Late to the Destiny

When Destiny first came out a year ago, I passed on it. There were a number of reasons, but the main one was my disinterest in what sounded like an MMO experience. I’m not really interested in playing games online either with or against strangers. As time has gone on, more and more of my pals started playing it, and it sounded like it might have potential for me. I decided to jump in with The Taken King, as it overhauled the game and made it much more streamlined.

My character is a female robutt. She doesn’t have a name because you don’t name your characters; they just go by your PSN username. So I guess she does have a name, which is “davelartigue”. She’s a gunslinger because I like shooting stuff. Currently she’s level 20, which means she’s half the level of pretty much everyone else playing the game.

The MMO aspects of the game have been well overstated, at least so far. When you enter an area, you’re in an instance with a few other players. The areas are huge, and you’re seldom interacting much with each other, though you can choose to do so if you want. Me, I don’t want, so I go off and do my own thing. Occasionally a group event will happen in an area that you can go take part in. This usually involves taking down a large enemy or a big group of smaller ones, and I’ve participated a number of times.

It’s clever how the game’s been done. If I accidentally or on purpose kill an enemy that another player was fighting, it doesn’t deny that other player either XP or loot. So you can’t kill-steal or screw with other players too much (and there’s no PVP in the main maps.) The other players, should you choose not to join up with them, mostly just give color and a sense of population to the areas.

The other day I encountered my first mission that required teaming up, and it made me nervous. I went ahead and did it, and the game matched me with two other players who were about my level. We joined up, fought together, revived one another when down, and then took out the target. Then we went our separate ways. I didn’t have any headphones on and didn’t talk to either of them. We just did what had to be done. Thankfully, I don’t think I was a drag on the team and pulled my weight.

Bolstered by that, I tried the PVP arena, as I’d been given a mission involving it. Although it claimed to again do some player matching, I was slaughtered in seconds. When I respawned, I’d again be moved down immediately. Thankfully, none of that is required and I can just ignore those missions.

As for the game itself, it’s okay. The storyline is blandly generic sci-fi, hitting every single expected beat right on cue. Absolutely nothing special or exciting to it. That’s fine, because it’s basically just there to hang the action on and there’s no need to invest in any of it. I prefer a blandly generic plot that stays mostly out of the way to a blandly generic plot that keeps interrupting gameplay to throw blandly generic bullshit at me. The action is pretty good, and there are some neat powers and things to play with, but usually it’s just “go here and shoot this”. You can do some exploration, a thing I enjoy, but most of the environment is non-functional, and so far, apart from a few hidden collectibles (dead ghosts and loot chests) there isn’t much reward for straying from the path.

The appeal to me so far is similar to that of Diablo 3. It’s shoot-and-loot, with short missions you can drop in and do without a huge time investment. I’m not that far into yet, though, and what I bought comes with three expansions, so there could be large swaths of game I haven’t encountered yet. Speaking of shoot-and-loot, loot doesn’t come often, but one nice thing is that usually it’s something better than what you have. If you current boots have a defense value of 60, Destiny doesn’t waste your time with piles of defense 30 boots. That’s nice.

So far Destiny is a pretty good but not really essential game for me. I’m enjoying it and I’ll play a bunch of it, but it hasn’t grabbed me like other games have. It’s fun and well made, but doesn’t have a lot of soul. Maybe I’m missing out on something with the MMO elements or in the storyline. Maybe if I read the eight hundred and something plot cards I’ve gained I’ll find what I need to really get hooked, but let’s hope that’s not the case because it’s not happening. Oh there is plenty of jumping, though!

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TopatoCon 2015!

This weekend was TopatoCon, a convention started by the good folks at TopatoCo, a sort of consortium of webcomics (and other) creators. What’s more, it took place right here in my area code!

I went by on Saturday and saw all kinds of folks! There were no fewer than FOUR previous Space Cabby artists there: Catie Donnelly, Jordan Witt, Sean Wang, and Matt Lubchansky. I finally met Karla Pacheco, who had a machine that dispensed terrible magnets. My prize:

I bought a bunch of books, naturally.

