Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

28May/170

80 Years of First Person

I was as surprised as anyone to hear that Battlefield 1 was, in fact, really fucking good. Battlefield Bad Company 2 was the last of the franchise I got into, avoiding Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4 due to hearing about how shitty they were at launch. Yeah, I’ve heard Battlefield 4 has improved massively since then, but sometimes a bad launch is enough for me to pass over a game entirely. Still, Battlefield 1942 is easily one of my all time favorite online games, and one I have some amazingly fond memories of, and Battlefield 1 has, to some degree, rekindled a bit of what made me love the series in the first place.

Doing a little scouting for Lawrence of Arabia in BF1's single player campaign.
"Doing a little scouting for Lawrence of Arabia in BF1's single player campaign."

So what does it do so right? Well, first it has a fun mini-single player campaign that serves as a nice introduction to some of the basic systems of the game, such as flying a plane, driving a tank, riding a horse, and of course running around on foot. While not incredible, it’s presence is definitely appreciated. Next, the graphics and sound are just great: very epic, with detailed, varied environments, awesome particle effects, it’s exceedingly immersive, and I’ve been literally wowed by how intense being caught in the middle of the (frequently extremely chaotic) firefights can feel on more than one occasion as a result. Adding to that, the maps feel nicely dynamic thanks in large part to a return of the type of large scale destructible terrain/buildings we had in BC2, and then some, the introduction of behemoths, and a dynamic weather system. Absolutely great!

I admit I don’t play THAT much and outside of a couple of epic Rambo rounds and individual moments I’m not exactly a pro at the game. I’m usually either on foot (Support being my current preferred role due to a fondness of these old LMGs) or riding along in a tank most of the time. I really like the balance between infantry and vehicles, with tanks feeling intimidatingly tough but far from invulnerable as infantry, and capable for lasting a long time if played intelligently as a tank crew. Despite being sniped by a skilled bi-plane pilot or vaporized by a bomber on many occasions, planes also don’t feel like total ownage to be up against either. I still get owned by snipers way more often than I’d like, but the scope glint is quite helpful when you have the opportunity to exploit it.

The infamous B.A.R. in action.
"The infamous B.A.R. in action."

Outside of the occasional annoying sniper and/or artillery barrage ruining my day, one of the only things left to complain about how is how virtually everyone is running around with an automatic weapon - it definitely feels more like a World War II game to me most of the time, which has me daydreaming of a proper modern day sequel to Battlefield 1942. For the moment BF1 has totally unseated Planetside 2 as my go to online FPS, despite it not having nearly the pick up and play potential, given that a normal round of Conquest is going to take at least 20 minutes. Still, if I have 20-30 minutes free, I’m often compelled to jump into a game of BF1 instead of playing anything else.

Speaking of playing something else, I finally got around to checking out indie darling Gone Home. Despite all of the flak it got for being a “walking simulator” the premise of a short, narrative, exploration based first person game was appealing to me. That, and I was familiar with Steve Gaynor, the designer, from his time with the Idle Thumbs crew and his work with Irrational.

WW1's massive tanks are quite a lot of fun too.
"WW1's massive tanks are quite a lot of fun too."

In case you’re somehow unfamiliar with Gone Home, the premise is that your character arrives at her family home after being away for quite some time to find it empty. As you begin poking around you start to find various clues as to what has been going on in the lives of your family members, particularly your younger sister, since you’ve been away. That’s essentially it, in a nutshell.

At first I was fairly underwhelmed by the game’s minimalist, oddly scaled graphics. For a game that takes place entirely within a single family home it seemed like the developers could have done a bit better with making this actually feel like a real house. Despite that, I soon found myself captivated by the mundanity and the mystery of it all.

