Saturday, July 04, 2020

Gaming through the apocalypse

Ireland is making tentative steps out of a four month lockdown imposed to halt the spread of Covid 19. Given the how utterly bizarre the situation is it is somewhat surprising that I have yet to write in the blog about it. The truth is that while the pandemic is an event of enormous global impact the personal situation it has enforced is rather tedious and extremely repetitive. Thankfully none of my immediate family have caught the illness even though we have friends and acquaintances who were hit hard. For us us life under lockdown has been a depressingly repetitive cycle of sleep at home, work at home, play at home with occasional short trips for exercise or essential shopping. We are lucky I guess,  that we have been able to continue working remotely through the pandemic and indeed we have been very busy dealing with its impact.

Aside: My father was born in 1913 and passed away in 1984. He lived through two world wars, an armed rebellion, a war of independence, a civil war, the Spanish Flu, the Asian Flu, epidemics of Polio, TB and diphtheria, the Great Depression and more economic up and down cycles than I could count. My own life has been rather uneventful in comparison for which I am grateful.  I do find it helpful in dealing with the current pandemic to remember that our parents and grandparents lived through worse.

Anyway as you might imagine I have played a few games during the lock down and for posterity I am going to talk about them here.

Total Warhammer 2: The Prince and the Paunch DLC launched last month which finally gave some love to the Greenskins so I have been playing a bit of that. As is usually the case the DLC was unbalanced on release and goblins went from being utterly useless to quite overpowered but that is likely to be addressed in later patches.

Empire Total War: I developed a hankering for some old fashion cannon and musket game play so I reinstalled Empire TW. Empire was probably the most ambitious Total War release with its global map and many new game play features. Unfortunately it didn't quite live up to that ambition and is still criticised for being buggy and having poor AI. I have experienced both of these in my American campaign so far. I do love the period and the setting though. I would love to see Empire Total War 2.

Doom Eternal: Another best in class no holds barred shooter from Bethesda. Just like the 2016 version the game is superbly polished and superbly balanced. Doom is not a game where you hide behind cover. You must keep moving, keep shooting and keep killing  to collect health armour and ammunition in order to keep moving, keep shooting and keep killing.  When it clicks you can get into a zen like state of flow.

Battlefield V: I suck at multiplayer shooters but I bought this on sale because it has a short single player campaign. Enjoyable enough although I preferred Battlefield One.

Control: This is a magnificent game that is bizarre, inexplicable and a lot of fun. I would put it in the same genre as Prey and Bioshock and in some respects it even surpasses those games. Highly recommended.

Carcassone: This is a table top game but I have been playing it online with some friends in order to have some social interaction. Now that restrictions are lifting we will probably revert to real world meetings instead.

Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. I am currently playing this and enjoying it. It has a strong star wars vibe with varied and engaging game play.  I am not the best at third person combat and action adventures. I often hit blockages where I struggle to get through a particular mission or challenge.  Fallen Order has some tricky boss fights and I did nearly hit that wall on a few occasions but so far I have managed to get through. Hopefully I can finish the game.

The Signal from Tolva: A robot shooter set on a remote planet. This is a fairly bare bones game with decent mechanics and very little story or setting behind them. I enjoyed it but it is very repetitive so it is probably not for everyone.

The Messenger: This is a well reviewed action platformer with an interesting mid game twist where the game play opens up Metroidvania style and the graphics shift from 8bit retro to 16 bit retro half way through. I am a wimp when it comes to platfomers and I quickly get frustrated if the challenge gets too hard. The messenger sails right along the line of my tolerance limit. I played as far as the graphics shift sometimes enjoying it and sometimes getting frustrated at having to replay hard bits over and over again. Eventually I decided to take a break and it is doubtful if I will ever get back to it.

Microsoft Teams: Not a game of course but I have spend more hours than I care to remember staring at a screen running this blighted app or one of its competitors. For many weeks I was averaging four hours video conferencing every day and I found it extremely draining. This somewhat dampened my enthusiasm to sit in the same chair and stare at the same screen to play video games as a form of relaxation afterwards.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

I miss being a Daddy

All of our children are over 18 now so in a sense we don't have children any more. We have adult offspring. One of the small implications of this is that they have let us know they no longer want to use the childish terms "Mammy" and "Daddy" when referring to my wife and I.To be honest I think they are most uncomfortable at the way my wife and I have gotten into the habit of referring to each other as Mammy and Daddy at home and in public as many parents do after years of using those names with their kids.

