Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Thoughts on player choices

September 8, 2015

So, the other week, I made an impulse buy on the PSN and picked up The Awakened Fate Ultimatum on sale for $20. I had a ton of misgivings about the game (which boil down to don’t buy it, it’s not very good), but I ran into one section that sucked all desire for me to play the game, despite the fact that I’d plonked down $20 for it.

Don't buy this game, it sucks.

Don’t buy this game, it sucks.

Ultimatum makes somewhat of a big deal about how player choices effect the storyline. The implication was that these would be kind of a big deal. This is an easy sell to me: I LOVE games like this, where there are different branching paths that give you tough choices. Most JRPG’s aren’t really big on offering players significant divergent choices.

The background: you are a typical Japanese student who’s been turned into a deadly weapon for angels, because reasons. Demons attacked (and slaughtered many of) the angels. You managed to capture the demon commander. You go through his head with magic to find out if he knows anything, but he doesn’t have valuable intel. The Angels are losing the war and don’t have the resources to take prisoners. The demon is an unrepentant killer.

Your options are, “let him go” and “kill him”.

Now, I’m not decrying the binary nature of this choice. A game can only have so many decisions to pick from. Nor am I angry at the lack of a middle: the narrative establishes that the Angels are really strapped. The problem is what happens when you elect to kill him: your character decides he can’t do it, and the bad guy escapes and ends up killing an Angel as he escapes, which your character guilt trips over.

My reaction to that scene

My reaction to that scene

It’s seriously hard to express how much this pissed me off. This is bad game design 101.

It’s no more of a choice than Dragon Quest’s infamous “BUT THOU MUST” from the NES era of the late 80’s/early 90’s. Needless to say, I expect significantly better writing from games that come out 25+ years later, particularly ones that purport  to have player choices make a big deal in the storyline.

So why did this one piss me off more than the usual false choices other games present?
1) My decision was immediately negated by the game
Obviously.

2) The game touted itself as having big important decisions.
I believe in truth in advertisement.

3) It was my CHARACTER who negated the decision
This is the real sore point of the choice. It would be understandable if my character was physically incapable of taking out the demon, or some bizarre contrivance had kept my character from carrying out my instructions. I would at least blame the GAME for not carrying out my orders, instead of the character. That’s a problem. The character is, at heart, an Avatar for the player. They are the viewpoint character, how I control the game. Having them decide to revolt like that takes me out of the narrative and shatters any illusions I have about actually being able to have any control over the game.

4) The main character constantly goes on about what a jerk he is because he didn’t kill the demon.
A really good choice makes you doubt over your decisions, but the only decision I doubted was buying the damned game. It takes REAL skill to make a player guilty for a choice they never really had. Incidentally, Spec:Ops the line does this brilliantly, as well as occasionally convincing you that you never had a choice… when you actually did.

But I had no choice here. I was taken away from the narrative because my character did not do what I wanted them to. And this is constantly underlined every time the main character goes down the whole guilt thing. It just makes me angry at the main character (who might as well be named Shinji) instead of angry at myself and doubting my own choices.

And the only choice I made that made me angry at myself was buying this game.

Disclaimer: This game has a ton of flaws: bad voice acting, cliched writing and dialogue, derivative game play that would have been stale 20 years ago, game play completely divorced from the narrative, a shallow advancement system and the fact that it’s ludicrously easy. The only reason I kept playing it was the sunk costs fallacy and because I was looking forward to some sweeping decisions.

Review: Death Skid Marks

September 8, 2015

Platform: Steam      Should I get it: Probably. Why not?

death_skid_marks_8

Upon booting this game, I was immediately warned by the Federal Bureau of Mullets that the use of drugs was probably not a good idea in real life, even if they raised my stats in this game. Ah Nostalgia.

And that’s kind of the the theme of the game.

Death Skid Marks is a heavy metal influenced top view driving game, the sort of thing we haven’t seen since GTA 1&2 or maybe even Spy Hunter.

You play Mark Skids, a mullet wearing moron dumb enough to wear black leather in the burning desert, who wants to get to a concert of his favorite band (the awesomeness of the band depends on the difficulty level). Along the way, you’ll pick up hitchhikers, arm them with a variety of dangerous weapons, and kill absolutely anyone who gets in your way – which is pretty much everyone.

In my first play through, I picked up a guy in a horse mask, a bear (not the animal kind) and a probe obsessed alien. I hacked apart expats of Vin Diesel, Barney,  Chuck Norris, the Westborough Baptist Church, and a bunch of white supremacists. I picked up a variety of jobs, earning cash for killing enemies in specific ways or blowing up cars or surviving levels, and used them to upgrade my car, buy new gear, or raise their stats with drugs. Eventually, my melee focused vehicle ran up into something I couldn’t handle – a car with a weird low sort of roll cage that effectively made it immune to melee weapons. I didn’t have the power to push it off the road, and eventually the thing killed me. I learned to add some ranged weapons and upgrade steering.

The game has random procedural generation, which leads to some hilariously unfair moments (I once got hit by a boxing glove into a concrete divider, which instantly killed me) though sometimes its unfair for the computer (Picking up a premium machine cannon, for instance). Eventually, I managed to win a game after picking up a “Doom Saw” and a bunch of premium assault rifles.

Thankfully, like most Roguelikes, there is decent replayability here. The game offers a number of bonus modes including an arcade function, increasingly hard modes, endurance modes, and a bunch of unlock-able vehicles. I think they end boss could use a little work (unless I’ve just been very unlucky, he’s the only non-random element in the game, and I think multiple end bosses might help a bit). I certainly won’t be unlocking every option, but I’ll probably be playing this game a bit more.

Theme: The game is coarse, crude and immature and it knows it, marketing itself towards “Mature gamers with immature minds.” It is by no means politically correct. The characters are caricatures, and ugly ones at that.  The game certainly has a lot of problematic elements, but it doesn’t spend too much time on any of them that I was really upset by them.  Still, your mileage may vary, and you aren’t going to see any positive portrayals of any aspect of humanity in this game.

Graphics: Fairly simplistic, with an ugly, coarse art style. It has a certain primitive appeal. The game tries to keep the screen relatively clear of clutter (it needs to, given the fact you can only see stuff on the road a few cars lengths infront of you).

Tips:
Hire anyone till you have 4 people, and give them all jobs. The best jobs are ones that give you money for killing crew or blowing up a vehicle.

An all melee party is very hard to run, but if you do, make sure you have REALLY good wheels on your vehicle so you can deal with a vehicle with rambars.

Early on, gambles like Russian Roulette or experimentation are almost always worth it.

Buy a medikit and wrench fairly early.

You generally want to hit enemy cars in the same spot to kill them. Just damaging every area is pointless. Alternatively, you can just kill all the crew.

When in doubt, hit them on the driver’s side. They’ll have less people to hit you there.

