Archive for October, 2012

Never played it, UNTIL NOW. I started with Icewind Dale, Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster and paused it for a really long time (like 2-3 years – seriously). But now I finally finished it and started II right away. In II I didn’t fall into the same trap, IWDI wasn’t bad or anything, but it’s heavily focusing on fights. It’s quite the grind at times. After besting an x level dungeon, the only thing that will happen, is the start of the next x level dungeon. That really wore me down. Every time I thought about continuing it, all I could think of were these masses of minotaur lords in the dungeon I was stuck in and that they would surround me immediately (maybe I started Trials of the Luremaster too early). Given that there are much more community support files for IWDI than for II, I always thought it probably meant, that IWDI was the better game somehow too.
To my delight, I discovered the exact opposite (I could have spoiled myself by reading up on the games beforehand, but I don’t like to do that). II has much more quests (often with several possible outcomes!), characters, dialogs, shops… And they really made stuff matter. It’s a big deal to have a Paladin in the group for instance, even much more famous Baldur’s Gate didn’t have that much material for such classes IIRC (okay they had extra strongholds instead…). Returns to familiar places, such as the Severed Hand are so much more fun this time around. Actually this is a prime example to illustrate the differences between the two Icewind Dale games. In IWD the Severed Hand is this dark place full with enemies and it takes lots of running around to switch between all the different floors. There’s still a story attached to it, but except for maybe 2 characters there’s not much else than fighting. In IWDII this place is full with characters, (often optional) quests and this rich backstory that now spans 2 games – just lots of stuff to do besides merely grinding through hordes of enemies.
It’s often funny too, in the first city there are some mercenaries standing around, who complain a lot that all they get to do is stupid fetch-quests and similar tedious tasks. :D This attitude was what kept me easily hooked and made it a pleasure to play through the whole thing. It’s not a short game after all (it took me about 8 hours to finish the prolog!), so without proper motivation any attempt at finishing it, is surely doomed.
Playing both games not too far apart is a good idea, since it’s not just called IWDII merely for using the name of an already known franchise. It’s a true sequel and many characters, even places, are referred to in one form or another, if they don’t appear again outright (like the Hand pretty much always clearly improved). There were even some connections to Torment thrown into the series. :)
I very much would have liked an epilog here, like Arcanum or Dungeon Siege III had, to reflect the outcome of some of the more interesting optional side quests, it would have been more satisfying than “just” gaining additional experience points for doing them, but hey…
There was just one situation were I almost felt punked, it was when I finally got my favorite spell but my mage never leveled up far enough to gain level 9 spells… In Torment Meteor Swarm had the best casting animation of all the Infinity games EVER. BOOM! Once I got it I used it on everyone! :D Every time! :D The thing is, that most of these D&D games, don’t even have Meteor Swarm. I think only Torment and IWDII do. So it’s all the more painful. I’m confident I did all the quests…
Playing this made it even easier for me to back Project Eternity, because – what could possibly go wrong? Having pretty much the same folks who did this behind it? There’s no way this could end up being entirely bad. I’m guessing. :P
Anyway, IWDII was the last of the Infinity games I hadn’t played yet. Now I know them all! :) MUAHAHAHAHA! Next stop will be the BG overhaul. Just in time. Wouldn’t have wanted these two (playthroughs) to conflict with each other.

Dishonored is fantastic, it took me captive for its whole duration. I didn’t play anything else, I didn’t watch any movies or shows, didn’t even listen to music. It was intense. The duration must differ quite extreme. It’s possible to shoot at everything and everyone (then the game must be relatively short) or sneak through the whole adventure and never kill anyone (that’s what I did). Dishonored is also one of the first games I ever played, that were actually following through on this idea without compromises. Players who look for alternative paths (instead of killing the targets) can indeed find them. You could sneak a lot in Deus Ex: Human Revolution and spare all the guards, but that didn’t influence the boss fights at all, during those, the player had to kill the adversaries – no way around it (The Missing Link was different/improved in this regard though). Dishonored however can be successfully finished with 0 kills!

The game is a very successful combination of titles like Thief and BioShock… Since Thief I’ve missed being able to lean around edges in way too many games and the abilities and guns are exactly like being in BioShock (upgraded equipment gains a new look). Knowing this, it’s possible to imagine how awesome Dishonored is!

The next strong part, no doubt about it, is the level design. The architecture of all the surroundings, the textures… everything is unique, distinctive. It constantly shows how much effort has been put into all this. Those folks are absolute masters of their craft. Few games offer this much diversity and overall quality.

