Friday, June 28, 2013

A Quick Overview of the Recent Cornucopia of Survival Horror and Zombie Games

There have been a lot of fresh zombie and survival horror titles hitting the PC and consoles lately....the last few months have been a veritable banquet for the undead vs. hearty suvivors! We all know about Resident Evil 6, which was released for the PC a month or two back...and of course I'll be blogging more about it's final campaign (and multiplayer) soon enough. In the meantime, some others worth mentioning (or warning you about):

Resident Evil: Revelations

I'll be properly reviewing this, but RE: Revelations is a fantastic upgraded port of the same game from the Nintendo 3DS lineup. I almost bought a 3DS to play this title, but then I remembered that Nintendo only releases one "mature" themed title on each of it's consoles to sucker older gamers in; the rest of their offerings are aimed squarely at 13 year old girls and emo boys for as far as the eye can see.

Either way waiting paid off; this is an amazingly fun game and truer to the spirit and style of classic Resident Evil than any of the recent offerings; it's proof you can upgrade the controls, spiff up the gun mechanics, and take the same general engine from RE 4 and RE 5 and make something that looks, feels and plays like classic RE. The multiplayer raid mode is amazingly fun, too!

Dead Island: Riptide

This was clearly intended to be a second DLC expansion when someone at Deep Silver realized they could make it a bit bigger, package a new island to explore, and chuck it out as a full title in its own right. I've played it for a few hours, but if you (like me) found yourself more or less burned out on the Dead Island style by the end of the first game then this one has exactly nothing new to offer. It's not the proper expansion everyone was hoping for, instead just being an effort at milking this particular engine for a bit more cash. PCGamer's review says it all, I feel.

The Last of Us

This PS3 exclusive from Naughty Dog has been all over game site news so if you haven't heard of it you must not be a console gamer or you come to my blog by way of the paper and pencil side of the equation. The Last of Us, in the time I've had to play it, is an amazing game and it's intro/prologue chapter is actually one of the best gaming experiences of this sort I've ever played, hands down. It's a very compelling title, perhaps even a bit too much so; I've been playing lots of Resident Evil just to wait for a time to properly savor (and wrestle with) the stark what-if reality of the apocalyptic world and its incredibly likable survivors The Last of Us imposes on our psyche.

State of Decay

An Xbox 360 exclusivc, and only $20 to boot, is an amazing zombie apocalypse sandbox adventure in a very rich, deeply explorable package with tons of interesting options. I hope it doesn't remain an exclusive forever; it feels like a title that more properly deserves attention on the PC. The fact that no one until now has made a full-on zombie apocalypse sandbox experience in third-person mode is kind of amazing, really. "Grand Theft Zombie" is a fantastic concept, and State of Decay fills this space very well. Sure, there's DayZ for Arma....but here at least you can worry properly about the zombies and not griefers!

So, final consensus? Get RE: Revelations, State of Decay and The Last of Us if you happen to have the right hardware for each. Get Dead Island: Riptide if you find it on sale for cheap and wanted more of the same from the original game.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Legends of Dawn is now out

In an exciting bit of news one of the few Kickstarters I backed is actually out today. It was released on Steam and shortly thereafter I received my key in email. Legends of Dawn is an indie-made isometric action RPG (near as I can tell), and it's now downloading. It was only only about four months late, positively timely by KS standards....will let you all know if it was worth the modest $15 investment once I get some time to play it!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Nook eats B&N Film at 11 - on the long term sustainability of the Nook Tablets and B&N chain stores

Interesting story here, another development in the ongoing woes of Barnes & Noble, the last national retail bookstore chain. I'm not really looking forward to seeing B&N disappear....but I can completely understand why it seems to be going that direction. B&N is indeed cannibalizing itself, was Nook store sales have to pull people away from physical retail chain sales. I haven't bought an actual physical book from B&N now for better than eight months, maybe longer. The last few times I went into their store I simply brought my Nook and purchased the books I wanted on it, instead (it felt crass, but they do encourage this).

You'd think that this is just a transfer of cash flow from physical to virtual storefronts (moving their cheese around), but it sounds like B&N still has bigger problems as the Nook appears not to be as successful as, say, Amazon and it's Kindle. My guess is that Amazon has a general overall advantage with a wider range of ebooks that are competitively priced (you can survive quite nicely on the Kindle with $2.99 titles if you don't mind sticking with second rate authors, smaller publishers or sale items) and of course Kindle has no physical chain of stores to drag it down.

I hardly ever buy physical books anymore, but have a knee-jerk sense that physical book stores are important. I do still go and buy an occasional paperback at Hastings or the local mom and pop book store (Page One, or Titelwave....yeah, not a lot of book stores around here). Despite having the same general love of books that most bibliophiles do --the literal sensation of holding a book...finding a book, and reading it being somehow very significant-- I have to concede that in the last year and a half I have grown heavily dependent on my ereaders. Why? I can adjust the screen lighting, the font size, the type of font...I can make it easier to read for my aging eyes, essentially. I can carry a single tablet reader around and have access to a thousand books in my library. My biggest worry about reading from my tablet is accidental decision paralysis. My second biggest worry is it gets destroyed or lost....but my entire collection exists in the cloud, right? I can re-download without effort. If I lost my physical library in a fire or through some accident, it would be 100% gone. Not so with the ebooks...right?

Maybe, if B&N goes under, this is going to put forth an unfortunate test of the viability of the market for electronic libraries and their sustainability. If B&N went under without a provision for the retention of Nook libraries to purchasers, that could be very bad for the future of electronic retailers who don't use a model where "you buy it, you keep it," like Baen Books. Likewise, if everyone with a Nook suddenly finds its a glorified paperweight or an average Google Play tablet...well, that could be a real blow for electronic readers down the road. I guess B&N is going to be a test case for just how this works out.

As I'm typing this there's an NPR story on the radio talking about B&N and the Nook, suggesting that they plan to consolidate back to dedicated e-ink Simpletouch tablets since those attract serious readers, and that any more dedicated products in the future might come out of a partnership with some entity like Microsoft. That implies that B&N feels that lower Nook tablet sales are driven by a lack of competitiveness in that particular market....and that those who do buy, say, the HD+ are not dedicated readers, thus not contributing to putting money into the Nook Store side of the equation. Interesting.

I actually would pick up a e-ink reader for the Nook but the one I want (with the backlight) has gotten trashed repeatedly online in review after review for having a common glaring "pinpoint light" flaw in its design. Still, the premise that a book store chain which focuses on providing a dedicated reader device and only a reader device, rather than a glorified tablet, sounds sensible. Maybe if B&N realizes that they can't compete in the same space as Google and Apple, that they really only need to beat out Amazon's Kindle...maybe that will be the best way for the business to go. I guess time will tell.