There is tremendous joy (and not a little relief) in watching your children mature into capable functioning adults. Nevertheless I am a little saddened to no longer be a Daddy. Daddys are magical mysterious  creatures, Dads are more humdrum every day folk. A Daddy can fix anything using his mystical  toolbox and his magic kisses. A Dad is more likely to break something. Daddys tell the best stories and can always make you laugh. Dads make you groan with tired old jokes. Daddys know everything. Dads know very little that is relevant to the current century. Daddys wield the enormous power of unconditional love and Dads... well actually Dads have that superpower too even if it is wrapped up in a very ordinary human person.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Mbp's games of the decade

Inspired by a video from Bombchu on Youtube I decided to review the games I have enjoyed from the last decade and pick my favourite game from every year. Nerd that I am this involved a lot of data crunching and heavy use of Excel but here are the main ground rules:

1. My sources of games are Wikipedia's "20xx in video games" pages . These pages give an unbiased and fairly comprehensive list for every year in a fairly standard format. I did spot a few omissions but none that would change my ranking. Example page for 2010

2. Windows games only and games are listed in the year that they were released. I believe Wikipedia uses the US release date. 

3. I only consider games that I have played myself for a substantial time, long enough for me to form my own opinion. 

4. I consider DLC and expansions to be the part of the original game.  I take them into account when ranking the main game. 

4. Please note that I am a fairly patient gamer so I played many of these games several years after their initial release. Nevertheless I count them by year of release. This also means that more recent years are under represented with 2018 and 2019 games being particularly sparse. I expect to play many more games from these recent years in the future so my ranking for these recent years is very likely to  change. 

5. This list is of course entirely subjective. It represents my experience and my evaluation of the of the games in question. Ranking is based on much I enjoyed the game and the lasting impression it made on me. 

And now the rankings: 

2010: 21 games under consideration. 
3rd Place: World of Tanks
2nd Place: Napoleon Total War
1st Place: Mass Effect 2

I didn't play Mass Effect 2 until after ME 3 was released and then I marathoned all three games in the series with  the DLC. Mass Effect is one of the greatest gaming series I have ever played and ME 2 is probably the best episode. It had to take the crown here. Napoleon is one of my favourite Total War games. It is the one where they got guns and canons right. I only played World of Tanks for a few weeks so I never got any good at it but I still loved the game. To this day I still enjoy video replays of experts playing.
Honourable Mentions: Civ V, Darksiders, Just Cause 2

2011: A whopping 40 games under consideration. This was obviously a busy year for me. 
3rd Place: Magicka
2nd Place: Portal 2
1st Place: The Witcher 2

I had previously tried Witcher 1 without a lot of success but Witcher 2 got me hooked on the series and deserves top spot. I enjoyed Portal 2 as a solo game but when I discovered I could play split screen co-op with my daughter the game took on a whole new lease of life. Magicka was just mayhem, a game in which the control scheme was deliberately designed to create mistakes.  
Honourable Mentions: Minecraft, Skyrim, Mount and Blade, Deus Ex, Human Revolution. 

2012: 29 games considered
3rd Place: Mass Effect 3
2nd Place: FTL: Faster than Light
1st Place: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition

There are very few games I have played as intensely as I played Dark Souls. The game utterly consumed me for about a month to the point where I had to stop playing. I have since tried some of the other games in the series but none has gotten its hooks into me like Dark Souls 1 and I am not sure I want them to.  FTL is the best spaceship simulator I have every played. Despite its simplistic appearance it is a game that tells a million stories. Most of them involve crew members dying in a fire but after every ignominious defeat you are tempted to hit replay and jump right back in.  I really enjoyed Mass Effect 3 despite the controversial ending and as mentioned above the Mass Effect Trilogy is superb. 
Honourable Mentions: XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Far Cry 3, Warlock Master of the Arcane, Borderlands 2, Dishonored. 

