Yesterday, I installed Fire Emblem Heroes out of idle curiosity. I’ve never played a Fire Emblem game — I do know that they’re tactical RPGs, and I did see someone stream Awakenings. I’m not big on tactical RPGs, because I tend to do bad at them, but surely a little mobile game wouldn’t be so bad?
The backstory of the game is nuts: the idea is that someone is opening portals to the worlds of all the different worlds where the Fire Emblem games are set, and all those heroes are forced to fight, in order to invade ‘our’ world/kingdom. You assemble teams of 4 heroes, and a battle is indeed a tactical fight, similar to the games — except much smaller in scope because of the reduced team size and because the map has to fit on a cellphone screen!
There is a lot of artwork, which I assume is all recycled from the games: all very detailed and with lots of the usual anime aesthetic. The sprites are quite cute too!
You can get more heroes by summoning them, which costs ‘orbs’. You earn orbs by completing maps, but of course you can also buy orbs — and of course I’m not doing that, they’re quite expensive!

So far, I enjoy it for some low-blood pressure games. I’m not sure how long it will keep me occupied, but we’ll see.

If you play the game too, send a Friend Request to ID 2742473216. Not sure what that actually does, but I’m sure it’ll be fun.

A friend of mine is a journalist for a Dutch newspaper — the one my father has been subscribed to as long as I can remember, so I’m going to say it’s a quality newspaper. My friend is also a gamer, and one of the games that speak to a lot of gamers is of course, Dark Souls. Tomorrow, the remastered version of the first Dark Souls game will be released, and that warranted an article. She got me and two other friends in a video chat and interviewed us about Dark Souls.
So now I’m in the newspaper! I quite like the article, and apparently it has gotten some very positive feedback too.

Leafbook

So yesterday I was playing Ni No Kuni II, and it’s a rather standard action RPG with some really smart (and cute!) mechanics and a good story. It also looks really cute: it makes the most of the cell-shaded engine it uses, making everything look like hand-drawn animation even though it’s all CGI.
Anyway, I was following along in the plot, and I met a merchant in a dungeon. And they give me a ‘Leafbook’. This turns out to be a Facebook equivalent for this magical fantasy world! Plot-events are shown as posts, complete with comments! Every once in a while, you get a notification there are new posts, and you can go read them. You can even ‘like’ the posts!

The posts themselves give little hints and a view of the world beyond your adventure, which is quite cool. But imagine the design meeting for this game, a big-budget number, and highly anticipated. And then someone says: “You know what? We should totally create something like Facebook in our game! Come on, it’ll be fun!”

PS3 streaming

I tend to resist buying games for full price these days: I still have a lot of great unplayed stuff lying around.
But Ni no Kuni II makes my little weeb heart flutter: back when the first game came out for PS3, I even bought the Wizards Edition, with the hardcover spell book and the plushie. So I checked out a stream for a little bit, and it immediately became apparent that indeed that is a game I very much want to play. So I stopped watching streams so as to not s(p)oil myself!
I mentioned this on a Discord server I hang out on, and a friend mentioned that they’d watch me stream both the first and the new game. So I thought: “Well, I do have the first game, all it takes is to hook up my PS3 to the capture device and off we go!” But of course the PS3 has that dreadful copy protection thing going on. So on a gamble, I got a HDMI splitter for about 8 euros from China that mentioned the copy protection thing in the description of the item. It took three weeks to get here (as such things do), and sure enough: the protection is stripped off by the splitter, so I can feed the PS3 video to my capture device!
Sunday, I cleaned off part of my desk and moved the PS3 to my desk, and did an intense session of closet-diving to find the game back. It’s still in the original box, with everything intact. (Now I wonder why I shelled out for the Wizard’s Edition if it only ends up at the back of a closet somewhere — the plushie was still in the plastic…)
So I hooked everything up, but… I have no audio. I could hook up a bluetooth or USB headset to the PS3 with no problem, but those are only allowed as a communication device, not to stream the game audio over them. And I could, perhaps, hook something together to make use of the capture device’s audio feed, but that has a 0.8 second delay, and that will undoubtedly drive me nuts! I would need a TOSlink-to-analog converter to actually hear the game I’m playing. Those devices are available, and for about 7 euros I can order one from China, but that adds another three weeks before I could start. All of that to play a game I have already finished…?

So I got really frustrated and bought Ni no Kuni II on Steam and installed it. Today I started streaming the game, and it’s so beautiful! There are some cool parallels with the first game. It’s a lot of fun so far, but there are quite a few systems to absorb in a relatively short time, so we’ll see how that works out in the longer run.

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.