You know, Exit Music Starts would be a great name for a movie review blog, or just a Hollywood Celebrity Blog. It’s free. You can have it.
Anyway, I was recently tagged by Dahakha of Star Fired Beef to participate in some sort of epidemiological study of Internet viruses called “The Liebsters.” Let me start by saying that I’m old enough to have once received a real chain letter in the actual mail – you know, youngsters, all that paper junk that comes to the box outside your house. Despite the vague sounding threats of a curse, I threw the damn thing out and went about living my life at my wise old age of thirteen. You know, now that I’m overweight, have a bad back, and have some sort of plague running around up in my sinuses, perhaps I should have taken the curse more seriously.
Seriously, though, I’m honored to have been tagged to participate in this, and I’m happy for a chance to blog, since mine has slowed down a lot in recent months. The rules as they’ve been delivered to me is that I should share eleven facts about myself, answer the questions posed by Dahakha, and then create eleven other questions to spread to the next set of bloggers.
1) Does the age regarding the real physical chain letter thing count? I don’t know. I worry about things like that, which is certainly a fact.
2) I now teach 6th grade. They’re very little. I could pick some of them up with one hand, and I’m not particularly strong.
3) I had pretty severe depression when I lived in Illinois. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I did. I suspect it was a brain-chemistry withdrawl thing, going from a real classroom to being a college professor, which is a completely different sort of thing that doesn’t produce oxytocin or whatever at anywhere near the same rate, so I think I was basically addicted to teaching.
4) I like numbered lists.
5) I wouldn’t have a blog at all if it weren’t for Larisa of The Pink Pigtail Inn, a.k.a. Jessica of The Velvet Cafe, which is her current blog. I sent out a cold email to her just asking for help and advice, and she answered with a ton of great information and encouragement which really got me started.
6) I always miss my blog’s birthday, which I did again this year. I’ve been blogging for four years now!
7) I’ve lived and worked as a teacher in 4 different states in the past decade or so: South Carolina, New York (City), Illinois, and now Virginia. New York was the best. Virginia is the worst as of now, but I live in hope.
8) I’m not particularly religious, but if I “had” to be, I’d probably be Buddhist. I like the non-aggressive approach that it seems to put out, and think its general philosophies fit me better than most others.
9) I’ve been happily married to my best friend, the most wonderful person I’ve ever met, for the past 9.5 years. We’re renewing our vows this coming August for our tenth anniversary. I’d usually hate this kind of pomp and circumstance – the wedding was miserable (and my wife agrees) – but I actually suggested this. That’s growth, I guess!
10) I really, really like grammar. I’m not a “strict grammarian” in any sense; I don’t care about your grammar and I only correct others in ironic or professional ways (I am, after all, an English teacher), but I do love grammar. I pondered over the likelihood of people using the wrong form of have or has in a sentence like this: “I really love the blogging community, but I feel like my move and my more time demanding job HAVE/HAS really pulled me away from the community. That was the original start to #10, but I removed it because, while I know the correct answer (have), I don’t like the way it looked in the sentence, where it really felt like has should be there. So I got rid of it and wrote about grammar instead.
11) I strongly believe that gamergate is a hate-based organization without much difference to the KKK or the pro-Apartheid government of South Africa prior to its fall. The truly insidious part is how they’ve used propaganda promoting their “positive” message about ethics, which is only really a veneer. There’s no way to force people to admit their agendas, and as a result, a lot of stupid or impressionable people fall into the trap of believing the surface level ethics nonsense while slowly being indoctrinated into the misogynistic and violent culture that lays beneath. In fact, I probably admire Sarkeesian more than anyone in the gaming community as a result of how she’s pushed forward against this garbage. That’s no disrespect meant to Wu or Quinn, I honestly just haven’t informed myself as much about who they are and their struggles, so I have no doubt they’re equally important and admirable; it’s just my own failing that I know so little about them.
Okay, well, that’s longer than most of my posts are anyway, so let’s take a break and come back to this on Wednesday. Then, I’ll answer the questions and infect a few more bloggers for participation in this medical study.
