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    Beglitched (PC)    by   jp       (Apr 5th, 2020 at 19:21:18)

    I played this for about an hour(?) in the context of a class I was teaching - normally I'd play a game before and then show it in class but, with the pandemic+teaching online, it just made more sense to do it this way.

    Anyways, it was fun to learn and experience a game for the first time under the "eyes" of a few people. Weirdly, the game doesn't do a lot to help you figure things out BUT, it is the sort of game you can trial/error/experiment your way to at least a basic understanding of the mechanics.

    For example, it took me a little while to realize the game has two main modes of play - one can be described as form of minesweeper while the other is a match-3. Each has its own challenges in figuring out what to do, how to do it, etc. They're not hard - but it was weird to have to context-switch when I entered each mode. The match-3 was perhaps the more interesting one for me - each time you make a match "stuff happens" and since there's an objective (detonate a spot on the board where an invisible enemy is hiding), you can't (shouldn't) just go in willy-nilly. So, experimenting while playing was neat - and I slowly started to realize what matches did (e.g. give you more time on the clock before the hidden enemy attacks you, improve bombs that have better/bigger blast radius, etc.). There's a nice amount of strategy and planning that allows flexibility for luck which I liked. So, it's not quite a puzzle where you really need to find the optimum. For example, I might have narrowed down the location of the hidden enemy to two locations one of which explodes. So, I have a 50/50 chance of clearing the level - why not try to see if I'm lucky? Other times you know where the enemy is, but don't have a way to explode their location - so you need to make matches to "fill the time", but also prevent them from attacking.

    Perhaps one of the more interesting design choices is that the board state is preserved between matches. So, you can also choose to make matches to "set up" something for the future - have a large bomb ready to go, etc. while playing a match you've already "solved".

    There's a story too, a cute retro OS aesthetic, and fun writing and characters...but for now I've mostly enjoyed the matching...though there is much more to the game than that.

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    Monster Jam Urban Assault (DS)    by   jp       (Apr 5th, 2020 at 14:06:16)

    Here's another one from my pile of shame. I made the mistake of buying a large number of DS games as a lot on ebay - very few of which I owned, for a few I was really interested in. And, well - I'm going to play them all! I genuinely think it's a good idea (if you're interested in game dev and games academic) to play widely and broadly - especially titles you might not be personally interested in.

    So here's another one. :-)

    You drive a monster truck and there are lots of different types of events: races, do tricks for points, etc.

    I think what has surprised me most about the game is that the trucks - despite being massive - move really fast! They're quite "bouncy" and nimble. It definitely makes them more fun to drive around than what I think the real ones must feel like. The feel like what I'd imagine super-charged buggies would drive like. Not that I've ever driven either.

    Also, strangely, the first time I played I flipped the truck over and, to my surprised, it didn't automatically flip over/reset. I had assumed that's a "default" thing that happens in driving games but apparently not. I was actually really disappointed because it didn't reset when pressing the "regular" buttons you use for play - so I hit select and quit. It turns out you can hit start to reset the car. Doh!

    I'm also pretty surprised that there is (apparently?) no real explanation of the game's core mechanics. Mostly, there's a "turbo" system it took me too long to "discover" and, I have no real idea how you should try to execute combos/tricks. I've been randomly pressing buttons and sometimes things work and sometimes they don't. I even checked the manual - it says you should do tricks. Not how.

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    Major League Baseball 2K12 (DS)    by   jp       (Apr 4th, 2020 at 15:47:43)

    This might be the first time I've played a licensed baseball game!

    I'm familiar enough with the sport - in terms of the basic rules and how it works - that I wasn't too worried about having to deal with that as a problem (would not be the case if I played a cricket or rugby game!), but I was surprised by how long it took me to understand the basic interface of the game (it didn't help that I took too long for me to realize that there was some help screens when you pause the game). Also, I lost horribly - which is ok considering how long it took me understand what was going on - but, perhaps I chose to play as a really bad team against a much better one? (I played with the 2012 Cubs - I know they won recently, but I'm pretty sure this was after 2012)

    Anyways, I thought I'd describe the game's interface - if anything that I may refer to it in the future because I thought it was pretty interesting.

