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    Rocket League (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jul 1st, 2016 at 19:16:53)

    How has no one thought of car soccer before?? Or have they, but it just hasn't been this fun? I broke my ONE RULE of buying games only when they fall under $5 during the Steam sale (to prevent me spending hundreds on games I won't play until they are $5 anyway). Rocket League was like $12. But I love soccer. I like driving/racing games. And I LOVE crashing games (Destruction Derby, Burnout...). And I just keep on reading about Rocket League and how damn fun everyone says it is. I just might amend my rule from now on and allow myself one game over $5 during Steam sales. Thanks Rocket League!

    So yeah, Rocket League is car soccer, with a giant ball, in an arena, with rocket boosters. You ram the ball. It's a simple concept. But there is much skill. You have a boost meter that fills up when you drive over boost icons that replenish over and over. Boosting makes you drive faster (obviously) but also lets you take powerful shots by ramming faster into the ball. You can also sort of fly around by jumping (or double-jumping) then boosting and trying to control the rocket your car temporarily is, flying wildly through the air aiming for the ball. Boosting into another car at top speed sometimes demolishes the other car. That's always fun. It's like in regular soccer if slide tackling were legal. You just chase down whoever has the ball and slide tackle them without penalty.

    You can drive up the walls and even sort of on the ceiling. I'm currently trying to figure out how this can help me boost through the air better. You can also do little flips in every direction that give your shots more force. Boost + flip or air boost + flip is powerful. The game is hectic.

    I played the tutorial training stuff, then I played a full season against the AI (starting on rookie difficulty and moving up to pro [and back down to rookie during the playoffs to ensure I'd win]). Then today I finally took my game online. My team won the first game 8-0, then we lost the second game like 7-3. Others were closer. We lost one 3-2 with just 30 seconds left (I accidentally made an own goal, oops). I've only played standard games and haven't explored the rest. You just get randomly matched with people, and after the game, you all can vote to rematch, in which case, everyone stays (or if someone leaves their slot is filled again) and the teams are randomized again.

    My experience so far online has been friendly. The only person talking much was some guy typing that he hated playing on the keyboard (an excuse for why his team didn't win I guess, even though he seemed pretty good). But people say good job and nice shot and so on. No one has gotten mad at me! But I think I'm pretty good at the game. I scored plenty of goals online and definitely seemed above average in terms of controlling my car and controlling the ball. I'll have to check out the other game modes to see what else there is. Also need to scope my friends out to see if anyone plays. It'd be great to play with people I know. All for now. I should be plowing through some games this coming week, yay!

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    Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jul 1st, 2016 at 19:03:09)

    Dark Souls is sooooo frustrating! The most frustrating thing is how much I want to enjoy it. I mean, this is an RPG that is beloved by critics and fans alike. It’s a hugely popular series. It’s known for being beautifully…dark. The world is bleak. The story is bleak. The characters are bleak. It’s known for having some cool twists on standard RPG mechanics, such as collecting “souls” (experience) from slain enemies, except that you drop them when you die (like all your hard-earned gear in EverQuest). It’s okay though! You can return to the blood-stained spot where you died and collect your souls. Well…unless you die on the way there. Which you will. Frequently. You can only collect souls from your most recent death.

    The other mechanic I found so neat allows for an odd type of player-player interaction. You can purchase an item that allows you to leave messages for other players. The idea, narratively, is that there are parallel universes. You can examine blood stains and see replays of a phantom other player dying. Sometimes player-phantoms will flit in and out of your world. (And later on players can actually invade one another’s worlds and help or kill one another). But with the message item, you can choose a spot on the ground and select from a wide variety of word pairs to try and communicate to others (“Danger ahead!” was a very useful one). These messages will appear on the ground in other people’s games, and you can upvote and downvote them too. I remember I was stuck on a bridge blocked by a giant dragon. I couldn’t figure out how to get by it without getting burned alive. So I read the messages. “Ranged fight.” “Try arrows.” “Here” (referring to a spot where, when I stood there, I could see the dragon’s tail hanging, looking like it needed an arrow through it). Sure enough, that’s the trick. Thanks strangers! Other times, players are not so helpful. It is common to approach a ledge and read something like “Jump here.” I jumped to my death several times, as instructed. One time I jumped and it was a shortcut. This was confusing, as it wasn’t always obvious whether or not I could trust the messages!

    So, yes, Dark Souls has some really cool aspects. But what’s the other thing Dark Souls is known for? That’s right. Being insanely difficult. While I enjoy difficult games, I couldn’t get over the difficulty level of this one. It feels unfair sometimes. Sometimes that feeling lasts until you have an “a-ha!” moment, but usually the only way to combat the difficulty is to slog your way through, sloooowly, caaaarefully. I finally quit the game because I lost 7000 souls (that’s like 10 levels worth where I was at!). You can’t be cautious enough. You will lose your souls. You will curse aloud. If you are prone to throwing controllers, you will be purchasing replacements. I did a lot to help myself. I looked at tips and guides. I asked friends. I posted on message boards.

