Jaded's Pub

Last year at this time I was working three jobs, building a nest egg in preparation for the Holiday 2013 gaming season. With two new consoles coming out I knew I’d need a wad of cash to make it through.

This year things are different. Not only am I not doing that third job, but job #2 feels like it might be winding down. If I end up working only one job it’ll mean money is going to be a lot more tight than it has been, but I’ll have more time for playing games. A conundrum!

This year I plan to take it easy when it comes to buying games, and work a bit on my backlist. I’ve already started doing that to some extent. I recently finally played through Bioshock Infinite and I’m currently working my way through Dragon Age: Origins.

As it stands now, here’re the games I’m planning on getting for the remainder of this year:

In August I’ll be picking up Diablo III for the PS4. I really loved playing Diablo III on the PS3 but as soon as I learned it was coming to PS4 I stopped in order to ‘save’ it. Because I am dumb.

In September it’ll be Destiny on the PS4. That one is already pre-ordered and I even scheduled a couple of PTO days for the launch window. Even if the servers fall down, at least I won’t be working, right? Gotta take PTO somewhere or else I’ll lose it at the end of the year.

Also in September, Forza Horizons 2 for the Xbox One. I missed out on Forza Horizons but everyone I know who played it really enjoyed it, and I’m a fan of driving games that fall somewhere between ‘ridiculously arcade racing’ and ‘simulation.’

Drive Club is coming to the PS4 at some point. I’m going to try the free version before I make a decision on that one. The game has been delayed by almost a year and they still aren’t managing to get weather in for launch. My Spidey-Sense is tingling and I’m afraid it’ll be a huge disappointment.

In October Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive launches for the Xbox One. I’m on the fence with this one. We’ve seen how wacky it all is, but haven’t seen a lot about whether there’s a narrative driving that action or if it’s just all fighting for the sake of fighting, or what. Plus I’m still kind of mad at Insomniac for abandoning the PS4.

Also in October is Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. I’m going to wait until closer to launch to make a decision on this one. It’s looking good in preview trailers and such but we’ll see how that plays out. Probably would get it for the PS4.

In November we have The Crew from Ubisoft. If Forza Horizons 2 and Drive Club haven’t totally sated my driving appetite I’ll take a look at this one, but I’ll probably be waiting for reviews before taking the plunge. Again, PS4 most likely.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is coming this holiday season but I’m going to try to resist its charms until I’ve finished Dragon Age I & II. If I’ve done that by the launch of DA:I then I’ll be picking that up, probably on PS4.

Two other games on my ‘maybe’ list are The Golf Club (coming to PS4 this summer I think) and Project Cars. I like a good golf game now and then and I don’t have one on the PS4 so depending on when it launches I’ll pick it up. Project Cars looks good but there are already so many driving games on my list.

So those are the ‘big’ (ie $60) games on my list from now until January 1st. I’m sure I’ll be grabbing the odd $10 and $15 game here and there as well. Plus on both PS4 and XBox One I now get free games each month.

On the PC I’ll be working through my Steam backlog. Steam’s sales have pretty much trained me never to buy a PC game at full price so… I’m starting to dabble in MMOs again but I don’t know of any big launches coming for the rest of this year; on the PC I think it’ll just be business as usual. Y’know, play the backlog until something interesting goes on sale for $10 and then distract myself with that. No more MMO subs for me though, at least for the time being. If I get seriously hooked on an MMO that has a “Premium” kind of sub I might do that, but while I’m just puttering in these games it makes no sense to pay $15/month.

Oh, and Playstation TV is coming this fall and I have one pre-ordered. Mostly I’m getting it so I can play PS4 games on the upstairs TV (via streaming) but it’ll also give me a second chance to look at my Vita library. As much as I love the Vita (and the 3DS) I find that I really prefer playing games on a bigger screen.

So what’s on your list? Am I forgetting anything? I know lots of people are excited about The Sims 4 but I’ll probably wait for a sale for that.

Holiday 2014 is looking a bit quiet, really. So many games have slipped to 2015. I think we’ll have our hands full in February-March 2015!

I’m about 13 hours into Divinity: Original Sin and still can’t decide how I feel about it.

