  I love the way he talks to you when he's putting on your mask and adjusting it for the first time.  You get this feeling that you're learning from someone with experience that vastly dwarfs that of your own.  It's like the game is saying, "Okay, you are excellent at what you do, but this guy knows how to make you things that will let you be so much better."

And for the record, putting on your mask at the start of each mission is the greatest transition into a loading screen ever.

I love this haunting little tune, so it was pretty cool to find the lyrics to it within the game world.  You also hear people whistling it in game.  On a related note, I love the sharp violin sound that plays when you're spotted by someone.  That thing makes me jump every time.

Successfully hiding from people is very satisfying in the game.  You really feel like you're being sneaky, and it provides you with a great sense of accomplishment when you get through an area filled with people without being seen.  The AI reacts pretty much as you would expect.  There are not many cases where I have been spotted and felt that I should not have been.  Most of the time, I'm spotted when making a rather daring or risky move.  Or when I make a mistake and fall on top of someone.  Yes, that's happened.  I was trying to peer over the pipe to look down at someone, and I fell right off.  What was cool through is that my fall broke some planks, which then hit the guy and knocked him out.

I've got this view of someone quite a lot, given that I almost always opt to be non-lethal.  I don't mind that.  The "kills" tend to be more fabulous in how they look, with head rolling around and blood spraying everywhere and glorious yells of pain and surprise.  But given the OPTION to be non-lethal and have it be just as effective is quite the thing.

I love the menus.  They feel like they're created from concept art, or that they should exist in a comic book.  The slickness of them reminds me of Dragon Age 2, which had lovely menus as well.  OH NO.  I HAVE SAID SOMETHING POSITIVE ABOUT DA2.  BURN ME AT THE STAKE.

Mm, Sneak-O-Vision.  The fact that you can see WHERE they are looking is oh-so-very useful.  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

I have played Dishonored in the amount of three digits of minutes, and am fully prepared to present you with words placed in coherent sentences so that you may learn what I think.  I'm also prepared to do so while deftly spoiling nothing at all about the story.  You're welcome.  In case you've been living under a rock for the past six months or so, Dishonored is a stealth-based assassination game set in a steampunk-ish Victorian Era city.  That's all I need to tell you about the story.

Let's start with the thing that I always start with when I talk about a game:  How's it look?  The answer is great, and the only complaint I have about the graphics is that the human characters do not look very good.  Everything else is fantastic.  I do look forward to the day when human beings are rendered within a computer game in a way that is realistic, especially the FACES.  Until then, though, it's not too difficult to overlook such things.  If you're wondering what my problems are with them in this game, there are a few things:  Their bodies are disproportionate in a lot of cases, where their hands are too big, or their heads.  Their hair doesn't look like it's separate from the rest of them, and looks like wax.  And the lip-synching is bad.  Sometimes you can see their entire row of teeth through their face when they're talking.  But, I digress.  In my opinion, aside from LA Noire, no one has rendered a human correctly.  I'm picky.  Chances are, this isn't something you're going to really care about.

As you may or may not know, the lead artist on this game was the lead artist for Half-Life 2.  It shows. The levels very much feel like Half-Life 2 in ways that are subconscious.  It's a feeling you get.  A vibe.  It's in the overall structure, how the debris is scattered about, and how you can climb here and there in a similar manner.  The result is that I immediately feel at home in Dishonored's levels, and that's a very good thing indeed.

Most wonderfully, the controls are excellent and it's clear that the developers took the time to optimize them for the PC.  The mouse is oh-so-smooth, and that makes me very happy.  It's a shame that I'm actually inclined to comment on such simple things that should be a given when it comes to a game, and the fact that I am doing so suggest that far too many games actually botch this up.  It's true.  But thankfully, Dishonored is a wonderful experience when it comes to the controls.

But let's stop talking about these things and get down to the really important things, shall we?  After all, this is a game created by Arkane Studios and backed by Bethesda.  Rage may not have been what you thought it should have been, and it may have had a bumpy start in the graphics department until they patched it, but you have to admit that it was VERY smooth.  And of course Skyrim, also, is VERY smooth.  So perhaps in this particular case, the above commentary was unnecessary.  But you know what they say about making assumptions.

So how good is the stealth, exactly?  The answer is that it is very, very good.

It's all in the little things.  I'll give you two excellent examples of the little things this game does that improves upon the whole idea of sneaking around.  When I go into a bush, it actually feels like I'm in a bush.  As I'm crouched down, before I sneak into the bush I can tell that even while crouched I'm still just a little bit higher than said bush.  But when I go into the bush, my character crouches down EVEN FURTHER to make sure he's quite hidden within the leaves and branches.  Next, I was hiding along the side of a traincar.  To my surprise, the person I was sneaking up behind suddenly turned around and started doubling-back.  As soon as he would round the corner of the traincar, he would see me.  The area underneath the traincar was quite narrow -- I could tell that I wouldn't fit under it even crouched. But still, in a panic I dove for it.  And my character ducked down even lower and slid underneath it, and the guard walked by me without noticing me.  This is brilliance, simply stated.

