Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

So, this was it. Christmas Eve. I'd like to say that this year I wasn't surprised at how fast it passed us by but sadly this isn't the case. Once again, I'm left wondering, late at night, how quickly this whole ordeal is over with and how absurd it somehow seems once you start comparing it to the immense buildup.

And I'm actually one of those people who have it easy. I'm from a really small family, and even when I add in my girlfriend, gift-shopping is pretty much over and done in just a couple of hours. While I'm not exactly made of money, I do try to find something that I know will make the people around me happy, which did result in a prolonged expedition to town this year. Not that I complained one bit. I love this time of year.

Thus we finally woke up on the 24th of December. This very special day. I know a majority of you save this pleasure for the 25th in fact, but it's not essential for this blog. The point is; it's over so fast. I woke up, ate breakfast in good company and shuffled around for a bit, decorating the tree. Then it's all of a sudden time for church, a thing I haven't done in several years but decided to try out this time, and it's home to watch the mandatory Disney.
I'd be lying again if I said I didn't care much for the food. A passion I'm certainly not alone with, but once again you notice how fast time flies once you get to the table and dig in. Especially during good conversation.
The following opening of gifts is of course pure awesomeness. As I wrote in the previous blog, I become a child again around Christmas. This also means that I do give a damn about presents and that I make sure people know what makes me happy. Feel free to scold me for 'missing the point', 'being ignorant' and 'making Jesus cry'. I don't care.

And then, it's over. You're sitting by yourself, or with the people you love, and you wonder what really happened to all of it so fast. It's such a unique feeling which is never encountered besides today. Silent and precious. It always makes me want to turn back time and relive today all over, enjoy its good parts once again, perhaps some of those I originally missed. I mean, I could say the same for some of December, if I could go back a week and relive it without work. Thing is, once your job starts booking so much time, you don't notice the Christmas spirit all that much till you actually sit down and allow yourself to be immersed in it. And once it finally gets through, it's suddenly over.
It's a strange world that way.

So all in all, gifts weren't bad at all!
On the Warhammer-front I had two Dark Elf Hydras, a package of Shades and a package of Warriors along with a sorceress. All good stuff and miniatures I am certain I am going to use later. I'll admit, I'm very happy about the Hydras as those models are a pain to get in cold cash. And I'm pretty certain I am going to need more crossbowmen than the 15 or so I've got. I also had some money that I'm sure I'll spend on the DE-armybook. I will ofc. return once I've decided for a hydra-design.

In a tecnical view I finally had my beloved Cataclysm-Mouse! Yeah, it's kinda weird, taken into consideration that I've just cancelled WoW. What's even more strange is the fact that I also got The Old Republic. But, it's a great mouse, really solid and lies extremely well in my hand. I might consider dusting off my old healer just to try it out with the 14 immense buttons.
I'm at a bit of a loss regarding TOR. I've heard a lot of stuff about server-wait times and issues on the American front. I'm considering trying it out now, but a part of me also wants to wait a bit till the worst hype has diminished. I'll have to consider this since, after all, I don't have that much time till work starts again.
I also had a dvd with the Panique au Village-movie. It's likely spelled very wrong but at present time I don't really care. Those of you who're familiar with it will likely know what I'm talking about.

And finally there's the RPG department. This one has been relatively minor this year, mostly because; I have the books I need. I'm quite new to Pathfinder so far, but since I've enforced a strict rule about the Corebook and APG being the only available books for my campaigns, the rest of the books haven't been that neccesary. So I got the Dungeon Master Guide, mostly because I've heard about a lot of good fluff-stuff in it.

And of course 6 liters of Coca Cola. Wouldn't be Christmas without it, really.

So now, I'm going to bed. I hope all my friends and those close to me had a great night and if you're one of those about to celebrate it, I urge you to enjoy every single minute of it. It's over much faster than you think : )

I'll be back some time in the near future. Untill then; Take care, everyone.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

My geeky christmas traditions

I’m on a blog-spree at the moment. It’s all part of getting ready for Christmas, I assume. And speaking of which, why not take the time amid gifts, stress and the ton of responsibility and obligations during the season, and reflect upon our most sacred nerdy traditions?
With Christmas being no more than a few days away (of course that depends on your present location) I thought it to be fun to investigate some of my own nerdy traditions every year around this time. All within the geeky domain. This also allows me to fret even more over what I haven’t accomplished yet.

Watch Gremlins

I am sure there are more people out there who agree with me on this than I’d originally imagine. Also pointed out by The Nostalgia Crittic in a review, it’s somehow odd to imagine that nothing spells cozy Christmas like tiny, demonic green men spreading terror and havoc. But truth to be told; there is an undeniable charm to the first Gremlin movie that always puts me in the mood to celebrate the time in which the world should stand still. Hopefully without impish critters, but I assume that only emphasizes how much we have to be joyful about?
As I once mentioned, there are two things I’ll likely never, ever write about on this blog. Movies and comics, mostly because I am not qualified enough to say something clever about either. For the same reason, the only thing I could possibly say about Gremlins is; it blends its elements together so well. The dark humor, slapsticks, and that it really does feel like Christmas in a realistic sense. That the season doesn’t have to solely include boundless joy, peace and happiness, but that we should always remember there is a darker and/or more realistic side of it.
Oh yeah, and that final line “Byyyeeeee Biiilllyyyy” really gets to me every time. Wonder whether I can teach my hedgehog something similar.
Gremlins is definitive must every Christmas.

