Friday, March 8, 2019

Update on life

Every time I look at this blog, I think "Man, I should totally post something", but it never happens.

So let me start small. With an update on what's what. But of course, this is more a review blog than a personal blog so it will be done as vaguely as possible.

Boy, not a small feat.

Okay so first one can conclude I'm still alive. This is a good thing, yes? Two, I'm still interested in writing, though rusty as you would not believe. I already have an idea I'm chewing on for Nanowrimo so consider those fifty-thousand words done.Three, I'm still gaming. Currently my games of choice is Anno 1404, Game Dev Tycoon and Red Dead Redemption 2. An odd mix, but there you go. Stardew Valley also makes an appearance every now and again because who doesn't want to spend so much time watering imaginary plants?

I'm also still neck deep into tabletop RPG with our Friday campaign still running after three years. It's always something to look forward to.

So yes, this is an update. Make of it what you will. Hopefully I'll come back to write something more constructive soon.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda - a disjointed babble similar to the game itself

Mass Effect: Andromeda.

When it comes to the fourth game of the Mass Effect franchise, my approach was pretty simple: I would wait until the price was low enough for me to buy it without feeling it in my pocket. By my calculation that would be until the price had dropped to what is currently 20 USD. That had been my resolution and I'll admit it faltered with the recent sale on the game. Not quite 20 USD, but close enough that I could justify to myself that I had waited a sufficient time.

I'm still deciding whether it was actually worth the selling price.

There are a couple of reasons to this. EA and Bioware haven't really done much to redeem my poor opinion of them. I like to think I'm a forgiving person, but that is sorely tested when it comes to those two.

Anyway, I'm out of practice when it comes to blog writing, so I'm just going to fall right into it without any grace that I might have used when I still babbled up a storm.

Mass Effect: Andromeda (from now on referred to as ME:A) starts off with a team of colonists from the Milky Way galaxy mozying over to Andromeda. When they shake off their 600-year hibernation, they're shocked to find that the worlds they had designated as habitable don't look so nice anymore. You are Rider, son/daughter of the main man who is supposed to lead the colonisation. After some bumbling about, daddy steps aside and you become the Pathfinder instead of the second-in-command who spent years preparing for this venture.

Sound a little holey in logic, right? But there you go, your character needs to become the game changer and so that's how it goes.

There are may little holes like this in the game's logic that has me studying ME:A like one would a specimen rather than diving into it as a fun game. I'm not very far into the story, so I can't really comment on the game as a whole, but your willing suspension of disbelief needs to be wide not to get distracted by things that don't add up. Unfortunately, this includes things such as blurry graphics and what on earth did they do to omnitools?

But I digress. As I've said, the habitable worlds suddenly don't look as habitable any more and its up to you to 'fix it, Felix'. This has you jetting off to different worlds, working ancient things and making big decisions such as deciding on what kind of colonies to establish when you finally sorted out the habitation problem.

The more I've played ME:A, the more conflicted I've felt. On the one hand, it makes me very angry. I can see the potential of this game and the creators have been very sloppy. Which is sad and annoying. There's a strong ideal that plays out - the desire for a home. It's there and yet you're constantly bombarded with design choices that distract you from that main thrust. Parts of this game looks beautiful. Parts look like an unintended train smash.

Combat seems to have taken a step backwards from ME3 and feels almost as clunky as ME1 at times. Roleplay also feels degraded somewhat with dialogue choices that are both limited and just... Well, let me give you an example to explain.

There's a science officer on board your ship who believes in God. She comes out and says it right smack in the first conversation you ever had with her. Now, that's fine. Random, but fine. Here's the kicker though, your limited to respond to her stance in one of two ways: 1. I agree with you. 2. There is no god.

... Where's the third option of smoothy skirting past the comment? How about a Rider who doesn't believe that isn't a jackass? Or one who does believe, but might choose to keep it to herself? Oh and by the look of things, the believer is a potential romance partner. There's a dialogue option to flirt like one had in Dragon Age Inquisition with some characters.

I can't help but feel that the creators of ME:A didn't really know what they were doing which after the fourth game shouldn't really be a point of discussion. I didn't really have my hopes all that high and I'm surprised by my own disappointment. I suppose that deep down I still wanted them to capture me. To surprise me. To be good at what they had been in ME1 and ME2. And maybe now that the disappointment has settled in, I can just play the game and see what creature it does end up becoming. I think I will still get my money's worth out of it and maybe it will make me sit back and go 'not bad' in the end. At the moment though, it still has me scratching my head and asking 'but why?' more than usual.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Nanowrimo 2017

One more day...

Let's hope I manage to pull together more words daily than I will in this post.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Status update

I'm still alive!

I think that's the most pertinent thing to note about my status. I am still breathing, I still have access to the computer, I'm still gaming, reading (though not as much as I should), and generally doing things that keeps my head above water.

I need to post something more substantial. I want to. It'll happen when I have more time and when my mind focuses on more than the basic living necessities and stops wanting to attack other people's shadows (long story).