The geek brother’s super weapons are hilariously overpowered, particularly if you manage to upgrade them.

Sarkeesian Effect Now Available

August 2, 2015

I’d feel bad for them, but it’s the Sarkeesian Effect people, so screw em.

Check out the data on the release here

Payday 2: Buy this game

July 30, 2015

Note-  This is another old NerdyEdge review.

Payday 2: Buy This Game!

Payday 2 cover, clown gang running out of vault, guns blazing.
When I finished Grand Theft Auto 5, the heists were, by far, my favorite part of the experience, and I secretly longed for a game that just focused in on those. Of course, there already was such a game: Payday and its sequel, Payday 2.  I started playing this summer, and I really should have given this game a try back when it came out in 2013. Despite its age, Starbreeze Studios has been updating this game since it came out with a steady mix of paid and free DLC and updates that have improved the experience. If you haven’t given the Payday series a try before, now is as good a time as any. It frequently shows up on Steam sales fairly regularly, frequently bundled with a ton of DLC at a huge discount, and it’s really worth it.

Payday is a co-operative FPS features the exploits of the infamous “Payday” gang, a group of 4 utterly crazy thieves armed with assault rifles, body armor, nice suits, and high explosives and scary as hell clown masks that instantly cause all guards within a sixty foot radius to lose their shit if they spot you.  Their jobs cover everything from elections fraud to arson to straight up robbery, usually resulting in a three digit body counts and six or seven figure paydays.

A bank safe with a sandwhcih

Though the “Payday” isn’t always six figures…

You have a lot of options as to the how you are going to approach a job. Sometimes, you’ll come in guns blazing and ending up leaving a three digit body count. Other times you’ll be sneaky as hell and get out without anyone noticing except for that guard you had to knife in the head. Sometimes you’ll lose the mission if you get spotted, other times you’ll get paid for causing collateral damage.

There are a variety of jobs available with a variety of difficulty levels, and a bunch of approaches to how you want to go about it. I love this aspect, because you can pick missions that do what you want. If you feel like being sneaky, you can play Shadow Raid, where you go in quietly to steal an absurdly valuable antique from a mercenary company. Or you can go nuts and play the Hoxton Breakout, which is pretty much a crazy running firefight with the cops from start to finish.

Some of the newer jobs come with pre-planning phases that allow you to plan your attack, though co-ordinating with strangers can be difficult. You can also chose a few limited special options that make the job easier: for example, in the Big Bank heist, you can bring in extra parts to the bank drill, or have a friend drive a bus into the side of the bank to make your exit once you have the vault open.

As you do jobs you get paid, which lets you buy new weapons, armor and masks that unlock, as well as mods for said weapons. You also get experience, and as you level new weapons are unlocked, and you get skill points which can be freely distributed between multiple classes. The enforcer wears heavy armor and is fantastic with shotguns and power saws (!!!). The ghost is hard to spot and uses ECM to prevent alarms. The mastermind has a smattering of group enhancements and is great at keeping people on their feet. The techie is the most accurate and the best at fixing THAT FUCKING POS DRILL that keeps breaking every 30 seconds. You can have 3-5 different skill builds at any given time to change things up or to adapt to specific missions.

Since there’s three options per tier, mods for every weapons, tons of different weapons (some unlockable by DLC), perk decks that unlock special bonuses, the customization options become a little nuts, particularly by the time you start hitting level 100 and have a lot of skill points to play around with… and then when you are used to that the game encourages you to “go infamous” resetting your level but unlocking a bunch of new customization options, music and gear. The fact that I’ve seen a lot of players with five levels of infamy (levelling from 1-100 five times) is a testament to how addictive this game is.

The game’s difficulty scales quite well. On Normal (the easiest) difficulty, regular cops might as well be firing paint guns at you. It’s built for beginners. On Death Wish, it’s a constant stream of SWAT teams, armored FBI agents, and specialty agents like the cloaker (who looks like Sam Fisher, sneaks around, and can knock you out with one hit from his baton of death) the shield (who is invulnerable on one side to 90% of the weapons in the game) and the dreaded bulldozer (who can eat whole clips like overpriced movie popcorn). Even as a level 100 character, having two or three of these guys show up at the wrong time can end a mission quickly: this game is always a challenge.

Charging Bulldozers

Deathwish doesn’t offer challenge so much as masochism.

Another thing I have to comment is on the communication and lobby system, which deserves some accolades simply because so many other games manages to screw their multiplayer matchmaking and communication up. All you have to do to play Payday 2 is go into “crime net” and you’ll be treated to a number of missions of various difficulties. Just click on the mission and you’ll enter a lobby. You can either chat or press a button to talk at any time. That may sounds like the bare minimum, but it’s amazing how many other games manage to get it wrong.

The easy communication is something any other game should emulate. I’ve met all sorts of people playing this game online, and the ability to quickly ask for help, point something else or make plans is a real key element of making multiplayer games more fun, particularly considering how difficult some of jobs can get.

You work for a variety of bosses, who’s mission have their own unique flavor. Vlad’s (the Russian mobster) missions are loud, brutal, and loaded with silly Russian stereotypes (“Vlad is on rise like fucking sputnik!”). The Dentist is a cool, soft spoken and erudite professional who calculates all the angles (played by Gustavo Fring from Breaking Bad). There’s an even a crazy “Hotline Miami” mission with more 80’s references then you can shake a stick at as you try and eliminate Der Kommisar.

Headless Bulldozer

And then there’s the holiday events…

Payday 2 does a fantastic job of presenting the theme of Payday 2 throught live action videos that show some of the canonical robberies of the Payday gang. These are periodically updated to introduce the community to new DLC (paid or free) and updates and flesh out the world. When you boot up Payday 2, you’ll get the latest one automatically (though of course you can skip it like any other intro video).

One of the big reasons I’m so positive towards this game is Overkill/Starbreeze’s respect of the fans and continued support of the game, even 18 months after the game’s initial release. They’ve included numerous community weapon designs and ideas as free updates, given a ton of free content, created web videos, and are generally active and positive presences on their forums.

For example, a few pieces of DLC contain custom levels as well as a few pieces of equipment. If you don’t have this DLC, you can still PLAY in those levels, you just can’t start them yourself. That’s pretty generous, in my book.  The weapons and gear you get in the paid DLC is nice, thematic, and useful, but aren’t inherently better than most of the other weapons, except in limited circumstances (machine guns are fantastic in corridors, grenade launchers make mincemeat of shields and bulldozers).

Summary / Should you buy this?: Yes (as if it wasn’t obvious from my incessant flogging of a game from that came out in 2013). Considering how often this game goes on sale, there’s no reason not to give it a try if you play  first person shooters.

Tips
Try and play “normal’ difficulty missions till you know what you are doing unless you have a patient team of friends willing to guide you.

Help people up unless doing so will just down you, in which case, don’t. So long as one of you makes it out, it’s a win.

