Friday, June 03, 2016

Longterm Storytelling

Overwatch is a rousing success for Blizzard, and not in the primary ways that everyone expected.  Yes, the game is being praised for its gameplay, style, audio, music, and Blizzard's may-as-well-be-patented "easy to learn but difficult to master" formula.  However, I feel that there's one certain part of Overwatch where Blizzard took a bit of a gamble, and from what I can tell, it seems to be paying off in spades.  It's also got me thinking about the concept of something I like to call "longterm storytelling", which will be the entire basis for this post.

People are fascinated by Overwatch's cast of characters, which is something of a misnomer when it comes to a game such as this.  It's a multi-player only, team-based shooter with MOBA elements.  We're talking about a specific set of genres that are known to have either sparse or completely non-existent story to them.  Let's look at the precedents.  The major behemoth on the field is League of Legends.  Let's have a show of hands.  How many people know the lore behind even one of the characters in that game?  They have lore, sure, but the point I'm making here is that no one really cares about it.  LoL is insanely popular for its gameplay and e-sports scene, not its story.  The same holds true for all the other big multi-player only team based type games out there, like Dota 2, Team Fortress 2, and Counter-Strike.

To take it a step further, even games like Call of Duty or Battlefield have this problem.  These games have single-player campaigns, certainly, but they are usually about four to six hours long and are totally forgettable.  The main draw of those games is the multi-player aspect of them, and within that half of the game there's zero story to be had.  In all of these examples, we're talking about games that really don't try very hard to inject any story into their gameplay.  But using games like Destiny as an example, sometimes even when they do try, it ends up not working at all.  

Enter Overwatch.  Here is a game that has all the formulas listed above.  Multi-player only.  Team based.  MOBA tropes.  No single-player campaign.  And yet, my Tumblr dash is literally overflowing with people talking about Overwatch's characters.  Discussing their backgrounds.  History.  Drawing them.  Shipping them.  Making up silly lists of what they like to eat for breakfast.  Everything that you can imagine.  People are in love with these characters, despite all of the evidence above suggesting that they shouldn't.  So, what has Blizzard done right?  What magic formula have they found here?

I don't think there's a singular answer to this question, but I have some pretty good ideas.  Obviously, Blizzard has created a very interesting foundation for these characters.  They are very colorful and have personality.  A cowboy with a BAMF belt buckle.  A pro-gamer in a mech.  An international pop-star that heals with music.  A gorilla scientist.  These are pretty cool concepts, and lay a foundation for interesting characters and story.  But, League of Legends has interesting character concepts, too.  A living tree that tosses saplings.  A knife-wielding jester.  An Amazonian that can turn into a cat.  These are really cool concepts, too!  What makes Overwatch's characters stand out?

I think the answer is how the story and character information is presented to the players.  This, I feel, is THE defining point that is driving this fascination with the characters in the game.  And now I'm about to make the strangest, most out-of-left-field comparison I have ever made.  The fascination with Overwatch's characters is very much like the fascination with the world of Dark Souls.  Both of these games do something similar with their lore, and I think it really appeals to their playerbase.  They both let the story trickle out to the player slowly, in little tidbits, a lot of which are quite difficult to notice or catch.  This adds a level of mystery to things that really gets people's curiosity.

In this day of hyper-connectivity, I think people crave that sense of discovery and mystery that they once had, back when you couldn't just look up everything on the Internet.  But at the same time, it also feeds that community, because there's no other way to find out every scrap of information that you can without scouring the game for hours and hours yourself.  It's a lot different than a straight-forward game that says, "Right!  You're the protagonist.  That's the antagonist.  You're good, he's bad, you fight, you'll win."  And then the game is over and that's it.  We know some things about Overwatch's characters, but we don't know all the things.  And this makes people hungry for more.  It makes them talk about them, makes them create their own headcanons about them, and makes them search and scour and ask for more.  And all of this contributes to the health of the game's community and playerbase.

I think this concept is one of the reasons why World of Warcraft's story has been failing me lately.  Everyone knows that WoW's peak was during Wrath of the Lich King.  Why?  I think one of the contributing factors was because the Lich King was this character that existed all along, mentioned and referenced at differing points across the game's history until we finally faced off against him.  The feeling that I got when hearing about the Lich King pre-Wrath was the same as the feeling that I get from learning about Overwatch's characters.  That feeling has been absent from WoW for a while now.  Expansions feel more self-contained, even though Warcraft's cast of characters has been expanded upon and grown.

Cataclysm wasn't too bad in this regard, but I think it didn't live up to Wrath's precedent because Deathwing was too much of a cookie-cutter villain.  From there, that overarching sense of bigger and more mysterious things on the horizon has been dulled by the expansions being so isolated from one another.  Blizzard has been trying to link them together in a way, but it hasn't been working for me.  I think that they haven't been doing a good enough job at setting up later storylines within the content that precedes it.  With Legion, the potential is there, but I fear that it's going to be dulled for me because of how grim the story is.  I'm excited for Legion, but in different ways than I have been for previous expansions.

