Wednesday, December 16, 2020

AC Odyssey's Blood Fever quest gets a little bit too close to 2020 reality (Spoilers)

 I was only a couple of hours into Assassin's Creed Odyssey when a young street urchin friend came and asked for my help. Her family it seemed lived in another town which was in the grips of a terrible disease called "The Blood Fever". I'm not sure what she thought my warrior character could do but the girl looked up to me so I set off. Perhaps I would find the source of the mysterious illness,  a polluted well or some such. 

I was surprised on arriving at the town to find that it had been burned to the ground and the last few survivors including my friends family were being held captive by a priest and his guards. When I talked to the priest he explained that he had to kill everyone in the village because it was the only way to stop this terrible plague from spreading to the whole island. The remaining villagers begged for their lives and pleaded that they weren't even very sick but just wanted to leave the cursed town. 

This left me with a surprisingly distressing dilemma. Do I leave the priest to continue his extermination or do I fight the guards to save my friends family. This was a surprisingly nuanced dilemma not to mention an incredibly timely one to be faced with in December 2020 the year when the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the entire world. 

The priest didn't come across as evil he was just an earnest man who knew that this terrible task was necessary for the greater good. Twenty first century me was inclined to agree with him. There were no miracle antibiotics or vaccines in those days and very limited understanding of how to control infection. I realised that those with mild symptoms were carriers who would surely spread the plague and cause countless more deaths if they were let live. On the other hand my in game character was an aspiring hero in classical Greece. I just couldn't see that character being willing to stand back and watch the slaughter of innocent people including her friends family. 

In the end I felt I  had to make the choice that seemed right for my in game persona so I saved the villagers. They promptly thanked me and left the burned out town to spread the disease far and wide. I am sure I will have cause to regret this later. 

PS: I have tried many Assassin's Creed games over the years and none of them has really stuck with me. AC Odyssey however seems to largely ignore the whole Animus concept which I found quite jarring in previous games and also has better combat and better rpg elements. I am enjoying it a  lot so far. 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Horizon Zero Dawn causes me to re-evaluate the Ubisoft open world formula

 I would like to share two moments from my recent playthrough of Horizon Zero Dawn:

Moment 1: I was only a few hours into the game but I had already sampled enough to realise that this was a very good game with a stunningly beautiful game world, interesting gameplay and combat, rich and  interesting lore, and great characters and story.  However a couple of hours in as I was beginning to get to grips with the game mechanics another realisation hit me and my heart sank.  It was the bags that did it The game has about half a dozen bags for items that you have to level up by collecting stuff. It also has all the other hallmarks of an open world Ubisoft game. A beautiful open world map populated by  creatures and sites of interest for you to explore and get distracted. Towers to climb to open up new sections of the map (in this case the towers are giant robotic giraffes which is a nice touch but still the principle remains). It has tonnes of make-work errands and side quests that can easily distract you. All of this is polished to the nth degree with lots of quality of life features like fast travel, quest markers and button prompts to make it very easy to just lose yourself in this playground of activities. 

I don't actually think that Ubisoft Open world is a bad thing. In fact when I first came across the formula in Far Cry 3 I thought it was fantastic. It is only after playing through multiple iterations of the formula in more recent Far Cry, Assasin's Creed, Shadow of and other games that  I have become tired of it. One hallmark of Ubiusoft open world is that the game is full of make work activities. There is always something to do but very little of it feels worth doing. Another hallmark is that the game mechanics are polished to remove all player frustrations. This should be a good thing but making things so frictionless  also diminishes the game in some way. Perhaps we need to be challenged and indeed frustrated at times to feel a sense of accomplishment from a game. It is telling that another very popular game formula the "Souls like" seems to take a polar opposite approach and make life as difficult as possible for the player. I am not sure if either approach is perfect but I think it is easier to get tired of the Ubisoft formula because once you have played one Ubisoft Open world game it can feel like you have played them all. 

I should point out that Horizon Zero Dawn is not devoid of challenge. The main quest and several of the side quests have challenging combat encounters and your heroine Aloy never really becomes an invulnerable combat power house. There are plenty of dangerous monsters in the open world which need to be handled carefully but outside of the main quest lines it is trivially easy to avoid  or work around these dangers. You can spend hours running errands and making collections in the open world without ever really breaking a sweat. 