Till then, deep breath!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

RPG - Considering the follow through

“Dare to stand before those you fear and speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” - Maggie Kuhn

I stumbled over this quote today and it's made me want to read some of this woman's writing. It's challenged me a bit. We all enjoy the "yeah! rawh! rawh!" feeling of support when one reads such encouragement... until you're the one whose voice shakes. You realise then that you didn't have an inkling of what that person had even meant up until that point.

I'm sort of there today. I need to share my thoughts on something that has me very upset and it can be read as direct critique on someone else's innocent creativity. And a critique on the response of others on the day that creative work was released. It can seem like a personal attacks against friends. So it's a bit of a minefield topic. For me at least. I'm a very 'do onto others as you would want done onto you' kind of person.

But here's the thing, the topic of this post is not all that uncommon... and that's the problem.

Confused the crap out of you? Let me paint the scenario as best as I can.

You have a one-shot role playing session, which means the K.I.S.S. principle is active. You page through your book of monsters. Find one. A succubus. It's perfect. Challenging, but this is going to be great. A quick story needs to be assembled: A group of men from a rural village choose to explore an old, abandoned mansion of a creepy magic dude. They encounter a succubus, who takes possession of them in some way, getting them to feed it their children. The monster also enhances their sexual cravings, which is how the adventurers who stumble onto this child-/youth-less village find themselves disturbed/intrigued enough to investigate, and end up facing off with it in the abandoned mansion.

Right. K.I.S.S. principle sorted. 

It's sounds terribly innocent, right? Well, look, it is disturbing but you're dealing with a succubi - sex and such will be in there. But there's no underlying tone of anything. Simple one shot.

That wasn't the case for me. Maybe it's me being female and me being over sensitive - I fully own and accept that I'm both - but I'm going to share the story from my perspective (which is part of the wonders of RPGs: It really is your own adventure). Bear in mind that my 'story' is from the perspective of someone who doesn't know what the big bad is. I'm going to repeat it multiple times, because I had to remind myself that as well while writing. It was so easy to go "ag, you know what this is about" when my past self really didn't. And this post is more about her experience than mine.

Our adventurers consisting of two male and female characters (not players which were three and one of the respective genders) arrive at the village deciding to overnight before continuing their journey. Upon entrance, they notice women who are going about their chores. Oddly there aren't any kids around and the women seem disturbed to see the group. The adventurers enter the inn and the innkeeper invites us to a special annual banquet that happens to be that evening. They agree, sit and drink for a bit. All the patrons in the establishment are male.

At this point I'm still okay. It's most likely a misogynistic patriarchal society. My thoughts were "Ugh, bastards. Throw a rock and you'll hit one (or an entire village) of them."

Two of the adventurers spend time drinking and playing card games in the inn (of which I was one). The other two leave the inn to find out more about the town, to talk to the women, and to see where the kids are. They are met with fear and the local women end up saying just enough to be creepy before ducking and diving away from the pair.

Now here is where my antenna started pinging. Personally, I am terribly, terribly sensitive towards fear in women. And I'm not talking 'eek a spider!' kind of fear. I'm talking about that soul-chilling fear that often, not always, but often, surround emotional and physical abuse from the opposite gender. And I don't deal with that very well.

So at this point, I'm not okay anymore. Because I, as a player, don't know the plot. I am hearing that children are hidden or missing, and women are scared, perhaps terrified; all of which was prefixed by the image of a male-centred society.

The two return to the inn where one composes a note which read 'if you are in trouble, we can help' (or something like that). This was given to a woman by one of the female adventurers (yours truly). Time passes. The banquet begins. The men are having the time of their lives. The women aren't as lively. One of the women approaches the female adventurer who had passed on the note (me), hugs her and slips a note in her pocket. The note says that there is trouble and that they'll speak in the evening (I think. Something like that). The woman is trembling with fear.

The men of the village come onto the female adventurers rather strongly and can't seem to take a hint - not even one in the shape of a 7ft orc friend. The men become more "frisky" (the term that was used). One of the female adventurers - an elderly lady - falls asleep and a young lad seems intent on taking advantage of this situation. He gets thrown around by the orc. None of the villagers reacts to this, more intent on their own debauchery. The evening's merriment eventually peters down into the silence of a drunken ending.

Male-centred society. Scared women. 'Frisky' men. So in my mind I'm confirming the abuse and rape of these women, and possible murder of their children. I am no longer an adventurer in this story. I'm a woman listening to this concept being thrown around without people putting pieces together. I'm someone who is getting increasingly upset wondering how I can get out of the room, or how would be the quickest way to make an end of this?

In the evening, the adventurers go to their respective rooms. The women's rooms are not adjacent to the men's....


"You hear a knock at your door." 

I can't put into words what I was feeling at this point.

"The woman who gave you the note comes in. She checks the corridor but no one seems to have seen her." 

I am still not a happy camper.

The woman reveals herself to be the chieftain's wife. She bids the adventurer to meet her the following morning when the men are still sleeping off their celebration. There is something wrong with them. They hadn't been this way before. Near the end of the conversation, the door opens. The chieftain's wife tells the adventurer to play along and kisses her - the townsman thus catching them occupied. The chieftain's wife turns to the man, "Fuck off. You can have me later." The man leaves.