That's enough of a WoW tangent, so let's get back to the topic at hand.  Regarding the longterm storytelling of Overwatch, I hope that Blizzard continues to do this "trickle-down" method of storytelling, because I think it's working.  I think they've found the perfect solution to the problem of applying a story to a game that doesn't really have a good support mechanism for one.  What I would love to see are special events that take place in the game, using those to nudge the story forward a little bit.  Perhaps the Second Omnic Crisis escalates into all-out war, and we get a new map in the game to introduce us to it.  It would also be cool if Blizzard would use quality-of-life adjustments to the game as opportunities to add in a bit of story.  For example, they've recently been talking about nerfing McCree and buffing D.Va.  It would be cool if we'd get story-based tidbids that help to explain why these changes occur in the context of Overwatch's story.  Perhaps McCree had a run-in with his old gang of bandits and was injured in someway, explaining his nerf.  Stuff like that.  There's tons of potential there.

Friday, May 27, 2016


My blog posts have been very inconsistent over the last several months.  I was giving this some thought this morning, though my actual thoughts on it aren't all that clear to me.  That's one of the reasons why I'm writing about it, because that always helps me to compartmentalize my thoughts and put them in order.  As with everything, the reasons for my erratic posts are complicated and multi-layered.  The reason "I just haven't been inspired to write anything." is not a reason at all, but a symptom of other things.

Lack of time is always the first reason most people give for no longer partaking in an extra-curricular activity, but I see it as more of a scapegoat.  Or an escapegoat if you're my boss.  It doesn't take long to write a blog post.  If I've got a good topic that I'm really interested in discussing, I can knock out several good paragraphs in a very modest amount of time.  The actual issue that a lot of the time, there are simply other things that I would rather be doing.  I see this as different and separate from just not having the time to write, and more of a window into what I'm currently prioritizing.  I could write something, or I could play Fallout 4 for an hour.  As they say, decisions were made here.

Let's get to the heart of the matter though, shall we?  Simply put, my life has felt like an exercise in futility and exasperation lately.  I'll refrain from saying that things haven't been all that great, even though it would be well within my rights to do so.  I don't want to label things as bad because nothing catastrophically terrible has happened.  It's just been many annoying, frustrating, frightening, or stupid things, one right after another.  A steady chain of suck that has sapped the life out of me for the greater part of six months or longer.  When I'm dealing with things like a cat with diabetes, a husband with IBS, a father with cancer, a flooded basement, an internet service that won't work correctly even after doubling the cost of our service in order to fix the problem, a drive to work that has doubled in length and will be so for two whole years at least, or moles in the house, it's pretty fucking difficult to see the point in talking about video games, or anything else.

The bad thing about lifesuck (that's totally what we're going to call it now) is that it affects everything.  It exacerbates other minor, pointless annoyances in your life that wouldn't otherwise bother you.  It drains you of enthusiasm for the things that bring you joy.  It makes getting up for work in the mornings more difficult than it used to be.  It makes things like missing a light, getting cut-off, losing a match of Overwatch, or reading a negative news article piss you off way more than it should.  And, yes, it makes you sit in front of your computer thinking about that new video game that you love, open up a blank blog post because you want to talk about it, and then pausing to say, "What's the point?"

That is a terrible place to be, and I would not recommend it.

Therefore, I'm going to share the things that I've been doing to try and lower my lifesuck quotient, in the hopes that anyone who reads my whiny ramblings may find some inspiration to do the same.  Some of these  I have been actively pursuing, others I am still in the process of taking the time to think through and implement.  But, I think they all have important points to make in the grand scheme of things.

The first thing I've been doing is taking the time to consider all the things that are going right.  It's very easy to get into that rut of constantly agonizing over all of the things that are going wrong, and that's unhealthy.  So, I make sure that I put all of those worries aside as often as I can and take enjoyment out of the things that are good.  It's hard to do sometimes, but it really does help.

Next, I've found it extremely important to focus on the things that I can change or improve, and try to let go of the things that I cannot.  For example, I cannot change the fact that my father has cancer.  So, while I worry about him and try to help him out in any way that I can, I also do not let it consume my life.  Alternatively, there was something I could do about the annoying, fat fucking mole that decided to use the inside of my drop-ceiling as a racetrack.  I caught that little fucker and caved his little annoying head in.  A bit extreme?  Certainly.  But it was a problem that I was able to solve and remove from my lifesuck quotient.

This next one totally sounds cliched, but I assure you that it works.  Spend a bit of time with nature.  I'm fortunate in that I have a very large yard that is overflowing with wildlife.  We have many trees where birds make their home, along with a few bird feeders that attract them out into the open.  Hummingbirds buzz around constantly.  Bees and butterflies dart along the flowers.  Squirrels run around and sometimes annoy us.  There's the occasional rabbit.  I'm pretty sure a deer was snooping around the vegetable garden.  I also maintain both a vegetable garden, and several flower beds all around the house.  With all of that coming into full swing, with the advent of summer, I've been spending more time outside.  It makes me feel better.  Whether it be the calming presence of nature, the feeling of accomplishment at growing flowers and vegetables, the fresh air, or whatever, the reason doesn't really matter.  It makes me feel better, and that's important.

