When I got fed up with all the ads I saw on Twitch, I got Twitch Prime. It’s basically Amazon Prime (though there is no Amazon in the Netherlands, but there is Prime Video, so that’s something), but you get to watch Twitch ad-free and you get to use a free subscription every month. The subscription times out at the end of that 30-day period, so you can re-use it somewhere else (or at the same channel, if you want). Given the amount of enjoyment I get out of it, it’s a good investment.
There is another perk: you can get in-game loot in certain games. But you can get full games as well! For no additional charge, you can install those games if you have the Twitch app installed — it acts a bit like the Steam client in that regard.

Last week, I saw that I could get Tales from Candlekeep: Tomb of Annihilation for no additional charge — and I thought: “Free D&D game? Why not?”
It’s essentially a computerised version of the D&D board game, which uses a simplified version of the much-maligned 4th edition rules. You control characters with their own abilities: some they can do every round, some they can only do once per day (once per ‘quest’). Every turn, you can move and undertake an action, and if you end up at the edge of a ’tile’, then a new tile is added to the map. Of course, monsters can spawn on newly explored tiles. Combat is simply using powers (all the ‘at will’ powers do damage — some ranged, some melee), and it’s the usual “roll D20 + your power’s attack bonus to beat the monster’s Armor Class”. There’s Advantage and Disadvantage and things like that: if you’re familiar with the D&D rules, it doesn’t take long to understand what’s going on. The game really pushes you forward: if you don’t uncover a new tile after each hero’s turn, you get a random ‘encounter’ — some of them are beneficial, but most of them are not. But then again, most of them can be averted by using your Adrenaline.
There are five pre-generated characters: you can’t make your own, which is a let-down. Part of the fun of D&D is, after all, creating your own character and fine-tuning their abilities. You need to gain ‘levels’ to open up a new ‘slot’ in your party (you start with two). There’s a paladin, a ranger, a wizard, a bard and a druid — a nice mix of classes.
There is a main quest path, and side quests that unlock with each main quest undertaken. Each mission completed gives you gold and components, which you can use to upgrade the equipment of your characters, giving them more armour, HP or bonuses. The game comes with all the ‘DLC’, which are basically item packs that you can use right away.

The whole game feels rushed though. There is a tutorial, but that only covers the barest basics. There are only two sets of tiles (jungle and dungeon). There are very few different monsters. The interface does a bad job of communicating some of the statuses or the consequence of a choice. There is no undo or “what if”: if you click somewhere, then that’s it. I finished the game, but I never understood how a Spell Ward worked.
For an adventure game, it’s really slow-moving: the game takes its time in the phase transitions. A 9 tile exploration side-mission takes 15 minutes to play through. And it’s not difficult: I think there was only one mission that I couldn’t finish in one try.

I do not recommend the game. Especially not for the 28 euros that the set I got for free would cost you if you bought it on Steam. But I have been ill these past days, and it is a perfect little diversion for when all you can do is stare at a screen, click your mouse and make decisions that require only a light cognitive load.
With a bit more polish, it could have been a lot better. Throw in a level editor for people to add their own missions for others to enjoy, and you could have had a neat little computer boardgame. But that was not the path taken.

Gaming

  • Some time ago, I finished (the PC port of) Ys: The Oath in Felghana. A fun action adventure. I’ve written a review on that today — I didn’t get around it sooner. It’s good fun, but there are some problems with that game.
  • Ys Origin, on the other hand, offers the same kind of gameplay but is much better. Story and dungeons are better intertwined, and the story itself is much more interesting. And it offers three playable characters, each with their own playstyle, and their own view on the story. I still need to do a playthrough with the third character, and then I’ll write a review of that too.
  • I got Dark Souls 3 in a sale some time ago, and I have been playing it for a bit. But while I love Dark Souls 2, I’m not such a fan of DS3. DS2 could be easily navigated by being careful and shrewd, and that does carry over to DS3 in some areas. But in other areas, you encounter enemies that can kill you in two hits, and that’s just not that fun. How can you get better if you don’t have time to learn the patterns and rythms of the enemies? I’m feeling a bit ‘meh’ about it, but if anyone wants to join up for jolly coop, then do hit me up!
  • I’ve also restarted a campaign of Darkest Dungeon. I’ve tried to play it when it claimed to have controller support, but that just didn’t work well enough. Now that I can game at my desk, with a mouse/keyboard combination at my disposal, it’s much better. I really like the writing and voice acting: it reinforces the themes and mood of the game really well. For instance, after an ‘easy’ victory, the narrator sometimes tells you: “Remind yourself that overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer!” So cool.

