Arcade game woes

Last Friday I decided to pull the electronics, but a fever I’ve been having on and off for about a week knocked me on my ass. I’ve been alternatively freezing and sweating my ass off ever since. Hopefully I’ll be able to start the bodywork next weekend.
Whenever I haven’t been too exhausted to stand, I’ve been playing Gyruss on my MAME cabinet. It’s one of the few space shooters I might like more than Galaga. 

full disclosure: this guy is way better than me

Gyruss music is just flat-out fucking rad, isn’t it?

* * *

I’ve finished the first draft of Church Camp. It’s easily the best first draft of anything I’ve ever written. More details soon.

First impressions of Resident Evil 7 (2017) [PC]

This isn’t a review. More like notes I made during my first session. No spoilers. No VR headset, either. Current hardware: i5-4690k @ 3.50 GHz, GTX 970, 16gb RAM.

My first disappointment came immediately after launching the game: a text screen asked me to create save data and I couldn’t select the “YES” option until I plugged in a gamepad. Once I plugged the gamepad in, the mouse cursor appeared and I was able to continue with the keyboard and mouse.

I miss the spooky voice intoning “RESIDENT EEEEEVIL” when I start a game. Why abandon one of the game’s most memorable trademarks.

Motion blur is turned on by default and I’ve never been a fan of motion blur in a game. I can only imagine how nauseating it must be in a VR headset. Changing the FPS option from “VARIED” to “60” made the mouselook feel a lot more natural and responsive. Besides upping the FOV, I left the other settings on their default values and the game looks and feels great.

The controls are responsive, and the times you get stuck in a deliberately paced animation have been significantly reduced… no more waiting forever for a door to open up.

I can’t believe how fast this game loads from the desktop. Loading times in general are exceptional.

At times, the main character sounds awfully causal about a lot of the fucked-up going-ons.. he simply isn’t emoting enough fear (to give specific examples would spoil some of the surprises). I feel this is a voice directing issue rather than an acting one. Otherwise, the voice acting is good, sometimes great, but the dialogue and the character writing is frequently weak. The game indulges in various horror movie cliches, such as the dumb cop who gets himself killed before calling for backup (that’s not a spoiler for anyone who’s ever seen a horror movie… it’s immediately obvious that’s what’s going to happen).

I am really digging the Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe.

I like that the game gives you more bullets than the first handful of installments did, but fewer than the action-oriented sequels. (Not that bullets do much good in most situations.) It seems to balance the frustration and suspense factor a lot better, too.

I grew tired of the hiding mechanic in Alien: Isolation. Haven’t grown tired of it here yet. You’re not hiding in lockers, but staying crouched and almost always moving.

Instead of saving at typewriters, you save at cassette players, which are found few and far between. You don’t have to worry about collecting limited ink ribbons, either. (Horror games which allow you to save freely can get fucked.) The punishment of having to replay certain sections upon death gives the experience legitimacy. Thankfully, this aspect is also balanced well… it’s frustrating, but not fun-breaking.

The map design is brilliant. It feels like a first-person Metroidvania style game in the way you progress and backtrack… the environment is always changing, which opens up new paths to old checkpoints and points of interest. Other games in the series have done this, too, of course, but it’s just so much more refined now.

Occasionally you pick up a VHS tape and play it in a VCR to get additional chunks of the backstory. The ensuing cutscenes require player input, which kind of breaks the immersion for me. I would rather watch the cutscenes through the main character’s eyes than play as secondary characters. Imagine trying to watch a tape for important clues while constantly checking over your shoulder for ax-wielding maniacs.

In one of the aforementioned cutscenes, it seems more like the demo, in which the game favors trial and error to skill. (At one point I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do until a hint on the death screen told me.) In the game’s defense, I haven’t played it long enough to see how important this gimmick will become later on, if it all.

Puzzles. I’m getting bored of puzzles in video games, but they haven’t annoyed me in this installment… yet. I love that, during one of the complicated puzzles, the main character wonders aloud: “Who the hell makes this shit?”

I have a feeling this game’s going to be short or repeat itself by the end. The richness of it seems too great to sustain for several hours.

That’s it for now. I can’t wait to get back into it tomorrow.

No Man’s Sky might be the most disappointing launch of the year [PC]

  • Current hardware: i5-4690k @ 3.50 GHz, GTX 970, 16gb RAM

No Man’s Sky launched at noon today in my timezone. I got a good three hours out of it before it began giving me major problems. (Naturally, Steam only lets you refund it if you return it before two hours of playtime have elapsed, which means I’m fucked there.) I was having occasional stuttering and FPS drops from the get-go, but for the most part it was playable.

