Civ V Impressions [Game Overview]
Sep 24th, 2010 by Dan

So I’ve been playing Civ V this week. It’s pretty awesome. Here’s what I think so far:

– Unsurprisingly, I don’t miss religion in Civ. While it did legitimately affect the game in important ways that reflect how important religion is in real life, yadda yadda, it just dominated everything about a playthrough. I’m glad to be rid of it.

– Now that units don’t stack and cities have offensive and defensive capabilities of their own, I’m going to have to change my early game build order. Do I really need to defend my cities as hard right away anymore?

– I love the way that all world leaders speak in historically accurate languages. Gandhi has an Indian voice, Bismark speaks German, and Alexander the Great was taunting me in Greek.

– Foreign relations seem more obtuse now that the numbers behind them are more obtuse. Sure, it’s more realistic, but I wish I could tell how much they liked me a little better.

– City specialization remains a strong focus. The quickest way to bankrupt yourself is to build stuff that’s not meant to be in a particular city.

– I like not having to fiddle with tax percentages any more.

– Unit combat is much improved and a welcome change from the way it was handled in Civ IV.

– I like the new wonder reward screens. Better than the lifeless movies of Civ IV and the neat quotes are almost at Civ II levels of awesome.

– New advisers…I guess I like them, but their information seems to be a little less interesting and redundant. Can’t I click “Yes. I know,” and not see that advice again?

– I find information a little harder to find in the new Civilopedia, but that might just be me

– The new social policy system that replaces civics and governments from old games is way cool. I’ll have to fiddle more with the way that I distribute my policies instead of obsessively focusing on each branch until I finish in my next game.

– Puppet states are cool

– City states are a little game-y with the whole friend/ally system. I wish that the benefits lasted longer, but that’s just nitpicking.

– I still haven’t found where all the information lives in the UI, but I’m getting there.

– Great game. Buy it if you even kind of like Civ.

StarCraft 2 – Early Impressions [PC]
Jul 29th, 2010 by Dan

Sarah Kerrigan

Sarah Kerrigan, Pre-Queen of Blades

Like everyone else in the world right now, I’m playing StarCraft II, but I’ve been too busy to get too far into it so I’ve only got a few impressions.

– I love the new Adventure Game mission structure. It’s great to have these conversations with members of the crew to flesh out the mythology. When will I get dialog trees? That and a “How appropriate, you fight like a cow” dialog choice are must-haves to me.
– The upgrade and mission structure system is pretty neat too. Since I’ve only just made it to the Hyperion, I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to go back and do merc missions too if I do the benevolent ones first, but time will tell on that one.
– The jukebox covers are great. I love “Suspicious Minds”
– Watch the opening cinematic! Once you’ve played a few missions, watch it again! Hmmmm…
– Why is the subtitle option under Gameplay? Shouldn’t it be under sound?
– Dynamically growing, unlimited group sizes make me so happy!
– I’m already hooked on SC2 achievements. I made it to mission 3 and then restarted the campaign to do them again on hard, not realizing that I’d be able to replay them from the deck of the Hyperion.
– I’ve always felt that WarCraft 3’s story borrowed too heavily from the awesome SC storyline (member of one species/race becomes co-opted by another, betrays his own kind, etc.) so it’s nice to get back to the superior SC mythos. Now all I’ve got to do is, you know, make progress in said story so that I can learn what’s up.

Three missions in and I’m loving it. Can’t wait to get back home and play some more!

Great Dwarf Fortress Stories [PC]
Mar 21st, 2009 by Dan

Borrowed from After Action Reporter on why people should play Dwarf Fortress:

The best answer, I believe, is presented by Damien Neil from over on, read on…

I built an arena. A pit on the bottom level for the contestants. On the next level up, seats for the spectators, with a pair of thrones forged from solid gold for the Baroness and her consort. A level above that, the cheap seats. On the top level, a retracting bridge extends out over the pit, so that unlucky contestants can be dropped in.

The main level has a number of silver statues on it, and is designated as a sculpture garden, so my dwarves like to hang out there, giving me plenty of spectators. Unfortunately, they tend to run away when I toss a goblin in. Wimps.