Handling and gameplay were generally very satisfying. I especially liked the heart and often used it until it started repeating the commentary. It was fantastic. It’s definitely one of the reasons why it took me twice as long to finish the game compared to lots of other players.
Levels have to have borders, at some point there’ll be a loading screen waiting – what always annoyed me, is if you select such a door in a hurry not knowing it is such a loading point and before you can do anything about it, you are stuck on the loading screen… Dishonored solves this issue elegantly, by simply asking first if you really want to leave… BOOM! Too few games do that. It should be standard. Even rarer than this, is the option to abort already selected abilities. I can’t remember one game that offered this before. Some allow to abort already running abilities, but not to prevent the execution itself (I remember how long you had to hold the left mouse button in Thief until Garrett would put an arrow away again, whenever the situation had changed and you couldn’t fire anymore, it took ages – would have been so much better with a manual abort – my apologies, if there was one and I just never knew about it).

The only things that left me wanting, were tied to the story and some characters. The ending was much too short and abrupt for me (like I said, I never killed anyone=the most accomplished way to finish this game IMHO and I wanted a fitting payoff at the end). I get it that it’s not an RPG or anything, but there were so many optional things possible during missions (listed as special actions after every mission on the debriefing screen), that it would have been nice if any of them would have mattered in a way other than merely being stated once on that screen. I would have liked more details on the Outsider. Maybe it was good that he stayed mysterious, but he was introduced as such a vital part of the story and then there was… absolutely nothing. Suddenly he was nothing but a plot tool to explain why Corvo (the protagonist) could have superpowers/magic. Sometimes the level of detail was really great, notes lying around and the availability of books and such was very welcome and then other interesting parts were neglected completely. The sole story DLC that is announced so far, doesn’t sound like it will elaborate on the elements I thought were neglected most, it appears it won’t even feature Corvo as PC anymore. Anyways, I hope it sells like crazy, so they’ll make a part 2 or something one day because it’s already one of the best games of this genre EVER. If Thief would have been released today, I’m sure it would have been pretty much like this.

PS: I’m also a huge fan of Half-Life² and it doesn’t disturb me at all, that Dunwall sometimes features these “original City 17 walls”. I interpreted it as a nice nod, that some of the same folks worked on it (I didn’t check up on that, guessing here), which, apparently, can only be good for a game.

Lots of *beep* claims or wants to be uplifting, this movie was. :P Maybe in a slightly weird, but good way. It begins with a reporter who wants to check out an ad in which a guy seeks a companion for traveling through time. Their trip is supposed to produce an article revealing if the dude who posted the ad is just trying to joke around or is maybe crazy or something. Intrigue! Because it could have gone anywhere and… I couldn’t predict the outcome… It’s nice to have something that keeps you involved on most levels till the end. I’m still not clear on all elements of the story, but maybe the audience isn’t supposed to.

It’s not the first time, of course, this basic idea was used, but it doesn’t harm the movie at all. The execution is next to flawless, I think, and if you have emotions :P there’s a good chance this story will resonate with you. It’s still floating around in my mind (which is why I put it here).

Everyone who’s into games at all should watch Indie Game: The Movie. There are still not that many documentaries of that kind, that are pleasant to watch, I think, but this one delivers. It kept me hooked for the entire duration and it’s really interesting to see dudes who made stuff like Braid. Even if you haven’t just played it.

This film is also truly about games and being a gamer and how gamers perceive games and why they like them. All too often tales about games and gamers in mass media are just shocking and insulting and no one who ever had anything to do with games can recognize the scene (let alone himself) in such concoctions. Not this time!

You can say about Zach Galifianakis whatever you want, but his (let’s call it) style sure is unique. This combined with an interesting premise, makes The Campaign a decent watch.

I myself probably would have chosen a different type of ending for this movie, but it’s supposed to amuse people and not depress them, so I don’t see it as a big problem.

I could just say it’s Vista all over again and end it here, but then I’d be misunderstood, because what I mean by that, is not that 8 is shaping up to be as unpopular as Vista seemed to be (although it very well might go that route, but that is another matter), but that it is criticized for all the wrong reasons too.

All the “rage” seems to be focused on and around Metro (although this term is somehow outdated, or so I read) being added and kinda replacing the classic start menu, but after using the final version of Windows 8 for roughly a month now, I have won the impression that this is really misplaced – mostly. Metro is just one screen that can contain (Metro-) “apps” and links to normal x86/x64 software (as far as the typical user-interaction is concerned). Typing anything immediately starts an incremental search like the Windows 7 start menu already did. So there is only limited contact with it necessary to begin with. It took me like 2 days to get used to it… The vast rest of Windows didn’t change much, or not at all (again, only talking usability here). ~2 places now use (Office-) ribbons (Windows Explorer) instead of menus. There is surprisingly little that justifies all the dislike (of 8 because of Metro). Of all the things that I would critique Windows 8 for, Metro is only ranked very very low on that list. I only share the opinion that it was ridiculous to remove the start menu no matter what, when it was still available until a certain preview version came out. It was only this one guy who demanded it. The folder structure for the start menu is even still there (\Users\”user”\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu), so they didn’t even pull off a clean removal…