...Right... So now it's so common among the men that women have to sleep with them regardless of their station and regardless of whether they want to.

Rape anyone?

My inner self isn't doing very well at this point. And it is here where I really have a tough time. Because this discomfort is misinterpreted as the idea of a woman kissing my character. And that really, really isn't the problem. I am stunned that no one seems to understand why I'm taking this as bad as I am. The word homophobia even gets thrown around which is even more insulting and embarrassing seeing as one of the other players is gay. I hear I must just get over this sex phobia of mine. (And that line is probably going to stay with me forever.)

The next morning.... blah, blah, blah... hears about mansion, should go there, blah. Go over. Fight zombies. Fight skeletons. Explore the house. Reach a door. A woman whimpers on the other side.


From here on out, I'm playing with my dice, wincing at every description.

The adventurers enter a master bedroom. *wince* There's a woman tied to one of the bedposts. *wince* 

Another woman is holding a knife to her throat. The aggressor looks like the chieftain's daughter based on a portrait.

At this point, I decide to get it over with. 

While the other adventurers debate on what questions to ask, one of the adventurers (me) opens fire on the aggressor - who dies with the one gunshot. The bound woman begs and pleads to be released.

More begging, more pleading, more whimpering, but I don't trust the story. It's too simple. 

The adventurer studies the bound woman and senses that she isn't a victim but most likely the ultimate big bad. Again the other adventurers try to find out more information. Again the female adventurer turns to violence, pouring gun powder over the 'woman' and setting 'her' on fire.

Unfortunately, in this game succubi (which we only have revealed at this point) are immune to fire damage.

"Roll for initiative."

*sits and tries to think how to end this off*

I'm not going to elaborate further. 

Dear, Reader. If you...

1. have read the encounter above and don't get it:
All I can say to you is, don't expect someone to 'get over' a situation like what has been presented up above. Instead... be kind. And if you can't understand, don't be an ass about it. Yes, it's a medieval setting in a medieval fantasy game there would be events like this. It's life. But most people don't want to face life when they sit by that table. Just... consider the follow through should you get into a situation like it.

2. understand and disagree or think that I responded too badly to it:
Yes, this is something I'm insanely sensitive about. But no. I'm never going to 'get over' stuff like it and will never forgive myself if I get to a point where I do.

3. you understand and agree... glad to know it's not just me. I don't think "we" have the moral high ground or something stupid like that. It's just really nice to know I'm not the only one who would have been freaking out.

NB. NB. NB: This was a random instance. It's a zero consistent reflection on my rpg gaming experience. But it was a tough one. And *shrugs* I had to get it out of my system, and chocolates and rusks binging didn't work.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Starting up a female rpg group. And out of the woodwork...

In falling into this world of DnD, I realised that it too is a bit of a challenge for the geekiness that is lacking in my city. More the lack of female geekiness and those around my age. I'm fortunate that the group of males I play with, while throwing some comments here and there, are all of the non basement-dwelling variety, but such dwellers still seem prevalent. And then there are the bro neanderthals...

Or maybe that's the impression I have and with that impression comes the problem - and the surprise.

Here and there, I've tried to assemble RPG groups. Most of them die in infancy - either because people are too busy or didn't realise that it can take some commitment (read 'work') from people to start off. And, as a DM, you might all but drag that horse to water, but getting it to drink...

So I haven't had all that much success and the group of guys I usually play with also have very hectic work demands... and then they have lives and wives/girlfriends.

Which made me think of those wives and girlfriends. Well, not specific ones, but women in general. I haven't seen invitations for women before, even in the groups I tried to form. But then again, there is the time and commitment thing. But still...

So I approached some women to join a group and two things made them agree. 1. It's a very small group (the two of them and my mom). 2. Because I'm the one running it. The second isn't because I know the game well, or that they've seen me 'lead' and 'organise' anything (I'm usually the one looking for excuses not to go anywhere). It's simply because they know it's a safe zone. No pressure, no judgement, no problem.

But I also didn't know whether it would die off either. And I'm really hungry for playing. Thus, on a whim, I sent out a message on Facebook. I explained that I want to assemble an all-female group of newbie players to play dungeons and dragons. In my world, dnd is still pretty much the devil. So that in itself was a risk. In the post I wrote briefly about what rpg is and what dnd is (four sentences tops) and left it at that.

When it comes to Facebook, I don't really share my life. I post a whole bunch of links to geeky articles, news articles (local drama), deviantart, and other random stuff. I figured that my invitation would be a call that could disappear pretty quickly if it went unanswered.

Only it didn't.

Within minutes I got the first reply, then a second, then a third. A couple of days later one of the three pulled in two other women. Then there are two others that are rumoured to be curious but cautious. How do I know about those two? Through the impromptu grapevine I had suddenly unleashed.

Consider me absolutely gobsmacked. How? Why? How? Wait, what?!

