Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog

9Oct/170

Lost in Erangel (…And in Space!)

This entry is so massively overdue that I’m honestly not sure where to even start at this point, so I’ll just dive in. Apologies if this is a little more “stream of consciousness” than my normal posts.

I started playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (AKA "PUBG") in early April, after an old friend from the TPG days and I linked back up and he mentioned being eager to start playing it with friends. Coincidentally, one of my favorite, randomly discovered YouTube channels, FUBARBUNDY, which is usually dedicated to antics within DayZ, posted a video of some PUBG action. I actually first became intrigued by the idea of this style of game after watching another FUBARBUNDY video in which he played the similar (and related) H1Z1: King of the Kill. I hadn’t seen anything quite like either game. They took some of the core ideas of DayZ and other, similar survival games, and gave them a mega dose of adrenaline.

Lying in wait.
"Lying in wait."

I didn’t mentioned it here, but I did very briefly dabble in DayZ. Only very briefly. I’ve been interested in the game since the early days when it was still a mod, but resisted trying it out, afraid that I’d either hate the harsh playstyle of the game, or become absolutely addicted to it. Again, I largely have FUBARBUNDY’s insane videos to blame for my more recent bout of interest. In DayZ’s case, it was for making the game look far more interesting and dynamic than it actually tends to be. That said, I loved the immersive feel of the world. Exploring the desolate, empty landscape, and the possibility of running into other players was endlessly intriguing, but I didn’t like dealing with zombies or wildlife, or how all of my minor injures started to add up until my focus had to shift from the seemingly impossible task of finding guns and ammo to finding first aid and medical supplies, or how most of the time when you do run into another player it doesn’t lead to teaming up, or an interesting conversation, a stickup, or anything besides a well placed bullet from afar. I took several stabs at it, but in the end the pace was just far too slow. PUBG though? It’s like DayZ for impatient people.

Scoping out a compound before I approach.
"Scoping out a compound before I approach"

Now, most people reading this will already be familiar with PUBG as it has become a bit of a phenomenon since it was released into Steam Early Access. Just in case though, here’s a quick summary:

You and 99 other players are air dropped onto a deserted island devoid of much outside of a disturbing amount of guns, ammunition, body armor, medical supplies, and the occasional vehicle. Your goal is to be the last person left alive. So, at it’s core you have a death match across a huge battlefield with an element of looting and survival tacked on. It’s not some bizarre social experiment though, games could last hours without something to give them a little more focus. Instead, inspired by the likes of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, players are constantly being funneled closer and closer together, as the playable area of the map constricts, eventually forcing anyone left to end up in extremely close quarters. Because of this, matches tend to be over within 40 minute or so, and (more likely) much, much quicker if you die earlier on in the game.

Pro tip: Don't skimp on fashion.
"Pro tip: Don't skimp on fashion."

That is one of the strengths of the gameplay model: total, brutal elimination. The number of players left alive is always displayed in the HUD, and is constantly dwindling down. Thanks to a damage model erring on the side of “realism”, you can die very quickly in this game, and you, without a doubt, will. You will have bad games that end in someone beating you to death within the first few minutes of the match, you will have bad games in which you fully gear up, only to find yourself ambushed as you make your way across the map, all your progress vanishing in seconds, and you will have bad games when you make it to the very end of the match only to be outgunned with only a few other players left alive. The game is so brutal that I’m honestly surprised it gets as much love as it does. There’s something really special about the gameplay loop that just keeps you coming back though, and on those rare occasions when you do actually win? Amazing.

Running through the hay fields.
"Running through the hay fields."

Besides the frustration associated with taking a lot of inspiration from its earliest incarnation as an ArmA mod, tending to lean a bit more towards “realism” in various areas in addition to the aforementioned damage model, the effect of “RNG” on each match is also often a topic of out of game discussion. Where you can land, who lands with you, what items and vehicles you find around you early on, and where the playzone constricts to are all vital to your success. In fact, many of my best matches have been, not coincidentally, when the playzone ended up focusing the fight in the location I was already in, allowing me to spend more time on gearing up and fighting than traveling. Likewise, many of my worse matches found me traveling far across the map, often slogging it without a vehicle, and desperately lacking good gear.

Expect to meet strange men in their underwear, and shoot them.
"Expect to meet strange men in their underwear, and shoot them."

So I’ve been playing this game for something like 5 months now which begs the question "what do I like about it?" Well, I actually really enjoy the semi-tactical gameplay, with more realistic handling weapons, including quick time-to-kill, and the ability to move stealthily, or lay prone in wait. Like the ArmA series, I enjoy the wide-open battlefields and the tactical scenarios that kind of freedom can provide, including a nice mix of long range and CQB engagements. I also really enjoy sneaking around and loot old buildings, which is something I'm apparently just into. *cough* State of Decay *cough* I enjoy the intensity of having to spot enemies on the distant horizon and pay attention to the sound of their movements close around you. I also really enjoy the camaraderie of playing these matches with other players when in duo or team matches - being able to work as a team under these conditions is a lot of fun, especially with the added component of being able to revive your fallen teammates, massively altering your priorities versus playing solo.

