Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

Welcome to Space Crusade

July 18, 2022

So as I noted back in June, I decided to try out a new gaming schedule … which I ended up shuffling a bit for other reasons.  But the one thing that I did manage to mostly stick with was playing the old Amiga version of “Space Crusade”.  Now, this was actually a game that I most remember playing with some friends from high school, and then later one of those friends sent me a bunch of emulated games were, surprise, surprise, this game was included.  I poked around with it a little bit and still enjoyed it, but other games and distractions replaced it and so I never really did anything more with it than that quick exploration.  So when I redid my gaming schedule, I decided to just go through all of the missions and essentially “complete” it.

“Space Crusade” is a “Warhammer 40K” game, where a player can take on up to three squads of Space Marines in a mission against Chaos forces.  The game is turn-based, so each squad acts in turn and then the Chaos forces act, which means that one player can take on three squads or up to three different players can play hotseat, in a mostly co-operative fashion to see who can get the most points (there is one mission where a virus was released and so the squads are encouraged to wipe out the other squads since only one of them can receive the antidote).  The squad with the most points — if they exceed the mission minimum score — gets medals and awards and squads that do really badly end up being stripped of all medals.  I suspect that you can assign these medals to your squad to improve things but have never actually tried it to see.

Each squad member uses a different weapon.  The Commander can only engage in melee, but comes equipped with a sword and also has multiple hit points, which means that he can survive successful attacks from the Chaos forces whereas the others cannot.  If Soulsucker appears — a powerful melee combatant — you really want your Commander to take the brunt of that attack.  There’s also a disintegrator weapon that fires in a straight line but applies its attack roll to everything in that line at least until it hits a wall.  I haven’t really tested if it will stop at enemies that survive the attack, but it can take out a lot of enemies if they happen to be lined up (I’ve picked off three or four at a time in the last mission).  Then there’s a rocket launcher type weapon that kills everything in a 2×2 square, and a smart gun type weapon where if the first target is killed by it any leftover power from the rolls — all attacks are made by rolling dice — can be applied to other targets until it runs out.  The last marine just gets a standard gun, but it tends to have a melee weapon which I think makes fighting in melee easier, and also the other weapons have a weight penalty to them so the marines that have them move slower.

The Chaos forces get a movement phase, but there’s also an event phase at the end of the turn where things can happen, and most of the time they aren’t good things for the marines, like attacks by traps or auto-defenses — I had a trap wipe out about half a squad once — or spawns of Soulsuckers and Chaos Marines.  However, sometimes good things can happen like Master Controls being given to one of the squads, which allows them to open and close doors anywhere on the ship that the mission is taking place on.  This is really useful because it turns out that you can kill enemies by closing doors on them.  In one mission, the squad that got it killed two androids — enemies with a lot of dice they can roll — and a Dreadnought — very big robot enemy with a lot of attacks — through this, and in the three missions I’ve played I’ve faced three Dreadnoughts — one in each mission — and killed two of the three through closing a door on them.  The bad thing is that it looks like if you close a door on something you don’t get credit for killing it and so no points from that, which hurts all the more when it’s a secondary objective to the mission.

The game can be pretty deadly.  In the first mission I tried, one squad managed to lose all but two marines in the first five moves, and as mentioned the booby trap killed an entire squad at one point.  If even weak enemies get good rolls they can take out a lot of marines in a hurry, and they tend to target marines instead of targeting the Commander, even if the Commander is closer to them.  On the flip side of that, however, if the enemies get bad rolls and the marines get good ones you can avoid losses and come through mostly unscathed.  However, the game makes you walk through the ship and then back to your starting point, and while walking back events almost always cause complications for you.  I had one squad that was mostly at full strength but then had one succumb to the Lure of Chaos which converts them to a Chaos Marine, who then immediately got a turn and killed another marine.  Another Soulsucker attack and I think only the Commander survived that one.

This feature is what makes me only able to play one mission at a time, even though a mission takes about an hour or so and I usually have the time to play more than one mission in that time block.  Walking out and walking back, even when fighting, can be a bit ponderous and so I end up being tired of the micromanagement by the end of a mission.  I enjoy the missions and enjoy thinking about good attacks I’ve made or devastating attacks from the enemies, but after an hour or so am not anxious to do another session of moving marines slowly across the map to the objective and back again, especially since the ones with the special weapons move so very, very slowly.

Still, I definitely enjoy the game and it’s a lot of fun.  Unless time constraints or difficulty bites me, I should be able to play through the missions and so “finish” the game.

Trying Out a New Gaming Schedule

June 27, 2022

So I have been griping for ages now — and specifically pretty recently — about how I never really get time to play video games, and I’ve tried a number of ways of scheduling them in an attempt to get to play them, usually to no avail.  On the few occasions that the schedule has worked — in 2020 the shifting schedules due to the pandemic allowed me to finally play Saint’s Row the Third and IV — circumstances have caused me to change the schedule or I ended up getting busier and so not finding the time to play them.  Most recently, I set aside a couple of time slots to play in the hopes that I could continue that when I return to working from work most of the week but ended up having the schedule on its own not give me enough time to get into Dragon Age:  Origins again and getting used to its mechanics, not really be good for any kind of RPG where I’d have to remember what I had done the week before — which eliminated the Wizardry and Gold Box games unless I wanted to do my own mapping, which I definitely don’t — and where the second day of that kept getting interrupted because I didn’t realize how long the other stuff on that day would actually take.