I’ve been enjoying several new games recently, though admittedly it’s hard to compete with my run of Crypt of the Necrodancer, Transistor, and This War of Mine. However, the three listed in today’s title are all excellent games as well, though – well – like I said. It’s not a fair comparison to those masterpieces.
Blackguards is a hex-grid turn-based tactical role playing game. It’s based on a tabletop system I’ve never played, called, I believe, the Dark Eye. I don’t know anything about the core system, but the experience and development in this game system was quite good, and I don’t have many complaints about the game as a whole. The concept is that you “get” to play bad guys, something that kept me away from this game until I got it as part of a Humble Bundle. I don’t like playing evil; I don’t care for the power-madness or revenge fantasies often acted out in such games. However, the story in this game isn’t really about being evil; you’re falsely accused of a crime and thrown in prison, given no opportunity to speak for yourself before your execution, and decide to escape to find out what really happened. That you must “break the law” to do so is less and issue of evil and more an issue of law vs. chaos (in a D&D sense), so I really had little problem playing the game.
The story developed well, and the fights were largely enjoyable – and then I hit that spot I too often do where I knew I could beat the game and was told there was going to be a slogfest of like 13 fights on the last board. I saw that and kind of froze up; I’ve done all the side quests I could find, so I’m super-powerful at this point and just don’t need to finish to know I could finish if I wanted to. I may, don’t get me wrong, but then again… well, we’ll see. I know how it’s going to end, I know I could get there, and there’s just so many good games to play!
Speaking of, I started playing Our Darker Purpose, a little Zelda-style gem that’s been a silly blast. The concept is simple: you’re the quiet kid at a school where the adults have vanished, and the more popular and more athletic kids decided to eliminate you and your kind. Can you survive long enough to reveal the truth?
Well, I can’t. At least not yet. It’s a single-playthrough “rogue-like” game that reminds me of Binding of Isaac crossed with Rogue Legacy, in that each attempt allows you to improve your power and practice and hopefully get further the next attempt. The art is dark and moody, reminding me of Edward Gorey or Tim Burton with a dash of Lemony Snicket of Series of Unfortunate Events fame. It’s been great for micro-play sessions (since I can’t get past the third board just yet), and it’s dark mood has humored me in the past few days.
Also within those past few days, I snatched up The Long Dark from a Steam sale. I’ve played a lot of the horror-survival sims, and to be frank, this one’s not that different. That said, this one’s pretty different. Rather than running around a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland as I did in DayZ and 7 Days to Die, there’s no real supernatural threats here. Okay, yes, there’s “electro-magnetic disaster effected evil” wolves and bears, but you can turn them off if you really just want to survive and be left alone. Even then, it’s tough; this game’s environment is the real killer, and being out when it’s too cold will kill you quite quickly (as will standing in a fire you just set because you did a bad job placing it and it ended up beneath you – whoops!).
I’ve enjoyed the art in the game a lot; it’s as beautiful as Skyrim while not being photorealistic, with instead a somewhat surreal art style mixed with a beautiful pallet (reminder: I know nothing about art) – when it’s not a complete white-out while you’re wandering around hoping to God you find some shelter before you freeze to death. That immediacy – the imminent threat simply of the wind, for example – has largely replaced the real visceral fear of other players I had in DayZ, which surprised me, since I didn’t know if a game could get me to feel that way without the viciousness of real people on the other end.
So all three games have been very enjoyable, and I recommend you try any of them whose design and reviews here strike your fancy.
Until next time,
Stubborn (and about to go play one of those right now)
Okay, the headline stink a tad bit of yellow journalism, but seriously, I’ve got a story to tell.
In January, I noticed an odd charge to EA on my bank statement, and when I looked into it, it appeared someone had bought Fifa ’15 on my Origin account with my credit card. I contacted EA immediately, and to be fair, they were super helpful and immediately resolved the issue, including that I should probably up my account security with log in verification, which I happily did.
