dkirschner's GameLogBlogging the experience of gameplay Theft Auto V (PC) - Thu, 17 May 2018 16:21:44 used GTA V in my learning community this semester to teach deviance. After a lecture covering basic theory and concepts, I had students play GTA V for half an hour and answer questions about labeling theory, think about how norms, sanctions, and deviance differ in Los Santos vs. the real world, violate in-game norms and identify sanctions, and try to get a bunch of fake achievements I made up to get labeled deviant in various ways in the game. It was a ton of fun, and effective! I played the bare minimum to prepare for bringing the game to class (though most of them had played before) because I had to spend most of my time trying to get the thing to run smoothly on my laptop and through a classroom projector. I eventually did it well enough, hooray, but I still havenít got it running perfectly. Itíll get choppy sometimes while driving and shooting. It could just be that this is where my computer begins to show its age. Sigh. But now that the semester's over, I can go back through games I began for the learning community. According to Steam, I've clocked 33 hours, but it's realistically in the low 20s. GTA V is the best GTA. I played some of the older ones (San Andreas, Vice City), never all the way through a story, and mostly just for causing mayhem. I played GTA IV for about 10 hours and spent most of that time on the fake internet and watching fake in-game TV. Iím pleased to report that the fake internet and TV are even better this time around and that I have resisted watching all of that content, which I bet runs upward of 20 hours if you count radio stations too. Why is GTA V the best GTA? For me, itís the characters, missions, and overall narrative. GTA V does this cool thing where there are three main characters whose lives intertwine. You start with Franklin, a sarcastic, dry-humored, practical black man living with his aunt in a poor neighborhood in Los Santos. Then you meet Michael, a wealthy ex-con in witness protection with an extremely dysfunctional family. Franklin starts to work for Michael. Finally, my favorite, Trevor enters the picture. Trevor is quite literally insane. Heís part meth head and drug and weapons dealer, with a low-rent operation out of a trailer in the desert. He has a history with Michael, and all three of them wind up having to do jobs together for the FIB (GTAís FBI). Thereís some larger story going on about a shady corporation or something called Merryweather and a super weapon. Not sure about all that yet, but certainly intrigued. Each character is fleshed out, and it makes this story more than about stealing cars and killing people. Serious themes exist underneath the GTA parody about family, trust, speeding up of social life, consumerism, drug culture, etc., etc., and I dare say that not only the game as a whole (obviously), but the characters in particular, are real pieces of art. Franklinís relationship with his aunt, who is into spiritual femininity and magic crystals, is fraught because they simply donít understand one anotherís lives. His relationship with his dog is adorable. Michaelís family, as mentioned, is insane. His wife is trying to be calm in a fast-moving world and is cheating on him with her yoga instructor. One of the best scenes in the game so far is when Michael and his wife get into an argument, and the yoga instructor comes around and makes them do a family session together, so you, as Michael, have to do yoga, which of course, does nothing to calm anyone down. His daughter is vapid and wants to be a reality TV star. His son smokes weed and plays video games all day. They are all entitled. Michael really does see himself as a good guy, but heís surrounded by crazy people and pressured into crime, which he does enjoy and is good at. Trevor assaults and kills people at will, is secretly from Canada (and becomes enraged if people point out his accent), hates it when people call him a motherfucker, and in one memorable scene, becomes enraged when Michael describes how Trevor is a hipster, or at least what hipsters aspire to become. Trevor is currently dating a woman whom he kidnapped and does not see a problem with it. Gameplay wise, itís typical GTA, but missions are far more varied. This is exemplified by the heists, in which you put together a team (some combination of the three main characters and sometimes other NPCs) to do things like rob banks, rob trains, secure witnesses, or steal other huge items. These involve preparation missions where you observe a place, or acquire a getaway car, or do other tasks before the actual heist. For example, the last one I did was to rob a bank. I first scouted the bank and tested its alarm system to see how fast the police response was. It was very fast, and so I made the decision to shoot our way out. Then, I stole a military truck full of armor and weapons from a convoy to prepare for the shootout. Then, I stole a van for Franklin to use as the getaway vehicle. The other characters (Michael, Trevor, and one hired gun) hit the bank, stole the money, changed into full combat gear, and emerged guns blazing at a stunned