The Devil Pays his Due

I’m a superhero fan. Have been since I was a little kid. Fawning over the likes of Adam West and Christopher Reeve. The recent release of the Netflix series of Daredevil, my favourite hero of all time, has me chomping at the bit to get in some heroic action gaming (yet) again.

Stand alone hero games tend to be movie based cash cows with little integrity beyond the models used. There hasn’t been a decent Daredevil game ever. I am bitter even about this.

However, there are titles out there that afford us the privelage of playing as superheroes of some sort. Falling into two categories:

Type A) ones where you craft the hero yourself and play in a vanilla hero world such as City of Heroes/Villains, Champions Online or a defined world, with well known superheroes but not ones you can play, like DC Universe Online.

Type B) ones where you can actually play as the well known heroes themselves, but there are many clones of the same hero, such as Marvel Heroes.

Strangely enough, all of these games are now Free to Play, although many started out as subscription only.

Type A games usually have a character creation routine that can be massaged into producing facsimilies of your favourites, even if it seems like a cheap copyright breaking thing to do.

Theres always a disconnect between the real hero you are trying to recreate and the collection of generic powers you’re trying to assemble into something authentic enough to make you care about it.

Type B games give you exactly what you’re after, but they make you pay for your loyalty to the character. Big time.

There are a handful of characters available from the off, but every one you want needs to be paid for with spacebucks (a disconnected currency that has no real-world meaning to the purchaser), and their extra costumes – the only way you can realise some of the comic book variations of the character – cost as much as unlocking the hero (spacebucks equivalents of 10+ quid!). Then every item you loot from beating down your endlessly spawning foes, fills up your preciously scarce inventory slots. If you want to stash the good stuff away, then you can pay more spacebucks (5 quid) to increase the vaults you have access to. Or if you really want UI comfort, you can buy hero specific vaults for your goodies. Obviously the OCD persons top choice for organising a disorganised flood of voluminous loot items.

So with one single hero character, you can spend upward of 30-40 quid in equivalent meaningless spacebucks, just to get going (character unlock, one alternate costume, a hero specific vault, and an additional general vault). Now you begin to fight crime. With 5 other Daredevils, 3 Hulks, 2 Captain Americas and about 10 Venoms. Suddenly your unique hero, the one you’ve idolised for many years, is just another suit on the block. 

Even Type A games “penny and shilling” (nickle and dime) you over the long run, but it seems so much more agregious when its Type B games. Because they have an IP you love, that you can play, but you’re going to pay for the privelage.

Knowing all this, and completely despising the way free to play games, wrap their mechanics so blatantly around forking out endless streams of money to keep playing, to keep up. I still do it. Because my weak spot is that I want to play as Daredevil. I want to feel the action of the hero I love.

I like creating credible superheros in Type A games, it gives me a framework where I can practice the creativity of Stan Lee, without having to be able to draw each comic frame. I can bring my creations to life. 

Type B games are where all the money is. And they know it.

/spelkybeard/

“the man without fear” (or money)

Outward – The Adventurer Life Sim

Outward – The Adventurer Life Sim

Ziggurat Impressions

It’s like Bloodborne’s chalice dungeons, but suitable for all the family.

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Yes, those are carrots… And not anywhere close to as friendly as they look.

Ziggurat seems to have gone under the radar a little bit, and I guess in some ways that’s understandable as it’s a very low budget affair, but actually, especially with Bloodborne’s chalice dungeons setting Reddit alight, Ziggurat deserves a closer look.

Boiled down to its basics, Ziggurat is a first person roguelike dungeon crawler. You use magic, but it plays mostly like a shooter; spells are bullets, wands and staffs are guns. Oh and guns are also guns, should you feel the need for your shooters to be slightly more realistic (if you can call a gun that shoots balls of lava, realistic).

The twist is in the dungeons themselves, which are never the same twice. Each one is randomly and procedurally generated ( procedural, fast becoming this gen’s buzzword). In our first three or four hours of playing, myself and my daughter never came across the same layout. There were constant surprises, from lava strewn challenge rooms to mutant carrots hellbent on chewing our ankles. It feels old school in a good way, as it’s very colourful so it never feels dark and dank, and the enemy design is straight out of the 1980s and early 1990s, with flying heads on fire, tiny little dragons throwing fireballs, and giant blobs of goo spitting poison at you. And of course… the mutant carrots.