Spirits, Demons and Vestiges of Eredoth

Known Spirit Saints of the Relic Kingdoms:
Sethrys, the Winter Queen, Lady of Monsters: This powerful woman has manifested a control over ice and cold in her domain, and now resides deep in the heart of the Frostmounts, ruling giants and other monstrous kin. She is a terrifying being, neither saintly nor spiritual, and seeks to conquer Eredoth one day, though her timetable of action is a mystery. She has been in existence for eighty years now, and it has been fifty years since she led an army of monsters northward to the capitol of Calladania in the Northern Duchies where she waged war for five years until the spirit-saint Augusteros rallied the soldiers of the land to drive her back.

   Of those who doubt her “sainthood,” one need only talk to the giants, ogres, and other kin who call her such; she is regarded as a powerful force among the giantkin for unifying them into a kingdom of their own.

Augusteros, The Sword Saint: Augusteros is still known to walk the land, for as has been pointed out, if he had passed on then no memory of him would remain; he is considered the patron saint of soldiers, and bards have many stories to tell of his manifestation in times of need. He has been known of for more than a century now.

Killias, the Water Bringer: Killias was a young woman, touched by the Divine Wind while at sea, who changed to the form of a mermaid. She is now considered patron saint of sailors and of safe voyages in the Grey Sea. It is said that she considers herself a servant of Mataki.

Tarn, the Hunter: A rough old coot, Tarn was a ranger of the southern province and servant to king Emerad’s grandfather. He was fatally wounded in his old age while hunting, but the Divine Wind did not let him perish. He has not been seen in many years now, though on rare occasions in the woods some hunters claim to encounter him, continuing the hunt, and some starving families find game brought to their door by amysterious man they are certain is Tarn.

Miurnes, the Birth Giver: This patron saint of women and childbirth is said herself to have had a difficult birth and was about to die when the Divine Wind touched her, saving mother and child. Her daughter grew up to be the legendary sorceress Caedra, who dwells in her tower on the Isle of Saagarest. Miurnes appears at times to those women in need, acting as a mysterious midwife who assists in a difficult childbirth and then disappears after a child is born.

The Complication of the Yagoth and the Demon Gods of the West
   The people of Eredoth do not just have saints to benefit from, for they also have very old demons that haunt their land. These beings are called the Yagoth, and there is no consensus as to where they come from. Common belief holds that the Yagoth are actually possessed beings inhabited by the spirits of the lost Klippath of the Relic Empire, twisted and shaped into monsters in body and soul by these ancient spirits, hungry for living flesh. A more heretical notion is that the Divine Wind itself creates them, and that it is not a benevolent force, but a natural force which must balance good and evil, and so for every spirit saint there must be a Yagoth. No one is sure what is true about these beings, other than their insatiable lust for cruelty and death. Only a very few witches and warlocks know that there are ancient obsidian mirrors that can be found in the Relic Empire ruins, capable of summoning the Yagoth, and that mortals are alarmingly susceptible to possession and transmogrification by these demons.

   Yagoth are believed (rather terrifyingly) to be entirely unrelated to the so called Demon Gods of the west; most Eredish theologians believe, strongly, that the Demon Gods are malevolent apparitions that have confused the western empire of Xoxtocharit into believing that they are infernal beings of godlike power, for the notion that there may be a hundred or more evil gods in the world is almost too much for them to contemplate. Nindragom, not known for its scholars and theologians, nonetheless has a cult of battle clerics that pride themelves on their dedication to slaying the western cultists and mastering these demons, for they feel that the Xoxtocharit demons are merely another manifestation of the Mania, changing mortals into demons.

   In truth, the Xoxtocharit have created a complicated hierarchy of belief and worship centered on the so called “servants of the betrayers,” which is a euphemism for the greatest servants and generals of the Betrayer Gods from the era of the Apocalypse, a period of time about which they know a great deal more than most scholars in the easterlands are aware of. Indeed, the memories of the apocalypse have all but been erased in the dominion of the Relic Empires, for reasons that are not at all obvious.

The Seven Known Vestiges
   Of the many names and figures identified in the ancient script of the Relic Empire, only seven names have been determined to have divine significance, and as such these seven are believed to be the ancient gods of the lost Nakal/Klippath. Dubbed “vestiges” the first manifestation of a known vestige was caused by the tribe of elves once called the Ulithirians, and now called the Kaddam, which means “Shadows” in the Relic Script, they say. These elves followed the darkness of the endless passages of caverns in the Frostmounts until discovering an ancient city of the Relic Empire, still intact yet submerged in the mountains and somehow protected by a vast dome from the crushing rock above. Within this city was an ancient tomb to the dead god called Zaramast. The elves disturbed the vestige of Zaramast, and with its last power it changed them forever, altering the elves into the shadowy creatures of darkness that they now are. The elves were suffused with arcane knowledge from the shadow god, and have sought to appease and feed the vestige power through sacrifice, to learn more of its ancient secrets.

   What follows is a summary of the known vestiges. All of the following have hidden cults throughout Eredoth, Capac and Nindragom, and some are openly worshipped among the Iargan barbarians. No one, not even their cultists, doubt that these are mere shadows of dead gods, whose power and lust for existence was so great that long after their power is gone, their bodies, slain and their souls either destroyed or reborn, these whispery shades of desire continue to exist.

Vestige Name                   Aspect                                          Manifestation
Narinath                           vestige of knowledge and secrets      an ancient scholar
Malin’ithaer                      vestige of machines                         an infernal contraption
Zaramast                          vestige of hate and darkness             a vile dark elf killer in the darkness
Skael                                vestige of deceit and trickery            a sly rogue
Emiridon                          vestige of the cosmos                       an enveloping darkness or wind
Nisultyr                            vestige of creation                            a burning point of light
Meremeth                         vestige of life                                  a shadowy woman
Yazda Grahath                  vestige of monstrosities                    a brutal shifting beast

   The vestiges are well and truly dead, but the lingering essence of each shade is so powerful that they continue to influence the living a hundred thousand years later. Each of the above aspects can be invoked by those who know the secrets to communing with the vestiges, and extracting lost secrets and rituals from them. It is said, for example, that many orc sorcerers have learned to commune with Yazda Grahath, and from her have learned the secret of creating terrible birthing pools, out of which hideous monsters emerge. In northern Calladia, the powerful Sect of the Burning Sky have learned to commune with Emiridon, and in turn have drawn on this vestige to learn arcane secrets of the cosmos.

   The vestiges are almost insanely dangerous. They can sustain moments of existence by stealing the life and souls of those who they are contacted by; failure to properly contain or ward against a summoned vestige can rapidly prove fatal, though luckily a vestige can only sustain itself from stealing the lives of the living, and then gaining only a few minutes of existence when it does so. Even the more benevolent vestiges find it almost impossible to resist the theft of others’ souls, though they may warn those around them when they are about to do harm.

  Vestiges can manifest naturally adjacent to ancient ruins, especially in ruins that once contained great temples of worship to the old gods. On very rare occasion some seers and oracles can act to channel the dead minds of these beings, a more indirect (and sometimes safer) way of communing with them, though only those born with this unique gift can do so.