Watch Home Alone
More or less the same deal, but HA I can be more forgiving about missing. I’m generally talking about the first one here. The second one is decent, but let’s be honest, they change so very little about the original formula that it barely matters which one you watch. I suppose the first one always seemed a bit more clever and original to me, regarding jokes and the traps. Again, it’s always nice to see a Christmas movie that doesn’t take itself all that seriously, even though it does become progressively cheesier and over the top happy towards the end.
But then again, I suppose it wouldn’t be real Christmas otherwise.




Watch Star Wars Holiday Special

BEFORE you bring out the torches and pitchforks, allow me to say that this abomination is more in the tradition- than guilty pleasure-territory. I originally began watching SWHS some years ago and had to turn it off after 10 minutes since I honestly couldn’t stand another moment. It wasn’t until I watched Doug Walker’s (The Nostalgia Critic) review that it did become really entertaining. If you wish for the full time horror, but actually laughing at it, the Rifftrax version is quite awesome as well.
It’s really hard to say anything about SWHS that hasn’t been said or throw any stone that hasn’t been thrown. It’s a god awful creature that likely cries itself to bed every night, knowing it never became the son Lucas wanted. But still, this is Christmas and we make the best of everything. The real trick to SWHS is to paint your Warhammer-armies while ‘watching’ it. In that way, you can at least focus elsewhere than Bee Arthur.


Watch the first Futurama episode featuring the evil robot-Santa

I’ll make a confession; I really don’t like Futurama all that much. It’s more of a ‘not so excited about it’ than ‘I can’t stand it’ thing. I’ve given it loads of tries and chances but it never stuck with me for good. I’ve been through the Simpsons-phase (which I don’t find that awesome either) and the Family Guy era (about same story) leaving only South Park left.
But Futurama will always have that amazing Christmas special in which the evil Santa Claus drops by, it’s just about the only episode I can watch repeatedly and it’s never really Christmas without it.





Watch the Black Adder Christmas Carol
This is the last of the videos, I promise, but it had to be included. I’m a huge fan of Black Adder and if you’re too but haven’t seen their brilliant version of Charles Dickens’ eternal classic, you really should. Again, quite an alternative take on tradition, but it’s so clever that it works wonders in my book.




Christmas-shopping on Steam

Those who know me are aware of my Steam-fanboyism. I’ve been an avid user of it for years and my collection has started to become quite impressive. It likely has to do with my immense joy of browsing their catalogue, analogous to my girlfriend and her obsession looking through those colorful magazines from real life stores. But as we all know, real life will always be subpar compared to the digital world.
It has actually come to the point in which I set aside a pool of money every December because I KNOW I’m going to spend some on Steam once their sale starts. This year has, however, been rather kind to me. The new gift-idea is quite clever and even though I’ve only won a voucher and two minor games, I’m still quite fond of it. One of the games I gave to a friend (Monkey Island Special Edition, since I already have it) and I try to keep up getting those achievements. It’s a cozy tradition and I hope I’ll be tempted again since the only game I’ve bought this Christmas is Tales of Monkey Island. At least I might save my voucher for Left for Dead 2.

Warhammer-painting
Goes without saying really, but it has to be there. Mostly while I watch one of just mentioned points.


Play Icewind Dale 

This actually eluded me completely this year. Likely because I started a new job and was utterly devastated when I got home. And the times in which I had energy to spare we usually gamed Pathfinder.
I don’t know whether it’s the snow and ice-theme or it has a deeper explanation, but I’ve always liked to immerse myself in the IWD-game (the first one, of course) once the weather outside got dark and the wind chilly. I usually never complete it, but make it to around the Severed Hand before abandoning it for something else. Likely because IWD is one of those games you throw yourself at furiously and then realize how horrible long dungeons it involves.
I did complete it some years ago, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain. I’m a bit sad, however, that I didn’t get around to it this year. But then again, there might be some time in between Christmas and New Years Eve.
Provided I don’t get The Old Republic for Christmas…

Great Father Winter – World of Warcraft
Speaking of the MMO’s it’s almost mandatory to mention WoW. As you might know, I’ve closed my account but still have time left till the 28th of December. Luckily this allows me to experience the Father Winter tradition ingame, one more time. Pretty much the only holiday event I’ve spent time doing in WoW.


This likely has something do to with the fact that back in Vanilla this was, IIRC, pretty much one of the only holidays around, and since I began playing around august 2005 it was the first I encountered.
I had quite a lot of fun then, but as far as I remember it didn’t involve that much except a few gifts under the tree. Think my rogue still has some of them, actually.
Now I’m on the Horde-side and even though an orc doesn’t spell as much Santa as the dwarf, it’s still quite cozy. Christmas in the real world wouldn’t just be the same in a traditional sense, without Christmas in Azeroth.

Enya – And winter came
Without One Toy Soldier and White Is In there can be no holiday. It’s not like I put them on repeat or anything. I just have to listen to them once. Or twice.



