29 September 2013

Card Hunter First Impressions

Being currently without a PS3, I've had to turn elsewhere for my gaming needs. I'd heard about the free browser (Flash) game Card Hunter a few times, so I decided to give it a go. It turned out surprisingly addicting, and I've played it a whole bunch over the past couple days.

It's a pretty weird concept—basically, a collectible card game that emulates oldschool tabletop roleplaying games. You've got a party of three adventurers, represented as figures on a board. Each character has a hand of cards, and you play the cards, one at a time, to move, attack etc. You build the decks of each character by equipping items, mostly earned as loot by winning battles. Each item you equip adds a few cards to the character's deck. It's a pretty interesting and original system.

Battles are presented as adventure modules. The stories have about as much depth as you'd expect—mostly your basic 'go kill the monsters terrorising the village' type fare. There's also a 'meta' element to the storytelling, with the GM of the fictional RPG you're playing, called Gary, commenting on things. Naturally there's a multiplayer mode, too, but I haven't really tried that out—online multiplayer not really my thing, as I've frequently stated in my blog posts.

It's very much a tactical game. Being a card based game, every battle is unique, depending on the luck of the draw. It's all about making the best of the cards at your disposal. This makes even repeating adventures for more experience a little more interesting.

As I said, Card Hunter is free to play. Naturally, like many free to play games, it uses a micro-transaction model. They say they strive to keep the game interesting for both paying and un-paying customers alike, though, and at least thus far I've been happy enough with the free content.

I've tried a few free CCG type video games in the past, mostly on my Android phone. Mostly these turned out to be really boring, with minimalistic gameplay, and obviously geared towards getting people to pay for additional content. Card Hunter seems to be quite different from those games, with a much more in-depth game system and plenty of free content. Well, at least for now.

I've only been playing for a few days, so it's impossible to say how long the appeal of this game will last. But even if I were to quit tomorrow, any game that keeps you entertained for several days for free is a good thing in my book.

25 September 2013

The Passing of an Old Friend (Another Sh*t, Another Fan)

Yesterday was a Bad Day. One of the things I most dread happened. My PlayStation 3 broke down.

I'd finished Brütal Legend the previous day, but was still excited enough about the game to go and buy some DLC and was going to start the game again. I'd barely gotten started when suddenly the screen froze for a moment, and then the console just shut down. Now when I try to start it, it just beeps and begins flashing a red light.

From googling it sounds like this could be the 'Yellow Light of Death' problem (which, from what I understand, could be caused by any number of general hardware failure, but is apparently often caused by deterioration of thermal paste). There's not much I can do about it myself. I'm no electrician. There are some quick fix guides around that have you heat the console with a hair dryer, but this appears to be unreliable at best and often only a temporary fix, so I'm not overly keen to try it.

I can't afford a replacement or repairs for a few months at least. So basically I'm screwed.

I guess I'll just have to dust off the old PS2 for the time being. I mean, there's a bunch of games I could be playing on it. Old favourites long overdue a revisit, and games I've bought over the years but never got around to playing. It's just that having recently played almost exclusively on the PS3 (OK, so I played some Mario on the Wii recently, but that's an exception to the rule), I expect the transition to be rather jarring. The low resolution, the 4:3 aspect ratio, the noise (really, the fan on the older model PS2 is bloody loud)...

The PS3 also functioned as my primary DVD player. The PS2 can play DVDs, of course, but I expect the quality of the experience to be poorer (largely for the same reasons that the gaming experience is likely to be poorer).

Of course with the luck I'm having the PS2 might just... explode or whatever.

While I do have a bunch of PC games waiting to be played (mostly stuff from the Humble Indie Bundles), gaming on my current PC isn't really an option. I've had way too many problems, particularly with graphics drivers, to even consider it right now...

Tonight, though, I'm just killing time blogging and stuff. And listening to sad music. And having a couple drinks. I think I deserve it. Here's to the passing of an old friend!

24 September 2013

Brütal Legend

When I first heard about Brütal Legend a few years back, I was pretty intrigued. However, the demo wasn't quite impressive enough for me to pay a lot of money for the game when it came out. But I eventually picked it up for the PS3, when I ran into it at a bargain price. It's been lying around waiting for quite some time, until a few days ago I finally decided to give it a try. (It was also included in the latest Humble Indie Bundle, so I actually own it twice, now. But the console is always the first choice for me.)

