Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Help Chuck Wright out and get Chuck's Dragons

Frog God Games now has a tome of adventures for which all proceeds go to helping Chuck Wright, the man who you should thank for such excellent art, layout and design on Frog God Games books. Chuck had complications due to his diabetes and lost a leg (see Tenkar's post here). As someone with diabetes myself, this is a terrible risk for those afflicted, and I greatly empathize with his situation. Not all of us are able to contribute to help as much as we'd like, but if you'd like one way to do it, Frog God now has the tome Chuck's Dragons which is a series of six short dragon-themed encounters you can use in your preferred system of choice, in PDF and print. You can also get a signed copy. All of the proceeds from this book go toward helping Chuck during his recovery.

You can also donate to a gofundme page set up here, but if you'd like to help out and still enjoy some Frog God goodness, the adventure anthology is hard to beat.

Pick up a copy today and help Chuck out. He's done a lot for all of us who enjoy Frog God's works and gaming in general. I don't know him personally, but I have a veritable shelf of tomes that would not exist as they do without him, and I deeply respect his work as an artist and creator. Please get better, Chuck.

Overwatch vs. Battleborn vs. Doom

I know I said I'd stop droning about Doom but.....it was hard to resist.

This is not a comprehensive review of any of these games, but rather some quick factoids for those looking for some raw comparison data on May's plague of shooters event going on RIGHT NOW. Here you go!

Premise: Every shooter needs an excuse, a reason if you will, to shoot stuff. Here they are:

Battleborn: a team of 25 battleborn superheroes in the future fight stuff. There may be a plot involving an evil empire. They all feel like the season four cast of an undisclosed Borderlands sequel.

Overwatch: a team of 22ish Overwatch dudes, all superheroes who got together to stop aliens, are now back together battling evil doppelgangers of themselves (or something). The game has a ton of lore that is so far mysteriously not supported in actual play.

Doom: you are Doomguy and you need to kill all the demons and blow up the evil corporation if possible, too.

Gimmick: these games each have a play gimmick (besides being fast-play FPSes)...here's what they are:

Battleborn: you play and level your dudes while unlocking more dudes, armor, and other stuff. You "micro-level" in the course of a scenario on a ladder of abilities.

Overwatch: you have dudes with preset stats but can change characters on the fly. You are really playing a MOBA blended in an unholy union with the FPS viewpoint.

Doom: you are playing a game from 1992, but with better graphics and the ability to look up and down.

Playing With Friends: every game should let you do this, and in 2016 a shooter which doesn't let you play split-screen is evil. How do they stack?

Battleborn: split-screen co-op! YEAH!!!! Also lots of online stuff.

Overwatch: lots of quick ways to find all your friends on the console who aren't playing the game, but no split-screen, and all missions are kinda sorta co-op with strangers.

Doom: no split-screen and no co-op, but you can find friends and kill them in multiplayer.

Playing With Yourself: even more important than playing with friends is the game's ability to play with yourself....

Battleborn: supports full solo gameplay in arenas and a complete 8 chapters of storyline missions! YEAH!!!! But they go kinda fast.

Overwatch: you can go co-op vs. AI bots and pretend those other guys you are playing with are also bots, but they might not respect you in the morning. (Truthfully, the MOBA elements of Overwatch were so noticeable I got kinda uncomfortable playing, as MOBAs have a strong rep for inducing the GIFT in people).

Doom: A full campaign that won't test your patience for several chapters, and the wonderful Snap Map mode where you can easily play other people's home-made levels. COOOL

Longevity: how long will these games last you? I have no idea, hut here's how long these are likely to last for me....

Battleborn: until you unlock all the characters and grow weary of the whole affair. If you are lucky this will happen before the DLC arrives.

Overwatch: I'm not sure. I haven't figured out what the point of the game is, beyond some fun missions. The long-term goal seems dependent on my inherent sense of competition, and I am not someone who feels competitive....I like goal-based objectives. So Overwatch's cosmetic loot boxes confuse me right now.

Doom: it will last until you finish the campaign +2-3 hours in Snap Map, and maybe an hour of painful abuse in multiplayer.

Style: you can go watch trailers and play videos to figure this out, but here's my interpetation:

Battleborn: slick, feels like a 3D graphic novel from the ninties, with a heavy does of Aeon Flux mixed in.

Overwatch: cartoon comic-book fun that makes me wish the time spent on this game had instead been focused on World of Warcraft II. Not as annoying as the trailers led me to believe.

