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    Post Void (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jun 27th, 2022 at 22:23:43)

    Another recently acquired freebie that looked insane. Post Void is a retro FPS, but like in some psychedelic Hotline Miami vein. It's fast and frenetic with bright colors and flashes. Don't ask me what the story is about. There are 11 increasingly challenging levels, but if you die, you die. Enemies are vicious and come charging at you. Every enemy you kill returns a little bit of health. If you don't kill an enemy after a short amount of time, a timer counts down from 3 and you die if you don't get a kill.

    After each level, you choose a perk from among three options. Perks include faster reload speeds, new guns, slower enemy bullets, a compass pointing toward the exit, and so on. I always liked to get the one that slows their bullets, gives more health, and get an Uzi. Not sure what is optimal though. I can reliably make it to level 4 after about 45 minutes of practice, but get annihilated by various enemies that I haven't been able to clearly see yet. They kill me so quickly!

    This is fun and gets my heart rate up. I watched someone finish a run on YouTube. This has me curious about other modern retro FPSes, as that's a genre I haven't dabbled in.

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    Bridge Constructor Portal (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jun 27th, 2022 at 19:18:03)

    This was a freebie at some point and I tried it out because of the Portal theme. The Portal mechanics are cleverly integrated with the building in Bridge Constructor. You basically build bridges to guide little workers and their carts through portals to the exit on each level. At first, I was pretty enamored with it. It's cute, they got GLaDOS to voice.

    I got stuck on level 20 though (of 60); the challenge really ramps up! I think my struggle with it is that I know what I need to do, but I can't execute. Rather, I can execute, but it takes a lot of fiddling to do it. For example, on this level 20, you have to use panels to redirect some orbs into their holes so that cubes drop on the turrets, such that your carts can pass safely. Okay, so I had the idea figured out quickly! But getting the orbs to hit the surfaces at a specific angle to start a chain of bounces so that they go where you want them to is like...tweak, run test, tweak, run test, tweak, run test, tweak, run test, forever until you get it just right. Granted, my solution (when I looked it up) wasn't ideal, but it was going to work.

    I watched levels 20-60 on YouTube, and there is no way I would have kept with it. The difficulty ramp happens around where I stopped. The game continues to add Portal mechanics, from speed gel and bouncing gel to laser grids to launching panels, and requires evermore elaborate bridges. I feel like I had a good understanding of the Portal bit, but not the Bridge Constructor bit. I shouldn't be an engineer.

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    Far Cry 4 (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jun 27th, 2022 at 18:17:31)

    This had been on my wishlist since it came out in 2014 and the price never dropped low enough for me to grab it. But then it was a freebie through Amazon Prime last month. I had Watch Dogs 2 queued up to play soon, but I downloaded this to play first. Keeping my Ubisoft open world games in order! I hope that Watch Dogs 2 is sufficiently different from this and Assassin's Creed (Odyssey is next after Watch Dogs 2) so that I don't get Ubisoft-open-worlded out.

    Being Ubisoft-open-worlded out is a real concern because I feel like I've played Far Cry 4 five times before. It plays the...exact...same as other open world games where you capture the towers to reveal the map, liberate the bases, explore the question marks, do the zillion side quests and "activities", etc., etc. I suppose this makes sense and is somewhat forgivable here since this was made in 2014 and helped solidify these genre features. I don't remember exactly when open world games started including 10000 collectibles for you to find and cluttering your map with icons.

    So I was really playing this for the bad guy, Pagan Min. He always looked intriguing, with his pink suit and fashion haircut. He doesn't disappoint. What a cool bad guy. He took over Kyrat (the Himalayan country the game is set in) in a coup and runs it with an iron fist, very Kim Jong Un, but with more personality. He's got a few lieutenants whom you mow down before confronting Pagan Min (unless you follow his instructions in the beginning of the game and complete it in 15 minutes). Most of the characters have eccentric personalities and are fairly amusing, but they can border on the annoying (the radio DJ, for one). One of Pagan Min's lieutenants is an American expat who lies to his family about where he is. He says he's on a business trip. He'll be torturing a soldier, his phone will ring, he'll stop and pick it up and talk all lovingly with his wife and daughter for a few minutes, then say he's got to walk into a meeting, hang up, and kill the soldier. It's pretty funny. I got a kick out of the two stoner guys as well, who use Ajay to experiment with drugs. Their side missions were trippy and some of my favorites.