So, as is my wont, I started thinking about it.  In fact, I actually put into my schedule a specific time to figure all of that out.  But, of course, I thought about it at other times as well, and so came up with a rough plan before that time.  The basic constraints were that I’d have about 4 – 6 hours to play on two consecutive days, and then I wouldn’t be playing again for the rest of the week until those days came around again.  So I needed a game that I could at least make some good progress in playing for 4 – 6 hours, and ideally in playing for 2 – 3 hours, but that I could easily pick up again after a week without having to spend too much time figuring out what I had done the past week and what I had wanted to do the next week, without having to take notes on that, which would make it feel more like work than like fun.  So that left out a lot of RPGs, as noted above.  Arguably, the KotOR games would work, maybe the Dragon Age games (except Inquisition, which is just too long for that), maybe the Personas (which are pretty linear), maybe the Fallouts, but RPGs in general were going to be difficult to pull off and would take too long for me to finish to really work with them.  The last thing I wanted was to try this new schedule out and fail because I didn’t finish anything and so didn’t feel like I was making progress.

However, I also have a long list of games that probably would fit well into this model.  The first category of games for this is adventure games.  I picked up a lot of them from Good Old Games that I haven’t gotten around to playing, and some of the shorter ones could be finished in a 2 – 3 hour block — I did the Sam & Max games that way — but even the ones that can’t be finished in that time block or even a 4 – 6 hour block wouldn’t be a problem since I’m a fairly impatient adventure gamer and so rely on walkthroughs pretty much as soon as I get stuck so it would be pretty easy for me to simply pick up from the spot in the walkthrough where I stopped the next week before.  Or, at least, that’s my theory.

Another category that could work are strategy games.  Some of them, obviously, wouldn’t work, as they would involve a long, unbroken campaign that would take longer than those time blocks but would require me to take too much time the next week to remember what I was trying to do.  But some of them would be made up of smaller campaigns where you could fit one or more of them into that time block and then would be able to pick the next one up the next week.  And some of them, especially ones where I was playing against myself, would be simple enough or provide enough feedback to allow me to pick up where I left off even after a week.  Or, again, that’s the theory.

The final category is more a collection of games that I want to play but bridges genres, which is a collection of Star Wars games that I keep meaning to get back to.  The game that I’d most like to play — Rebellion — obviously wouldn’t work because it would require too much thought to remember all the things I was doing the previous week, and it also tends to cause me to lose track of time which is not at all good when I need to quit at a specific time.  But a game like Galactic Battlegrounds is built on a number of small scenarios that I could play one or two in that time block and then pick up the next one the next week, and there are a number of those games that are either linear or split up into scenarios and so it wouldn’t be too difficult to find a place to stop for the day that I could start from the next week.  Again, that’s the theory.

So that’s what I’m going to try.  I’m going to split the two days between adventure games and strategy/Star Wars games, and so play adventure games on one day and strategy/Star Wars games on the other.  While this means that I may not finish an adventure game in one day when I could if I played two days, it also allows me more variety in what I’m playing.  Of course, it also allows me to be flexible so if I really want to play something on both days I can do that without losing much.  I think I’ll start by playing the Amiga version of the old Space Crusade game which I have through an emulator, where my plan will be to work through all the scenarios until I’ve won all of them.  Since I always play on my own, I will have all three Space Marine groups to work with, so that should help, and I think I actually did that once in the past.  For adventure games, I’m going to play Starship Titanic.  I have the audiobook of it and liked it, and did like the small part of the game that I actually played, and have it from GOG, so I’m going to try to work through it, likely heavily relying on a walkthrough.

I’m going to dump my full list of games that I want to work through at the end of the post.  Again, I don’t expect to get through all of them, but the point is to give me a lot of options so I can find the ones that work and most interest me.

Star Wars:

Star Wars Battlefront

X-Wing/Tie Fighter/X-Wing Alliance series (probably won’t run on my system)

Star Wars Rogue Squadron

Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds

Star Wars Rebel Assault 1+2

Star Wars Shadows of the Empire

Star Wars Empire at War

Star Wars Dark Forces + Jedi Knight

Strategy:

Incubation

Space Crusade

Defender of the Crown

Civilization

Sim City

Disciples 2

Majesty

Call to Power 2

Tropicos

Age of Wonders

Pirates!

Heroes of Might and Magic

Alpha Centauri

Ghost Master

Port Royale 2

Master of Orion 2

Dungeon Keeper

Afterlife

Risk

Axis and Allies

Birth of the Federation

Blood Bowl

Star Trek Armada 1 and 2

Emperor of the Fading Suns

Syndicate

Syndicate Wars

Sunrider Mask of Arcadius

Real Politiks

Victoria

Beholder

Colonization

Covert Action

Adventure:

Sanitarium

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

Escape from Monkey Island

Elvira

Dracula: Love Kills

Starship Titanic

Lure of the Temptress

Flight of the Amazon Queen

Dark Fall: Ghost Vigil

Her Story

Space Quest

Leisure Suit Larry

Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude

Blade Runner

Renowned Explorers

Red Shirt

The Guest

The Dame Was Loaded

Heart of China

Quest for Glory

Dragon’s Lair

Maniac Mansion

Eric the Unready

Spellcasting 2 + 3

Rise of the Dragon

Gabriel Knight

Phantasmagoria

Zork

Spycraft

Planetfall

Conquests of the Longbow/Conquests of Camelot

The Dagger of Amon Ra

The Colonel’s Bequest

Bloodnet

Rex Nebular and the Cosic Gender Bender

Layers of Fear

Dreamfall

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary

Star Trek: Judgement Rites

Shamus Young Has Passed Away

June 16, 2022

Shamus Young passed away yesterday morning.  He’d had a number of medical problems, including incredibly high blood pressure and recently kidney failure necessitating that he go on dialysis.  From the post, it seems like even though he didn’t let on about that on his blog he was expecting to not live much longer.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I refer to him quite frequently, and also that I’ve read and recommended his book “Mess Effect”, covering his posts on the Mass Effect series.  Completely coincidentally, I was cleaning out some boxes of books this past weekend and found his book “How I Learned”, which was a bit of an autobiography focusing on his school years and how he felt that the school system failed him and also fails other children.  Maybe I’ll take some time and read it again in the near future.

My deepest condolences to his family and those who closely collaborated with him.

Axis and Allies …

June 6, 2022

So, I recently had what was, for me, an epic game of “Axis and Allies”.  No, not the actual board game itself, but instead the PC game from 1998.  I had been playing around with my various systems and decided to try to install a few of the strategy games that I used to like to play and that I still had disks for, so basically I was looking for a system that could play them that I could install them on.  It turns out that they wouldn’t install on one of my old systems that I still have connected, but would install on another system but the graphics seemed incredibly expanded so they weren’t playable.  So I went to play around with the compatibility settings and finally discovered that setting something like DPI scaling off made them work, with some hiccups.  So I was able to install and play “Birth of the Federation”, “Risk II”, and obviously “Axis and Allies” again.

Now, when I play strategy games — and board games in general — I’m a bit of an odd duck, in that I tend to play them solo, as I tend to dislike online multiplayer for video games and when I was growing up I didn’t have anyone to play strategy games with because my brother didn’t care for the same games I did.  So I tend to set these games up as hotseat if available and play all players.  That means that strategies can’t rely on deception since, well, I pretty much always know what my own ultimate strategy is and so would have to deliberately ignore it for that to work.  What that has meant for other games is that I tend to play them more like an RPG, where I try to act like the “characters” that I am using to represent the various civilizations and the like (in “Master of Orion 2”, for example, I tend to use “Babylon 5” groups and play the alliances and wars out like they would), which would allow for them to fall for the sorts of deceptions that they would reasonably fall for.  That wouldn’t be fun in “Axis and Allies”, so what I do instead is try to play each side the best I can and see how the war would turn out, which means that in theory I’m always playing to the best of my ability.  Which, of course, isn’t necessarily that good — I expect when I describe this game people who are more experienced in the game will be able to point out all the stupid mistakes I made and strategies I missed that would have made things work out differently — but at least everyone in the game playing at the same level [grin].

Now, my history with this game is interesting.  I had picked it up again a while ago — like, years — and at first I think I won it easily with the Allies and wondering how in the world the Axis could ever win, but then later as I got used to the strategies had it be the case that the Axis was always winning and I couldn’t find a strategy to make the game close.  To be fair, that was a while ago and it might have been the other way around, but basically that was where I left that game, with one side always having a huge advantage and winning relatively easily.

After installing it this time, I played a game quickly and the old “Axis wins” model remained in play.  What I was noticing was that other than in Africa there really wasn’t any reasonable way for either Britain or America to get troops into any of the theaters, especially if Japan hammered the fleet at Pearl Harbour early on.  This meant that Japan could push into Asia and Germany could pretty much throw everything it had at the U.S.S.R.  If Japan also invaded the U.S.S.R., they’d quickly run out of ICs and not be able to replace what they lost to Germany and be quickly outproduced.  Germany would then take them out relatively early and then be able to turn their attention to Britain.  It seemed like a decent idea to make an early attack from the U.S.S.R., but investing in armour was expensive and Germany could usually attack enough to take enough territory to, again, outproduce them, again especially if Japan started peeling off their Eastern territories.  I hadn’t changed the default rules and victory conditions, so that ended up triggering an IC victory so Germany didn’t have to invade Britain, but it seemed likely that they would have managed it and ultimately won the game by capturing two capitals as well.

So with some time to kill I decided to play it again to test out some theories of mine.  I had already believed that the best move for the U.S.S.R. would be to not invest in armour and instead to simply ramp up on infantry.  Infantry is pretty useless for attacking unless it has a massive numerical advantage, but it defends at the same level as armour and costs a lot less.  Armour is more versatile as it defends at the same level as infantry but attacks at a much higher level, so it is ideal for counterattacks, especially against enemy armour, but it costs a lot more than infantry and so you don’t get as many units for the same IC price, which is key for the U.S.S.R. since they start lower than the other countries and are likely to lose some to Germany no matter what they do.  The other theory I had, though, was that if Japan invades the U.S.S.R. there was nothing that it could do and the Axis would ultimately win.  So I put both theories into practice to see what happened.