Doom: Heavy metal LP cover meets modern space marine graphic design.

Assessment: my own assessment, so far! Overwatch deserves more follow-up, though....but it's only been out a few hours and already has me intrigued and stressed for all the wrong reasons.

Battleborn: it is a shooter, through and through, with some interesting implementation from other game types, such as tower defense and such. Each scenario feels like a mini campaign in its own right, and it has an evocative look. The quirky Borderlandsesque characters are generally fun but one would not be remiss in thinking Take2 was trying a bit....ah...too hard here.

Battleborn is a game I can play with my kid, which is also cool. Splits-creen for the win!!! I can't play Doom with him due to subject, and Overwatch seems like a bad fit due to the MOBA aspects, and lack of offline play or split-screen.

Overwatch: I have to spend more time to really say, but so far my favorite mode is the AI mission practice levels because holy shit I was getting ground up in the regular game. Despite that I kept getting "Play of the Moment" awards or something, which were odd, and I got a lot of up-votes from coplayers. I was ecstatic to get them....but also reticent to keep playing because I was really uncomfortable with the idea of being put up on display for judgement by my peers; I assume I suck, and if I don't suck, I assume the unwashed masses will turn on me rapidly if I fail to live up to lofty expectations even once. Future of Overwatch on my Xbox One uncertain!!!!

I'll tell you one thing, Overwatch needs a single player mode. How can Blizzard have so much lore and then show none if it in the actual game experience? They make Destiny look like freakin' Tolkien....!

Doom: See prior blog on Doom!!!!! I will say that I grew generally tired of this game before the end. But I figure I'll give it a break and then explore more Snap Maps.

Monday, May 23, 2016

White Star Returns: The Regency Campaign

Saturday was an upheaval! I brought forth a new White Star campaign, and my good sport players conceded that it was probably better to play what the GM wanted to run and was ready for. It helped that three of the players on Saturday experienced White Star on Wednesday....anyway, I'm very pleased.

The new campaign is a completely new thing. As I explained it, this universe ties in to the prior campaign in a "alternate reality/mirror universe" sort of way. I'll post an actual play report this week, but the short version of this universe is as follows (queue scroll):

The Universe of the Regency is a galaxy in conflict. 30% of known space is held by two major entities: The VEGAN EMPIRE rules with an iron fist, using it's enforcers, the VOID LORDS of the ORDER OF TYPHON to subjugate all worlds, species and cultures under its iron rule.

Meanwhile, the STAR KNIGHTS of the REGENCY are a peacekeeping force serving the hegemony of mankind, which has ruled in peace for a thousand years. But now the VEGAN EMPIRE seeks to establish a treaty with the independent worlds of TAXARI SPACE, a major bridge between their empire and the REGENCY. The independent worlds are seen as uncivilized, where you can still meet genetically unmodified species, living in technological and political isolation from the rest of the galaxy.

The ORDER OF TYPHON has sent a diplomatic force under the direction of LORD ARKOS to the independent world of ARMANNEOS III, where GOVERNOR LOAR rules local space with a benevolent hand. They seek to convince the local government to ally with the VEGAN EMPIRE. The REGENCY has responded by dispatching the refitted military vessel MYSTERY UNFOLDING with a team of special agents and STAR KNIGHTS to intervene and convince the independent worlds to stand strong. Elder STAR KNIGHT ATRISTE leads the expedition.

Meanwhile, beyond the edge of TAXARI SPACE lies the evil QUINLON EMPIRE. EMPEROR KAAN has allied with the ORDER OF TYPHON, and an insidious plot to sieze control of the independent worlds is about to begin...

So the tale begins!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Last Word on Doom

Okay, here it is, my final Doom assessment:

Campaign: The single player campaign gets better, and becomes about as entertaining as I recall Doom 3 being. They just spread the "plot bits" out more evenly this time (as you might recall Doom 3 had it all front-loaded, except for the sundry transcripts you could find throughout the game). But after a few hours of playing it's feeling a lot like the classics to me, in a not uncomfortable way. I also like that each level can be finished in about an hour, which means you can enjoy it in bite-size pieces if the fast Doom pace is otherwise too fraying on the nerves. A solid A, but maybe more of a good B+, as I'd feel more highly if I didn't find the color palette of yellows and greens so odd.