Segueing from this, another important thing is to surround yourself with positivity.  (Interesting note, positivity isn't in google's spellcheck dictionary.)  For me, this one is a bit more difficult for a number of reasons, lifesuck quotient not withstanding.  The main problem is that a lot of people around me are being very, very negative right now.  I can't blame them for this, because their lifesuck quotient is just as high as mine.  I counter this with being positive myself, as difficult as that is to do sometimes.  I also try to watch positive things, read stories that are inspiring and hopeful instead of dark and grim, and rely upon my husband, who is the greatest source of joy in my life.

Finally, within the category of things that I'm working on, I'm trying to be a nicer person.  It's difficult on a normal day, and even more so when lifesuck is reaching new heights.  Sometimes you just want to lash out.  When I sit in not-moving traffic every day, I wish Satan was real so I could sell my soul for the ability to pick up cars with my mind and hurl them into the sun.  But, you've probably heard people say that you get out of life what you put into it, and that's very true.  Putting a little bit of positivity (damn you squiggly red lines!) into the world will not only make the world a little bit better, but will also help YOU more than it will help anyone else.  So, while difficult to remember that sometimes, especially when it's just a really bad day or just feeling really angry, it's very important that I try.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

At First I Was Afraid...

Fallout 4's newly revamped survival mode is currently in open beta, and last night I gave it a try.  Yes, I was petrified.

First, let's talk expectations versus reality.  People keep referring to this as "survival mode", but I find that to be a bit of a misnomer.  It's true that the game changes a LOT, more than when you bump the game up from Normal to Hard.  It's also true that changing to Survival will dramatically change the way that you play the game.  When I heard a game "mode", I think of something Iron Man mode, where the game ends when you die.  Or, something like in Diablo 3, where you can play in Campaign Mode, or Adventure Mode.  Fallout 4's Survival setting is sort of in between a difficulty setting and a game mode.  As a result of this sort of technical misunderstanding, I had some hopes for this that were not exactly fulfilled.

I was hoping that I could start a new game and immediately set out on my survival adventure.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  You still start the game in the same place, which means you have to go through all of the pre-wasteland stuff, which is not affected by the new setting at all.  After that, I found that the start of the game is actually a horrible place to start survival mode anyway, due to settlements not yet being unlocked and there being no beds in which to sleep.  (This is necessary in survival mode, for....survival.  Also for saving the game.)

So it was a bit of a disappointment that I had no easy, direct way of starting a new playthrough in Survival.  It seems my choices are to start a new game normally, play for a few hours to get the first settlement unlocked, and then turn on survival mode from there.  Or, load up one of my hard saves that's in mid-game and start from there.  Since I was eager to get into actually playing around with the new setting, I opted to load one of my hard saves.  My character was at level 45 in the one that I chose.

I was in Sanctuary, which was perfect.  So without further ado, I turned on Survival.  And then my legs immediately broke.  Okay, perhaps I'm exaggerating a little bit.  First, I was informed that I was over-encumbered.  The weight I was carrying ballooned from around 300 pounds to almost 2,000 pounds.  Ouch.  Since ammo has weight in Survival, that was the main source of all those extra pounds.  I started to unload it all into containers.  (That's when my legs actually broke.  Carrying too much for too long cripples them.)

Using logic, I decided that the best way to keep my carry weight under control was to choose two weapons that I would carry with me, and keep the ammo for those two weapons while dumping all the rest into containers.  This worked very well, and I was able to move freely once more after doing this.  I unloaded a few other things, too, so that I could actually pick some things up during my adventures.  I kept my 10MM pistol, and my .50 gauge sniper rifle.  I knew that I would need plenty of food, so I kept most of that.  After about 20 minutes of inventory management, the game informed me that I was dehydrated.  It took two bottles of purified water to rectify this, and it was then that I realized that water was going to be the most precious commodity now, since I only had about 20 bottles in my inventory.  Also, as an amusing note, alcohol does nothing to help dehydration.  I had plenty of that, and it did me no good.  Except to make me addicted to it.  So I dumped all of that, too.

After hydrating, I took a nap in my bed.  Upon waking, I was informed that I was now dehydrated.

Well, shit.

Two more bottles of water later, and I set out on my first adventure.  While I was doing my inventory management, I received a message about a settlement that was under attack.  Knowing that these are somewhat time sensitive, I decided to tackle it first.  I opened up my map and had a look at where the settlement was located.  Ah, yes.  On the complete opposite side of the map.

Have I mentioned yet that fast travel is disabled in Survival?

Well, shit.