    Well first, I was really surprised by how much the game runs on "automatic" (AI/NPCs). As a player there really isn't a lot you can do - which is fine! It makes the game move along much faster than it would otherwise!

    A. Pitching
    Half the game is pitching. For pitching you need to do three things. First you can move a little cursor using the directional buttons inside the pitch box - I have no idea what good strategy here is, but I assume that being really close to outside the box is good in that the batter is less likely to swing ('cause it's a ball)? Second, you choose which type of pitch - there are 5 options and what button to press is indicated on the top screen. Pressing a button for the 2nd part immediately starts the 3 thing you need to do - here a circle gets bigger and you need to keep the button you chose pressed. Let go of the button before the circle gets too big (turns red) and then, as it shrinks press it again when the circle is as small as possible. If you do it right (I think), the circle flashes green and you get a sound. I think the first circle (don't let go of button too early) is for strength/speed and the 2nd press is for accuracy.

    I was really confused by this because, early in the game I did the "correct" thing twice - and both times the batters hit homeruns. So, it looked like that was an easy pitch to hit? It felt like I couldn't have done anything better - other than perhaps choosing a different pitch? I wonder what sort of "insider" knowledge would have helped? (e.g. batter X is famous for hitting well against fast balls, don't pitch those!)

    The other thing I never caught on to is that apparently I do control one player in the field - so I might have been extra-bad 'cause I had one player who just stood there and did nothing? I never noticed this, so who knows if the player runs on auto but you can interrupt?

    B. Batting!

    You have three options of swinging - a power, normal or bunt. I'm not sure when/why I wouldn't choose power? Or normal? I think I understand bunt...
    Also, when the pitch comes in you can move a little circle inside the strike box. I thought that was to determine where you wanted to aim your hit - but apparently you're trying to guess where the pitch will come in, if you get it right, then you hit with extra power. Never figured that!

    You can also give instructions to your players to steal bases - but I never used this. It doesn't seem to happen all that often in real baseball games AFAIK? I could be wrong... I'm probably wrong.


    As I played the game I realized that, due to my lack of knowledge of pro baseball, the game might be largely inaccessible to me. It's really hard to tell how interesting/good the game is when a lot of the interesting decisions or choices rely on external knowledge of the sport. For example, when should I swap out a pitcher, how should I pick pitches, is it better to alternate/mix things up? Pitch to the batters weaknesses? Does the pitcher have those as well? This pitcher might be famous/well known for his curveball?

    So, the whole simulation under the hood really matters (how are players modeled, etc.) BUT that knowledge of what matters, how it matters, etc. is also super important! This all makes it seem like I will never make any progress or sense of Madden.

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    Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)    by   dkirschner       (Apr 3rd, 2020 at 17:03:25)

    So, coronavirus huh?

    Now that I've contextualized the times...

    I have so many more videogames than I did a couple weeks ago. I bought my girlfriend a Switch Lite and she grabbed a few games for it. I've gotten some nice freebies from the Epic Store. Humble Bundle had a massive $30 "help fight COVID-19" bundle with a handful of games on my wishlist, and that came with a one month subscription to Humble Choice, which has another few games this month on my wishlist (and it looks like I get to keep it for next month's games too?!). So I'm swimming in video games AND I have a little more time to play!

    The first thing I did when faced with not being allowed to go to work and being in teaching limbo (we weren't allowed to teach for two weeks as we prepared to move online) was find the longest game in my backlog, which was Xenoblade Chronicles (and its sequel) on Wii (both around 100 hours!), and plop down on my couch. I've made it a little over 20 hours and am thinking about just moving on to the sequel, not because Xenoblade Chronicles isn't a great game--it is--but because I get the gist of it and I want to see what the second one changes.

    This is a massive JRPG. I haven't played a massive JRPG in a long time, so this feels like reverting to when I was younger, very comforting. It also feels like a single-player MMORPG, with large explorable environments and very MMO-esque skills for each character. There are things I love about the game and things that are encouraging me to just try the second one in hopes they will be different.