Next: Lost History

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Resident Evil 6: The Jake Muller Campaign

It is entirely possible I am the only one who really cares about Resident Evil 6 today, although I imagine other RE fans like myself are possibly revisiting the game in the last weeks of June as the game's actual timeline places most of the big action during this period. A pity the cool BSAA phones everyone uses in the game aren't real! But I guess I'll accept not having holographic phones in this universe if it also means being safe from horrendous mutating viruses.

All of the following gameplay was on the PC edition of the game, which I jumped to after it was released. For the record, the PC version plays and feels much tighter than the Xbox 360 version, and looks better too. But we all knew that! It's a given, PC trumps console, hardly worth pointing out.

The Jake Muller campaign is the third of four campaign arcs that intertwine through the convoluted yet somehow simple Resident Evil 6 story line. Jake Muller is the illegitimate love child of the late Albert Wesker (last seen in RE 5 in the bottom of a volcano) and some unnamed woman of German or Austrian ancestry (if the last name is anything to go by). Jake is young blood in a game where the lead characters are all pushing 35 or older, at minimum (which means Leon and Chris are positively geriatric by Japanese RPG hero standards!) so presumably he and his companion Sherry Birkin (the little girl from RE 2) are destined to be primary heroes for the future of the RE universe...assuming Capcom doesn't get a wild burr up its ass and decide to reboot the franchise, which would be a silly decision in my opinion. The RE franchise works really well with history, and rebooting what has come before means chucking a load of amusing, interesting and occasionally disturbing and horrifying back-story, which can add plenty of grist for the mill to future entries in the franchise.

Since Capcom added an amateur hour difficulty setting to RE 6 title it's been a lot more fun to play and consequently the really wacko QTE events don't even stand out now because they barely exist as a thing for player's on Newb difficulty. As a result, I enjoyed the Jake campaign with almost zero stress and very few deaths; the hardest elements of the campaign were usually with screwing up on the "running away controls" for those moments when the massive brute-mutant Ustanak is chasing you. I could bump myself back up to normal difficulty for more of a challenge....but why bother? This game's control scheme is just wonky enough that there seem to be only two difficulties to start: "cakewalk," followed by "smash controller in rage at another senseless death caused by bad camera/control schemes with unavoidable deaths that can only be beaten through severe repetition" mode. They shorten that last mode's title to "normal" because it's hard to put all that on one icon to click.

But to summarize: read some other RE 6 reviews that mention the Jake Muller campaign. They usually complain about how painful the unarmed combat is, especially when you start meeting the rasklapanje for the first time. I can personally attest to the fact that the part in the Leon Kennedy campaign where you meet the rasklapanje (on normal mode) was insanely painful. Well, the good news is on easy difficulty the unarmed combat isn't just fun, its almost preferable to anything else, which is amusing since in easy mode you will never run out of ammo, and therefore fighting with unarmed style is purely an aesthetic choice.

Anyway, the Jake Muller campaign is all about a young, angry dude who's gotten into the privatized mercenary army lifestyle. He's on the wrong side this time, working with the J'avo in Serbia where Chris Redfield and other BSAA agents are basically at war with the terrorists. There's a lot of unspoken backstory in the RE 6 story, some of which you'll get to see if you persevere and find the mysterious serpent tokens hidden throughout the game. This is a huge flaw with the game; it should have liberally splashed endless notes, historical bits and dossiers all over the place for people to find rather than "gating" it behind hard-to-find tokens that allow you to access this info only when not actually playing. Some of this backstory revolves around various armed militias that have taken to securing bio-organic weaponry, which they in turn adopt in cult-like fashion to suffuse themselves with the stuff of super-soldiers (at least until they start mutating...)

Jake's on the wrong side of this mess when in comes Sherry Birkin, who is now all grown up and working for the NSA as a special agent, after being raised and tutored by the dept. head Mr. Simmons (another factoid not revealed in the actual game but buried in a hard to find data bit). Sherry, who has some unusual healing properties thanks to her mad scientist father's tampering is looking for Jake, who has some weird immunities as well thanks to his genetic history. Apparently Wesker fooled around sometime after he first started treating himself to T-Virus injections (or was he up to the G-Virus by then?)

The rest of the Jake Muller campaign is a lengthy sequence of escapes and captures, with some interesting locations including an exotic Chinese mansion and a bunch of cross-overs with the Chris and Leon campaigns. By the time you get to the end, it's been a fun ride and nice to see how these two fit in to the story, but at the same time there weren't a lot of unanswered questions on the Jake/Sherry side of the story. A lingering sense of growing familiarity between the two characters is ever present, and I am sure it has spawned more than a little fanfic out there (not going to look, I just know this is how fanfic works; never mind the Leon/Chris/Jake fanfic I am sure is out there too! Or the rasklapanje/Jake/Chris....well, you get the idea), but whatever unholy spawn Sherry and Jake are capable of producing will probably be reserved for Resident Evil 12 in 2028.

There wasn't a lot to belly-ache about in this campaign. If you didn't feel like playing it you wouldn't miss much, but if you enjoyed Leon and Chris's campaigns, then you might as well jump into this one, too. It was fun, it didn't add much, but it still filled in some of the cracks in the RE 6 tale-at-large.

As an aside, I blew through a replay on easy mode for the Leon Kennedy campaign. Maybe it was because it was the PC version, and maybe it was because easy mode is really, really easy, but it was ridiculously easy this time around and took maybe five and half hours to complete (contrasted with 13+ hours on normal mode before). It was dramatically more enjoyable this time around, even though I found Leon's Dante-like descent into the Tall Oaks cemetery hill (a "hill" in name only, for this sucker is very deep and hollow) to be just as ludicrous as ever....but because the easy mode made it a fun ride instead of a digital stress test I actually had fun. While playing it though, I still felt that they needed to inject a great deal of story exposition into the game, somewhere....somehow. Allow the many hidden locked secrets to be found more easily and accessible in-game, for example. Have Mr. Simmons monologuing on a speaker in the catacombs or something, anything, to explain exactly what the hell he was thinking, contaminating so many corpses, then arming them with torches and dynamite. Never mind the zombie shark thing!

Next up is the Ada Wong campaign. This one, of all the above, should be most interesting because it is clear that there is some sort of convoluted hidden story in RE 6 about her feud with Simmons and how in the end it is thanks to her that everything goes to pot.

After that: a genuine return to survival horror in a manner indisputably Resident Evil-ish in the form of Resident Evil: Revelations! A game that proves Capcom doesn't need to spend massive amounts of cash on a hybrid zombie horror flick meets Die Hard film; all they need to do is take the team that made RE: Revelations and tell them "more of this, please."

Monday, June 24, 2013

Eredoth and the Relic Kingdoms

This week: a return to Chirak proper, with details on the Relic Kingdoms of the far northeastern lands, east even of Xoxtocharit! This region of the campaign was first visited using 4E rules, but a return trip with Pathfinder is planned for the near future.

