Sunday, December 7, 2014

Board Game Glory: Ogre

By Al "Alface Killah" Brady

Yes, I am enjoying my time away from PC gaming!  It feels good to get involved with a fresh game genre again.  And I couldn't have picked a better time: board games and miniatures seem to be going through an veritable explosion of creativity, something that is, coincidentally, being fueled through Kickstarter and other crowd-sourced methods that are also popular with the PC gaming crowd (but I think with better results).

To be honest, I have begun to believe that not all of the problems that are plaguing PC gaming is due entirely to shoddy business practices.  Rather, I think video games have hit a brick wall of realistic possibility.  That is, while the technology to make a super-realistic, super-immersive games might now exist, the programming skills to take advantage of that possibility don't exist.  Or, perhaps more accurately, those skills do exist, but the task of programming such monstrously complex games requires more time and money than any game developer has available, hence why so many exciting games arrive incomplete with the promise of "fixing it" later.  Gamers are demanding the impossible, and in short order no less!  This is something that is just not humanly possible.  Sadly, game developers currently seem to prefer over-promising and under-delivering rather than have a frank conversation with their customers about just what is and isn't realistically possible in a given time frame when it comes to game development.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Distant Worlds: Transferred to Oblivion!



[Get ready for some bad fiction.  It's been some time since I wrote a bit of fanfic based on a game, but Distant Worlds, like Crusader Kings 2, is just great for such emergent storytelling.  This story is based on one such incident....]

"Come on, it's safe,"  whispered Junior Research Assistant Ile Freun.   "It's just around this corner," he added.  He determinedly pulled the dame behind him, his hand like a cuff around her wrist. Why don't people just listen to me?  I am smarter than them, after all. He indulged himself with one of his all too common sighs of exasperation that was usually triggered by the stupidity of others.

Freun peeked around the corner.  With no one in sight, he quickly trotted up to the door marked Research Lab 143b.  He swiped his free hand in front of the security lock, his sub-dermally implanted Ident-o-Chip acted as a key, and the lock released with a click, followed by a hiss as it retracted into the wall.  Freun gave the pretty blonde thing a self-satisfied smile, and again pulled her behind him.

"But I want to be up there!" she said as she gestured at the ceiling with the nearly empty Martini glass that was in her right hand, in the process splashing what was left of its contents on her arm. "With the rest of the party!" she whined.  "Not down here," she wrinkled her nose, "in some boring lab."

Freun rolled his eyes.  If this broad wasn't so attractive, he would have....

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Tomorrow's War: You Made Me Do This (Revisited)

Almost a year ago to the day, I posted a blog entry entitled "You Made Me Do This!"  In a nutshell, it was my rant about the terrible state of PC gaming.  At the time I had every intention of checking out of PC gaming and devoting my free time to board games and miniatures, something I hadn't done since the mid to late '90s.  Unfortunately, that never came to pass.  Shortly after setting up my first game of Tomorrow's War, I became ill and had to let it sit fallow for a few weeks.  By the time I felt better, the madness of the holidays had arrived and I just didn't have time.  Then the holidays passed, and while I did finish painting a few more miniatures, I never did recover the impetus to return to the game.

Winter turned to spring, spring turned to summer and, as is usually the case, summer turned to autumn, and now here I am, right back where I started. With the exception of needing to clear off some dust, and making a few repairs (I am discovering rubber cement cannot be trusted), the game board is almost exactly as I had left it.  Seeing how PC gaming has only marginally improved over the last year, this has proven fortuitous as I am, once again, seeking an exit.

So let's return to this futuristic battle, shall we?  It is long past due for this battle to be resolved!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Distant Worlds: Space is the Place!




So, I had this really great research scientist show up at my homeworld.  13% bonus to energy research, 18% bonus to high tech research...wow, what a resume!  I immediately assigned him to the Buvu Yagin Major Research Facility where he could put his talents to work.  Everything was going great until a year or two later when one of my counterintelligence agents did some snooping into his background and discovered that he was, in fact, a foreign agent! 


Sometimes when things seem too good to be true they are just that.  What to do?  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Scourge of War: Hurry Up and Wait!