Interestingly enough, the women who stepped in are a spread from different backgrounds, ages ranging from late twenties to late fifties. I mostly used Lord of the Rings references in our first session to explain things and wasn't always sure whether they knew who Gimli was... And yet they were there, not knowing what they were letting themselves in for. They blindly but excitedly stepped into geek/nerd central without hesitation.

Riddle me that.

So why did it take one female calling out for a female group for these women to appear? I bet were there a mixed gender group, or a guy making the call, these ladies might not have stepped up. I know that I wouldn't have stepped up either. Or only if I was feeling super, duper brave and I would have hated myself later. The only way I got into this world was when the dude who ended up being my dm took the first step and introduced himself... and didn't act like an ass.

That this hesitancy is the case for all of us is both sad and mind boggling. It makes me wonder whether they too aren't looking at the pro-"bro culture" society hands out like sweets and expect that they'll find that everywhere. Maybe they too, like me, would rather wait for the testosterone train to charge by before trying to find whatever is left.

Whatever the case, word is spreading and I'm both very baffled and curious to see what's going to happen. Maybe it'll die out, or maybe my city isn't as empty as I thought...

Sunday, June 12, 2016

I've fallen in with the wrong crowd...

... And by that I don't mean this:

Though, boy, have I been tempted.

I mean this:

Tabletop role-playing's influence on PC/TV/Mobile RPG gaming simply cannot be denied. It is the bedrock most games have been built on.

But for decades, and in specific crowds, games such as Dungeons and Dragons has had a very bad reputation. I'm not going to go into it here. I think when you look everything that caused such panic, it's often because of idiots or serious concern that became something destructive. With that being said, I'm glad that D&D moved away from the noted occult imagery and shaped the stories and the world into the more fantastical. Some of the D&D controversies are noted here. It does bear mentioning that imagination can be an incredibly powerful thing. Having a place where you can do whatever you want without consequence can brew something sinister - especially when one is still trying to get into one's hormonal, numb skull brain the concept of ethics. Having a group of numb skulls that share in that imagination gives it far more energy. But that can be said of any social group where numb skulls are involved.  And considering the state of our world population...

But back to tabletop rpg. Most people I interact with don't know what it is, so let me give a somewhat brief (but not) explanation: Role-playing games allow you, the player, to step into the role of someone else in a setting of the game's choosing. Most often it is a medieval fantasy realm, but it can really be anything from western, to aliens, to naval ships, to whatever the mind can conceive. To go on this journey, the player usually needs a pen, paper, and dice. And people who are willing to play the game with them. In my life, the latter was the prime reason for not being able to do any tabletop gaming, so don't think that it can't be a challenge. There are ways to get around that though, but I'm going to skip that particular ramble here.

To help add some structure to the story you play, a dice system is used - be it the 20-sided D&D system or something that requires only 6-sided dice (the normal kind of dice you think of) such as used in the Fantasy AGE system. This 'restricts' things a bit in requiring that a person check whether their character would be able to perform whatever feat imagined. These systems also help shape character abilities, how they grow as they gain experience, and so on. One also requires a Game Master (GM or DM - Dungeon Master) who leads the group in their story.

What really appeals to me about tabletop RPG gaming is simply that I am able to take part in a story without having to go look for one, plan for one, or write one down. The structure is there, the story threads are there. All that I need is to step into it. And in doing that, I can also try playing roles that are different to my own personality or how I've been shaped by society. As someone who isn't charismatic, I can suddenly play a bard - I can take my instrument and play a tune to woo the crowd (depending on how high my die roll is at the end). I can convince people to do things not because I'm naturally eloquent as a person, but because my character is and what ultimately determines my success is the roll of a die. So I don't really have to be able to haul all of that flattery and nonsense out of my rear end - though trying is always welcomed and adds more fun to the game.

Critical Role - RPG group
And don't think that a game such as this is merely a brain dead thing. There are powerful moments to be had in a game. You can have loss, you can have gain, tears can be shed - whether in laughter or distress. What makes it wonderful is that you're able to be someone else, or be a better part of yourself. How you ultimately play is how you decide and with that liberty comes a great deal of fun.

For those of you who are curious about role-playing or just would like to 'sit in' on a session, or for those who currently don't have access to a bunch of people to play games with, or someone who's just bored, I would recommend two Youtube shows hosted by Geek & Sundry.

    The characters Critical Role's players embody
  •  Critical Role where a group of friends - all voice actors - sit together every Thursday to play D&D. What's really nice about this one is that these friends were running this game for around three years before G&S approached them about recording it. And you can see those years of connection there. Delightful.

  • Titansgrave where Wil Wheaton runs a Fantasy AGE game with four actors/celebrities. This show has shorter episodes and has a very different tone to it, but enjoyable and an intriguing story. The first season was shot in only three days. Fans are eagerly awaiting the second season.
Note though that both recommended shows are actually done by people who have no issue with acting and such. I would love to share some other shows with you, but I've yet to discover other sessions on youtube that really struck my fancy. But there are many more sessions out there recorded by people great and small who merely want to share the games they're playing.

Tabletop role-playing has pretty much turned into my fandom, though I'm still actively playing games on my PC. I'll babble about some others in future, but I do need to confess that this particular concept of group collaboration is very appealing.