And these are just the small things.  Some of the things that matter more include:  For once, in a stealth game, it doesn't seem like you get seen when you should not.  It's so easy to make things more difficult simply by making you fail by simply being seen, and increasing that difficulty further by making your easy to be seen.  Dishonored handles this differently, and it's all about choice.  There are several ways to approach any level, and the game even gives you your options the very first time you're faced with such decisions.  Would you like to sneak in from the rooftops?  Or perhaps you'd like to disable the defenses and walk right in the front door?  Or would you like to explore around and find a secret way in?  Hell, you could even possess a rat if you'd like!  So instead of punishing you for not completing a level the way it was intended, you instead are given many avenues of possibility and can choose whichever one you like best.  And if you make a mistake, it's not always fatal.  You can handle a few guards head-on if necessary, and the block-and-counter system is quite good.  It's just not as fun or satisfying as doing it the hard way, and THAT is what makes this game special.

Finally, just let me go on the record and say that I'm in love with the level design of this game.  RPS was absolutely correct when they said that you should definitely and utterly ignore your objectives.  Just don't even look at your goal marker.  Cover it with duct tape if you need to.  If you want to get the full enjoyment out of Dishonored, then follow this advice:  When you enter a level, simply start sneaking around and explore every nook and cranny.  Your primary objective is secondary.  Go do it after you've discovered everything else.

As you can see, I had quite a lot of say about a game that I've spent just a few hours playing thus far.  It's deep and engrossing, it's a style of gameplay that has been rare in recent years, and it's just downright enjoyable and fun.  It's stealth done right, even more right than it was done in Deus Ex.  As long as you go into the game expecting that, knowing what you'll be doing, and knowing that this isn't some run-of-the-mill action game, you're going to love it.  If you go into it and try to COD it, you're going to have a bad time.  

Monday, October 08, 2012

Borderlands 2 pissed me off tonight, so I picked up the Hearthfire DLC for Skyrim.  I needed something relaxing, and it seemed like just the thing.  I'm quite enjoying it, and I'll explain a few reasons why.  It may seem odd for a Skyrim player who plays it on the PC enjoying such a piece of DLC, since everything Hearthfire offers can be done better with the Steam Workshop.  The first reason is that I just never took the time to learn how to use the Steam Workshop nor the modification tools for Skyrim.  It's not my thing, plus I don't have that kind of time.  (I've got games to PLAY, man!)  The second is that fiddling around with the mod tools feels like I'm creating something of my own, and not doing something in the game.  That right there is exactly what draws people to the workshop -- John included.  Creativity, imagination, making something of your own.  I don't particularly need that.  I'd rather just do something in the game, something that has a set of tasks or a path to follow, however vague that path may be in an open world.  So therefore, yes, I quite enjoy what Hearthfire has to offer.

It's been a while since I've played Skyrim, and the first thing I did was utterly forget the controls and accidentally shoot a guard in the face with an arrow.  Oops.  Things went better after that.  After getting the breadcrumbs for the questline, I went and purchased my plot of land.  The first thing that I really liked was being able to create each singular item one at a time for the house, and look at everything in between steps to see how things progressed and were created.  It was really neat to start with a barren piece of land, and watch the foundation, floors, walls, and so on all start to be built and put into place.

I've spend at least an hour tinkering around with this DLC so far, and all I've managed to accomplish is the main house, a hall, and a library.  That's a very small portion of everything you can build, and I haven't even furnished any of it yet.  Except the library.  Naturally, I filled it with bookshelves.  That leads me to the few gripes that I have.  One, the cellar is a separate load screen.  Boo!  Second, you don't have any freedom where you place furniture and shelves, nor how many of what you can build.  It's preset.  Of course, if I wanted that total freedom, I could just use the modification tools, so I'm not going to gripe about that too much.

For the price, I'm getting my money's worth out of it.  For someone that likes working with the modification tools, I'd tell them to give this DLC a pass and not to bother.  But for someone like me who just wants a more "official" way of building a home, complete with new achievements, unlimited resources of clay and stone set next to your land, and new things to purchase from general goods vendors all over Skyrim, this is quite worth the investment.  

Thursday, October 04, 2012

At the office, Erik has this thing he does when something comes into our "publishing request e-mail inbox".  Basically, this inbox is where customers send us work requests.  We all have access to it within our work e-mail.  Anytime the box lightly up, indicating a new message, Erik tends to say in a high pitched voice, "What's in the booooox?"

This is, of course, from the movie Seven, where at the end Brad Pitt's character asks Morgan Freeman the same question (several times).

Last night, I was playing Borderlands 2, and I picked up an optional quest.  It was an echo device of this bounty hunter who was off to kill some kind of monster named Henry.  The bounty hunter was recording the message for his mother, saying he had her mother's day present with him.  There are then lots of screams and sounds of ripping flesh as Henry apparently eats the man.  The quest was to go retrieve the mother's day present.  The quest text read, "WHAT'S IN THE BOOOOOOOOOOX?"

This is one of those rare cases where a pop culture movie reference is actually funnier to me than it should have been, given the fact that we use that phrase quite often at work.  I very much enjoyed it.

In other news, I fear that I'm becoming ill.  My throat doesn't feel quite right this morning, though it's quite subtle for the time being.  With the change in weather, I quite expect this to worsen as the day goes on, and probably form into a full fledged cold by tomorrow.  Hopefully it won't affect me too horribly.  I haven't had a cold in about two years now, surprisingly.


Holy smokes.  The last post I wrote for this blog was on October 18, 2017.  Through the little more than  two years since, this blog has be...