Sifting through every unremarkable artifact of everyday life for some tiny clue as to what has been going on probably won’t sound captivating to anyone but the most perverse voyuers reading this, but enough of the old bills, letters, and notes you find are peppered with intriguing details that it somehow works. Soon you find yourself digging through every interactable object you can looking for a new clue, another answer. A storm rages outside, adding a creepy layer to the already slightly off-putting feeling of sneaking around in someone else’s house. If it weren’t for frequent references to your family and the game’s mid 90s setting, I might have felt like I was in some sort of film noir style detective game.

Gone Home looks even worse next to BF1, but don't judge a book by its cover.
"Gone Home looks even worse next to BF1, but don't judge a book by its cover."

As for that mystery, early on I found myself trying to figure out what question I was even trying to answer, and without spoiling too much, let me just say that I felt like I knew a lot about where Gone Home’s plot went from hearing about it on various podcasts and the like, yet I still found myself questioning what was REALLY going on up until the very end of the game. Unfortunately this wasn’t helped by the fact that I somehow managed to miss a giant portion of the narrative which made the end seriously confusing. Admittedly, I doubt many people had that issue, as if you follow all of the clues properly you’re going to be finding almost everything, and in the correct order, but it still frustrated my particular experience. Regardless, as it unravels the story feels incredibly intimate and personal, which is likely the game’s biggest single strength.

I’ll have to stop myself before I spoil anything and just say that if you think you’d enjoy a quick, exploration heavy game then it’s hard not to recommend Gone Home. There’s something special about the game that comes together to feel like more than the sum of its parts. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for other, similar games in the future, including Fullbright’s next game, Tacoma.

Now it's Gwendolyn turn to put her adventuring hat on.
"Now it's Gwendolyn turn to put her adventuring hat on."

Finally, a quick update. While putting together my last post I discovered that King's Quest had a short Epilogue episode in which you play as Gwendolyn, Graham's granddaughter. The concept of passing Graham's spirit of adventure from onto Gwendolyn was a major point of the overarching plot of King's Quest, so a quick teaser episode that has you adventuring as her before a full on, follow up series is totally logical. What's less logical is that it is only available to those who bought the "Complete Collection" package, not to people who bought the episodes piecemeal or bought the season pass like I did. Lame, very lame. I had to settle for watching a walkthrough of it on YouTube. Thanks guys... 🙁

4May/170

Questing and Surviving

A few months ago while looking for a new adventure-ish game to couch co-op through we noticed King’s Quest episode 1 for free on Xbox Live. Being a bit of a PC adventure game fanatic I’m, of course, quite familiar with the King's Quest series. My girlfriend had probably never even heard of it, but I think the aesthetics and production value of the new game were intriguing enough on their own to get her attention. We grabbed the Xbox 360 version and made it through most of the episode, enjoying it immensely and vowing to return to finish it off. Many months later, we finally dedicated ourselves to playing through the entire run.

The Kingdom of Daventry!
"The Kingdom of Daventry!"

The second time around we grabbed the Xbox One version, which wasn’t notably different, and bought the season pass. Re-playing episode one and then, eventually, making our way through all of the episodes, our opinions never really waned despite the fact that each episode is somewhat of a departure from the last. That is, they each have slightly different tones and even different gameplay focuses. The first episode felt like some of the more traditional (pre-Walking Dead) Telltale games, and exuded a whimsical, storybook tone while episode 2 was much darker with a lot more traditional graphical adventure game style puzzles. Episode 3 was a mixed bag but overall much more story focused, episode 4 had tons of back to back logic puzzles, not unlike something like Myst, and episode 5 seemed to mix up all of these flavors into one final, satisfying, and somewhat emotional finale. This is an interesting strategy to keep each episode feeling fresh, but looking at comments online I found that it often seemed to have a negative effect - everyone seemed to have his or her own favorite episode and was disappointed that the others weren't more of the same.

The lure of adventure still calls out to old geezers like King Graham and I.
"The lure of adventure still calls out to old geezers like King Graham and I."