    After much advice (and much sympathy), I decided to grind for some gear and levels and miracles (spells). That was realllly boring! Then I went back to the boss I was stuck on, the Taurus Demon, and figured out I could lure him to a tower and jump off the tower to impale him, and that’s how I killed him. Next, that big dragon was in my way. Before I could successfully get past him, I got poisoned by a rat and died and dropped over 7000 souls (everything from the Taurus Demon and from killing a ton of skeletons around the dragon bridge trying to figure my way forward). No problem, I'll just go get the souls. Except there's this skeleton with a shield and spear that will not leave a narrow ledge that I have to pass, no matter what I do to lure him out of my way. So I finally go try and just kill him because I'd knocked him off a couple times before (every time you die and every time you rest at a bonfire, all enemies respawn…), but lo and behold I accidentally did this irritating move with my weapon where my character, after blocking, attacks and somersaults backward. Well, I somersaulted off the ledge and was out 7000 souls. That was about 2 hours after the Taurus Demon.

    After much soul-searching (ha…), I’m taking the perspective that I have many other games to play, and if I’m not having fun with this after 6 or 7 hours, I should put it to rest. On the bright side, my Steam wishlist is two games shorter (Dark Souls 2 & 3)!

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    Never Alone (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jun 22nd, 2016 at 14:08:41)

    I've been wanting to use Never Alone in my intro to sociology class to introduce culture for a while now, and I finally got around to playing it. Took about 3 pages of notes while doing so, basically analyzing the accompanying "cultural insight" videos. If you don't know about this, it's a game based on stories of the Inupiak people of Alaska. Upper One Games (an indigenous game development company) and E-Line Media collaborated with elders and other Inupiak people to do the artwork, tell the stories, and talk about their culture. It's extremely authentic, and this is a serious strength.

    The game is about a blizzard and a destroyed village. A village girl, Nuna, sets off to find out what's causing the blizzard, where it's coming from, and along with a fox she meets along the way, they also find why and how her village was destroyed. Sometimes you will hear an owl hooting, and if you can find the owl, then you unlock a short video clip of Inupiak people talking about some aspect of their culture. This is always placed just right in the game such that whatever just happened or whatever happened next has something to do with the interviews. I cannot explain how cool these clips are. You learn about cultural norms and values, about figures in their mythology, about their relationship to the environment, about family structure and relationships, about the value of local knowledge, climate change, all kinds of stuff in 24 videos (and 5 more videos in the Foxtales DLC).

    My plan for class is to basically demo Never Alone for 20 minutes or so, getting through the beginning of the game and several of the videos that demonstrate concepts related to culture that I usually lecture over, and queue up several other relevant videos for later in the lecture. I've written discussion/short answer questions for each video clip. Actually my ideal is to have students in my class who own the game. I'll ask and we'll see. Also I'd like a student or students to play instead of me, and if possible have another student bring a second controller so they can demo co-op, as interdependence and mutual reliance is an important part of Inupiak culture. I was also thinking of just buying a handful of copies (Steam sale begins tomorrow after all) and putting them on my research accounts, but then I'd have to have students with Steam bring laptops's getting complicated. Maybe I'll just buy some cheap copies, try out the lesson in the first place, and iterate next semester.

    So, Never Alone is only a decent game without the rich cultural layer, very Limbo-esque. You control two characters, Nuna and the Fox, and can switch back and forth between them. Nuna can push and pick up things, row a boat, and generally do human things. The Fox is more agile and can jump up higher walls, as well as interact with spirits who help Nuna and the Fox get around. There's an odd reliance on trial and error to proceed, and you will die a lot, especially as the end gets rather absurdly difficult. I was repeating segments 15-20 times and getting irritated at the mediocre platforming and imprecise controls. For a game whose objective is to spread cultural awareness and appreciation, you'd think it would be a little easier. And it mostly is, just toward the end it spikes.

    I am definitely interested in seeing what else these developers are cooking up. I welcome more games like Never Alone because I feel like I learned something, that this game is positively impacting the world.

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    Grow Home (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jun 21st, 2016 at 14:46:06)

    I think that Grow Home is really a game about rock climbing. Why? Because you climb rocks. And plants. And that's Grow Home boiled down to its essence. Sure, you're a cute robot named B.U.D. who has been dropped on this biodiverse planet to make this giant plant flower and bring back other plant samples to his space ship. But how do you do anything you need to do? Climb stuff.

    It's a cool premise. There's a big stalk in the ground and you've got to make it grow 2000 meters into the sky. The stalk has little shoots sprouting off of it, and if you climb onto those shoots, you can make them grow. You ride the shoot (like a wild rocket ship), steering it into the sky toward rocks in the sky that pulse with green energy. Connect the shoot to the energy rock and the plant absorbs the energy and grows, opening access to new energy rocks and sprouting new shoots to ride to them.