The Ancient History of Eredoth and the Relic Kingdoms

   Eredoth is a land influenced by very old forces. Evidence of ancient ruins can be found throughout the ancient twin mountain ranges of the Anantes and the Frostmounts, but to most who dwell in this land the ruins are nothing more than a curious relic, a remnant of a lost age that may predate even the cataclysm that destroyed the old world. In fact, though few suspect it, these ruins are a hint of an even more ancient cataclysm, one which transpired eons before the event that very nearly destroyed the world twenty six hundred years ago. Though none suspect it, these ruins are relics from an era that even predates the concept of the gods of the Zodiac Stones.

   The mystery of these ancients was already lost knowledge to the Occultic, Inadasir and Mythric Empires that were at the height of power during the Last Age, and so what little knowledge existed of this time was not passed down. Scholars in both Eredoth and Copan within the ancient city of Astananku have had more opportunities to study these ruins and relics than any ancient long-dead scholar of the Lost Age, in fact, for though they do not know it, their twin mountain ranges were forged in the turmoil of the Last War, thrust forth by the machinations of the betrayer gods as the stresses of the elemental chaos very nearly tore the world apart. Entire mountain ranges thrust up from the boiling depths of the earth, rupturing forth and dragging with them the ancient ruins of this lost age, exposing entire cities to the surface for the first time in a hundred thousand years.

   Scholars who have studied these ruins call them the Nakal in Capac, meaning “Lost Ancestors,” while the scholars of Eredoth use the term “Klippath” which roughly means the “Impurities” or “evil spirits,” and stems from the Old Eredish word for Betrayer (specifically “The Betrayer” not just any betrayer).

   Studies in both lands have led to some rather interesting differing interpretations of the originators of these ancient ruins. The Capac see the Nakal as an ancient race of prehumans who may have accidentally seeded the world with humanity and its other races. They feel that the first ancient gods were born of the union between the Nakal and the humans they created, and that to contain the terrible power of divinity within these mortals they gifted them with twelve sacred primordial stones, hewn from one great rock, which in turn served to house these first hybrid spirits.

   In contrast, the scholars of Eredoth recognized that these ancient prehuman entities were malevolent, or at the very least may have created humanity as playthings. The scholar Nara’Pusin feels that there is evidence that the first men attained free will against the desire of their creators, and that they rose up in rebellion against the ancient Klippath, destroying their creators and seizing control of the twelve divine stones of power for themselves.

   Of interesting noteworthiness is the manifestation in this land of the so-called Vestiges and the spirit saints. How these two beings relate to the rest is unknown, but both exhibit very old power, and appear to be capable of terrible and good acts alike.

   The spirit-saints are seemingly created by a force given the appellation of the Divine Wind, mortals who are gifted temporarily with great power that eventually consumes their physical forms. These saints appear for a short while wandering the land and doing great deeds before eventually fading into mystery, and at last being extinguished by the primal force of this Divine Wind. It is so called because those few times it has been seen to manifest and a description has been recorded, the manifestation always appears in the form of a great gale or storm. Some have noted the similarity of this force to the worship of the two gods of Capac, Mataki and Hukil, who also manifest in like manner.

   These spirit-saints change when touched, and attain supernatural senses and powers, but they rarely live more than two or three centuries before a transmogrification, in which their empowered soul sheds their physical body like an unwanted husk; such times when this has happened have led to a shedding of greatly destructive energy, as the dissipating soul irradiates all around it. No one knows what happens to the soul of a manifesting spirit-saint afterwards; all contact and even memory of them is lost, save for written records.

   South of Eredoth in Nindragom there is a similar phenomenon, called the Mania by its followers. The Mania is a literal manifestation of crazed, maddening energy that both grants and takes life where it appears. Those who have witnessed a manifestation of the Mania say it is not unlike the same feeling of a manifestation of the Divine Wind, and some speculate it is related or even the same phenomena, merely augmented and manifest in a different manner. In any case, the Mania often changes those it touches, deforming them, imbuing them with infernal traits, or stripping them of all humanity; on rare occasions the Mania has drained the life force of an entire town or community, only to leave the dead to rise again. In Nindragom a cleric of the Mania is known as a Fate Dancer, and they are among a rare few who have managed to reach out, touch the Mania, and retain their mind while stealing some of its power. These Fate Dancers are regarded as powerful individuals, with terrible powers, but they are not revered as divine beings as the spirit saints are in Eredoth.

   In Capac no such unique manifestations plague the land, but  instead they have two distinct deities that they revere, the aforementioned Mataki and Hukil. Mataki is the goddess of the sea, a benevolent undine of great power and wisdom who provides oracular visions to her followers. She is prized as the greatest of beings among the coastal cities of lowland Capac. Her counterpart, Hukil, is a vile god of capricious storms and death, and he is seen as her antithesis in every manner. He is feared by the mountainfolk and lowlanders equally, and some claim he is the Lord of Demons, though no one knows for sure if the western Xoxtocharit worship him among their own dark cults or not. Both are said to be the successors to the gods of the Lost Age, and that each claimed a Stone of Power (what the Capac call the Atzil, meaning the Divine Stones).

   Though it is unknown in this land and abroad, there is a secret about these two gods. They are in fact the demiurges Kalie’yana (Mataki) and Piscrael (Hukil). To date, due primarily to the godless nature of the only western explorers and merchants to come to this land from Syrgia, no one has ever noticed the similarities in the iconography of worship for these two demiurges.

    Aside from all these entities, there is one more source of ancient power in the land, one which is clearly tied to the ancient mystery of the Nakal/Klippath, but precisely how remains uncertain. These beings are almost certainly known to be dead gods, ancient ghostly remnants of whatever deities ruled the ancient relic empires of the Nakal/Klippath. There have been seven such vestiges discovered, and entire cults have risen up around the obsessive practice of communing with these lost gods.

   The vestiges manifest almost as ghostly forces of will, sometimes possessing and altering willing hosts for brief moments of time. It has been observed by some (especially the renowned scholar Nara’Pusin) that this manifestation bears a similarity to what happens to those who are touched by the Divine Wind or the Mania, but usually with fewer consequences for witnesses around the event, and rarely if ever any permanent lasting effects on the host for the process. Nara’Pusin has argued, heretically to some, that the Mania and the Divine Wind might well be free-roaming ghosts of undiscovered vestiges for this reason.

Next: Spirit Saints, Demon Gods, and Vestiges of Eredoth

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Ten signs you might be playing an Old School Shooter

Ten signs you might be playing an Old School Shooter:

#10. You often shoot allies because their texture resolution is almost indistinguishable from the bad guys

#9. Assuming you find an ally, they are usually already dying and live long enough to impart a few words of wisdom or direction to you before messily expiring. Bonus points if an alien pops out of them.

#8. Everyone builds fabulously expensive complexes filled with steam pipes that serve no discernible purpose other than to act as a launch point for an invasion (to or from, doesn't matter).

#7. Said complexes often contain numerous rooms that are clearly designed only to serve as murder holes and ambush points.

