Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Evil within The Evil Within

It's the Wednesday before my week's vacation, so I need a little bit of active engagement to get me through the day.  Let's talk about The Evil Within 2.  Below there will be spoilers for both it and its predecessor, so be warned!

When I first heard that there was going to be a sequel to this franchise, I was surprised.  The game was directed by the creator of the first Resident Evil game, and it leaned heavily on this fact in order to promote the game.  It was marketed as a return to true survival horror, rather than the "action horror" games that have been more prevalent over the last several years, such as the Dead Space franchise or more recent incarnations of Resident Evil before the reboot with Biohazard.  This was all fine, and the game was certainly rooted deeply within the survival horror genre.  Aside from this, though, I found most of the game to be rather forgettable. 

The problem isn't that the game contains more bad pieces than good.  The entire campaign for me lands somewhere in the dreaded middle, neither great or terrible.  This is what leads to it becoming a rather forgettable experience for me.  The weakest element of the game is certainly its story, where your character, Sebastian Castellanos, feels very detached from the world he inhabits and ends up being rather dull.  I never got a sense of connection with him, nor did it feel like he had any connections with the characters around him.  The Evil Within was a lonely game, and perhaps this is just one of the drawbacks of the survival horror genre.  Both Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Resident Evil 7, which I consider to be two the best survival horror games that I have ever played, are also lonely experiences.  So, why does that work in those two games, but not for The Evil Within? 

A lot of it comes down to goals.  From the outset of Amnesia, you know what's up.  Get to Alexander and kill him.  The entire story is driven by this, so the player has direction and anchor.  Similarly with RE:7, you are searching for Mia.  In addition to accomplishing these goals, you also need to survive.  In having these clear goals, the player never feels like they're just being placed into a hopeless, unwinnable situation, thus making the experience horrifically thrilling rather than just horrific.  This is where The Evil Within falters. 

From the start of the game, the player has no idea what the hell is going on.  Sebastian arrives at Beacon Hospital to investigate a mass murder, and things start to just go crazy.  The world tuns upside-down, literally, and then there are monsters and traps.  The player has no clear goal, other than to survive.  This lack of direction hurts the game and the experience, and the addition of these sadistic traps makes things worse.  The player doesn't know why they exist, who created them, or why you're being forced to survive them.  There's no motive for your torture.  It makes the game feel either dull, or pointless. 

Eventually, the story starts to take shape, and it's interesting at times.  You discover that you're in sort of a sadistic version of The Matrix, and there's a maniac running the show.  However, the stakes are never high enough for your character, Sebastian.  He has nothing to lose or to gain by navigating through this nightmare, aside from his own survival and the desire to stop the evil.  That's really not enough to carry it.  It makes him feel detached and unimportant, like he's just the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.  That works for John McClane because he's actually entertaining to watch with his attitude and ability to be a down-on-his-luck badass.  Sebastian is just not interesting.  His dialogue feels wooden and forced, and his animations don't express him as anything more than Generic Video Game Protagonist #20755. 

On top of these shortcomings, the game frustrated me.  It liked to put you into situations where you weren't sure if the correct answer was to fight or run, and I didn't appreciate having to figure these out.  Instead of being thrilled after those experiences were over, I was either irritated because I was horribly murdered due to trying to kill something I wasn't supposed to kill, or irritated because I wasted half of my precious ammunition reserved on something I wasn't supposed to kill.  Also, too many of the traps relied on "gotcha" moments where in order to figure out how they work and how to get through them, you have to die a few times first.  I don't find these to be enjoyable experiences.  When I finished the game, I was relieved to be done with it, and have since forgotten most everything about it. 

So, yes, I was surprised when a sequel was announced.   

If you've read any reviews for the sequel, you'll see most of them stating that it improves upon the first game in almost every way.  I find this to be correct.  I can take each of my complaints above and clearly tell you why EW2 is better. 

From the start of the game, Sebastian has a clear goal.  His daughter Lily, who he thought burned to death in a house fire, is alive and being held by Mobius, the company who created the Evil Matrix from the first game.  Kidman shows up and wants you to get her back, which Sebastian doesn't need much convincing to do, because it's his *daughter*.  Already this is an improvement from the first game, because it gives Sebastian a reason to be involved, and something to drive him through what's to come.  It makes the game about him and his journey that you're going to go through with him, rather than just moving from horrible experience to the next aimlessly. 