I know how I feel about sub-parts of it. I am over-the-moon in love with the combat system. D:OS uses a classic ‘action point’ based tactical turn-based system that dates back to the original Xcom or perhaps earlier. Each character gets X action points each turn that he or she can use moving, hitting, drinking potions, or whatever. “Left over” action points roll over to the next turn. Positioning matters and characters have what wargamers used to (and maybe still) call “zones of control” around them. A unit moving out of a ZoC takes a free hit from the unit they’re moving away from. Larian has taken this tactical yumminess and amped it up by giving the player all kinds of tools to use. A mage can teleport an explosive barrel into a group of enemies and then an archer can hit it with an arrow to explode it, doing damage to a group of foes and starting fires burning. At that point another character can cast “Rain” to put the fire out, leaving a cloud of steam. From there yet another character can hit the steam with an electric based attack, turning the whole steam cloud into a ball of lightning and doing even MORE damage.

This kind of stuff doesn’t get old, even when you mis-judge things and zap your own party. D:OS has some of the best combat I’ve enjoyed in ages. There’s all kinds of nuance. Gear has a level and a character can equip a weapon of a higher level but it’ll cost more Action Points to hit with it. Archers use more AP to shoot distant targets (it takes them longer to aim, you see). And so on. Lots to explore and lots to love about the combat.

If only there were more of it. Divinity: Original Sin is a rich RPG with a lot of questing, and much of that questing seems to not be combat based. You spend a lot of time walking back and forth across town talking to people, searching for hidden switches, picking pockets, collecting items and solving puzzles. This stuff is all very well done but it can make D:OS feel like an adventure game. There’s nothing wrong with that, UNLESS you’re someone who isn’t fond of adventure games. Who doesn’t love adventure games? This guy right here!

So for me I’ve spent probably 10 hours doing stuff I didn’t love (running back and forth across the starting town talking to NPCs) and 3 hours having the time of my life enjoying the combat.

What makes this all more frustrating is that there are limited opportunities for combat early on. Until you’ve gained a few levels by doing non-combat focused quests, most everything outside the city will mop the floor with you. 13 hours in my party consists of 3 level 4 characters and one still level 3 and things are finally starting to feel manageable in terms of finding good fights.

Another thing I love about Divinity: Original Sin is the character building. You pick a ‘class’ at the start of the game, but really it’s more of a build than a class. Any character can learn anything through the use of the skill points you earn when you level up. So your up-front warrior with his sword and shield could, if we wanted, put a point into Pyromancy and then he could learn a few fire-based spells. Of course you have to balance that with stats…as a warrior he’s probably been putting points into Strength & Constitution and spell damage is based on Intelligence. Plus knowing Pyromancy doesn’t actually give him spells; it opens up the opportunity for him to learn some spells from spell books, which aren’t cheap and early on, gold is hard to come by if you’re playing as “good.” So it’s a deep system that just invites you to create lots of characters and grind some levels and gather gear and skills to see how these characters develop.

Except there’s no grinding here. Mobs don’t respawn and there are no random encounters. This means that combat is always going to be tense, knife-edge affair because the developers know about what level you’re going to be at any spot in the narrative. That’s the good side of not having infinite experience in the game.

But if you want to just have fun swapping out party members and leveling up a bunch of them, you’re going to end up in a world of hurt later on as you run out of encounters you can handle. So even though the Hall of Heroes has a seemingly endless selection of Companions you can hire, smart money is on just making friends via the narrative and sticking with them. And that’s the bad side of a finite number of enemies to fight. (And it’s worth pointing out the quests give you your lion’s share of experience anyway, at least at early levels.)

Of course you could just start a new game, but then you have all these hours of running around talking to NPCs to repeat.

These conflicting feelings (loving the combat and leveling but feeling frustrated I couldn’t enjoy more of each) led me to spend the weekend booting up Divinity, playing for 30 minutes and shutting it down again. Then I’d look at my gaming collection for something else to play, and wind up booting Divinity up again and playing for another half-hour before repeating the process. The exception was when I got into combat, at which point the game would grab me by the throat and drag me in, to the point where Angela would have to ask me a question two or three times before I’d hear her.

The saving grace, of course, is The Divinity Engine — the toolkit that comes with the game. I’m not sure exactly how this works but I’m hoping it’ll be like Skyrim where clever people can create mods that add content to the main campaign, giving us more combat options and the ability to grow lots of hirelings into fierce heroes.