Which is maybe why I've begun dabbling with this:

Yes... Multiplayer...

My usual stance on multiplayer is:

1. Far too many assholes trolling about.
2. My internet connection is generally shite.
3. Not a lot of friends playing games I'm interested in playing.

How have these feelings been countered?

1. Friends-only games
2. Moving to a place with better reception.
3. Don't Starve Together and Left 4 Dead 2.
4. AlyssC01

Figured I'd own up on taking part in things I usually am vehement in bashing. Can't have me be a hypocrite, now can we?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Game ramble - XCom 2

Happy new year!!

Wait? What do you mean it's March already? What in the world....?!

The first quarter of the year - most especially March - is always a thing of nightmares. That and November. The only difference between the two months is that in March we try to keep our claws sheathed. Try...

But I digress.

Because of the insanity, one must have some way to relax. To get rid of the stress.

Shooting aliens and zombies (L4D2 ftw!) really helps.

So in this post I'll ramble about one of these relaxing methods by talking about:

Following XCom: Enemy unknown, XCom 2 starts off with a rather unexpected turn of events. The XCom project failed. Now, 20 years after that defeat, humanity has found itself co-existing with the seemingly benign alien rulers who have supposedly gone out of their way to improve humanity's way of life. The rebellion lives on, however, and XCom is still providing some resistance, now as the guerrilla underdogs sticking it to the man... er... alien.

XCom 2 is in some ways controversial with the immediate struggles gamers face in attempting to get it to run. This has sparked a substantial amount of gamer rage - with good reason, I believe. And hopefully Firaxis will see to those problems bloody soon, or else...

You will also find that people are conflicted about their views of the game itself. Yahtzee delivers some very solid reasons as to why some are unhappy about it - in his usual crude way... though not as a crude as usual.

So why do I like it so much?

I suppose it comes down to expectation.

I love XCom. I still actively play it - to the point where I know all the maps, which is a little annoying. All I really wanted was more of it.

And, in some sense, that is exactly what XCom 2 is. It doesn't really have enough variety to make you feel like you're transported into a different game altogether. It feels more like a very complex add-on pack. Which is pretty much what I wanted and so I'm playing the hell out of it and not getting anywhere because I die far too much before gaining much in the line of victories.

XCom 2 offers some variation in your monsters - mostly appearing as an evolution of what you had faced in the previous game. The classes are mostly the same though the advancement options are slightly different. The maps have enough variety that it takes you quite a number of hours before you recognize where your people have been dropped and how they've changed the angle - a nice way not to make the maps feel terribly repetitive.

The game is basically a build on to its predecessor. Which to me is fine if not necessarily the ideal of a brand new game one had to wait four years to see released.

Usually, one shouldn't be happy with 'more of the same' when it comes to sequels, but I am... maybe that just shows how delighted I was by the first one. I still get a massive amount of satisfaction when my ranger shoots the shit out of an alien at point blank range. But then I also curse and face palm when he doesn't hit the bugger at POINT BLANK RANGE!!

So whenever I play the game there are a lot of cheering, mad cackling (I kid you not) and swearing that goes on. All of which can be good fun.

But there are quite a few problems and some of them are rather surprising.

Firaxis dedicated itself to PC gaming with this particular project. And yet, for that statement, the game has come out with a lot of hiccups. One of which is performance lag. When gamers have to start fiddling with files and add/modify things to get the game to work better, there is definitely something wrong somewhere. In my case, while the game still pauses every now and again, I have very little lag problems if I turn my internet off altogether. By that I don't mean to switch Steam to offline mode. No, I mean disconnect my internet connection. I also need to wait until two particular notifications come up informing me about this lack of connection before I know I can load up my save file (or start a new game) and start playing the game relatively bug free. If I don't do that, buttons start disappearing, cut sequences freeze and I have to go to the ol' faithful Task Manager to turn the game off before starting again.

Maybe the fact that I discovered the 'work around' so quickly has made my acceptance of it a lot easier. In the case of other gamers, they don't have that simple ways of 'fixing' the problem.

And honestly, these are problems that are not supposed to be there when you've worked on a game and dedicated it to one platform. Actually, I think we've gotten far too understanding regarding the products we buy. These are things that shouldn't happen and yet we do and go 'oh well'.

So yes. Gamers are raging and with very good reason.

I'm not really going to ramble much more about it. I think Yahtzee nails all the annoying bits and I clearly haven't developed enough writing stamina to truly ramble. I'd say, all in all, the game is engaging me at present. It is a challenge, though one I fail a lot which can get very frustrating. The existence of the problems haven't gotten to me all that much yet, but I hope Firaxis pulls finger pretty darn soon. The longer they wait, the more annoyed people are going to get. That's something they should know by now.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Game Babble: Fallout 4

Well surprise, surprise. Life didn't turn out quite as I had expected. Granted the same happened to my nanowrimo. I did, however, managed to write 15 000 words full of complete and utter shite on the last day. It is the most words I've ever written in a day (I think) and I spent two days recovering.