One of my colleagues bought an old arcade cabinet. He stripped all the electronics and bought a “Pandora Box”, a small machine containing 815 arcade games that you just hook arcade controls and a screen on. He even got a coin slot, which has to be fed with guilders (the currency we had before we switched to the euro 15 years ago! That was, back in the day, indeed the price for a single credit, so extra nostalgia!). It turned into a really cool two-player machine, and today he installed it in our break room.
There’s an interface to select the game you want to play. Unfortunately, it’s not in alphabetic order, so there’s some poring over a printout needed to find something if you’re looking for something specific. My eye fell on the Super Macross game: a vertical shooter (my favourite arcade genre) based on the Superdimensional Fortress Macross anime. Of course, I couldn’t resist.

I have been limiting the number of sessions at the cabinet, because otherwise I’d spend all day in the breakroom, trying to better my highscore. I have started to take a cellphone pic of my highscores, because every time you choose a different game, the highscores have been reset!
I now have roped a colleague into my sessions, too. With two players, it’s both easier (there’s another player to take care of enemies elsewhere on the screen) and harder (it’s more chaotic and it’s harder to ‘know’ your place on the screen), but great fun!

I really like the Dark Souls series of games — especially to watch people play them, because the gameplay is simple to learn but hard to master. It’s a sword-and-sorcery setting, and you play a human who has been afflicted with the curse of undeath. The curse can be undone, and for that purpose you travel to a ruined land, filled with other undead and assorted monsters. If you die, you revive at your last checkpoint (bonfires): you’re undead after all! But every time you rest at a bonfire to replenish your health and restorative items, all the adversaries you’ve bested are respawned as well! You also have to get back to the place where you were killed to retrieve your souls, which serve as both XP and currency for the merchants.
Your main restorative item is the Estus Flask, which you can ‘drink’ from to replenish some health. The Estus Flask gets refilled when you rest at a bonfire (but at the cost of respawning all the enemies).

My favourite of the series is Dark Souls 2. This is a very unpopular opinion: DS2 is widely regarded as the weakest of the series — it is also the only game in the series that was not overseen by the original director. It is a bit of a mish-mash, but that doesn’t really bother me: I’m there for the gameplay, and DS2 had some innovations that I really like.
In DS2, you encounter the Emerald Herald at the ‘main’ bonfire in Majula, the central spot in the ruined world you’re exploring. Only through her can you spend your souls and level up to improve your stats. Whenever you engage with her, she launches into a four sentences. You can skip the sentences, but you’ll hear the first word from every sentence, so you’ll hear “Bearer Seek Seek Lest”.

So when I was watching someone play it on Twitch, she linked to her online store for an Estus flask pin, which even has the “Bearer Seek Seek Lest” banner! Being a fan of DS2 and a collector of pins, this is right up my alley. But then the postage turned out to be three times as much as the pin itself, and that killed it for me. USD 40 for a single pin is just too much, and I don’t need more than one!

I fondly remember the days of the USPS flat-rate international envelope: everything you could cram into there was shipped for about USD 10! I got some DVDs from the US with really cheap postage: a single envelope would hold three or four DVD cases. One time I even got a stack of arcade tokens in such an envelope — it weighed a ton, but still: flat rate!
It is kind of weird that with more and more webshops, our ability to purchase things from afar has increased dramatically. But the shipping costs spiralling out of control kind of kills it. Especially for small items.

(Also: new userpic!)