The other day the devs of a free-to-play game I enjoy made a decision that I was pretty uncomfortable with. I’m not going to go into specifics because this isn’t a post about that specific situation.

But as I sat there fuming about this asinine (in my mind anyway) decision, I started to think about what I could do to convey my displeasure. And do you know what I came up with? Not a thing that would make any difference.

I mean sure I could rant here or rant on Twitter and it might make me feel a little better, but since I’m not an Internet Super-Ego it wouldn’t really have any impact on what the company was doing.

The only real leverage we gamers have is to vote with our dollars, and even then it’s pretty trivial. We can stop subscribing to a game and/or vow not to buy the next game from that publisher.

But this was a free-to-play game. I didn’t even have that tiny leverage. The only thing I could really do is stop playing and deprive them of one player, and I’m pretty comfortable saying they’d never notice that difference amidst the background noise of the constant churn that Free-to-play games ‘enjoy.’ I guess I could vow to never buy anything from their cash shop but that would just mean I was like most of the other players (in any Free-to-play game the majority of players never spend money).

In short, I felt (still feel, really) helpless and frustrated.

Co-incidentally, not too long ago I also had an issue with a subscription-based game. In THAT situation, I had leverage, used it, and got my situation resolved. The company wanted my business. I mattered to them. That alone was enough to make me feel more forgiving towards them, to be honest. Being heard, being made to feel like you matter…that’s important, at least to me.

When was the last time a Free-to-Play game really made you feel like you matter? Probably the last time they were having a cash-shop promotion.

There’s an upside to paying our way. Sure it’s nice to get things for free, but free also means giving up what little leverage we as gamers have.

2014-07-02_00002Yesterday’s post about Divinity: Original Sin was pretty upbeat, but I do have some issues with the game that I wanted to drag out into the light today. Mostly it all boils down to pacing: gameplay can kind of drag at times. Keep in mind we’re still talking from a very early-game point of view (4 hours in).

Last night I played for about 2 hours. I had left my party on the beach where the game starts, after having gone through the tutorial dungeon and spending a bit of time making friends with a clam. It was time to head into town. On the way there I got into a quick fight with some bad guys (being vague for spoiler reasons) and that was the sum total of my combat for that 2 hour session. The rest of the night was talking, opening containers and wandering around.

I bitched a lot about containers when I was talking about Bioshock Infinity and I have the same complaint here. There are endless barrels, vases and crates to open in Cyceal (the first town…hoping I have the name right). Some will have health potions, a handful of gold or even some gear, but most are empty. You can move them too, and sometimes you have to re-arrange a pile of crates to open them all.

The overall pacing of an RPG means opening all these crates is less annoying than it was in Bioshock Infinity, but it does slow things down. Of course you CAN just ignore them, if you want to risk walking past a crate that contains something amazing. (Disclaimer: So far I have NOT found anything amazing in a crate.)

Next let’s talk about NPCs. D:OS is old school in that quests are not called out. You won’t find an NPC with a ! over his head. Instead you have to talk to people to reveal quests. But there are a LOT of people in this town, and most of them do not have quests. In fact most of them have basically the same ‘conversation tree’ (though certain answers vary). I found that talking to everyone (and at the start of the game you’re investigating a murder and part of the quest solution is “talk to townspeople”) really started to get boring and slow me down. I think it would be fine if some of the NPCs were not ‘interactive.’ When you have 3 guards standing around, let two of them just be the strong and silent type and let the third be the chatterbox. Don’t make me run through the same conversation 3 times just to find the 1 question that has a different answer on each guard (and which winds up being more ‘flavor’ than important).

Of course as anyone who plays RPGs knows, coming into a new town is always a little tedious since you know there’ll be many NPCs to sort through. I’m sure once I get out into the wilds this issue will fade away. If I ever get out into the wilds.

Last up is bartering. First let me show you the a typical bartering screenshot (click for full-sized):


On the left is my inventory and on the right is the NPC’s. In order to sell something to him, I’d drag it from my inventory into the center left pane of the window. Then I’d drag what I want from him into the center right pane. If I wanted gold I’d drag the gold (and often have to split the stack) but I could also trade potions for those pliers he has, for example. On either side of the balance icon is a figure that shows the value of what you’re offering. When you’ve set everything up you click the checkbox and see if the NPC agrees with your deal. You can try to offer things of less value than what he wants, if you like. There are bartering skills and reputation factors that make it easier (or harder) to get a good deal.