Things started off pretty much as normal.  I had Britain do early attempts to get new technologies and train up some units, but they weren’t able to do much except kick Germany out of Africa.  Japan eliminated the American fleet and the U.S.S.R. and China.  Germany took everything west of Russia and then tried a few attacks against that area, but were generally repulsed.  I tried a couple of bombing raids against Germany from Britain to try to help the U.S.S.R. out but they were generally ineffective and only cost more than they were worth.  Meanwhile, Japan forged on, capturing Asia and Australia and everything west of Russia — since these areas were sparsely defended — and then kicked Britain out of Africa as well, also ultimately taking Midway and Hawaii.  Due to Japanese ships being off the West Coast, America couldn’t really build ships and so focused on building up some planes but mostly armour and infantry.  However, Germany still couldn’t take Russia and so they just kept adding more and more infantry to match the Germany build up of armour.

The interesting thing in this game was wrt the new technologies.  With not much else to do, Britain could focus on getting new technologies and had all of them.  Once Japan picked up a lot of territory and ICs, they also managed to get all the new technologies.  America picked up four out of the six.  While I didn’t spend much ICs on it, Germany did try to pick some up but never managed to win even one roll.  This was going to be important later.

Eventually, Japan tried attacking through Alaska, but while their armour could take that place the America build up of armour would kick them out incredibly easily, but it was costing America a lot and they likely ultimately would have won (I probably could have tried to come from South America as well to reduce the ICs they had).  But Germany was outproducing the U.S.S.R. and so was likely to overwhelm them unless they had something else to think about, and so Britain needed to open a second front.  Due to having taken the seas early on, they had support from two battleships and so attacked in the West.  It didn’t seem to help much, as they quickly were kicked out again for the most part but kept their transports, which led to the most epic turn of the game.  The numbers seemed reasonable, and so Germany decided to make an all-out push against the U.S.S.R., hoping that they could take it and knowing that while the capital could be attacked what they were producing and what they had there would outnumber what Britain could bring.  So if they could take the U.S.S.R. out, then all of their production could go towards defending the capital and eventually attacking Britain.  After an epic battle, Germany managed to take out Russia with only one unit of armour remaining, allowing them to dump their production on Germany to stand against any British attack.

The numbers weren’t good, but if the British didn’t manage to take Germany out of the war now they’d get overwhelmed, so that required a desperate attack against Germany.  The key here is that Britain had all the technologies including jet-powered heavy bombers, and those bombers get a lot of attacks in each round.  The German AA guns didn’t hit anything, and the battleships I think both hit, which made things more even.  But it was still touch and go, but ultimately at the end of it all Britain managed to win the battle with … one unit of armour remaining.

So what they had in Europe was equal, but despite having captured a capital and having two other industries Germany lost all their ICs — to Britain — and couldn’t produce anything, so they didn’t last long.  This, then, set up a long endgame against Japan, who had a lot of ICs but didn’t have a lot in the West and had to face two enemies with decent IC incomes, and Britain was able to use the IC boost they received to build up armour and retake Africa and the U.S.S.R. and the East.  Japan made some sorties against America and sent infantry, some planes and armour against Britain when it came East, but Britain kept a bunch of bombers on tap which often made the difference, and if Japan had built bombers it would have taken ICs that they needed for infantry and armour and transports.  Ultimately, America and Britain took everything except Japan, and built up two transport fleets that would have taken it in that turn.  Britain went first and managed to take it with a unit of armour and some bombers left.

That was the most epic game of “Axis and Allies” that I’ve ever played, and so was a ton of fun.  Now, especially given how useful bombers were for me as Britain and given how well planes attack and defend, one could criticize me for not really building many of them throughout the entire game, except from Britain.  However, what I’ve noticed is that planes, bombers, subs and battleships are units that are in theory useful but that in practice aren’t that useful because they cost too much for things that are relatively easy to kill.  Against a swarm of infantry and armour they may do a fair amount of damage — although everything except bombers only do one hit per round, but hit a lot more than other units — but infantry and armour that are defending hit 1/3 of the time and so if you try to send bombers, say, against 42 infantry in one round on average they will hit 13 times, and so in theory you could lose up to 13 bombers per round.  Yes, eventually the number of hits from heavy bombers will at least make that close, but you still need a land unit to take the area.  But infantry costs 3 and bombers cost 15 by default, so you can build 5 infantry for 1 bomber, making them a lot easier to replace than bombers.  Armour itself costs 6, and so you can build about 2 for 1 bomber and also get an infantry out of it, so again 3 units for the cost of 1 bomber.  Unless you have a lot of IC to spare, bombers aren’t all that cost effective except at the highest level of technology, and if you are defending they defend incredibly poorly so you can’t afford to have them attacked at all.  Planes are slightly cheaper, and attack and defend well, but “Axis and Allies” is built around rolling against a value per the unit that is firing and not against what they are hitting — unlike the “Battlestar Galactica” board game, where the roll you need to make is calculated by what is attacking and what they are attacking — and so, as noted above, they almost always hit but aren’t all that hard to hit for defending infantry and armour, and would be hit 50% of the time by attacking armour.  Battleships are the most expensive unit and their best quality is bombardment and the fact that they can only really be attacked by ships and planes, but again you can’t really buy them unless you have the ICs to spare.  Subs aren’t as expensive, but are only really useful because they get first shots at sea units and can submerge afterwards to survive, but there’s a bug in submersion in my version and other than using them against transports they don’t seem that useful (planes are slightly more expensive but can do more and can take out transports as well).