That interaction was a big relief after all trouble I had with Star Wars: The Old Republic, wherein the custserv reps were idiotic and unhelpful, so I was feeling pretty good about EA… for a while.
Tonight I got an email indicating my password to my Origin account had been changed – something I hadn’t done. As soon as I got home, I began the process of looking into it, which only took about 30 minutes; I had to regain control of my account, including using the verification system, and then log in to the help queue. The notice I got said I’d be called “now,” but it took about an hour for the call to come in. Fine. I can be patient; they’re a big company.
After explaining what had gone on to the custserv rep, who again was helpful, polite, and patient, I asked how my password could be changed without the person having access to the log in verification or access to my email, which, frankly, I knew they didn’t. I keep a pretty tight ship around here, and after scanning my computer with two different virus/malware programs, nothing had turned up, which I expected.
The custserv rep, frankly, didn’t know. He asked for a few minutes to check with someone higher up – a security expert. About 10 minutes later (again, fine, I don’t mind waiting), he came back and informed me of something that made my mind explode.
I’m paraphrasing, to be clear; I don’t remember the exact verbage he used since my head was spinning, but the gist was that EA is intentionally changing people’s passwords to scare them into being more proactive about account security. He said that their premise is that even if the customer loses control of their account for a little while, it will hopefully cause them to use more security features so that the account can’t be hacked or hijacked in the future.
Now, again, to be clear, I’m not mad at this poor fellow. He also told me that his queue length had jumped from zero to over 150 while he was at lunch. He’s in for a bad night.
I checked the email I got again to see if it was worded in a way that indicated this little “trick,” but it wasn’t; it’s the exact same email you get when you or anyone else changes your password. EA is freaking out and wasting the time of its customers in the interest of improving security so they have less work to do in the future to fix security breaches. EA is charging its customers time now to save itself from potential security breaches in the future.
One of my favorite quotes is that “all great disasters start as small decisions that seem like a good idea at the time,” which is taken from The Sparrow, a sci-fi novel about interplanetary missionaries by Mary Doria Russell. It’s a monster of a book, thoroughly enjoyable if you’ve not read it. This EA situation is clearly a case of “good idea at the time,” and I can’t imagine this doesn’t end in a PR nightmare unless it’s being done on a small scale, which would, you know, defeat the purpose of their insane project.
Now, maybe I’m out of line. Maybe I’m responding from an uninformed worldview; I can admit I MAY be wrong.
But I don’t know. This seems kinda stupid.
Stubborn (and perhaps wrong)
I’m going to start with one more “long time no see” kind of joke, but let’s just be real here; I’m clearly having a hard time keeping the blog updated while having a full time job and actually, you know, playing games.
Nevertheless, I hope you’ll stick with me as you can for these often only biweekly check ins. I might not have the regularity I used to, but at least new posts can be like a nice surprise!
At any rate, I’ve been playing many of the same and a few new games recently, and immensely enjoying virtually all of them. I’ve been on an extremely lucky streak of quality games. I know you’ve seen the list before, but let me reiterate it; every one of these games is worth your time and money:
I swear I haven’t been given any money by any of these game developers, despite my apparent zeal; I’m just so happy after what felt like such a drought of real innovation to have landed on all of these games that – while they’re not all COMPLETELY REVOLUTIONARY (Dungeon Defenders 2 is just a nice sequel to the first if you like that kind of game), they’re all quality and enjoyable. I really recommend you get them as you can at whatever price you’re willing to play.
Of those games, two really stood out due to their musicality: Crypt of the Necrodancer and Transistor. Both are heavily influenced by their music. Sure, every game has a soundtrack, and some of them are really stunning. In fact, let me make a plug (I wrote pug there at first and almost missed it – too much WoW?) for a good friend’s game music project: Syl of MMO Gypsy and Syp of Bio Break produce an excellent show called Battle Bards; if you’ve not looked into it before, I heartily recommend you do; the scope of their project – which delves into an often-experienced but little-reviewed portion of games – is truly impressive. Check it out!