Then, three hours into it, my CPU overheated and the PC shut down. No other game has ever done this to my current setup. I applied a number of fixes from various forums, booted it back up, and tried again. Thirty minutes later: roughly the same problem. This time my computer locked up entirely as the speakers croaked. I’m reluctant to try again even after they release another patch.

Technical issues aside, here are my first impressions about the gameplay itself: so far, it’s nowhere near as fun or polished as Rebel Galaxy. It’s not as satisfying as Elite: Dangerous. The ship controls are shit and I don’t see them improving at all, whether you jump through the hoops required to make a joystick work or not. I honestly wouldn’t bother trying. You can’t even pitch the nose down, as if that makes any fucking sense, while the dumbed down landing and docking procedures would be forgivable in a mobile game, but not this one.

This could have been a decent indie game if Sony hadn’t gotten their hands on it. I have a feeling the developers knew damn good and well it wasn’t a $60 title before the corporation stuck its proboscises into their brains. It’s the same way Facebook managed to corrupt Palmer Luckey and his Oculus VR platform. This is not a fun game at launch and I don’t see it getting much better, although I had a little more hope for it before my technical issues began.

Although I don’t think the dev team is entirely to blame (who would refuse Sony’s money?), I can’t remember the last time I was this disappointed. I’ll probably try it again after a future patch, but so far it looks like a major dud.

Here’s a big list of space games you should play instead of No Man’s Sky:

Empryrion – Galactic Survival $19.99

Despite being in early access, Empryion has just about everything you wanted from NMS, but weren’t actually going to get, including real multiplayer, base-building, and satisfying planet-hopping. The only reason I took a break from this one was to give it more time to ripen. It’s tough, challenging, and building your own spaceships is extremely rewarding. If you like supporting developers who actually take early access seriously, this is your game. It’s rough around the edges, but the freedom more than makes up for it.

Eve Online $19.99 (plus monthly subscription)

Eve has one of the friendliest, most helpful communities in the world. It’s dry, but that’s just the nature of this variety of science fiction. (If you love hard SF, you’re probably going to enjoy this.) The only thing I dislike about it is the fact it lends itself better to a mouse and keyboard than my joystick setup. I’m allergic to paying monthly subscriptions, too.

FTL: Faster Than Light $9.99

Deceptively simple at first glance, FTL is more fun per minute than NMS is per hour. If you wanted NMS because you like emergent stories, this is the one you should get. It’s insane how attached you get to your crew members, all of whom are likely to die at any minute.

Kerbal Space Program $39.99

I think everybody knows how good KSP is by now. It’s perhaps the greatest early access title in history. Despite the cartoonish characters, it’s by far the most realistic space simulator on this list. The joy of making it to “the mun” (or successfully rescuing a character who you stranded there) is beyond words.

Rebel Galaxy $19.99

I was skeptical of simplifying what I like so much about Elite: Dangerous and games of that nature, but Rebel Galaxy is tons of fun. In fact, if you haven’t played Eve or Elite (or you didn’t get what all the fuss was about) think of RG as a kind of entry point to those games. A gamepad is a must, so it’s a great option for couch gaming, either via Steam Link or playing on a console. The NPC interaction in this game is leagues better than what I experienced in NMS, and the combat is naval style, meaning you mostly fire from and at the broadsides of ships.

RimWorld $29.99

Okay, this one doesn’t exactly let you travel through space, but it’s one of my favorite games in years. You will die. Your colony will die. It might be best for those who expected a science fiction flavored challenge out of NMS, which I certainly never saw in my admittedly short time with it. I didn’t ever feel like I was in danger once in NMS.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion $39.99

I can’t believe Sins is still $39.99, but it’s probably my favorite 4X RTS this side of Red Alert 2. This one will scratch your itch for deep, tactical gameplay.

Space Engineers $24.99

I love Space Engineers and they’ve been slowly but steadily folding survival elements into it. If you were drawn to NMS because you were drawn to the insinuation you would be able to do just about anything, this is a much better bet.

Starbound $14.99

I really enjoyed my brief time in Starbound, particularly in multiplayer, and it offers better planet exploration, looting, and crafting than NMS at the moment. I also think it has a better sense of wonder.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play Destiny for the first time.

Here’s what I did this weekend

So I picked this up on Friday:

And I got it into fairly decent shape by Sunday:
I’ve got a marquee coming in the mail and I still haven’t decided what to do with that awful Taito overlay. I’m also unsure of what I want to do for a bezel at the moment. 
Right now I’m running Retropie on a Raspberry Pi 3 with a 23″ LCD monitor and 4-way joysticks. Yeah, I know I should have gotten a CRT, but I already had the monitor and I’m keeping an eye out for a cabinet that’s worthier of a complete restore. I’m hoping to find an upright Pole Position, Dig Dug, Galaga… something like that.
The guy who sold me the cabinet said it used to be a Silent Dragon machine, but judging by the manufacturer’s plate (Exidy) and the original holes beneath the overlay it’s obviously an old Mouse Trap unit. 
See more of what I did to this thing on my first ever Instagram account.

