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!

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...

2Jun/150

Exploring the Decay

It's been ages since I last did any serious gaming - I've been moving, changing jobs, and generally just very busy with other "real life" things. I'm all settled now though, so here's a little about the last game I completed before I dive into something new...

State of Decay
"State of Decay"

Perhaps my favorite aspect of The Walking Dead (both the comics and the TV series) is how human-centric the story is – more than any other zombie movies, shows, books, or games I’ve experienced, The Walking Dead is about the people trying to survive this radically altered world. The struggle really isn’t about the zombies, and as the show’s many, many detractors have pointed out, it’s really *barely* about zombies at all, but it’s instead against a world whose infrastructure has been gutted, where the rules of society have crumbled, and where only those who can successfully adapt, for better and for worse, can make it. Be it a nuclear war or a zombie plague, this is the key to a good post apocalypse story in my opinion. Imaging survival in such a setting is what I find most captivating about the genre. At this point there have been more zombie related games than I care to try to count but few of them even attempted to capture this essence. Instead, most zombie related games resemble the zombie movies of the 80s (even the good ones!) where zombies are simply a specific variety of antagonist that needs to be defeated. State of Decay, by Undead Labs, changes all of that.

Scouting from up high.
"Scouting from up high."

State of Decay’s basic gameplay loop is what is so damn good: it’s all about that survival. In this case, “survival” simply means establishing a base where you can hole up and scavenging for enough supplies to maintain it as well as meet your character’s own individual demands. The most compelling part of this, for me at least, is the exploration involved in that scavenging or, really, anything else in this setting. While the process can become rather laborious and repetitive (more inventory room, please!) exploring and “clearing” all of these old abandoned and dangerous buildings never really gets old. There’s always a sense of creepiness as you sneak around in the dark trying to locate lootable containers, never knowing when a zombie might show up. Sure, a zombie probably won’t put you in much dangerous unless it’s one of the special “freak” class zombies, but sometimes getting mobbed by too many, in just the right way, can still put you in a very bad spot very quickly.

A good pair of wheels is essential for exploration. Planes? Not so much.
"A good pair of wheels is essential for exploration. Planes? Not so much."

Back to the subject of establishing a base of operations though. One thing State of Decay does to make this interesting is that you don’t just play a single character. You can, sure, but you can also switch to almost any of the other survivors that are part of your enclave and play them too. The injury and fatigue systems in the game actually actively encourage it, even, as do the RPG like skill leveling and item systems. This also makes the addition of permadeath without entering into a total fail state a thing – your character can die, permanently, and the game keeps going. Speaking of keeping going, like other open world games, the world also exists as somewhat of a “simulation” with all kinds of systems in play that do not necessary tie directly into what is occurring to or around your character. More dramatically, some of these systems continue on when you’re not in game. It’s not uncommon to log in a day or two later to find that one of your survivors has died or that there are new missions waiting for you. All of these systems together alter the focus of the game from being about you killing zombies to being, like The Walking Dead, about you and your group of survivors getting by in this strange and twisted version of life.

Did I mentioned the skill system? Oh yes!
"Did I mentioned the skill system? Oh yes!"

At this point my main criticism of the game is that it really doesn't push far enough in either direction – as a more directed, story based experience, or as a sandbox open world game where you make your own goals. I feel like most people are probably drawn more towards the open world nature of the game but the systems in place don’t really allow for a huge amount of freedom or variety playing in a pure sandbox way. More potential base locations, more possible customization of them, more variety of item and resource types, and possibly more dangers (unlike The Walking Dead, fighting other groups of human survivors is almost entirely absent from State of Decay) might go just far enough to fix this though. As it is though, it comes quite close.

I know an enhanced Xbox One port of the game came out just a couple of months ago, and who knows, I may tackle the DLC for the original Xbox 360 and PC versions someday too, but what most people seem to want from the series right now is some type of co-operative gameplay experience. At first Undead Labs were pretty loudly toting that the next State of Decay game would feature co-op or maybe even be an MMO of some sort but lately they seem a little bit more coy on exactly what their next project is. Intriguing for sure!

Xbox 360 screenshots swiped from Google image search, and probably actually PC screenshots. *shrug*