Twitchiness…

I’ve been watching some streamer play Shadow of Mordor on Twitch. And some of them play the game all wrong! I mean, sure, I can understand not obsessively reading every entry in the background materials, but why would you not buy a new ability if you get the points for it? Why would you pass an artefact by if picking it up means that you could raise one of your stats sooner? Why would you not check out the new rune you just pillaged from the dead body of an Orc captain?
At least, that is what I do. And it irks me when another player doesn’t do that. And I understand that I am the one who is annoyed, and that they play the game in the manner that they enjoy most — so really there is no objective reason for me to be annoyed.

And yet still I am. Which makes me get a bit annoyed at myself, and then amused because apparently I care so much about this that I feel annoyed.

A few weeks ago, I bought Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. It’s a fun game wherein you play a ranger from Gondor that has been posted at the Black Gates to guard Mordor against the return of Sauron and his horde of Orcs. And then precisely that happens, your wife and kid get killed and you return as some sort of undying entity, coupled with the spirit of Celebrimbor. Indeed, such a thing never happened according to the Middle-Earth canon. According to the game, the Rings of Power were all forged in Mordor too, and more of that nonsense.

But what’s more important, is that the game is a lot of fun. I really enjoy sneaking around the ruins and Orc strongholds of Mordor, hiding in the shadows and killing Orcs left and right. There are also some parallel story-lines, which develop the land and the various (non-hostile) characters you meet. But the true draw of the game is the ability to kill vast numbers of Orcs in the most spectacular way. As you gain more power, you get more impressive combat moves and more ‘wraith’ powers.
There’s also the “Nemesis System”, which is a really cool way to generate content. When you kill Orcs, others take their place in the hierarchy of Sauron’s army. They’re randomly generated, with random strengths and weaknesses. They gain power by fighting against the other captains (or killing you!), lose weaknesses and gain more power. That means that even if you don’t want to (or can’t) advance the story, there is always the possibility to go in and wreck some Orc party!
(It’s a bit like the Radiant Quest system that was built into Skyrim to keep generating content, but after a while there was no reason to keep doing those missions: all you got was a lousy 100 gold. With this game, as captains gain more power, the missions become more difficult and the runes you gain (runes go on sword, bow and dagger to gain abilities) become more powerful as well. Better system, in my opinion.)

And then I thought: wouldn’t it be cool to do this in a tabletop RPG? Have a group of PCs be the infiltrators, tracking the ranks in the enemy army, and interfering to change things to your advantage?
Something to think about.

I’ve bought One Way Heroics for the ample sum of just over EUR 2.50 on Steam, because it looked fun. And it is!

It looks like Final Fantasy 1, but there’s a twist: the world is being devoured by darkness from the left side of the screen, and only you (the hero) can save the world by slaying the demon lord who is off far to the right. It’s turn-based, so every thing you do or every step you take brings the darkness closer — so you have to keep an eye out so you don’t get trapped, and you have to keep moving to the right.
You find loot, meet monsters, explore dungeons and rest at inns — and then you go onwards, leaving everything to be swallowed by the darkness.

You won’t finish this game in one go — nor are you expected to. You earn Hero Points (based on the distance, enemies slain etc) which you can invest in perks during a later incarnation. The worlds are randomly generated, but there are also ‘special events’ every day. You can see the progress of the other players who share your dimension, and sometimes you can meet their ghosts at the place where they were slain…
Afterwards, the fairy who helps you on your quest will give you advice on how to progress even further. You can put things in your ‘Dimensional Vault’ and pass equipment from one incarnation to the next. And then it all starts over again!

It’s a lovely little game. It’s not action-packed (it being turn based: the monsters move only when you move), but it’s quicky and fun. And it has the same effect on me as Rogue Legacy: you wonder how far you will get on your next incarnation…
And, which is unusual for me, I totally love the background music. I also like that you can play it with a controller (though you need a keyboard during your first run to enter the name of your character, if you don’t want to live as ‘Nameless’). The resolution is painfully low, though — but that only goes to accentuate the pixelated look, I guess.