    The BEST missions though were the Shangri-La ones. This is an optional side story that, along with the trippy drug missions, reinforce that the coolest thing about Far Cry is when it goes all fantasy on you. You seek out five parts of a painting depicting the story of a warrior seeking paradise. Each time you find part of the painting, you "enter" it and play the part of the story. You have a bow and a knife, but can also command a tiger, fly on wind tunnels, and ride a rampaging elephant, as you free bells and get closer to defeating the evil spirit that is trying to take over Shangri-La. Where did Far Cry 4 go? Who cares! This was the best part.

    I generally enjoyed myself while playing. Exploring the map, completing quests, liberating bases, it's all very methodical, and I get into doing that kind of thing, even if I am aware of mundanity and repetition. But there were a lot of really, really, annoying things about the game. I rolled my eyes a lot upon dying. I'll list some at the top of my mind:

    1. Healing - You heal in two ways, by using a healing syringe (takes a second, heals all the way with upgrades), or by manually using bandages, setting bones, and so on (takes a few seconds, heals up to one-third of your health, upgraded). The thing that drove me the most nuts is that you can't choose. If you have a healing syringe (which you have to craft from gathering plants), then you will use the healing syringe. Often, I didn't want to use the healing syringe. If there are no enemies around, if it's not urgent, why would I use a syringe? I can just manually do it. But no. It forces you to use the syringe if you have it, which is wasteful and makes you have to go pick so many green flowers. The second thing is that it takes so long to heal manually. I got shot dead so many times while the healing animation played. Super irritating.

    2. Rampaging Enemies - There are, of course, enemies roaming the map. No problem. There are also, though, enemies roaming where they would not roam (e.g., enemy trucks leaving outposts that you've captured--how did they get in there??), or seemingly endlessly spawning and attacking you and bases that you've liberated. I "failed" to protect outposts probably 30 times, as enemies would randomly attack them. When that happens, the game removes your current waypoint and changes it to the outpost. At first, I thought I had to go defend the outposts, like the enemies would take them back over if I didn't save them. But one time I ignored it, and it just said I failed, and life went on. Nothing happened! Then what's the point?! It draws you out of whatever you are doing, deletes your waypoint, but then if you ignore it, nothing happens.

    3. Climbing and Wingsuit - Oh man, I hated climbing and I hated the wingsuit. You press spacebar near a specific type of vertical ledge to climb it, which usually just made you jump (spacebar also jumps) until you line it up better. The main character, Ajay, seriously needs to work on his ability to scale a rock as tall as he is. He will not jump over ANYTHING unless it's a nice vertical rock wall about 8 feet tall. A sloping rock? Nope, he won't walk up it. The game, being set in the mountains, also features rappelling, but your rope gets stuck on rocks all the time and you have to reset the rope. Now, the wingsuit. You activate this by pressing shift and jumping off a cliff. The problem is that shift is also the sprint button, which you are always holding down. The other problem is that the wingsuit doesn't just activate on tall cliffs; it activates on anything that is like 6 feet tall or higher. Which means that you will unintentionally deploy your wingsuit constantly. Ajay doesn't know how to safely land in a wingsuit. He has to deploy a parachute to land and not die. So, you will often run off of a low rock with no intention of flying, the wingsuit will deploy, and Ajay will immediately crash into the ground and die. You were just running three seconds ago; now you are dead. I cannot complain enough about how bad jumping, climbing, and the wingsuit are.

    4. This doesn't have to do with dying, but also made me roll my eyes. The Golden Path (the good guy rebel army fighting Pagan Min) is led by two people, a man and a woman. You occasionally choose which of their methods to use to complete a given task. For example, the enemy has poppy fields that they use for drug production. The woman wants you to secure the poppy fields to use to fund the resistance; the man wants you to burn them down. Eventually, only one of them will lead the Golden Path, so your choices theoretically matter (they don't actually matter until the last one). But I eventually realized that the choices are ridiculously artificial. For example, the woman always wants to utilize Pagan Min's production facilities or whatever to fund the Golden Path. She wants to modernize. The man wants to return to tradition and wants to tear down everything Pagan Min has built. I sided with the man over and over because I didn't want to produce drugs. Destroying heroin production seemed like a good idea. The woman starts making their rivalry a gender thing, which I suppose is suppose to tug on the player. She wants a progressive society with equality. He wants to go back to tradition and maintain Kyratian culture. This is when I started switching sides because it turns out that "tradition" includes men taking child brides. Great. So I can either choose the woman / drug lord (but feminism!) or I can choose the man / child brides (but tradition!). I switched my allegiance after the child bride thing and after talking to a would-be child bride, who "didn't know who she wanted to be the leader." Girl, you're telling me that you're cool with being married off at 12 years old to a much older man? Nah. So I sided with the woman and killed the man.