Now November is a terrible month for me. It's the month of working overtime, swearing at people, being sworn at by people, insane deadlines, insaner expectations and the shedding of a tear or two. It is the worst time to try and be creative.

And besides, Fallout 4 came out.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. The long, long, long, long awaited sequel finally rolled it's irradiated butt through the doors and it is beautiful. How beautiful you ask? Well, that I can't tell you because my super dooper game pc (well moderately super) isn't powerful enough to fully show how awesomely pretty the game is. Needless to say, it is still beautiful. Tons. a bit too demanding perhaps for the pc, but we'll overlook that on account of everything else.

Let the babbling begin:

Let me spoil you horrendously by saying 1. You lived in the time prior to the war. 2. You get bullied into a vault where you're turned into an ice cube for 200 years. 3. Someone steals something precious to you and does things that will make more than one person flip their lid. 4. You get thawed out and find the world got somewhat crispier since you last saw it.

There, now you don't have to play it. You know everything.

Well, everything that starts off the game. So maybe you should play it.

The challenge with open-world games has always been striking the balance between freedom of choice and driving the character's motivations. Either you get that the player isn't invested and mostly detached from everything their character would probably feel something for, or the story is on rails. Fallout 4 also struggles. I found myself enjoying the open road and lack of responsibility (well, somewhat lack, I'll get to that later). Then I'd finally reach an area and discussion that triggers the next main story thread, and my character's voice trembles and is very upset. And then I am moved and have this moment of 'Oh, I suppose I should care'. One mission later and I'm back to exploring the open world, all the lovely places with silent stories, all the lovely places where people shoot at me for no good reason, and I forget about that caring bit. I'm having too much fun doing other stuff.

It can be a little jarring.

But then, I have yet to play a game that gets this balance right.

Since I've mentioned it, let me say that I really enjoy the voice acting in this game. There hasn't been a situation like I got in Oblivion and Skyrim where characters began sounding the same. I'm sure that at some point I feel like they've melded together but at present they don't.

For interest, the female main character (aka Sole Survivor) is voiced by Courtenay Taylor - Jack from Mass Effect, Juhani from SW KotOR. And then I had my OOHHHH!!! moment while checking the wiki for voice actors. Claudia Christian - Susan Ivanova from Babylon 5!! - is also adding her voice to the game.

Ah hem. So yes, there's that.

Everything is essentially been updated and upgraded. There will be tons of other reviews spending time on how exactly. What I enjoy about the game is walking into a 'house' seeing all that was left behind and puzzling out the story. Pointless, but so much detail was put into this game that it is delightful. The VATS system no longer stops everything but only slows things down considerably, giving you that feeling that combat is still flowing and you better move your butt and decide where you want to shoot the dude. Weapons handling feels good. Upgrading weapons and armour is a mix of essential and redundant. You tinker to make things better but don't expect that you won't stumble over some other delightful thing later.

The leveling up system has changed. Less stats, more perks. Here you select what your character will be good at without having to look too much at the numbers. Allow them to be better at rifles, for example. Make them better crafters. Have them scrounge through things with better success. Some might find the simplicity annoying, but it does make you feel that you're creating a unique character in a sense. While you could choose perks all across the board, it makes you the typical Jack of all Trades and master of none.

Right let's get back to that matter of responsibility. Early on in the game, you find Dogmeat (side
note, your companions can no longer die, so you don't have to avoid taking along some like your favourite German Sheppard. He's not going to kick it. Which is good because they tend to keep tumbling off of high places and making clumsy asses of themselves.

But I digress, So after you meet Dogmeat, you (can) wonder down into a town where you (may) meet people, save said people (if you want to), and escort them back to the location you start at namely Sanctuary Hills. Here they start a settlement, or more accurately, YOU start their settlement. This is where the crafters and builders are free to go insane and build beds and shelters and defenses and stuff. There is good and bad too it. One the one hand, the number of settlements you build gives you the resources and help you might find really necessary while travelling the ruins of Boston. You simply shoot a flare gun into the air and they come running (apparently, I haven't actually tried this yet). Or, you later can build artillery, chuck smoke grenades and run away like hell while the bombs come raining down.

Could be useful...

But, they're like the sims. You need to make them happy by doing annoying things like planting crops, building beds, building defenses. While some are shown to be hitting things with hammers from time to time, no one seems to know how to actually use one and build things themselves. Some might like it, total control and all of that. I find it frustrating. You have the opportunity to make yourself a good home in the wastelands, people. Take some initiative!

There are things I can nitpick about. There are four things I will mention since I think they're the most ... well not annoying, but they bug me somewhat.

1. XP for building and crafting:
Maybe it's to nudge you on to building settlements, but you get XP for every single thing you build.
While it sounds great in the beginning, I ended up feeling that I didn't actually do much to get all those higher levels the game was congratulating me on. You get XP for every plant you plant even. I felt they were far too generous in that regard and it actually pushes me away from building settlements.

I want to feel like my character is growing as she sees the world, faces down obstacles, runs away from Deathclaws, screaming and finding shelter in the nick of time (or running through a raider camp and having the two groups kill each other off). I don't want to get that Level up notice from sticking a carrot into the ground.