It’s a neat system but sometimes you just want to sell your junk and clear up some inventory space, right? There’s no fast way to do that. In my post yesterday commentor The Guilty Party called out issues with the inventory system and after last night I get it. You’ll notice Aethgar has 385 gold, and Cedric the NPC has 7. I can’t get more than 7 from him; he doesn’t have it. But what if he had a magic sword that was worth 500 gold?

Well I could drag my 385 gold in and then try to make up the balance with items, but wait.. Scarlett, the other member of my party, has gold too. But I can’t access it from this window. See the arrows on either side of Aethgar’s name? They’ll switch over to Scarlett but when you do that, any pending trades get zeroed out. So I could barter with Cedric using Aethgar’s inventory, or using Scarlett’s inventory, but I couldn’t combine the two to make a good deal.

What I’d have to do is exit the transaction, move items between my characters until one of them had everything needed for success, then restart the transaction. It’s a major pain in the rear-end that would be made much less painful by letting you access all your characters’ inventories without canceling the in-progress barter. And for that matter, as Guilty Party said, why not just have a common pool of gold. I do get why inventories are separate (carry weight and encumbrance is per character) but for the sake of bartering let us combine our inventories to make a deal.

So these are the issues that are dragging the game down a little. I still have a lot of the town to explore so I fear tonight, too, will be all about talking to NPCs, opening crates, and simply dreaming about the glory of combat.

2014-07-01_00002At long last I finally had time to play Divinity: Original Sin ‘for real’ and I’m glad I waited for the game to be finished since I’m already kind of attached to my characters.

I didn’t actually play a whole lot since I spent a lot of time creating my characters. Scarlett (the game provided that name) is a cleric that I tweaked a little bit, and Aethgar is a ranger, just as the game had him set up. Part of the ranger ‘bundle’ are basic skills for crafting so he’ll be my handyman, plus he has high perception so he can (in theory) spot traps and hidden doors and such.

I only got through the little tutorial dungeon before midnight rolled around but I sure enjoyed myself. I love how you can interact with the environment. For instance if there’s a poison cloud blocking your way, hitting it with some kind of flame spell or flaming arrow will ignite it, causing an explosion but then dissipating. If there’s fire, water will put it out but that’ll create a cloud of steam, and (according to a tool tip) an electrical bolt into that steam cloud will electrify the whole thing.

I learned the hard way that there is friendly fire in the game. I hit a boss with a electric bolt and stunned him, but also stunned both my characters as well. The boss’s minions wiped us. My first wipe!

There’re some classic dungeon-crawling puzzle bits too. Y’know, place a rock on this pressure plate to open that door. Tip! All those broken crates and urns can be used to weigh down pressure plates.

Here’s a shot of my Ranger’s character sheet, just to give you an idea of the kinds of things the game is tracking (click for full size). These are not ALL his stats and skills, mind you. There’s a ton of stuff I still have to learn:


Anyway it’s well after 12 and work in the morning so I’ll cut this short. Quite pleased so far, but this is definitely ‘the honeymoon period.’ We’ll see how I feel after putting in a bunch of hours.

Way back in January I posted a quick look at the alpha of Divinity: Original Sin, and then I put it on the shelf. I’d intended to check in on it from time to time but liked the game enough that I wanted to experience it ‘for the first time’ when it was finished. Selfish of me? Absolutely.

But the day is here! Divinity: Original Sin launches today.

Did I mention it comes with an adventure editor? And that it is co-op? Could this be the replacement for the original Neverwinter Nights so many of us have been waiting for? Possibly, though we’ll have to see how the turn-base combat works for that.

Anyway here’s a quick trailer for the toolkit. Looks pretty powerful to me.

On Steam, you can find the editor by going to Library => Tools, and it’s called “The Divinity Engine.”

Here’s a “Getting started” piece from the Steam community.

The announcement that a third Dragon Age game will be upon us come Fall got me feeling bad about never finishing the first game even though I was super excited about it. (I wrote quite a few posts about the game back in 2009.) That’s me, though. Get uber-hyped about something then enjoy it for 2 weeks before moving on.