Custom Map Madness: Snap Map is awesome and will extend longevity of the game for me, although map tools look daunting, and are beyond what I want to do. But that said, some people are already recreating classic Doom I and II levels rather nicely in Snap Map. A+

MP Madness: Multiplayer is a glorious OSR mess....OSR video game style, of course. It feels like old Id as you might remember it, which is great if you liked that sort of thing. For me? Not so much. It also introduces some modernization, including level up mechanics and a ridiculous level of character customization, judging by the badasses I was playing with online. Interestingly the crowd by the speaker sounded mostly like older guys. No venom-spewing 13 year olds during my pathetic attempts to reaquiant myself with hyper-fast run-and-gun gameplay. Not my cup of tea, but that works for me....I'm led to believe the season pass is for 3 DLC packs that are all about the multiplayer, so I can resume ignoring it and stick to the campaign and snap map for my fun. D- for me, B+ for everyone else, I suspect.

A Doom Downside: no split-screen support that I can find. This is important when you have kids! But maybe not a horribly big deal, since my kid is too young to play Doom. We'll stick to Battleborn instead, about which I'll tell you a great deal more soon, as Battleborn is the dark horse title I have been completely swept away by....and my kid, too. C- as split-screen is still relevant, sorry publishers. Some people still like co-op couch gaming, and nothing you do to stop it will make me buy two copies for my household.

Cliff Blezinksi (of Gears of War fame) critiqued the glory kill (critical strike) options in Doom as being too excessive. I just want to set the record straight that what Cliff is demonstrating is envy, at how cool they are in Doom and how easy they are to execute, unlike the horrid chainsaw mechanic in Gears of War that is effectively the same deal (except of course how the chainsaw in Doom works quite nicely and without some timing button press issue that makes it nearly impossible at times).

Final Verdict: A solid A for the single player component and a B+ for the multiplayer if you're in to that stuff; this could have benefited from split-screen support and offline bot play options, but the snap-map feature makes up for the absence of these options.

And now! Let us never speak of Doom again on this blog. For a while at least. Now where's the Quake reboot, Id/Bethesda? Hmmmm?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

More Weekend Trip Fun: Wupatki National Monument and More

Yes, another mini-trip.....if the blog posts have been a bit more infrequent lately, this is why; I'm too busy cavorting about the southwest with my family on the weekends to do much writing or pontificating.

Anyway we hit the Flagstaff/NE Corner of Arizona this weekend, visiting the Homol'ovi archaeological site, Bearizona animal preserve in Williams, The Grand Canyon (south side), Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monument, and a final return trip through the Navajo Reservation, where along the way we checked out dinosaur footprints in fossilized clay deposits from the end of the Jurassic, according to my wife (who made a big friend in our older Navajo guide who was also an aspiring wanna-be paleontologist).

Wupatki is one of my favorite sites, part of an 800 year old complex of Kayenta Anasazi who chose their location for (among other reasons) an impressive blowhole which comes from a natural crack into a deep moisture-filled cave, releasing intensely cold natural air conditioning into the area. It also has an unusual kiva-like structure (which is missing certain common features seen in all other kivas) and a nicely reconstructed ball court (one of 200 in the Arizona/New Mexico area). It also had evidence of trade with northern Mexican traders including macaws and copper bells.



Wupatki's sister site Wukoki

Wupatki "kiva"

Wupatki "kiva"

Wupatki Blow Hole

Monday, May 16, 2016

Doom (Take 2) - Second Thoughts and also Snap Map Is Cool

After the initial shock of encountering an old school shooter out in the wild, with AAA aesthetics and a suspiciously absent plot....I recovered and have since found a bit of fun with the game. Really, I mostly reminded myself that the level of fun to be had in Doom was about comparable to what I am getting out of playing Resident Evil: Revelations 2's Raid Mode to death (which I love)....so why would I dislike Doom? Answer is....I don't, really. I just was sort of hoping for something more directly inspired by the grim and horrific Doom 3, which was the definitive Doom I came to enjoy.*

Still, being a direct descendant of the first 2 Dooms is ultimately not bad if the game still looks great and feels good while playing. The story won't win awards (but lets hold off until I finish said campaign mode....it could surprise me) but the Snap Map option is really cool, and the designer maps already available dramatically extend the game's longevity. Short description: it's the tool which lets you make and share maps, and there are already a lot of cool maps to explore.

Next, multiplayer....I'll report on that soon.