Well, this is unexpected: me playing a Civil War game in late October!  I usually don't get the ACW itch until the first warm days of April (I am very much a man of "feasts and seasons").  So, for me to boot up Norbsoft's masterful real time strategy game Scourge of War this late in the year is rather unusual.  Then again, there is a big midterm election coming up in just days.  Despite the fact that World War II  continues to monopolize the military history spotlight - as with NASCAR, mostly because men get a kick out of burning vehicles - I have always believed that the American Civil War has had the most lasting impact on modern America of all wars we have experienced as a nation.  For example, it can be a startling realization that contemporary America's two dominant political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, are the same two dominant parties from the Civil War period:


And while that epic war settled the issue of slavery once and for all, race relations is still very much an issue in contemporary America.  Indeed, even the modern Democrat Party continues to struggle with issues of race:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Gamer's Review: Hellsing Ultimate



Is it too early to start queuing up some entertainment for Halloween?  Just a bit.  Regardless, I find myself doing just that.  Part of the reason is that summer for my region never really arrived.  Instead of the requisite heat and humidity, we were treated to largely cool, dry days.  Really, it has felt like little more than an extended late spring or early autumn.  As a result I have found myself yearning to get autumn underway as there isn't any point of continuing this useless summer.  This is why I have been looking forward to Halloween: it is THE holiday of autumn!

But in addition to that, two games have recently awakened in me a love for the horror of "urban fantasy":  Shadowrun Returns, and The Secret World.  As I detailed here, those two games have hit a home run with me, and made me reconsider the whole horror genre - a genre I never particularly cared for seeing the low budget "torture porn" tripe coming out of Hollywood these days.   And that is pretty much how I arrived at giving this anime a viewing.

Now, as I explained here, I am not a fan of anime.  Nothing personal, it just rarely clicks with me.  While I admire the medium's imagination, I often find the execution lacking.  This is why I have only found two anime series that really 'wowed' me:  Girls und Panzer, and the superlative sci-fi Cowboy Bebop.  That is it.

Well...until now.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Not-So-Secret Secret World



I think one the greatest events in any gamer's life is that magical moment when he knows that he has discovered an original game universe, one that he intuitively knows he will be exploring and enjoying for a great many years to come.  Such moments are unfortunately uncommon.  Gaming is no different than other media, be it books, television, or movies: works of true genius are exceedingly rare, so such magical movements are few and far between.  For me, I've only had two such gaming moments: when I first discovered the fantastically grim military science fiction setting that is Warhammer 40K,and now that I have belatedly discovered the wonderful Shadowrun universe (thanks to Harebrained Schemes fantastic PC translation).

When I first heard about the Shadowrun setting I was not all that interested because it seemed like such a weird mash-up of differing genres....

Monday, August 4, 2014

Keeping It Simple: Digital Card Games



As I just blogged about, I am getting increasingly fatigued by modern gaming.  Everything is "hurry, hurry, hurry!"  Or, if not that, it is often about "second life" experiences.  That is, it is about deep experiences where the player can invest hundreds and hundreds of hours immersing himself in a virtual world almost as tangible as his material reality (games like Skyrim and Eve Online, come to mind).  Now, I am a fan of such experiences - in fact, I think such games are what is best about modern gaming - but it can get all so tiring after awhile.  Sometimes I just want to be able to sit down and quickly and easily invest myself into a game.  You know, sort of like with a board game where you read the rules, set up the board, and off you go!  No muss, no fuss.

Usually Chess is my go-to game in this regard.  Despite its 21st Century online trappings, it remains first and foremost a classical board game in style and temperament.  Indeed, it's these very same hoary characteristics that have proven so irresistible to me over the years.  But as I suffer from "poor little rich girl" syndrome (but I suppose it would be with a 'guy' in there instead!) I can't help but to occasionally turn my back on this pearl and cast about for something new and different, something that not only has the endless stratagems of Chess, but also the inviting "pull up a chair and join in" gameplay as well.

And that is how I found myself in the world of digital card games.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Cliff Harris: The Infantilisation of Gaming Journalism



As is plainly stated in this blog's "Mission Statement", I have been endeavoring to show that gaming isn't kid stuff anymore - if it ever was.  Gaming has matured as a hobby quite nicely, as a matter of fact.  Today, we gamers have access to all sorts of mature games, from hardcore military simulators like the Arma franchise, to thoughtful political sims like Positech Games' Democracy 3.   But if that is so, why is the industry as a whole being treated in such a juvenile manner by its own video game journalists and other industry insiders?

That is the question be asked by Positech's own Cliff Harris in a recent posting on his developer blog....