    Like

    1. Presentation - Music, art style, cinematography, all that is excellent. It's a beautiful game, which is odd to say about a 10-year-old Wii title.

    2. Setting - The game world is the body of an old, dead god. I lived on the bottom of the leg and have been traveling my way to its head. See, in the past, these two old gods fought and died. Their bodies became fertile ground for life forms or something. It's so cool.

    3. Overall story - I don't know where exactly the story is going, but I like the big arc, which is a fight against the "Mechon," which are (you guessed it) machine-like beings. They are, in typical JRPG style, pure evil bad guys. There is something bigger going on, and I want to know what happens!

    4. Combat - I do generally enjoy the combat. It's active in real time. You control one character and the others are controlled by AI. Positioning matters. The order of abilities matters. It's challenging and complex.

    Dislike or meh

    1. Characters - This is one of those "kid saves the world" stories. The voice acting is fine (the British accents grew on me) and the dialogue is fine, and there isn't anything special about the characters really. They fit stereotypes. Except I did just meet Riki, the mandatory cute/annoying nonhuman party member, and I think I hate him.

    2. "Affinity Points" - There are places in the world where, depending on your party members' affinity for one another, special cut scenes will occur. I've found like 30 of these places and only had the right affinity to see like 2 scenes. There is a lot of "social" interaction between characters and NPCs that contributes nothing to the main story and feels arbitrarily locked behind vague stats and busywork side quests.

    3. Pointless side quests - Do you like to "kill 5 Red Hoobaloos" and "find 4 Plains Wacacadoodle toes?" Great! Because you'll be doing that all the time. The same NPC will give you 5 or 6 quests like this at once. There is no side quest pacing. You go to a new area, talk to two or three NPCs to pick up 10 side quests, and maybe knock them out along the way.

    4. Too many skills - In true MMORPG fashion, each character learns up to 16 skills, but can only equip 8 of them. They are complex in how they work together (good) but this makes it difficult to understand which skills can be left out (bad).

    5. Bad party AI - #4 is coupled with bad party AI, who tend to use skills poorly. For example, there are some really useful chains of status effects. You can "Break" an enemy, which allows them to be "Toppled" and take a bunch of extra damage. If an enemy is toppled, you can "Daze" them, which is an even stronger debuff. So I have various skills equipped on the AI (who can only use the skills if they are equipped too) that do these various things. I use my Break skill and...neither of my AI companions uses their Topple skill! Why not?! They should never be using Topple unless the enemy has Break. There aren't any detailed AI settings you can play with to guide their behavior. It's quite maddening. There are so many more examples. If you let the AI control Schulk (the main character), he won't do basic things like using Monado Arts (his special attacks) at crucial moments. Some characters the AI does a serviceable job with and others the AI is horrendous and basically cannot play.

    6. Wii controls - This is one that's going to make me retire the game. You've played MMORPGs. You know how many buttons there are. Now try and map all that onto the Wiimote and the nunchuck. The result is a functional, but awkward and slow control scheme. I spend so much time in menus. On a keyboard, or with a regular controller, navigating menus would be much breezier. Combat also feels at times like a big menu navigation game because you have an action bar with 9 buttons on it, and you can only move the cursor left or right. So battle is you running around with the nunchuck thumbstick pressing left left left left A right right right right right right right right A left left left A right A left left left left left left left A...selecting skills on the action bar until someone dies.

    There's plenty more to say, but I've listed some key positives and negatives. My decision is whether to skip ahead to the sequel. I feel like I've gotten many awe-inspiring moments from this game, and those moments are now few and far between, replaced with more frequent feelings of tedium. I am motivated to continue for the story, but I understand that however much I enjoy that and the exploration, I've got at least like 60 hours of gameplay left, and that is such a long time for something I'm not wholly into at this point. I may chug ahead for a while and decide after another long play session or two, perhaps after committing some combat learning to memory. We shall see!

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    Infamous Second Son (PS4)    by   jp       (Mar 29th, 2020 at 15:52:25)

    I've played this a few hours (ok, perhaps more than a few) over the last two evenings and I've really been enjoying it.