The story itself is serviceable, especially if you don't think a lot about the character's backstories.  It's also a lot easier to follow than the first game, which was convoluted in an attempt to keep it frightening and unpredictable.  Sebastian's wife Myra, Kidman, a demolitions expert named Torres, and a motivational speaker named Theodore hatch a plot to take Lily back from Mobius and destroy the company from within.  It goes badly, and Kidman goes to Sebasian for help.  This is very clear-cut and simple, and I like it.  It adds a level of reality to anchor the more far-fetched aspects of the narrative.  Like Ruvik, Stefano is a rather generic maniac and his presence doesn't feel like it has any deeper connection to the story or to Sebastian.  He's a great serial killer for sure, but I felt the game was making the same mistake as the first with him.  To my surprise, however, it turns out that Stefano isn't the Ruvik of this game.  He was working with Theodore, who's gone batshit crazy and betrayed the others in their plan to take down Mobius by taking Lily for himself.  This was a very welcome development, and it finally gave us an antagonist who shared something with Sebastian.  He wasn't just there to do evil things. 

Sebastian himself is still a bit dull, but he's been improved.  Giving him the driving goal of finding his daughter certainly helps, even if the idea is terribly cliched and overused.  It does get a bit tiring to hear him demand his to have his daughter back so much, like watching one of those video edits of Harrison Ford wanting his family back.  Sebastian also has a tendency to say exactly what he's feeling all the time, but this, I think, is less bad writing and more because of Japanese influence.  (One of the writers is Japanese, and although Shinji Mikami gave up directing duties, he still oversaw the project.)  What I'm trying to say here is that sometimes Sebastian sounded like Solid Snake or Leon Kennedy. 

Though Sebastian is still a bit dull, he's elevated by the characters around him.  While his interactions with Kidman are a bit melodramatic or cheesy at the start, later revelations in the story make them much more interesting and believable.  Additionally, his relationships with the other Mobius operatives inside Evil Matrix do a better job of making Sebastian a bit more likable and less like a cardboard cutout.  This is especially true with Torres, who is a character who would undoubtedly be portrayed by Michelle Rodriguez if this were a movie.  My only complaint about their interactions is that there weren't enough of them. 

The most noticeable improvements for me, though, are certainly the game mechanics.  The things that I disliked the most about the first game were either entirely removed or drastically reduced.  Completely absent from the sequel are the diabolical and sometimes unfair traps.  This makes the world feel more realistic and believable, rather than just a game world where someone did everything they could to make sure you killed yourself on something.  Greatly reduced are the number of times where you're faced with a choice to fight or run.  It does happen sometimes, but with a few very important and improving differences.  The game does a better job at telling you it's time to run, such as the time I entered a room with a door that can only be opened by a microchip.  When I was in the room without a microchip, there were only a few enemies and I was able to dispatch them easily.  Once I had the chip, though, and could pass through the door any time I watched to do so, enemies started to swarm into the room.  It was clear that it was time to get the fuck out. 

When it's not obvious that it's time to run away, it's likely that you'll succeed by doing either, which is a welcome change.  If there's a large monster that you're not sure is killable, it probably is.  I haven't run into any monsters that are invincible.  It's just a matter of deciding if you have enough ammo to pull it off.  I was also very happy to see they mostly removed those annoying sequences where all you can do is run for your life down a hallway while something terrible chases you.  This happened only twice to me so far, and with the traps from the first game removed it ended up being much more tolerable than before. 

The biggest surprise for me, I think, was the discovery that parts of the game take place in a semi-open world.  It's not huge by any stretch of the imagination, which I think really works in setting the tone while offering a bit of variety in having different paths that you can follow to get to a destination.  You can also take a few moments away from being horrified to sneak around and gather supplies.  Unlike the first game, I found myself enjoying being in this world, and I want to especially compliment the seamless transitions between the different areas.  There are so few loading screens to take you out of the world.  In fact, some of the loading screens are baked into the game more than I have seen in any other game.  When using the Mobius hubs to travel through The Marrow to different parts of Union, you can control and move Sebastian around while you're on the loading screen.  It was incredibly well done. 

One thing I wondered about was the survival horror aspect.  Would it do the same thing that Dead Space 2 did, and become more of an action horror game instead?  The answer to that, I think, is "not really".  More action was added to this game when compared to its predecessor, but no where near as much as there was between Dead Space 1 and Dead Space 2.  The Evil Within 2 is still a survival horror game.  Ammunition and supplies are NOT plentiful.  I run out of resources all the time, and do as much scrounging around and crafting as I possibly can.  I focused on upgrading my weapon damage output first so that I would use less ammunition.  There have been times where I've had to resort to slashing frantically with my knife because it's all I had left.  It is definitely a survival horror game. 