police force. We shot our way through them, working our way toward Franklin in the getaway vehicle. I forget how or why this happened, but at some point someone stole a bulldozer to help clear the path of cops. Part of whatís so cool about heists is that you switch between characters to perform all their roles when they are doing things simultaneously (e.g., one character sniping from a rooftop, one causing a distraction, one stealing something). You do this during the game as well, switching between the three characters at will. They all have different jobs they can do, different contacts for missions, different properties they can purchase, different activities they can engage in, etc. And they so frequently weave together. Youíll go to do a mission as Franklin, and itíll turn out Michael orchestrated it. Or youíll go do something with Trevor, and the FIB agent in charge will want Franklin too. This plenty to write at the moment, but suffice it to say that there is so much more that GTA V offers. Tons of random events, side missions, activities (darts, races, Trevorís rampages, etc.) will keep a dedicated player busy for a really long time. This may be the last open world game you need for a long time. And I'm saying this almost 5 years after it came out. Oh, there's also GTA V Online. Will update again once I beat story mode with some good memories. Thu, 17 May 2018 16:21:44 CDT Floor 2 (PC) - Fri, 11 May 2018 17:36:11 bought Killing Floor 2 during Extra Life 2016 and was really impressed with how wonderfully gory it was. It's a co-op FPS with lots of zombies and other hellish creatures. According to Steam, I've played 15 a year-and-a-half. I've recently been cleaning out multiplayer games and think I'll keep this one installed, because I played some more last night, and it really is fun, if a bit repetitive. There are a lot of character classes with different weapon specialties. I have been playing mostly with the Gunslinger, who uses pistols and a shotgun. General shooty class. Every 5 experience levels, you can access to a choice between two perks for the class (you can change the perks). I think there are like 20 or 25 levels, so there are a lot of perks, times however many classes, means a hefty amount of knowledge, skill, and time to master everything. So you choose your character, choose your difficulty (it can be a leisurely and gory romp or a ridiculously difficult infinite waves game, your choice), and go into a random match or lobby or whatever. Game starts. It's shorter, medium length, or longer (and I think there's an infinite mode now). I've only played short, which is four waves. After each wave, you go spend your money (earned for killing enemies? I'm not really sure. But I know you can "throw" money at other players and share) at the upgrade station to buy ammo, armor, and new weapons. At the end of the fourth wave (on short) there's a boss. I've seen really only one boss boss, and then other bosses that are variants of strong enemies that already exist. I wish there were more. They generally eat a ton of bullets and I usually die, but that's partly because I'm not very good at the game. I think the way to play this game is to focus on one or two character classes first to get pretty good at them and learn the ropes. I have...failed to play this way, having dabbled with most of the classes and not having played one enough to really understand it. I should follow my own advice! Fri, 11 May 2018 17:36:11 CDT (PC) - Tue, 08 May 2018 00:12:40 ended sooner than I thought! Orwell was longer and Beholder was shorter. Beholder is a game about Soviet style surveillance. You get put in the government job of landlord of an apartment block. You need to earn money and reputation. With reputation, you can buy security cameras, which you install in your tenants' homes. With money, you can buy repair kits to fix broken stuff and buy all sorts of goods. You can also spend these resources to pay/bribe/uncover info. The government gives you orders to spy on and evict people. You've always got to listen for the phone to ring so you can run to your apartment and answer it. The other citizens are needy little Sims. They need medicine, or a tie, or want you to buy them a gun for protection from an abusive ex-husband, or want you to sell cans of old fish they stole, or want to get a girlfriend, etc., etc. Your family is the most needy, with a wife and two kids. The wife always needs money for bills and groceries. Your college age son needs money for books or a date, or to avoid being sent to the mines. Your small daughter gets sick, and good luck affording $30,000 to save her life! Your task is to manage all the conflicting desires of all these NPCs while not getting yourself arrested, killed, exiled, and ideally keeping your family safe and healthy too. The gameplay loop got old fast. Run around from apartment to apartment collecting information on who has illegal goods, building dossiers on residents, and reporting all this info to the Ministry, or bribing residents for money. When residents are around, chat with them for info and take and complete tasks. Do your best to keep money and reputation rolling in so you