So while I focused on building armour and infantry with transports to bring forces across oceans, I’m not sure that there’s a good strategy for using the other units more heavily than I did.  If someone points out on, I might give it a try at some point.  That being said, that Britain got heavy bombers and Germany didn’t is probably a big reason for the success, as it made bombers useless for Germany and critical for Britain while early on building bombers was not a bad move for Britain.  I might have done better if I had never built any fighters or bombers for Germany, I didn’t build very many and so I don’t think it was responsible for the loss there.  That one did seem to come down to the rolls, which is not strategically interesting but, ultimately, is more exciting.

I still want to play “Risk II” and “Birth of the Federation” at some point, but that will depend on how much time I have.

There’s Just Too Much

May 10, 2022

So, after abandoning “Hearts of Iron”, I wanted to get back into playing other video games.  I mused about it for a while, as is my wont, and then decided that I’d be clever and schedule in finishing off that run of Dragon Age Origins with all of the expansions and playing as Spencer from “Pretty Little Liars”.  And, well, so far I’ve booted the game up once to see where I was.  Now, one of the issues with my picking that up again is that it’s the PC version and I have a subconscious — and probably invalid, since it wasn’t an issue when I started playing the game — paranoia that I won’t remember how the controls work and so won’t be able to do well in the fights (this is also the reason that I never returned to a character in VTM:  Bloodlines, although in that game that fear is more valid).  But another issue that I was having was that there still were a lot of options that I was musing about to fill my rather limited video gaming time even after I had supposedly made up my mind.  I keep thinking about playing “Star Wars:  Rebellion” again as the Rebel Alliance.  I’ve mused about picking up “Wizardry 8” again, since I was having fun with my last run.  I’ve thought about picking up some of my PS2/PS3/PS4 games again.  I’ve thought about picking up games like “Icewind Dale”, or Might and Magic, or the Gold Box games, or other older RPGs (I’ve been reading the CRPG Addict again, which makes me think of that).  I’ve also pondered hooking up one of those classic consoles and playing some of those games. Thus, one of the things that’s stopping me from committing myself to Dragon Age Origins is all of the other games that I have in the back in my mind that I could be doing instead.

So the only game that I’ve been playing regularly is “The Old Republic”, and the only reason that works is because it slots into a specific time slot that I have set aside specifically for it and almost nothing else (occasionally, errands).  It’s not that it’s an MMO because I haven’t been playing “Dark Age of Camelot” for a while despite having a semi-set time slot for it.  No, the main reason I can play it is because I have a specific set of characters I want to get through and I have a time set aside for it and nothing else.  But when I have time slots that cover more a specific hobby rather than a specific instance of that hobby I often can find myself not doing any of them because I can’t decide which of them to do.  In fact, my scheduling things exist because of this, because when I left time slots open I found that I spent so much time deciding what to do that I didn’t do anything that I wanted to do.  At least here this only happens for specific hobbies or things to do.

This hits video games the worst — I mean, I’ve even managed to have specific “Wizardry 8” runs shortcircuited by my coming up with another party that I want to try instead — but, yeah, it can in theory hit anything.  The main reason that I haven’t hit it with DVDs for the past while is that I create a specific time slot and a specific stack to watch them, and so all I do is proceed through the stack.  And since I in general want to finish a series to talk about it, I have another incentive to stick with it and not switch to anything else.  And yet when I switched to rewatching Babylon 5 in December the urge to pick something else, even while watching it, from the stacks of things I wanted to watch again rose.  For books, again right now I have a stack of historical books to read in my general reading time and a set commitment to Shakespeare in a specific time set aside to read those sorts of things (while doing laundry) and so far that’s working, but at one point not so long ago I ditched finally reading the “Heroes in Hell” books because, if I recall correctly, I wanted to re-read the “X-Wing” series more.  Right now, I have shelves of books that I want to read in that time and hope that when the time comes to get around to them the stack and commitment to the stack will help me stick to them (again, there are some book series that I started and wanted to finish but never got around to finishing).

But, yeah, video games are the worst.  I was busy this week and used my video gaming time for other things, but I hope that when it starts up again I’ll finally be able to commit to something.  Otherwise, I may not be playing games for a while.

Out of Practice

April 26, 2022

While musing about which games I was going to play after abandoning “Hearts of Iron”, I started thinking about a big difference between the games I played when I was younger and the games I play now.  Most of the games I played back then were games that I had to in some sense practice in order to play well.  The one that most reminded me of that was my recalling an attempt to play a quick game of “Defender of the Crown” and then recalling that I’d have to learn the mechanisms again, such as learning how to use the catapult to knock down walls, or learn the jousting mechanism again, or learn the fencing mechanism again for raids and to rescue the fair maidens (and actually get a bride with I couldn’t with the C64 version which had a bug in that scene that crashed the game when you did that).  I also remembered that I really love “Pirates!” but then recalled that in order to do well with it I would have to learn the sword fighting game and the ship combat system again.

Now, in my younger days I was really, really good at these mechanisms.  I was good enough at jousting that I could eliminate most of my competitors’ lands just by jousting them for land.  The catapult part was automatic:  three rocks and then three Greek fires and then attack.  In “Pirates!”, I was so good at swordplay that I could attack when greatly outnumbered and win just by beating the enemy captain, and only remember one case where that failed when the numbers were hugely against me … and I almost won that one, too.  So at the time I was indeed able to play and practice enough to get good at these mechanisms, and in fact not only good but exceptionally good.