    The beginning was a bit confusing, because it seemed like the game was a pretty narrow linear experience (ala Last of Us) when all of a sudden - it became an open world (ala Spiderman or Ubisoft games)! The transition was weird and confusing to me, but weirdly exhilarating once I realized what was happening. It basically happened as I was going through security (to enter Seattle) and all hell breaks loose - and I ended up going pretty far, not sure what to do, shooting things down and then slowly, as I realized I was not in "open world" mode - going back and picking up things I'd missed.

    The progression seems weird/interesting. Not in a bad way. So you collect these shards (or something) and use them to upgrade your powers. And, I haven't been getting them ALL, but it looked like I was really going to max out super early. This seemed weird, but I thought - oh, maybe the final upgrades are super expensive?

    So, last night I ran into another "conduit" (superhero) and then I learned HER powers...and now there's an entirely new tree with upgrades to buy! I wonder how long this will go on for. The new powers are cool - and I FINALLY feel like I'm powerful in combat, but I'm not sure I want to have to toggle back and forth between them, and if more are added to the mix?

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    Dungeon of the Endless (PC)    by   dkirschner

    Sounds intriguing. Thanks CW. --------- Neat game, tired of playing it though. It's a hard one!
    most recent entry:   Sunday 6 August, 2017
    Wow, long time no updates. I haven't been playing much of anything for about a month. I am chilling in Montreal this week before a conference though, so I find myself playing some games instead of working on my conference presentation. I've officially retired Dungeon of the Endless, which a friend told me about at the tail end of this summer's Steam sale. Sounded cool, and I had some good times with it.

    Dungeon of the Endless is a roguelike tower defense game. Interesting merger of two genres that works well. There is some threadbare story and some "narratives" between characters that play out in small dialogue snippets on the elevator between floors. Your ship crash lands and you have to escape the dungeon...But there are some characters who are jailors and others who are prisoners and a couple other types...including Team Fortress 2 characters for some reason. None of that affects anything.

    You choose two characters to begin the game, and you start at floor 1, trying to work your way up to floor 13 (with the basic ship; you can unlock other ships that crash deeper into the planet, meaning you have to go up more floors to escape). You begin in a room with a crystal. This crystal is important. It generates a resource called "dust." With dust, you can power new rooms. So basically, open doors, acquire dust from doing so, power rooms. But it's infinitely more complicated. If you don't power a room, monsters might spawn there every time you open a door. Of course there isn't enough dust to go around. So you're going to have to build "towers," aka "major modules" that generate other resources and "minor modules" which are a variety of weapons, buffs, and debuffs.

    Major modules generate three other important resources: industry, science, and food. Industry is what you need to construct modules. Science lets you research new and upgraded modules. Food lets you level up your heroes and heal them in battle. So be smart when choosing among modules to build. These resources also let you buy things from merchants, who will sometimes appear and charge one of the three resources seemingly at random for their items. If you don't generate much industry, you'll have a hard time building modules. Not much science, and you won't be able to upgrade modules very well. Not much food, and your characters will be lower level, which means they'll have lesser stats and fewer perks. Always a tough call!

    So. How do you clear a floor? You need to find the power source for the crystal. It's hidden somewhere on the floor. Once you find that, you can carry it to the crystal and escape with whoever is in the room. I learned that the hard way one game where I escaped with no one but the hero carrying the crystal, and I lost all my party members. Terrible! As soon as you pick up the crystal power source, be warned that monsters will spawn from every unpowered room. So you need to power a path from the power source to the crystal and ideally power other rooms such that monsters don't catch you (you run slower with the power source) or don't make it to the crystal room.

    Enemies are all different. Some go straight for the crystal; some attack heroes; some attack modules. You'll be fine until floor 6 or so, then different enemy types appear and you can't just stand in a room and kill everything.

    You know what. I'm about halfway through describing all the systems in the game. If this sounds cool to you, pay a few bucks for it. I probably won't revisit it, and I never escaped, not even on Too Easy mode, but I had fun and found the game unique. Also I hope this was a decent primer on the "Endless" games, because I think I'm going to start Endless Legend next.

    [read this GameLog]

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