Brütal Legend is a game for metal fans. The story is about Eddie Riggs, the world's greatest roadie, who after an accident on stage finds himself in a strange, post-apocalyptic-ish world filled with heavy metal clichés, where a small group of humans is fighting a rebellion against their demon overlords. Eddie, with his knack for organising and building things, quickly finds himself in a leading role in the coming war, and it turns out music has special power in this world... There are of course tons of references and tributes to metal bands and culture, some of which I'm sure went over my head, as I'm not that familiar with oldschool heavy metal.

The game itself is a rather eccentric mix of hack and slash, real time strategy, driving and open world exploration. You can roam the world freely, either by foot or in your fancy hotrod. There's the typical plot and secondary missions, typically involving getting from point A to B while killing stuff in your way, escorting a character or vehicle, or whatever. You'll earn points to buy upgrades, search for hidden items that tell you some backstory or provide new abilities, etc. Pretty standard hack and slash fare. However, many of the most important missions are what are called 'stage battles'. You square off against an enemy over a battlefield, with a 'stage' at each end. You'll have to buy and command units to fight enemy units, capture energy sources, which allow you to buy more units, upgrade your stage to get better units etc. You can still fight yourself, in the usual way, and also team up with your units for unique special attacks...

It's a pretty interesting system, with a surprising amount of depth, for a game which at first glance may appear like just another hack and slash title. And, for someone like me with very little RTS experience, it can also be a little overwhelming. I played the game on the easiest setting, and for most of it I had very little trouble (in fact some parts felt almost too easy, but I never got around to changing difficulty). However, the last couple stage battles turned out to be pretty tough, and just wiped me out first time I tried them. I must admit I succumbed to reading hints from a walkthrough, something that always hurts my pride. Dying a few times would be no problem, it's to be expected (and you don't want a game to be too easy), but when you're wiped out after the end of a long, intense battle and have to start all over again, it can be pretty stressful...

So, you have an open world to explore, but this certainly ain't no Skyrim. You can beat the single player campaign in less than ten hours. Maybe a few more if you spend a lot of time exploring. However, with the relatively robust real time strategy system, it comes as no surprise that there's also a multiplayer mode that allows you to play these stage battles online against other players, or practise against an AI opponent. You can choose from three factions (one of them being the one you control in the single player game, the other two enemies from the game). I don't see myself spending too much time playing that, though, since RTS has never really been my thing, and I have little interest in playing online...

The game is a few years old already, and visually it's probably not the most detailed around. The graphics do the job well enough, though, and the environments look pretty unique and interesting. However, on the sound side, as might expected, Brütal Legend, well, rocks... There's a soundtrack made up of dozens of classic metal songs, from a variety of sub-genres. And talk about a star-studded cast. Eddie himself is voiced by Jack Black, while the demon emperor is none other than Tim Curry. And several metal stars make an appearance, including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy Kilmister, Rob Halford and Lita Ford.

Both as a metal fan and a gamer I found Brütal Legend quite fun and interesting, despite the slight stressfulness of the final battles. The variety of different gameplay elements was quite interesting, and, though I'm still no huge fan of RTS games, I'm kinda glad this game 'made' me try out that style of playing, for a change. (Interestingly, this comes just after my previous blog post where I wrote about how I find eSports style games boring.) The only real complaint would be the short length of the game. But then again you can probably get it pretty cheap these days. (Actually, as I write this, you've still got a day or so to get the PC version really cheap at Humble Bundle, and support charity while doing so.)

20 September 2013

On Card Games and eSports: A Love-Hate Story

The Geek & Sundry channel on YouTube hosts a lot of pretty cool web shows. (Currently ongoing shows of note include the hilarious sci-fi animation Outlands, and Co-Optitude, where Felicia Day and her brother Ryon play retro video games). They recently premiered a new show called Spellslingers where people play Magic: The Gathering. It seems like a fun enough way to kill 20 minutes, even if you're not really into the game (though obviously knowing the basics makes it easier to follow).