Undeterred, I set out on my first adventure!  Things went very well at first.  Since the markers for enemies showing up on the compass are disabled, I took it slow and careful, crouching in sneak mode the entire way.  I first ran into some Bloodbugs, and dispatched them quite easily.  This first encounter showed me how much the dynamic of the game changes in Survival.  Charging into a pack of creatures with guns blazing is a stupid idea for a lot of reasons.  Obviously, ammo is scarce, so you don't want to waste bullets.  You take much more damage, so it's a better idea to keep your distance.  Getting the 2X damage bonus for sneak attacks is SUPER useful.  Taking damage comes with the chance that you'll catch some sort of disease.  Healing is much more difficult to do, since the regeneration provided by stimpaks is much, much slower.  And sometimes, it's just a better idea to RUN AWAY rather than fighting, depending on the circumstances.  All of this, in addition to not being able to see the red dots on my compass that tell me where things are, led me to freaking the fuck out any time my sneak meter changed from HIDDEN to CAUTION.

After dispatching the Bloodbugs, I continued on my way until I encountered a small camp of Gunners.  I picked them off one at a time with my silenced sniper rifle, taking advantage of the 2X damage bonus from the sneak attacks before destroying their turret with my pistol.  I then raided their supplies, leaving everything behind except the ammo, food, and the precious, precious single bottle of purified water.  A little further on, I stumbled across a trio of people, two of which were accusing the third of being a synth.  Given the new dangers of the world, I was much more inclined to use diplomacy to resolve the issue, which I managed to do successfully.

I then reached another one of my settlements, and had traveled about a third of the way towards my destination.  This was about 30 to 45 minutes of gameplay.  Tense, engaging gameplay.  All of which would have been nullified and nonexistent had I been playing the game normally and merely fast traveled to the settlement that was under attack.  I was starting to see the appeal of this new feature.  I used one of the beds in the settlement, drank two bottles of purified water, ate some food, and then set out once again.  I soon reached a small neighborhood, and one of the houses had a bomb shelter, though it was more of a cellar.  There was a single ghoul inside, and it managed to sneak up on me.  It was the first time that Fallout has made me scream for quite a while, due to the added lethality that enemies now possess.  I dispatched the ghoul and found a few more bottles of precious water.  There was also a barrel of radioactive waste in the cellar, because we all have one of those, right?  In any case, I stacked up a few rads and used a RadAway.  Oh, right.  RadAway wrecks your immune system and makes you more likely to contract a disease.

Well, shit.

I was actually sort of disappointed by this, because I was hoping for something out of Oregon Trail's book, where you just sometimes randomly contract a silly and amusing illness.  That didn't happen to me.  In fact, I didn't catch any kind of diseases during my few hours of playing Survival.  I don't think that you can just randomly contract something, which I think is a bit of a shame.  I would like that to happen.  Instead, I think it mostly happens from eating uncooked or old food, and to a lesser extent from being injured by enemies.  I think that I would like the diseases to play a more integral part in Survival.  It is an irradiated wasteland, after all.

Moving along, I soon arrived at a very large lake.  The quickest route to the settlement was straight across it, but there was no way I was going to swim through irradiated waters.  I would rack up a ton of rads, and then have to injure my immune system even more with another RadAway.  I had to go around.  I chose to go to the right.  That would prove to be a big mistake.

Near this lake was a neighborhood that was mostly flooded, and getting through it required either going through a marsh (lots of water and thus lots of rads), or through the neighborhood itself.  The ground was flooded (so lots of water and thus lots of rads), but there were platforms on the roofs of the buildings that would allow me to get across.  Simple enough.  I start making my way across, using the platforms to traverse the rooftops.  Things are going well.  Then, suddenly I hear a splash, followed by a whine.  Then I get a message that my companion needed to be healed, and that if I abandoned them, they would return home.  Dogmeat had fallen off of the fucking roof.

Well, shit.

I find a place to make my way down to the ground level, trying to stay out of the deepest of the water so that I didn't stack up a lot of rads, and start looking for him.  A ghoul appeared around a corner, and I quickly dispatched it with my pistol.  This then informed the other ghouls that it was time to wake up and have their murder-breakfast, and I started to get swarmed by the things.  I backpedaled my way between the buildings, trying to get out of the close quarters, while popping off shots at the pursuing ghouls.  I killed about 6 or 7 of them and, seeing that there were no more pursuing me, I turned around to run properly out of the area.  And two ghouls were right behind me, and proceeded to rip off my limbs.  Ouch.

Thus ended my first foray into Fallout 4's new survival mode.  I can totally see the appeal of it.  I don't usually go for things like this, and this is certainly one of the exceptions.  Perhaps it's because I love the Fallout games so much?  It's far from perfect, but there's so much potential here.  Sadly, I think that it will be left up to the modding community to do something worthwhile with this.  I just don't feel like this mode works with the entirety of the Fallout 4 campaign.  It certainly doesn't work with the first 1 or 2 hours of the game.  I think that there should be a separate starting point for people who want to play survival.  I think it should be a mode that is offered AFTER the completion of the main story in the game, not as a mode that can be turned on from the start.  (I more firmly believe this after seeing that after activating survival, and then de-activating it, you cannot activate survival ever again on that save.)  I also think that the main story quests should not be included at all.  It should be more like a roguelike, where the focus is on survival and traversing the wasteland, and the main questline will distract and take away from that.