But when I think about the games I play now, I don’t think I play any games where that is required, and the necessity to practice mechanisms seems to turn me off of playing those old games.  Sure, there’s learning that I had to do, at least, in playing the Persona games, but that’s about strategizing, not about practicing to get the right muscle memory.  Dragon Age and Mass Effect are games with more real-time combat systems but I’m not in any way mastering it and am still mostly in button-mashing mode with the strategic activation of abilities, and I gripe about the real-time systems in both of them.  I’ve gravitated away from sports games and more action-oriented games to games where strategy is more important than actual reflexes, and when I consider playing sports games or other games like that I don’t feel that I have the patience to take the time to learn those mechanisms, which is why I prefer playing sports games on a difficulty that’s too easy for me than go up another level and have to learn or relearn the mechanisms to get good at that level.

There are a couple of games where I still have to do that, specifically “Pinball Arcade” and “Everybody’s Golf”.  However, both of those games either start easily enough or have enough easy tables that I can for the most part start out doing well enough that it doesn’t bore me and so I can develop as I go along.  Since there were other elements in games like “Pirates!” and “Defender of the Crown”, I guess that might have been the case there as well:  while learning the strategy of those two games I was able to do just well enough to not get frustrated at my constant failures and keep playing for fun until I was able to master the mechanisms.  So perhaps my fears are a bit overblown, and are fostered not by not being able to do well enough to have fun, but instead by not being able to do as well as I remember myself doing and not wanting to take the time to get back to my practiced level, since time in general and game-playing time specifically is too precious for me to try that.  However, I still do have an aversion to games that require practice to master their mechanisms to make progress.  So I suppose I definitely should stay away from “Dark Souls” …

Abandoning “Hearts of Iron”

April 19, 2022

I tried to pick up “Hearts of Iron” on my vacation as I promised, and it just didn’t work.  A big part of that was that I made a mistake in my scheduling.  When I played Persona 5 Royal the same way, I had a very set schedule for my mornings where I knew when I’d quit and so knew that I would have the dedicated time to play the game, so it worked.  I didn’t do that on this vacation, and so found that my mornings kept drifting into the afternoons and so I ended up not having the time I wanted to play.  This wasn’t helped by the fact that curling was on — albeit men’s — but it was incredibly convenient to have that on while eating and then just keep watching it while doing other things.  So the schedule itself wasn’t really conducive to play “Hearts of Iron”.

That being said, a main reason for not playing it was because, ultimately, it wasn’t giving me what I wanted.

I think I’ve talked before about the little things it does that annoyed me, like that you can’t set the production sliders absolutely and that changing the game speed is not at all easy, if it’s even possible.  But what I was hoping for was that when things got going I’d be able to at least see what was going on and watch its history play out.  Now, one thing that really annoyed me was how it displayed information.  Attempts by a country to influence another country got a pop-up, along with when someone gave you a technology.  The latter was only meaningful because if you were researching that thing you stopped researching it, and the former were generally meaningless and were incredibly frequent.  But I could have accepted that except that there was also an area that displayed messages, where those could easily have gone.  And really important things like, say, the decisions that countries made on the various historical events were dumped in there, which is how I found out that Czechoslovakia was wiped out.  They could easily have made those pop-ups and dumped the others into the message box.  Even worse, though, was that the outcomes of battles weren’t displayed anywhere.  I found this out when after Germany annexed Poland I happened to scroll back up to Europe — I was playing as Australia at the time — and noted all sorts of land and sea battles happening in and around France.  This meant that in order to find out what was going on I would have had to watch the areas closely, which was manageable when it was just France but once North Africa got into the mix it was getting problematic.  Once Japan entered the war, it would have been utterly insane.

And they would have, because it seems like “Hearts of Iron” drives things by events rather than gameplay.  French, British, Canadian and South African troops were engaging German, Italian and Spanish forces in Europe and while they weren’t doing great they were holding on and then all of a sudden Vichy France declares independence and they were all gone.  And when I say “Gone” I mean gone.  I couldn’t find them again.  So it looked to me like this was a preset event and choice that happened at the right time and trumped what was happening in the actual theatre, which bugged me.  And then the Allies invaded Italy and while outnumbered seemed to be holding on and the North Africa campaign seemed to be happening and … I was caught between what seemed like either stupid changes to history or events that would wipe it out and started to lose interest.

See, the thing was that I was playing as a nation that wasn’t directly involved because I wanted to see how things turned out.  But not having the updates made it really hard to just watch.  I could go to a country with more options like the United States but again simply watching wouldn’t be a lot of fun.  So I’d need to get directly involved.  But that was pretty much Germany, the Soviet Union or France, unless I wanted to take on a smaller country like Poland that was going to get overrun.  But then those countries might be hit by events which would undo what I had done.  And I wasn’t interested in that happening.  Maybe the post-war era would have been fun, but that was five years away and I didn’t have the patience for it.  I had wanted to try to finish at least that run, but just couldn’t muster the interest to do it.