Anyway – back from that little tangent – both games rely heavily on their music. In Crypt of the Necrodancer, the music itself is a core game mechanic; you move through a rogue-like world to the beat of the soundtrack, moving and attacking to the beat – or missing if you’re off of it. If just that new-ish mechanic (at least in terms of being applied to a dungeon-crawling rogue-like) wasn’t enough, the actual quality and variety of the music really fulfills the game’s inherent promise: you’re going to get to “Deliver beatdowns to the beat.”
The songs are a lot of fun – pure and simple. They’re fast-paced game techno music or low-key cool synth blues. I know nothing about music, mind you, so those terms may be completely nonsensical, but that’s how it feels. The boss levels, too, are uniquely fun; one is a conga line with a skipping beat that’s hard for old people like me to remember to avoid. Another is a blues boss on a chessboard, and the third randomly-selected boss head bangs to heavy metal while shooting fire around the room.
Transistor, on the other hand, doesn’t integrate the music into its mechanics so much as into the core story, and wonderfully so. The game itself is as beautifully artistic as Bastion was – and really, even more so. They’ve captured a kind of dystopian film-noir art deco style (there I go again just mashing words together, but I think it’s pretty accurate) in the visual art, and the music – well. The music is as beautiful as any game music I’ve heard, and the music is so well integrated into the plot that they’re essentially one and the same. It’s truly fantastic.
Beyond the beautiful art and music of the game, the mechanics are super-solid. I’m sure by now there’s a million “best” strats and builds, but I just played around with the character builds and had fun. The concept is that you get “programs” you can run both as main attacks, modifiers to other attacks, or as passive talents, so each new program you pick up actually adds a ton of modularity to your play style by adding a new potential core attack, a new potential modifier for every other core attack you have, and a new passive for your character. It makes for a ton of great experimentation and variety of play.
So if you’re a fan of music and games, you really should without any doubt purchase and play both of these games. Both deserve 10/10, if I was the kind of site to rank games like that. But I’m not.
Stubborn (not a game ranker)
So, it’s been a while. I hope you’re doing well. Things are fine here; it’s just been busy. I suspect the mid-term time is busy for everyone, and our mid-terms come after Christmas break and unhappily coincide with a million snow days and more.
But things are slowing down as the third quarter has officially begun. I’m plugging away at school, trying to make what difference I can in 180 days. I’m happy to report one of my sixth graders took second place in the district middle school spelling bee. She lost to an 8th grader who she had on the ropes 3 times but just couldn’t close. Of course, I’m super proud of her, but realistically, I didn’t have anything to do with her success; she already knew how to spell really well before she ever got to me. I was particularly impressed when she got indocile as a word, clearly didn’t know the word or the root word, and still spelled it correctly. Good girl.
I’ve made a lot of strides in gaming, too, though some of those strides are rather short of length. I asked months ago when the garrison would stop feeling like a fun activity and start feeling like a chore, and I tipped over that scale some time since our last correspondence. I still log on every day or so and do a few missions and run to Stormshield to get my tokens once a week, but little’s been happening other than that in WoW.
In the meantime, I’ve played a lot of other games. I started and finished Escape Goat 2, which was thoroughly enjoyable as a platform puzzler. I’m proud to say I didn’t have to look up any of the solutions, though I did have to walk away a few times and come back later after a minor epiphany. The game was well tuned just ahead of the frustration curb, as I can only remember saying once that I was “done with the goddamn game for good.” Luckily, not long later I realized what I could try differently and finished that particular puzzle. It was a lot of fun, was very beautifully designed, and a very hip-retro soundtrack.
I also played and finished This War of Mine. It deserves the reviews and awards it’s received or has been nominated for. I’m happy to report that I successfully completed it on my second try. I won’t put any strategies here, but I will say this: don’t waste your food. I was wasting an ENORMOUS amount of it for the first two weeks or so, and knowing how to better conserve completely changed the game for me. I’ll write more on it later.