Dead By Daylight: First Impressions

Dead By Daylight Review

Dead By Daylight gives you the choice of being a victim or a Jason-like serial killer. In order for the killer to win he must kill the victims, which requires catching, disabling, and hanging them on meat hooks. Survivors just have to escape, but there’s a catch: the killer’s compound is entirely fenced in. The only way to open the gate is by repairing the generators which are scattered about the map and it takes a long time to repair each one, adding to the suspense. The killer knows where these generators are at all times, but the victims have to actively search for them without the aid of a HUD.

There’s also a point system. The more points you have, the more items and power-ups you can buy in between matches. The point system encourages the victims to help one another, as opposed to fending for themselves (which happens, too), while inspiring the lone killer to get creative with his traps and tactics. I’m actually surprised by how much teamwork is in a title which doesn’t feature in-game chat.

What’s even more surprising is the fun factor’s longevity. There’s only the one game mode and all the maps look more or less the same beyond their drab color schemes. You’re either going to be one of three available killers (which requires hosting a game and sometimes waiting damn near forever for four other players to join) or one of the four survivors, meaning there’s not a whole lot to see beyond your first few matches. With so few combinations, I expected this one to get stale quick, but I find myself loading it up frequently. It’s really easy to jump in and out of it.

Matches last only a handful of minutes and, generally, don’t take long getting into. The overall boot time is fairly low, too, which is probably a big reason I play CS:GO so often. Like that game, Dead By Daylight provides a surprising amount of replayability not in spite of its simplicity, but because of it. The randomly generated layout of maps helps, too. Meanwhile the graphics are more than acceptable and the sounds of blades and meat hooks puncturing flesh are crisp and satisfying—really satisfying.

Theme goes a long way and that’s the biggest thing Dead By Daylight has going for it. Unfortunately (for me) it doesn’t completely bring that 80s horror vibe which the upcoming Friday the 13th game promises. It just looks a little too much like a late 90s/early 2000s horror picture for my liking, while the victim roster is curiously lacking a teen heroine, a dimwitted jock, and a clueless police officer. Still, stalking real-life players with a brisk, intimidating walk is even more fun than you might think.

If you’re not a fan of slasher movies, you should probably skip this one. Otherwise, I certainly don’t feel like I threw my money away as the twenty dollar price tag seems just about right. Besides, the thrill of finding a victim hiding in a closet is something I can’t convey with words. I find the game’s strengths more than makes up for the bugs, most of which aren’t game-breaking.

At the time of this writing, the game doesn’t have a serviceable party system. Players are constantly entering and immediately leaving lobbies in search of their friends, which sometimes makes soloing take longer than it should. The devs have tweeted they will address this issue soon, but a party system could potentially break a game that purposely omitted in-game chat because those players will no doubt be using VOIP software to coordinate against the killer.

I beat the hell out of DOOM 2016

So how much did I like the new DOOM? I think the following image speaks for itself…

I already did my first impressions on launch day, but considering I haven’t been this obsessed with completing every single aspect of a game since Perfect Dark (that was sixteen years ago, believe it or not) I think it’s safe to say I loved this game. There really isn’t much more to say about the campaign. It’s so good it reminded me of playing Half-Life and Deus Ex for the first time. 

* * *
Now it’s time for a big but.
I thought the multiplayer was okay, but after getting around level 20, it’s basically dead to me. I didn’t get my hopes up to begin with, but I can think of several games which had better afterthought-multiplayer modes and they didn’t even need a separate company to do it. The lack of free-for-all deathmatch, however, isn’t just disappointing, it’s mind-boggling.
As for SnapMap, it seems awesome at first, but then you quickly discover its limitations. Want to make a proper DOOM map? Well, considering you’re limited to a dozen enemies, fat chance. The only way to get more enemies into the game is jumping through hoops with the (admittedly impressive) logic system. I spent a few hours trying to make a map and wasn’t at all happy with it. What I ended up submitting (in order to get the Shareware achievement) was so bad it’s embarrassing. The modular design just isn’t cutting it.
If id doesn’t open up proper modding for the new DOOM (and I’ve read more than a few persuasive arguments suggesting they won’t) I’ll more likely go back to the old games before I pick this one up again. Whatever happens though, I look forward to the sequel. What a ride.