2013: 26 games considered
3rd place: Tomb Raider
2nd Place: Total War Rome 2
1st Place: Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock infinite is a some what controversial game but it worked for me. Taken together with its Burial at Sea Expansions it is a fitting end to the superb Bioshock Saga. The game world is stunningly beautiful and dripping in imagination, and the ending left me speechless. Total War Rome 2 was a buggy mess on release but Creative Assembly stood by the game and several major patches later it became one of my all time favourite Total War games. Tomb Raider reboot in 2013 looked good and played great. 
Honorable Mentions: Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, Metro Last Light, The Bureau, XCom Declassified, Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons. 

2014: 18 games considered
3rd Place: Alien Isolation
2nd Place: Divinity Original Sin
1st Place: Dragon Age Inquisition

There were some cracking games this year and any of the top 3 could easily have been my game of the year.  Inquisition just pips the other two for its enormous scope and terrific story telling. Divinity Original Sin is a fantastic take on turn based combat and Alien Isolation is one of the most tense games I have ever played. 
Honourable Mentions: Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor, Warlock 2, Wolfenstein: The New Order

2015: 19 games considered
3rd place: Just Cause 3
2nd Place: Homeworld Remastered Collection
1st Place: Witcher 3

Witcher 3 is a gaming phenomenon and taken with its expansions a worthy contender for greatest video game every made. It had to take top spot this year. I am cheating a bit with Homeworld remastered because the game was originally released in 1999 but it is still one of my all time favourite games and the remastered package gives it tarted up graphics and includes the sequel. Just Cause 3 is just about the most destructive fun you can have in any video game. It made me a big hit with my nephews when then drove around blowing stuff up and generally causing mayhem. 
Honourable Mentions: Broforce, Wolfenstein Old Blood. 

2016: 24 games under consideration
3rd Place: Titanfall 2
2nd Place: Doom 2016
1st Place: Total War Warhammer

I have to give it to Total Warhammer because it rekindled my love of Total War and brought the franchise in a fantastic new direction. I managed to spend over 300 hours playing the game before I got even more stuck into its sequel. Doom 2016 was a monumental achievement. An old school shooter re imagined for modern times. The controls are slick as hell and the gameplay is impeccably balanced.  I only briefly dabbled in the multi player of Titanfall 2 but the single player campaign was good enough to warrant third place on this list. 
Honourable Mentions: Battlefield 1, Grim Dawn, Steamworld Heist

2017: 14 games under consideration
3rd Place: Divinity Original Sin 2
2nd Place: Prey
1st Place: Total War Warhammer 2

Apologies for putting another Total Warhammer in first place but I have over a thousand hours in the game and I love it to bits. Easily my favourite strategy game ever. Prey is a terrific first person game that is a true spiritual successor to the incredible System Shock games. Divinity Original Sin 2 took everything that made the first game great and doubled it. 
Honourable Mentions: Destiny 2, Mages of Mystralia, Hellblade Senua's Sacrifice

2018: Only 6 games under consideration
3rd Place: Frostpunk
2nd Place: Subnautica
1st Place: Battletech

The low number of games played it partly because I am a patient gamer and partly because I spend so much time playing Total Warhammer 2. Nevertheless Battletech is a worthy contender for my game of the year. It is a great turn based combat game with the big stompy robots of the Battletech universe. Unfortunately the game doesn't do itself any favours with a fairly rough first impression but once you get into it it is terrific. I have to admit I haven't played nearly enough of either Subnautica or Frostpunk but both have really intrigued me from what I have played so far. 
Honourable Mentions: None

2019: 6 games considered
3rd Place: Gears 5
2nd Place: Halo Reach
1st Place: Slay the Spire

I haven't played enough 2019 games yet to give a definitive ranking but I really loved Slay the Spire. It is a collectable card game with all the bells and whistles and best of all it is single player so no money sink multiplayer mode. Halo Reach is cheating I guess because it is a remastered version of the 2010 Xbox game. Nevertheless I love Halo (I actually bought an Xbox 360 just to play Halo) and this PC remaster was one of my favourite games of the year despite having previously played the Xbox version. I did a full play through of the Gears of War series in January and the most recent Gears 5 definitely really brihgs the series up to date.  I still probably prefer Gears 3 but that is only available on Xbox at present so cant get into these lists. 
Honourable Mentions: None so far but I am sure that I will be playing a lot more 2018 and 2019 games in the future so this may well change. 