There was another one I was going to get but the artist was at lunch and then I forgot to go back afterwards! Boo.

The sticker (one of a few) and skull sigil was from Cohen. The skull was a mystic totem he used to tell my fortune, a dark thread of future possibilities involving spiders. He also sold me my new favoritest shirt ever:

There were also some tabletop game folks there with a lot of nice looking games. I demoed a two-player game called RESISTOR_ from Cardboard Fortress Games, which I ended up buying a copy of.

The con was for two days. I went on Saturday and hung out a bit and then naturally my brain said, “there are people you know here and maybe you could talk to and hang out with them and that would be okay except what if they only barely tolerate you and are really just here to see each other and you’re just kind of wasting space and what would you say anyway probably something dumb and maybe you should just go home and play videogames instead and not leave the house again”

So that happened, and it was not great.

But I got some videogames played, I guess.

At any rate, I was glad to spend the time there I did spend and see the people I did see. As always, I wish I had flipped through and bought more books. A huge thanks to the organizers for setting up this sort of thing in our corner of the state, and also to the creators who made the trek out here, I hope it all went well, and I’m definitely down for future TopatoCons!

Posted in Geek Stuff | Tagged ,

I Played That! #30: Starcraft (PC)

Last week I talked about one of the games that shifted the early 90s video gaming landscape. Today comes the second. What Doom did for action games, Warcraft did for strategy. Its central idea, that you were under attack and had to act immediately caught on fast, and soon “real-time strategy” was everywhere. Once these two games hit, good luck finding much of anything that wasn’t one or the other.

I never played Warcraft. I saw it being played and frankly, it didn’t look like it would be fun for me. It seemed like everything I didn’t like about games like Civilization and SimCity 3000, but with the added bonus of taking place in real time. This in addition to the main appeal being playing against others meant it was, again, probably not a game for me. Combined, the popularity of first-person shooter and real-time strategy games were what got me to move from the PC as my gaming platform to the PlayStation in the mid-90s.

Elements of RTS made its way into other games I played, such as the Baldur’s Gate games, but the simple act of allowing me to pause the game and see how things were going made all the difference.

Although I never played Warcraft, I eventually grabbed a cheap copy of Starcraft, just to see for myself if I could get into this thing. It turned out all my apprehensions about the genre…were absolutely on target. Starcraft was just a miserable experience in stress and frustration for me. I didn’t get very far in it before I shelved it, and that was the end of that. Real-time strategy (and its current-era descendant, tower defense) would just have to be a thing without me.

Posted in Videogames | Tagged

The Movies-to-Watch List: The Killing (1956)

I had never heard of this early Stanley Kubrick film when it was a suggested addition to the Movies to Watch List. In fact, I almost had to bring in a sub for it, as Netflix doesn’t seem to have a copy of it. Thanks to the Springfield Library, though, I got hold of it.

I didn’t know from Sterling Hayden until I watched The Asphalt Jungle. He’s also in The Killing and now I want to see so much more Sterling Hayden. He’s just great, and I can’t really think of a current star like him. He’s a big heavy lug, but there’s an air of dejected resignation about him. Even when he’s looking to make that big score he seems like he already knows he missed his chance long ago, but he needs to keep going.

Speaking of big scores, that’s what The Killing is. A heist movie about robbing a racetrack. The plan isn’t too complicated and seems fairly solid, so you are wondering just when and how it’s all going to go wrong. A lot of ingredients are added to the mix — a bitter wife with an ambitious lover, a bit of racial conflict, and a narrator giving you the timetable — so that you’re never sure just where the hammer will fall.

The whole thing is done really well, and though I can’t tell you many really knowledgeable things about Kubrick’s direction here, I did notice some nice touches, like the camera moving through the walls of the apartment where the planning happens. The nature of the story means you often see the same action again but from a different vantage point, or with an extra detail added. I think it would be easy for the repetition to get stale, but it works well here.

