Update – I have been ill

Thought I might make a little update here to explain why I haven’t written much on the blog lately – for close to three months in fact. Well, I haven’t played games hardly at all for three months! My illness got very bad and finally the doctors are trying to do something about it, plus some other health problems I have. Basically the treatments (I am on between 5 and 8 prescription medications depending on how much pain I am in etc.) are pretty rough and cause me a lot of weakness, fatigue, dizziness and all sorts. As you can imagine trying to do anything let alone something that requires concentration and reaction times is fairly tricky with those side effects!

But, I am missing gaming a lot and the treatments are changing and/or I am getting used to them a bit so I am thinking of easing myself back into some gaming. I was playing Dark Souls when I started to get really bad and I don’t think I am ready for that yet! However something turn based, that I can take my time about might work. XCOM – Enemy Unknown perhaps. I want to do a couple more run throughs of the original game before I get the latest expansion/DLC (XCOM – Enemy Within) so I might do that, or play some MtG DotP or something!

I have been distracting myself and having a lot of fun on an adult social MMO whilst I have been ill, so that is good (it has been great in fact and will probably cut into my ‘usual’ gaming time a lot from now on!). Meanwhile the health saga continues with lots of uncertainty as to medium and long term prognosis. My workplace is being fantastic (I am on long term sick leave) but I really have no idea where I will be in a years time. With good luck a better situation, with bad luck … have no idea. Meanwhile lets go save the Earth again, eh?

Hand made Systems Alliance Navy (Mass Effect) tumblers

My wife takes a little holiday now and again, and goes away for activity breaks – she gets to do all sorts of things like archery, swimming and various arts and crafts, making things. I can’t travel due to my health problems so I don’t go with her sadly but she thought of me on her latest break. She made me some lovely tumblers with the Systems Alliance Navy logo on them, from the Mass Effect games. She didn’t make the glasses themselves, but used a sand blasting technique to etch the logo on a pair of tumblers:

Hand engraved Systems Alliance Navy (Mass Effect) tumblers

The two designs are the same as each other except reversed (clear on opaque, and opaque on clear as it were). I think they are wonderful. The logos are symmetrical, the angle of the photo and the curve of the glass means they might not look so. I hope Bioware doesn’t mind as they are hand made just for me and not for sale at all! You can get official Mass Effect goodies from the the Bioware Store by the way and I have some of their official stuff. But these are special to me.

Hand engraved Systems Alliance Navy (Mass Effect) tumblers

Hand engraved Systems Alliance Navy (Mass Effect) tumblers

As you might be able to tell I really like them, and thought I would show them off on my blog. Thank you Fionuala.

Update

My last post was about XCOM Enemy Unknown and I mentioned that I would be playing it more. Haven’t done that yet but have been playing some other games and have plans so I thought I would write an update post. I often write a post about a game and say that I will play more, but don’t write any more posts – this is mainly because I have said all I want to really. But I thought I would at least update with some shorter passages of words how things are going.

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XCOM Enemy Unknown first play through

Following on from my previous post XCOM Enemy Unknown initial play I have had a few tries at it and finished a run through, beating the main story line – on easy. This is just a post as to why I ended up on easy difficulty and some words about how I found the game, strategy and tactics and so on. I will be playing it again but not for a little while at least, so I thought I would write up my experience so far with the game.

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XCOM Enemy Unknown, initial play and trouble with the difficulty curve

This is just a quick blog post about my initial experiences playing XCOM – Enemy Unknown. My very first thoughts can be found at the bottom of my previous post Skyrim done with for now where I talked about not liking the tutorial mode that much. The tutorial mode does help give some back story though, so I played through that and got into the main part of the game in normal mode. The game seems to have a difficulty curve that suddenly spikes, and if you aren’t prepared for it things go very badly. Read on for more, though I will say this is mainly me being bad at the game, plus trying very hard not to look up hints, tips, strategy etc. I am trying to do at least one run through without any help of that nature, I am even not reading the strategy guide I bought for my initial attempts at the game.