Read Terry Pratchett’s  ‘Hogfather’
I might also add books to the list I’ll never write about, but at least my foundation is a bit better in this regard. This is another one I managed to skip out on this year, I even missed the alternative which is watching the (rather bad) movie-adaption of it. And you know, I’m a bit sad about it.

I love the Discworld books, I’ve read most of them except the most recent ones, and Hogfather is one of my favorites along with Guards! Guards! and Reaper Man. It’s not a book that is easily read, though, if you really want to dig deep into the philosophical world of Pratchett. I don’t know why, but to me this book has always been one of ‘deepest’ in the series, since there is frankly very little going on action-wise but a whole lot of stuff on the metaphysical-belief-oriented plane.
On top of that the humor is great, the atmosphere is just about right for your average Christmas setting with your average touch of Discworld. Somehow this book always manages to set me in the right mood for the season, so I suppose I will have to do better next year. Or the sun will never rise tomorrow.





The Sim City 2000-Christmas Eve tradition
This is likely the most weird tradition of them all and also the newest. I have no idea why I adopted it. It began about two years ago, when I sat down on Christmas day to spend some time (in my country we celebrate on the night of the 24th so during the day everything seems to get a bit hectic). I mostly stay at my mothers’ during Christmas, so I decided to fire up something old school; namely Sim City 2000 (random pick, really).

I’ve always liked SC2000 but again the memories are from a childhood in which I had no clue what to do, so mostly it consisted of cheating. This time, though; I wanted to prove I was better than that. It worked out. Sort of.
Long story short, I did end up spending more than an hour and a half perfecting Maynardville, actually making it run. I saved the game and got social and forgot all about it.
The year later, when I returned, it was still there! So I went for another hour or so, expanding my metropolis. And you know what, I’m going to do the same this year. Hopefully I’ll soon get to that drome-technology, so I can squeeze in even more citizens.
I’ll admit; it is rather weird. But also peculiar. It’s my tradition and I intend to honor it as long as I can. And then start over in Sim Farm.

The Christmas Carol – The Disney version
 
Those of you who’re familiar with this might understand my fascination. The amount of reinterpretations that have been done over Dicken’s beloved classic is beyond counting but this one is obviously one of the best I can think of. I’ll admit, it likely has to do with the fact that I watched it a lot as a kid. This is good classical Disney that isn’t too afraid to also include some of the more gloomy elements of the story.
If you haven’t already, I’d recommend you watch it. It’s a nice, short little story.








Looking back, I actually didn’t do all that bad. Most of it I got around and the few loose ends I just have to compensate for at a later time.
After all this is the time of year that is more about traditions than everything else. I’ll happily admit that a part of me becomes like a child once more, and if delayed, I do my best to invoke it. These traditions have always helped me doing so and sure as hell haven’t failed me this year either.
I wish you all the best with (almost) whatever your traditions involve!

- Maynard.

WoW: Some things you likely didn't know

In this season of Christmas it's always good to look forward as well as back, and for the sake of nostalgia I found this very long but also very interesting article on MMOChampion. Some of you might already know it, but in my optic it's certainly worth sharing:

Some things you didn't know about World of Warcraft

Some of my personal favorites:
-You weren't able to see buffs on enemy players, but Mages had "Detect Magic" spell.
-Eviscerate had a base damage that didn't scale at all, so a naked rogue would hit the same as a full T3 rogue. (Oh, do I remember this one...)-Many players think that the worst quest in Vanilla was "Deep Ocean, Vast Sea...", because the breath timer was only 60 seconds and Murlocs could move through walls.
-Recently, in the Ulduar patch, a GM accidentally mailed a player with Martin Fury. That is an artifact level shirt that has a "on use" effect that one shots everything. He used it to one shot Malygos, and couple of bosses in Ulduar. People noticed on his statistics tab that he had an abysmally high "Highest hit ever" number, and he got a permanent ban shortly after.
-There is an NPC next to Haris Pilton in Shattrath City (Ricole Nichie), that is only viewable by priests who have Eye of Divinity equipped.
-In alpha, there was a "profession" called "Survival Skills". It was used for making campfires (which can now be made with cooking) and torches.
-Those torches were used for scouting. Back than, the graphic engine was a bit different. Darker areas, such as Duskwood, were really "dark" and you couldn't see anything past 20-30 yards in front of you. Torches were used to increase visibility in those darker areas. Many NPC's in Duskwood still hold torches in their hands.
-The most overpowered class ever in WoW was Retribution Paladin during the first 24 hours of Patch 3.01 (the one with WotLK talents at level 70). Divine Storm dealt holy damage, and they could do bubble + avenging wrath, with bubble not reducing damage by 50%. Best 24 hours in my life.
-Not directly related to the game, but shortly after TBC was released, and caused massive shaman nerfs, the shaman community had a massive outcry on the forums. The CM called Tseric had a job to moderate the forums, and after going insane from all the whining, he started to ban ANYONE who posted on the shaman forums (no matter what you posted). He was fired from Blizzard shortly after that.
-Each time a Shaman did a talent respec from Enhancement, he lost all weapon skill with Two-Handed Maces/Axes, because they were a talent in the enhancement tree.