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Frenetic Gaming



One of my favorite go-to gaming genres is the first person shooter.  I think the reason why I so enjoy this format is because it is low effort gaming in the extreme.  What I mean by that is that unlike other genres that often require greater mental effort on the part of the player to effectively participate in the gameplay, such as strategy games or role playing games, shooters are more about muscle reflex ("twitch") than they are about deep thinking.  I mean, you don't have to be a genius to figure out how to place a crosshair on a target and pull the trigger.  Now, that is not to say that there is no mental effort required; that would not be true.  As I have pointed out before, most shooters are realistically brutal in their presentations of real world warfare. The player who willy-nilly jumps onto the modern virtual battlefield without using any brain cells will soon find himself to be the first causality on that same field of battle.  Shooters might be low mental effort titles, but they are not zero mental effort titles.

Be that as it may, after a long day I am much more likely to boot up a shooter than I am to boot up any other type of game because it involves the least amount of effort on my part.  Well, at least I used to anyway....

Friday, July 11, 2014

Summer Gaming: Battlefield 4



Lately, I've been pretty harsh on the world of PC gaming, even to the point of labeling the industry as being downright disreputable. I still stand behind those sentiments. And little, if anything, has changed in the intervening months. Things are still pretty rotten around these here parts, perhaps more so as we now can add disreputable indie developers - who hype projects, pocket lots of crowd-sourced cash, and ultimately release mediocre products - to the mix. It's all enough to make a man want to take up chess again.... 

Be that as it may, there is one aspect of the shameful record of modern gaming that I do feel I need to revisit in the interest of fairness, and that would be EA/DICE's Battlefield 4. As I have pointed out time and again over the last few months (most notably here & here, amongst other threads), BF4 was a good poster child for everything that is ailing the modern games industry: it was a title that seemed to be a sequel for the sake of just raking in more sequel cash; it was bug-ridden and incomplete at launch despite having a $60 price point ($110 including premium); and it required months and months of patching before the player got what he paid for. 

Shameful. Inexcusable. Reprehensible.

But having said all of that, I do have to give EA/DICE a hard to swallow "kudos" for finally releasing a game worthy of the Battlefield name. Battlefield 4 has finally arrived - granted, some seven months post release - but it has arrived nonetheless.  

And it all makes for some good summer gaming. Why summer, you ask? Because Battlefield 4 has so much swimming and boating in it, that they should have called it Battlefield 4: Extreme Water Sports


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Steam: A Neuralgic Chokepoint



I think most gamers would agree that Gabe Newell's Steam has been a boon to PC gaming.  In just a few short years, this digital distribution service has managed to become the Walmart of PC gaming - an incredible bazaar of often discounted digital entertainment options for the gaming enthusiast.  But it is also more than just an elaborate store as Steam has also become a beloved home for gamers, a mega-community where gamers can not only chew the fat, but also a place where aspiring game designers can get their prototypes "green-lit" by the community, potentially providing an invaluable boost to a fledgling title that might otherwise languish in obscurity.  With this in mind is it any wonder that Mr. Newell has become something of a rock star in our gaming subculture?


Nonetheless, despite all the good will Steam has garnered over the years, I still come across a vocal minority that simply distrusts any service that requires the gamer to be at the mercy of a digital distributor.  "Why can't I just have a physical DVD?" some of these gamers ask.  "What if something happens to Steam?  Will I be cut off from my games?"  This is not an inconsiderate question, especially in the wake of the chaos caused by the shutdown of the GameSpy gaming service.

In fact, it is an issue I am dealing with right now, along with lots of other Steam users.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Gazing into the Abyss: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

 
So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?


- Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd



Unemployment at a staggering 12.6%.
A lawless American government.
American domestic spying approaching the same level as the old USSR.
Foreign enemies with nukes on the move.

And more.  Lots more.

Can you see why I might be in such a pessimistic mood?

My mood, of course, feeds my gaming. And being in such a cynical state of mind, I just haven't had the disposition to pick up Titanfall, the game whose beta so made me gush just a few weeks ago. The idea of playing a game that takes place in a clean, high tech type of future - if war torn - just isn't doing it for me.  I desire something more reflective of my dispirited temper.

So, what does one play when he is downright dour?  Well, I suppose that depends on the player.  For me, though, it always comes down to two games: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, or Fallout 3.  I am going to discuss the former today.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Time to Get Mecha-nized: Part II





Of course, there is another mecha game fast approaching on its stompy legs:  the much ballyhooed Titanfall from Respawn Entertainment.  This is already proving something of a lodestone in gaming as it pits the aggrieved team that formerly constituted Infinity Ward - the geniuses who reinvented the first person shooter with their world famous Call of Duty franchise - against their old bosses at Activision who fired them out of alleged avarice.  So we definitely have a lot of emotional baggage in play with this title.  But Titanfall is also drawing a lot of attention for another reason:  it promises to repeat the success of CoD by reinventing a very stale shooter genre yet again.  Will the devs catch lightning in a bottle for a second time?