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Skyrim done with for now

I have finished playing Skyrim for now, I won’t say I have finished it by a long shot, but having spent 95 hours with the game and beaten the main quest line plus some other major questlines I think I can move on for a while. Below the break are some words about the game and how I played it. There are also a couple of short update type sections on what I am playing next (XCOM-EU) and also my decision with regards to my Tomb Raider Legend quitting that I mentioned in the previous post. There will be spoilers below, but the game has been out for a long time now so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. On the other hand according to the Steam global achievement stats only 35% of people have completed the main quest line, so you never know.

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Tomb Raider Legend and rage quitting it

I started to play Tomb Raider Legend a few weeks ago. I was really looking forward to this, I haven’t played it in ages and I am fairly sure I didn’t beat it the first time round. I remember really enjoying the game. You can tell by the title of this post that I had unexpected troubles so you can read more below about Tomb Raider Legend and how I unexpectedly found it very frustrating and have put that on pause for now. This is a particularly long blog post, even for me, so I have put the bulk of it behind a ‘read more’ type link so as not to take up too much space on the home page. I should probably do that more as I do go on a bit in my posts even at the best of times.

Spoiler warning for Tomb Raider Legend – I daresay very few people are worried about spoilers for that game as it is fairly old now, but just in case.

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Match three games and 10,000,000

If you check my Steam gameplay time stats you might notice that I play a fair amount of ‘match three’ type games. These are the games with the moving tiles, or swapping jewels etc., until you line up three or more that match, and then they disappear, things happen, more tiles/jewels drop in and so forth. They are very casual soft core type games, Bejewelled probably being one of the best known of the genre (if indeed it counts as a genre). I have recently picked up another of these type of games, called 10,000,000 and I thought I would make a short post about why I play such comparatively simple and untaxing games quite a bit. I will say something about 10,000,000 as well.

Some ago I got Lucid on Steam and made a not very good YouTube video review of the Lucid game – that video was more about me testing out recording gameplay with commentary to be honest! I have had Bejewelled 3 for a while and have sunk 35 hours into it since I got it. More recently I watched TotalBiscuit’s WTF is … 10,000,000 and thought it looked interesting, so bought that as it was on a 20% off on launch offer. 7.5 hours of gameplay and less than a week later I have beat it. So yeah, I do play these things a fair bit.

I know this blog is straplined ‘playing on casual’ but I have explained that elsewhere, the reason I play these is that I find them an excellent distraction when I am ill, in pain, tired, on high strength painkillers and so on. Again elsewhere I have explained a bit about my health problems and disability and how computer/video games help when I am badly off with my problems – match three games seem to be like that, but more so. In that when I am very bad, or woozy, in pain etc. and can’t even cope with ‘regular’ games, I can usually spend some mindless time with a match three game. The other thing I can do when I am very ill is watch Let’s Play type videos on YouTube. For some reason both these things seem to work better than reading (or watching TV, which I very rarely do anyway) to distract me and not let my mind dwell on how crap I am feeling at that point. Or if I am being kept awake and am very tired but in too much pain to sleep they work too.

So, onto the latest one of these games I have been playing, 10,000,000. It has retro style ’8 bit’ graphics – the ’8 bit’ is in scare quotes as it isn’t really 8 bit but that retro graphics style seems to be being called 8 bit lately. Very simplistic, and not done that well to my mind, but the graphics don’t really matter that much in a game like this anyway. The gameplay has a twist in that you collect resources (gold, stone, wood) by matching certain tiles and use them to upgrade your ‘home’ allowing you to upgrade your attacks and character. You match different types of tile to give a magical attack or a physical attack; damage to different monsters is more effective with certain attacks so there is a strategy to it in some ways. You match chests to perhaps get items (magical attack orbs, one shot ‘big’ physical attacks, keys for the chests, food for health, scrolls), match keys to open doors and chests to get past them if you don’t have an item skeleton key, and so forth.