And the Grand Prize winner for my game of the decade: 
This is a very tough call with some very strong contenders. In fact all of my top contenders are actually game series rather than individual games because I believe that a series done well is far more than the sum of its parts. The Mass Effect trilogy is certainly a contender as is the Bioshock series. Witcher 3 is one of the greatest games ever made and single handedly elevates the series into the highest rank.  However based on sheer hours played and on the fact that the games inspired me to read almost the entire Black Library just to get more of the lore I have to give my game of the decade prize to: 

Total War Warhammer (1 and 2)

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Gaming is now a post scarcity environment

It has been on the cards for some time but Xbox game pass was the tipping point for me. We are now most definitely in a post scarcity environment when it comes to gaming. I have a huge backlog of unplayed games on Steam, Humble bundle, GoG, Origin and other services. I have new games coming in all the time via Humble Choice and Xbox Game pass not to mention Epic and other give aways.

 am struggling to come to terms with this abundance and I find it increasingly difficult to decide what game to play next and how long to play a given game for.

One approach that has been useful for me is "gaming projects" where I immerse myself in a particular game or game family for a few weeks. I did a complete play through of the Halo games last year (I bought a second hand Xbox 360 for the purpose). Since Christmas I have done the same with Gears of war (playing older games on my Xbox and newer ones on PC game pass). I didn't love all the games in the series equally but playing them sequentially gives motivation and interesting new perspectives.

I still want to play a wide variety of other games outside of these projects though. How else am I going to discover new projects. This is an issue I haven't fully come to terms with yet. I want to get more comfortable playing games for a short period and then abandoning them. Even if the game is a classic, even if the game is highly reviewed, even if I am actually enjoying the game I just don't have time to fully play every great game out there. Therefore I want to sample a wide variety of great games and then select one or two to invest more serious time in.

(Originally published as a comment on Tobolds blog

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Am I a gaming butterfly or a bird?

A recent  post on Tobold's Blog got me thinking about the number of games I play and whether I like to flit between games or spend a lot of time in one game. The truth is I get far more satisfaction from investing a lot of time in one game than from flitting between games and never the less I still do flit.

Sometimes flitting is an inevitable consequence of a game not appealing to me as much as I thought it would. If I move on from a game because I am no longer enjoying it then I don't feel particularly bad about it. Sometimes however I just get distracted by something else and temporarily take a break from a game I fully intend to come back to. Unfortunately these days there is such an overwhelming choice of games to play (often at very little cost)  that such temporary breaks almost inevitably become permanent. This ever growing list of  unfinished titles that I intend to get back to some day is a source of frustration for me.

To illustrate the above with examples here are the games I have played (a little or a lot) over thee last couple of months:

1. Total War Warhammer 2: I have been playing this game intensively since its release two years ago and have derived tremendous satisfaction from it. It has slipped into the background now and will probably remain there until the third instalment comes out in a year or so but I still fire it up occasionally.

2. The Outer Worlds: I expected to like this game a lot and to be honest I did like a lot of things about it but after playing through the first planet  for a few days I found myself getting bored by it. I don't feel any need to go back to it.

3. Battletech: This replaced Total Warhammer as my immersive strategy game and I played it intensively for about a  month before taking a break. Even though I have completed hundreds of missions and developed some mastery of the game I didn't actually finish the  main campaign but I got enough enjoyment out of this game to feel satisfied by it even if I don't go back.

4. Halo Reach: I played this before on console and I am long time Halo fan. When it was finally released on PC I had to go back in and finish the campaign all over again on the PC. You can bet I will be replaying the other Halo titles as well when they come to PC.

5. Gears of War 4: Played single player campaign to completion. Enjoyable but forgettable.

6. Gears of War 5: Played single player campaign to completion over a few days. I enjoyed this even more than 4 but again it is ultimately forgettable.

7. Metro Exodus: I really enjoyed the previous Metro games so I was happy to load this up from my Xbox game pass subscription. Unfortunately I got distracted almost immediately so this is still sitting accusingly on my desktop.  I will probably go back to this.