 It also includes some old pictures of the game, such as:




And several more. I recommend checking it out, at least for the fun of it : )

Monday, December 19, 2011

Warhammer: Building a Dark Elf Army pt. 1

December is such a slow month in many ways. And yet, you suddenly realize how quickly time has passed, and already we're approaching that very special night. Personally, I've always asked myself what I actually did during those long nights and short days. So it's time to have another look back and update the current Warhammer situation.

As my last update stated I've begun collecting my fourth army; Dark Elves. I hit some trouble initially, since I've developed a healthy hesitation towards models I will likely never need. I still have some Warplock Jezzails standing around as a solemn testimony to past failure.

Luckily, the Dark Elf army has some quite obvious choices that seem to form a common consensus among several players. A lot of people have pointed out the importance in hydras (sort of like Aboms, I assume) and the Black Guards have very positive reviews as well. Besides that I've invested in some crossbowmen. The there are the mandatory models such as sorcerors and a dreadlord on a cold one. That sort of thing.
This is where things get speculative, though. Even though I could just fill up the entire thing with crossbows, hydras and whatever Black Guards I could spare, it doesn't seem exactly viable. So far I've been pondering:

Executioners
People seem to have very mixed feelings about these. I'll admit; I bought five of them just because they look so insanely awesome. From what I've been able to judge, they are pretty much all or nothing; you either bring a horde or you bring none. Mostly because fielding them in small groups makes them unable to suffer much payback. Alternatively, a horde of these will tear through just about anything, which only calls for much wiser deployment. Plus, I can't help feeling this borders deathstar'ism. And I really hate that.
Some people prefer to add the ASF-banner to them, effectively making them hit first against most opponents with an impressive strength and killing blow. It's an expensive solution, though, as most opponents will likely tear the banner bearer a new one as soon as they can.


Think I'll gradually build up these as I go along. Likely proxy them out in a few casual games and see. They're some expensive guys, as well in points as cold hard cash.

Black Guards of Naggarond
A lot of people say these are no-brainers for a DE-army. I can see why, they really can dish out pain. On the other hand, I'm bothered by the limited unit size. 20 really isn't a lot. Still, that's what I've gone with so far and the models look so very nice.


 Witch Elves
I considered these as I liked them a lot back in earlier editions. But they don't seem that popular and deal somehow with the same issues as the executioners. Dying too easily. Also, I really don't like their miniatures. They're still a bit crude to me.

Cauldron of Blood
Some people have praised this a lot, so I'm currently considering it. Then again, others never use it. Seems a bit like rat ogres to me, without comparing respective strengths. Only differentiated opinions. There are some really nice bonuses to get from this, so I suppose I might try it out one day.

Cold One Knights
I used to love these back in the day. A lot of people, however, seem to agree that they just aren't worth it anymore in 8th edition. Shame, since their models are awesome.

Chariots
Really on the fence here. Not sure, but will wait a bit before trying it out.

Shades
They seem kind of mandatory, so I'll likely get some.
Assassins
They seem to suffer somewhat the same issues as the Skaven-versions. They can do some potential smackdown but lost some utility from 7th edition. I prefer not to rely on them and spend my points elsewhere.
Harpies
Not hearing much good about them. I can see why they also lost some utility from 7th, but I still imagine taking them for some fights could be good. The not counting towards core-selection is kind of hurtful, though.

Bolt Throwers
Seem to be somehow like executioners in that you have to bring a few to make it worthwhile. Again, I'm on the fence here. It's an expensive model that I'd like to be sure I'll use.

Sorceresses
I really want to play a magic heavy DE-army. Whereas Dwarves are my army when I cba about it, I've had loads of fun with Skaven magic. Plus, magic tends to piss off several of my friends whenever we play, so hey; bi-winning.

Monsters
There are the hydras, of course. Not sure whether I'll bring more creatures. I'd really like to have one of those big bad evil creatures along, but in the modern days of cannons and statistic tests it just seems way too dangerous. Yet, I am curious about some of the Flying Circus strategies I've heard about.

Crossbowmen
I usually see people field a good handful of these. For now I've bought around 20, but I imagine I'll need about 20 more or so. They seem like a really solid option to take down those T3 regiments.

The TLDR-version:
Aka. What I want from Santa this Christmas.


10 black guards (so I have 20)
20 crossbowmen (so I have around 40ish)
2 hydras
1 dreadlord on cold one
1 supreme sorceress
1 sorceress
15 warriors

and the rest I will somehow have to fill in along the way.

I must admit, I find Dark Elves more challenging to build than my remaining armies (WoC, Skavens and Dwarves). There seem to be very varying opinions, but I frankly just want an army that will kick major ass.


I will get back to you with my experiences and results later on.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

PC: 10 things I didn't like about DA: Origins


Dragon Age Origins is one of my favorite games.
No, I'm fairly certain when I say that it's my single most beloved game in all of history. You might've noticed this, if you've read some of my earlier reviews and essays about it.

Obvious things being stated, I've been pondering for a long time about the fairness of my recent article concerning the Dragon Age-universe. Namely, my article in which I actually took up arms in the defense of the bastard child that is Dragon Age 2. I sat down and concentrated for a long while to come up with 10 points that I actually liked about it, now that the hype and sky-high expectations from Origins were no longer present to cloud my judgment.

DA2 is still a massive disappointment, don't get me wrong. I don't say to myself ”Why, it's been WAY too long since I last played this game!” about DA2. Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale and Vampire: Bloodlines all hold this honor but of course the cardinal example is Dragon Age: Origins. A game that I'd marry any day.