This time out I decided to play on the PS3. I can say with confidence that there is no good technical reason for doing this. The PS3 version is inferior to the PC version in pretty much every way but one. The game is more expensive on the PS3 (the base game was $20 digitally, though it was on sale for under $10 a few weeks before I bought it. On Steam the “Ultimate Edition” is regularly on sale for less than $10 and it includes all the DLC and the Awakenings expansion), the graphics are much worse and the controls have been stripped down to make playing ‘tactically’ a chore.

The one thing I prefer is that I don’t have to jump through hoops to get it running. As I recall the last time I tried to play DA:O on the PC I really struggled to get DLC unlocked and in the end I think I had to download and run some kind of authentication service, which really bothered me.

But that’s not why I’m playing on the PS3. I’m playing on PS3 because where I am right now in my life, I greatly prefer console games. It’s summer and the office where my PC is gets warm in the afternoon and evenings. Plus after sitting there for 10 hours working (I work from the same office I game in) I just want to get away and be somewhere else.

So even with all the shortcomings of playing on PS3 (and back in 2009 the PS3 was the red-headed stepchild of console-gaming and frequently got shoddy ports; DA:O is one of them, done by Edge of Reality) I’m preferring the experience of playing from the couch. Relaxed (often actually laying down while playing). Under an A/C vent. :)

And I’m loving it! It’s been so long that I don’t remember much more than a vague ‘feeling’ of the game, at least until things happen then I’m like “Oh yeah! I remember this!” Since I’m so comfortable while playing I’ve been taking the time to read every Codex entry and talk to my party members frequently. My mind isn’t in that “Get things done” state that it tends to be when I’m sitting at a computer.

It’s a good thing too, because I’d forgotten how slowly DA:O plays out. I’m maybe 10 hours in and still just getting started, mucking about in Lothering. Already I’m conflicted about who I want in my party since they’re all so interesting.

Hopefully the combat won’t get too bad. My recollection from playing on the PC is that when things got tough you could pause the game, zoom out to survey the battlefield and then give each character specific orders. Go stand here, go do that. You can’t really do that in the PS3 version. You can pause but you have a big menu-wheel on screen when you do. You can’t zoom out. You can give each character ‘attack that mob’ orders but you can’t order them to move. If you take control of one of them and move him, the others follow along (though I may be able to disable that via Tactics/AI). So there’s no positional combat, really. We’ll see how it goes.

I didn’t spring for any of the DLC since it would’ve significantly added to the cost of the game: via the in-game store the DLC would cost me a total of $36 without Awakenings, which is an additional $40. Luckily The Stone Prisoner (which adds the golem Shae) was included. Amazon has Awakenings on disk for $22 and if I’m really hungry for more at the end of Origins maybe I’ll pick that up, but I already own DA II for PS3 and would in theory like to get through that too, before DA 3 comes out.

Actually if I’m hungry for more maybe I’ll just play it through a second time on PC for no additional cost.

I almost never finish Bioware games. (Knights of the Old Republic was the one exception and, pardon the heresy but I didn’t love it.) I’ve tried to get through Mass Effect 1 three times but always drifted away. And the old titles, like Baldur’s Gate or Planescape? Barely scratched the surface. This is my 2nd serious attempt at Dragon Age: Origins. So far it’s holding my attention, but I’m still just getting started. We’ll see if I can make it through this time.

My PR friends have been sharing some cool trailers so I figured it was time to pass them on.

First up is Sproggiwood from Freehold Games. It’s described as “a turn-based tactical roguelike set in a Finnish mythological world.”

Sproggiwood has already been Greenlit at Steam and the devs are aiming for a Fall release. No pricing details are available yet.

Next up is Space Hulk: Deathwing, a FPS set in the Warhammer 40K mythos, and published by Focus Home Interactive and co-produced by Cyanide Studios. The developer is Streum On Studio (who I’m not familiar with). When I first watched this trailer I assumed it was just CGI but they say this is all in-engine.

Space Hulk: Deathwing is coming in 2015 for PC and consoles. Here’s the PR spiel:

Space Hulk®: Deathwing™ is a First-Person Shooter experience of Games Workshop’s classic Space Hulk boardgame set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000, developed on Unreal Engine 4 by Streum On Studio, the team behind E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy. Published by Focus Home Interactive and co-produced by Cyanide Studio, Space Hulk: Deathwing offers players the chance to experience a desperate battle against Genestealers in the claustrophobic tunnels of a Space Hulk, as they will gain skills, new abilities and new equipment thanks to experience earned during perilous missions.