I played a little Magic back in the 90s. Still have some cards around somewhere, though I never had a huge collection. I haven't played it in years, and honestly I didn't play much even back in the early days. Never really got, like, really into it.

Still, watching a show like Spellslingers, I can't help thinking that this all looks pretty cool. It's kinda similar to when I watch certain eSports. Like earlier this year I happened to catch a live stream of the final of some League of Legends tournament. I'd never played any MOBA game, so I actually got inspired enough to download Heroes of Newerth, 'cause it was free and worked in GNU/Linux. I think I managed to just about play through the tutorial before I remembered why I don't, in fact, play these sort of games.

Mostly because they're #¤%&ing boring, that's why.

No disrespect meant towards people who like those type of games. But competitive gaming just isn't my thing. Even casually, for fun.

When I play video games, I prefer games that tell great stories and/or provide interesting, and varied, challenges suited to my own skills.

When I play with other people, I prefer roleplaying games, where people work together rather than against each other and each session is something new, because they are actually stories more than they are games.

Games like Magic: The Gathering (and really any card games, miniature games, board games etc.) or League of Legends (and any eSports) are based on repeating the same basic formula, ad infinitum. They're about mastering the variables within that restricted formula. And I can see how that can appeal to some people. But I've always been a big picture person more than a detail person, and a game that's all about the details will soon bore me.

Oh yeah, and there's also the fact that I'm crap at any games that require actual skill. And I really hate to lose. It makes me feel all... talentless and inadequate.

So, in summation, some things can be fascinating as concepts and phenomena, even fun to watch, in limited doses, but not necessarily something I'd personally want to be involved in. Over the years I've been forced to realise that, even though I think of myself as a gamer, a not insignificant portion of gaming culture actually belongs to this category. A part of me is a little sorry I can't find more joy in these things. But in the end I think it's more important to find the things that you do enjoy and focus on them.

10 September 2013

Me and the Black

Some mostly procrastinatory meanderings on music (and stuff) follow...

Black metal... It's still kind of a bogeyman on the fringes of the metal world, isn't it?

I wouldn't say I actually listen to black metal. At least not what hardcore black metal fans would call black metal. But I do enjoy some bands that have roots in black metal or have been influenced by the sound. Some, like Cradle of Filth and Bal-Sagoth, are among my very favourite bands these days—but I certainly wouldn't classify either of them as black metal, they're pretty far removed from it both musically and lyrically.

There are probably many reasons why I haven't listened to much 'true' black metal. Perhaps most importantly, I listen to artists that, for some reason or other, appeal to me. I mean, well... duh, what else would I listen to? But there's no clear explanation for why one does and another doesn't appeal. It's not about genre. I enjoy artists from many different genres (and also many that are hard to classify). I don't listen to any genre simply for the sake of it, each artist is an entity of its own. Most artists I really love have a rather unique sound, something that no one else quite replicates. (This applies to both Cradle of Filth and Bal-Sagoth I named above.)

When it comes to black metal specifically, I must admit I'm also a little bothered by the negativity often associated with the scene, especially in the early days. The history section of the Wikipedia article on the genre is pretty grim reading. Church burnings, murders, Nazism etc. Satanism, in and of itself, doesn't bother me—I actually think it can be a positive force, like almost any other faith, if approached intelligently—but if it's only used as an excuse to attack others, I have a problem with it (just as much as I have a problem with people using Christianity as an excuse for hatred). I generally believe it is more productive to be pro one thing than anti something else. And I strongly believe in an individual's right to be what they choose—as long as they cause no harm to others—whether that's a Christian, Satanist or anything else.

(Then there's also the negative sentiment some hardcore black metal fans seem to have towards other genres, criticising artists they view as 'commercial' and the like. Which is obviously just bollocks, neither genre or success can ever define something's worth.)

Of course it can be argued that music (or any art) is independent of the people who made it. And a lot of people, I'm sure, perhaps even the majority of black metal fans, probably take it as simple shock value, rather than serious ideology (not that all black metal bands, even from the early days, necessarily have truly negative ideologies). And that's absolutely fine. Still, I can't help contemplating such things, and tend to steer away from artists that seem to display genuine hatred or aggression towards things I don't necessarily believe deserve it. It's just not my thing.