Just remember to take out the cloaker first.

The golden rule of firefights is to get behind cover to recover your armor/reload. Open areas are bad.

Don’t trust that an area behind you is clear. Enemies can slip into most areas via roof entrances and hidden vents, though they never put these in objective rooms or vaults.

Aim for the head. Good advice on all missions, but a must against bulldozers, who can soak up half a weapon’s total ammo capacity to the torso (no, not a clip, I mean your whole supply!)

Stick together. About half the time a mission fails it’s when I’m running after someone who got downed well away from everyone else.

Check out your team’s load out before you start a mission. You want to make sure you have someone with medic bags and ammo.

ECM is fantastic on robberies. On early missions you can just drop an ECM, storm the place and tie everyone up, ECM again, grab the loot and run and get out before anyone is the wiser.

The only DLC I consider “must own” is the Gauge Courier Mod. Other stuff is nice to have but not really required. The Shotguns are also worth it for HE shells, which can stun dozers and remove shields.

Four Stores, Mall Crasher, and Nightclub (Vlad’s Jobs) are all pretty good missions to introduce you to the game.

If you see a red glowing sniper light, find where its coming from and kill the bastard, or get behind cover. Snipers can take you out with 1-2 shots, but are pretty easy to kill.

Try different class powers and perk decks. Mastermind and Technician are the most generally useful.

They aren’t kidding about hostages being important. The more you have, the less aggressive the cops are, and you can trade them for team mates in custody.

Ghost is absurdly good for stealth missions (as you might expect). Enforcer and Fugitive are the “kill em all” classes, though Enforcers tend to be slow and loud while Fugitives tend to be fast and lightly armored.

The CAR-4 and the the Berneli-9 are good early weapons that will last you into the late game with the right mods. The Locomotion is an amazing secondary for loud missions.  Berneli-9’s used Akimbo are probably the best weapon in the game.

You cannot shoot through shields with most weapons. It simply can’t be done. Get around them, or just ignore them and let the dude with the Sniper Rifle/HE shotgun/Grenade Launcher/Armor Piercing weapons deal with them.

Cloakers kill in one hit, no matter how much armor you are wearing. You can hear when they are readying for an attack because their goggles make a “power up” noise. These are top priority targets.

If you hear someone being tazed, near you, help them. Otherwise you may have to revive them instead in a few seconds.

Enemies will drop to the floor when wounded

Some Mastermind skills involve making cops surrender and become hostages, or even turn to your side and fight for you. If you see a cop with a blue outline, he’s on your side: don’t shoot him. If you see a cop surrendering, don’t shoot him, either.

When the escape vehicle appears, get to it quickly. Don’t be the one guy who’s left behind.

It’s better to get away with one person then lose everyone. Be prepared to cut your losses if things get ugly.

There are a ton of strategy videos, builds, and guides available on the forums and on YouTube.

Ask to friend people you enjoyed playing with. It really helps.

When you get late game, consider the following builds
Fugitive/Mastermind – Two pistols + Pistol Mods = Win. This build is ONLY good at level 80+, when you can get top talents from each tier. Pair with the Hitman deck for the dodge bonus. Having a dodge of 75% when crouching is just unfair.

TechForcer – Probably the most popular high level build in the game. Iron Man (top enforcer skill) gives you insanely good armor. Bullet Proof (top tech skill) increases your armor by 50%.  The early skills from these trees are really useful, so this is a good build to start with.

Tech/Ghost – Almost always paired with a big ass sniper rifle. This is a standard for “quiet” runs.

GhostForcerMind- You don’t really care about the Ghost skills, you just want the silent weapon bonus accuracy and stability… and then you want to throw that onto a machine gun. The weapon will suddenly become absurdly accurate.

By Marc Thompson

 

Game you never played: Liberal Crime Squad

July 27, 2015

Liberal Crime Squad: Death to All Fanatics!

Liberal Crime Squad Strikes Again!

Liberal Crime Squad Strikes Again!

Background
Back in the 70’s, an extreme leftist terrorist group called the SLA (Symbionese Liberation Army)  kidnapped 19 year old Patty Hearst, (heiress to the Hearst newspaper fortune). Over the course of next few weeks, her kidnappers brainwashed her with abuse, indoctrination, drugs and sex, until Patty became a willing participant, assisting in holdups and making terrorist propaganda.  Yes, this is a real thing that happened. Yes, this is a video game review. Keep reading.

Back in the 80’s, a coder developed Oubliette, an ASCII (graphics made up of text characters) based video game for public distribution on what passed for the internet at that time. Like many game of the time, it was fun, but simultaneously, it was very flawed and quite frustrating at times.

Back in the 90’s, an extremely obsessed coder developed Liberal Crime Squad, based on the Oubliette game system, set in a dystopian near future (technically past, as of 2015) in which the US has been taken over by a conglomerate of borderline fascist Republicans.  If you don’t stop them, they’ll cross that borderline, turn the United States of America into the Conservative Confederate States of America, declare Ronald Reagan the Eternal President, and exterminate anyone who doesn’t vote R or sufficiently worship Toby Keith.

It would be an error to dismiss the LCS as just a one sided political hack job that paints conservatives as straw men.
LCS is really a TWO sided political hack job that paints pretty much everyone as being utterly crazy.

You will prove that the state needs gun control to promote peace; by using said guns to blow away anyone who disagrees with you.  You’ll prove that nuclear power is inherently safe to protect the environment; by sneaking into a nuclear power plant and setting off a meltdown.  And of course, you’ll show your devotion to free speech, the right to privacy and political freedom by kidnapping news anchors, brainwashing them with torture, drugs and sex until you somehow turn Rush Limbaugh into Bill Maher or something. It would be horrible if it wasn’t played for laughs.

The ultimate goal of the game is to cause all the laws in the land to become Elite Liberal. These laws are measured by various issue meters that range from Elite Liberal to Arch Conservative on a five point scale. Some of these have game effects and some pretty horrific implications. At conservative + free speech, the fire department become “The Firemen” and will have a nice bonfire with any liberal publications that appear.  Criminal rights at conservative + levels regularly spawn Deathcops, who roam the street with the authority (and desire) to kill absolutely anyone without trial who is caught violating a law.

Once in a while, congress will propose laws, or the Supreme Court will decide on cases, or the country will have a vote which will move one of these issues a step towards conservatives or liberalism, based on the general opinions of the population. Of course, that means you need the population’s support, and you’ll have to hold it for a long time if you want to change the SCOTUS or the POTUS.

How do you do that? Any way you want to. Liberal Crime Squad provides an impressive number of ways to sway public opinion on nearly any issue.