Every time you die everything resets and rearranges, and you go in again not quite sure what you’re about to find. Progress is made nonetheless, with kills made in each dungeon going towards the unlocking of new characters, and new game modifying cards being unlocked which could add new wrinkles to each play through.

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I think I spot a secret room, juuuust to the right…

So far, in the few hours that I’ve played the game, it’s been hugely enjoyable not to mention addictive. It’ll be a while before I can give a definitive review (and this also depends on the laziness factor) but just as a heads up, I rreckon this is a great little game, for not a lot of money. As a parent, I reckon it’s quite suitable for my child who’s a nine-year-old, despite its E10 rating. The violence that’s there ( and there is a fair amount ), is cartoony in the extreme. Theres nothing frightening in it really, it’s bright and colourful whilst maintaining that feeling of exploring a dungeon and not quite knowing what’s going to happen next.

There are options there to make it more difficult or easier should the need arise, with difficulty and auto-aim being among the prime candidates. So it’s pretty customisable in terms of user ability. On average so far, I found that each floor takes about quarter of an hour to complete whether you succeed or fail so it’s quite good for short spurts. Should you actually succeed then you’ll get the option to save and quit which means should you or your child get called away to do the chores then there shouldn’t be any tears due to loss of progress.

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Trick? Or Treat?

As an experienced gamer, I’m finding normal difficulty with auto aim off to be fairly challenging. I can only get to the boss of the second floor so far, but getting beyond that point is eluding me. The key is though, but I know I can do it. It’s kept me coming back to try and try again more times than is healthy, so for all its 1980s cues, and brightly coloured beautifully lit dungeons, that look like they were drawn in crayon sometimes, it’s a pretty hard-core shooter at its core.

So it’s a chalice dungeon roguelike for all the family. At least in my opinion, it’s a great little game, but for the measly price of about £12 you’ll be able to make up your own mind.

/OldBravebeard/

This is just from the first few sessions in the game.

Musical Landscapes

The brave bearded one amongst us got me thinking about my relationship with gaming music. I’m a big fan of it. I know many who see it as an annoyance that needs an immediate option to turn it off at the earliest possible convenience. However, I feel that the crafted gaming soundtrack can really enhance your experience, and make it more emotional and memorable. Also, you can enjoy the ambience of the fantastical world you play in, even when you’re not at your PC/Console/Gaming Device. Many hours of work or lonely commutes have been helped along by gaming soundtracks.

The first soundtrack to really grab me emotionally was the one for the SciFi MMO Anarchy Online.

The Norwegian Morten Sorlie composed the soundtrack and its remained with me ever since the game was released in 2001.

It has an airy timeless quality. Lost, lonely. In a barren desert wasteland of the future, but bubbling up through pounding drums and choral shimmers we pass through dreamlike oases of pure hope.

I can’t froth at the mouth about game music, without mentioning Dear Esther. The arty solo explorable story in a rugged haunting Hebridean landscape. The piano and cello move together in deep tones, and build up to ascending anthems of emotion. Composer Jessica Curry is simply a genius, and I can easily be moved to tears with this soundtrack. Here is my favourite “I have begun my ascent”.

My tastes are as far as they are wide, and any game is up for musical exploration. Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast was one of my first true online gaming experiences on a console, via a 56k modem, and deep into the night. The theme tune was a lullaby and a comfort blanket all in one, despite its orchestral J-popiness. A few bars of this, and I’m transported back to those heady days of pioneering online.

I could go on, sifting through my memories, and my musical uplifts. But I’ll leave you for now, with a rather obscure but heart melting track from the PC game Divine Divinity. The start of a whole series of PC based RPG’s, but one which was totally defined by this ghostly chant.

Oh sod it, you have to hear this nurturing piece of music, that isn’t part of The Secret World soundtrack, but is merely a backdrop for one of the quests in the game. You are attempting to find the source of this The Siren Song.

It sort of lures you toward it, as it should, mothering, comforting, leading you on. The best bit being its a loop, and it plays continuously whilst you’re on the quest. On a loop, it never gets old. It just soothes, over and over again. Dreamily.

Lastly I’d like to mention a podcast where you can hear artists talk about their gaming musical landscapes. Emily Reese hosts Top Score, and it is exploration of gaming music in all its forms and of the creative processes behind it. 

If you have a penchant for dramatic emotional ambient music from games, then please check it out.