So I decided to add some additional features to keep them happy when the arena isn’t being used for my goblin-war dog cage matches. I dug out a cistern below the arena, and an lengthy, winding channel leading from the brook on the surface down to the cistern. Floodgates controlled by levers allow me to fill the cistern without flooding the fortress.

I then added a sequence of pumps to draw water from the cistern to a channel above the arena. The water falls through two holes to splash down in the gladiatorial pit. From there, it drains back into the cistern. The pumps are powered by windmills on the surface, and a lever permits me to disengage a gear and shut off the pump system.

My dwarves were ecstatic, with many happy thoughts generated–dwarves like waterfalls.

While this construction went on, the Baroness’s consort mandated that we produce several adamantine items. We have no adamantium available, which made this request…problematic. Eventually, he furiously gave up–and declared one of the smithdwarves responsible for failing to fulfill the mandate.

One of the guards carried out the smithdwarf’s punishment, beating her senseless in the dining room. He was overly zealous: She died.

A short while later, her youngest daughter threw herself into the arena pit in despair. She was washed into the cistern and drowned. The stench of her rotting corpse hindered the dwarves’ enjoyment of the lovely sculpture garden.

I resolved to retrieve her bones from the cistern to provide her with a proper burial. I added hatches to the top of the waterfall system, covering the holes that allow water to pour down into the pit. Pull a lever to close the hatches, and water flows over them and to a new sequence of pumps that will draw it to the surface. The uppermost pump is located in a small building atop a hill behind the fortress, and a windmill on the roof powers the system. To dispose of the water cleanly, I constructed an aqueduct (built of lovely blue microcline) that will carries the water back to the stream.

The system isn’t quite complete yet; I still need to redesign the bottom end of the pumping system to reach the lower depths of the cistern.

And that’s what’s so special about this game.

And if that doesn’t get you going, how about this fantastic story from Nate over on

When one dwarf got a mad look in his eye, grabbed a sheet of eagle leather and some silver, and emerged from his workshop three months later with the most beautiful quiver the world had ever seen, I knew it belonged on the back of Nil, the settlement’s legendary champion, a master of four weapons, and getting pretty good at swimming to boot. After a few months of fiddling with doors, Nil eventually strapped on the artifact quiver.

Life was good for a while. Goblins delivered more iron goods than we could ever use. We’d struck a thick vein of adamanite. The larders were full, the merchants looted, the goods organized behind locked doors to protect and control any moody dwarves.

Then a miner uncovered a strange room, covered with engravings, filled with smoke, and with moans of the damned. And the demons came. Spirits of fire, they filled the tunnels with burning dwarves.

Nil picked up his crossbow and gathered his squad of champions. He was fearless. His crossbow was a machine-gun in his hands. Demons fell. But Nil was injured, and the wound… smoldered. And smoldered. Nil left a trail of smoke behind him. At first it was his arm. Then his chest. His endurance failed, and after several weeks, Nil collapsed, and burned into carbon, along with all he carried.

All he carried, that is, except for the artifact quiver that was strapped to his back. This was a quiver of the gods– more beautiful than any dwarf could imagine, tougher than the rock we stand on, and as deadly as any demon. The quiver, of course, was on fire, but no dwarf that laid eyes on it could trouble him or herself with wondering why it was perched on a pile of cinders. One by one, each dwarf claimed the flaming quiver, and one by one, each dwarf in the settlement burned.

Here’s a link to a nice, LONG succession game story: Boatmurdered. I highly recommend at least reading up to StarkRavingMad’s update. It’s hilarious.

L4D League [PC/M$]
Dec 17th, 2008 by Dan

Today’s the first non-WMQ Wednesday, so I thought I’d ease us into it with a discussion about competitive gaming, since that’s closer to a sport than, say, a book review.

Online leagues are nothing new to the computer gaming space. For as long as we’ve been able to play over our 14.4 modems (or slower!) people have been fragging each other in Doom and Quake in leagues, continued doing so through the most popular competitive shooter, Counterstrike, and are even now forming clans and teams within Halo 3.