The first and most obvious is to shoot up a place, which somehow puts the public on your side because reasons. It works, assuming your liberals don’t get killed in the process by the violent fascist forces of the police (who, to be fair, are just defending themselves). A squad of six liberals armed with the liberated conservative tools of destruction can stroll into a talk radio station, gun down everyone they see (running like hell from the cops) and this will somehow convince people that talk radio is bad. You can also do slightly less insane stuff like putting liberal slogans on the air while you hold the station.

You can also create an army of graffiti artists who spray the city with liberal slogans.  Or walk into a bank and convert the brainwashed lackeys of capitalism to the just liberal cause using a liberal’s ultimate weapon: folk music.

You can seduce loyal members of the establishment and leave them as (no pun intended) sleeper agents, giving you vital intelligence, resources, supplies or even just converting people where they work to your cause. You can kidnap them, drug them, and turn them into sleeper agents by torturing them in a clown suit.

You can start a liberal newspaper and bring the truth to the people once you get a bit of cash going: just make sure you keep some guards on the place in case some uncool yokels decide to make their displeasure known with pitchforks, torches and shotguns. And while you are doing that, why not have a couple hackers uncover dark secrets Wikileaks style and print them in the paper?

Of course that needs money for the press, and the pile of guns you’ll need to keep the conservative jerks away from your paper. Maybe you can sell some “brownies”. Or liberate heinously oppressed, unpaid, exploited sweat shop workers from their horrific servitude creating garments to sell and instead set them to glorious voluntary labor to support the cause of freedom and worker solidarity with filthy capitalist dollars.

It is not an easy task to walk the path of the liberal. The game’s utterly random combat system allows aging hippies and yoga instructors to become horribly efficient killers with enough practice, but, generally, even the most liberal of combatant will fall against an unlucky hit from a bullet.
GTA, eat your heart out.

GTA, eat your heart out.

There’s just so much to do and so many ways of doing it in Liberal Crime Squad. You can be an utter pacifist or a violent psychotic thug (sorry, I mean, zealous, differently-abled, warrior of change). You can build a web of connections including hundreds, or become a literal army of one, trying to change the nation by your lonesome.

You can make anything from the reincarnation of Bruce Lee, achieving justice once heart shattering punch at a time (“Now who’s the bleeding heart?”) to an androgynous mind warping polyamorous master of seduction and torture with an army of clown suited axe wielding fire men.  Just keep in mind that it is very easy in this game for something to go horribly wrong and your founder to catch a bullet. The RNG is god.

So what’s the appeal?
Not many games allow propaganda, seduction, theft and infiltration to be as impactful as gunning down a bunch of people, which is nice. But the real draw is the comedy.

The writing is pretty funny at times, but for me, the real comedy appeal is the silliness of the situations. Attempt to mentally picture some of the crazy stuff that goes on in LCS and you can’t help but laugh: guard dogs deciding to throw off their leashes and reject the role of the capitalist running dog;  an actual band of misfit rebel mutants convince a Hanging Judge to change their ways with a heartfelt folk music; a single drop out male former fry cook who’s having a secret affair with two judges, a CEO, a bishop, a cop and a conservative radio talk show host.

On second thought, lets not free the genetic experiments.

On second thought, lets not free the genetic experiments.

Should you play this?
Why not? It’s free. It’s also interesting to designers, who may want to mine this game for ideas, or just observe this “style” of 80’s classic Roguelike. While I play it a bit every few years, I’ll happily admit that the game isn’t for everyone.

First, LCS is ASCII based – it has no real graphics at all. Some people can’t handle that sort of game. Second, the game deals with some genuinely awful topics (domestic terrorism, torture). While I found these aspects played too ridiculous to take seriously, your mileage may vary. Also, the seduction lines are absolutely horrible, though at least everyone in LCS is bisexual… even straight edged conservatives (whether that is lazy coding, or satire is up for debate).

The game also takes a long time (years in game, hours and hours in real life) to finish. LCS also takes some getting used to play. It is miles more approachable than Dwarf Fortress, but that’s not saying very much. If you aren’t willing to give this one a bit of time to figure out its mechanics and the way it works, you probably won’t enjoy it.

Still, it fulfills a particular bizarre niche, and shows what some of the weirder and more ambitious Rogulike RPG’s were like back in the day. Its worth at least checking out, in my opinion.

And it is a vengeful god.

This will not end well.

Resources
The most recent semi-official version is here
The fan base has been working with the code for years and have been making tweaks and adding features. You can find the latest version here.
There is a wiki here, I’d suggest reading it before you get started. It’s very informative, though a few things in the documentation are out of date.

Tips
You can “save scum” by copying the save file in a directory somewhere else. You may want to make a sub directory for this. Alternatively, you can quit the program before it alters the save file in many situations by closing the window.

When making a character, consider taking options that improve seduction. Seduction rises on its own naturally when you have a lover, but it’s VERY hard to get a seduction skill if you don’t have any to start with.

Having a Cop as a sleeper agent means you’ll always get a tip off on a raid before it happens. Its absolutely worth picking up! Sleeper Judges also are pretty useful to have if someone goes to trial.

Liberal Judges and Lawyers tend to have good int and charisma and heart They are a pretty good pick.

If pollution goes to max, mutants start showing up. Mutants are fairly easy to recruit. Most have criminally low stats bordering on uselessness, but there’s a small chance they’ll have freakishly, inhumanly high stats

If you want to play it safe, make a charming hacker with high Int and charisma is a smart move. You can hack computers to get your juice up to 200, recruit a bunch of people as subbosses and have them do the same thing. Then have the sub bosses recruit everyone you need.

It’s really hard to sway the opinion of everyone while the Conservative Crime Squad is in operation. It IS possible to get rid of them through a number of ways.

If you build a newspaper, keep I mind that publishing Secret Government Files/Agency Files will get you branded a “traitor to the state” no matter what the Free Speech level is. Either have a separate building for “illegal” publications, or avoid publishing that stuff if you want to avoid a massive fight.

Old Post From NerdyEdge 2014, Reposted

July 27, 2015

Notes From 2015 – I just thought I’d repost this 2014 retrospective that I put up for NerdyEdge before it went belly up. I spent a fair amount of time on it.

Games of the Year

Dragon Age: Inquisition – Best RPG from a AAA company award
Cassandra Fighting a Dragon
You had us worried, Bioware. After the mediocre Dragon Age II, the debacle over the horrific Mass Effect 3 ending and the disappointing Star Wars MMPORG, gamers were wondering if you had lost your touch, eaten by the brain rot that seems to infect any studio touched by EA. But you delivered this time. I was really impressed by the detail put into the characters, the voice acting, the world, and you`ve managed to tell a complete story that you actually have an effect on, and it is one that actually engages you. The game isn`t short (I had like 80 hours by the end) and doesn`t reuse the same dungeon over and over (the levels are varied, huge, and gorgeous), and doesn`t make you feel like you have no impact on the story or game world (quite the opposite). The game isn`t perfect, but no Bioware game has ever been perfect. I look forward to full length DLC and expansions for this game, which is something I rarely, if ever, say.