#6. Everyone...absolutely without exception...wants to kill you. There are never any janitors, engineers, or passers-by who aren't either interested in your death or about to turn into an alien and then kill you.

#5. You are more than halfway through the game and either have no idea precisely what the plot is or why you're where you are at.

#4. You're more than halfway through the game and have realized that there is no plot.

#3. Your life depends heavily on random canisters  chunks of meat, or convenient medi-kits lying around randomly.

#2. You never, ever carry enough ammo to take on a proper army, even though you are, and random ammo stashes are conveniently everywhere, no matter how unlikely or alien a world you are on.

#1. You regularly meet very large, tough opponents who can only be harmed by hitting a glowing six centimeter wide spot where they accidentally exposed their pulsing cyber-heart.

The Many Faces of Old School

First, sorry for anyone checking in here for the OSR D&D movement....I'm capturing Old School as a term for video games today (yes, I've been on a bit of a game/tech bender for the last two weeks).

Specifically: the fascinating difference between Old School shooters and new school. Or, Call of Duty vs. almost every shooter prior to the arrival of Halo, if you like.

This started late on Tuesday night, as I tried to get through a few more levels of the Resistance: Fall of Man FPS quasi-military/survival horror shooter on the Playstation 3. I've been working on finishing all thirty levels of this game on normal difficulty since I acquired the PS3 back in February, and it's been a brutal slog all along the way, getting worse and worse with each new level. Last night, as my wife noticed my curses and spittle flying around the room after my fiftieth death in the 23rd level of the game (again, on NORMAL mode!) she observed that I seemed to be having something of a problem.

Specifically, a problem with repetitious dying....followed by finally getting the sequence right, only to move on to a new section, where I then died, only to restart back at the beginning of the prior sequence. Over, and Over, and Over. I wanted to crush the game disc. It was at this point that she asked me why I was subjecting myself to this...(keep in mind she was playing WoW as she asked, doing an instance that she knew so well she could close her eyes and pilot on through as the tank).

My only answer of course was because I wanted to experience Resistance's three games sequentially, but the truth was that long before I got to #2 I was going to get so irritated at #1 that I'd chuck it out the window and give up. I suddenly had an epiphany: I was playing a shooter released in 2006, built in an era when shooters were still different beasts. Halo had appeared, sure....but it's stink as a true game-changer had barely taken hold. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was still a year from release when Resistance: Fall of Man came out. Suddenly, in this context the game made horrible, horrible sense. I was playing a title built from the ground up on the principles of the old school shooter. Yeow!

I was less of a video gamer back in the day. I still bought a metric ton of Playstation and Xbox games...I was a dedicated Dreamcaster fanboy for a while (until Sega crushed my gamer spirit) and I was there for the first year of Playstation 1. I owned a Nintendo 64 and a Sega Saturn, if only to play the two or three games each system had worth getting. Amidst all this I had a Mac computer for most of this period, and you know what that means: my gaming outlet was the console (except for Baldur's Gate). Despite all of this, I played video games far less often than I have in the last five or so years.

Despite all these games I'd buy, shooters were not high on my list of favorite titles. The awkward controls of survival horror and adventure titles didn't feel so awkward back then. Playing with pre-analog stick FPS titles was a chore, and even then the mentality of old school shooters was often aimed squarely at gruelling, grinding punishment; it was typical to play a level through eighty or one hundred times to get it right so you could make it to the next checkpoint (unless you were damned good at them) and so I often avoided games like Quake, Unreal, and the many, many console clones and derivates that existed out there in favor of games which were more controller-friendly.

Controller issues aside, the old school shooter is a real thing. Many FPS fans either lament the end of the days when shooters put hair on your chest, and just as many (perhaps many, many more to go by per-unit sales of Call of Duty these days) cheered when they went away. Old school shooters were about being painfully tough, merciless and generally inimical to the personal enjoyment of the player. You usually played such games for bragging rights, or to be part of the elite club of gamers who could stomach the painful difficulty levels involved, all of which just prepped you for even more gruelling pvp. PC FPS fans were the most elite of all.

The point being, of course, story and enjoyment were often secondary to most of this old generation of shooter titles. The idea that a player could actually "relax" while playing a shooter? What madness!

So it was with this realization that I figured out I had been subjecting myself to a true old school shooter with Resistance: Fall of Man, perhaps even one of the last old school shooters to be produced, because by the time CoD4:MW showed up, I think the days of the nerve-wracking, painfully punishing shooter were about over. And with this realization, I figured out what I needed to do.

I searched Youtube, I found a guy crazy enough to play through to the end (on the hardest difficulty, too!) and record the whole thing. I spend about fifteen minutes watching someone else suffer through and show me what I was gridning through for. It was a huge relief that I "cheated" like this because let me tell you...the ending was not worth the agony of what that video displayed to me.

You know what was worth it, though? Putting away the Resistance 1 disc and popping in the Resistance 2 disc, to find a clever, structured graphically superior shooter with a modern set of mechanics for health, a "casual" mode for time-stressed older fathers, a cool story and a sense of pacing that did not punish you for looking away from the screen for two seconds. It was glorious! All the magnificent trappings of a shooter circa 2008. That was a good year for games, may I point out: Fallout 3 and Bioshock also arrived that year. I'll add Resistance 2 to the list.

I've heard they made some concessions for Resistance 3 to the old school fans who disliked how much of the old school was not in Resistance 2. I guess once I finish this magnificently better title I'll find out. I hope the concessions weren't too great...I rather like this brutal alternate history and would love to enjoy it without also feeling the nerve-jarring stress of a game designed to punish.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Have some Humble Pie, Xbox One

Apparently Microsoft is not above admitting it made a bad choice and recanting. Don Mattrick came out with an official statement that the Xbox One will no longer require an internet connection every 24 hours, will only require internet access at startup, will not restrict the trading and resale of games, and will let you play all games the same way either online or offline.

Interesting. I guess the backlash was even more noticeable than just a lot of internet flack (maybe preorders were way below what they anticipated?)

Unfortunately, they still have that mandatory Kinect requirement and a $500 price tag so PS4 still looks like the better deal to me.

Rift and the F2P Experience....A Veteran's Opening Perspective

Rift officially went free to play on June 12th. I've been playing less and less of Rift in recent months, due largely to limited time, which is always going to favor "games that are fun" over "games that are making me grind." I have a low tolerance for slow progression, and Storm Legion, unfortunately, was laboriously slow. Despite buying into a year long sub at a good discount, I barely made it to level 51 on my warrior before my "I care" quotient was overhwhelmed by my "what the hell is this dragging on so long for?!?!" sense.

Still, I like Rift, and have dropped in periodically to keep up, albeit slowly. Hoping, of course, that sooner or later they would make the XP gain at high levels somewhat quicker, to accomodate more than just those mad, mad players who live and breathe MMOs and disdain the casuals like me.