Did I mention that I have about twelve hours in the beta so far?  Yeah.  Twelve hours in the Titanfall beta.  Sort of gives away the answer, doesn't it?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Time to Get Mecha-nized: Part I



Things are coming up mecha!

It's funny: until Hawken went into open beta roughly a year ago, I never was interested in the sci-fi concept of 'mecha'.  It just always seemed really silly to me for an armored vehicle to drop the inherent stability of treads for balance-heavy legs!  In retrospect, maybe it never was a silly as I once thought it was as legged machines seem to be all the rage lately in the world of robotics research.  Go figure.

Be that as it may, once the mecha bug bit me, it bit deep.  Those main battle tanks that had somehow managed to grow a pair of legs can be quite addictive!  I have found that there is a thoroughly unique feeling of power that comes with the ability to stride across a battlefield rather than ride across it like some peasant on a donkey. What is more, I quickly learned to appreciate the distinctiveness of the combat that surrounds bipedal tanks.  Because something with legs is always going to be more elegant in its movements than something merely sporting wheels or treads, combat between two mechs quickly becomes a contest of technique rather than raw firepower.  In some ways, mecha warfare resembles the dogfights of World War I where the pilot's skill was the determining factor more than the qualities of the biplane itself.  I guess that is why mecha operators are referred to as "pilots", and why they also swagger with all the esprit de corps of the Red Barron himself.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Socialism and Racial Bean Counting



Wow!  Been a while since I last posted.  That's what happens in the world of gaming - you run hot, you run cold.  After my hot spell with Eugen's Wargame: AirLand Battle, the chill definitely set in with me.  Not entirely though, as I have been having a lot of fun play Paradox's two masterpieces: Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV.  EU IV was a recent gift, and I have to say I have enjoyed my first foray into the world of renaissance politics since installing the game.  Not as much as CK2, mind you, but that is largely due to the fact that I just prefer the medieval era to that of later periods, albeit, I have been having a lot of fun colonizing the New World!  Someday I need to get around to doing an EU IV AAR.

(I also need to find time to tell you about my current crop of nobles in CK2: of Duke Lucido and his tendencies to get the women in his life killed, or his son, Duke Vimara, whom methodically eliminated the participants of a rebellion against his authority...over a period of decades.  Yes, he can hold a grudge....)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

WALB: The Polish Summer



“How could you possibly allow the election of a citizen of a socialist country as pope?!?" - Yuri Andropov, then head of the KGB [1]


In the tumultuous events of World War III, perhaps the most tumultuous was the so-called "Polish Summer" of 1982.  While short-lived, largely the result of the brutal Soviet reprisals upon Poland, the Polish uprising of that hot August caused a great deal of chaos within Pact ranks while it existed. 

It is now known that the cause for this revolt, also known as the 'Stanislaw Uprising", was the attempted KGB assassination of Pope John Paul II.  While initially blamed upon a Turkish "lone wolf", evidence quickly mounted to the contrary conclusion:  that this attempt on the pontiff's life was a tightly-controlled "wet op" locally orchestrated from within the Bulgarian embassy in Italy, specifically by Bulgarian military attaché Zilo Vassilev, but most definitely managed by the KGB from afar.  It is now believed that the Soviets felt such drastic action was necessary because as early as 1979 the USSR was preparing for their assault upon Western Europe and knew that Pope John Paul would staunchly oppose any such aggression, possibly even to the point of converting the Polish Solidarity movement into a fifth column. He simply had to go.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Great One



The man of system . . . is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. . . .  —Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759
If I was to identify one thing wrong with the current political  landscape (and economic, for that matter), it would be the mistaken belief that there is no right or wrong in the world of politics.  That is, many people seem to be of the bizarre opinion that, in the words of Jeremy Bentham, "pushpin is as good as poetry".  This is, of course, complete bunk.  To say that a Marxist perspective on politics is just as valid as that of a Conservative perspective is as irrational as saying that David Icke's "reptoid" theory of global history is as valid as...well, any sane person's historical perspective, to be frank.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Interstate Fallout




No, this is not going to be about a nuclear war erupting in one of my Wargame: AirLand Battle games, although if there were nukes available in a skirmish game you might be reading just that by now.   No, rather this is going to be about one of those interesting and increasingly common events where a game crosses over into mainstream culture. 

Have you seen this TV ad for Interstate Batteries?




Seems kinda familiar, doesn't it?