What Windows 8 should be critiqued for, but as usual certainly won’t (not in the mass media at least), are features like “Windows SmartScreen”, which transmits data back to Microsoft, concerning every piece of software a user chooses to install, IF the user shouldn’t disable this feature himself (already possible during installation). The official purpose of this is, to prevent users from installing all types of stuff MS might consider “bad”. So I don’t know if users are really too stupid/lazy to decide what software to install, or if they are just attempting to justify their methods by implying this. It’s obvious that they are gonna data-mine the shit out of these files Windows installations around the globe will start sending them, because only a minority will make the effort of a mouse click to disable this. And since they have the IP addresses too, better be a good little user and not install anything “illegitimate”, OR ELSE! :P

The next thing that kinda stinks, is the not so subtle approach to make everyone go get a Microsoft account (everything will be tied to an email address like most digital stores handle it for years now, think e.g. Steam/Origin/GOG). The former, classic user account is still available (I’m honestly wondering if Windows 9 will still have it), but it needs to be activated manually during the install. Again, many users never will make the effort of making an extra mouse click and just comply by signing on. One of the things that rub me the wrong way here, is that every Windows 8 installation (doesn’t matter if Microsoft account or legacy account) comes with a bunch of Metro apps, who will work without any flaw on a legacy account. But despite that fact – should the user ever uninstall any of them and later reconsider, it will not be possible to re-install those, without having a MS account, because the new Windows Store still won’t work without one. It doesn’t matter if the apps are free and already worked perfectly before. Sign up or this stuff will be kept from you. Maybe not that big of a deal, once most Metro apps are uninstalled, never to be used again, but it’s a nice example of how restrictive the nature of all this stuff is. It’s not a baseless concern, when some developers see this as a path which can only lead to making an end to the PC as the open platform it usually was. It’s bad enough that smartphones usually are jails that are supposed to do their manufacturer’s bidding first and the actual user comes in second place.

Google is often described as this mega-data-collector (which they are, of course), which (of course) stops no one from using every single one of their services every day, they can connect shitloads of potentially delicate info every user creates/leaves behind on the net, that’s, however, where their influence stops. Doing whatever locally still escapes their gaze. This is where the MS account comes into play again, because other than a potential Google account, this might capture all kinds of local activity too, taking such data into account for the very first time. After all, lots of the new Windows 8 features (SkyDrive, […]) only work this way. It’s all dead on legacy accounts (unless they are converted – that is possible, naturally).

Although I’m a Steam user since 2004 (what, have you never seen a hypocrite before?) such digital shops have always left me with an uneasy feeling. Apart from their obvious DRM, they tend to create monopolies, which are only good for them. Just ponder a few seconds on the fact that Mass Effect 2 DLCs still cost the same amount of money they did 2 years ago, while the game (that is also available from countless retailers) is everywhere for only a few bucks and why that might be… The list goes on and on. Companies also restrict access to those stores (by lots of rules and/or fees that need to be paid in order to be allowed any access), not everyone can sell content there. Given the almost monopolistic position of some of these stores, being denied access can mean financial ruin for smaller companies. Just look at the importance of Steam for smaller developers and how devastating it can be, if their games aren’t on this platform. Even if something doesn’t sell at all, the developers still will have to pay all their fees (a version of “the house always wins”). Having these circumstances spread to all Windows installations by default, is a whole new level. And some might even only criticize 8 because they don’t like the new competition with their own digital stores…

Overall however, I must say, I like Windows 8 (so far all the negative things I described can be disabled or avoided altogether – just like annoyances in earlier versions). The stability and reliability of the platform hasn’t changed (perhaps the most important feature of an OS to me), I didn’t witness any “crashes” worth mentioning, like in Windows 7 (and Vista and XP before them). But the main reason, I never even considered going back to 7, would have to be the speed. I’m using 8 on the same PC I had 7 installed on and pretty much everything is a bit quicker. I’m not just talking about booting (quite frankly I never understood why there’s so much importance ascribed to the length of the booting process – I do that like once a day, so…). I don’t even have an SSD, let alone UEFI (even without this Windows 8 boots up in a time span hardly worth mentioning). The whole OS seems to respond faster. But I haven’t exactly measured it, so the advantage might be smaller than I think. Also, it’s not like 7 was slow. Apart from all that it’s just the same old Windows again. The sole improved part I can think of, that is impossible to overlook, is the Task Manager. The new one is much much better than the classic default (using Sysinternals’ Process Explorer can still make sense though).

What’s a little weird (at first) is that Aero is gone, given how big of a deal it was supposed to be once. Removed just like that. Some people feel like 8 looks older than its predecessor because of that, I can’t say I really care. There is no more transparency, but I’ll live. A positive side-effect is that some software that always disabled Aero before starting, now feels like it’s more compatible to 8, since that step no longer exists. If there is a software that worked on 7 but makes problems on 8, I haven’t encountered it yet. Everything I’ve seen continues to work as it has for a very long time now.