Space Hulks drift along the currents of the Warp, the immaterial dimension of Chaos. Made up of gigantic mangled asteroids, derelict ship wrecks and other spatial debris, they sometimes grow to the size of a moon and often contain treasured and ancient lost technologies. However, they are ripe with danger including infestations of the lethal Genestealers.

Players take on the role of a Space Marine from one of the most secret and most feared Space Marine Companies: the Deathwing from the Dark Angels. Strap on your Terminator armour and equip the emblematic weaponry of the Space Marines to overcome the threats awaiting you in the Space Hulk. As a Librarian, you will also master the destructive powers of the Psykers. Your skills and performance in battle grant you Fervor Points, to spend on 4 skill trees allowing you to improve your abilities, unlock new powers, access powerful relics and devastating new weapons.

Last up for today is Styx: Master of Shadows. Once again Focus Home Interactive is publishing and this time Cyanide Studios is the developer. They call this an “infiltration game” and it looks like it plays a lot like Thief, only with more options. Since you play Styx the goblin you can hide under and inside things, plus you have magic abilities. It’s a long video with commentary that gives a really good feel for the game, I think.

Styx is coming out late this summer for PC, Xbox One and PS4. Quite a surprise for me as I’d either never heard of it or forgotten all about it.

Here again is the PR spiel:

Styx: Master of Shadows is an infiltration game with RPG elements developed by Cyanide Studio for PC.
Styx is a Goblin two centuries old… the very first of all the Goblins, he’s a master in the arts of stealth, theft, and murder. The depths of the miles-high Tower of Akenash, where Humans and Elves hide and protect the Tree, the source of the Amber, are the best chance Styx has of quickly amassing a small fortune and, perhaps, discover more about his true origins along the way.

Battle your way to the top of the lofty Tower of Akenash through immense and vertiginous levels that highlight the vertical perspective. You will complete numerous missions with various objectives as you climb up – murder, information recovery, theft of precious artifacts, etc – and gradually reconstruct the puzzle that provides the key to the mystery of your origins. The levels are open and the objectives can be completed in various ways: you are therefore free to choose the best way to proceed and the most suitable strategy to employ to achieve and complete your mission objectives. But remember you’re a Goblin: if your target is twice your size, or more, you’re better off eliminating them silently. and in the back!

The premises of the Tower of Akenash are protected by many: Humans of course, but also Elves whose science of magic cannot be overlooked, huge Orcs who have been victims of (more or less) successful experiments, but also other, stranger creatures. Guards, soldiers and other protectors of the Tower will adapt their behavior dynamically, depending on your actions: you better keep a low profile and prepare your plan of action beforehand. Study the guard patrols closely, use areas of light and shadow to your advantage, lure your target to a secluded area to assassinate him silently, or arrange “accidents” to remain undetected!

Styx: Master of Shadows also includes game mechanics right out of RPG, so as you gain experience you will unlock new skills, special and impressive moves and new and lethal weapons in 6 talent trees! You will also acquire extraordinary powers from the Amber flowing from the Source Tree which will help you out of a tight spot, make you invisible to the eyes of your enemies and which you can use to generate “disposable” clones of yourself! Explore every inch of the levels and not only will you uncover clues about your past but also, and more importantly, valuable treasure that you can steal from under the noses and beards of the guards in the Tower of Akenash!

Last night I finished Bioshock Infinite. I have to thank the folks I know who played it long before I did and opted not to spoil it for me. The last 25-30% of the game totally won me over and I went from feeling somewhat ambivalent about the game to absolutely loving it. I’m so glad I played through it.

I’m going to continue the not-spoiling tradition, so that’s all I’m going to say about Bioshock Infinite for now. But as I sat there — kind of slack-jawed — watching the credits roll, it got me thinking about the different reasons people play games.

In my social networking circles, single player games have fallen out of favor. Most of the people I associate with don’t play them, or if they do they never finish them. They get bored without having other people around. I’m very much the opposite: when I’m playing a good single player game I just lose myself in it and escape to another world. I can’t really do that when I’m also talking to other people. Maybe there’s some deeper meaning there about my level of happiness with ‘real life’ and why I’m so drawn to escaping it for awhile, but we’ll leave that question for the next time I’m on Dr. Phil.