Proof that I've won at least one match in my life.
"Proof that I've won at least one match in my life."

This game has, no doubt at all, sometimes frustrated the hell out of me. My friends and I have gotten into arguments and left sessions annoyed and irritable on far too many occasions. Yet, at the same time, I’ve also made some new friends and relished practically every “chicken dinner” (PUBG slang for a win) I’ve been able to score, whether I was instrumental in the win or carried by my teammates. With the game continuing to improve with every update, I’m glad I decided to take the plunge. I really don’t know how long its legs will continue to be for me, but I’ve already gotten my money out of it at this point.

Journey to beautiful solar systems...
"Journey to beautiful solar systems..."

Another game I’ve been playing lately is Everspace. Everspace is a cross between an old school, semi-arcadey space sim (think the Wing Commander series, Freespace, etc.) and a rogue-like. You journey from sector to sector exploring randomly generated systems filled with loot, enemies, and other resources but when you die, you die, starting over from scratch. Well, as these things go in rogue-likes, mostly from scratch; you retain any cash you gained in your run which you can spend on skill tree upgrades, and some other special items, such as crafting blueprints, that will also help you in future runs.

...and shoot everyone in them!
"...and shoot everyone in them!"

Not only is it fucking beautiful, but this game has also proven to massively addictive. Your ship controls excellently, even on a controller (I’m playing the Xbox One version) and the space combat is just deep enough to be fun and, at times, a little challenging. My only real complaint is that I wish there was a bit more variety to the random areas and enemies, or even some crazy random scenario ala another space themed rogue-like, FTL: Faster Than Light, as I’ve already hit a bit of a wall with it. Honestly, that's fairly typical with how I play rogue-like style games, so I can't cast any blame there. Even still, it served me well in allowing me brief but highly appreciated vacation into the space combat genre and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the genre.

Oh, and for you VR types, the PC version has Vive support!

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... 🙁

22Jan/170

Wars Among the Stars

Other than my semi-regular Oblivion updates and my Wing Commander review it seems like it’s been awhile since I’ve discussed any real PC gaming, and outside of a few dips back into World of Warcraft, I think the last time I really discussed spending a lot of time on a semi-modern PC game was when I reported my adventures in Rust two years ago. The biggest reason for that, besides my mighty backlog of console games, was that my PC was approaching relic status and not really up to some of the more demanding new games coming out, to put it mildly.

Back in Black!
"Back in Black!"

In late July I finally had enough reasons to justify building a whole new machine. Beyond gaming, I was planning on going back to college and needed a machine capable of running multiple VMs for labs. I also had plans to virtualize one of my servers which was running on even more ancient hardware than my old desktop was. Outside of the additional challenge of building something stout enough to run at least one VM fulltime and handle a modern game simultaneously, the build was quite easy and a lot of fun. It also happened to coincide with the release of Nvidia’s Geforce GTX 10 series, and I managed to score a nice overclocked 1070 early into the chipset’s life.

So what did I played with my hot new gaming rig? The latest AAA games? Did I hook up an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive? Nah, I actually decided to play some older games that I had wanted to revisit, for one reason or another.

First was Planetside 2. Failing to resist my own monumental hype for this game, I managed to download and install the massive client on my old machine. Performance was beyond terrible and I couldn’t even play it long enough to get a feel for the flow of the game. They did some major performance patches shortly after that but by the time I went back to try it again they had removed support for Windows XP so that was the end of my tour of duty.

On the losing end of a firefight.
"On the losing end of a firefight."

Since giving it another shot on my new machine my time with Planetside 2 has been largely fantastic. For a free-to-play MMO that feels, for the most part, quite polished, I can’t believe more people aren’t playing it. It has some issues, sure, and I was definitely skeptical about some of the design changes from the first game, but all in all I was pleasantly surprised with how close the spirit of the gameplay experience is to the original. The same type of absolutely epic combined arms battles still happen constantly, though, as with the first game, I often find myself enjoying some of the smaller battles than following the zerg, using the open nature of the battlefield and numerous options for classes, weapons, and vehicles to give me far more tactical choices than typically available in most normal FPS games.

Anti-aircraft duty is a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
"Anti-aircraft duty is a dirty job, but someone has to do it."