These days, of course, it's a much more diverse field than, say, in the early 90s. There are a lot of bands out there that have been influenced by the sound and energy of black metal, but not necessarily the culture or values. It's mostly these artists that I've been looking into recently, as, for whatever reason, I found myself in the mood for black-ish metal once again. One band that's piqued my interest is Wolves in the Throne Room, an American band with values (as I understand it) rooted mainly in environmentalism (though their lyrics can be fairly obscure), and a sound that is at once hypnotic and intense. There seems to be some overlap with these newer bands and the post-rock/post-metal genres, which I find quite interesting.

As black metal still remains a fairly underground phenomenon, it can be hard to find actually interesting artists. Like in any genre, there's a lot of rubbish out there, and bands that sound very alike. Like I said, I need my favourites to have something unique about them. However, there are gems to be found in almost any genre, and it never hurts to look at (and listen to) new things.

I'm not sure what the point of this blog post was, exactly. I guess it boils down to two things. One, listen to what you bloody well please, and two, be nice to people, regardless of different tastes.

5 September 2013

DOOMed (on the PS3)

I just finished playing through Doom and Doom II on my PS3. The port, titled Doom Classic Complete, has been out for a while now, but I'd been waiting for it to come on sale before purchasing it. Which, a little while back, it did.

I've never been a huge first person shooter fan, but Doom is something of a timeless classic. I played it some in the 90s, and I've returned to it every now and then, trying various ports for modern platforms. I was never any good at it, and often I'd just play one episode (on a relatively easy setting) and move on to other games. But it's always been there, since I was a teenager. There aren't too many games that can really claim that.

I never had any of the sequels and expansions back in the day. Doom Classic Complete, however, as the name suggests, collects all the first generation Doom games (Doom, Doom II: Hell on Earth, Doom II: Master Levels, Doom II: No Rest for the Living, and Final Doom). So I figured it was about time to try them out. That's a lot of Doom to play. Not gonna run out of levels any time soon. (After wrapping up Doom II, though, I'm gonna take a break for a while and play other stuff. But I expect I'll return, sooner or later.)

As far as the PS3 port itself goes, it's pretty faithful to the original DOS games. There are no updates to graphics that I can see. It's even in 4:3 aspect ratio, which, in this day and age, is mildly annoying. The controls are pretty intuitive to anyone who's played first person games on a modern console. The inability to look up or down can be slightly frustrating at times, but on the other hand it makes aiming a little simpler.

I haven't tried out multiplayer yet, but I checked out the menus enough to discover that playing split screen apparently requires multiple user accounts on the console. This seems very unnecessary and annoying, as I'm the only user of this console and I very rarely have other people over playing with it. No local multiplayer game I've played on PS3 in the past has had such a requirement.

I played the games on the easiest setting. 'Cause I'm a wuss. And, you know, generally crap at anything requiring reflexes and precision. Plus I was playing Doom II for the first time, and it's not like I know a lot of the original Doom levels by heart either (with the exception of the first few levels of the first episode, of course). Even so, some levels turned out pretty challenging. Not necessarily because of the monsters (although some of the new enemies in Doom II are pretty darn tough, and can do a lot of damage if you're careless), but simply because of the level design.  Often that key or switch or door you need to complete the level can be annoyingly hard to spot. Or, like, after dozens of levels of opening doors with the action button they suddenly, out of the blue, expect you to shoot at it. I admit I pretty much rage quitted once or twice, and resorted to checking a walkthrough a few times.

Occasional moments of frustration aside, Doom is still a lot of fun to play. Surprisingly so, since it was, after all, one of the earliest FPS games. It'll be 20 years since the original Doom's release next December. I'm not sure some later FPS games have stood the test of time quite as well.

If you have the original games around and play games on PC I think it may be more interesting (and cheaper) to check out some of the free (but entirely legal, since Doom's engine is now open source) ports that are available online. Some of them have made considerable improvements to the engine (improving graphics and adding features of more modern FPS games, like jumping and free aiming), though in many cases these are optional, should you want an experience closer to the original. But if you don't have the games, the PS3 version does offer a lot to play for a fairly reasonable price.