Gaming Chez M

Last month I was locked in to Skyrim as game of choice. I haven’t completed the game by any stretch when talking about the DLC options, but I think I reached saturation levels recently.

That’s why I took advantage of a recent sale and bought Mass Effect: Andromeda. I have to admit I didn’t buy it when it came out for two reasons. Firstly it was bloody expensive. Secondly my news feeds were full of muttering about animation glitches and lackluster reviews.

This sale brought it down to half price for one of the digital deluxe editions, so I thought it would be rude not to now, especially when there had been ample opportunities for patching updates. 

We also found a gift card that Lady M had got from work, so we picked out a couple of games for her – one of which was Steep (and it’s Season Pass) – a snow sports game with more than few nods towards her favourite game series: SSX.

As I am currently working a bit closer to home this month, I’m often back before she is, so I’m grabbing an hour or so of Andromeda a day. Then after we’ve eaten and caught up on some shows, it’s Lady M’s turn to create some virtual havoc of her own.

So – Mass Effect is… Rather appealing actually. I’ve described it to a couple of people as space opera with heart – not just for the usual Bioware diverse dating options for characters – but for its themes of family, loyalty, and building a future. This (so far) is in stark contrast to the original stories with had an almost Lovecraftian horrors to the struggles of the characters against literally monolithic and uncaring alien entities intent on consuming whole species without care for the individual.

In this iteration there’s more of a Wild West feel of building from the rubble of shattered dreams and the formation of new chances. Yes there are uncaring lyrics aggressive alien machines and a mystery of godlike technologies to unravel, and all new alien races adjusting to your arrival on the scene. At every turn you are reminded that humanity is the invader here and it’s your choice as to how you take things from there.

And that appeals to me – along with the hugely open world maps that are, frankly, gorgeous and full of things to discover.

Yes, there are elements that bug me: not all scene animations are skippable, but enough are to not be too much of an issue. In addition, unlike many games, it’s not possible to boost past dialogue to get tot the decision points. I read a lot faster than the characters talk, and so while it’s a minor gripe it has got me sometimes tapping my fingers and willing the characters to just hurry up – oh and some of the idling animations while characters talk are a bit limited and don’t seem always suited to where they are and what they’re doing. It’s small things that generally I can handwave, except when I can’t. 

No biggie.

Steep, by contrast, caters to Lady M’s adrenaline junkie side with snowboarding, skiing, wingsuits, sleds, and more all available for her to use to throw herself down virtual mountain tops. It’s an unforgiving game with some truly unpleasant sound effects and ragdoll animations when her avatar hits the ground/snow/rocks/trees/buildings at speed, awkward angles, or both.

But visually it’s a feast, and when she overcomes the urge to rage-quit the skill challenge has her gripped and determined to win.

Which frees me up to write more. Because I’m not too proud to distract her when a story is rattling in my skull…

So yay, gaming wins all round at our place.

Games etc

Games continue to be an essential stress relief mechanism for me, as well as being the more traditional amusement and distraction. For the most part recently I seem to have been largely enjoying old favourites rather than trying anything as a new release.

In part that’s down to the sheer expense of new AAA titles, but there’s also a bit that is just enjoying the familiarity of old favourites like Skyrim, Overwatch, and Halo5. 

For Skyrim (I’m playing the XBox One Remaster), it’s knowing that I can casually drop in, do a bit, and then pause at any point to cook/serve up food, or respond to Lady M’s deliberations over restaurant reservations for the upcoming Disney trip.

The other titles are more twitch-based online play. I enjoy different elements of each, with Halo Warzone games being a very different experience to playing Mercy in Overwatch as a favourite. 

The latter feels somehow more strategic even though it’s on smaller maps with a more cartoon kinetic energy, while Halo even at its scrappiest still has an epic feel and scope.

They all keep me happy in various ways. I suspect no one who knows me will be even remotely surprised by that sentiment.

The backward compatibility rolling programme is also encouraging me to go back and finish games I never got round to putting effort into first time around – and with so many appearing as download options recently I have the added incentive of not having to swap out discs to dip into them. This evening, on a whim, I’ve left the first Injustice game and Deus Ex installing quietly, and I’m quietly looking forward to rediscovering them.

Now if I wasn’t so brain-dead from work at the moment.

Now Playing… Overwatch

I suspect that this is a game with which I will come to have a love/hate relationship, based on my first exposure to it. We’ve picked up a second hand copy from someone where Lady M works, and finally installed it this evening, so this is very much a first impressions blog that I can go back to once I’ve got a bit more time logged on it.