can continue your spy work. You will get bad endings. You will fail residents. You will have to compromise your morals and allegiances. At least all this happens on the hard difficulty, which was quite hard. I got caught stealing a lot, I was shot and killed by two different residents, I was arrested for being in debt, I was fired from my job, I was reprimanded for evicting a tenant without tact. My daughter died, my son got kicked out of college and went to work in the mines. I couldn't afford to protect either of them. It was terrible. I felt like a bad father. And a bad neighbor. And I guess that's what Beholder is about. Being a bad neighbor and a bad father. And no one likes you.Tue, 08 May 2018 00:12:40 CDT (PC) - Sun, 06 May 2018 23:40:20 semester I taught a learning community with the theme of serious games and gamification. I reworked my Introduction to Sociology class using games as examples to cover sociological content. The last topic we covered was governance and surveillance. I used two games to do this, Beholder (which I'll finish next) and Orwell. These worked well together, with Beholder demonstrating a more traditional type of citizen surveillance reminiscent of pre-Internet Communist states and Orwell demonstrating modern technological government surveillance. From there, I moved into surveillance capitalism and the Chinese citizen score example. It was a cool unit, but anyway, I just finished up Orwell tonight, and here are thoughts on the game. The best thing I can say for Orwell is that it is thought-provoking. It explores questions about government surveillance, power, privacy, and so on to make you connect the fictitious narrative to events in the real world. Unfortunately, it's hindered by remaining at a rather surface level treatment of these issues, such that to delve deeper requires the player to have additional knowledge or guidance or interest to learn more. This is obviously in large part due to the fact that this is an indie game probably with a small team and budget. For example, the social media site that characters all use is never implicated for its role in sharing your data. There is no connection between government and business in the game, and we know business drives surveillance capitalism. In the game, Orwell is the name of the surveillance system. It's neat how it works, though it would never work like this in the real world because surveillance is automated. But we've got to have player interactivity, so here we go! You play as an "investigator," someone who scours the internet for information to compile dossiers on citizens of The Nation. This investigatory work is outsourced, so you are a foreigner. In the beginning of the game, there is a bombing, and so your task is to get to the bottom of this bombing. As you gather information on suspicious people, you will wind up gaining access to their social media profiles, blogs, cell phone records, and eventually gain the ability to poke around on their hard drives. One neat thing is that, as your boss tells you in the beginning, you are to remain objective and report facts. Occasionally there will be conflicting information or information that is clearly out of context (e.g., one character tells another jokingly that they are being tortured, and you can report this piece of data as evidence that the character engages in torture, which is clearly untrue). You have to make decisions about submitting or withholding these data chunks. Now, once you submit data chunks to the Orwell system, it's completely de-contextualized. Your handler only receives what you send them. Later on, there are intentionally conflicting data chunks and I just sort of rolled my eyes and reported on whichever character I most disliked. Because they're almost all annoying as shit, I felt difficult to remain objective. I chalk this up to sub-par writing, but if this was just a clever way to point out that objectivity in surveillance is impossible, then kudos to the devs! Characters in the game suffer from making horror movie decisions: "No, no, stupid! Why would you do that!?" For example, later in the game, a few of the people you're spying on get onto Orwell's existence. Yet they continue to talk online, and even plan a conference call. Another character lists his bank account information in his email signature (?!), which of course allows you to look at his bank statements. One person you're spying on starts talking to someone on a dating website and immediately states their first and last name. Who does that?! This of course allows you to find more about them because you have their last name. The game is very linear, and I don't know how much your choices about what to submit to Orwell matter. I know that many times, I would leave data chunks unreported because I'd think they weren't that important or that they were inaccurate, but the game wouldn't move forward until I submitted that data chunk. Since the writing isn't great, one could easily play this game by submitting data chunks as fast as possible without reading anything. You'll end up submitting like 99% of data chunks anyway. Whenever there is data you can submit, it is automatically