*I liked the creepy, horrific elements of Doom 3, and spent a lot of time treading carefully in that game, which oozed atmosphere. I also know that the "surprise monster jumps out from behind you" feature in Doom 3 wasn't all that popular among many gamers, but I found it nerve-wracking.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Initial Impressions: Doom

I have Doom on the PS4 (preordered) and may already be wishing I hadn't done so. I'm not a classic FPS shooter fan, although I've tried to engage with the older games as best I could....it's just not a style of play I dig much; without a sense of plot and purpose I find these games hollow experiences. I didn't really play a Quake or Doom I liked until Quake 4 and Doom 3. But, don't get me wrong....I totally understand where fans of the classics are coming from when they complain about the overly elaborate stories of those two titles (we're using the word elaborate very loosely here, admittedly) and the move away from insanely fast run-and-gun multiplayer combat. You know...the sort of combat perpetuated by Team Fortress 2, Unreal Tournament 3 and such, the sort of stuff that invented the idea that rocket jumping is a sensible course of action, and that dual-wielding rocket launchers sounds completely feasible.

Doom, the new reboot/remake/sequel (I can't say for sure which it is, as the game moves back to original 80's style Doom in terms of story depth) is all about creating a modern, graphically pleasant version of that style of game. It will not be for everyone, but if you happen to just want fast and crazy multiplayer and a singal player campaign that makes Painkiller look deep, then this might be your cup of tea.

I bet there are a lot of old Doom fans from the 80s who will get very nostalgic about this new edition (and just as many who will disparage any slight differences, as well). I just happen to be a guy who more or less despised most shooter titles like this until Half Life 2 changed everything and started to set a trend for meaningful (okay, more interesting?) story and game play.

I'll keep chugging along for a while, see if things change. This is definitely not a sequel to Doom 3 in any conventional sense, though....oh well. It is definitely a sequel to Doom 1 and 2 though. First hour of game play gets a B+ for controls and graphics, and a D- for holding interest, but hopefully that will change.....or, I guess I can just be reminded that it's not actually a smart idea to preorder games if I'm not totally sure of what I'll get.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Digging through the Shelves: Cryptworld, GURPS, Mutants & Masterminds and CoC vs. Minimalist Ideals

In excavating my collection I have run across some gems I had forgotten about...which only complicates my plan to go minimalist (or at least make a vague effort at such).

Cryptworld, for example. What a great game this is! I like Chill 3rd edition, but you know what I'm still doing with that book months after purchasing it? Still reading it, or trying to find the time to absorb it. Cryptworld, however....I read and finished that over a weekend, and was ready to run it. Add Majus, Rotworld and Time Master in to the mix and you have a very nice set of genre-building tools using the Pacesetter system. Daniel Proctor needs to produce a sci fi setting for Pacesetter, and the system will be complete--anyone else remember Star Aces? My underestanding is Star Aces exists in the hands of someone else now, but Goblinoid Games should be able to do their own SF take on the rules.

I think I'll keep Cryptworld and the other Pacesetter games, and maybe I should get serious about running them. In fact this exercise in shedding games has led me to ordering Monsters Macabre finally...so now I'm losing ground...

I have been eyeballing my Mutants & Masterminds collection as well. In principle it fits the profile of a game I need to ditch:

1. I have a ton of books for a game I haven't run since it's first edition sometime around 2003
2. I have read probably 5% of those books
3. The system while intriguing clearly demands more time than I have and competes with other games that will provide the same experience with far less effort
4. By the time I am ready to take an interest it will almost certainly be outdated by a 4th edition

MnM 3E fits that profile well, but the books are so gorgeous, and if I only had the time I know I'd love to delve deep into its mysteries. Plus, the DC editions (pre New-52 data however, so YMMV on what that means). Sigh. Into the "out bin."

Then there's GURPS, the game I haven't run something for since 2008 but which remains the one game system I feel would be a reasonable RPG to have on the proverbial desert island. But....I haven't run it in ages. And Steve Jackson Games has more or less migrated the 4th edition of GURPS into an evergreen status with a steady stream of fun PDF releases targeted at the 400 or so GURPS fans left on the internet. They have Munchkin now, and seem to have no further interest in keeping the RPG alive. Should I still care about this system?

Well, I did pick up their three new After the End* PDFs they just released, so I guess my GURPS investment isn't over with yet. And I have narrowed this collection down to  just a fraction of it's original size.....I guess I'll give what I have left a pass.