The weapons are superb.  I cannot begin to explain how satisfying it is to aim a harpoon bolt at a zombie's head and make it go splat.  It takes careful aim, which adds to the survival horror aspect.  Missing the head means you won't one-shot it, and then it will likely rush you and start munching on your face.  The shotgun sounds like "God slamming his car door", according to my husband, but it also reliant on headshots.  The sniper rifle is the same way.  I think the most unfortunate weapon is the pistol.  I find it SO incredibly difficult to aim with that damned thing.  It feels like a headshot with the pistol should be more effective than it is.  I have the damage on it almost fully upgraded, and it still takes two headshots to down a normal zombie.  With how difficult it is to line those up with that weapon, even with the laser sight, I feel like I should be greatly rewarded for landing a hit.  Whoever added the upgrade to automatically smash a zombie with a bottle when you're grabbed is a gift from the gaming gods and I wish to buy them a box of cookies. 

The game isn't without some problems, of course.  I noticed a little bit of texture popping, which makes me wonder if the game utilizes id's last generation engine.  It looks great despite this, though.  Some of the transitions between cut-scene and in-game models is a bit jarring and noticeable.  This next one might just be me being terrible, but sometimes it feels like enemies are too quick to spot me.  I feel like approaching them from behind is too slow without upgrades, and they seem to know exactly when to turn around on me.  Also, as someone who reloads weapons constantly on instinct after firing even a single shot, I think it was a mistake to set the "switch ammo" button for the crossbow as the same key as the "reload".  I can't tell you how many times I've lined up a harpoon shot at a zombie's head only to hit them with a puff of smoke instead.  I don't believe this can be re-bound, but I need to double-check.  There are also a few cut-scenes where I was left wishing the game would have let me do the thing myself, such as the killing blow on Stefano. 

None of these issues detract from enjoying the game.  I went into this game with tempered expectations and was surprised at every turn.  It's good.  I always go into single-player, story driven games with an optimistic hope that they'll be great.  This optimism has really been rewarded in the last couple of years with games like Wolfenstein, Resident Evil 7, Dishonored 2, and yes, even Doom.  Sure, it can be argued there's really no story in Doom, but somehow that just doesn't matter.  It's still a superb single-player experience.  My only concern is that The Evil Within 2 won't perform as well as it should.  I haven't really seen many people talking about it.  Perhaps it just wasn't marketed as hard as the first game.  Or, perhaps the shortcomings of the first game are hurting this one.  Like me, I'm sure many people didn't expect them to improve upon it so effectively.  That would be a shame, because I feel like the franchise could really hit its stride now that they've got this one out of the gate.  The only saving grace is that Bethesda has proven time and again that they are quite loyal to their IPs.  I hope they're willing to give this one another chance, because another installment could be fantastic. 

Either way, The Evil Within 2 has been a blast to play.  If you're a survival horror fan, this game is required play.  And even if you're not, you'll find a damned fun game to enjoy.  

Monday, August 28, 2017


A few weeks ago on a Monday morning, I climbed into my car to head to work.  As I turned on the key, I noticed that I had a warning light on the console.  Tire low, add air.  I checked the PSI monitor, which informed me that my left rear tire had a total of 0 PSI.  I got out of the car to ensure it wasn't a problem with the sensor.  Sure enough, the tire was flat.  It happens, and I wasn't all that stressed out about it.  I was actually pretty thankful that it was something that I had to deal with in my garage, rather than out on the road.  I took the tire off and sent it to work with my mom, who is the receptionist at my brother's garage.  They replaced the stem on the tire, as that's where they determined it was leaking.  Things seemed fine after that for a few days.

A few days later, the low pressure light came on again as I was driving to work.  It seemed to be a slower leak than before, so I stopped and put some air in it, and then took it back to the garage.  They examined the tire, but could not find a puncture in it anywhere.  They had a used tire in stock, so they put that on to see if that would solve the problem.  Amazingly enough, it didn't.  Even with a different tire, I was still losing air.  It was getting to the point where I was having to stop and put air in the tire at three different points in my drive to work:  Before leaving my house, half-way to the office, and at the office.  This was pretty irritating to say the least.  The people who work at my brother's shop aren't idiots, and they know what they're doing.  They checked both the tire and the wheel rim thoroughly.  They submerged it in water to look for punctures.  They inspected the wheel rim for any damage or warping.  They replaced the stem again.  But still, the tire was losing air.