Netflix needs to get its act together and get hold of this so people can double-feature it with The Asphalt Jungle already. And I need to go looking for more Sterling Hayden movies to watch.

Posted in Movies | Tagged

The Symbol Can be an S with THREE Lines Through It, Something Really Next Level

By now you’ve probably heard of Martin Shkreli, a hedge fund parasite who decided to take some time off from contributing nothing to the human race to instead actively interfere with it. He bought the rights to a drug used by AIDS patients and infants and overnight increased its price from $13.50 to $750 per pill.

His smugly proud face has been all over social media with people denouncing him despite this being exactly the sort of Capitalism we regularly admire and reward. Dude got paid, what’s your problem? He certainly doesn’t have any problem with it; he’s just making money like you’re supposed to. This isn’t some kind of bastardization of the free market, it is the free market. It’s how it works. You don’t like it, make your own cure for toxoplasmosis, or just buy an existing one, like he did, since “creating” something is for losers.

Here’s what I think we should do. Let’s set up a sort of alternative economy for these guys. We’ll let them battle it out between each other over who has the most Superbucks, Ultradollars, and Paraquatloos while leaving the economy that the rest of us have to actually live with alone. They can figure out how many of their moneys will buy a flying yacht or whatever it is these people spend their vast-yet-insufficient fortunes on and let us go on buying food, houses, and medicine as though they aren’t meaningless items only good for making very wealthy people even more wealthy.

Let’s face it: if you have millions or billions of normal dollars and still aren’t happy, then clearly you need to switch to the better, harder, more luxe economy. An economy built just for ultra-achievers like you. You got a lot of dollars? Big deal, I have dollars, and I’m drinking Stop and Shop brand green tea out of a mug with a 1993 calendar printed on it. But you know what I don’t have? Hypercoins. Not a single one. You financial alchemists aren’t grabbing up 2007 Honda Civics, so why the hell are you also settling for the same kind of money that serfs like me have access to?

Quit paddling around in the kiddy pool, Shkreli. Nobody cares if you bat .750 in little league. Get rid of those too-common dollars and set your sights on Jumbocash. That’s where the real power and prestige is.

Posted in Misc | Tagged

On the Table: Codenames

This past week I played a game of Hanabi, which is a game I was pretty stoked about when it first came out, but haven’t really thought about much since. It’s not bad, just not something I find myself wanting to play. My copy is in the trade pile.

We also played Amun-Re, which I hadn’t played in some time. It’s a solid Knizia design from 2003, though it contains a certain amount of faff that would be called “point salad” ten years later. The thing I like the most about it is the fact that there’s two halves to the game, and you wipe some elements and ownership off the board. Build up your stuff too well in the first half of the game and risk giving those points to someone else when it’s not your stuff anymore. I thought I was doing pretty well until I walked into a situation where only one region was good for me in the final round and I couldn’t get it. Wouldn’t have won me the game, but I would have done a bit better.

But the big thing was Saturday night when we played three rounds of Codenames. This is a refreshingly simple game that provides a lot of fun. It’s one of the few games I’ve seen where my group played someone’s copy and then suddenly everyone wanted a copy of their own.

It’s a staggeringly simple idea. There is a 5×5 grid of words. The players divide into teams, Red and Blue, and one player from each team is the codemaster for that team. Her goal is to get the other players to guess which words are their team’s before the others do. To do so, she will provide one-word clues to the code words. Since it’s a race, you want to try to “combine” guesses. So let’s say three of your words are “oil”, “cat”, and “pitch”. You might give the clue, “Black, three.” Black is the one-word clue, and three is the number of words you are saying it applies to. The team members then have to figure out which words you’re pointing them to. If they pick a word that belongs to the other team, or a “neutral” one that belongs to neither team, the turn is over and the other team goes. One word is the “assassin” word and choosing it results in your turn losing immediately.