Speaking of personal preference, oh man is this game beautiful, but it's art is highly stylized and I'm sure a small percentage of players found it immediately objectionable. Hopefully a little less divisive is the great voice acting across the board, including notable appearances from Christopher Lloyd and Wallace Shawn. Not only does Wallace Shawn shamelessly re-visit his role as Vizzini from The Princess Bride but oddly there are even numerous nods and references to his scenes in the film. The music, while fairly unobtrusive, is also well done, with some notable callbacks to the themes of the original games. The whole package feels highly polished overall and you can really tell The Odd Gentlemen spent a lot of time and care researching and designing this game from the ground up.

The story arc takes you through King Graham’s life as an adventurer, from before he was King all the way until the end of his reign, and while each episode has its own plot, the story that connects the episodes feels much better written than the loose, probably largely ad-hoc, through-lines that tied the original King’s Quest games together. It mostly attempts to expand upon and tie together some of the gaps in the fiction of the original games as well as re-imagine some of them entirely. For instance, the plot of the first episode barrows many elements from the original King's Quest game, yet tells a bit of a different story, and the plot of the third episode is almost a re-telling of King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne without invalidating too much of it. Episode 4 seems to draw heavily from King's Quest III: To Heir Is Human. Beyond that, there’s all kinds of other nods and references to the original series of games which nostalgic fans will probably get a major kick out of, and there’s even some direct flashbacks to the old AGI and SCI engines.

King's Quest almost looks animated, a la Dragon's Lair, in stills.
"King's Quest almost looks animated, a la Dragon's Lair, in stills."

While I’m sure there are some, maybe even many, King’s Quest fans who didn’t enjoy this new series, I’m personally delighted by this reboot, or re-imagining as they prefer to call it, and love seeing Sierra’s name once again tied to a whimsical, clever, and beautiful adventure game. It seems like relatively few people I know have played through these episodes, even some who would seem to be in its target audience, but it’s such a complete package on its own that if poor sales don’t lead directly to a sequel I can’t say I’d be too disappointed. If you are one of those people, however, I’d encourage you to at least check out the first (free) episode and see if you think you might like more.

Speaking of co-op experience, I finally took the plunge and grabbed the Xbox One version of 7 Days to Die. If you’re not familiar with the game, it started life as a Minecraft clone aimed at focusing on the survival element of the game, dropping you in a bleak zombie apocalypse. The more development time the game got more it came into its own, both in terms of presentation, with graphics now much more realistic, and gameplay, a little more hardcore, bringing in some of the statistics heavy elements some survival games are known for.

It's an ugly, desolate wasteland, but it's home.
"It's an ugly, desolate wasteland, but it's home."

I had actually purchased the game on Steam ages ago but it didn’t run on my old gaming machine worth a damn so I barely touched it. When the console version of the game launched relatively recently I was amused by how harsh the feedback was. People were turned off by the graphics, not realizing the game’s roots. Instead of looking like a realistic take on Minecraft’s big, cartoony voxels, people saw an ugly attempt at a more modern game. Still, between people attacking the game’s relatively unsophisticated visuals, there were smatterings of people who were absolutely loving the game. The console port, in particular, has the increasingly rare featuring of supporting same screen couch co-op, which seemed to be one of the more endearing features to people. It definitely is to us!

So how is it? Imagine Minecraft (Okay, sorry to keep harping on this, but it was my original frame of reference for this game) if it had a that gritty, more realistic art style I mentioned, and... oh yeah, guns. Imagine if instead of mining and farming, that game was more focused on scavenging and crafting. That’s it, in a nutshell. Sounds fun? Yes, it’s fun!

Modern day Detroit, MI. width=
"Modern day Detroit, MI."

One thing I’m finding a little unusual is that this game has a reputation of being brutally difficult. In fact, the title comes from the fact that every 7 days the zombies will aggressively swarm to your location. Maybe we were just playing it a bit more cautiously than a lot of people, but we’ve yet to be too challenged. We immediately took over an old farmhouse and began fortifying it. We then used it as our base from which we went on limited scavenging and exploration runs in an increasing radius around us. Other than running into some harry spots in some more dense cities, it’s been relatively easy going thus far.