I did find the best strategy is not to hunt too hard for the precise best match for the current task but to keep matching as quickly as you can, the tiles falling down would often either line up or present a more obvious quick match for the attack (or key, or whatever) you require. It was useful to match wood, stone, shields (which give you shields to absorb damage) and keep an eye on the rest of the board waiting for attack combinations to present themselves. I had a lot of fun with the game, though I felt it to be a bit short, having beat it in 7.5 hours. Towards the end I ran out of things to spend XP, gold and resources on – I sort of felt that it would be nice to have a further stage where you could level up even more and so on, but for £3 or so I cannot complain.

Will I play it through again? I am not sure, it was fun to play through once, but probably not – at least not for a while. I might try to get the last of the Steam achievements but that will be about it for now. However I find myself popping back into Bejewelled now and again so I daresay I will play this one again in a few months. I haven’t played Lucid in a long time though, that game became a bit frustrating towards the end and the higher levels – and also that game was a lot more about the somewhat mesmerizing graphics and sound than the gameplay.

10,000,000 has distracted me from carrying on with Tomb Raider legend, which has been somewhat frustrating in places with control issues and lingering bug like features – but I hope to beat TR legend and will possibly do a blog post on it since I have some notes I have been making as I am playing it, mainly about the frustrations! The frustrations are mostly down to me, but I can see why some people prefer to play the game with a controller not a mouse and keyboard. But that is another post, when (if) I beat that game. Meanwhile, don’t look down on me too much if you seem me playing a lot of super casual soft core match three games if I am on your Steam friends list or something – I am probably feeling a bit rubbish and am distracting myself. And why not, it is still better than daytime TV.

Saints Row 3 done with for now

Introduction

Well I have beat Saints Row: The Third. By which I mean I have played through the main mission line and got to (one of) the ending(s). You can check the choices I made for the main ending and one or two other choices during the main storyline if you really want to by checking my Steam profile and looking at which achievements I got. I won’t go into details here in case someone is thinking of getting the game, and doesn’t want spoilers. My Saints Row 3 initial thoughts blog post still stands, so check that if you want.

I did get a little tired of the game – as I stated in my previous post to this one (Catch Up) I lost most of my progress and had to repeat a lot (in fact, most) of the game. More specifically in my previous lost save I had done a lot of grinding and had got a high income, high respect level, lots of upgrades etc. and the thought of doing all that again really didn’t appeal. So after a while of doing activities and so on, I found myself starting to get bored with the game which is really not what I wanted. So I dropped the difficulty down to casual and just played through the main missions.

Things I didn’t like

I will start with some things that I didn’t get on with in the game. I will emphasize here that I really like the game, and had a thoroughly good time playing it. These niggles in this section are just that, niggles. A lot of them are just my personal preferences, and indeed my own lack of ability. I want to save the ‘things I did like’ section for afterwards, because it really is overall, an excellent game.

The main problem I had with the game, that wasn’t down to my own lack of ability with some aspects of it, was that the AI tended to have some really dumb moments, and had pathing problems. Also the AI controlling, for instance, other cars on the road or pedestrians was either really stupid or deliberately coded to be annoying and obstructive. I guess this is sort of amusing at first but it gets old fast, and when you are trying to complete a mission and a car just randomly rams you off the road and thus you fail the mission it is just plain irritating. Especially when it happens more than once in a row, and you get multiple failures due to sheer trolling by the game.

Often I would have followers – just general Saints help or mission specific homies – and I would get into a vehicle and they would just ‘run on the spot’ or orbit around the car (or whatever). This sometimes happening when I was trying to leave a combat area to get to an objective, so of course the car and the PC, and the NPCs are all taking fire and damage as the dumb AI NPC buggered about failing to find the car door. Also my player character would do this too – I would want to get in the car and leave a ‘hot’ area fast. So would run up to the car and press E. Sometimes this resulted in my jumping in rapidly, but sometimes the rapid get-in-the-car thing didn’t work. And my character would sloooowly walk gently around the car before getting in. Or not get in and just walk on the spot or orbit the damn thing. Of course enemies would be firing at me/us and enemy vehicles would be driving up fast and crashing into the car I wanted to get in to. Sometimes ending up with death or the car being trapped.