I also seriously doubt Bethesda will do any of these things.

Consider the potential, though.

If I were to re-design this survival mode, I would set it up like this:  When you start the game, all of the settlements are unlocked.  You are plopped into one of them at random, making your starting experience different each time you play.  From there, it's up to you to go out and scavenge and find the things that you need to survive.  Build up that settlement if you'd like.  You also get random quests about settlements coming under attack.  You can choose to travel across the wasteland to save them, or let them be overrun.  All of the side quests and random encounters can remain intact.  This would solve a lot of the major problems I have with this mode.  For one, it would allow you to start a new game immediately, and get right into the whole "survival" aspect of it, without having to go through a few hours of the main story up front.  It would also make the experience much different from the main game, which is what I was hoping for in the first place.  The current survival mode is more of a reason to play Fallout 4 again.  I was hoping for something that gave me MORE of the game.  It ALMOST does it, to be fair, and I'm sure I'll spend some more time messing around with it.  It's all just a means of biding my time until the next DLC, though.  

Monday, March 14, 2016

Old McDonald Had a Farm, Your Mother Sucks Cocks in Hell

I was attacked by four moths at once on level 19 of the mine and died.  I was then presented with a message that I must have "hit my head pretty hard" and therefore "forgot the last 9 levels of the mine".  This was the event that prompted me to uninstall Stardew Valley from my computer.  For one thing, I didn't hit my head.  I was attacked by four mother fucking moths at once, which was pretty fucking unfair.  And two, how the fuck did I forget 9 levels of a mine, but still remember my name, where my farm is, the names of all the people in the valley, and every other task I've ever done over the last 15 hours of game play?

I'm arguing semantics, of course.  This is simply a means of offering punishment for dying in the mine, and I'm complaining about it because I don't like it.  I do not play games that punish mistakes by deleting progress, so that is why I will never play this game again.  It got me thinking, though, because this is yet another game that a vast majority of people ADORE (no, really, check the Steam reviews.  98% of them are positive), and my opinion ended up being MEH.  This has been happening more and more as time goes by, and it makes me wonder if I'm just out-growing games in general.

It may just be the result of living an adult life.  My biggest complaint about Stardew Valley, before dying in the mine, was that it took too fucking long to get anything done.  In the words of Sweet Brown, ain't nobody got time for that.  This is a direct consequence of my adult life.  I don't have that kind of time any longer.  This isn't a fault of the game, but I'm not going to speak kindly of it, either.  If I feel like I'm not getting the best use out of my exceedingly precious spare time, my interest will quickly wane.  It's exceedingly apparent that I'm in the minority here, though.  Either no one in a similar situation as me plays these types of games, or there are way more people out there with too much time on their hands than I thought.

Either way, it's difficult to have to accept the fact that I will probably never again be in a position where I can enjoy games that I cannot pick up for 30 minutes and make meaningful progress.  And thinking about this makes me feel even worse, because then I start thinking, well, at least it's not cancer, flooding, pest invasions, or any of the other real, adult problems that seem to punch me in the fucking face every day of my life.  That really doesn't help.

It's a shame, because SV is such a quaint, charming little game.  I guess in the end, it just didn't have the focus that I'd expected.  I think I would have been much more inclined to stick with it if it had focused more on the farming and less on the wandering around gathering/adventuring.  I would have liked a farming game.  But, as adult life teaches you often, you rarely get what you want.  

Monday, March 07, 2016

Mole Your Enemy

We recently had a mole in the house.  This is, quite honestly, a very strange and rare occurrence, because unlike a mouse, moles don't particularly like being inside of a house.  They eat grubs and earthworms, which they're simply not going to find indoors, even if it's a basement.  If you look up how to get ride of moles in the house, the most common answer you will find is "Open the door, they'll leave on their own."  Obviously, this isn't really an option in a basement.  I'm assuming that it came up through one of the floor drains.  I've noticed that there are quite a few mole mounds outside in the yard, so I know they've been active in the ground around our house.  One of them probably found the exit drain from the basement and followed it up.

Moles aren't destructive creatures, unless you don't like mounds of dirt in your yard.  They actually help to aerate the soil.  However, that doesn't mean I want one in my house.  And, as I've learned over the last few days, they are incredibly annoying creatures.  They're also very intelligent, as well.  Getting it out of the house proved to be a challenge, because there's really no bait that will work well in catching them, unlike with a mouse.  As I mentioned, moles eat grubs and earthworms.  Putting cheese or peanut butter on a trap isn't going to really get you anywhere, and no stores sell bait that attracts moles because moles aren't a common household pest problem.

I learned that we had this tiny visitor in the house one night when I was just starting to doze off in bed and heard a scream coming from the bathroom.  John was the first to see it, and after spending a few minutes trying to track it down we decided to get some traps.  This was Wednesday night.  We got three traps on Thursday evening, the humane, live-catch variety, and I set them out that night with some peanut butter on them.  I figured that was better than nothing.  We had no luck after a day, and we noticed that the mole seemed to really like taking one path along the wall past the couch.  So, we moved one of the traps against the wall in that path.  It was then, too, that we realized that it was somehow getting up into the ceiling.  I still don't know how it was doing that.  There must be a hole in the wall near the floor somewhere that I don't know about.