There’s nothing to it. It’s such a straightforward, simple idea (and coming from Vlaada Chvatil, who usually designs sprawling, intricate games. But it’s a lot of fun, and it’s not easy for either the clue givers of receivers. I’m not much for party games, and it’s very close to a party game, but I’m one of the ones who immediately ordered a copy. We were playing with only four, but it really gets good with six.

Earlier on Twitter I was remarking that if 2015 ended tomorrow, I don’t think I could fill out a complete list of ten really good New to Me boardgames. Codenames, however, would easily make that list. It’s one of the standouts this year.

Posted in Boardgames | Tagged

I Played That! #29: Doom (PC)

Of course I played Doom. Everyone played Doom. You couldn’t not play Doom. Doom dropped like an atomic bomb on the gaming landscape and forever changed its topology. Even if you somehow didn’t play Doom itself, you almost certainly played a game that Doom inspired, because for a couple of years you couldn’t play anything else.

I didn’t play much of Doom, though. My experience with the previous hot first-person shooter (perhaps the first?), Wolfenstein 3D, was not good. It got me motion sick and headachey in a bad way, and though I liked the game well enough, it wasn’t compelling enough to fight that. Doom had pretty much the same effect for me, for pretty much the same payoff; I just didn’t find the gameplay that interesting, for as novel as it was. If it didn’t come with a side of queasy and a headache, I might have gotten more out of it, but it wasn’t worth it.

Given this, I steered away from most of the FPS-mania of the early-to-mid 90s. I didn’t play Quake, Team Fortress, Half-Life, Counter-Strike, and the others. (I also wasn’t interested in playing online against others, something I’m still not very much into, so a lot of these games that were greatly dependent on multiplayer didn’t have any appeal to me.)

I say I avoided FPSes, but that’s not completely true. We’ve already discussed Dark Forces, the Star Wars themed FPS which I did take an interest in, despite it still not being great on my head and gut (I would play it in brief intervals.) And there’s another one that actually precedes Doom that we’ll be discussing in a bit. But the big-name FPSes, the ones that you think of when you think of the big craze, I never played.

Given my relative enjoyment of Dark Forces, it’s possible that my general disinterest in Doom and others was a bit of sour grapes. First, I was disappointed that the role-playing games I enjoyed were almost completely sidelined by this new genre (and another, which we’ll talk about next week), a genre that literally made me physically ill. There was a big revolution going on in gaming and I couldn’t really participate in it. (It also required a pretty top-shelf computer and video card, and by this time mine was starting to show its age.) So it was hard for me to get excited for the new kid.

Much later, FPSes and I would reconcile and come to an agreement. I should probably go back and give things like Half-Life, Deus Ex, and, yes, Doom, a try.

Posted in Videogames | Tagged

Not So Fast Foward Futurama

It seems like every week there’s a new cartoon I’m supposed to be watching. Archer, Steven Universe, Rick and Morty, Bojack Horseman, Gravity Falls, Adventure Time, a bunch of other ones, and whatever the three new ones that were added to the list while you were reading this sentence. It’s way more than I can keep up with, and I don’t get whatever channels most of them are on anyway.

What I do get, though, is Netflix, and through that I’ve been watching Futurama. Not really re-watching, because when it first came on I saw a few episodes, but it didn’t really grab me. It wasn’t as non-stop as The Simpsons was at the time, and I didn’t watch much TV at that point anyway. By a few episodes into the first season I had stopped with it.

On this watching, I’m almost through season two. I’m not bingeing, just watching an episode while eating dinner usually. I’m really enjoying it. It’s a lot funnier than I thought back at the time. And I love the animation. There’s just something great about how everything moves in it.

So rest assured that while I may not be following Amazing Pig or World of Phlegm or whatever other cartoons are now must-see TV, in fifteen years or so I’ll catch up to them on my 3D Plasmotron Neurovisor while I swallow my food pill.

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