Well, the new F2P model seems to have done just that: it has provided XP bonuses and potions to "patron accounts," which is a fancy new name for what a monthly subscriber is. It rewarded players by how long they had subscribed, with ongoing "loyalty" rewards for keeping with the game. I netted around 12,000 credits in the game, the currency used to buy stuff in the shop, something around $70-80's worth of currency. Additionally, the loyalty rewards dumped 23 gifts on me, in addition to a couple dozen dimension house items. Some of the gifts were useful (XP gain potions) and others were just plain cool (mounts and pets).

The prices in the game store range from the reasonable (a new character slot is about 600 credits) to absurd (3000+ for high end ten-level suits of armor). I don't have the store up so these aren't exact numbers, but they give you an idea of what to expect. The core of the game experience is entirely free, however; they are aiming to generate revenue entirely from extras, which is an interesting approach and I really think it's the smartest way that Trion could do this.

Given that I got so much loot on my many characters, and even after spending a couple thousand credits on cool mounts, wardrobe slots, and even an armor suit for one of my low level characters, I still have around 10,000 credits to use and I have to admit, it's very nice to feel like I got a proper reward for my 18+ months of dedication to this game. I've seen other conversions to F2P riddled with greed (cough >Age of Conan< cough >SWTOR< cough) and then there's the way Trion did it. Very smart. Sometimes...treating your players with respect will make you more money. I hope this pays off for them.

Whole game's F2P now, so no reason not to check it out. Population has exploded, and I don't mind since I get preferential status in queue as a patron player. Check it out! Jump on the faeblight RP shard, it's got lots of good people on it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

And Lo' Did the Nook HD+ Descend in price for the Day of Fathers

...and so then did I, at the behest of my understanding wife, buy one. She thought about getting one as well, but it didn't seem to support all of the games she liked playing (yet).

I hadn't planned on upgrading my old Nook Tablet to a Nook HD+ until I heard about Barnes & Noble's decision to go open-platform (more or less) on the HD line with access to Google Play. Doing this instantly made the tablet more attractive. Knocking $120 off the price (I paid $179 for the 32GB Nook HD+ edition this Saturday) even for only a week was a great way to overcome consumer concerns about the long term viability of the Nook product. After all....even if B&N were to collapse, in theory it would still be a viable (albeit no longer updated) tablet with access to the Kindle App and all the other wonders of Google Play.

So I've had it one weekend now and here are my quick observations on what I already see as being an indispensable sixth sense---a third eye---to me:

Love the Size and the Resolution

The Nook HD+ is the larger style tablet, at a 9 inch display with better than 1080p (it's sold as 1080p but scales higher) resolution. For the first few hours I felt like I was managing a larger toy version of my Nexus 7. By day two the Nexus 7 and the old Nook Tablet looked like the toys and it was getting hard to remember how I survived on such a tiny screen. The resolution is good or better than the Nexus 7, and it blows the old Nook Tablet out of the water. If you've only ever had a Nook Tablet (or older) this will shock you at how beautiful the resolution is.

Performance is Great

I don't know if these games were optimized for larger screens, but games such as Need For Speed, Max Payne and Asphalt 7: Heat were suddenly much easier to control and fact I'd all but given up on these games on the Nexus 7.

However, the HD+ is a dual core processor and not quite as impressive as the Tegra Quadcore in the Nexus 7. I saw that the Modern Combat series (3 and 4) were optmized for the HD+ so I downloaded MC4 to see how it compared to the copy on my Nexus 7. It ran fine, but I noticed that it felt ever so slightly more tasked than it was on the Nexus 7. A very minor observation, though; it still ran fine.

Google Play Library for Nook HD+ Makes it Robust

While the proprietary store for the Nook has more software available for the HD+ than older Nooks, it's still anemic compared to the Google Play store. Surprisingly few games on Google Play did not indicate compatibility on the Nook HD+....a few oddballs my wife likes, none of which were graphics-intensive, so I guess they haven't been optimized for the Nook HD+'s specific vagaries of design. A few more graphics-intensive games that run on the Nexus 7 (like Backstab) were not on the Nook HD+ options....yet. This thing runs Dead Trigger, Modern Combat 3 and 4, Need for Speed:MW and more without a hitch, so I suspect anything in the store that's not available for it will be soon enough.

Competition is Good

Being able to buy from the Nook store, from Amazon Kindle App, Google Play Books or potentially any other number of retailers is a blessing. It may look bad for B&N on the surface, but guess what....their the ones with a tablet that will let you buy from the competition, meaning they out of necessity need to consider their pricing competitively. If you have a Kindle Fire, you're locked in to Amazon's prices (which are admittedly usually slightly better). I don't see a lot of incentive to buy from the Google Play store, though. It honestly feels like the place you buy books a few times here and there for those odd trips when you're bored, or want to have a book to read to impress other know, non-readers. Kindle App and Nook Store are both much more robust and easier to search.

Holy Cow I can Read PDFs on this Easily

The Nook HD+ screen is big enough that looking at a full PDF page is perfectly feasible. The speed of the readers available is mixed, but you can download any number of PDF readers from Google Play to get the job done (I still favor Adobe). Although for Pathfinder books I still prefer to rely on Paizo's "Lite" reader editions, most other PDFs flowed great and searched fine. It's good enough that it may change my RPG purchasing habits, to lean more toward PDFs for some products, and print them out for actual use less.

Comics, on the other hand...

I still find comics and graphic novels to be a pain. Services like Marvel's Reader apps were less than stellar, shutting down without a wi-fi connection. The actual tactile experience of reading a comic in-hand is incomparable to wrestling with it on a screen, even a high res 9 inch screen. This could be a generational thing, though.


For the price I paid, the Nook HD+ was a seriously good deal. It's going to be my go-to  reader from here on out. I'll update if something changes (i.e. it explodes or otherwise does something unexpected and undesirable) but after one weekend with it I can't remember life on a smaller tablet screen. As for my Nook Tablet, I think I'll be retiring that one, and will look at refurishing it into a learning tablet for the kid. He's almost at the point where figuring out how to work a device like the Nook is more important than figuring out how to take it soon as we're past that threshold, I'll gift him the Tablet!

ADDENDUM: There's one bit I forgot to mention. The Nook HD+ uses its own proprietary plug-in for power/data, and is not at all compatible with the normal cables you expect for most tablets. In fact it's not even compatible with the older Nook Tablet cable. This does mean that, should you need to seek out a cable replacement, BN will be the only place to find it. If I do figure out that this style of cable is made elsewhere or has a third party version I'll let you know (or if you are familiar with it, let me know!)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Focusing on the Positives!

Okay, back to the usual round of gaming stuff on the blog!

Penny Arcade summed up Microsoft's E3 presentation nicely:

At this, literally the only thing Microsoft can do to salvage it's image issue with the Xbone is to recant some of its established position. My suspicion is that due to numerous behind-the-scenes agreements and issues already in place that this is not feasible, so I guess they'll have to keep figuring out ways to spin their current tangled web.