We’re still playing this game in 2 or so hour chunks at a time and, I’m guessing, will continue to play it here and there for quite awhile. It’s still fun, and we still sometimes find ourselves unable to put our controllers down. In fact, one of the first times we played it together we found ourselves up until 2 in the morning, which is rare for us - surely a good sign!

At long last, I also FINALLY started putting real effort into playing through Skyrim with the release of the new remastered “Special Edition.” I grabbed the Xbox One version of it with the intention of letting my girlfriend play through it again, yet she ended up getting more satisfaction out of peer pressuring me to play it and watching me stumble around like an idiot while she amuses herself with the supreme power foreknowledge. Well...

All Draugr really need is hugs. Hugs and lightening bolts.
"All Draugr really need is hugs. Hugs and lightening bolts."

So, seriously, what is there to say about Skyrim at this point that everyone hasn’t already heard? I’m playing a grizzled orc warrior and having an utter blast, which, frankly, is no surprise to me and shouldn’t be much of one to anyone who has ever glanced at this blog before, as I’m a huge Elder Scrolls fan. Sure, every Elder Scrolls title is a little divisive, even among fans, but ultimately Skyrim, for all of its pluses and negatives, is an Elder Scroll-ass game and a great one at that. The only downside is that this unfortunately means it’ll probably be quite a while before I move onto my next console game...

Xbox 360 and Xbox One screenshots stolen by the Khajiit and traded for sweet rolls...

5Feb/170

Stalactites and Stabbing Knights

My partner and I have been playing a few newer, console based, narrative heavy adventure-ish games lately, mostly as a way to play something semi-cooperatively as those types of games seem to work great for passing the controller and working together on choices and puzzles. I’ve mentioned playing all of The Walking Dead games on Xbox 360 and we also had a incredibly enjoyable but tragically unfinished foray into the first four Life is Strange episodes (more on that when we eventually go back to it and beat it) but for our next game I wanted to introduce her to something more puzzle focused, more like the classic adventure games I cut my teeth on. Low and behold, I remembered that I bought a copy of Double Fine’s The Cave, a game highly influenced by such adventure games, and what it lacks in narrative it makes up for by supporting simultaneous, same-screen co-operative play. Perfect!

Our cast, all complete and total bastards.
"Our cast, all complete and total bastards."

The Cave was written and directed by Ron Gilbert, one of the legendary LucasArts designers who helped bring us the absolute adventure genre classics Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island, along with some of their sequels. Some of that influence is immediately obvious, in fact. Right off the bat you’re presented with a sarcastic narrator, a creepy, cartoony world, and asked to pick 3 characters that you can switch between to take on your adventure. There’s also a wacky, if not somewhat macabre sense of humor throughout (mostly from aforementioned hilarious narrator) which definitely feels like a throwback to the days of “talkie” LucasArts and Sierra games. Something I miss, frankly.

The game itself is a side scrolling puzzle platformer, but the big twist is that its puzzles aren’t based on platforming or physics so much, as old school, often baffling, location and object based adventure game puzzle design, in what, to me, is in an interesting and fairly unique way. Sure, there have been plenty of platformers that threw a few similar puzzles in here and there, but I can’t think of any as utterly focused on this style of puzzle solving as The Cave is. It’s almost a new genre. One of the ways it adapts to the more action orientated control scheme of a platformer is by utterly stripping the inventory system down to its bare essentials - you can only ever hold a single item at a time, and the puzzles are cleverly designed so that, despite how it may seem at times, you never need more than that to solve a puzzle.

I mean, who didn't love The Twins?!
"I mean, who didn't love The Twins?!"

Each of the three characters has one unique ability that is vital to solving some of the puzzles, and since you can use any combination of characters you may end up with wildly different solutions to the same puzzles. Furthermore, it uses the fact that you’ve got three characters that can be placed in different locations, and using different items, as a key component to solving the majority of the puzzles, much like some of the puzzles in Maniac Mansion. Again, very clever design.