    You can just do this and skip everything else and probably beat the game in an hour, but there are a couple other optional things to do. One I did and one I didn't (mostly because I didn't realize it was a thing until near the end). There are energy crystals scattered around that B.U.D. can pick up. They fuel his jetpack and other processes so that mobility is a little easier. B.U.D. is notoriously difficult to control. He moves in an Octo-dad-ish floppy messy stumble. He'll sway left and right, fall over, flip headfirst, etc., etc. That's why you've got to climb. He's better at that. Right trigger (or bumper) moves his right hand and left trigger/bumper moves his left hand. Most of the game is like this: left trigger, right trigger, left trigger, right trigger ad infinitum as you are climbing and exploring looking for crystals and shoots. Anyway, I was trying to find all the crystals until I stumbled on one I KNEW was nearby but couldn't find. Then I abandoned my quest, but I found I think 85/100, which is a damn whole lot.

    The other thing you can do is to collect samples of plant life. You grab them and bring them to teleporters and send them to your ship. Since I didn't do this, I have no idea what happens if you do or really what the point is beyond a story element. There are a couple other things to play with in the game, such as some fauna that you can toy around with (putting sheep in venus fly traps is fun), or just grabbing leaves and flower petals to glide around the pretty world.

    The real cool thing is that you make that plant grow in a unique way. Probably no one else did it just like I did, so your plant really shapes your world, and it feels like YOUR world. It's cool once you get really high up to zoom the camera out and look down at how far you've come, at the plant twisting up through the sky, shoots sprouted in all directions. I definitely enjoyed the game overall, but the climbing and searching for crystals was getting tedious after a couple hours. Luckily it's not much longer than that, and at a cheap price point, it's worth a few bucks for a neat concept.

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    Lisa: The Painful RPG (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jun 18th, 2016 at 20:26:12)

    Thought this was a sequel to Lisa "The First." It's sort of a similar game, but not really a sequel. It's similar in style (another RPG Maker game) with a great art style and kickass music, plus similar adult themes. Actually I was reminded of Children of Men because it's about a man, Brad, trying to protect the last female in the world, who is hunted by a bunch of gangs who want her for this or that. The little girl is named Buddy (I don't think it's the titular Lisa), but Brad's father is the abusive Marty from Lisa "The First." I assume Brad and Lisa were siblings and this takes place in the future long after Lisa killed herself.

    It's an Earthbound style RPG and it is super weird. The first companion you get is named Terry Hintz (class: Hint Lord), and you guessed it, he dishes out tutorial information as he imposes himself on your party. He is utterly useless now in combat, with skills such as Inform, Little Cheer (restores negligible HP for 1/2 of his SP), and Verbal Bash. Great. Right after I got him, some gang of dudes captured him and then gave me the choice of letting them kill Terry or taking all my items. Well, I felt bad for Terry because he is a likable character who makes puns, so I lost all my items. I hear you must make many other choices like this between A and B that both are terrible options. So your party members can permanently die. Yikes.

    My second companion I encountered while exploring some cliffs. He was sitting in a chair and told me some inane, rambling story about his wife cheating on him. It was funny and surprising tossed into my exploration, and he eventually told me about the apocalypse that happened, setting the context for the game world. I thanked him and exited the screen. Walked through the next screen. And there he is again, standing before a bridge. He tells me another random story. I thank him and leave. Next screen, there he is. He tells me one more story and joins my party. His name is Nern (class: Orator) and he just tells stories to support the party, rather like a bard. Also pretty useless in battle right now.

    So. I can't stress how weird this game is. It's got dark humor. Some of it's laugh-out-loud funny; the writing is pretty good. Just one more snippet of what is happening right now so I can quit. I loaded up my game and walked to the right of the screen. There's a guy in spiked armor with a bondage mask on sitting on a stool. I interact with him and it goes into a fight. His name is Dayspa Henning. Day spa? Okay. It's random, made me chuckle, but I don't get it. Am I supposed to get it? Are all these names inside jokes? Brad uses some "Armstrong style" technique in combat (he was a martial arts teacher?). Terry Hintz just launches himself headfirst into Dayspa and does negligible damage. Nern has a pistol and shoots. Dayspa never attacks for some reason. After a minute, he says "Wha?" and wakes up. Apparently he was asleep. Resume combat. I kill him and he says, "Well, I guess I can sleep a lot longer now," explodes, and disappears.

    Nern says, "Sweet lemon tea!" in victory. I watched the end of the game on YouTube. Brad is missing his arms. I can only imagine how that happened. I'm curious, but don't have motivation to continue after the first couple hours of this 12-ish-hour RPG.

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    4 : dkirschner's Grow Home (PC)
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    Shadow of the Colossus (PS2)    by   SUPERmichaelO

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