highlighted. This is nice so that you don't get lost trying to find information, but also, as surveillance systems do, automates your work. Are you really watching people, or are you just being told what to submit? Also, are you being watched? How wide is the scope of Orwell? What secrets does the government hide? So many questions. All in all, Orwell is an interesting experience. The feeling of spying on people is empowering and you feel a bit like god peering into their private business. If you like gossip, you'll like this game. But it's not too exciting, definitely rough around the edges. I enjoyed the story overall. If you're interested in this kind of thing though, just go read some Wired articles. Faster, deeper, and more engaging. Sun, 06 May 2018 23:40:20 CDT (PC) - Tue, 30 Jan 2018 19:53:21 in two sessions. I should note that this is the first game played on my new TV and that the first session I experienced a decent amount of FPS dips and screen tearing. The game was so cool though that I didn't even think it was a problem. At the beginning of the second session, I noticed much more and as a consequence optimized my laptop and TV settings for gaming on the TV. So thanks Abzu! As everyone notes, it's a beautiful game, soothing to look at and listen to. I feel like coming home from work and playing this for an hour to relax instead of other relaxation techniques. This probably shouldn't displace too much exercise, but Abzu is healthier than wine. The game is very simple. You're a diver. You swim around, in the midst of all manner of undersea creature, including giant vortexes of fish (amazing), solving little environmental puzzles and moving from area to area. There is little conflict. You're invited to experience the joy and calm of swimming underwater with fish, rays, whales, squids, and more, to skim along the sea floor through the sea grass, and to burst upward into the air like a dolphin. Later on, a great white shark becomes slightly menacing, and then the game takes a weird turn that loses me as to what it's about (life? water? ecosystems?). It's a worthwhile 2-3 hours to complete the game, and even better if you find it serving the dual effect of calming you down. I need to go back and play Journey and Flower.Tue, 30 Jan 2018 19:53:21 CDT Heroes of Warcraft (PC) - Tue, 16 Jan 2018 10:58:51 just deleted this. Absolutely adore this card game and how easy it is to drop in and play a game when I have 10 or 15 minutes. On the other hand, I absolutely hate this card game and how easy it is to find 10-15 minute chunks of time to play, which sometimes turn into 1-hour chunks of time. I have so many other games to play and things to do instead! I deleted it off my work computer like two months ago, and deleted it off my personal laptop just after New Year's. A resolution I guess. But it's funny, since I deleted it, I've had no urge to play it. It helps that the most recent expansion or two have some seriously overpowered cards, most of which I don't have, so having your opponent drop one is usually game over. But of course that just makes Wild games and Tavern Brawls that much more unpredictable and fun to play. Also, the roguelike single-player for Kobolds & Catacombs was pretty neat, and effectively adds another endless mode to an already endless game. Dooooone!Tue, 16 Jan 2018 10:58:51 CDT Typing of the Dead: Overkill (PC) - Wed, 29 Nov 2017 23:45:37 was my "play at work" game since last semester. So it took me about 6 months to play 4 hours and beat this. Looks like I'm earning my salary. I've long been fascinated with this game since I first played it on Dreamcast in college. I enjoy typing and typing fast. When I was like 25-26, I worked as a transcriptionist for a company doing mostly medical and legal dictations for a year. Then I branched off on my own and started transcribing interviews and focus groups for researchers at UGA. So I appreciate a good typing trainer, especially this one where typing letters kills zombies. It's in the House of the Dead series, that old rail shooter everyone used to play at the arcade. So like. I don't really need to describe this. Instead of shooting a gun to kill zombies, you type letters, words, and phrases. Every zombie has some text in front of it. As they charge you, just type the text correctly. Finishing the text kills the zombie. And that's the entire game. Congratulations. Do that 5000 times. Boss battles aren't any different really. Since it's a rail shooter, you just worry about typing. No jumping, dodging, or anything else. The last boss was different though, and involved a poorly executed word association game. It displayed characters in the game and you had to type words associated with them. This was what I did today to beat the game, and it was a little difficult since I hadn't played the game since summertime at least. The main thing that breaks up all the typing, which does get repetitive (play the game in small chunks), is the grindhouse/exploitation film aesthetic. The game is full of sex and violence and probably more F-bombs than in any other game I've played. It's got its own style of self-referential humor, and it knows it's over-the-top, sexist, and