Mid 2015 Note- Witcher 3 blows this away so much, it’s hard to compare. They are very different beasts, to be fair, but it’s just so much more of a satisfying game experience. CD Red seems to just get better and better with each release, while Bioware is a bit of a crapshoot.

South Park: The Stick of Truth – Only good game from the first six months of the year award
South Park Stick of Truth Pic from:  ProGmedia

In fact, this is pretty much the only game I can still remember that came out in the first six months of the year. How rare is it to find a product tie-in game that not only sucks, but fits nearly seamlessly into it’s licensed product? This game was so good it actually made my girlfriend a Southpark fan, and she’s hated it for nearly 20 years. Highly memorable and you really should buy it if you haven’t given it a try already: it should be on sale on both Steam, Xbox Live and the PSN pretty soon.

2015 Notes – I replayed this a bit, and if anything, my fondness for the title has grown. This is totally worth picking up if you like old school RPG’s or Southpark at all.

Alien Isolation – Holy shit, an ACTUAL Survival Horror game award

Freaky Alien

Freaky Alien

An Aliens Game, and its good? And it’s an ACTUAL survival horror game? And it was made by Creative Assembly (who are really only known for strategy games)? The fact that this game exists is bizarre. The fact that it’s one of the best games of the year is downright mystifying. Alien Isolation makes you feel like a soft fleshy human who can be killed at any moment. The space station you are stuck on oozes the creepy, retro 80’s future atmosphere of the movies brilliantly. The Alien isn’t a bad guy to be killed: its an unstoppable thing, a force of nature. You hide or you die (and maybe you die anyway).

2015 Notes-  Yeah, this wasn’t a bold prediction. It’s not even my sort of game, really, but it was prett good.

Divinity: Original Sin – Best B company RPG award
upload.Wikipedia.org_Divinity_Original_Sin_cover
Here is a game that brings it old school, with a funky, late 90’s/early 20’s style isometric RPG complete with action points, tons of non-voiced dialogue, and a bizarre and arcane character upgrade system that allows for oodles of customization. There’s lots of options of players to deal with problems, from being sneaky gits with invisibility to setting up a bunch of exploding barrels. It reminds me a bit of Fallout 2 crossed with Bauldur’s Gate 2, only with a higher focus on tactics instead of strategy.

2015 Notes – I stand by this one. Pillars of Eternity has a very similar niche. Both are worth owning.

This War Of Mine – Best Indi Game award

This War of Mine title pic (from the studio)

This War of Mine title pic (from the studio)

This War of Mine manages to wonderfully get across its theme describing life in a war… for civilians. Its so rare to see a game that`s so fun to play, emotionally engaging and perfectly themed, particularly for a little known developer like War Child. It is grim without being hopeless and difficult unless you heavily strategize. I strongly recommend this game.

2015 Notes – I stand by this prediction. 2014 wasn’t the best year for gaming, if you ask me. Lots of crappy launch titles, lots of disasters and mobile gaming screwing my childhood. The indie games were the best of the bunch, really.

Far Cry 4 – Best Shooter
(Pic Failed, sorry, too lazy to find another one)
It’s like Far Cry 3, but with a more developed primary villain, even if the secondary villains aren’t as cool as Vaas (but who is?). Basically, it takes most of the good stuff out of Far Cry 3, fixes a few things, makes the protagonist a little more likable, and adds in honey badgers, elephant riding and awesome Bollywood music. Its good stuff, though would like to have seen a bit more of what Kyrat turns into once you take over. This is probably the game I agonized over the most. Far Cry 4 is just good, not amazingly super brilliant, but I had more fun with this shooter than any other I played this year.
Robocraft – Best New MOBA you’ve never heard of from a company you’ve never heard of
What, you’ve never heard of it? Not surprised, its still mostly in Alpha. Basically, its “World of Tanks” only you can make a tank, car, walking vehicle, hovercraft, blip or flier out of Lego blocks. It’s an awesome turducken of nerdy game themes that really needs to be played to be appreciated. I love obsessing about optimal character builds before I play, and this game lets you putter around for hours in the garage looking for more efficient designs or putting together a replica of Kim Jon Un’s face out of blocks with machine guns in the eyes and mouth, because why not? Did I mention it’s free and that its very good?

Game of the year

This War of Mine: Because it is an original concept, and got me the most engaged in the narrative of playing. When I played, I genuinely felt like an awful human being for stealing medicine from old people (or any of the awful things I had to do in this game). I haven’t felt as conflicted over a game since Spec Ops, only this war of mine’s standard game play is far more fun, and the game was created on a non-budget from a studio you’ve never heard of. See my review for a more in-depth look.

Notes from 2015 – I stand by this. The game has gotten some very interesting updates since, and has received critical acclaim. It’s also engaging, even if “fun” isn’t quite the right word.

Honorable Mentions

Danganronpa
This is one of the very few games that ever made me consider buying a Vita. I suppose it is technically available on PSP as well, but mine failed years ago. It is basically a cross between Phoenix Wright and Battle Royale, if Battle Royale was run by a psychotic, teddy bear and involved a court room drama with lethal consequences instead of just fighting. It is weird and Japanese and fun. Of course, I’ve only actually seen it played, since I don’t own a Vita and don’t plan on it.

Valkyria Chronicles for PC/PS3
This game technically came out nearly a decade ago but until recently has been a bit hard to come by. It feels like cheating to give an award in 2014 for it, but it deserves mention now it is now available on PSN for PS3 and on Steam for PC. This is a fantastic mix of RPG, FPS and strategy war game.
Its themed on a magitech based WWII, complete with ethnic concentration camps (seriously), propaganda wars, serious character growth, batshit insane leaders on both side and the knowledge that any character can die at any time. Anyone who likes RPG’s really needs to play this one.

Persona 4 for PS3
See Valkyria Chronicles. If you like JRPG’s at all, Persona 4 is a must buy, though it’s a bit “weirder” than Valkyria Chronicles, and the dungeons can be really unforgiving if you don’t optimize.

Shadows of Mordor
I didn’t quite gush over this game as much as most other people. The closest thing I can think of to it is Batman: Arkham City, only without nearly as interesting a story. Still, its nemesis system is fun and randomly makes what should be regular “easy” fights suddenly turn into fit inducing frustrating battles as Doche the Craven (that boss who you were sure you decapitated five minutes ago) suddenly decides to pay you back by coming at you just as you are starting a fight against another boss. I just couldn’t get behind it as much as some other people, but if you like beat ‘em ups or the Middle Earth universe, this is worth buying.

Notes 2015-  I ended up playing this a bit more. While my opinion of it has improved slightly, I never bothered finishing it.

Borderlands the Pre Sequel
It’s pretty good. Not great, just good. Its well written, but I think I’m getting bored of the formulae. Sadly, this puts it well above the pack for 2014, so it deserves mentioning anyway.

