Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


I finally got around to doing a bit of site maintenance. One of the first items I took care of was cleaning up the user database. There were somewhat over 150 users registered who had never posted anything, so they went to the trashcan. I suspect they were from spambots who managed to get through registration checks, but couldn’t clear the posting checks. All I can say is that if I got you by mistake, email me and we’ll fix it, but otherwise go peddle your stuff elsewhere.

Knew I hadn’t posted anything in a while, but didn’t realize that it had been almost a year. So, OK, ummm. “Fallout 4”. Bought it, played it, finished it, liked it, but it didn’t grab me like Fallout 3 and New Vegas did. Only a couple of playthroughs and I put it aside. Steam picked up the “Automatron” DLC automatically (Seasons Pass), but I haven’t played it. Did another playthrough of Witcher 3 and had a good time with it. Completed my Sims 3 collection (except Katy Perry’s Sweet Treats – let’s not go there) during the Winter Sale and have likely spent more hours doing The Sims 3 than anything else for the past few months. Replayed Mass Effect 3 from an uploaded saved game (mine are still on my old rig, which isn’t starting due to fried RAM and I don’t feel like doing the Frankenstein thing to retrieve them). I was pleasantly surprised at being able to finish it, even with the EC ending. Still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but it didn’t leave me raging. Even went back to fire up the original (with a few tweaks and the MEUITM mod from the Nexus).

Can’t claim massive amounts of time on my games, though, thanks to grad school. Semester will be over in a couple of weeks, so I’ll likely have a bit more free time to do that, but the Summer sessions will be starting up at the beginning of June and that will put another damper on it. Frankly, seminars are turning out to be more fun than the games. Still hate writing papers, though.

Checking to make sure that my blogging app is also working as it should.

Got a borked update to the current version of WordPress, so this is just a test post to make sure that the online editing functionality is back to working again.

Remembering that last time that I purchased a newly released Bioware game and the botched abortion of an ending experience that it provided, I’m going to take the same “First Impressions” approach to Dragon Age: Inquisition and just reel it off as I get to it. Don’t be expecting finely crafted wordsmithing. But I’ll try to be as thorough and open about it as I can be. After all, I’m still of the opinion that Mass Effect 3 was (is?) an excellent game. Just whack off the last 10 or 15 minutes, boil them in acid, bury them in the jungle for a few centuries, then dig ‘em up and shoot whatever survived into the sun. Maybe in a different solar system, though. Wouldn’t want to wipe out life on Earth in an accidental case of solar indigestion.

Prior to playing, I took advantage of the World State generator at Dragon Age Keep. Since I did not save any of my DAO, Awakening or DA2 characters and did not feel like doing a complete playthrough prior to launching Inquisition, I went through each panel of the tapestry and set each story point as best as I could remember them. Short version is that my first playthrough on all three games was a “bunnies and rainbows” kind where I tried to give everyone a happy ending, or as happy as possible given the choices. About the only oddity was that my first DAO character was female and I wanted to import her into Awakening, so I let Alistair make the ultimate sacrifice. In keeping with that, my Inquisition character is a female Dalish mage (which was not an option in the earlier games).

SPOILER WARNING

Since I’m talking about a game as I go through it, there will undoubtedly be some story points included. I am not trying to do anything remotely resembling a walkthrough, so I will try to leave plot events and decisions off of the page, but something might slip through. Be warned.

END SPOILER WARNING

From the get-go, I am not getting great framerates out of Inquisition. Low 40s is about average and it drops into the low 30s when there are lots of NPCs in the area. I suspect that it’s time to rebuild this creaking rig. Perhaps Santa will be nice, but I’m not holding my breath on it, so I’ll make do with what I have.

Graphically, I’m reasonably impressed. At 1920 x 1080 and a mix of High and Ultra settings (full-blown Ultra would undoubtedly drop my framerates down into the 20s and 30s), the game is gorgeous. Textures are crisp and sharp. Underlying meshes are very clean. I noted that my character changed costumes three or four times in the space of a few seconds worth of cut-scenes, so there’s some sloppy CGI going on in there somewhere. I also note that once I was able to access inventory, what my character was wearing on the inventory screen bore little resemblance to what she was wearing in-game.

The game threw a couple of DirectX errors and crashed shortly after the first boss battle and again shortly after regaining control of my character after the forming of the Inquisition. Both happened during conversations. I don’t know if they are related, but my initial impression is that they are. Thanks, Bioware.