generally offensive; occasionally there is some real cleverness in the dialogue. The characters were messed up enough to keep me entertained. So yeah. Easy, short different type of game. Check it out.Wed, 29 Nov 2017 23:45:37 CDT Torment (PC) - Fri, 24 Nov 2017 22:40:03 has taken me forever to get around to playing Planescape: Torment. I somehow missed this when I was playing all the CRPG games of the late 90s/early 2000s and bought a copy on GoG years ago. This is NOT the new enhanced edition, which sounds like it has some nice modernizing features, but the older GoG version. I've had two play sessions, one for about two hours, and this one I just finished for about four hours (punctuated by occasional texting). After the first two-hour session, I was tempted to quit because (a) the game is old and has some seriously outdated UI and controls and (b) the combat is horrendous. But I didn't want to quit because (a) the story, world, and characters are really cool and (b) like every reviewer says it still holds up and is one of the best RPGs of all time. I went so far as to find out there are BOOKS based on the game's dialogue, and even downloaded a couple versions (one is 2000 pages long), but after reading forums, the consensus is that the books aren't that good, a couple lack context since they are almost all game dialogue, and that if you're going to spend the time reading a book, just play the damn game. Fair enough. However, the game is supposed to be about 50 hours, which is long for something so old and text-heavy with bad combat. But I decided to hunker down and try to get into it. I'm glad I did. I was more than engrossed during most of the four-hour session, and wound up getting a bit tired of it because you have a massive city to explore. I'm maybe 2/3 of the way through walking around and talking to all the NPCs. It's a bit overwhelming, but I'll make it through systematically. The writing is outstanding, really. It's definitely the best part of the game. I just want the combat to stooooop. I have two characters, and one of them has one special ability that I don't know what it does. So all combat is just clicking on an enemy to auto-attack. And I die a lot. And I've pissed off some big dragon thing in one part of town and every time I enter that part of town, it comes after me. I wish it would calm down so I could just walk through there. I'm not sure how linear the game is, as I've several times come across enemies that are overwhelming now. Anyway, looking forward to getting all this initial exploration of Sigil out of the way so I can get on with probably more interesting stuff in the game. Fri, 24 Nov 2017 22:40:03 CDT Dungeon (PC) - Tue, 21 Nov 2017 17:05:27, I've sunk 15 or so hours into Darkest Dungeon and I think I'm good. It's getting really grindy and, as promised, is hard and punishing as hell. I'll describe: DD is a party-based roguelike with some strategy RPG elements. There's a hub town where you do normal things like upgrade buildings, purchase equipment upgrades, purchase trinkets, recruit heroes, and...wait this isn't normal...send characters to the tavern or the church to engage in stress-relief activities, send characters to get diseases cured, and look at the graveyard full of your dead characters. Oh no. Form a party and delve into one of the dungeons around your ancestral home. Dungeons can be short, medium, or long, and range in difficulty from level 1-6 (same range your characters can be...well no, they can be level 0 also). You explore from room to room, interacting with curios, avoiding traps, fighting enemies, managing your party members, and micro-managing your inventory to collect maximum treasures. Curios are very interesting, in that there can be all sorts of shit wrong with them that can harm you (e.g., they are cursed, trapped, diseased, etc.). You can use consumables, purchased in the "provisions" phase before actually going into the dungeon, to remove bad stuff on curios (like keys to unlock chests, holy water to purify cursed things), and you learn what these do by a process of trial and error. Once I figured out how to disarm all the curios, I was getting much better treasure and having fewer bad things happen to me. Now, party management is a huge deal in DD. This is not your typical game. Your characters have two main things for you to worry about: health and stress. Health is health, except that if you get to 0 health, you are at "death's door," and the next hit may kill you. If you heal while at 0 health, you are no longer at death's door; however any bleed effects or crits may be out of your control to trigger death. Stress is more interesting. This builds up over time as you take critical hits, as enemies use stress-inducing attacks, as your torch runs out, as you spend too much time in a battle or in the dungeon, and various other ways. If your stress reaches 100, the character makes a roll and either overcomes it or succumbs to it, usually the latter. When that happens, they develop an affliction. Maybe they will refuse healing, or they will randomly not want to act and skip their turn, or they will be paranoid and make your other characters more stressed