Moment 2: Perhaps 30 hours later. I was deep in one of the games forests hunting rabbits and racoons for components to craft bigger ammunition bags. It was not challenging and it was repetitive. Why was I doing this? After my earlier misgivings I had resolved to ignore collection and errands as much as possible and just enjoy the main quest. This strategy worked surprisingly well because Zero Dawn is largely a stealth game and a lot of the time you try to avoid direct combat. Being somewhat under geared was not really an issue. In fact I was really enjoying the main quest line and a number of substantial side quest lines as well. End game was approaching however and soon I would have to face off against some serious bosses so I couldn't put off gearing up any longer. Hence my sojourn in the forest. I also had to embark on a number of specific monster hunts to collect all the components required  to upgrade my gear and armour. To be honest even though it was repetitive it wasn't that bad. All in all this was a relaxing few hour hiatus from the main questline progression and the game did everything possible to make the scavenging as painless as possible with detailed maps , fast travel and big glowy markers for loot.  I had to put up with the figaries  of the random number generator to get the specific parts I needed but drop rates were high enough for it not to be too much of a pain. 

Once my scavenging phase was complete I was ready for end game. I continued on to finish the main quest line and very much enjoyed it. Overall Horizon Zero Dawn is a very very good game and one I would highly recommend. It features an engaging story set in a beautiful world with a rich back story and it is fun to play. 

Does this mean I have gotten over my boredom with Ubisoft formula? Perhaps not entirely but I think it means I have found a better way to approach formula games. Putting off all of the collection and errand quests until I really needed to allowed me to enjoy the world and the main quest line a lot more. By the time I got around to them I was already heavily invested in the game so I knew exactly why I was doing these errands which made them a lot more palatable. It was also painless because by that stage I had opened up most of the map and had fast travel points to all the locations I needed. I was also experienced enough to quickly deal with any monsters I met along the way. I think it is also important that I had no intention of being a completionist. I was late enough into the game to know what tools I would need and I focussed on upgrading those. Prioritising the main quest first and only doing the errands when necessary worked well for me. I am pretty sure that if I had allowed myself to get sidetracked by errands with a completionist mentality it would have killed my enjoyment of the game. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Tough bosses and gaming road blocks. Are difficult games about the destination or about the journey?

 I am currently stuck on a boss called Ixillis  in Remnant from the Ashes and I have tried and died over a dozen times so far without being able to overcome it. Stepping back and thinking about this makes me realise that while I really enjoy the sense of achievement I get from overcoming difficult challenges in games I don't actually enjoy the process of repeatedly trying and failing that is required to do so. I like the destination but I don't like the journey. I am beginning to think that this is a problem. 

It is a problem because the repeated cycle of trying and failing can pull down my mood in the real world. It is a problem because even though there are other games I could play instead, the lingering shadow of an unresolved encounter diminishes the pleasure I would get from other games. It is a problem because experiences like this make me fearful of hitting similar challenges in future either in this or in other games. It is a problem because I really do want the high I get from overcoming challenges in games. I have become dependent on it in fact so playing only easy games or playing games on their easiest difficulties is not an attractive option for me either.  

Hmm.. reading that last paragraph again suggests that things may have gotten serious. Gaming has been a huge part of my life for at least a quarter of a century and on the whole I am convinced it has been a positive experience. It has given me hobby and an interest. It has never caused any hurt to myself or anyone else and it has often given me a harmless distraction from the toils of the real world. It has broadened my horizons both in the real world and in the world of the imagination and while I have never really been a social gamer it has resulted in some shared experiences with other gamers online. When I played mmorpgs I was aware that gaming could become  a problem if you got too sucked in and neglected the demands of the real world but I survived my encounters without any lasting after effects. I can honestly say that gaming has never really been a problem for me. Yet here I am looking at a facet of my hobby which causes me stress rather than pleasure and I think I need to change my approach.  

I probably need to look at two things: 

In terms of destination it is not healthy to allow my personal happiness to be so dependent on overcoming virtual challenges. I need to get less low when I am failing and that probably means getting less high when I succeed. If I hit an insurmountable challenge I need to learn to accept it and move on. I need to get over feelings of shame or failure that arise from not completing an encounter or from having to lower difficulty settings. It is probably no coincidence that these things have come to a head during the covid pandemic when the strictures of lockdown and social distancing have narrowed all of our horizons. Maybe I just need to get out more and get a sense of perspective. 

In terms of journey I wonder if I can become more appreciative of the actual process of trying and failing and learning by doing. I would like to change my mindset so that instead of challenging encounters being scary roadblocks standing me and my enjoyment of the game  they become enjoyable parts of the game in themselves. I don't expect to be able to develop leet gamer skillz at my age but persistence is a skill that is available to anybody. 