The moral and ethical choices you’re faced with in the game feel pretty real; I avoided killing people for a long time until I felt it necessary to intervene. After that, I tried to avoid killing people as much as possible, but there were a few situations where people just had to die. I tried to avoid stealing, too, but according to my epilogue I stole from two different groups and left them with “next to nothing.” I have no memory of either, but I guess that’s sort of the point; it becomes commonplace to take what you need, and if it was an electrical part, I probably took it. At any rate, it was another excellent game that I feel thoroughly privileged to play.
I’m still honing my skills in Crypt of the Necrodancer and waiting for more content as its released. I try to play a few boards a day until I win or get frustrated and want to stop. The music is still great and fresh to me; it reminds me of a Daft Punk album, and I’ve considered trying to play the game to Voyager.
So that’s what I’ve been up to. How about you? Any tips for This War of Mine? Any thoughts on games I should be playing?
It was a long and glorious break, though I have to admit I’m quite glad to have gotten back to school. As strange as it may sound, I think I’m an oxytocin addict; being away from my kids for too long sends me into a depressive withdrawl.
The break itself was quite “successful;” I put four different games to bed over the break. Since I often don’t bother to finish games at all, I’m rather proud of having such a complete track record, even if it’s only for a two-week period.
Crypt of the Necrodancer
I really enjoyed Crypt of the Necrodancer; I have no complaints about it at all. It is still currently incomplete, though, so while I did “finish” the single-run hardcore mode, I’m not done playing it. I practice a little bit every few days in anticipation of when the fourth section and, I assume, final boss is released. I think that the music in this game is some of the best I’ve heard come out of a video game since the classic era, and I find myself bebopping to the songs even when I’m not playing. It’s definitely worth checking out.
Mass Effect 3
So to be fair, I’m not sure what people’s deal with the ending of Mass Effect 3 was. It was a bit trite and succinct, all neatly rolled up at the end, but it’s no worse than the Matrix or other modern epics. I enjoyed the story almost entirely, as well as a majority of the game play. There were two decisions by the developers, though, that grated on me. One was that it was absolutely necessary to have a save game file from Mass Effect 2 to make it worth playing – and I didn’t. It prompts you for one when you start the game, but I just charged ahead, unaware of the massive amount of disadvantages that would pile upon me. The only really frustrating time, though, was when I was forced to be complicit in genocide of one type or another; I understand giving some extra story or perhaps saving a secondary character (like, I suspect, Miranda, who survived my buddy’s game but not mine). That’s fine, but to force a player to choose to destroy one race or another entirely is, frankly, bullshit. If it was so crucial, it should be made crystal clear from the start that you’d damn well better download a save game from somewhere and import it or expect to pay the penalty.
The other problem I had with the game came at the end. I did literally everything in the game: every quest, every planet, everything. I ended up 50 points short of the full bar war readiness bar. Okay, I made a few “good” decisions that may have handicapped me those 50 points; I can live with that. HOWEVER, the fact is that I was also being penalized 50% of my overall war readiness because no one’s playing the multiplayer any more. Well, that’s bullshit. I didn’t get to choose one of the endings – the one, apparently, I would have chosen had I been given the option – because the penalty was 2% too great. Two percent. Don’t build a system into your game, developers, that punishes people for playing it after it’s lost popularity.
Still, overall, I enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as Mass Effect 2.
Walking Dead season 2
This game, like Mass Effect 3, was quite good, but not as good as its predecessor. I played the first episode and a half some indeterminate time ago, stopping right when a big surprise happened in the game. I’m not sure why exactly I stopped; something else, I assume, caught my attention, but therein lies the problem. That didn’t happen with the first game. The first game grabbed my attention and didn’t let go until the end. Here, it dragged a little. I think part of it was that the game’s dynamic switched from protecting someone else to protecting oneself; the first certainly is a stronger imperative within me as a player. Secondly, the gameplay wasn’t as original, being the second installment of it. Additionally, some of the curtain had been pulled back about how little affect your choices had, and I feel like this game did a worse job at hiding it. Sure, I don’t expect everyone to follow every wish of an 11-year-old girl, but when I’m begging this dude over here not to take a pot shot at a bandit but he does anyway to disastrous effect, it really shows that my conversation choices aren’t mattering. Still, it had a lot of really great moments and some very interesting and enjoyable characters, but just not as many as the first. Was it worth playing? Definitely, and I’m glad I did.