Unlike playing a 25-40 minute Conquest game in Battlefield, the always-on nature of the PS2 battlefield and the various ways of quickly dropping into existing battles and skirmishes makes PS2 a great “gap filler” game too - just have 15 minutes to play? Not a problem. 2 hours to play? Where’d all of my time go? I spent quite a while ping-ponging between roles - at first I fell in love with the Lightning tank, then spent a lot of my time as a Combat Medic or Heavy Assault, then I dabbled with the Stalker cloak Infiltrator, then I discovered the majesty of the Engineer’s wire guided anti-vehicle, then spent a bit of time running various type of MAX units, and as of my last few sessions, I’d finally really clicked with the Light Assault class. Between all of that I had some amazing moments. The first few times I watched a gunship get blown out of the sky, spinning out of control before violently crashing, I had to pick my jaw off the ground. As with the vaguely similar Battlefield series, SOE managed to really nail something about the sound design and, despite the style being somewhat divisive, the graphics of the game, that helps keep me deeply immersed in the action.

My only real regret is that, unlike my time with the original Planetside, I’ve been playing PS2 mostly solo. Despite being a very easy game to pick up and play solo, I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that games like this are a thousand times funner when playing cooperatively with friends. The best way to leverage the combined arms style of combat is to, well, combine arms, and the few times I’ve grouped up with some random organized outfit squads were highly memorable.

Guarding a bio lab landing pad.
"Guarding a bio lab landing pad."

I’ll almost certainly keep dabbling in PS2 from time to time in the future, but for now I think I’ve just about had my fill and will probably spend more of my meager amount of gaming time on other games. That said, if I ever had any friends interested in playing it I’d be back in a heartbeat. If you liked the original or like games like the Battlefield series and this looks interesting, definitely check it out. There are still plenty of people playing and the game has a surprisingly good out of game community, with tons of YouTubers uploading new content on the regular and an active Reddit community, for instance.

Exploding the local wildlife.
"Exploding the local wildlife."

The next game I went back to was Star Wars: The Old Republic, BioWare’s infamous Star Wars MMORPG. My trajectory with this game has been fucking weird. Loving Knights of the Old Republic and being both a Star Wars and an MMORPG fan in general, I was completely hyped for this game but once it got closer to release and I discovered just how much of a World of Warcraft clone it was I was definitely let down. Then I got into the open beta and opened my mind a bit. Sure, it’s a WoW clone, but damn if it isn’t the best one I’ve ever played. By the time release hit, however, my free time was non-existent and between that and the group of friends I had guilded up with losing interested (like most of the rest of the subscriber base) I ended up bailing after only a month or so of infrequent play. Coincidentally ALSO about two years ago I came back once and played just a bit, as detailed here, but I decided to put the game down until I had a nicer gaming rig to enjoy it on.

This time I immediately scrapped my poor level 20 something Sith Inquisitor to go all-in on one of the classes I had tried out last time: a Bounty Hunter. This wasn’t really my favorite class or anything, but I liked the idea of playing a cold as ice female Bounty Hunter and, as usual with SWTOR, I quickly felt attached to my character through my dialog choices and the headcanon I filled in the blanks with. After I committed to playing again my mission was simple: play through the entire 1-50 class storyline and as many side quests as I could handle, and then move on to the next class. I wanted to play them all!

Bounty Hunters are prone to frequent Dirty Harry moments...
"Bounty Hunters are prone to frequent Dirty Harry moments..."

Of course, it’s been a few months now and the end of just now coming into sight, and this doesn’t even include venturing into the various expansion storylines, which also interest me, so maybe my plan was a little ambitious. Maybe not too ambitious though, as one oddity about SWTOR these days is that they drastically increased XP rewards so my new main, as it were, was max level long before I got into the last chapter of my storyline. In theory they’ve tuned this so you only need to do your character’s story missions, and each planet’s story missions so if you do all of the side quests, like I’m doing, you’re going to be way over level. The flip side is that when I finally do get around to playing some alts I can skip all of the side content and breeze through the story, which is greatly appealing to me.

My pet Jawa and I taking on a Jedi.
"My pet Jawa and I taking on a Jedi."

I’ll admit I’ve also been distracted by playing with the cartel market, the auction house and, particularly, the new stronghold system since coming back. Ever since Ultima Online I’ve always love having a house I can customize and/or decorate which included chasing down expensive decorations, and SWTOR’s Galatic Stronghold system scratches that itch. I’ve also spent some of the “cartel coins” I had been building up while unsubscribed on various random loot packs and made a tidy sum auctioning them in game. It’s been kind of an addictive mini-game, one that I’m sure makes BioWare quite a lot of money. At first I was concerned that playing around with auctioning these items might not be viable given how dead the auction house was, but then I paid to transfer my characters to a much more active server and my experience has been great ever since.

Like Planetside 2, despite being free-to-play (now) SWTOR has impressive production values and a lot of meaty gameplay available, and the fans that are still into the game are rabidly into it. In fact BioWare continues to release new items into the cartel market, new patches, and even new major expansions. Maybe it’s more the Star Wars nerd in me than anything else, but I absolutely love this game. The fact that it has kept my interest this long, and that I still want to play some of the other classes, really says a lot about this game though, especially with World of Warcraft: Legion out there constantly tempting me to drop everything and head back to Azeroth.