I've said before that I'll never write a review of why I love Origins so much, mostly stemming from the same reason as why I won't write one about Skyrim. I have so very little bad to say about it that it will mostly be me writing obsessively like a drooling fan boy. There is no point in doing so.

On the other hand, I'd be a huge hypocrite if I didn't consider the impact of my ”10 things I liked about DA2”-article on other essays. Said otherwise; if I had to search for 10 great things in DA2 it only seems fitting that I try to find 10 bad things in Dragon Age: Origins.

So this is it. 10 things that cross me in my all-time favorite game. I can't say it's been easy.

1 - Oghren
Let's start with the heavy hitters. My single biggest issue with this entire game.
Oghren.


People have scorned me for being such a hater against the filthy dwarf, which has only led to a deep and sincere feeling of bafflement on my side. There are actually people out there who like him?
To refresh your memory, Oghren is the smelly, ale-stained, rough dwarf whom you meet as you do the Orzammar-quests. I'll be honest with you here; my memory keeps failing me when people ask me to tell anything more about him. Except the fact that his spec is so-and-so from a technical point of view, Oghren will always be the underdog of the Origin-NPCs in my optic. And that's saying a lot, when you consider that he's below the dog.

A lot of people love him because he's ”funny” and ”silly” in that ”old-school stereotypical” sort of dwarf-way. You know; he drinks, swears, loves to fight and is unkempt to the very last hair. That's funny. Right?
Right??

LAUGH, DAMN YOU!

No? Me neither. Even if you'd argue this qualifies as comic relief, it's been done to death SO many times. It's what also gradually ruined Gimli for me as the LOTR-movies progressed. Dwarf jokes. Tossing a dwarf, the burping dwarf whenever someone is having an important conversation, 'OH LOOK, salted pork, I'm a dwarf, must mean I LOVE eating!'. I'm SO tired of it. And Oghren is just contributing, in his own abysmal way, to keep this stereotype alive.

I love fantasy conventions, actually. But a lot in the Dragon Age-universe is about conventions with a clever twist. The dwarves are still an industrious race governed by a caste-system with great respect for their elders. Fine, I can easily live with that. Just as elves like the forest and commune with the environment through ancient means. But all elves aren't what you see in Overlord 2.


Oghren might've worked in a less ambitious game where he'd stand with more uninteresting NPC's. But compared to Alistair, Leliana and my all time sweetheart Morrigan, he's just so annoyingly bland and stereotypical. Even when I force myself to include him in my parties I never feel any depth. And even Shale makes for better comic relief than him. I suppose that with all the other races, they'd had to include a dwarf one way or the other. Perhaps they simply saved the best for Varric.
In fact, they should do a movie along the same theme of Twins. Just with Varric and Oghren.
I'd watch it.

Oh, and while we're at it, the initial reason why I never touched Awakening was the commercial line: ”Including an old favorite from Origins” and my reaction once I found out whom.
I imagine he was the easiest to fit in, since he had so little personality.

Boring!
Next.

2- Denerim
Might sound odd, you say? I suppose, and this is actually one of the minor flaws of the game. But it's a good starter for the geographical complaint department.
I didn't really like Denerim that much. I'm aware that this is sort of like being given a hundred grand and complaining that you didn't get two, but compared to other fantasy cities it seemed...model'ish. There weren't really THAT many places to go in the end, you fought a bit in some alleys and got to see the market square among others. But I felt more atmosphere in, say, Redcliffe.

Denerim didn't have to be Kirkwall in order to be convincing. It could've been bigger; it could've had some more areas and places or out-of-plot-events to encounter. Origins had a heavy emphasis on travelling near and far, so focusing on one single city was obviously never on the agenda. I imagine I'm just holding this up a bit to the first Baldur's Gate in which you actually began a whole new game once you entered the city.
I don't think it's a totally unfair point I'm making. Games such as The Witcher still manage to build up convincing cities without any of them being particularly big. But in the end, I'm glad they prioritized as they did, and chose to focus on the world instead.

But I've started to become positive now and that's baaaad. Onwards to the next disappointment.

3- The Fade
And noooow we're talking.
Besides from Oghren, the Fade-sequence in the Mage Tower is beyond doubt the biggest issue I have with this game. Not based on concept, the idea is nothing less than brilliant. So is the journey through the tower in which you encounter the demons, slain mages and templars, the carnage and the atmosphere is so thick. I love it.
Up till that god awful sloth demon whose head I always want to rip out whenever I encounter it. No, I don't want to have a rest. No, the world won't go on without me! Please don't pull me through this horrible sequence yet another time. For the same reason, I always get the Mage quest over with first.

Why is the Fade bad, you ask?
Well, for starters; it's WAY too long. Even when you've done it a couple of times I still have no clue or remembrance of the locations of the various forms. Not to mention the order in which they must be obtained. It adds a lot of time to the place, even when you decide to just give in and run gamefaqs.com in the background for a guide. I can understand why some people will want to explore and spend time here, due to its mysterious and alluring nature. I really can. But it becomes tedious combing every passage and nightmare for those stat-bonuses. Yet, they are nifty and make your job easier, especially if you play on harder settings, so getting to them really is a great idea.