Obligatory list of dubious awards

Akiba’s Trip – “Oh, Japan!” Award

Oh Japan

Oh Japan

A beat em up RPG game where you play a nerd who fights vampires…. so you have to strip people to expose them to sunlight. It’s on the PSN store. I honestly don’t even know if it’s any good. I love quirky Japanese games (I bought Way of the Samurai and Yakuza 4), but couldn’t quite bring myself to pick this one up. But the fact that a game this weird exists on the PSN store is hilarious.

Beyond Earth – Huge Underwhelming Disappointment Award)

Beyond Earth, by Firaxis Studios

Firaxis, I am Dissapoint

Firaxis, I am Dissapoint

It not a bad game, it is just so… bland. It’s the first Civ game I’ve had no desire to really play. I set the game to the hardest difficulty, took over half the map, and just don’t have the heart to finish. This game is trying to emulate SMAC, but it just doesn’t measure up. It neither has the writing chops to make me care about the world or my faction, or the gaming chops to really make me interested in conquering the world, because the AI can’t stop me on the hardest levels. It failed to really engage me once I actually started playing it, and that’s the first time that’s happened with a Firaxis game. There’s no real excuse for a game to be so unengaging when most of its engine was developed back in 2010.

2015- This game is still underwhelming. While the balance issues have largely been patched out, the game just doesn’t have any character or flavor to it. It’s paint by numbers Civ with a shitty theme and a lot of ideas that don’t go anywhere or mean anything. It has not been a good year for Space 4X.

Assassin’s Creed Unity – Awful AAA title and why Ubisoft should be Ashamed Award
You know it’s going to suck when they make a review embargo. Ubisoft released early copies of Assassin`s Creed: Unity to the gaming press, and then issued a review embargo set to expire 12 hours AFTER the launch of the game. Thus, reviewers who had early copies of the game couldn`t warn consumers that the game was buggy as hell in single player with constant glitches ranging from distracting to game breaking. As for its much hyped multiplayer, it was a totally broken hot mess (with recommended tech solutions like “delete all your friends and play offline”).

Ubisoft was lambasted for this by critics, but a few weeks later announced review embargos for their upcoming game, “The crew”, and the gaming world collectively facepalmed. And you have yet another reason not to ever pre-order stuff, particularly from Ubisoft.

Dungeon Keeper Mobile – Awful AAA Mobile Title and why EA should be ashamed award

ALL OF MY HATE

ALL OF MY HATE

Because, it just wouldn’t be a shit list without EA, wouldn’t it? Everything you need to know about this wretched, festering boil can be summed up with two overused clichés that these games utterly deserve:

1) This isn’t really a video game. There’s no strategy involved in this “game”. There’s no real gameplay at all. Just build a room, and either wait 24 hours for it to dig a tile, or spend real money so you can start another timer and spend more money. People may say virtual novels aren’t really games, but at least you have some options and the game has a narrative, a story you follow. This doesn’t even have that.

2) This is an example of everything that’s wrong with video gaming today. The fact that EA thinks they can slap mechanics more exploitive than Farmville and sell that shit to people who grew up with Dungeon Keeper (who are now in their early 30’s) speaks volumes about how completely out of touch the company is and how dimly they view their own customers.

This is awful, even by mobile standards.

People, I give you Electronic Arts, masters years of buying up your childhood memories and whipping that dead horse for the next 20 years with endless and soulless shovelware. I’d say EA is the Micheal Bay of gaming, but their mobile division is utterly devoid of even the explosions, cheap laughs and shallow entertainment that Bay’s movie. At least Bay knows who he’s making the movie for.

Gamergate Reasons Gamers should be ashamed Award
Because sigh.

Some Thoughts on Tahm Kench

July 13, 2015

Type: Tank/Support/Bruiser

Role: He’s a great top, a decent support, and a decent jungler.

So, what do I think of this guy?

He’s a champion with great… flavor (pun intended), plus he’s deceptive, in every sense of the word. He gets low, and you think you can kill him, and then he throws his E’s and doubles his health. He stacks pure tank items, and his AA’s hit like a midway fed bruiser. He’s a slow meandering hulk… except when he blows his R and teleports a quarter of the way across the map… with the enemy carry.

His Q – It’s kind of like Zac’s ability, but with better range and it only hits one target. Plus if you get the full passive, it stuns. This is an ok ability, though it certainly helps him win chases. This is not an ability I want to rely on as my primary harass. You have to be a special kind of derpy, even in silver, to wander past the creep line, with champs like Naut or Blitz or Thresh who will own you if they hit.  Unlike the other champions however, even if you manage to hit, the slow and damage is light enough to be shrugged off. I just can’t rely on this as anything but a slow. Sure, the Q will secure kills in a chase, but it probably will at level 1 as well.

His W – Devour is Tahm’s iconic ability, and it’s by far his most important. Devour is probably (without hyperbole) the single most versatile ability Riot has ever given a champion. I mean, just LOOK at what this devour can do.
1- Lane harass by shooting enemies at the enemy champions
2- Lane clear/push by shooting enemies into a wave.
3- Negates ganks (carry the carry to safety)
4- Save yourself with the movespeed buff when you grab an ally (not to mention yourself)
5- Initiate a fight by grabbing an ally (carry the carry to victory)
6- Negate a pick or dive on your carry by eating him.
7- Ridiculous hard CC that lasts 5 seconds on an enemy carry (Hilarious when Tyndamere spends his invincible time in your gullet)
8- Pull an overagressive enemy into the turret or your own team.
9- Doing a lot of damage to a single target.

I mean, can you think of ANY other ability that versatile in the game? I’d call it a swiss army knife, but it’s closer to a swiss army light saber. And just like a light saber, it has the potential to kill your allies or cut off your own arm. Be VERY careful about grabbing an ally. This thing has the potential for making people AFK or rage even greater than a poorly timed headbutt

Needless to say, I prefer maxing this ability first. Raising its power makes it’s ability length almost comical, and you can get the cool down to 7.5 seconds with CDR at level 4.

E: Iron Skin. When you take damage, and you think you are about to take a lot MORE damage, hit E to laugh at opponent.

R: Tahm’s a deceptive fellow. His ultimate is pretty nice, but everyone forgets that passive.

Tahm’s ultimate’s passive adds 4%/5%/6% of his bonus health as magic damage on auto attacks. That’s effing crazy. A giant’s belt grants 380HP (which is worth about 1010 gold). For Tahm, it basically grants another 600 gold worth of AA damage. Having 3000+ HP is nice. Being able to regen it instantly by pressing E is VERY nice. Being able to auto attack someone for 300+ damage at the same time is just evil.

Using his R is tricky without voice communication. You need the other players to be on the ball to use it properly, and your own map awareness needs to be pretty good. Like Bard’s magical journey/stasis, if you screw this up, you’ll probably die and get someone else killed as well.