The really annoying part of this whole experience happened Friday and Saturday nights.  It crawled into the ceiling during the night, and it would run back and forth across the ceiling above the bed constantly, all the time, non-stop, without rest.  Back and forth.  Over and over.  In the dead of night, the noise was beyond grating.  I wanted to rip out the entire ceiling just to get it to stop.  I couldn't sleep, and I started hearing the noise even when it wasn't there.  I think that if ever I have been on the brink of insanity before, it was during this point in time.  I threw humane methods out of the window and purchased lethal traps, including old-fashioned spring traps and glue traps.  I also purchased some bait, which is designed for mice, but I figured it was worth a try.  I also purchased electric high frequency repellents that plug into the wall.

I put two glue traps in the ceiling and one in the path that it liked to take next to the couch.  This was Saturday night.  Sunday morning, I got up and the glue trap beside the couch was gone.  I looked around a bit, and found it near the door to the back room.  There was one of Buyo's toy mice stuck to it.  The -logical- explanation for this is that the mole got caught in the trap, but not entirely, dragged it with him a ways before getting itself unstuck, and the toy mouse just happened to be there in the way and got stuck as well as he was dragging it along.  It wasn't difficult to imagine, however, that the vengeful litter fucker mockingly stuck the mouse to the trap while thinking, "You'll never catch me, you fucking cunt."  I was furious.

I saw the thing not long after that, and proceeded to chase it through the house, attempting to beat it to death with my shoe.  In case you didn't know, moles are fucking fast.  I probably would have been successful if I had a lot of open space to work with.  But, obviously in the house there are couches and doors and chairs and everything else getting in my way.  I have very few opportunities to actually tray and smack the little fucker, and it was moving from cover to cover too quickly for that to be possible.  I chased after it about two or three times that day, and John chased it at least once, too.

At this point, we began to think about what else we could do.  Our next step was probably to bug bomb the back room when we were fairly certain it was back there.  It's a pretty small creature, so a bug bomb may have killed it even though those things are designed for insects.  Of course, then there would be a dead mole in the house somewhere.  Fortunately, we didn't need to worry about that, because soon after the thing ran into one of the live-catch traps.  John heard the door click shut, and we saw that the trap was wiggling.  I took it outside (after terrifying my mother with it), and let it loose far away from the house, in the middle of the golf course.  If you're waiting for some touchy story about how it looked up at me before happily going on its way, or some funny story about how it bit me in one last act of defiant cunt-fuckery before scurrying off, you're going to be disappointed.  I dumped it out of the trap, it looked around in confusion for a little while, and then burrowed into the pine needles.

The silence during the night was divine.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Mama Murphy

Mama Murphy is more terrifying than any of you might think.

My current house is in Sanctuary, and I just used a pre-fab building.  It more than served its purpose, and I was quite happy with it.  But lately, I've been inspired to create my own house from scratch, and last night I finally said, "Why not?"  I have all the materials I could need, since I've been scavenging quite a lot of stuff for a while now.  And, since I've finished all the main quests, most of the side quests that I could find, and my playtime these days is mostly spent looking for bobbleheads and magazines, I figured it'd be a nice change of pace.

So, on to the planning stage of my grand construction.  First things first:  Gotta pick a great spot for my new house.  My first decision was that I was going to stay in Sanctuary.  It holds sentimental value to me, since it was my character's old home, and that is where I have the majority of my followers stationed.  I like having them in the settlement, walking around or tending to the tasks that I've given them.  Also, it'll make it easier for me to move my items from the old house into the new one.  Great, first decision made.  Time to look around Sanctuary for a good spot.

Obviously, building the house on one of the empty cement foundations would be best, since those are flat, even, and symmetrical.  My current house is on one of them.  I built the SPOILER on another one.  That leaves three empty ones left.  Two of these have shrubs around them that cannot be removed and overlap slightly with the slabs, making it impossible to place all the walls that I need, so that leaves me with just one option.  Over there I go!  

Oh.  Right.  That's where I put Mama Murphy's chair.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, or those who for some reason haven't done this very, very early game quest, Mama Murphy is a drug addicted old woman who travels with the Minutemen.  You can give her drugs and she'll tell you your future, because she claims that the drugs give her "THE SIGHT".  Once you arrive at Sanctuary, she asks you to put her chair somewhere so that she can sit down.  Because she's old and high on drugs.

Okay, so fine.  I'll just move her chair somewhere else.

I talk to Mama Murphy to see if I can ask her to move.  She asks me for more drugs and won't talk to me for any other reason.  You're an addict, woman.  I then try to sit in the chair myself, but she won't move her high-as-balls ass out of the chair.  Okay, fine.  So I go into Build Mode and try to delete her chair while she's sitting in it.  The chair has ceased to be a game object, and is now directly linked to Mama Murphy and her drug-addled ass.