Edit: Immediately after completing this post I decided to have another go at the boss that was holding me back. Following the resolve of this post I tried to focus on enjoying the encounter itself rather than concentrating on whether or not I would fail.  My first attempt of the day went very well. I got the twin bosses down to about 10% before a misstep sent me plunging off a narrow bridge to my death. I immediately went back in with an optimistic mindset and got it on the second attempt. Go me! I think that writing this post definitely helped. It helped me to diminish my view of the boss as a big bad scary roadblock which allowed me to enjoy the game more and also helped me to perform better. Of course just saying something to yourself doesn't immediately change deeply held feelings but it is definitely a good start. 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Lite Souls (Remnant from the Ashes)

 I am currently playing and enjoying Remnant from the Ashes a Soulslike game that has  a few twists of its own. 

In common with other Soulslike games Remnant is a third person adventure where saving at a checkpoint re-spawns all non boss enemies. Even regular enemies are dangerous and death is a frequent occurrence as you progress through the world. 

Perhaps Remnant's most significant difference is that it relies far more on ranged combat than melee combat. There is a wide range of guns and gun powerups available but the melee combat is quite simplistic in comparison to a typical soulslike game. There are no blocks or parries and a very limited number of melee moves. I find myself using melee only as a fallback when I am out of ammo or an enemy gets in too close. 

Another feature of Remnant is that is uses procedurally generated maps and levels within an overarching plot framework. Even the boss fights you encounter on any given play through are randomised  and you need to play through multiple times to see everything and collect everything. Encouraging multiple playthroughs is a common feature of Soulslike games but this randomisation is an added incentive to do so and keeps things fresh on repeated playthroughs. 

One feature that will upset many fans of hard core Soulslike games is that Remnant is relatively forgiving in comparison to the FromSoftware games which spawned the genre. The game is full of dangerous enemies and death is common but unlike regular Souls games you don't lose all your stuff when you die. Dying is a minor inconvenience rather than the gut wrenching defeat it could be. It is also more forgiving because there are several ways to heal in addition to the limited number of Estus flask like dragon stones you can carry. I find the switch to ranged combat makes the game easier in itself because combat is less reliant on a player's individual skill with button pressing and allows a more tactical play style with use of terrain. Remnant does compensate for this somewhat by throwing large numbers of enemies at you but overall I find it easier to manage. Then again I was never very good at melee combat games. 

The one aspect of remnant that is a bit of a disappointment for me is that the boss fights I have encountered have been relatively uninspired. I have only fought five bosses so far but all have followed a very similar pattern:  A main boss with a lot of hitpoints who constantly spawns annoying adds. In most cases the boss itself was just a souped up version of one of the earlier mob. The encounters are challenging in an annoying way because of all the adds but very forgettable.  

I personally like the fact that Remnant is on the whole easier that more canonical souls games. I like the fact that the game has selectable difficulty levels (I play on normal thank you very much). I like the fact that multiplayer interaction is co-operative assistance rather than the brutal player versus player invasions in Dark Souls games. While this lack of difficulty may limit its appeal for the "Git Gud" school of hard core enthusiasts I think it makes the game more accessible to a wider audience. The fact that I got it for free from the epic store less than a year after launch suggests it wasn't a runaway success which is a pity. The success of Jedi Fallen order shows that there is a market for a less challenging Soulslike experience and I think that Remnant would well suit those who enjoyed that game. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Perils of Amateur Tech Support

I am not an IT professional but I am technical enough to be called upon for computer support among my friends and family group. When it works I love being able to help people out but the experience is fraught with risks.  The diversity of things that can go wrong can be overwhelming and everything to do with computers seems to take much longer to fix than people expect. I have had the opportunity to watch professional support technicians in my workplace and once a problem goes beyond a certain complexity they very quickly go to the nuclear options of re-imaging disks or replacing hardware. Unfortunately these are not popular options when working with a family laptop that has has never been backed up. The biggest pitfall in providing amateur tech support however is the unwritten rule that once you attempt to repair a device anything that subsequently goes wrong with that device is now your fault, no matter how broken it was originally and no matter how much you acted in good faith to try and help.

I guess I have become a bit wiser (and a bit more cynical) over the years and I now make a conscious effort to think twice before jumping in to offer computer support. I still try to help but I try to be more realistic about the process. It has taken me a while to realise that often solutions that would make sense for me might not make sense for one of my less technically savvy family members. Sometimes replacing a device with a brand new one is the best choice. 