Finally, I purchased a new wheel rim.  This was pretty much the last straw for me.  The car is eight years old, fully paid off, and it's starting to develop a bunch of other problems.  It has a leak in the exhaust that will be quite a costly issue in another year or two.  The transmission sometimes catches.  I know that a new car is on the horizon for me within the next 1-3 years.  I figured if this new rim didn't solve my problem, then the time was now.  But, fortunately for my current finances, the new rim solved the problem.  The tire pressure has been steady ever since, and it's been over a week now.

For me, it's now become a meme.  A flat tire is probably the most common, easiest-to-fix issue you can have with a car, and no one could figure mine out.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Another Guild Wars Post?

It was been nearly five years to the day since I made a post about Guild Wars 2, back when it released in 2012.  Reading this post got me thinking about how much the game has changed, and how much I have changed, too.  Aside from my writing becoming slightly less terrible from five years ago, my opinion of the game remains essentially unchanged.  If anything, it may have improved a bit.  My gaming preferences have been the thing that I think have changed the most over the course of half a decade, and I've grown more fond of games with a deep sense of progression that doesn't feel superfluous.  This is why I ended up adoring Stardew Valley.  This is also one of the reasons why I drifted away from World of Warcraft.  In GW2, the progression systems are intricately tied into the game itself.  The game awards you with a chest of goodies each time you reach a milestone of achievement points.  This happens about every 500 points that you earn.  Additionally, some achievements have mastery points tied to them, which are necessary to unlock mastery skills.  Sure, some WoW achievements give you a reward.  You might get a mount for completing a meta achievement that contains 10-20 different achievements, all of which require you to play for dozens of hours in high-level group content.  Most achievements, however, do nothing else except increase your total achievement points total, and that total means nothing at all.  This isn't the case in GW2, as every achievement you earn is progress towards a reward, or is rewarding by itself.

I don't want this post to turn into a WoW bashing rant, though.  My reasons for straying away from that game are many, and complex.

The point here is that the progression systems in GW2 have been improved over the course of the game's life, and it's exactly the kind of thing that I enjoy in a game.  It's a sense of personal accomplishment.  Sure, grouping up with people to achieve something really difficult is great and all, and I've given that a try.  Perhaps all the years I spent in the late 1990s and early 2000s playing single-player games have made me a slave to the solo experience.  Or perhaps I just don't like people.  Either way, with time such a valued commodity in adult life, I've started to prefer these sorts of games, and I've been getting increasingly picky about them.  Let's examine an open-world game such as Far Cry 4, or Watch Dogs 2, or Grand Theft Auto 5.  These games are littered with hundreds of items, secret collectibles, or optional challenges that beef up the amount of game to play.  They all suffer from the same problem as WoW's achievements.  They feel pointless outside the small pleasure of finding them.  They effect the main part of the game not at all, except to maybe give you a few extra of whatever in-game currency the game happens to utilize.  Stardew Valley is probably the best example I have of collections done right.  They are tied directly into the progression of the game, and feel rewarding as fuck.  GW2 does something similar, but it feels more organic.  You can stumble upon a jumping puzzle in the game, for example, and upon reaching the top you will find something, either an achievement, a chest of goodies, or a mastery point.

I really hope that more games start to evolve towards this sort of system.  For example, it would be fantastic if the collectibles and the secrets in Assassin's Creed: Origins would actually contribute to the experience in a meaningful way.  These can be entirely cosmetic.  Hey, you know what would be cool?  If doing this optional content got you different skins for your character or weapons.  You know, the sort of things that, these days, are usually sold as micro-transactions.

Oh dear, I've gone too far, haven't I?

Thursday, February 09, 2017

As with most liberal minded Americans, the national news has been one constant horror show ever since the orange baboon was sworn into office.  Never in my life has my president so reviled and disgusted me.  Sure, I hated George W. Bush's policies -- most of them, anyway -- but with that did not come the revulsion for his person that I get when I think of the Cheeto Nazi.  I can't even use his real name.  My fingers forbid me from typing it out.

This has left me with a constant sensation of helplessness.  What am I to do?  I didn't vote for him, yet now he's in power. I didn't vote to give the majority of congress to the conservatives, yet now they have it.  I contacted my representatives and told them that I did not want them to vote for the president's appointments, but it didn't matter because even if they listen to me, they still don't have the majority and thus are powerless to stop any of these confirmations.  And every time I see a bit of political news, it's another executive order or another decision or another remark that just plain horrifies me.  I can't afford to donate money to organizations that will try to fight this kind of thing.  I can't afford or get the time off to attend rallies or marches to protest what's happening.  When every decision the president makes causes me to go, "No, that's WRONG.  How can he DO that?  Why isn't anyone STOPPING him?", I'm left with this feeling of utter helplessness and anger.  The simple fact that I'm forced to follow alternate versions of NASA, the EPA, the National Parks and Services, and other government agencies in order to get real facts is, quite honestly, terrifying.