By now, I'm starting to very much dislike Mama Murphy.  In fact, it was then that Marcy Long walked by and said something about never being friends, and I didn't even reply with my normal, "Go fuck yourself, Marcy." retort.  It seems there is only room in my Wastelander heart for the hatred of one person at a time.

Okay, it was time to some more drastic things.

The building in which Mama Murphy's stoned ass was sitting in her immovable chair was also a pre-fab, and it was still its own game object.  So I deleted it.  This dislodged Mama Murphy from her chair.  Hooray!  She then proceeded to sit down in mid-air, hovering like some acid trip gone wrong.  With the words, "There is no Dana, there is only Zul" echoing in my mind, I went into build mode.  To my chagrin, the chair was still linked to her hovering, stoned ass.

I quick-saved and re-loaded, and she was back in the chair, sitting defiantly right smack in the middle of the spot where I wanted to build my house.  Bitch.

It was time to get creative.

It was then that I remembered the item called the settlement bell.  It's a game object that you can place in your settlement, and upon ringing the bell, all of your settlers will gather to it.  It's sort of a way to rally them all together, or to find a settler that may have wandered off.  So, I plopped one of those babies down next to the area and rang it.  Every settler and follower in Sanctuary then strolled over to greet me.  I look over.

Mama Murphy's stoned ass is still glued to that fucking chair.

Now it was time for desperate measures.  I walked over to Mama Murphy, took out my 10MM pistol, and emptied a clip into the old hag's face.  With her bloody corpse laying dead at my feet, I'm about to enter build mode to delete her chair when I start taking damage.  I turn around, and the ENTIRE SETTLEMENT has turned against me.  They're all now hostile, even my followers, and are shooting at me.  Oh fuck.  I turn around, and Mama Murphy has RISEN FROM THE FUCKING DEAD.  She stands up like nothing's happened, and then sits her stoned ass back in that fucking chair.  Then, she says, "Oh, I'm not much of a fighter these days."  Then my settlers fucking kill me.

I re-loaded the game.  I took the bell and moved it way the fuck over to the other side of the settlement and rang that fucker, prompting all the Judas Iscariot bastards in Sanctuary to shuffle on over to what is HOPEFULLY out of gunshot hearing range.  Then, I left them there as I ran over to commit murder.  Again.

I walked up to Mama Murphy and shot her in the face again.  I looked over towards my settlers.  They were all behaving and staring at the bell all the way across the settlement.  I stepped over the bloody corpse and went into build mode, and deleted that fucking chair.  Success!  Mama Murphy stood up and then wandered off, undoubtedly looking for a new chair to plop down her stoned, and apparently INVINCIBLE, ass.

At last, I could build my house.  Perhaps I'll place a plaque where Mama Murphy's chair once sat.  Or maybe that's where I'll put my cooler that's filled to the brim with drugs that she won't be getting.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Mad Max (The Video Game, not the Movie)

Mad Max was released in September of 2015, and it was a game that interested me a little bit before it was released, and a lot more after the reviews turned out to be quite favorable.  However, it had the unfortunate luck of releasing in the same year, and just two months prior, to a far superior open-world post-apocalyptic action game.  Open world games are a substantial time investment for someone who doesn't have loads of that precious, fabricated commodity.  Therefore, I refrained from buying the game at release.

Fast forward to the holidays, and the Steam winter sale.  Mad Max was 66% off, and John picked it up for me.  I've not technically finished Fallout 4, as I haven't done all of the exploring, but I've finished the campaign and quickly ran out of things to do after that.  So it was certainly a good opportunity to start a new game, at least until the Fallout 4 DLC starts popping up.

I will admit that I know of the Mad Max franchise, but I have not seen any of the movies, not the original Mel Gibson trio nor the newest Tom Hardy incarnation.  I think that I would like to see that newest one, mostly because I've heard it is excellent and I like Tom Hardy.  I haven't gotten around to it yet, though.  So, in going into this game, I really had no expectations in regards to tone, or setting, or anything of that nature that a fan of the franchise would have.  This isn't the same experience for me as when I started playing Shadow of Mordor.  (I bring SoM into this conversation because they are both WB published titles, and the design of the open world is very similar.)

I'm going to start with my problems with the game, because those will be a lot easier for me to conceptualize into words.

Chumbucket talks too fucking much.  I like the character and I think he's well voice acted.  I just feel he's way too much of a chatterbox.  I appreciate when he warns me about impending storms, or the location of a minefield, or the approach of a war party.  And, some of the other random tidbits that he says, insane as they may be, are rather humorous.  I thoroughly enjoy how cars are his religion, and how his statements reflect that.  It's really well done, but it's a bit OVERdone.