out, etc. It's terrifying. If they continue to take stress, up to 200, they have a heart attack and die. Now, if you do manage to beat a dungeon (and you will; I didn't start having trouble really till the medium level 3 dungeons), you have to deal with your characters' accumulated stress, afflictions, and diseases and quirks (which they will randomly acquire at the end of even a successful dungeon). That's where the inn and church come in, so they can go pray or visit the brothel or whatever to feel better. This costs a dungeon cycle though, so you wind up with a big roster of characters (I was up to 16) of a variety of classes (maybe also 16 that I had, one of each that I'd seen). Oh, I didn't mention another important thing about combat in the dungeons. Your characters are in a horizontal line, and their positioning is crucial. Their abilities require them to be in specific positions in the formation (spots 1 [in the front] through 4 [in the back]), and their abilities affect enemies in particular positions also. Some abilities move enemies. So putting characters in good order is important. BUT, some enemy abilities will also move your characters. I almost had a party wipe one time because when the battle started my party was "surprised," which randomly jumbled their order, and I just got massacred. There is a lot of strategy to pretty much everything in DD, but a healthy dose of RNG too, which can be maddening / make you cry. When I lost my three level 4 characters to getting surprised and jumbled up, I couldn't believe it. But I pressed on. The game is about making the most out of terrible circumstances. As I press on though, I feel the entire game is on big terrible circumstance, and it stresses ME out so much to play it. I really like the game. I think it's well designed and is as difficult as it is meant to be. But I'm on the edge of my seat, and it's going to take me forever to progress. I wouldn't mind so much if there were more story, but as a roguelike dungeon crawler sort of game, there's not much. Grind characters that get harder and harder to grind. Then lose some of them and be heartbroken. Pick up the pieces and try again. Etc. I watched the final Darkest Dungeon levels on YouTube, and this poor YouTuber went into the first floor of the Darkest Dungeon (that's the name of the final dungeon) and just got beaten down with full level 6 characters. He lost them all. It was so painful to watch because I've been playing for 15 hours and have a handful of level 4 characters. This guy had his whole roster, like 20-something characters, at level 6. How long did that take?! Only to have his best ones wiped out. It was like 20 more episodes later in his YouTube channel that he finally beat the game (like 20 more hours of recorded content). And the bosses down there, no thanks! SO, glad I played, but glad to stop.Tue, 21 Nov 2017 17:05:27 CDT Legend (PC) - Sat, 04 Nov 2017 15:09:07 I haven't played a game, aside from the odd Hearthstone match, in three months, literally since the fall semester began. Who am I? Seeing the light at the end of the semester-long tunnel, my body decided to become sick and so I took a few days off work last week. I mostly watched movies, which is another reason I haven't been playing games (learned I can rent DVDs from library + new Roku TV + free Hulu trial for 2 months means I've had more movies and TV than ever in my life, and I have indulged). But I'm working toward re-balancing media consumption. I'm also 7 books behind schedule to hit my goal of 30 for the year, which is more motivation for re-balancing. Anyway, while I was sick I booted up Steam and downloaded 3 months' worth of game updates. Then I decided to spend an evening playing something. I chose Endless Legend since I had played the tutorial back in August and another "Endless" game before that. The main reason I had bought Endless Legend is because I want to like 4x games, and this one seemed different enough from the typical Civilization games to warrant my attention. Great reviews always mentioned more of a formal narrative arc somewhat different depending on which of the diverse races you chose, and a narrative with quests and goals (aside from one of the victory conditions) is something I always found missing in Civilization games. So I played a game on Easy against the AI and lost. Then I played another against just one Easy AI and won. And I'd had enough of it because I guess it's still a pretty standard 4x game, just with sci-fi fantasy dressing. The faction-specific narratives provided nice flavor exploring the motivations of each faction for world domination and the characteristics of them and their leaders. But ultimately, yeah, you explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. Just with "Endless" resources (dust, gold, industry, etc.) instead of regular game resources. And I don't play enough 4x games to be able to describe other differences. It felt the same to me, and I was a little disappointed. The next one that's been on my list forever is Crusader Kings, which seems like it has a lot more politics in it and is more grand strategy. Maybe I'll like it better.Sat, 04 Nov 2017 15:09:07 CDT