The Fade could be an ideal place to basically play out any encounter the developers could come up with in their twisted imagination. Everything is possible in there. Instead, we only get three extremely short encounters, one for each of your followers. It feels so cheap. Why not expand upon that idea, and make three separate dungeons floors instead? ”Because that would take up way too much work, Maynard!” I hear you say. But face it, they already made the other nightmares in which you have to form-dance, crawl through holes and play with fire like were you in a circus. How much would it really have taken to just make a miniquest for each of the companions you brought along? Or hey, if you really insist on your point, why not just make it one single long quest for you in which you had to enlist your party members' help along the way? Instead of freeing them for the final boss alone?

Origins wanted to let us know how dark and gloomy it was. That this was evil, sinister fantasy. With the risk of sounding slightly disturbed, I'd like to point out that I've had much worse and sinister nightmares than being a mouse or a half-naked burning man.

4 - The Deep Roads
This one is a little more tough than the Fade. I'm a bit ambivalent about it. In many ways, I love the entire Orzammar section. The city itself is brilliant, the quests and your journeys in the dark roads really bring me that claustrophobic feeling. But no matter how great it feels, I always end up groaning a bit towards the end, wondering when the Brood mother will show up.
You run around a lot in these roads, especially if you want to get all the quests and items. There are so many enemies, a lot of them are quite repetitive and I always wish I could at least skip some of it to advance the story.

Even then, you also have to make your way to the anvil afterwards and by that time I always want to just get the hell out of there. On the other hand, though, one of my huge complaints about DA2 is that there was way too little of the Deep Roads and The Fade. So I suppose that out there we can find a golden middle way.

5 - The DLC
Yes, this isn't an entirely fair point to throw at a great game but it's not entirely unreasonable either. And it has to be said in this regard, at least for what Origins spawned later on.
I've always hated the majority of the DA-DLC. I've never tried anything for the second game, besides a weapon-pack, but by now I'm through most of the crap they spewed out for the first game. And I'm far from impressed.

In a way, several of the releases really show what can potentially go wrong with DLC. I'm a big fan of it myself, but it's so rarely you see anything of good quality. It becomes a quick, money making machine that can often tax heavily on the fans before they decide it simply isn't worth it. I know that's how it went for me at least.

I've always said that DLC in the RPG'ish sense should strive to tie together loose ends or extend already good games with new quests, encounters and experiences. New weapons, armor and looks are all good but I'm not keen on them. As for Origins, the only DLC I ever felt worthwhile was Leliana's Song because it did exactly that. It expanded upon an already great character and even though it was short it had a lot of atmosphere and did portray Leliana in a whole other way. Somehow, I had hoped for something similar featuring Alistair, Morrigan and maybe even Sten.

Sadly, we got the smelly piece of dung that is Witch-hunt, beyond doubt my favorite example of bad DLC. A lot of fans wanted to know what happened to Morrigan after Origins. Be it for romantically, vengeful or simply curious reasons. That is why I was very eager to take up this installment and have my warden chase down his lost love.
The problem with Witch-hunt is that it actually manages to raise more questions than it answers. They might as well have ended the DLC with credits rolling and the iconic Simpsons ”HA-HA!” exclamation playing on repeat. Ending in; ”Yeah, we stole your money. Make up a better ending if you want.”
Others tried to bring new features to the game that we didn't know we needed. Such as the ability to play as a dark spawn (seriously, why would I ever want that?) or get your own keep (which actually managed to pale in comparison to Crossroad Keep in Neverwinter Nights 2). None of them really worked the way they intended to, I think.

I've heard some better things from the DA2-DLC. Maybe I will give that a try later. But for now, I feel ripped off.

6- The loot distribution
Maybe this is just me again, but I never got it? There doesn't seem to be any real system to good drops in Origins, but they don't seem entirely randomized either. The thing is that when you down a boss or something challenging, you sort of expect something very nice to drop. Or simply, you'd expect searching a chest and find something decent (another long living fantasy convention). But, that was far from the case all the time. In fact, you could find some surprisingly good items by rummaging through crates, barrels and odd stuff as you went along. And I encountered it in the strangest of places, such as in back alleys, caves and even outside in the forest.

It likely has something to do with my lack of patience for searching every single lootable container I can put my kleptomaniac hands on in RPG's. A lot of them love this feature, really. Just start counting. We could begin with the BG's, move on to Icewind, Neverwinter 1 and 2 in particular, Final Fantasy to some degree, the Elder Scrolls games and neither the futuristic people of KOTOR 1 and 2 and Mass Effect should feel safe. And I always skip on this part. But in Origins I sometimes felt forced to do so, if I wanted to make sure I picked up the essentials.

I'm not sure whether it's as bad in DA2, but it doesn't feel like it. Either way, I can't help but notice it every time I play.

7 - No social consequences of being a blood mage
Now, this is very specific but somehow always ticks me off a bit. Blood magic is one of the biggest taboos and frowned upon elements of the Dragon Age-universe, and for the same reason I was very cautious about making my main char a blood mage the first time I played the game. Mostly because of the social repercussions it might include, but nonetheless I went through with it.
To my amazement there is absolutely no penalty, consequence or scorn to be had once you turn to the dark side. Your friends don't challenge you or at least tell you that you need to stop, like they did in KOTOR once you started turning Sith. Not even the brilliant Wynne.