I do believe that we'll be okay.  I see how many people are out there fighting for what's right, fighting to stop all this potential stripping away of human rights, all this damage that could be done to the economy and to the environment, and it helps.  But it doesn't stop that feeling of helplessness, of feeling that there's nothing that I can do to help.

The answer to this dilemma came to me in the strangest of circumstances.

Yet another news article entered my feed, and I found myself once again dismayed, angry, and filled with a desire to DO something.  But this one wasn't about a pipeline that could ruin the lives of hundreds of Native Americans, or another story about a racist/bigot/billionaire/old white person being appointed to a position in which they have no experience, or about American's worldview reputation being flushed even further down the toilet.  This was a simpler article stating that the president's administration was delaying the addition of the bumblebee to the endangered species list, and how scientists were worried that this could put it on the path to extinction.

I went through all the familiar motions, sighed in defeat, rolled my eyes, and scrolled on.  But then, I was suddenly struck by inspiration.  There WAS something that I could do.  I could help with this, even if just a little bit.  Adding a species to the endangered list provides it protections and raises awareness.  It spurs actions to help to preserve both the species and its habitat.  I realized that I could help do that myself, regardless of my incompetent government's decisions.  I have a large yard, and I'm a gardener.  I have the means to do something about this.

And so, after just a short bit of research, I found a great online resource on bumblebees.  I learned the best types of flowers to grow that will benefit them, that it's important to provide nectar during all parts of the warmer season (especially early on), to watch for grounded bees in the early spring, and how to build a nesting box for them.

While it may not be much, and it's not as compelling as going to a march or getting involved in some other, direct way, this is something that I can do, and it helps me feel a little bit better about the awful political climate that we're in right now.  I'm just one person, but I hope there are a lot of others just like me doing the same kinds of things.  That's the only way we're going to make things better.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

OC Height

I have always considered Ma'tiki, my Troll, to be above-average in height just like I am in real life.  He's always been sort of an extension of me, in a way, as original characters tend to be.  He's a better version of me who's smarter, kinder, and better.  And of course, in better physical shape, too.  Since I'm about seven inches taller than the average human, I consider Ma'tiki to be seven inches taller than the average Troll.  Now, it's sort of difficult to canonically determine the average height of a Troll male.  Some simple research on WoWwiki provides information gleaned from the World of Warcraft:  Official Beginner's Guide, and states that the average height of a Troll male is between 7' and 8'.  However, it also states that the average Tauren is between 9' and 10'.  This is a conflict in some regards, because in-game you can determine that when a male Troll is not slouching, they are taller than Tauren males.  So, one of these measurements is inaccurate.

I'm inclined to think that the 7' to 8' measurements for Trolls is correct, which would put Tauren at 7.5' to 8' thereabouts.  This is, of course, open to conjecture.  I've come to this conclusion for a few reasons.  One, I have seen corroborating height charts, such as this one, which supports shorter Tauren.  Second, 10' is really, really freaking huge!  In-game, it just doesn't make sense for them to be that tall when you see them next to the other races.  This could be a gameplay mechanics choice, but since I'm only using these measurements to determine the height of an OC, I think it's fine to use this information and make these assumptions.

So, going with an average height of 7' for male Trolls, that means that Ma'tiki is 7'7.  Slouched.  Standing up straight, which I consider him to be doing quite a lot of the time, he's an insane 9'.  This is assuming that they gain a foot and a half when standing up straight.  This is supported by the previous image that I linked.  In looking at their in-game models, it seems like a pretty safe assumption.  They are slouched over quite severely in their idle stance, and gain what looks like a considerable amount of height when they do their little shoulder roll animation.  This is what he would look like standing next to my puny 6'1 frame.  It's easy to forget that when I imagine him in my head.

Going by this information, it's easy to determine his weight by using one of those "ideal weight calculators" that gives you an ideal weight based upon your height.  Using nine feet, Ma'tiki's ideal weight would fall somewhere around 350 pounds.  I think for him, I would bump that up to between 360 and 370 pounds, to take muscle mass into consideration.  While he's not an active warrior any longer, he's still very active and regularly trains himself physically.  Adding an extra 10-20 pounds is probably on the conservative side, but it feels right to me.

So there you have it.  I'm really not sure what prompted me to do this little bit of research.  I suppose I just had the inspiration to talk about Ma'tiki a little bit.  Leave it to him to finally break my 6-month long dry spell on blog posts.  Thanks, buddy.  


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...