Call of Cthulhu? 7th Edition still isn't out and I won't order it until it's actually described as a real thing you can order immediately. They could still have a ship sink or a warehouse fire....but what about all my CoC 6th stuff? Some of it I can ditch, having bought it purely out of purile interest....but most of it is gaming stuff I have used, sometimes a lot, and value just for the reading experience alone, never mind its bounty for gaming. Still, once 7th edition is here I might find it a lot easier to ditch much of my 6E product. We'll see.

Gah...minimalism is hard.....

*Check them out by the way. At LONG LAST GURPS has a series of sourcebooks directly supporting Fallout/Boy and His Dog?Mad Max/Gamma World gaming and the three books currently out are awesome. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Battlefield 1 vs. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare--World War I vs. "Totally Not Halo"--who will win?

When Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare's trailer was released a few days back I was mildly interested but surprised they were about to take their franchise into territory for which, among other things:

1. Their base was not interested (people who want a space shooter are playing Destiny or Halo 5)
2. Breaks far away from the thematics of "what-if-quasi-realisitc warfare in past or near future" the series has been enmeshed in for the last decade
3. Is using an engine poorly suited to representing realistic space combat (they could fix this, but I've been playing CoD games long enough to doubt it will, plus one word: Ghosts)

People seem to be hating it. I'll probably still get it because I am on the venn diagram of gamers who like Destiny, Halo and CoD, but here's the video anyway:

It looks fun. Just not maybe like Call of Duty as I envision it. This looks like their answer to Titanfall 2 and Destiny (again). But look at all those dislikes! CoD hate runs strong every year.

Today EA and DICE revealed their new Battlefield title. Contrary to some expectations that it might be a reveal for a sequel to Battlefield 2142, the new edition in the series is titled "Battlefield 1" and it is about a war I've dearly wanted to see a game focus on for a long time now: The Great War, alias World War I. Look at this amazing trailer:

Battlefield 1 is suddenly a serious contender this year for "game I am most interested in," lemme tell you. I am impressed that Battlefield is sticking to its guns as the shooter focused on "more realistc" historical combat experiences, and treading new ground to boot. This is very exciting.

So this year we get to watch CoD take on a genre it's never scratched before (although Black Ops III certainly nails the cyberpunk warfare element well) and Battlefield 1 bring us a glorious Triple AAA release focused on The Great War. I'm interested in seeing if the former pulls it off in some manner, but for the latter? That's an actual attempt at something both fresh and interesting.

Maybe we'll see Ubisoft announce an Assassin's Creed: Verdun next! Could WWI be the next historical period to get over-saturated video game attention?

Minimalist Gaming--possible, or just another pipe dream?

If they had a show for Game Hoarders I might be a good fit. I suspect that other bloggers and OSR people online might be a much better fit than me....I've moved across a few states over the last two decades, and that has at times forced me to consolidate my vast collection of books and games, plus my efforts to migrate to electronic readers at least cut down on the number of books I have filling shelves (if not games). But I really do have too much.

I've been thinking about how nice it would be to just keep cutting down until I am at last at the "essentials." D&D 5E would be my natural choice....but could I really give up thinking about 13th Age? Savage Worlds seems to be the best fit for what I need for all-purpose multigenre gaming right now....but BRP and GURPS have long and steady histories with me (even if I haven't run GURPS since 2008...sigh). Call of Cthulhu remains my go-to for horror gaming, but could I really give up Kult, Chill, Cryptworld, Unknown Armies and more? What about all the superhero games I've collected but suspect I'll never, ever get to play?

Minimalism is hard for gamers. But it is a thing! People do it, and find their lives simpler and possibly better for it. I have at least one long-term friend who I believe is an excellent minimalist, though he may not know it.

I am tempted by the concept, which is tough, because I grew up in a family which could give most hoarders a run for their money. I'm already downright reformed compared to other family members in my life, so relatively speaking I'm already a borderline minimalist by their standards. But to a true minimalist I'm a nightmare of rolling paper and collectibles, an Id-like monstrosity of content and memorabilia from the Forbidden Apartment.

If I go through with this, I may have a lot of stuff on ebay again soon. I've already decimated my Pathfinder collection (twice, but it kept growing anyway) and I'm eyeballing everything else. It would be nice to move to a more "dedicated" stance with a handful of treasured, much-played games rather than the current problem I have, of way too many games dividing precious time and interest too thinly.

Stuff to consider....