It just seems like such a shame. I understand it would take up some additional work for perhaps little gain, but since Blood Magic is so damn good in Origins, I imagine most mages at least considered it.

8- Crafting
Crafting to me always seemed useful but I never got around it. Especially the ability to make your own potions and such was something I wanted to invest heavily in during my first playthroughs, but yet I ended up buying most of them instead. Poisons and traps I've never bothered with, simply because I never saw much point in doing so. I've heard you can make some exploits such as piling of tons of traps and waiting for Flemeth to spawn and be insta-gipped, but seriously, where's the fun in that?

Not sure whether I really prefer DA2's crafting, though. In that case it seemed almost simplistic. This is one of those points of which I have no ideas of improvement, but I imagine the game just never invited you or encouraged the use of traps with its many waves of enemies. Some encounters, though, I could imagine would be way more easy if you had traps to take out the brunt of the force. The fight in the end when you rescue the queen comes to mind.

9 - The PG-Stuff
This one is going to be hard to explain without sounding like an old pig. But I'll try anyway.
I'm disappointed that they took the underwear-road during the love-scenes. And yes, I'm also aware it's no more than a mod away. But in principle, for a game that so heavily sold itself on the premise that it was dark and adult fantasy, these scenes seem like a peculiar choice. They really do.

Age of Conan had no qualms showing off just about everything and that is a far lesser game. I am not even asking for it to be hardcore, but some of the mod'ers out there have done a much better job portraying these scenes, in accordance to what I'd expect from a game as this.  That's also why it's such a small concern, and Bioware likely knew that. Those of us who wanted things in the extreme would mod and shut up, and the rest could look at the 'dark fantasy white bikinis'.

All being said, Origins does feature blood and the run of the mill savagery. It has some elements that seem somewhat gruesome from time to time, but I'm sad that it doesn't have the courage to walk the line just a little bit more. Luckily, it's nowhere near the massive youngster catering of the second game, but I can't help but wonder what they could've pushed it to.

10 - Lack of hedgehogs
Naturally, Origins didn't have enough hedgehogs.

Conclusion:
There are obvious flaws to any game, whether you want to acknowledge them or not is the question. Regarding Origins there surely are elements I don't like and things I'd have made a whole lot different. In the end, we tend to forgive them. I had to think long about these points, and the hedgehogs are not only mandatory, but also included simply because...well, I couldn't come up with 10 points. Things such as the DLC and inventory already feel like stretching the criteria.

If anyone out there has additional input, I'll always love to hear from you!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

PC: Theme Park


The next part of our retro-journey takes me to a dearly beloved favorite of mine.
I'll bluntly admit, it's one of those cases in which the majority of you might look at me with an expression of fear and disgust. Kind of like that old guy living down the street who keeps insisting on crappy old black and white movies being far more superior than those modern flicks.

In a way, maybe you shouldn't be all THAT surprised. After all, this is coming from a guy who until recently crowned Baldur's Gate 2 as the ultimate RPG (until Origins arrived, at least). A guy who also finds the first two X-Com games to be among the hallmarks of computer game history.
Yeah, and I love Theme Park too.



What a ride!
In a way it's kinda hard to describe this game in a way that really makes it shine compared to all its successors. Again, you have to see it in the proper context. Back then, Theme Park was basically among very few of its kind. In fact, I think you could argue that it was the only one of its kind that at least offered a graphical aspect worth a damn.

Speaking of which, I'll gladly admit the reason why I even started on this game was because of its visual appeal. I mean, look at it. I love colours myself and Theme Park was back then an orgy of details and pleasing-to-the-eye scenery. The guests were plenty, rides looked awesome (they did!) and just looking at the shops actually made you a bit hungry.

But once again I'm getting ahead of myself, as I am sure there are plenty of you out there who have absolutely no history with this game. Allow me to shortly elaborate.
Theme Park is all about...wait for it...THEME PARKS!
That huge shocker being put into place, there is actually much more to it than mere design. In fact, unless you cheated (which, granted, the majority did back then) this game was really hard. First and foremost there was the enormous financial aspect in which you had to juggle the various expenses against the meager income you made through the park. This was purely represented by merchandise from your shops and unhealthy consumables. Of course your little visitors also had to pay a steep entry fee in order to partake in the fun, which in the end often reached astronomical heights as the consequence of your park-size. In the end it wasn't entirely uncommon to see ticket prices around 250$.

Of course you couldn't just set a price and wait. You had to justify it. This is where the rides came along. Theme Park offered a wide variety of rides, some certainly more fun than others, that could all be placed in your park to increase its overall attractiveness. Initially you only had access to four of them, consisting of a bouncy castle, spinning teacups, a tree house and the much appreciated ghost train. While investing in these rides dug into your budget they were a necessary evil to attract the little punters to your park.