Why talk about a L4D league then if the topic is essentially not that new. The real question that people are asking and that no one’s sure about is whether or not the games played in versus are standard enough to be considered fair and viable in terms of ratings. The X-Factor comes in the form of the AI Director, whose evil knows no bounds. In all seriousness, if the AI Director gives the infected a Tank in just the right place, but doesn’t give it to the survivors on the next iteration in the same place, is the game considered broken from a competitive standpoint?

When my roommate and I were discussing this last night, I mentioned that sports, while supposedly fair were actually inherently unfair. Geographic advantages, weather advantages, home field advantages, they’re all intangibles that could favor one team or another. His counterpoint was that they were intangibles, but bad Tank spawning is a real, measurable thing that can be proved to favor one team over another.

In a sense, the debate is more or less rendered moot by the fact that leagues will spring up regardless. The true proof will be whether or not they exist years from now when the game is old news. I’ll keep you guys posted on any league progress if I happen to join one.

And now: PA comic about ZOMBIES! I’m just glad they’re of similar mind…

Left 4 Dead [Review]
Dec 6th, 2008 by Dan

There was a day, back in my youth, when I abhorred first-person shooters. Sure, I played some Goldeneye here and there with my friends, but I was never a Doom, Unreal, or Halo fan.

Then something spectacular happened: a company that I’d heard of, but avoided their games because of my fps ambivalence released one of the greatest games I’d ever played: Half-Life 2. It revolutionized my understanding of FPS games and instilled in me blind trust in Valve. I loved Counterstrike: Source, Team Fortress 2, and Portal.

It was a foregone conclusion that I would then get Left 4 Dead, which I’ve come to see as one of the greatest multiplayer experiences I’ve ever played. Here’s the basic premise, if you haven’t picked it up from my other posts: you have four survivors from the zombie apocalypse whose aim in each level is to make it from the starting point to the next safe room. At the end of each movie (the name for each of the four campaigns) you have to fight off the zombie hordes while awaiting a rescue vehicle of some sort.

The real power of the game is that it requires you to play cooperatively. With each survivor that you lose, you will find the game that much harder. Letting teammates fall behind or leaving them behind yourself will always result in trouble. You also strongly rely on your teammates if you get incapacitated or knocked off a ledge. The icing on the cake is that Valve encourages even more teamwork with their achievement system. Unfortunately, Valve also seriously hates you and proves their enmity with the AI Director.

The AI Director will sometimes have pity on you and give you a lull so that you can revive your teammates or heal up, but that pity is just the AI taking pity on our organic weakness. Just wait until the inevitable evolution of the AI Director into Skynet. I’m just saying, it hates humanity that much.

Versus mode is plenty of fun, allowing survivors and special infected to all be controlled by rival human teams. It’s almost too unbalanced though, as a moderately well-organized zombie team will always be able to destroy a mediocre survivor team. I’m curious to see how balanced expert teams of both would be, since special infected die from a few hits and it’s kind of easy to overwhelm the survivors.

In any case, expect Valve to keep on updating L4D and continue bringing us a stellar multiplayer experience. I wholeheartedly recommend L4D so long as you have a good internet connection. If you’re playing without the net or you’re expecting a deep single-player experience, avoid it for now.

More L4D in Response [PC]
Nov 19th, 2008 by Dan

The game they were mentioning in the podcast was Gears of War 2. I agree with that being kind of cool, but at the same time, we were all trying to really push ourselves and play the most challenging version of the game. Even if Simon had more experience, I still don’t think we would have been able to make it through the whole campaign on expert, it’s just too hard.

The game is $60 on xbox, $50 on PC, but it’s not as short as it seems. There may only be four campaigns, but you’d be missing the point if you thought that was all it had to offer.

Valve has gone on and on (and so did 1UP Yours) about the AI Director being an integral part of the game experience. Sure, there are only 4 campaigns (five maps each, so twenty levels), but no two playthroughs are identical. Item locations, zombie placement, even boss zombie placement is all set by the AI Director who analyzes current player healths, ammo levels, difficulty level, and how well you’ve been doing so far, ensuring a dynamic playback experience.

