Self Similar self similar’s personal gaming nonsense blog


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...


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*


Lifestyles of the Naked and Desperate

I just wrapped up a few weeks somewhat obsessed with the Steam Early Access darling open world survival game Rust. Honestly, it was a surprise that it would even run on my relatively old gaming PC but some of my old gaming buddies were playing it together and invited me to jump in and, after hearing all kinds of hilarious stories about it on various podcasts and forums and whatnot, I couldn't resist. Unfortunately I was plagued by a bug that caused me to frequently, randomly disconnect and my group seemed to have horrible luck with encountering cheaters and abusive admins on servers, and the few servers we did well on wiped or went away after we got established. Bummer!

Rust: the exhibitionist sociopath simulator!
"Rust: the exhibitionist sociopath simulator!"

There’s a lot I could say about Rust. It’s a fun game, particularly with a group of friends, and I expect it or similar games to make a lot of noise in online gaming in the future. The concept is definitely solid. Rust itself, however, still feels like it needs a lot of refinement in the design before it’s truly a compelling long term experience. After playing for just a few weeks cracks began to show and it became a lot less fun. The game is only in early alpha for now though so hopefully Garry and company will have something truly special on their hands by the time the game is officially completed. Personally, I’m sure I’ll be back (hopefully with friends) after a bit of a hiatus for them to expand upon the game a little.

The real magic of Rust is all of the hilarious systemic, emergent experiences and the stories that result from them. This sort of "put a bunch of people together and see what happens" gameplay is what made sandbox MMORPGs such as Eve Online or, way before that, Ultima Online so compelling for many of us. At its core it seems like that's all Rust really is: one big, silly social experiment. Its crafting isn't that deep and "surviving" without other players in the world to kick over your sandcastle, as it were, is a cinch. Luckily there are no shortage of assholes in Rust who will delight to ruin your day and if you ever do run out that mantle is easy enough for you to take up yourself.

I first started out on a "PVE" (player versus environment, as opposed to "PVP" or player versus player) server where I'd hopefully be somewhat free to learn the ropes of the game before having to deal with having my progress constantly impeded by other humans and, I have to say, it was going well. I had finally located a steady supply of enough resources that I could build just about anything without too much trouble. Being fascinated by all of the oddly shaped, tall rocks that dotted the landscape I built a huge tower next to one that particularly stood out on its own in a valley with a lot of easy to reach resource spawns. I purposely left the top and some of the sides of the stairway open so that I could climb out onto the surrounding rocks and run around like an idiot. I'm not that naive though, as I was at least smart enough to further compartmentalize all of the rooms that actually contained valuables though you couldn't necessarily tell that from the outside.

One day I logged in, did a little hunting near a local zombie spawn, and returned home only to find a couple of gentlemen in full Kevlar armor (the best armor in the game) with assault rifles quickly and haphazardly building a stairway up onto the other side of the rock where my new tower was. "Were these guys building their own house? No, no way... they were moving too quickly and seemingly only interested in making it to that top!" I thought. "These guys are trying to raid me!" It was too obvious that they had noticed my open roof design and were planning on jumping in through the top to rob my ass blind.

Meeting the new neighbors. Sugar?
"Meeting the new neighbors. Sugar?"

I quickly ran into my own tower and onto the top of the rock just in time to watch them finish their stairway. When one of them hopped onto the rock he fell to his death which caused the other one to bide his time while he waited on his buddy to respawn. I used this time to restock and watch for them. Eventually the lone survivor spotted me. We watched each other tensely for a minute or so, guns drawn. Finally he took a shot at me. That was all of the encouragement I needed. I opened up on him with my submachine gun hitting him at least a couple of times in the hail of bullets. Humorously, my would-be uninvited house guest immediately turned around and jumped back to his stairs and disappeared from my sight. Wow, some PVE server, eh?

I quickly formulated a plan. I had the raw materials stored to hastily close up the top and sides of my tower which would make their attempts to raid me impossible, or at least in the way they had originally planned. Once I completed my modifications I left my house, circling back around to the base of their stairway to attempt to flank them. It was night by now, pitch black even, and I got there just in time to watch them both gather their gear (evidently my attacker had also fallen to his death attempting to flee me! Ha!) and return to the top of the rock. I slowly followed them. I chuckled to myself as I watched them run over to my now enclosed tower and shoot at the walls a few times in frustration. Sorry guys!