(I do feel that the makers left a huge market untapped by not naming the game ‘One Direction Heroics’, but that’s just me.)

I have one extra copy in my Steam Library that I’d be happy to gift to someone. Let me know in the comments!

Twenty years of Doom

When I was 13, I got my first home computer, a Toshiba MSX machine. The OS and the BASIC interpreter were on ROM, but the rest had to be loaded from cassette tape. Of course, everyone freely traded in illegal software: most of it games. Konami made the best stuff for MSX, and I had quite a library. I have been playing computer games ever since: on the MSX, later on the MSX-2, and then on to PC and the Playstation.

When I was studying Computer Science, out came Wolfenstein 3D. Running around a maze-like castle, shooting nazi guards — I had never seen anything like it. I played it a lot.
And then, a year later, twenty years ago now, out came Doom. This was during the days that many game companies released the first levels of their game as shareware, and you could buy the full game from them. (Think of it as a precursor of BitTorrent, really: someone downloaded the shareware version, then distributed it with his friends, who then shared it with their friends, etcetera.)

Doom added a whole new level of sophistication to the newly created genre of the first person shooters: the walls didn’t have to stand on right angles anymore, there was a height difference, and the lighting effects were enhanced. With the addition, sci-fi textures and the wide variety of monsters, Doom was certainly a new experience to play.
And it was exciting. You never knew what was around the corner, and you could hear the monsters moving around in the dark ahead… Some levels really stressed me out because of this — I really dislike blundering about in the dark amongst powerful monsters, an emotion I’m revisiting often while playing Dark Souls these days!

Even if I say so myself, I was pretty good. I played it on keyboard, and all of my years training on the MSX keyboard gave me good hand-eye coordination. I set up a network with my flatmate — first through a long serial cable, then through a BNC network — and we played against each other a lot in a deathmatch. I often won, and even when he got one of his friends in for a three-way deathmatch, I often bested them despite them cooperating.
The multiplayer deathmatch was what made the game immensely popular. And then the level editors were released! Suddenly you could create your own levels — some made devilishly hard levels, others gave you the most powerful guns right off the bat. Most of the levels were built for deathmatches, though some people created whole new episodes and there were even a few ‘total conversion’ projects to re-create, say, Aliens in Doom.

Our student association once organised a Doom deathmatch competition, and I was one of the authors of the level. Good fun.

And then Doom II came, and suddenly you had to use a mouse for targetting. In Doom, there were height differences, but it was as if a sheet of paper was draped across a table with things under it: there were no over-passes. So if you saw a player straight ahead but above you, you could simply shoot and still hit: the targetting ignored the height difference.
But with the new FPS’es, the new engines allowed real vertical differences. And I just couldn’t use a mouse for targetting — still can’t, which is why I completely suck at FPS’es and never play them anymore. I simply lost my edge due to technological progress! 😉
(That didn’t stop me from playing. I have fond memories of playing many, many rounds of Quake II with xaviar_nl on Fridays to blow off steam. Most of the time, he bested me without too much trouble.)

There’s not much point to this entry — I just wanted to point out that Doom was released twenty years ago, and that everyone played the hell out of it. It was the game that defined a whole genre. And if you start it up nowadays, the graphics are quite dated, but the gameplay is still there. That’s really something.

We’re all raised with the idea that if you work hard enough, success will automatically follow. And if it doesn’t? Well, you just haven’t worked hard or smart enough!

But we also know that is a lie. Some people have parents who can give them the resources to get an advantage. I’m the third generation of my family who went to university, but klik was the first of her family. A university-schooled family tends to get the higher-paying jobs and value education more, which results in more of their offspring to get into university. And that is only one way that your parents’ situations (and other ‘environmental’ factors) determine your outcomes.

This is best illustrated in a game that I bought recently in the Steam Autumn Sale, Rogue Legacy.