Camera controls are very similar to DAO, so not a huge learning curve on that end. Wearing a smooth spot on my RMB, though. Combat controls are definitely different from DAO (haven’t messed with DA2 in a long time, so won’t trust my memory on this one). On the whole, I’m finding them to be a mixed bag. Some parts are a bit smoother, but the party micromanagement end of things is exceptionally clunky. Clunky to the point of dying several times during the first boss battle (on Normal difficulty yet). Lost control of the camera a few times at critical points during the battle, so people who needed aid weren’t able to get it in time.

Controls function somewhat differently. For those who are used to the DAO keymappings, I’d recommend immediately remapping Pause to the spacebar and jump to the CTRL key. Object activation happens with the F key rather than the normal LMB, so several instances of trying to help someone or open a container ended up firing off attacks instead. Not pretty.

Character animations are much nicer than DAO (and DA2, if memory serves). More lifelike and smooth. Facial expressions are also much better. Had a few instances of Varric’s right foot dropping through the ground during conversations, so he was constantly straightening himself back out again, but it’s all pretty minor stuff thus far.

On the whole, it’s pretty decent and I’m not feeling like I wasted the $70 (Digital Deluxe Edition). More to come as I get to it. Happy gaming.

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It occurred to me that my 9.5 review of Game Dev Tycoon might require a little clarification, especially considering that Skyrim (occupying the #1 and #3 slots at GameFAQs.com more than 18 months post-release) received only a 9. Am I cutting slack to an indie that I wouldn’t cut to a AAA developer? You bet your sweet ass I am.

In my mind (and you are certainly welcome to disagree), it comes down to resource allocation and usage. What were they able to accomplish with the resources at their disposal?

Greenheart is a fiddling small developer. They are a bit bigger than “a couple of guys working out of their garage” (aka Jobs and Wozniak), at least to judge by the game credits, but still small fry. They developed a game that, had it come from a major developer, would have undoubtedly earned a boatload of negative reviews. It is not a slick game. It does not have an interesting interface. It has annoyingly repetitive sound. Its graphics are borderline cheesy. There are exceptionally annoying elements to the gameplay (yes, those pop-ups still drive me to distraction, even though I know they’re coming). It has a pretty high frustration factor, unclear information on what the player is doing wrong (it occasionally tells you what you’re doing right) and a host of other problems.

But they are not a major developer. So should I hold things against them that they might not have had the resources to be able to fix? Should I expect the same qualities from a team with limited capabilities as I expect from a team that can hire the best of the best? Is every game, regardless of source, held to the same standard?

There are many of you out there who would burn me for a heretic (figuratively, anyway) for saying it, but I think the answer is a resounding “no”. One should not expect the same results from a small indie as one should expect from a major developer. And I think the reason for that is pretty obvious.

I am not a professional writer. If you haven’t figured that out by now, well there it is. My areas of study are history, economics, philosophy, and a good chunk of IT. Aside from a couple of required writing and literature classes, my journalism background is about as close to zero as you can get and still claim some degree of competence. But in spite of those handicaps, I sit down and write what I think will be useful and hope will be at least somewhat entertaining. In a head-to-head writing contest with someone who does this for a living, I’d get pwned every time.

The same reasoning, I think, is applicable to small indies. In a head-to-head contest with a major development company, the indie game isn’t even in the ballpark. They don’t have the same access to talent, they can’t draw on the same resources, and they are limited in the approaches that they can take… In short, they get pwned.

So, yes, I think it’s fair to hold different developers to different standards. If Firaxis had turned out Game Dev Tycoon, I’d be severely disappointed. Even though I generally like their games, the level of quality and sophistication they can achieve is significantly higher than what shows up in GDT. Greenheart, on the other hand, lacks that capability. Considering that “handicap”, they turned out an outstanding little game. I’d like to see more from them. Hopefully they will see where they can improve and their next outing will be even better. That’s really what it’s all about – propter ludos ludum.

It’s a bit past the 11-11 launch date, but I’ve been busily playing Skyrim for the past couple of weeks. The performance situation was resolved by upgrading to a 64-bit OS so that I could take advantage of more RAM. I’m currently pegging around 100FPS pretty consistently with a few spots in the game still dragging it down into the 60s. Yeah, yeah. First World Problems. But I’m not griping about it; just making an observation.

My current character is a Nord mage. That wasn’t my intention when we started, but it’s kind of how she developed all on her own. This not a Dead Is Dead playthrough, for which I give thanks every time some new critter chomps on me.