When talking about narrative-driven games in particular (my favorite kind of single player game) there’s a faction of gamers who off-handedly dismiss them by saying something like “If I want a movie I’ll watch a movie.” Most narrative-driven games are fairly linear; it’s really hard to give the player many significant choices and still keep a strong narrative going.

I can understand that push-back; I like sandbox games because they let you generate your own narrative. But there’s something about a strong narrative-driven game (think Red Dead Redemption, think The Last of Us, and yeah, think Bioshock Infinite) that just enthralls me in a way that few movies really can. I think it has to do with having to “work” to push the story forward. I’m sure there’s some psychological term for how we appreciate things more when we work for them, but I don’t know what it is. Suffice to say that few movies have the kind of impact on me that a strong narrative-driven single player game can.

And speaking of working (while running down a tangent), I really didn’t like the first part of Bioshock Infinite. I didn’t hate it, but I found aspects of it pretty annoying (you can read my post from last week for a recap of why). I’m now really glad I stuck it out, which in turn makes me think of all the times I’ve said, or friends have said, or journalists have said “If a game doesn’t grab me in the first 10 minutes I just move on.”

I wonder how many wonderful experiences we cheat ourselves out of by not being a little more patient and giving the designers some time to set the stage.

If you haven’t, and if you like narrative-driven games at all, I suggest you play Bioshock Infinite. I played it at the ‘normal’ setting and it wasn’t very hard at all (and I’m not a very skilled gamer). On easy mode it must be a complete cake-walk (to the point of not being enjoyable, I suspect…there’s a point where a lack of difficulty turns gameplay into a repetitive chore) and if you play games for their challenge definitely play it on hard.

I hope this post is somewhat cohesive; I shouldn’t start writing stuff like this when I only have 15 minutes before work starts!

I typically am not a fan of Achievements or Trophies. In fact I’ve ranted about my issues with Achievements in the past. But finally I’ve found a reason for them and a way for them to add to my enjoyment of a game.

I’m still working my way through Bioshock Infinite. My feelings haven’t changed substantially; it’s an interesting world, interesting story, Elizabeth is one of the best ‘companion characters’ I’ve seen in a game (almost as good as Ellie in The Last of Us), but the minute-to-minute gameplay tends to be fairly mundane. There’s way too much time spent searching corpses and crates for supplies, and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) not enough combat.

And of the combat there is, lots of it is just mowing down cannon fodder until you get to some kind of hero or mini-boss character that’ll put up an interesting fight. Early on I settled on just carrying a machinegun and RPG and found little reason to use anything else. And god was I bored.

Which is when I started looking at the Trophy list (I’m playing on PS3). There are a bunch of Trophies for killing X bad guys with Y weapon (I assume it’s the same on Xbox, just subbing in Achievements for Trophies). I decided to start working towards these, which caused me to switch up my weapon selection, which in turn caused me to want more $$ to upgrade different weapons, and suddenly I felt invested in the game again.

These achievements also offered short-term goals when the game wasn’t really giving me any, which I also appreciated.

Now to some extent I could’ve done this without Trophies. I could have just opted to use different weapons without being incentivized to do so; it just never really occurred to me. Stick with what works, right? So the Trophies also acted as a suggestion mechanism.

So yay Trophies.

All of this has kind of opened my eyes to why people enjoy Achievements and why I generally don’t. I can see how Trophies can help you extend your time with a game. If I wanted to play through Bioshock Infinite a second time I could do so with an eye on getting Trophies I’d missed and that would nudge me towards playing through the game in a different way. I can see the appeal from that point.

But I very, very rarely play through a game twice, and I’m almost always relieved to finish a game; most games go on too long for my tastes. This in turn is a result, probably, of just buying too many games for the amount of playing time I have. I always want to finish the game I’m playing so I can get started on the next one.

If, on the other hand, I could only afford a couple of games every year, I’d want to squeeze as much enjoyment as possible out of them, and Achievements/Trophies would help me do that.

So yeah, after years of ignoring Trophies and Achievements, I finally ‘get’ why people like them.

[Use of the term 'cheevos' in the title is a shout-out to my buddy Scott. I hope he appreciates it because he knows how much I hate the term! :) ]