‘Rogue’ is a text-mode dungeon crawling game that uses randomly generated dungeons. And that’s where the ‘Rogue’ from the title comes from: it’s an action platformer, but the dungeons you cross (or the castle, or the swamp) are randomly generated. So far, so good.
But the ‘Legacy’ part is the subversive part. You see, your character is the founder of a bloodline of heroes who all go off into the dungeon. If you die, you choose one of the offspring of your hero to continue. The money your parent gathered can be invested in better equipment, or a better mansion so that you have better health or more mana. So equipped, you enter the castle once again and try to gain as much gold as you can to make life easier for the next generation. With that gold, your offspring can better their station after your inevitable demise.

You do this for a few generations, and indeed: the castle becomes easier to navigate because of the better equipment, increased hitpoints and what-not. Having it as one of the main mechanics of the game makes it very, very obvious how these things work. In this way, it’s a very subversive game, because it demonstrates that it’s not just hard work that makes you a success.

(As for the game itself: it’s terribly good fun. You can choose from three children for the next generation, and they all have their own class, spell ability and traits. Sometimes they’re colorblind (which means you’ll see everything in greyscale), sometimes they’re giants (so they’re bigger) and sometimes they have irritable bowel syndrome and fart with every jump you make.
Every adventure in the dungeon is a mad rush to find chests containing as much gold, so that you can give your next generation a boost so they can get further into the dungeon. Sometimes you fail miserably, sometimes you succeed.)

Dungeon Roll

Last Saturday, usmu celebrated his birthday. We went to our FLGS to check out their selection of non-collectible card games: a form that usmu is a collector of. Of course, they had the usual stuff, but they also had a non-collectible dice game, called Dungeon Roll. It seemed like a fun game, and it came in a treasure chest — what’s not to like?
So we bought it for him, and later in the evening, when we were the only visitors left, we opened it up and played a game. It’s good fun, if a little abstracted. But that makes it easy to play: set-up is minimal, so you can simply jump in and play. I would have liked a little more interaction between the players, but it’s a nice little diversion.

I’m progressing nicely in Dark Souls. Some things are still hard, but I think I’m pretty behind the curve in most things — I’m of a higher level than other players commonly are when they tackle an area or boss. I have lots of trouble with bosses that are supposedly very easy, but there are some that I manage to defeat on my first try.

A walkthrough with some strategy hints is indispensable, though.

New game

I was getting kinda bored with Skyrim for now. My character is now level 49, and with 100 sneak and 100 archery, there are very little challenges left: just sneaking about and putting an arrow into it works great all the time.

And then I saw that Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition was in the Midweek Madness special on Steam. I had heard about the ‘spiritual predecessor’ of this game, Demon Souls, and watched some gameplay vids on Twitch of Dark Souls. Normally, I am not too fond of games with a punishing difficulty level, but with that price, I thought: “OK, why not?”

So far, I’m having a good time. Yes, it’s a difficult game, and every time you rest, the ‘normal’ enemies respawn. But that makes for good grinding (if you can handle them). And yes, you lose all the souls you collect (souls are both currency and XP in this world), but if you manage to get to the place you died, you can collect them again. For the rest, all your equipment and stats just carry over from one ‘life’ to the next, so it’s not like you can’t progress if you die.
There is one thing that made me throw away my save game and start all over again. I got to a certain point where there’s a non-agressive NPC that you can talk with. I decided to try out my newly acquired bow on him. And sure enough, he got up and killed me. OK, I thought, no big deal: I’ll simply respawn here and collect my souls again and then be on my way. However, when I respawned, the NPC remained hostile. I had no real way to defeat him, and so I got stuck in an endless cycle of respawn – flail around a bit while being chased by the NPC – get killed – respawn again…

I haven’t progressed that far into the game. I found a merchant and am now grinding a bit (and avoiding the mini bosses in the level) to get some nice gear before I continue on. So far, I’m liking it.