The basic setup is simple – two teams of variously classed characters are pitched against each other over a series of objectives in timed matches. There is no real story, merely hints at a wider conflict, but to be fair the game knows that’s not what the competitive players are generally here for. No doubt little nuggets will unfold as I earn levels and unlock bonuses, but my first impressions are of a game that is bright, fast-paced and generally fun. The qualifying statement to that is: if you can get a whole game in without losing your connection to the Blizzard servers. 

The basic tutorial and practice arena are both useful ways to introduce basic mechanics and controls, but the flakiness this evening came when I joined the games played against AI opponents. Out of the three games I played, only one went the whole distance without dropping me out. Now, I’m casual enough in how I play to have enjoyed even the partial games, but I can see the dropped connection situation getting old very quickly, especially with Blizzard’s pedigree in hosting online games.

The one thing that these early games have already shown me is that I really need to go back and try out all these new characters before I play them. I’ve enjoyed the robustness of Soldier76, the fluid strikes of Genji, and had great fun with Widowmaker, but I did feel a small panic each time I picked a new character. I forsee some serious mucking about in the practice arena to see what each can do.

Anyone else playing? What have you found effective in terms of play style or tactics?

Just One More Go

wpid-wp-1441220252426.jpegI don’t know. Have any of you ever had that experience of trying to play a game and just running out of time because the real world has other ideas? I’ve got one of those situations at the moment in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

Most of the time when I play open world games like this, I’m able to just dip in and out – and I often get so distracted by the sheer wealth of options that I never end up actually finishing anything. With this game I’ve been actively pushing through the story instead. Admittedly, this is because I’ve completed pretty much every side quest and found every collectible item so there’s admittedly not much else to do on the map. More pressingly it’s also because I have Fallout 4 and FarCry Primal sitting next to my console, glinting prettily and waving to my jackdaw instincts.

acsyndThis week’s irritation has been trying to complete the finale of a series of missions that bring you to Buckingham Palace during a grand ball – having run through a series of challenges to obtain disguises, a carriage, invitations and the location of building plans. Normally I’ve been able to rampage through missions within ten to twenty minutes or so, depending on the complexity of the victory conditions and how interested in all the pretty graphics I’m feeling. The missions typically require you to play one or the other of the twin protagonists, but this one that vexes me is telling the story of a joint mission where each sibling is doing alternating parts of the sequence.

So, it’s already more complicated in structure – but it’s also proving to take longer than expected – and life keeps intruding. If it’s not meal cooking times, it’s people phoning halfway through. If it’s not guests arriving, it’s the need to head out to work. I know, I know – first world problems. Compared to the crises and problems we’ve been dealing with this year though, it’s moderately luxurious to be only worrying about completing a section of a game.

Oh well. I’ll have another crack at it tomorrow. At least I know how to crack the early parts of the mission with maximum style and minimum surprise now…

Gaming Recovery

wpid-wp-1427066913510.jpegOne of the ways that I deal with my depression and assorted mental glitches is to play games – on the PC, on consoles, or round the table. The distraction of concentrating on these activities is extremely useful, and Lady M has got used to my dealing with tough times by diving into games where I shoot waves of aliens, wander post-apocalyptic wastelands, or parkour across the rooftops of various historical cityscapes.

This last couple of weeks, I’ve been diving into Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and having a great time – not just because it is set in my home town and the views are spectacular but because it’s rather cathartic to be immersing myself myself in something other than the crap that’s currently taken over our lives. I was discussing this in therapy just the other night, and was moderately relieved not to have this dismissed as an unhealthy escape. This is largely because one of the joys of my recovery has been finding and putting in place better coping mechanisms than the awful ones I’ve been able to put aside. Even though it has been nearly eight years since I last did anything consciously harmful to myself, I still count myself as still being in recovery. Healthy alternative coping mechanisms and boundary setting are as important now as they have ever been.

But back to the games: before Syndicate, I was playing Fallout 4, but I’ve put it to one side for now as it’s so open ended. Syndicate has a specific storyline despite the open world elements, that is a lot tighter/linear than Fallout’s. The plan is to return to Fallout once I’ve completed Syndicate, then break from that to another of the many games that I still haven’t quite completed. Admittedly, this list is rather long. With a very quick glance over at what’s stacked next to the console I can see:

  • The Witcher 3
  • Lego Marvel Super Heroes
  • Sunset Overdrive
  • Shadows of Mordor
  • Disney Infinity 3
  • Forza 6
  • Lego Batman 3
  • Assassin’s Creed Unity (I know, I know, but I should at least finish the story)
  • Assassin’s Creed Rogue (last-gen but again, I haven’t quite finished it)
  • Forza Horizons 2 (should really complete those last few championships and challenges)
  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel
  • Metal Gear Solid V

Ah well, plenty of distractions to keep me occupied. Of course, the best distraction is my Monday night D&D group, which continues to bemuse, aggravate and pleasantly uplift me on a regular basis – largely because of the social element, even with (or because of) it being through a screen rather than round the table. I’ve upgraded my Roll20 membership to Pro level over the last few months, and really must devote some time to perfecting some of the more obscure toys in that sandbox.