Daaaad, I'm really booored....
It all sounds simple. You begin with 200K at your disposal and set out to establish your park and make a name for yourself. Once you've placed some rides, roads and few shops you could move on and hire your staff or decorations to your park. The former included some entertainers (who frankly never seemed to entertain anyone), guards and the ever so important engineers and handymen. The engineers were essential components to keep your park running since rides would eventually get worn out and break down (much to the dismay of your customers). Unless they were repaired they would simply detonate and leave immovable debris forever. The role of the handyman was way more subtle and addressed the universal truth that wherever Man goes, boundless amounts of trash are doomed to follow. In Theme Park this truth is taken to the extreme. You customers trash, litter and throw up just about everywhere they go, and once the show gets rolling it quickly spreads and hell breaks loose. It's a strange thing, somehow, that you were able to build toilets for them to throw up in, but never a litter-bin to dump their trash.

The urgency of said staff was, of course, to retain just a modest amount of happiness among your visitors. Happy guests came back, would pay higher prices and in general made your park more valuable. If you failed at this, you were quickly looking down the long road of bankruptcy. And nothing pissed off your customers more than being blown up in a defective ride or stepping in someone else's lunch on the way out.
To make matters worse, one could quote House MD by saying “My staff are idiots” which is certainly the case in Theme Park. At times the handyman would get stuck in a loop, the engineer right next to a ride on fire would sit idly while another one across the park would respond and shortly after they'd demand higher wages. If not they went on a strike.

And frankly, it didn't take much to annoy your customers. I've even experienced some of them throwing up the very moment they got off the bus. As soon as they enter your park they're thirsty and hungry and demands to be fed. Having eaten their fat meal and casually throwing it on the path they easily became confused and couldn't navigate the paths by their own. They were literally bordering retarded and needed signposts for everything to see in the park. You even needed to place arrows and blockades to make sure they didn't get stuck. Another thing that really pissed them off. And if you ever had a popular ride, the line would often be so enormously long that they'd complain about waiting.

Keeping up with being funny
Naturally you saw the grim side of it. Expenses grew bigger and bigger. You had to make sure that your warehouse was well stocked with soda, fries, burgers, beers, steaks and so on; otherwise you lost money till they arrived. And since there was some delay before arrival, you had to time it quite well. You also had to manage your bank-loan and pay off the rents while considering buying shares and make sure your virtual opponents didn't buy too deeply into your project.

On the other hand was research, one of the most vital elements of the game. Research gave you the chance to set aside 1-9999$ per month and upgrade various aspects of your park. You could invest in bigger warehouses and bigger busses, so you'd have even more unsatisfied guests in your park. Or you could train your staff to be faster and more efficient. Alternatively, and more fun, was the option to invent new shops and rides. You could also upgrade existing rides to house more guests and last longer.

This was an aspect you couldn't ignore, as you really needed new rides if you didn't want to be the king of bouncy castles for the rest of your career. How much money you could spare, however, was a decision left to you. Research quickly dug into your funding, but could be well worth the effort, especially once you got your hands on the big rides, such as the roller coaster.
All the time, your guests were whining, complaining, puking and getting lost. If everything was going downward you could activate the emergency mood and arrange firework to flash above their heads. This really lifted the mood for just about everyone in the park, with the exception of you, perhaps. Firework was extremely expensive.

An interesting element of the game was that if your park was truly hideous, punks and gang members would show up and cause havoc. Wreck your rides, beat up the entertainers and harass guests. While easily dealt with by employing security, this was a signal to you that you really needed to tighten up.

Moving on in the world!
In case you actually made it and got your park rolling with magical sparks of colour against the sky and thundering roller coasters, you could eventually put it on auction for a nice sum of money. Then you were free to purchase ground in other countries, such as Japan and Antarctic. A sad feature of the game is that the climate, scenery and guests don't change at all between countries. You're stuck with green grass and Caucasian guests, which does tend to make the game a bit repetitive. I've never gotten as far as to actually complete Theme Park (which involves completing a park in every country) but I've been told it isn't all that impressive anyway.

Not that it mattered anyway. It was still a great game.

Why is it a great game?
Seen with modern eyes one could easily argue that Theme Park isn't all it used to be, which should hardly be surprising for anyone. It's still an old faithful that will easily run under DosBox (just be prepared to set your CPU-cycles...quite low...) and bring you some nostalgic fun.

What always made this game for me is the sheer amount of management involved at the same time, and just to follow the 'aquarium effect' of your guests. How they enter the park, journey around and have fun before leaving. Certainly no challenge at all to the modern games within this genre, Theme Park still has a certain appeal that I just can't put a finger on. I'm pretty sure that if you've never played this game before and consider doing so, you'll likely be disappointed. It is a game that lives off rose-tinted goggles.

Some elements of it are so annoying and stupid that I'll never call it a true classic. The logic is way off, with burgers costing 300$ and the immense troubles you can have controlling your staff. At times your customers will just be unhappy because they can and because they hate you. Other times you will search for hours trying to find that puking-hot spot. Additionally, while I do enjoy the music (for what it is, of course) the sounds are initially good but quickly become extremely annoying.

Is it to be recommended?
Well, of course, otherwise I wouldn't write about it. I love Theme Park, and you used to do so too...you should give it a go. It's a nice reunion that will quickly remind you of everything you loved and hated about this game. For me it was simply a passing of time and I am surely not going to play it again in the near future. I assume most people will try it out, build a park (likely cheat, can't blame you) and rejoice in the memory.

But that's okay. Theme Park is such a good game. Good enough to give at least one more try if you can spare the time.

Retro-Verdict: 6/10