I mean....if you haven't seen the video by now, it's really quite amusing: PS4's process for sharing games:

Sony really owes Microsoft, they couldn't have made E3 so entertaining and successful without them!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Strange and Morbid Night

I don't know where to put this exactly. It's not a post I'd consider typical for my blog by any stretch, and I don't blog about my local hometown on an ordinary basis, but every now and then something comes along that's just a little too....unusual....not to at least talk about. Consider this a brief foray into the wilderness of local journalism for me, then. For some reason I just feel like I need to document this.

For several days now there has been construction going on where I live, a modest apartment complex that is trying to upgrade its previously neglected appearance. Landscapers are scraping old gravel, adding sod and installing a public barbeque area even as they renovate the long neglected pool. We moved in here in February, chiefly as a money-saving venture, and it's an interesting community to be a part of, and very pet friendly.

Last night on returning home from work I noticed a pungent aroma, one which was unmistakable. For several days now there's been a growing smell, but at first it was assumed to be a by-product of the construction churning old soil that had long been used by dogs in the area. Then it was thought to be rotting trash from one apartment where a couple retropunk gals had skipped out in the middle of the night just prior to receiving an eviction notice. And at last today I realized that this smell was unmistakably that of a rotting corpse, and it was coming from the open window next to the apartment marked for eviction.

Who lived there? He was a middle-aged fellow, who cleaned up the area on his own time as a courtesy, and kept largely to himself. I hadn't seen him in weeks, and didn't even know his name. As it turns out, others in the complex, including a young girl who was always trying to play with my son said he had visited the hospital a week ago for coughing up blood, but had been discharged. Her mom knew the fellow has cirrhosis of the liver due to a heavy drinking problem. This was not looking good. We called the manager. He said he could come by the next day and knock on the door. Next I called the on-site repairman. Turns out he was a former EMT, and when he came down to investigate he immediately recognized the smell and agreed with me. There was a body on the other side of that door.

After he secured keys, the handyman opened the door up and a quick investigation revealed the obvious. It looked like the poor guy had returned home from the hospital, only to resume his bloody coughing fits. He must have felt chilled, because the heat was cranked up to the max. He had died in the bathroom, and unfortunately by the looks of it thanks to the heat wave we've been experiencing plus his heater on his body rapidly swelled up and burst. It was far from the ideal way to go, let alone be found.

Police and Fire Dept. were on scene in short order, followed by the coroner for a proper documentation and investigation. Despite the likelihood he died of his health condition, it's the sort of thing you just can't say for sure about. When management called his emergency contact, the man's sister (I am pretty sure it was his sister) was apparently more relieved than anything else; my guess is she had been expecting a call for a long time, one in which he was found on the side of the road, or in a ditch, or in a back alley.

Amidst all of this my wife and her cohorts in the complex watched the police activity as it went on, and I got to wrangle my own kid and others, distracting them with video games (always a sure bet).

In the end, they had to use two body bags to properly handle the body, which was so distended and putrescent that it required hours of careful work to properly disinter the body from the bathroom for removal to the morgue.

It was an interesting night.

The complex, and my wife with some of her morbidly, ghoulishly curious cohorts

Marcus was largely oblivious, and spent a lot of time running up to police officers 

Removing the body

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PS4 takes the First Shot and hits it out of the park

Who knew?!?!?! The idea that Sony, only slight less vitriolic and clueless at times than Microsoft, would properly announce a Playstation 4 that caters to all the features that the now infamous Xbone has specifically eschewed.

According to Gamespot:

The PS4 will support the used market as it exists no convoluted new scheme to force  consumers to give up the Right of First Sale, nor to assume that there is any harm from the used market that must be squelched, presumably.

No online check-in required. Wow!

And at the Escapist (I don't recommend Escapist for properly researched news bits, but it is convenient):

Price point of the PS4? $399. That's one hundred bucks less than the Xbone.

It'll come packaged with a 500GB hard drive, controller, headphones and HDMI cable out of the box. Looks like it does come with a Sony Eyecam or whatever it's called. I wonder if it will be an "always on" element or not? Given the Ps4 is designed to facilitate offline play as much as online, I'm guessing not.

Also, it's shaped like a Rhombus and does not look like it fell off of a Delorean.

Tech Radar has the best overview I've found so far.

I'll be putting my preorder down for the PS4 it looks like. Nice to feel excited for a console, even if it's just to be a part of the process.

Your move, Microsoft.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Iain M. Banks passes away from Cancer at age 59

Akratic Wizardry alerted me first (he seems to have a hotline to recently deceased author news) and a full story is right here. I was unaware that Iain Banks had cancer so this was news to me, and it's very sad as he was a prolific author, and a very important contemporary SF force behind the development of high-concept transhumanist fiction and space opera. His Culture novels are excellent, complex and deep reads, and it is distressing to know that Iain is gone, and his future potential along with him. He will be missed.

Grumpy XBone Post #2

So Microsoft released more details on the XBone and it's not terribly reassuring for many people. Ars Technica has an overview on the new info here. In parsing out the new data, there are actually some decent features being pesented.....but they're modest and hard to appreciate in the wake of the other more draconian elements. Specifically:

1. You can have a family account with up to ten people on it. This is pretty neat actually, something Steam doesn't provide for on PC and something the current Xbox 360 only touches on with family accounts. On the other hand, I can pop a disk into my 360 and anyone can play it. In fact I am pretty sure the only limits right now are on DLC and XBLA downloads purchased on my account. Even Sony's PS4 is a bit more reasonable than that, allowing a certain number of current accounts to access my downloaded content (so my wife can play Demon Souls too, basically).

2. The phone in online-every twenty four hours or every hour at a friend's thing doesn't really bother me because I'm always online at home, but the friends part does because I like to drag my Xbox 360 to my friend's house once in a while for some Halo or Gears of War gaming and he's got occasional internet issues (also, he doesn't even have an Xbox Live account so we usually don't go online at all). The new Xbone doesn't favor this freedom. The loss of offline functionality for more than 24 hours is problematic for the two or three times a year that Comcast/Xfinity craps out, too. I've always been able to lean on the 360 in the past to fill those periods with gaming. Admittedly, that's not a big concern for me....I am not lacking for offline entertainment, I admit....but it's still a negative, another loss of freedom that Xbone's predecessor offered.

3. The used games issue isn't a deal breaker for me either, as I don't buy many used games. However, the key reason I will buy a used game is if I want to try it out but want to return the game should it prove to be a terrible experience, and Gamestop still offers that sort of return one week from date of purchase. I also happen to think that Microsoft's got lots of evidence on its own current XBLA store that they don't really plan on moving to a competitive digital sales model ala Steam, simply because they barely touch upon the concept now. Xbox Live weekly sales are occasionally cool, but 95% of the time most sales are "meh" at best and the typical cost of games on their current digital service are disproportionately high relative to the long-tail value of PC titles, for contrast. If you want even more compelling evidence that Microsoft has no interest in consumer-friendly pricing structures and sales look at the travesty that is the Games for Windows Live store. So in this regard I have to clearly state that Microsoft's demonstrated how it handles digital sales, and it's not pretty.