Something to look forward to then. I, and Lady M, definitely need that right now.

 

Disney Infinity 3.0

I splashed out a bit on Lady M’s Christmas presents this year, and bought her the new version of Disney Infinity. I’d resisted the previous versions despite the sleek appearance of the toys, but having seen her eyes lingering over the new Star Wars-themed sets that came out late last year I thought it was as good a time as any. Besides, the adverts have looked fun and some other friends who are Disney geeks have been quietly raving about them in positive terms.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of the game, it allows you to use a range of classic Disney characters, along with Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar characters to play a variety of professionally and community-created scenarios. The tools to create and share your own content are included within the hub software, and a particularly bright feature is that the game allows split-screen play so that you can sit on the couch side by side. Characters can be mixed and matched between franchises smoothly and easily – but here’s what for me was the catch:

To get new playable characters, you have to buy a corresponding model. There’s an element of collectable mania that you risk if you want to get your hands on a good selection.

The relatively good news is that the statues are not particularly expensive at around the £10 mark each, depending on where you look – and they do look good. We already collect Funko Pops and other statuettes related to our various geeky interests, so the prospect of having more character figures around the place – let alone ones that also have another game-related function – is not a particularly daunting one.

A lot of the usual Disney attention to detail is in evidence here – the account each of us was prompted to make to use the online features picked up that we already had Disney accounts from our recent holidays and tied into those rather than creating duplicates. Background graphics and features refer to various famous Disney landmarks park and film features, and the likenesses of a huge number of characters appear. The immersion in the huge portfolio of Disney worlds is both impressive and, if you are a fan, kind of reassuring. Your mileage, of course, may vary…

So – is it fun? Absolutely – the game is aimed at a young audience, but is a delight full of Disney trivia. The games are typically platform-based and adopt a stylised 3D style that reminds me of the more recent Star Wars cartoon series. Even though I bought the game for Lady M, we’ve both been enjoying playing and learning about the system together and we’re losing a lot of time to it. It’s just as well neither of us are working this week!

 

Christmas Warm Up

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It’s been a busy old weekend, with Lady M devastating all before her at her staff party on Friday, and my brother Demonic hosting his annual pre-Christmas bash on Saturday.

From what Lady M has relayed, there are now a number of people who regret asking her direct questions about our relationship with Lady P; and others generally in fear and awe after she broke up a fight that was kicking off at the end of the evening. It would seem that she was channelling a combination of Mary Poppins and The Terminator when she physically separated two staff members and threatened to box their ears. Phrases such as “You are bringing disgrace to the company, now go to your rooms and have a long hard think about what you’ve done” are alleged to have been heard. This tickles me somewhat…

She certainly seemed to have had a riotous night aside from that, and was sporting such a phenomenal hangover when I got home from work on Saturday that I was worried I was going to have to go solo to Douze this year. She of course claims someone spiked her drinks as she didn’t drink that much.

Lady M did rally valiantly though (possibly inspired by the frosty tone in my voice) and took on chauffeur duties so I could enjoy a few drinks and Demonic’s “not at all a dry run for the Christmas Day” roast dinner. It was great to catch up with the usual suspects, and the quality of cooking has me looking forward to the Christmas meal even more than usual.

That just left today for picking up some Christmas stuff in town, and a catch up chat with Lady P about how her first week of her new job went. Oh, and Lady M treated me to a copy of Fallout 4, so there’s a new threat to my productivity right there 😉

Games Round-Up

I’m dividing my time between too many games at the moment – I’ve been playing Destiny (I was curious to see the changes served up before the Taken King expansion), Forza Horizons 2, the Forza 6 Demo, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Rise of Berk (on the tablet), Fallout Shelter (on the tablet), StarWars Uprising (also on the tablet), Minecraft XBox One, and Deer God. There have probably been more, especially with the Free with Gold games on the XBox, but it has largely been Destiny of late.

So, I’ve decided to hold off on getting Taken King until after pay day at least, and focus on Dragon Age Inquisition now that I’ve got past a bit that had been stymying me a while. If nothing else, playing a game that isn’t multiplayer (mostly), gives me the option to pause and attend to other things as needed. There’s little quite as irritating as being called to from another room while playing a game that you can’t pause. It’s why I generally try to avoid buying games that have sacrificed their single player campaigns these days. I enjoy playing online, but I’m horribly antisocial and so tend to both dip in and out and rarely use voice chat – if only because it feels rude to anyone else who might be in the room with me.