I’m still using a lot of the mods I talked about a few months ago, but have added a few new ones. Here are the highlights of my current mod list (mod titles link to the mod’s page at Nexus):

  • 83Willow’s 101 Bugs HD – eye-candy for the most part with reasonable alchemy ingredients as gravy. Absolutely gorgeous bugs. I spend a large part of my overland time chasing them and haven’t managed to catch one of each specimen yet.
  • Acquisitive Soul Gems – haven’t had much call to use it yet (Enchanting is still below 30), but its purpose is to make sure that you don’t accidentally waste Grand Soul Gems on Mudcrabs. Supposed to work better than Smart Soul Gems. We’ll see whether that proves to be true as the game progresses.
  • Bandolier – Bags and Pouches – I’m thinking this is more of a minor cheat than anything else. It lets you craft bags and pouches that increase your weight allowance (about 325 pounds with the full set), but does not require that you enchant them. They’re craftable with the Steel Smithing perk (some require buckles and fasteners). I’m calling it a minor cheat, but it’s only necessary if you’re a dedicated packrat. My mage typically runs around with 30-50 pounds of gear and I haven’t pumped a point into her Stamina, so it’s just a mostly just a convenient place to stash crafting materials for me.
  • Expanded Winterhold Destruction Ruins – it makes Winterhold exterior look fantastic. I can’t go much beyond that, though. I entered one place (there might be others – don’t know yet) and promptly got my ass handed to me by a bunch of Draugr wielding Ebony weapons; me at level 8 or 9 with no follower – I didn’t last more than a few seconds, decided that discretion was the better part of valor and have not returned.
  • Follower Trap Safety – basically gives your followers the Light Step perk so that they don’t set off floor traps (pressure plates and the like). Much nicer than having to wait on Lydia or Jenassa to get done being smacked by the swinging gate. Skyrim really needs a “Don’t Step There!” follower command. You can still get smacked by the swinging gate, though. This mod just protects your followers.
  • Imaginator – installed, but haven’t managed to get it working yet. The helper appears, says “hi” and then disappears. He did hand me a Steel Axe the first time I called him up though.
  • Lockpick Graduation by Lilyu – more lore-friendly than KenMod’s Lockpick Pro. I used it a couple of times getting out of Helgen, but am relying more on Midas’s Open spells since I’m playing a mage character. It puts little tickmarks on the locks so that it’s a little easier to pick up where you left off when your lockpick breaks.

    This is one area where the game really dropped the ball. While I don’t mind having to pick the locks (the picking minigame isn’t all that bad), the fact that there is no other option is completely wrong-headed. On my last playthough, I ended up with a maxed lockpicking skill, wasn’t playing a thief character and didn’t use a single perk on the Lockpicking tree. I burned through hundreds and hundreds of lockpicks, though. The presence of both of these mods (Graduation and Lockpick Pro) and close to 200,000 unique downloads between them ought to be telling Bethesda that they screwed the pooch on this one.

  • Lost Art of the Blacksmith and Smithing Perks Overhaul – they work pretty well together. My initial plan had been to do a more melee-oriented character, which changed about 10 seconds after getting into Helgen Keep. I’ve done a bit of smithing (mainly to make money from all of the stinkin’ wolf pelts that keep cluttering my inventory), but couldn’t say how well it works for the more dedicated craftsman.
  • Skyrim Monster Mod – not the most lore-friendly mod out there, but it adds some old critters (Scamps, Guar and the like), revamps/retextures some existing ones, and adds some new ones. Danger, Will Robinson! Some of these guys will hand you your ass on a silver platter if you’re not careful.
  • UFO – Ultimate Follower Overhaul – I don’t have plans to be running around with more than one follower (which the mod lets you do), but it gives much more specific control over your followers’ behavior, like getting them to cough up their default gear so that you can force them into something more useful. They’ll still swap out for higher-level material over better numbers every time, though, so don’t be filling up Lydia’s inventory with Dwarven stuff unless you’ve taken the perk to improve that kind of gear. It also fixes a couple of problems with followers not leveling properly, so it’s pretty handy, even for a basically vanilla playthrough.
  • Ultra Realistic World Lighting – eye-candy. Be warned that “realistic” is just part of the name. The colors are a bit too bright to have “realistic” be descriptive. But, if you can get Imaginator to work, you should be able to tone down the saturation a bit to suit your tastes. This was the mod that forced me into mage work when Helgen Keep turned out to be way too dark and I hated tying up one of my hands with a torch (I keep Lydia loaded with them, though), so Magelight and Candlelight are how hotkeyed. And speaking of magical lighting…
  • Warmer Magic Lights – makes Magelight and Candlelight effects a bit warmer in color and expands their effective radii to compensate for the lighting mod. Make sure this loads after any lighting mods or it just defaults to plain white light (yuck).
  • Winter is Coming – Cloaks – mainly added for eye-candy, but it turns out that a lot of the NPCs will have lootable cloaks that are worth more than their armor. I haven’t used any of them, but appreciate the extra loot and they do give more atmosphere to the game.