Also worth mentioning is that even just playing the first campaign, No Mercy, I’ve found myself thoroughly enthralled by a game and feel its $50 price tag is well warranted. If this was all that was there, I would play it ad infinitum (not literally, other games will pop up soon), but it’s not. Three more campaigns whose length will be extended by my refusal to play below Advanced and strong desire to conquer each on Expert (achievement points are great motivators) and a mode I haven’t even talked about will extend this.

That mode: Versus Mode. In versus mode you have two teams of four. Four are the survivors, four are the mutated infected. The object is for the survivors to do just what they do in the single-player cmapaign, only this time they’re being dogged by actual players instead of the AI. The players will be respawned on a timer and are able to antagonize the surivors using coordinated attacks. I’ve yet to play it, but it looks promising.

I think it’s more than worth $50, but I’ve heard some complaints from reviewers about it. My guess is that they were playing on Normal or Easy to try and get through as fast as possible for the review, giving a total playtime somewhere near three or four hours. I’d love to see all those editors and reviewers try that on Expert. Without some serious experience, that’s not possible.

Day 2 Impressions of the Zombie Apocalypse [PC]
Nov 19th, 2008 by Dan

It’s the second day of the zombie apocalypse.

No zombie can stand against Chicago Ted. How long does it take to turn after infection? Two weeks? Two days? 2.5 hours!?

That’s some of the flavor text littered around the safe rooms in L4D to add to the atmosphere and, despite never seeing another human being in the game, they effectively make us all feel like the world is actually lived in. Like there just might be other immune survivors roaming around, seeking help too.

Day 2 impressions is kind of a misnomer, since I played at midnight of launch day and at night the same day, but who’s really counting? Hasn’t society been wiped out by the Horde already?

I was actually able to play with my friends this time, but since some of us were newer to the experience than others and we actually wanted to pass missions, we dumbed down the difficulty to the penultimate difficulty level: Advanced. While still hard and rough to get through to Mercy Hospital (in the appropriately named campaign: No Mercy), I must admit that not being incapacitated and killed after two hits from a tank kind of irks me as a person who played many hours on Expert. I guess I’ll have to continue to build up my skills.

The final two missions that I’d yet to witness were both quite cool. The hospital proper and the rooftops both offered numerous challenges, especially the rooftops.

After fighting through wave after wave of zombies, it becomes time to take on a tank. This process is repeated three times. Fighting one tank is bad enough, thank you very much. Fighting it on the roof of a 30+ storied hospital is worse. Our first attempt featured me getting knocked by the tank, no big deal on our difficulty level, until I saw that there was no longer any floor below me as he had knocked me clear off the side of the building. perspective flashed to an exterior shot of the hospital as my body was flung clear. There is no resurrection on the roof. RIP Zoey.

Many unsuccessful attempts later, we found ourselves at the final tank. My friend SimonFrancis was dead, smashed by a tank. We silently thanked him for his strategy that helped us get this far, but grit our teeth with the knowledge that grief doesn’t kill tanks, bullets do. As EricBill (DarekLouis’s friend) and I ran around the rooftops pausing to shoot at the behemoth, I heard a silent cry from DarekLouis.


Little did we know that he meant to say “HEY GUYS I’VE BEEN NABBED BY A SMOKER!”

Only once Eric and I noticed the Tank had been felled did we spot DarekLouis having the last of his life choked out of his poor body. DarekLouis, I didn’t know you well, but it was great to have you aboard. You always kept me from trying to snipe witches in the head. A wise idea.

The copter began its descent. EricBill was closer to the pad and began to make a run for it. The zombies swarmed him. I ran up the ramp behind, shooting zombies as I ran, but full of the knowledge that stopping means death. The Horde wants brains. We want escape. Conflict is inevitable.

As I rush past EricBill I beat away some zombies, shoot a few, jump and securely crouch in the helicopter. I shoot some of the zombies surrounding EricBill, but the damage is too much, he goes down. Before I can hop out and pick up the incapacitated EricBill, the copter decides to high tail it. I am the only survivor. The only one left to tell the tale. EricBill, you were good at finding new explosives, but freedom and safety come at the cost of running away sometimes. Sure, flight before fight isn’t glorious, but dead men tell no tales. Your thirst for battle was your end.