And if I focus on just the one game, there’s half a chance I’ll actually finish it. If I can slog through Dragon Age 2, I can slog through this and get my money’s worth – and it is a very pretty game.

Trialling Xbox 360 Games on the XBOne

I’m part of the early access program run for XBox One users to trial new features. It’s not that hard to get into, I just got an invite one day – I suspect because I apply for so many Betas across so many platforms. There’s an app on my dashboard that gives me tasks to perform with various planned features and then I give feedback. In return I get full early access to cool stuff, and occasionally free games or admittance to early closed betas for them.

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At E3 this week, Microsoft announced the upcoming backward compatibility of 360 games on the XBox One, and I’ve been trialling the short collection of titles based on my previous purchases: Mass Effect, Kingdom for Keflings, and Zuma.

How does it work? Well to be blunt, you’re running digital downloads that then run in an XBox360 emulator running under the One. If your original game was a digital download, it just appears under your games, ready for installation. Otherwise you still need to put the original disc in the drive to then prompt the image download.

Once the games have installed to your hard drive, you can then launch them. The 360 launch screen appears, it searches for your cloud saves, and away you go. The good news is that so far they seem to run quickly and effectively, and they run as an XBox app, so you can still snap, cut back to the desktop and do anything else just like any other app.

The disappointment so far is that you are still effectively downloading an image even if you have the disc. I would hope that the equivalent of a no-CD crack would be applied so you don’t effectively need it as a key to launch, or that the emulator would actually be able to play off the disc, but that’s probably a bit much to ask in these DRM days. Instead, expect to be using up your hard drive space at a rate of knots, so invest in an external drive and be ready to uninstall/delete games when you’ve stopped playing them.

There’s still a few months before this feature goes live for everyone, so maybe they’ll iron it out a bit. I’ll try to do some Twitch streaming to really see how good the XBox integration is, and I’ll update it in a few days.

ODST re-release

Like many, I was so excited when the Halo Master Chief Collection was announced, and mildly bemused to note the absence of the ODST section. At the time, I shrugged it off because Master Chief doesn’t appear in it, but the game has always retained a soft spot in my memories. This was largely due to the mixture of multiple viewpoints, gorgeous music, and writing that had both subtlety and simplicity.

It was, first and foremost a game of running around and shooting aliens, but there wasn’t so much of the bombastic tone of the main series. My main memory was of feeling more human, more fragile, and part of a team that was struggling to get back together. It was an approach that seemed to be developed in Halo: Reach, but there the theme was reversed, with the experienced team being dismantled over the course of a brutal invasion.

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The announcement then that ODST was going to be remastered for free as recompense for the shockingly awful implementation of multiplayer Halo (arguably the element that so many of us had actually bought the collection for) felt something of a mixed bag. I’ve been online a few times with the MCC, but found those early attempts so painful that I’ve been focusing instead on the single player games and their co-op versions, relishing on at least having a good split screen experience to share with people on the couch.

So, how is the MCC ODST conversion? The campaign is sitting as a subdirectory of Halo3 in the MCC menus (they use the same, tweaked, graphics engine after all). I’ve been hammering the single player story the last couple of days and it has simply been a joy. The graphical updates are simple, making things seem just that little bit crisper, while the gameplay feels exactly the same. I mean, you’d hope it would, but I did fire it up on the 360 to compare and I can’t tell the difference.

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed crisscrossing the city as The Rookie, picking my route and battles, and the different feel of each specialist’s section keeps changing the flow nicely, breaking up what could have been a monotonous run and gun. The city’s AI, Virgil, is a constant but subtle presence, changing video adverts to point the way, unlocking equipment caches, and even raising and lowering traffic blocks to provide cover during firefight. It’s simple but effective, and I’m developing a great appreciation for this unseen addition to my team.

In terms of collectibles, the audio clips I’m picking up are not only filling in back story, but feeding the gamer score craving with a steady flow of 5 points here, 10 points there too. What can I say? I’m a simple soul at heart, easily pleased. And then there’s the music; haunting, bluesey one moment, a military tattoo the next, driving you forward into combat. The soundtrack is so good, you’re going to want to buy it, and fortunately all the major digital outlets have it in stock. Treat yourself.

So, if you’re wondering what to do with this free download you’ve got, just dive in and enjoy a piece of background development for the main saga you may have missed first time. For the rest of you, grab it when you get a chance, and remember what Bungie can do when they focus on telling a story.