    And of course, I let Pagan Min live.

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    Astro's Playroom (PS5)    by   jp       (Jun 27th, 2022 at 15:28:08)

    I think that this game was described in its review in Edge magazine as the best Nintendo game not made by Nintendo that you'd assume was made by Nintendo. It's a really fitting description and, as I write this having unlocked all of the trophies for the game, I'm just a bit disappointed that it wasn't longer!

    There's quite a bit for me to unpack and unwind from my experience so...

    (a) Nostalgia

    The game is littered with references, many overt others less so, to the Playstation as a brand and its history. In the game levels it is common to spot little robots recreating moments from famous Playstation games - sometimes with little costumes and all. I enjoyed seeing them, trying to identify some (when I wasn't sure what they were) and so on. The game also has a vault of artifacts you find and collect - and they're all Playstation-related (including PSP and Vita, of course). As I'm playing the game and collecting these I realized how intertwined my personal play experience is connected to the PlayStation. The PS1 was my first console (I had played on earlier ones, but never owned one or had access to in my home) and I've owned every single one since - not in all the different hardware models, but still. That's a lot of consoles (7 in total, including the handhelds) and I'm also pretty familiar with a lot of the games that came out for it. So, this really did feel like a trip down my own personal memory lane of games. I'm sure I missed lots of references, but it was fun to spot some of the more "obscure" ones? (Uncharted is easy, but Patapon less so...) It also made me realize how much I miss some of the important series that haven't seen releases recently - Wipeout being the standout example here. Each of the main areas ends with a level that plays the startup/system song/chime for each of the platforms - it's been years since I'd heard the PS2 and PS1 ones...sigh.

    (b) Trophies

    This is the first PS5-exclusive game I've played, so as I'm playing I'm also exploring and trying to understand the new menus/operation stuff for the console. So far the most striking novelty for me - and I'm not sure if this was just a Astro's Playroom thing or if other PS5 games will do the same - is the functionality for tracking and getting more information on game trophies! Hidden trophies remain hidden, with no way to track or anything, but for the others you can add them to a "task tracker" of sorts AND, read a short blurb with advice on how to get the trophy and, if you're interested, you can watch a short video of the trophy being obtained! I don't think this is a huge game changer, but it's definitely an interesting evolution in the meta-gaming aspects of trophies and all that stuff. Weirdly I haven't heard people talk too much about them recently - and while general chatter about "gamerscore" was a thing 5-6 years ago (perhaps more?), nowadays I haven't heard much at all. It's almost like trophies/achievements stopped being a thing? Nintendo/Switch does not have them (which I've always found curious, because clearly it's a choice they made to not have them), while the system in Steam is pretty wild west (in terms of inconsistency and so on). At this point I have a pretty respectable "score", but it's mostly from longevity - you sort of get there naturally if you play games and have been playing them consistently on PS3 (when trophies started for PS), PS Vita, PS4 and, now, PS5.

    (c) Controller/Feedback

    As I'd heard, this game really is a masterclass on haptic feedback - like, wow, really wow. It's not just the feedback - all the different kinds of rumble and so on (lots of really subtle options and uses, just in the game - walking on different surfaces felt brilliantly exectued - I could close my eyes and know it was wood, ice, glass, etc.) BUT, I was most surprised at how the controller can change how it feels to press the buttons - or at least the triggers - adding a little bit of resistance and the like - so the triggers feel smooth, bouncy, clicky, hard to press, etc. The gacha machine and the feeling of popping the capsule (or crushing the can, depending on what you pulled) was super... immersive? Verisimilitudinous? Not sure if that's a real world - but it felt realistic in a way I was not expecting (and I enjoyed playing around with it). I wonder if there's a PS5 devkit with demos for controller haptics? Would be SO GREAT to have in a haptics/game design class...just to show students what can be done!

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    Dagon: by H. P. Lovecraft (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Jun 25th, 2022 at 08:02:35)

    Quickly, I played this recently on an airplane at night, which set a fitting mood (and possibly weirded out the person next to me). I really enjoyed this visual telling of a Lovecraft story. It's simple. You're in a 3d environment, first-person viewpoint, a Lovecraftian hellscape made real. The excellent narrator tells his tale. You can move the camera around to look at things, and click on a door or in the distance or wherever to progress the story. Occasionally, there are bits of interesting trivia you can reveal by clicking on other items of interest. That's it. I'd definitely play more of these. Enjoy the horror.