The copter flew away, the screen faded to black.

In loving memory of:

unarmed_gunman (SimonFrancis)
itsdareklol (DarekLouis)
strike (EricBill)

flashed on the screen. It’s brilliant, just like a movie whose casualties were my fellow players. The cast list followed.

ElCapitan BSC as Zoey
itsdareklol as Louis (deceased)
unarmed_gunman as Francis (deceased)
strike as Bill (deceased)

Some stats came by, many of which I led, but many of which I was second or third.

Finally, the closing message I leave to you, scrolled up on screen as we all laughed:

4,907 zombies were hurt in the making of this film.

Left 4 Dead Impressions [PC]
Nov 18th, 2008 by Dan

Hey Dan, did you stay up until around 0300 today playing Left 4 Dead after it went live last night?


But oh man, where to begin?

Valve does not rush a product. They don’t ever release a game that hasn’t been thoroughly playtested and optimized for consumption. It’s why the L4D demo is so brilliant, it allowed them to take a look at the last few things that needed to be tweaked and then release accordingly. Take the difficulty level. There was quite a bit of outcry about the difficulty of the computer version being far too easy compared to the console version. In fact, I’d been refusing to play any levels that were lower than the highest difficulty, Expert. Let’s just say that last night we were stuck on the second level for somewhere around two hours, endlessly being mauled by the zombie hordes.

All the stops were pulled out on this one. The first level used to be devoid of tanks and witches. I’m pretty sure we got rocked by a witch right at the start. Placement is BRUTAL. The tanks just rock everyone’s socks off, the only real valid way to kill them being to molotov and RUN LIKE HELL! It’s so tough that it’s super fun. Who can resist trying to kill these zombie bastards?

Then there was the greatest loop that Valve could possibly throw us. After a particularly difficult part in the second level involving waiting for a door to open and a Gatling gun, the second level usually had a safe room directly following it. Imagine our surprise as we limped into…any other room. They moved the safe room outside to the pawn shop. Naturally, we were rocked over and over again until finally, on the last playthrough, this one guy and I were the only two survivors alive and we scrambled into the pawn shop screaming as Hunters and Smokers chased us, my heart beating at an intense 1000 BPM all the while. The tension is so masterfully created it’s ridiculous.

The other huge heartbeating moment for me (not common in video gaming for me, by the way, I’m generally more sturdy, having seen just about everything) was within the third level (the farthest we got out of the five in the first campaign). There was a Tank and we accidentally aroused its ire. I threw a molotov at it, setting it on fire (and one of the other survivors, but his life was forfeit after seeing the Tank anyway, and began hightailing it back to the start, closing doors behind me all the way. I could hear the Tank lumbering behind me until it died. At this point, I was the only survivor left alive. I’d climbed jumped down the lift, but now I had to get myself properly to the other survivors to rescue them since they’d all respawned in a room nearby. As I make my way back up the lift, I hear not just the Hunter growl, but the Smoker fanfare. I’m thinking “I’m fucked…” After my heart just exploded out of my body running in abject terror from the tank, now I had to face these two zombies who could incapacitate me in one hit via pounce or tongue and cause us to restart.

I first spotted the Hunter. My group kept imploring me to ignore them both and just try to rez them, but I knew that if I did, they would get me, without a doubt, and make it all in vain. After a dodge and some great rifle fire, I’d dispatched the Hunter, but the Smoker used that time to get good position on me. He was above me where I’d never be able to see him until it was too late. Time to make a break for the hole in the floor where I would find my compatriots. Running, jumping, falling through the hole, my partners said that the tongue just barely missed nabbing me as I fell through the final hole in the floor and freed them. It was exhilarating.

One last thing about my first night of playing: Valve is great at using the visual medium to tell a story. In most safe rooms you can find little notes from other people who have passed through warning you to evacuate the city, looking for family, claiming that there’s no survival, assigning blame for the plague. It’s brilliant.

Yesterday as I left work, I saw a license plate in front of me. It read Zombied.