4. There's no upside best as I can tell to the always-on Kinect elements, and I'm going to show my paranoid colors here by stating that for every other issue with the Xbone, this is the one which kills it for me. Actually, the language Microsoft itself used is what's the deal breaker, as the curious covert double speak, suggesting that the Xbone can and will be recording if you don't specifically opt out, is a tacit implication that it can spy like this, and therefore one must assume at some point it will do so. Someone coined the phrase "Xbox1984" as a title for the new machine, and I think it's apt. Yes, they do state "we won't record you," but the fact that they then discuss "opting out" as a process you have to go through suggests the default setting for the machine is "we can record you if we want, unless you specifically tell us otherwise. And even then, who knows!" The level of detail the Kinect is capable of recording is even more disturbing.

 At this point, literally the only reason I can see to purchase an Xbone is if I want to continue with the Halo franchise. Gears of War was a great series, I quite enjoyed it....but it was clear with Gears of War: Judgement that the franchise was done and had just released one more retread that I strongly suspect was intended originally to be a DLC content pack for GoW 3 before Cliffy left Epic. Meanwhile Halo 5 will have direct competition from its progenitors at Bungie with Destiny....which, of course, will also be on the PS4.

All Sony needs to do is announce a PS4 that operates in the same core model of digital sales and distribution as the PS3 currently, with continued support for used game sales and I think they've won this console war before the first machine is ever sold. We'll see. That...or Wii U needs to do some aggressive advertising and Nintendo needs to display a distinct uptick in the number of third party releases for its machine. However, if the PS4 jumps on the Xbone bandwagon and Wii U continues to look irrelevant....then I think PC gaming is going to dominate.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Post-Apocalyptic Plot Seeds

These sixteen plot seeds for Post Apocalyptic adventures originally appeared in TSS 43, but I'm reprinting them here....possibly for a second time, my memory fails me!...for your enjoyment:

1 While traveling through wasted ruins, characters stumble across a colony of sentient rats which have descended from genetic experiments before the holocaust.

2 The players see a distant shooting star that grows ominously large, and crashes somewhere nearby. On investigating, they find a starship, out of which emerges a cosmonaut who claims to have been part of an experiment to test a ship that could travel close to the speed of light. The cosmonaut’s ship left Earth orbit in 1970.

3 The entrance to a hidden vault is found, in which a fabulously wealthy billionaire from Old Earth, surrounded by very human-like android servants has whiled away the years, kept unnaturally young by telomerase resequencing treatments. Recently, he discovered that his auto-docs are failing, and he need to find the tools and materials necessary to repair his anti-aging system.

4 One of the players discovers what appears to be an impressive ebony sword trapped in a lava flow. After pulling it out, the local survivor villagers proclaim him a new warlord. Unfortunately, the sword was lodged in the chest plate of a powerful pre-cataclysmic warbot, which, weapon now removed, begins to heal up with nano-repair bots before shattering its rocky tomb. Oh, and it wants its sword back.

5 A nearby volcano (which may be a smoldering crater from the end times) is radiating a lethal cloud of spores, which infect local humans and animals with a silicone-based life form that drives them in to madness and frenzy. The spores are wafting from a lava tube inside the crater, where the deadly plants are blooming, having grown up and out after being exposed from the depths of the earth.

6 A war satellite is still functioning, zapping targets at random on the planet below with a powerful particle beam weapon. It is possible to be stopped, but this involves finding an ancient comm. Station, breaking in past the still-functioning robot security units, and shutting it off.

7 A squad of immortal super-soldiers wanders the wastelands, carrying out a need for war which was genetically encoded as a biological imperative. They wander in to the peaceful lands of a survivor community, and attempt to forge an army out of the weary folk, or destroy them if they wont cooperate.

8 An alien vessel arrives in orbit and sends a contingent of scientists down to the surface of the apocalyptic world to investigate. It turns out they are from Earth, and that the Wasteworld is really a colony that succumbed to civil war decades ago!

9 While traveling the across the wasteland, the players stumble across a humongous relic from the old war, a tripod-like tank left over from the Martian invasion of Earth.

10 Locals are terrorized by what appear to be immense ravaging dinosaurs straight out of the cretaceous and beyond. They ask the adventurers to stop this menace. The trail leads to a ruined laboratory where particle physicists once worked on creating wormholes. It turns out that the AI which runs the facility is still quite active, and finished their work, creating a wormhole in time which leads back in to the distant past. It’s trying to perfect a way to send people through, to test the laws of causality!

11 Sometime during the cataclysm an ancient army of war machines was buried beneath waves of lava. The basalt later proved to be a valuable mining source for a local colony of survivors, who were digging for the metallic parts and pieces entombed within. One of the war machines was otherwise preserved intact in the quick-cooling lava flow and has awakened! It now seeks to reconstruct the interred army of its machine brothers, to complete the job they started…and needs humans to serve as "living brain cases" for the hyper-advanced machine intellects!

12 A horde of slavering, liquefying mutants that generate voluminous quantities of highly corrosive vomit are marauding the land and terrorizing the local citizens. The heroes stumble upon a camp of survivors in an otherwise intact resort facility from before the end times who are being terrorized by these slimers.

13 An alien vessel investigating the burnt out shell of Earth has crash landed, and the alien is on the loose! The alien is masquerading as a mutant, or perhaps even looks human enough, but some of the more savvy scavengers in the area have gotten wind of this high tech marvel wandering around and are trying to find it. The characters might benefit from aiding the creature in repairing is starship, either for gifts it offers them, or a chance to escape the Wasteworld. Of course, they could just as easily by the scavengers!

14 There’s a local hermit in the mountains called Big Ben who is a survivor from the old days, an ageless cyborg soldier who has lived through a hundred years of struggle and doom. Rumor has it that he’s the only one who knows where the crazy cyber-mutants from the nearby city ruins are coming from, and the PCs need to convince him to help their little survivor town.

15 Monstrous mutant insects are coming from south of the old border, larger than skyscrapers and leaving massive swaths of destruction in their wake! The PCs are not only challenged with protecting their local community, they have to figure out why the bugs are migrating north, and what could possibly be so terrifying to these immense mutants that they would flee from?

16 The PCs are investigating rumors of a local mystery, where people are seeing a strange, supernatural entity that they are calling the Mothman. Someone still has a working DVD player, or one of them curious “books” about the mysterious Mothman, so they know this is a supernatural being from before the end-times, and a small cult is growing up around this being, which people believe is a harbinger of doom. A local skeptic thinks the Mothman is a fake, and that someone is behind it, maybe even the preacher who’s initiating the new cult growing up around the creature, and he wants the PCs to debunk it in favor of his techno-church that’s losing its congregation! Of course, the mystery of the Mothman could be a fraud, but maybe, just maybe there's something more to it....