The largest exhibition for tabletop gaming is held every year in Essen, in their ‘fairgrounds’ building — four days with six large halls filled with booths from game manufacturers, publishers and dealers. (And, because it’s Germany, there are also booths selling grilled sausages in between.) There is, predictably, a large offering from German manufacturers (not only is the majority of the public German, but there is a real designer boardgaming culture in Germany), but there are also many international offerings. Design collectives from Japan, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan bring pallets of their games and sell out during the pre-orders, and there are visitors from all over the world.
We’ve been going there for a few years now, and we went on the first day — not that we had a specific list of games we ‘needed’ to get before they sold out, but because the first day doesn’t have the most public. (And still it’s noisy and sometimes you’re stuck in foot traffic.) And yes, I did have a list of games I was interested in, but that was just a tentative list: things that I thought looked cool, but if we didn’t see/find them, it would be fine too. There was only one thing that I really wanted to buy, at the request of a friend who wanted to buy it for his wife.

Our day at Spiel Essen 2017 (picture heavy)

And then we arrived home, eleven hours after leaving. Kind of tired now…

Subbed on Twitch

The business model of Twitch is that viewers “subscribe” to their favourite streamers. Some of the proceeds go to the streamers (which is how professional streamers support themselves) and some of it stays with Twitch. I haven’t been subscribing to any streamers, in one part because I’m cheap and in one part because I find Twitch’ business practices vaguely exploitative.
Yesterday, I was watching Sacriel stream PUBG (which I’ve written about earlier) and I made a (gentle) rib on him, and he ribbed back. His chat is really busy, so I didn’t think he would pick out that off-handed remark from me. His response made me decide to drop him a sub.

PUBG

I am not a fan of First Person Shooter (FPS) games. At least, I haven’t been ever since Quake came out.

During my formative years, I played videogames on an MSX machine, using the keyboard. I had a joystick, but that was crappy and didn’t afford the control you had when using the arrow keys. (And the MSX didn’t have a mouse — at least not the ones I used, so I never used a mouse for gaming.)
Then, when I got a PC and Doom came out, I played a lot of that — again, using the keyboard. Doom doesn’t have any “verticality” to it: you never can get to the same spot on different levels, except on elevator platforms. The technology just wasn’t advanced enough to do that. The upshot of this was that you never had to adjust your aim vertically: the engine compensated for that itself. So all you had to do was to aim and shoot — and the keyboard was perfect for that. I used to be pretty good — not good enough to win tournaments, but I consistently completely dominated my flatmate and his friend, even if they cooperated.
Then Quake came out, and that had a more advanced engine — one that did deal correctly with vertical displacement. That meant you also had to aim vertically (of course), and that is where the pattern of “aim with mouse, move with keyboard” started. And… I just never made that transition. I used to play quite a bit of Quake with colleagues on Friday afternoons, but since I only could play with keyboard and never learned to simultaneously aim with a mouse, I just never was any good.
(Now, with a controller, it’s not so bad anymore, but all the “serious” FPS games are played on PC, where mouse/keyboard combo dominates.)

So I never got into FPS’es, and when the wave of online FPS’es came in, it passed me right by. I also mostly don’t like the ‘bro gamer’ culture surrounding games like that.

And then recently, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds came out, and I caught someone streaming it on Twitch. The concept is simple: you get matched with 100 other players. You’re all on a plane without equipment, and you can parachute out at any moment you want, landing on an island map with lots of deserted villages and other infrastructure. Then you have to find equipment (guns, ammo, gun modifications, armour, first aid kits etc). Every so often, the play area is restricted to an ever-shrinking circle — and if you wait long enough, you’ll take damage when you stay outside of the circle. Last player alive wins. There’s also a mode with duos and squads of up to four players.
It’s brilliant: everybody starts off at the same level, and it’s a question of skill and luck to find the best loot and make the most of the loot you find. Because the circle shrinks, there’s constant combat: you just can’t camp on the high ground and wait for others to come and find you. It also means that a single round is about 30 minutes, so you can catch a round on the quick. Whereas watching other FPSes bores me, this is really amusing: during looting there’s little tension (if there isn’t another squad in the area) so the players tend to goof off, but that all changes within a second when shots are heard or a vehicle approaches.
(Still don’t want to play it, because I’d be bad at it, but it’s nice to watch on the second monitor as I’m doing other things, like writing an LJ entry…)