2. Programming bugs:
Bethesda, we'll love this game as much as we did Fallout 3, as bug-ridden as it was, but that doesn't mean we want to see the same kinds of bugs in this game. You should have moved on by now. But there you have it. Similar bugs pop up in FO4 as in FO3. Dead bodies still jerk around as if their nervous systems haven't figured out that they're dead yet. The pipboy screen sometimes comes up blank of invisible (reloading helps). Objects and people still have moments where they mimic X-Men's Shadow Cat and you see pieces disappear through walls and such.

My favourite example of this is an old lady in Diamond City. She sits politely in a dress with her hands in on her lap. Only, her fingers go through the dress... thus seeming even more determined to defend her modesty...

Seems an annoying nitpick, but here's an example that might explain the problem. I meet mister metal head. He is part of an organisation of very arrogant metal heads who tell you things like "Move along, outsider," and "If you're not part of us, you're nothing." So, not a nice bunch of people. But despite this, I decided to be a good neighbour because, shame, the one is injured and they need a radio signal sorted to proceed with evacuation. Main metal head and I get to the station, hook up the beacon, Bob's your auntie, and the mission is completed. And then the metal head invites me to join the metal head organisation.

'Scuse me? You were an arrogant bastard just three seconds ago, you don't know me from Adam's
cousin, and you want me to join the asshole brigade because I knew how to flip a switch?

Apparently, yes. It's that simple.

In the game, you get offered the position of general, become part of the metal heads for helping them with a radio beacon, become part of a Grease-esque power armour gang for sticking a part into a nearby machine, and goodness knows what else. You immediately get trusted after completing small tasks even when you have no reason whatsoever of trusting them. It felt like a cheap reward and what could have been meaningful introductions and initiations into these organisations (ala Oblivion).

4. Music selection:
The selection of songs are very, very, very limited. Maybe a silly nitpick, but you can only listen to Butcher Pete so many times. I'd have loved if they at least included some of the songs from FO3 and FO: New Vegas. I check in on the radio every now and again, but mostly I tend to just keep it off. Which is a pity. It's such a nifty feature.

If you loved Fallout 3, you're enjoy its successor. There are some things you might not like, but if you want to be the lone wanderer, nothing is stopping you. I would say someone who isn't used to the open-world idea might find yourself losing whatever "main story threads" are floating around. In the end, I take each day as they come. One day I help build beds, the other day I gather parts to build beds. Some days I do missions, other days I wander from random door to random door and see what lies beyond.

In the end the choice is yours and if I have to rate it, I'd probably give it as close as a ten out of ten as I can get while muttering over all of the above.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Nanowrimo 2015

Let's start with me, because I am awesome and this blog is all about me, really. Well, no, but I am the poor sod writing this so it is thus a good place to start, no?

I can't say, in all honesty, that the past two years have been the most unpleasant in my life, but the experiences therein have included some tough times - the lightest of which was the double burglary of my residence within five days... The f- ahem, annoying gentlemen broke in once as a scouting mission and then ransacked the place the second time.

I will add that there were some saving graces in the experience.

1. They waited for me to go to work. These two incidents both occurred during daytime - the last during soft rain - so they really didn't want to face whoever lived in the house. I was safe.
2.They did not in any way, shape or form harm my animals. The horror stories one hears, and the fact that my animals are like my children, makes this a wonderful thing.
3. I managed to recover financially quite quickly based on the particular timing (got a bonus, got my tax money back, yay me). So yes I lost a LOT, but I did manage to fill up what I had lost initially by what I would not have usually received. One can argue that there was a LOT more that now could have been done with said funds - to which I would agree, considering some of the things coming up this year.
4. I learnt that bravery is most certainly not the absence of fear. There is something truly frightening about walking through the house with a grass hockey stick on your shoulder, searching the house for the cause of a noise you heard... And both amusing and satisfying to know that you not only imagined it, but conducted yourself in a controlled manner rather than running away screaming like a girl. Not that I wasn't terrified out of my mind, but it was a rather unique experience (Hopefully unique. I don't want to deal with that again, as light as it was).
5. The item I own that is of the most monetary value is my bed. They didn't steal that. So I can sleep comfortably still. Yay!

So yes. Miserable two years, but it's okay. I have made it thus far. And I'm here. And I'm writing. Sorta. Not fast enough in the opinion of some. But I am here. And hyper because I'm still awake after midnight. And this has been quite a tangent...


This year will be my tenth year participating. Thus far, I have succeeded at my goal five times. On top of the minimum goal I should achieve, I'm hoping to put out a blog post once every two weeks as well. No guarantees, but that's what I'm hoping for. They will not be about nanowrimo (though I might slide a little of that in here) and I won't be counting it as part of the word goal (though I am sure I will be tempted to), but it is something I need to focus on. The blog. Not nano. Oh, also, I don't know what happened to the missing pictures on some of the previous posts. I will try to fix it later. Maybe.

What is NaNoWriMo?
National Novel Writing Month is an (international) initiative to get people to start off writing whatever they please in the shape of a story for the month of November. It's all quantity of words over quality of output.