So, on coming back from vacation I needed to figure out another game, and it wasn’t going to be one of these.  I’m at the end of my WWII books and so won’t get a push from them anymore, and while the other Hearts of Iron games or Paradox games would probably be better I really wanted to do something else.  I considered trying to do the Wizardry 6 – 8 run, but the graphics and gameplay of 6 is too different from 8 for me to get into that right now when I was really interested in 8 and was only looking at 6 and 7 to pull that off.  So I abandoned that idea.  I think I’m going to try to play my human noble in the PC — with full expansions — version of Dragon Age Origins and see if I can get through that.  It fits into my rearranged game playing schedule and is something that I really should get through.

So that’s it for Hearts of Iron, at least for now.  We’ll see how RPGs, my first love, go.

A brief video game update

February 2, 2022

I had made it a bit of a priority to play some video games in the New Year, and for the most part it’s been working.  I’m going to take a little bit of time to talk about some of the odd things I’ve noticed with them.

I did ultimately decide to do an exploration run with the first “Hearts of Iron” game.  I started a play as Australia, which was a pretty good choice because it has just enough resources to be able to do some things like research but not so much that it was constantly having events come up and things completed so I didn’t get overwhelmed.  However, it also didn’t have any events so at times things are going slowly, so that while playing I’m more watching game shows on TV than playing the game itself, letting the game run while most of my attention is on the TV.  I thought about increasing the speed, but I did kinda like the slower approach and the game’s speed controls are not as intuitive as Star Wars:  Rebellion’s — there you can simply select a drop down and pick the level you want, while for Hearts of Iron they claimed that it was a keyboard command that I tried at one point but think changed the map zoom instead — and didn’t want to get overwhelmed if things started to happen, so I left it there.  At that speed it is kinda relaxing, and it does mean that I don’t get swamped with all of the “Country X did Y influence to Counter Y” messages.

Which raises another issue with the game.  I was in 1939 and was starting to wonder if there were any kind of events or if there was any real link to history at all, because it didn’t seem like anything was happening.  Then I happened to notice in the events status bar at the bottom of the screen that it seems like Czechoslovakia indeed had some events and choices to make, and in fact they happened to chose the option that takes the Czechs, at least, out of the game.  So, they can constantly put up meaningless influence messages, but leave the main historical events and even an event that would eliminate a player in the status window?  Really?

I also find the sliders a bit annoying, because they are a mix of absolute and total values, where you have to set those values to above a certain value to be able to meet all your commitments, but every time you change a value it automatically adjusts the others to try to accommodate that, and at times it dropped a certain slider below the line even if it could have taken the values from somewhere else, and freeing up some space so that you could use it for something else ends up forcing you to adjust all of the other sliders to try to get it right.  It’s a very painful process to adjust those sliders if you need to fine tune them to get just the right set of values so that you can do everything you want.  Right now I’m working at a level where I only need to make minor tweaks, but if I end up needing to switch from prioritizing research to prioritizing production it will not be fun.

My biggest worry right now, though, is that with my calculations on how many more hours I have to finish this run given the amount of hours I can play at this speed it looks like it will take me another couple of months to finish this run, which means that exploring this will take up much more time than I wanted.  That’s something that I’ll have to think about over the next couple of weeks.

I’ve also found that for some reason “The Old Republic” is playing havoc with my schedule because its timing is really inconsistent.  I’ve already talked about how it had extended its interlude and surprised me, but then the time left for that was much shorter than expected, but too long to combine with a planet run.  And just lately I had a planet run and interlude that were again longer than expected but then sent me to Quesh which is a shorter planet, but I didn’t have the time to finish that in that session but didn’t know about that beforehand so that I could have done the interlude along with it and just quit after the planet.  This seems to be happening more than it did in the past, although that might be because I’m remembering the late game which might be more set (although I remember having issues with that on my last run as well, which was in the late game).  It’s not really a bad thing in itself, but it messes up my schedule for the things that I’m supposed to do after that, either making it so that I have spare time that I didn’t expect or that I bleed into that time and so can’t get as much of that done as I’d like.

And for “Dark Age of Camelot”, I was quite annoyed as I headed out to Caer Ulwych and did some quests there, but forgot to bind, got killed, and ended up back in the Camelot Hills, a long way away, especially since movement speed is not quick in this game.  And then I finished off some quests and headed back, but ended up trying to go cross country, got swarmed, and died again before I could bind again.  That being said, after getting back there and binding I figured out how to split the combat and general message windows out from each other so that I could see what’s going on in each, so that’s good.  It’s also interesting that I’m still playing my human paladin and haven’t created an alt or an alt in another realm, because when I first played the game I had alts all over the place.  I think the influence of TOR plus the fact that I always have quests to do and haven’t had to grind is responsible for this.  If I didn’t know what to do or had to grind levels I do suspect that trying out another realm would be suddenly sound far more appealing.

Anyway, that’s what I’m doing with games lately.

Persona 5 Royal: Maruki

January 19, 2022

So in this post I’m going to talk about the other new S-link and story important character, the school counselor Maruki.  Again, I’m going to talk about how he fits as an addition to the original story and about his specific story, and so again I’ll be spoiling his story (and Yoshizawa’s as well) and so again if you don’t want to be spoiled don’t read past this point.

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Time and the Casual Gamer

January 18, 2022

So in the new schedule I have set aside dedicated time Saturday mornings to play The Old Republic, before getting into doing the other things I need to do on a Saturday.  This past Saturday, due to weather conditions — incredibly cold — I found myself able to start playing it earlier in the day than normal, which gave me more time to play than I normally had.  Also, I tend to like to do a planet in one session, but also to try to do the chapter interludes in that same session so that the next time I come back to a game I can just start at a planet and do it.  Basically, I always want to be starting a planet at the start of a session if at all possible.