My ‘favourite’ dumb NPC moment was during a helicopter mission, where the main PC (i.e. me) was flying the thing to get to various points (radio towers to plant bugging devices for Kinzie I think) and Shaundi was sitting in the side door shooting things. Right up until her AI decided it would be good to jump out of the helicopter. So there was the little purple/blue pointer saying I should go revive my homie, some 400 odd metres away on the ground somewhere!

Talking of helicopter missions, often you are sitting in that same side door and shooting (often shooting rockets) at enemies on the ground who are pursuing an ally in a vehicle who is going from place to place to do things. So the dumb AI comes in again where that allied driver gets stuck sometimes – but that isn’t the main problem. Your range of aim is a limited arc out of the one side of the helicopter. You can’t swap sides (someone please tell me if you can, because I couldn’t work out how to do it if it was possible!) and often the enemies that you had to target were literally not targetable. You could see the little red markers, behind you or too far to one side or the other (which is forwards and backwards to the helicopter since you are sitting in a side door). And sometimes those enemies would catch up to and kill or damage the ally you were meant to be protecting.

I really did never get fully used to the vehicle controls. With a longish gaming session I kind of got not impossibly terrible at them, but I would only have to take a break for a couple of hours, let alone a day, and I would be back to almost not being able to control anything. This makes a fair bit of the game much more frustrating than it should be. There is no fast travel system (again if there is and I missed it tell me how dumb I am and let me know how to access it!) so getting to mission starts, or even just activities and so on involves driving about a lot. Or even worse flying (I had even more difficulty with air vehicles than ground ones). And a lot of the activities involve vehicles and driving them fairly fast without crashing a lot. I have no idea why I had so much trouble. I guess it is partially the digital nature of WASD vs analogue sticks, but I am a PC gamer so should be used to that. I also had a similar problem with GTA. This one is definitely down to me! On the other hand I definitely don’t have trouble controlling vehicles in other games.

I really dislike QTEs, and the game has some. There are other games with lots more, and I would hate to play those. Limited save slots? I guess that is just the console port with checkpoint system nature of the game. Not a problem as there are a lot of save slots, and I only just ran into the limit towards the end of the game. Also the DLC I bought probably wasn’t worth it. I never did use the weapons, vehicles and cosmetic items I ended up with – and I discovered that a fair few of them unlock as you progress through the game anyway. The extra homies were just skins not extra homies, so that wasn’t worth it. I did get them for very little in Steam sales though, so no biggie. There are ‘proper’ DLC mission packs though, so that might be worth a look.

I reiterate though none of the above complaints are anything other than minor, and other gamers and reviewers don’t have those problems. So this is very much a personal view.

Things I did like

The rest of the game. Seriously, it is a great deal of ridiculous fun. Very violent but so silly it ends up like cartoon violence most of the time (e.g. like Tom and Jerry or Looney Tunes). You can also steer the game along silly lines somewhat. The fact that the game is gloriously ludicrous means you end up playing it with a silly grin on your face. The combat is fun, the guns feel good and you can upgrade them nicely for some serious firepower. Approach fights with some thought and things go a lot better than just charging in. I had to relearn that once or twice, but using cover and taking down enemies at a distance works really well. W-mouse1 will often get you killed even on casual.

The missions and activities had a lot of variety, although some activities got a bit repetitive (that was mainly because some of them I didn’t get on with though I suspect). After the main game is done you end up in the open world of Steelport, where you can just carry on to try and finish city takeover tasks, upgrade things as you get more money and respect (which is sort of the XP of the game). I won’t be removing it from my PC, but will leave it there. I am sure I will be revisiting the game now and again, after a while perhaps as I have played it a lot very recently (over 20 hours in the last less than a week according to Steam). A bit like Borderlands 1 – I have it on my disk and will revisit it, having reinstalled it in fact just to play again from time to time.