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    Nier: Automata (PS4)    by   jp

    No comment, yet.
    most recent entry:   Sunday 12 June, 2022
    I kept on meaning to write about this game, but never did, and now I'm 27 hours in, have decided to put set it down, and want to see/read about the "true" ending from guides/youtube rather than spending another 30 hrs or so. It might be shorter? But who knows...

    I almost didn't continue playing the game - this part partially my fault, but I'm glad I stuck with it. When you start the game there some cutscenes but also warnings that the game does not auto-save and that you'll learn how to save in the game itself, later on. You can only save after about 45 minutes of playing...and of course, I died the first time about 40 minutes in. And realized I'd have to play it all over again and was...not happy. Then I started again, and tried to rush through, and died again (but sooner). So, again, not happy.

    Then I realized that the dodge/dash button is critical/crucial - and that I would have to practice using it while I attacked, and that made a really big difference and I was able to get to the point where you could save. And wow, I'm glad I did.

    The game is, reasonably, and open world 3rd person action game - with lots of RPG-style progression (upgrades, weapons, etc.)but it's got some weird extra things:

    (1) In some areas/places the game goes "platformer linear" - the camera shifts to a side view and you can only move along two axes (jump + left/right) - there are even areas with jumping puzzles or combat that's a bit tricky because enemies are coming at your from to sides and you can strafe/kite then around as easily as you do in the open areas. At other times the camera shifts to a top-down view...

    (2) Twin-stick shooter games (hacking) - I didn't really understand this until I finished the game the first time (with 2B) and started playing with 9S - you can hack robots by attacking with with the triangle button (which I thought was the heavy attack), and if you land enough hits you "enter" the robot and play a twin stick shooter game where you need to destroy a core - and then the robot is destroyed. You get XP for the hack and then for the kill. This mode of the game only happened occasionally with 2B - but with 9S being a scanner (not combat) android, I guess this makes sense?

    (3) There's a fishing game. I never played it, but I think you can catch fish and sell them or something.

    (4) 2D shooter games! Sometimes you're flying around in this sort of mecha-wing suit - and it's like a 2D space shooter game! (with a combination of both "Straight" shooting and twin stick shooting - when you're in either plane mode or mecha mode. The game switches automatically, so you can't decide.

    The game is "wonky" in many ways - I was often with a companion (either 9S or 2B) who would often just teleport to be where I was going, would fall of ledges and stuff like that. In combat however the companion was pretty useful!

    Another cool thing - there's a "online mode" where you can run across bodies of dead YorHa members (other players), you can revive them (so serve as an AI companion - but I think you can only have one, so there wasn't much point to that in my playing) or to recover them - it's an instant heal plus some buffs. The buffs are sort of randomly generated? (or perhaps based on whatever equipment the dead player had?) I like this system and, when you die you get to leave a message for others to read - you can't write whatever, but it's a sort of multiple choice ad-libs system that is designed (I think) for you to leave poetic/cryptic messages.

    Oh, if you die - you lose all your upgrades (chips) that you cannot get back until you get to where your body is and retrieve it. Very souls-like, and I only failed to recover everything once (when escaping the factory section at the very end - much frustration!).

    I really liked the chip system - they're basically buffs you can install - there are attack ones, defense, xp-related, item drops and so on. I played with mostly defensive and XP ones - and I was surprised that I kept all the inventory and XP when I started the game the 2nd time!

    The game has 26 endings! (all tracked/noted as part of your save file information) and I unlocked very few of them. They're all indicated by a letter:

    A: First playthrough ending with 2B.

    H: Got it my mistake when I left the area instead of going to fight the Goliath.

    W: Died in the first mission before getting a chance to save. Oops.

    T: Removed the OS chip. The game says you'll die - but I wanted to see what happened anyways.

    I think I got one more, but don't remember it exactly.

    The game also has some pretty epic boss battles! Once I'd gotten into things and realized the importance of dodging AND that I could always fire with my pod companion, that made things a lot easier. I just needed to have patience and time my attacks just right. I was also loaded up with chips that let me heal automatically (at a set rate) if I was not taking damage - so keeping my distance, waiting to heal, firing with the pod (for very limited damage) worked quite well for me in pretty much all the boss battles.

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