So I finished Alderaan and decided to do the chapter interlude, which involved running back to Dromund Kaas and meeting with intelligence and then running a mission on a dreadnought, and then returning to Dromund Kaas and finally getting some time off, which immediately leaps to the next chapter — well, you have to access the holocomm, I think — with a new set of missions.  The main quest asks you to go back to Dromund Kaas and get new instructions, which I would have been able to do and almost certainly would have led to the next planet.  However, at the same time, companion Kaliyo — whom I strongly dislike — sets up another quest to deal with the problems from her past that were caused because she ticked too many people off and is somewhat cavalier about dealing with them by killing them off (which is one of the main reasons I really dislike her).  But I always do want to finish all the companion quests and bonus quests if I can, and so could have settled in to finish them off to start clean in the next session … but I was already over an hour over what my end time would be and didn’t really know how long all of that would take, and I actually did need that time to do other things.  So I quit for the day.

But this got me thinking.  When we talk about casual gamers, we tend to talk about them only having time to play in short, stolen blocks of time around other things.  Which is indeed common to a lot of them.  But as a Not-So-Casual Gamer, I share some traits with casual gamers, and what I find is that, for me, it’s actually easier at times to carve out one long block of time to play something instead of a bunch of small gaming sessions.  And it’s easy to see that this could apply to other casual gamers as well.  Someone who works long hours might be able to carve a long session out on Sunday afternoon and not have any time to play during the week.  Someone who is married with children — go Bundy! — might find some time some evening or some weekend when the kids and the wife have run off to activities that they don’t need to go to and don’t need to take them to.  And so on and so forth.  So to make a game casual friendly for them, you’d need to think about how to make a game that can be played in one long session a week instead of in a bunch of small sessions a day.

This hit me with Dragon Age:  Inquisition and the War Table.  At first glance, the idea seemed really good:  send agents to complete missions — some of which are necessary to advance and some of which produce resources that are needed to advance — but the missions are completed in real-time, and so if you start a session and only play for two hours, you can kick off a bunch of these missions and they will be completed by the time you start the game up the next day.  Sounds great!  Except that I ended up carving out my long play session and noted that playing longer didn’t mean that I could complete more missions a lot of the time, because they were just long enough to carry over to the next session.  And if I needed the mission to complete before doing something else I wanted or needed to do, that meant that I had to fill that one session with less important or interesting things — or quit for the day — and come back next week.  This was a mechanism that worked well if you could play for a couple of hours every day or for long sessions almost every day, but poorly when you could only play one long session every week.

What this and my The Old Republic experience showed me is that for the casual gamer the actual amount of time something takes is less important than making it clear just how long something is going to take before they commit to it.  In DAI, if someone cleaned up all the small quests figuring that they’d then run the mission to open up the next area in their next session, discovering that that mission would take longer than they had could ruin that play session, as they’d have nothing left to do until the mission completed but not enough time to see that mission finish and be able to do anything interesting.  For TOR, if I had known how many quests there were and roughly how long they’d take I could adjust for that accordingly by, for example, quitting after Alderaan and running all the interludes in one session instead of trying to finish it all.  And that’s not even mentioning my getting suckered into a marathon play session of Persona 5 Royal that I could have avoided if it had been more clear what the epilogue involved before I started it.

If a game is in general divided into segments that can be completed in one to two hours, that will of course benefit all casual games because those who work on one longer play a week instead of a bunch of smaller ones can just concatenate segments together until they hit their play time for the week and will definitely feel like they’ve accomplished something.  But what is more important for all casual gamers is knowing how long something will take.  If one of those segments suddenly leaps to four hours, knowing that can prepare those who can only get in short sessions for having to take two or more sessions to get through it, and can allow those with longer sessions to schedule that segment in one session instead of trying to start it halfway or almost all the way through one and then having to abandon it.  This sort of scheduling is important because one of the reasons causal gamers are casual gamers is because they always have something else they could or should be doing, and so even if they have to stop early it’s not like they’ll be left with nothing to do, although they might chafe at having their precious gaming time taken away, but if it’s from their own choice they are more likely to accept it than if the game itself forces them with no warning to do that, like in the DAI case.

Video games are in general pretty bad at doing stuff like this.  Sometimes it’s for good reasons:  the time it will take to finish something very much depends on the skill of the player and so it will depend on how often you have to retry sections or bosses.  It’s also difficult to do that for story beats without spoiling the story bits by telegraphing that things are going to be more complicated than they were before.  I will say, however, that other than for the endings and epilogues the Persona series is pretty good at it, since for the most part dungeons and the social aspects take roughly the same amount of time all through the game making it easy to plan for (my plan with Persona 3 was to take one night to do a dungeon and then one night to do all the S-link and school stuff, and keep alternating that until the boss, which worked really well for me).  TOR is pretty good at this as well since planets all tend to take in the 4 hour range if you do the story quests and the planet quests, but the interludes and endings, again, can be a problem.  DAI, on the other hand, was terrible for that because clearing an area varied wildly between areas, player skill sets, and resources the player had.  I wonder if that’s another reason that I’ve played Persona 5 four times now (counting my Royal run) and have only played DAI once …