You can get Saints Row: The Third very cheaply when it is on sale, I mean extremely cheaply. The Steam sale has just had it at 75% off and other places have it on sale too fairly often. Well worth a look if you haven’t played it. Bearing in mind I don’t like driving based games, or even just driving sections in games, I still loved playing this game even though it has a lot of driving in it. The characters are really good and well written. They have personalities which goes with the fun and interesting storyline (which steadily gets more over the top as the game progresses) to make it fun to play through for the story. It isn’t an RPG though, so don’t expect Mass Effect levels of epicness. Just a lot of silly fun. It won’t make you feel like a superhero, but you can dress as one:

Saints Row 3 character in Super Hero outfit

Onwards

I managed to not play any City of Steam after all, they had server problems so the game was down for the days when I wanted to play it. Oh well, hopefully the game will do well in the next beta (I might play it then) and eventually get to full release. Feel free to check out my City of Steam blog post with my thoughts on the game (or rather on the first part of the tutorial for the game, as I found out later!). The City of Steam website is here and it is also on Steam Greenlight.

I still have a week to go before I go back to work – although there is some stuff other than playing games I want to at least get started. Not sure exactly what to play next, possibly Tomb Raider Legend as I said in the last post, and some more Borderlands 1 second playthrough I expect. The YouTube stuff is still on the backburner although I have tested recording and it went better than I thought it would. I wouldn’t mind playing XCOM as detailed in my post XCOM – Enemy Unknown and an update since that is my Christmas present.

Or something else might catch my eye in my Steam library (ooh shiny!) and I will go off on a tangent and play something I forgot I owned. And why not.

Catch Up

I wasn’t sure what to call this post, it is a sort of an update I guess. To make a long story short I now have a lower grade computer – but it has a better graphics card so it actually is a better gaming machine in most ways, e.g. higher FPS and higher settings on most games I have tested so far. Plus I lost all back ups, plus I am having to (try to) recover access, passwords, logins, etc. to all sorts of things and services – including game services. With online DRM this is most of my games. Sometimes the most unexpected things happen. The expense is not inconsiderable too.

I have also discovered that cloud saves are very variable, even on the same service (i.e. Steam). Borderlands (1) is fine, but I lost a lot of (i.e. most) progress in Saints Row 3. And of course anything without cloud saves I will have to start from scratch. The main one I am sad about for this is all of Mass Effect. Everything, my canon run through and save game ready for ME3, all gone. However, I guess I won’t mind playing through those again from the start, but this does mean that I won’t be playing ME3 for a long time.

So, two weeks off before I go back to work. I was looking forward to playing some games but not quite in the way I imagined a few weeks ago. I will see if I can get back into Saints Row 3 or if the loss of most of my progress in that game will put me off it. I can do the extra Borderlands 1 stuff I mentioned in my YouTube videos of the end of Borderlands 1. I might play some Tomb Raider of some sort – I have never finished Legend so that would be nice. Sadly though I have missed out the the betas for City of Steam (see previous post) and I can’t seem to recover my login for that, so I guess I will wait until it gets officially released and play some then from scratch.

I was going to do (sometime) some more YouTube vids, but this computer has a much lower grade CPU than my last, and also the disk is fairly slow to both read and write compared to my last box. So I doubt it will record games very well, so recording for YouTube is, for now, on the back burner. I might do some test recordings but if it is as laggy when recording as I suspect it will be then they won’t be very good, certainly not good enough to upload.

Still two weeks off should see some gaming get done, even amidst a boatload of hassle. I will be spending time with my wife and having some nice Christmas food, and all the usual stuff (although we make less of a fuss about the year end holiday(s) than most I suspect). Hope everyone out there has a great Christmas/Holiday/Feast of the Unconquered Sun.


Update: I have managed to reset the password to, and thus regain access to, City of Steam. Not sure why it didn’t work the first couple of times I tried it. Also there is still one closed beta session to go, so I may well get to play some more after all. I will probably try an elven or human character rather than goblin this time.