Each character also brings with it its own unique gameplay sections which are the best and most challenging in the game. They also each get their own backstories explaining how they wound up in The Cave. Ultimately it turns out that each of the seemingly harmless adventurers has a dark side, and while The Cave rewards them with the selfish ends they seek, it also hilariously rubs their face in the repercussions of their terrible behavior. This game has some seriously funny moments, definitely one of the funniest games I’ve played in a while.

The Knight has what he came for...
"The Knight has what he came for..."

The Cave isn’t perfect, but it’s probably closer than most of Double Fine’s other efforts recently. Other than being a little loose controlling and having some (pedigree appropriately) insane puzzles here and there, the biggest issues in my mind are the areas that repeat no matter which characters you’re playing, which can be a bit of a chore to re-play over and over again, and the fact that having to choose from a pool of 7 characters means you have to play through the game a third time, re-playing two of the stories you’ve already completed, to truly complete the game. Ultimately these are minor quibbles though, I admit.

Adventure game fan? Pick it up. Fan of old school adventure game humor? Pick it up. Puzzle platformer fan? Pick it up. Just looking for something new to play co-op for a bit? Pick it up.

Random Mass Effect 3 Screenshot
"Random Mass Effect 3 Screenshot"

I also had the pleasure of watching my girlfriend play through the entirety of the Mass Effect series. Sure, I took the controller here and there, but for the most part I just watched. Yes, all three games. Damn. It was a cool experience though, both reminding me of how much I enjoyed the first Mass Effect along with finally exposing me to Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. I admit I started to check out a little bit with ME3, both in part to how surprisingly long it was, and because I definitely want to go back and ME2 and ME3 myself one of these days.

Like most people who Ezio meets, this Borgia guard is about to die in a brutal fashion.
"Like most people who Ezio meets, this Borgia guard is about to die in a brutal fashion."

Finally, wanting something a little different to sink my own teeth into, I dug Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood out of my backlog and completed it and its DLC. I loved the first couple of games and, as noted here, was pretty skeptical about them turning Assassin’s Creed 2 into a trilogy. I’m happy to report that I definitely really enjoyed the second piece of that trilogy, Brotherhood. Of course, I did take a comically long 6 year break between playing AC2 and AC: Brotherhood, but I digress, I enjoyed it immensely and I’m looking forward to playing Revelations sooner or later.

What did I think?

Seriously though, Rome is pretty amazing...
"Seriously though, Rome is pretty amazing..."

Let me try to keep this short and sweet: Ezio is still a badass, the world building is still amazing, and renaissance era Rome is great, the occasional times when the free running glitches out and you drop when you didn’t mean to, or jump off the wrong direction, are still a major buzzkill, and it seems like the more items and options they keep adding to this game the more opportunity there is for these types of glitches to pop up, the Facebook game-like follower missions are fairly pointless, but on the flipside being able to call in followers to take out targets is pretty awesome, I was disappointed that several of the 100% synchronization requirements were fairly difficult, though I enjoyed trying to 100% as many of them as I reasonably could pull off as a bit of an extra challenge, Leonardo’s war machines were some wacky fun, I liked that the game was confined to a single, massive city, but I wasn’t a fan of the fact that they still felt the need to block off certain sections of the map until later chapters, and while the story was fine, it wasn’t quite as enjoyable as AC2’s, I still loved to hate Cesare Borgia though, and finally the Desmond stuff was almost totally incidental beyond the cryptic ending.

I think that about does it. I liked it a lot, over all, and I’m itching to play another one, especially to revisit Altair’s story in Revelations. If only there weren’t, by now, another 6 full, long, potentially extremely repetitive Assassin's Creed games out. What the fuck?!

More console game shenanigans coming soon!

Sorry! As usual my Xbox 360 screenshots were actually pilfered from caves across renaissance Italy rather than my own console.