For all the hype around this game – and much of it was well deserved – I just didn’t really get hooked by this game. Perhaps I’m just over such unforgiving tactical combat, but having to repeatedly reload a battle because I kept misjudging a distance by one square and having one of my people essentially one-shotted wasn’t as much fun as it might used to have been. The art was beautiful. The story was good. The setting was unique; the game itself had so much cool design going for it, but in the end, I just didn’t like the combat that much, and I didn’t like that the experience system was tied to food. Having people starve because I don’t want to have all of my characters be level one for the mid-game fights doesn’t feel like an interesting decision; it feels unpleasant.
I’m not happy with how this mini-review is coming out, to be honest. I recommended the game to my buddy, who likes turn-based tactical games. I’d recommend it to a lot of people; it was a well-done game. It’s just not really what I want to play right now, which is why I suspect I started and stopped playing it twice throughout its tenure. I didn’t know how close I was to the end when I picked it back up, but I made a conscious decision to finish it rather than really desiring to do so. I’m glad I played it; from a creative perspective, it was a great experience. I just don’t know how much I liked the mechanical parts.
So, that’s what I did with my break – acted super lazy and played computer. It was as fun as it sounds!
Stubborn (and ready to be back to work)
I’m honored to have the privilege to not only take place in such a wonderful communal event but also to be the penultimate post in this years perfectly planned event. Thank you to Syl for organizing all of this and all the other helpers and participants who made it come to life.
Games truly are the greatest gift. Yes, okay, everyone would like to get a new car or a top-of-the-line computer, but pause for a moment with me. Expensive gifts, while pleasant to receive, almost always are gifts that cause you to do things by yourself. That new tablet might be rippin’ good fun, but a game – well. Now we’ve got gift that will keep on giving.
You see, dear reader, games bring us together; games are a center around which we build a community. Even the root of the word, the ga-, is the same root as in gather or the –gamy word stem that means marriage, another unification. Games provide a reason, which in the past we never really needed, to come over and spend time together, to overcome the cultural predilection to isolation. In a culture that’s becoming more and more technologically distant due to what one researcher calls technoference, games can tear down those barriers to – or assimilate them into – a communal activity.
When you give a game to someone, you’re not just giving them a thing, but you’re giving them an future of experiences, as well. Think of all the fun you’ve had with others while playing games. Think of the laughs you’ve had or the deeply engaging tactical discussions. Think of the shared fun. That’s what games give.
Giving a friend a game that’s not entirely single-player, whether it’s a co-op game on the computer or a board or card game is not just a declaration of friendship – the gift itself – but an implied promise to play with them in the future. Giving a friend a game is also making a date to play it.
Many of my favorite games were gifts; my wife bought me Boss Monster for my birthday this past year, and just since then, we’ve had many rounds of hilarity and fun building our dungeons and collecting the souls of adventurers. I bought my buddy 7 Days to Die, and we’ve laughed a lot since then, too, though often because of the many hilarious mishaps we’ve run into, like him sledgehammering me in the face during a zombie horde attack because he twitch reacted to my presence rather than taking moment to check if it was me or a monster.
So while it’s likely too late this holiday season to buy a game as a gift, consider it as your next gift. It might not be as flashy as a piece of technology or as impressive as a new vehicle (to be fair, this “car as a gift” thing has never happened to me, but I was trying to think of something that implied cost and sacrifice), but giving a game shows the impressiveness of your bond and has the flash of your future friendship.
Games, then, truly are the gift that keep on giving. They give the game itself, the promise of future game days, and all the brilliant experiences the giver and recipient share in that future. So give a game next time you can, and reap all the benefits!
Now go forth and play!
Stubborn (game giver)