One thing I like doing is telling the jungler to ping you when he’s heading bot, and then meeting him just above the lizards at 6. This lets you avoid the usual wards to jeep the junglers off. Naturally, you’ll also have to get your ADC to play defensively for a bit

My build with him routinely looks something like
Sight Stone
Berserker Greaves
Giant’s Belt
Giant’s Belt
Ruby
Warmog
Frozen Mallet
Aegis
BotK

Since it’s a while before you can pick up any armor or MR, I find it important to start with a fair amount of the stuff. I could have started with 150HP from runes instead, but you don’t really NEED the extra health until you hit 6.

If the game goes late, I’ll pick up Warmogs (for even more HP), and Frozen Mallet (lock down and harder hits).

You don’t have to go quite this extreme, but you get the idea; pure HP isn’t just pure HP when you put it on Tahm.

Ugh, whoops!

July 13, 2015

Due to some phone problems, I couldn’t update this site for a long time (I couldn’t get the authentication to work, and thus couldn’t update anything) .

Plus, the content generation site I was working on went down in flames (which is the third time this has happened). I’d say I’m unlucky, but most gaming/tech blogs explode into flame unless they have real interest and real money behind them, and content aggregation blogs are on the way out anyway.

So, anyway, for all my loyal 1’s of readers, I’m back!

Some thoughts.
PC Gaming; All I’ve been playing is Witcher 3 and League recently, with a side order of Big Pharma when I’m in a very odd mood. League is League, and I’m already bored of Big Pharma, which just leaves Witcher 3. Anything I could possibly say about the game has already been said by other people, but I’ll just go ahead and repeat: this is an awesome game and you should buy it.

But what’s more interesting than the actual game itself is the company’s success. CD Project Red has an absolutely amazing, groundbreaking and unheard of practice in a gaming company. This strategy can be summed up in three parts.
1) They learn what mistakes they made in previous games
I’ve played all the Witcher games. One was a buggy, ugly mess at times. It was an absolute pain to navigate, and I gave up shortly after I got to the big city. The UI was incredibly clumsy. Two made combat more dynamic, introduced people gradually to the gaming elements, but suffered from a rather ugly inverse difficulty curve and forced players to travel for ungodly distances. Still, I had a hell of a lot of fun playing it, and finished it twice. As for Witcher 3? I’m still playing through my first play through, and I’m already well over 30 hours. Virtually all the flaws of the second game has been addressed. The game isn’t perfect (what is), but it’s a huge step up from the previous editions of the game.

2) They try to address them
Another thing, anything that could reasonably fixed in a patch? They’ve done it. The tweaks to inventory, weight control and combat are huge quality of life improvements in the game. And I didn’t have to go to Steam Workshop to get them: they were autopatched in, very quickly. This is a very nice addition.

3) They support their game rather than milk it.
Tons of DLC, all of it free. Plus the aforementioned patches.

It’s incredibly sad that this approach is novel, instead of the industry standard, but there you go. While Rocksteady (though it’s really WB calling the shots) puts out a PC game that’s utterly unplayable on Steam that has bunch of pointless DLC, Witcher quietly releases a game that’s beautiful and fun.

In my opinion, this game is probably going to win Game of the Year for a lot of gaming fans. At the very least, it’ll be on a lot of short lists for the best game of 2015. I’m REALLY looking forward to CD Project Red’s new Cyberpunk game.

Review: Beyond Earth

November 14, 2014

It’s…. not very good. I’m sorry. I really wanted to love this game. I was seriously hyped about this. But, at the end of the day, Beyond Earth doesn’t bring enough to the table to justify itself as a full priced released title.

It’s not that the game IS Civ 5, it’s that Beyond Earth suffers from all of the same mistakes, without adding nearly as many interesting innovations or graphical upgrades as Civ 5. Civ 5, while being a tremendous graphical step up from Civ 4, was a deeply flawed game. It had serious problems in terms of both narrative, game design and balance. It still received a lot of praise for what it did right, and the many new ideas the game brought to the genre. Patches and expansions extended the life of the game massively, and I’ve plunked many hours into being able to finish the game with a variety of approaches and civilizations.

In other words: Civ 5 was a heavily flawed product that grew on me over time as the novelty of it’s changes wore out. It wasn’t as good as Civ 4 at launch, but it at least brought a lot of new ideas to the franchise, so it got a pass from most reviewers. It’s differences from the previous edition were intriguing enough that it made hard core fans interested, despite the flaws.

When I heard Beyond Earth was coming out, I was incredibly optimistic. Customizable units. Multiple factions you can pick and chose. Quests that must be done. Massively overhauled covert ops. These ideas seems really fun. Sure, the game was obviously cribbed from the Civ 5 engine, but I thought that was an advantage at the time: Civ 5 had been a pretty good game by the end, and I thought that Firaxis would have gotten everything down by now in terms of balance and playstyle, that it would have put serious effort into solving the problems that plagued Civ 5.

The problem is: they haven’t corrected those flaws. In fact, they’ve made pretty much the same mistakes Civ 5 did, as well as adding a bunch of news ones.  And those flaws, while acceptable for a complete overhaul that was Civ 5, way back in 2010, is completely unacceptable on an game running with the same engine after three full paid expansions three years later. There’s no real excuse this time for screwing up in the exact same ways.

The fundamental mistakes made by Civ 5 are as follows.
1) A complete abandonment of narrative impact in the game.
2) Bad game balance
3) It’s a slog mid to late game due to bad micromanagement

Narrative Impact:
Everything feels so disconnected in this game. Your cities look exactly the same until the late game, when they have slightly difference appearances. Wonders look like generic buildings for the most part, and have no special acheivement video for making them, or even a cool made up quote. The faction leaders don’t have any real personality molded to them. Players groan when they run into an early Montezuma or (God help you) Miriam. All of the AI’s for the sponsors might as well be exactly the same. There was an implication that as you went along the supremacy path, you’d become more robotic. At affinity level 7, the AI’s get yellow eyes and an extra stripe on their shirts. The supremacy victory condition involves sending an army of robots back through a gate to conquer earth and force it to undergo the same kind of transformation your culture did. If you do that you get a little placard, not even a fucking cut scene. We hated this and complained about it in Civ 5. There was NO excuse not to put the mininum level of effort in.

Compared to Secret Masters of Alpha Centari (SMAC), its not even a contest. When I was running a Human Hive Police State, I fucking knew it. I had custom made “People’s Glorious Defenders” policing my bases three at a time. I had nerve stapled bases that had grown too rebellious. Other nations criticized my cruel treatment of my citizens. I completed the “Virtual World” project and I had quotes like “What do I care for your suffering? Pain, even agony, is no more than information before the senses, data fed to the computer of the mind. The lesson is simple: you have received the information, now act on it. Take control of the input and you shall become master of the output.”  That said a lot about the kind of society I was running.