How does it work?

The original idea was that, on the first of November, you start writing on a brand new story. You write as much as possible with the goal of hitting at least a minimum of 50 000 words by the end of the month. It sounds a massive amount of words, but it isn't actually as much as you would initially think. There are some variations and 'rebellions' to the standard expected task. For example, some people would rather continue a story they're already working on, using November to churn out more material. Some student have used Nanowrimo to charge through writing their dissertations and theses. (Probably feces at the end of it that can be cleaned up into something much better).

Here are some points of clarity:

This is a race, but not a true competition. Your goal is to get 50 000 words and you are certainly going to type as fast as you can. You can interact with people in your own area or around the world and instill a competitive edge to the exercise by 'racing' each other to get the highest word count within a particular time. But, in the end, you are a winner by reaching 50 000. And you get a pat on the head for achieving it.

No one will see what you write. It isn't a matter of other people reading what you write or that you are required to share. I think most people will be too busy writing, that they would not really be all that interested in reading your work when they are writing their own. This is a race for words. Plain and simple. From the 25th you will be asked to paste your writing into a word count text box to 'validate' your 50k. This program counts but doesn't copy the text. However, should you be paranoid about it - or if you are writing by hand and can't actually copy those words over (and yes some people do write by hand... and typewriters... because well, why not? -  you can use a text generator site such as Blind Text Generator to generate the necessary amount of words. (UPDATE: A reader has given me another link worth trying out Website Planet Loren Ipsum Generator. It's apparently user friendly and ad free.) But wait, doesn't this mean you will be able to cheat? Well...

...Yes, you will have the ability to cheat. There are no safeguards against cheating. You are given a textbox from the beginning of the months in which to type in your word count and you can increase that number as much as you want, should you choose to do so. But really, what is the point? If you want to be an idiot about it, no one will stop you. There are enough 'veterans' participating who would be able to sniff it out, but they can do nothing but express displeasure at you. Most of them will simply ignore you as the insignificant fly you are. This is your race against yourself primarily. If you want to con yourself then... well, that's your own psychological issue.

You do not have to talk to people. If you want to play the lone ranger, you absolutely can. As said before, this is your race.

You do not have to undergo this exercise on your own. NaNoWriMo presents you with an opportunity to meet people. You can do so with the anonymity of a screen name, or your actual name (that's up to you). The people who communicate on the forums come from all walks of life. And marriages HAVE occurred because of meeting people here - I've witnessed two. You also do not have to worry about getting married, I am sure us single wolves have sufficient internet pepper spray to veer it off. Hey, I've managed for ten years. So why not?

It's meant to be fun. This is your opportunity to murder whatever language you so choose by writing a random story that can make no sense. If you want to write about a duck who crossed the road, then grew fur and shifted into a wolf who died, and became an undead human zombie who has an issue with rotting teeth and a hunger for vegans, you go right ahead and write it.  No grammar required. No nothing. BS to your heart's content. You do have some serious writing folk, but you can enjoy the buffoonery on behalf of them. If you are the serious writing type, just make sure you're having a blast.

There might be no prize, but damn do you feel like a million bucks. You have achieved something at the end. You have written a story the length of some classic novels such as Animal Farm. You have spent a month allowing yourself to do something creative and in the end you've come up with a product - regardless of what utter shite it is. And let me tell you, it is often such shite that it's not worth printing it on paper and using it for toilet paper. But it's real and you made it happen.

Okay, there might be one or two prizes... sorta. What winning does allow you is to get discount on certain writing software. Which can be rather cool. But the ultimate prize is a pdf that you can scribble your own name on, frame it and hang it on your wall... or stick it to your CV... Nah, I wouldn't recommend the latter...

In the ten, non-consecutive, years that I've been taking part in nanowrimo, I have met some amazing people, and less than amazing people. I've had awesome discussions about interests that I have. Interests that I struggle to find like-minded people for in the city that I live. That sounds very dodgy... I mean like being a geek and playing games and such. Really, all innocent past times. And no, I doth not protest too much. I have also had years in which I didn't participate in the forums at all. Granted, I ended up losing motivation and without a group cheering me on, I didn't finish nano. But maybe you are better at it than I am. It's been a lovely mechanism to connect to people and broaden my horizons - and I'm not a social creature at heart, so that says something.

My enjoyment of nanowrimo exceeds any other major occasion, event or holiday. Given the time of year, it is actually insanity with work (in my country the end of the year, really is the end of the year and all the paperwork and reports that go along with it), but when committed, I find a great deal of enjoyment from this exercise.

Despite my natural ability to talk twak, I don't consider myself a "writer". Or maybe I should say I don't see myself becoming an "author". I don't care about publishing, I don't care about publicity or whatnot. I like messing around with fanfiction and that's always a large journey for me (because writing is actually hard when you're just mucking about), but that's still okay. I am not ambitious. I just like being able to play in my own mental playground and realise that I'm not the only lunatic in the asylum.

I invite you to join. The doors are wide open and the straitjackets can be found by going in by the first door on your right.

+/-1800 words. More than one needs for a daily avereage... Just saying.