I’ve mainly been watching Scariel. He’s very good at what he does (he is a professional FPS player for five years now), and he takes time to explain his tactical considerations when doing something. He plays the game very laid back: if he doesn’t have to shoot, he won’t — shooting gives away your position and alerts others to your presence! We’ve seen him team up with people who never played the game before, and through his coaching, they even won. He’s having fun doing it too, which is also good to see.
The other streamer that I watch is Anthony_Kongphan. Anthony is almost Sacriel’s polar opposite: if he sees another player, he goes for it and tries to mow them down. He’s so good that he often gets away with it too, but his play style gets him into trouble too.
And then there are the games where these two cooperate (often with two additional players to round out the squad of four), and it’s absolutely fascinating to see how those two playstyles mix and how that plays out. It’s really a lot of fun to watch. And since a round is only 30 minutes, it’s easy to drop in and out of a stream, instead of having to invest hours to keep up with the game.

klik will be attending another sesshin (Zen retreat) in the second week of November. As is usual, I have taken that week off as well. And as usual, I want to challenge myself with a project. With my current interest in playing Dungeon World and playing games online, I came up with Fub’s Dungeon Week.
It comes down to me hosting a game of Dungeon World every evening for six days straight. Check out the site I made for it, and contact me if you want to participate!

This year, we visited the Spiel international game exhibition at Essen again. On previous years, we went on Thursdays, which is the first day of the fair and the most quiet — and there might be some limited items here and there… But since klik had to work on Thursday evening, we decided to go on Friday. We got off to a late start (or at least, later than we had intended) and then messed up the navigation too, so it was around 11:00 when we got to the Messe. And by then, all parking spaces near the Messe had been marked as “full” — which meant we would have to park somewhere outside of the city and get a shuttle bus to the Messe. We had that one year, and it was an absolute disaster, so we were kinda bummed we would have to repeat that experience.
But when we drove past the parking garage near the swimming pool (which is next to the Messe) we noticed cars going right towards it — and that line was moving. There were policemen standing on the corner, and they had a sign saying it was closed off with them — but they had not ‘deployed’ it. So if you followed the parking signs, you’d end up at the big parking outside the city — but we decided to try our luck anyway. And lo and behold: there was ample space in the garage, so we got to park reasonably close to the Messe! That was a huge relief, to be honest.

Essen is more geared towards boardgaming — and we’re not huge boardgamers. But there’s some roleplaying games there, and I had marked the map with some stands that I was interested in. For some reason, Essen ends up being all about the dice for us. Because there’s no such thing as too many dice!

The dice of Essen'16

So did we buy only dice? Nope, I also bought some

actual games

We were kinda tired when we got back home, but it was a lot of fun to wander the halls and to see what’s on offer.

Who’d watch me game?

So I have been hanging out in various Twitch channels these past few months — mostly for streamers who play games I’m interested in or familiar with. Mostly Dark Souls II because I have been playing that one too, and because the gameplay makes it easy to drop in or out of a stream without missing essential plot development. I subscribed to some of those caster channels if I liked their personality and way of doing things and then stuck around as they moved on to other games. I even now play in an RPG campaign that’s streamed to a channel because of this.
So, watching streams is kinda neat: the chat allows you to interact with the caster and the other watchers, and that can be a lot of fun. Not quite like sitting next to them on the couch, but it’s close to that, and much more convenient. 😉 And I play games too, so maybe I could start casting too? I’d need one bit of additional hardware, but we’d be set for the rest of the needed kit.

But I’m not sure I should do this. Who would want to watch me fail at games? Most casters I follow have a set schedule and work kinda hard to promote their channel — that almost seems like work. I’m not going to do that. Also, I don’t have a dedicated room to game in: we have specifically chosen to put all the computers in the (extended) living room, so that we’d still be together if one of us is on their computer and the other is on the couch. In fact, when I game, I’m using the TV and klik might watch from the couch. I’m not about to share all of those domestic scenes with the world.
But she works three evenings in the week… But do I really want to invest in something that might or might not work out? I’m just not sure. I’m interested, but I’m just not sure.