PC: Fallout 3
Nov 2nd, 2008 by Dan

Been playing Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic first-person RPG epic Fallout 3 this weekend and I’m quite pleased with it so far. Here are some quick thoughts about random things that stick out:

The game is very buggy. Apparently this was a problem with Oblivion too. I’ve gotten a few hard freezes that I was able to start mostly avoiding just by updating my graphics card drivers, but still…I shouldn’t be having this much problem playing a game that’s been approved for final release.

That being said, the game is tons of fun. VATS is a great system and I love targeting individual body parts. I’d say my absolute highlight moment goes like this:

I spots three raiders in the distance. I’m accidentally spotted by one of them as I tries to sneak in for an attack, so what do I do? I throw down a frag mine and start running backwards. The two who were close to each other approach in just the right direction, so one of them steps on the mine first and is blown to absolute pieces. The other is heavily damaged, but pushes through the smoke…only to have VATS activated on him. I target his head with my hunting rifle, get a hit, and instantly decapitate the bugger. Feeling quite smug with myself I celebrate a bit until the third guy tosses a grenade at me, giving me a concussion and nearly killing me. I shoot him dead too…good times.

I think the other main gripe I have with Fallout 3 is that it was designed primarily for consoles. Who can blame Bethesda for this? It makes absolute sense to release your game on as many platforms as possible and it’s insanely easy to port to each. Unfortunately, this leaves the PC player with an incredibly awkward interface to muddle through. Why do I have to access my Pip-Boy 3000 with a button and then manually swap to the Map screen? Any real computer game would allow me to do that, but would also have a binding that would automatically take me to my map screen. It’s only frustrating in very specific occasions, but I hate how clunky it seems on the PC. With a controller it would be quite nice, but they should have kept the functions more open for those of us playing the game on a real platform.

In case you were wondering, no, I didn’t blow up Megaton. You sick bastard.

One final note: a search string for “Does Crono love Marle” apparently lead to either my site or my host’s site. The answer is yes. Yes he does love her.

Game Overview/Food For Thought: Odds and Ends
Oct 21st, 2008 by Dan

I tell ya, it’s been a good long while since I’ve had to write a post that’s not really about baseball and it’s got me rather at a loss of what to do. Instead of focusing on one topic today, instead let’s look at a variety of things going on that I care about:

Peter Molyneux has got a problem. You see, he’s one of the movers and shakers in video game design and his ideas have more or less shaped the industry as a whole. For example, while you can argue that Ultima or Fallout did it first, Peter and his boys at Lionhead popularized the whole good vs. evil aesthetic that so pervades the medium right now with his landmark title Black & White. You can’t really argue that his game made it cool for the visual look of a character to change dynamically with alignment that Bioware eventually used in their epics Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect.

The problem though, comes when you realize that Peter is more of an ideas man. Black & White sold tons of copies, but was generally tepidly received or remembered due to its feel as more of a sandbox game or a tech demo. Its unfocused nature. The idea was gold, the game wasn’t there. Fable was promised to be an epic story where things you did from day 1, like planting a tree, would radically change the future. It didn’t. The list of things promised for Fable that weren’t delivered was so long that it became a media point to say that what Peter says doesn’t necessarily get into the game, no matter how enthusiastic and brilliant he may sound saying it.

Today I’ll be picking up my pre-order of Fable 2. Will it satisfy or will it fall short of his promises? You can be sure that I’ll let you know here once I have a solid conclusion.

Also on the table for today: I tried adding some Just Bunches to my Honey Bunches of Oats and I’d have to say the result was stellar. The addition of more bunches really makes the cereal better without overpowering the other elements. A great idea, but not one I’ll be repeating by buying another box of Just Bunches in the future.

Little Big Planet, if you hadn’t already heard, was delayed until next week due to a controversial music track included in the game. The game had, I should say, a track in which passages of the Qur’an were recited in the background. Muslims claim that it is offensive to include passages in the Qur’an in art, so Sony decided to push back the game’s release date and Media Molecule, the game devs, removed the track from the discs. Some say that Muslims need to learn to chill out if they want to be respected in the global, free world, others say that they’re in the right to ask that their religious texts not be used. I agree more with the former, but I also understand why Sony did what they did and I do think that they at least made a good business decision, since they get pretty good sales in the Middle East.

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