Here is a recent example: A relative asked me to look at an old desktop computer that their workplace was throwing out. They wondered if it could be used as a basic home computer for internet browsing and simple tasks. Here are the steps I took:

1. I brought the machine home and powered it up to find that it was a ten year old desktop with a weak CPU,  a slow hard disk and only 2 Gb ram. It had Windows 7 Pro installed on it (password protected). At least everything seemed to be working. 

2.  I knew I had to wipe the disk (the company should have done this before throwing it out) but then I needed to select an operating system for it. I discounted Windows 7 because it no longer receives security updates. I knew that Windows 10 would be painful on 2 Gb of memory so I looked in to some lightweight Linux distros. I even went so far as to boot up the machine with a USB version of Puppy Linux but then in a sudden outbreak of common sense I called STOP. If I install anything other than windows on the machine I am setting myself up for a lifetime of support calls about "how do I install" this printer or that piece of Windows software. I even discounted the more lightweight 32 bit version of Windows 10 because I knew that some programmes no longer support it. I installed Windows 10 64 bit  regardless of how slow it will run.

3. I thought briefly about trying to debloat Windows by removing stuff that isn't needed. You can even get a script that will do that. However I quickly realised that if I supply anything other than a standard installation of Windows then I risk getting support calls about why this or that function doesn't work. 

4. Slow and all as the machine is I knew that some improvements could be made.  Increasing the ram to at least 4Gb should reduce a lot of the disk churning and a wifi adapter would be essential for connecting to wireless internet. I also knew that both of these upgrades were within the capability of my relative to upgrade by themselves under my remote direction. An SSD would also make a big difference in responsiveness but it is marginal as to whether the expense is worth it. Also an SSD upgrade would definitely require my intervention to re-install / transfer Windows. My recommendation to relative: Try the machine as is. Buy and install the wifi adapter and ram to do the upgrade themselves. 

5. The relative is interested in genealogy and asked me to look at genealogy software. They mentioned a well known commercial product. I googled around and found a couple of free open source products that offered similar functionality as well as the ability to share data using standard file formats. I installed two free programmes and the free trial version of the commercial programme. I know very little about genealogy software but I quickly discounted one of the open source programmes once I realised that you need to be able to write your own scripts in Python to get the most out of it. The second open source programme looked a lot nicer and to my untrained eyes seemed broadly comparable to the commercial product but again the voice at the back of my head called STOP. If my relative uses the free product and encounters a problem it will be up to me to try and solve it. If they like the commercial programme and are willing to pay for it then any issues that arise are down to the company that provides it. 

So the machine is going back to the relative today with Windows 10 installed and in a working condition. I suspect they will quickly tire of how sluggish it is. The ram upgrade should help a bit if they choose to do it. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Humble's Golden Handcuffs

I am a "classic" subscriber to Humble Choice. This means I get to choose ten from a selection of about a dozen Humble Choice games for a monthly fee of $11.99.  This is a pretty good deal considering the standard subscription rate is $14.99 for three games and $19.99 for nine games. The only trouble is that I have to stay subscribed or I lose this classic plan forever. It feels like I am trapped with a set of golden handcuffs. 

I am on the classic plan because I was previously a subscriber to Humble Monthly the precursor to Humble Choice. In Humble monthly there was a smaller number of games every month but you had no choice you just got to keep the random six or seven games they gave out every month. Even though I rarely played more than one or two of the games every month (and often went months without playing any of them) I loved Humble Monthly. The list of new games came out on the first Friday of every month and it was always special learning which new games I had gotten. 

Even though I get more games with Humble Choice I find it less satisfying and more stressful. I now have to go through the list of games every month and choose which ones to keep and which ones to discard. I know I will only only ever play one or two games from each selection so this is always a frustrating and somewhat pointless exercise. 

It is a  popular theme on the humble subreddit that the quality of the bundles has gone down over the years. I am not sure about this but I don't really care. I never really expected to get AAA games on Humble Bundle or Humble choice. For me the big thing is being given a selection of lesser known games that I might otherwise have overlooked. 

So I am a not entirely happy subscriber to Humble Choice and yet I feel trapped by these golden handcuffs. To be honest a subscription with three choices would probably suit my temperament better but since that costs more than I currently pay that would be silly. I believe there is an option to pause your subscription for a month without losing classic status so I might look into that but that just makes the "choice" even harder and I don't want to have to choose.

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. 

RX 550 How a bad value gpu might just be my all time favourite

Quick recap about my cunning plan to overcome the GPU apocalypse last year: We bought a prebuilt Dell with an RTX 3060ti for my wife who is ...