SMAC was made in the late 90’s. This level of verisimilitude should have been easy to complete in 2014, but BE fails in almost every narrative respect. The quotes are disjointed and don’t really speak of the factions personalities: they say where they came from, not what they are. The wonders have no narrative impact, they use passive language and euphemisms.

Compare: The Marikov Eclipse http://civilizationbeyondearth.gamepedia.com/Markov_Eclipse
This is an AI that basically takes over your military. You’ve removed human equation from the top of the tree. Its fucking Skynet, only with even more power and direct access to your early model troops. In BE, you build this, you get a little building and a bonus.

Compare to the Self Aware Colony in SMAC:

One of the things Firaxis/Civ designers realized very early was that the Civ series excells at emergent narrative: the idea that the player tells their own story as the game unfolds. They may be the plucky downtrodden peaceful scientific city that ignores the strife around them till they get to the modern age. They may expand and create a vast military empire across the plains. They may tell the story of the drones who rebelled from their oppressive masters to eventually conquer all of the planet in the name of the oppressed working class…

But to be effective, you need some plot pins. Little helping hands for the framework of the story that the players are working out in their head. SMAC was fantastic at this. BE sucks at it. Its like giving you a blank piece of paper and saying “see? You can tell a great story with this!” That’s not what emergent narrative is: emergent narrative comes from the player seeing the narrative unfold and providing the details in his head. You can’t do that without the underpinnings of the story, rich plot hooks to hang a tapestry from. BE just doesn’t give you enough of those.

In short: Hey, Firaxis? Wake the fuck up. Hire some artists and work with the voice actors some more. Your worlds need to be fleshed out, particularly when that world isn’t Earth.

Bad Balance and Game Design.

Lets discuss a specific strategy that has always plagued Civilization games: the infinite city spam (ICS). Just plop out infinity settlers, and put them the mininum distance from your cities. Build military units, crush your opponent. Later Civ games tried all sorts of ideas to keep this strategy from getting too out of control, while still encouraging expansion.

Building a really “wide” empire in Civ 5 was a pain. If you let happiness go below zero, your growth slowed to a crawl. Let it go heavily into the negatives, and you’d have revolution that was difficult to control. As you developed new social structures and technology though, you’d be able to build more and more cities either via settling or conquering.

Its back in BE. Health (the new happiness) only provides minor penalties until -20, at which point it provides moderate penalties (-50% growth, -10% to everything else), and tops out there. They haven’t fixed this yet and the game’s been out nearly a month. Infinity City Spam actually works quite well in BE.

There are other balance issues: trade routes are hilariously overpowered. You can send them to enemy cities, but this is a bad idea, since it gives your opponents an advantage. Instead, sending them to your own city grants them anywhere from 4-10 hammers and 0-6 food (roughly), which is almost always the best option since it represents a HUGE early game boost to your cities. You could send the trade routes to stations (neutral trading posts) but I generally end up using every bit of land I can anyway to build another city, so I’d almost always rather just let the trading posts starve.

Wonders are useless. Most of them provide no real benefits worth their cost. Global benefits are extremely rare and so deep in the tech tree that its unlikely they’ll show up until the game is foregone conclusion. In Civ 5, you groan when opposing factions get a key wonder. In SMAC, I literally never consider building any wonder for any reason.

The military system also feels quite broken. You don’t gain military strength from tech upgrades, you get it from affinity upgrades, gradually upgrading your troops/archers/tanks/artilery/boats/airplanes as you go up. The first problem with this is that it makes quests EXTREMELY important, and basically forces you to focus on affinity levels for one faction. Another problem is the specialty “affinity” units you unlock, which are hilariously OP. They have a combat strength of about 250% of your armed forces. Every game I’ve played has been a rush to this tech, and the first player who builds a substantial amount of these forces tend to walk over the enemy.

Winning isn’t very satisfying. Your options are a complete military conquest, getting to a ridiculously very high affinity level and doing a bunch of stuff that will take 10x as long as conquering the planet, or completing two mid level techs, building two wonders and completing two quests for the contact victory. The first and third of these goals are FAR easier to pull off.

Less than 30 hours in, I started up a max difficulty game with 6 AI players. I have 20 cities, they have 3-4 each, and I’ve already wiped out two of them. I can’t be bothered to finish though because of this game’s third flaw:

Quality of Life (I.E. The game is a slog)

There are a lot of baffling decisions in the game design that combine to make playing through BE a slog.  The automation on exploration units and workers are badly broken. Trade routes need to be maintained (to your annoyance) every 25 turns or so. This really should be done through a menu, but its not, leading to large amounts of wasted time when you have a large empire, which this game heavily encourages through its weak size control mechanics.

So many of the new features feel pointless, stripping any desire to continue the game. As an example, take diplomatic favors. Don’t seem to do anything. The AI players treat them like gold when they are giving them to you and will only give you 100 credits for them. Nor will having favors keep them from making ridiculous demands on you or declaring war on you.

Covert Actions: Very powerful, but there’s not much to this. Generally I use them to generate free energy and science. If you see intrigue rising in one of your cities, dump one of your agents there as a counter. There’s not much else to this game, and it’s really hard to focus production to things that aid your spies since you pretty much get all the spies you are going to get for free..

Resources: The only resources I ever used in any number were the ones for my affinity unit. That’s titanium for purity, firaxite for supremacy and xenomass for harmony. Everything else I accumulated huge amounts of, and never did anything with them.

Tac Jets: Get hurt by attrition too much. You’d figure that Tac Jets would either be powerful enough to be a threat to ground units or largely be immune to most ground units when attacking them. In this one, it’s the worst of both worlds. Tactical Jets are good at hitting anything in range, doing virtually no damage, and then getting so crippled by the defense that you can’t use them for anything. I wouldn’t build them.

The starting options: Faction and Starting Colony type are the only ones that really matter, and don’t really influence the game very much.

This game showed so much promise, and failed to deliver to me. I really can’t recommend it. Maybe when it goes on sale in six months for under $10. Not until then though.

The real truth of #GamerGate

October 14, 2014

Soon, this will be the truth of the land. Science help us all.

Go Make Me a Sandwich

[Written in the style of Mallory Ortberg, who is awesome]

Your bunkmates are already fast asleep when you fall wearily onto the hard mattress; it’s been a long, tiring day of back-breaking labor in the camps.  Tired as you are, however, your thoughts are unsettled and sleep seems elusive.

Once, years ago, you would have felt anger about the accident of birth that forced you into this state, but now you accept your fate. You are but a man, and the strength of men exists to serve the greater good. Or at least that’s what they tell you, and who are you to question them?

At last you decide that sleep will not come and reach under your mattress, pulling out the small handheld hidden there. Pulling your blanket over your head to hide the glow of the screen, you turn it on, eagerly waiting to resume from where you left…

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