Over the next few days I identified my attackers as belonging to a small group who setup a large base just across the valley from me. Nice neighbors, eh? Once I caught them snooping around my front door, firing shots into it randomly, and decided to call them out in the global chat. Some others questioned them for possibly breaking the server's rules but as an admin got involved I decided to let it be - I had no real investment in this server and these guys were either being fairly good sports or were totally incompetent. Either way their antics were amusing to me. Our little war of words only served to escalate the behavior however. One day I logged in to find my front door and the paths to it totally blocked off by spiked barricades. I, of course, returned the favor. The next time I logged in I found that they had built a stairway up the side of my tower, and blown a hole in it, though they never managed to get into any of my locked rooms so no real harm was done. This kind of silly passive-aggressive stuff continued before I finally abandoned the server to join my friends elsewhere.

I was sure to thank them for the additions they made to my house.
"I was sure to thank them for the additions they made to my house."

Speaking of which, here’s a Rust-ass story for you. My group and I had established a tiny shack in the rocky southern coast and, after spending a night chasing off our neighbors and gathering resources, eventually built a small house in a nearby clearing. We were starting to get a foothold, in other words. The next day I log in to find that our server had been wiped. Damn! Since I logged in long before everyone else I decided to spend some time gathering resources and building another shack in the exact same place as our original one so that when my friends got on later they could have a leg up to continue where we left off. Right after completing my shack, before logging off, I decided to explore the neighborhood only to discover two nearby shacks with metal doors. Now, unlike houses, despite it taking a long time shacks can be completely destroyed by basic tools whether they have a metal door or not. All the metal doors did was demonstrate that the owners probably had plenty of raw materials to spare. After making damn sure the shacks were unoccupied and the owners weren't in the area I started trying to hack them down.

After several tense minutes the first shack is destroyed and, as luck had it, there was a ton of decent starter loot inside. Lots of raw material, some blueprints, even a gun! I grabbed it all and quickly ran back to my own shack to stash it, excited about this seemingly incredible stroke of luck. As I approached my shack though, I heard footsteps. Wow, really? This was a fairly isolated area and the whole time we were here previously we never had anyone come wandering by. I waited several tense minutes with my gun drawn and eventually the steps lead away. I darted to my shack to stash my new valuables. Shew! Just then I heard footsteps approach yet again and then proximity chat kicked on. “Anyone home?!” I declined to respond. Whether he called my bluff or not, he immediately started hacking down my shack. Shit! What could I do? If I logged out or just stood here it was only a matter of minutes before he was in and all my hard work, never mind my loot, was all history. "Well, I do have this gun." I thought.

Just like real life, leaving your home only to run into a group of naked men with bows is bad news.
"Just like real life, leaving your home only to run into a group of naked men with bows is bad news."

I rushed outside carefully closing the door behind me and started shooting wildly. Now, at this time I didn't have much experience with Rust’s atypical feeling ballistics system so I ending up missing all but a couple of shots which apparently only winged him and, having just looted the gun, had no extra ammo to spare once I had shot my magazine dry. The anonymous looter on the other hand was apparently an expert hatchet man. The next thing I knew I was lying dead on the ground. I felt damn stupid having just died to a practically unarmed guy when I had some armor and a gun, but whatever. I spawned back in my shack using my sleeping bag and figured my sole remaining option was to attempt to rush him and hatchet him down like he did me. Again, no such luck. A quick hatchet duel later and I was dead again. This time, because of the way Rust’s spawning system works, I was forced to spawn in a random spot and ended up absolutely nowhere near my new home. By the time I could make it back my stuff would be gone. I simply called it a day.

After my frustration subsided I couldn't help but laugh. Wow, truly the circle of life in Rust: I get incredibly lucky and manage to loot someone’s stuff having only been on this newly wiped server for a little while only to be ganked by a random passerby for all of my newly won loot literally only minutes later. Only in Rust!

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