It was a stupid idea to default you to the Magnum Opus when you fast travel.  Let me give a bit of explanation on this one.  Most of the time, you drive the vehicle called the Magnum Opus with Chumbucket in the back.  (He fires your harpoons and thunderpoons, and repairs the vehicle.)  However, there is one activity in the game that requires a different vehicle.  There is something called "Chumbucket's Buggy", and it has a little doghouse on it where your dog can ride.  The dog is used to identify mines out in the wasteland, so that Max can disarm them on foot.  You can find minefields with the Magnum Opus, but you cannot disarm mines without the dog.  So, you need the buggy to do that.  This is all well and good, except that every time you fast travel, you're put back into the Magnum Opus.  So, you have to drive across the entire freaking map to get to the minefields manually.  It's boring and bad design.

Speaking of the minefields, I hate them.  There is a means to identify all points of interest on the map for easy navigation.  You can identify all the scarecrows, camps, strongholds, and snipers from the hot air balloons.  You can identify all the salvage points with a constructed project within the strongholds.  But there is no way to mark all the minefields on your map.  You have to discover them by driving across the wasteland and hoping you get lucky.  It's boring and bad design.  I would not complain about this at all if this activity wasn't linked to map completion.  But it is, so it annoys me.  To make matters worse, it's also linked to upgrades for your car.  You cannot get the max level harpoon without getting all of the minefields.  It sucks.

It seems that some dubious decisions were made regarding when to lock off fast travel.  I found myself at a lack for resources (ammo mostly) after a particularly hectic scenario to blow open a gate.  After getting through the gate, I wished to fast travel out of the area so that I could restock.  Not only couldn't I fast travel, but I couldn't even leave the area (IN THE OPEN WORLD) without failing the mission and being teleported back to where I didn't want to be.  I had to struggle through another scenario with no supplies in order to continue.  It sucked.  Granted, this has really only stood out to me once.  Fast travel also gets locked out on your during sandstorms, but that feels logical.  This one section, it just didn't make any sense.  The two areas weren't connected at all.  They didn't feel like a continuation of one another.  It felt like there was absolutely no reason why I was not allowed to leave and go restock.

I've only had a few performance issues.  There was one section, in some tunnels, where I'd crash to desktop due to what I assume was my GPU overheating.  I had a similar problem with another WB game, the aforementioned Shadow of Mordor, and it's the reason I didn't finish it.  I couldn't play it longer than 15 minutes without it crashing.  After I slogged through that particular section, I haven't had the issue happen again, yet.  My fingers are crossed on that one.  The crashing of my video card has been a problem that has plagued me quite a bit in a multitude of games, so I don't necessary blame this one fully on Mad Max.

Those are my major complaints.  It's a lot of words, but really not many issues.

The game looks great.  It's bright and glaring during the day, as a desert would be without trees for shade.  It's gloomy and foreboding at night, and requires you to need a flashlight even when you're just out in the open world during those hours.  Underground areas are equally creepy with how dark they can be, and with the ambient sound and set dressings to go along with that.  Open world games tend to suffer a bit in the graphics department because of how large they are, but this game looks great.

Since the flashlight is attached to your chest and not held in your hand, it's a bit awkward to shine the light exactly where you want it to go.  While this may seem like an annoyance, it actually makes the darkened areas more tense, because you're a bit slower than usual in shining your light towards that creepy sound you just heard.

The combat is fun.  It's rather basic at first, but as you learn more executions and special moves, it becomes much more interesting.  It feels brutal, like Max isn't a trained fighter but merely a guy who's throwing everything he has into his punches because he knows it's a life or death situation.  It doesn't have the smoothness of the Arkham games or the fancy style of Shadow of Mordor.  It's jarring and violent.  With what little I know of the franchise, this seems to be exactly how it should be.

The open world is very well realized.  It offers plenty to do, and it also tracks your activities very well.  This is important for me, because I love that feeling of accomplishment.  Of completion.  This is something that I think Bethesda open world games could benefit from.  Fallout 4 does update the map with "CLEARED" beside some locations.  But you have no idea what the requirement is for this to happen.  Do you just have to walk through the place?  Do you have to kill all the enemies?  Do you have to complete a quest?  Loot a certain item?  I have no idea.  It also doesn't do this for ALL locations.  In Mad Max, you can toggle a list of what is contained within the location at any time, so you can see what you're looking for and how many you have left to find.  When you find everything, you get a satisfying on-screen prompt letting you know.  This is probably the thing that I enjoy most about the game.  It not only makes the game more enjoyable for me, but it saves me from wandering around an area aimlessly wondering if I've gotten everything.  Huge kudos to Avalanche Studios for making a completionist's journey through their game more enjoyable.

The checkpoint saving is probably the best I've ever seen.  Almost every notable activity that you perform triggers an auto-save.  It's fantastic.  I think this is the first time I won't criticize a game for not allowing you to quick save.  It just isn't needed, because the game saves every time that I would quick save myself.  It's perfect.

These are my thoughts after about 25 hours.  Anything I didn't cover, such as voice acting, sound design, DRM, and controls have all been fine.  I covered the things that I thought were exceptional, both positively and negatively.  The game has exceeded my expectations, and I hope that Avalanche continues to make great games like these.  


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...