Perhaps highlighting good gaming music here could become a laserbeardy thing? We’ll see.

/spelkybeard/

Xenoblade Chronicles 3D – helpful links 

I’ve just been getting started with Xenoblade this week. I’ll write properly about it another time, but felt like posting this now.

It’s an amazing game, and this port is a hell of an achievement, but there’s so much to it that it can be hard to get your head round. The small screen makes things hard to read, and during a battle it’s very difficult to understand what’s going on. 

So far that’s my only real complaint. Poor use of the second screen.

What that means is that important details sometimes get lost. With the best will in the world; the explanations in game are brief, hard to read, and hard to follow. For example, I’ve no clue how to get a chain attack going, or at least I don’t know if I’m getting them going. I have a nagging feeling they’re important though. 

I’m ten hours in, and I suspect it’s going to get more complex than it already is.

So, I’m looking for good, spoiler free guides to the original.

Hopefully these links will help others in the same boat.

(That screen is taken from my own New 3DS btw. I know it’s probably the worst screen in gaming now, but they somehow manage to get very pretty things out of it.)

http://www.gamesradar.com/xenoblade-chronicles-beginners-guide/

http://www.gamefaqs.com/wii/960564-xenoblade-chronicles/faqs

http://www.quartertothree.com/fp/2012/04/06/xenoblade-chronicles-beginners-guide/

/OldBravebeard/

Dark Souls 2 Remaster – is it really that hard?

So it appears that Dark Souls 2: Scholars Of The First Sin is causing a bit of consternation amongst the more sensitive of Souls devotees. The problem is new enemy layouts which make certain areas harder. Particularly the Tower of Flame.

A Eurogamer article (http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2015-04-08-does-scholar-of-the-first-sin-make-dark-souls-2-worth-returning-to) highlights this as an issue in a somewhat hyperbolic way, both failing to mention mitigating factors, and most annoyingly, failing  to realise that these are not random choices.

Any work of creativity, from paintings to games, involves choice. Colour is a choice, enemy placement is a choice. From Software are very smart designers. They don’t do random. It’s high time the writers in this industry, who also claim to be creative, start understanding that.

So with that knowledge. Why would From make it infinitely harder to get to the tower when you start the game, whilst simultaneously making  it easier to go the only other route available? The only answer I can think of, is that they want you to go the other route.

There’s a covenant near the tower which aids people who’ve been invaded. Why would you want a new player come to the aid of a victim of an experienced invader (which was demonstrably a problem in the original)? This way, only people with sufficient skill can get there, and rescue attempts will no longer be quite so pointless.

Having taken my own advice and gone for the Lost Bastille and onwards to the Lost Sinner first. I can attest that this route is really so much easier than the tower. Not only that, but it’s shockingly easier than it was in the first version.

The bonfire at Sinners Rise for example, is much easier, when it was frustrating before. That’s not the only change either. The writer doesn’t mention that while the Pursuer does appear, if you back off he disappears. Leaving you free to explore.

Once I’d punched the Lost Sinner to death, I levelled up and went the tower route. I’ve got a vid online of me punching a tower knight to death in four hits. You can see it above. I’ve not over-levelled. In fact I put most of my souls into consumables and my weapons.

I punched my way to Dragonrider with little issue (you can suck 12 minutes of your life away by watching the run below should you be nuts enough to want to), even with the new knights. Going up to the aforementioned covenant is more difficult because of the previously spoiled ( thanks Eurogamer) change at the top. Given that I’ve already done one of the major bosses, that puts the area at a “dark souls appropriate” level of difficulty for me.

There’s no doubt in my mind they want you to go the other route first, there are important things to find that way. However, souls being souls, if the player wants to bang their head against a knight and dragon infested wall, then they say “go right ahead!”.

As for the other issue that’s causing hissy fits – weapon degradation. I’ve had to repair my Caestii once. Which is presumably why the mechanic exists. And also why you have slots for spare weapons.

/OldBraveBeard/


* It shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me that I got a name switched, although only in the video title. Just got corrected on the YouTube that what I always call a Heide Knight isn’t. The smaller one behind him is. Having just looked it up in my collector’s edition guide (previously unread) the big fella is actually an Old Knight.

I always call them both Heide Knight, because I’m old.

So I’ve renamed the video.

The point still stands. Those hulking great knights that will destroy you if you head there instantly, are nearly trivial if you go the other way first.