The First Friday

I want to take a little time today and talk about what stood out to me over the course of last year. 2018 by any measure in the game industry was packed to the gills with products worthy of your time. As such it can be hard for any person with limited free time and budget to pick the winners. Some years you may as well run it as a random drawing because of the sheer amount of options.

For me this was 2018 in a nutshell.

Favorite Title of 2018

Wait, you mean like just one? What idiot came up with that?

Oh right, this is my blog. Lets try that again.

Favorites of 2018

We’ll dispense with the choices that should surprise no one at all. 

God of War, Spider-Man, and Red Dead Redemption II are the titles that you’ll find on pretty much every list out there, including mine. This is for good reason as all three were stunning examples of games done right and while I, and many other people, can find nitpicky reasons to tear them down a peg. Why bother? I’m not a stranger to or wholly against nitpicky analysis of things for fun but in this case it feels to me like just searching for an excuse to not give something it’s full kudos.

These games were great, plain and simple. They are more than worth the time and money to experience if their type of game is your thing and to be honest, even if it isn’t I think they could win you over in the end.

That being said, what other games did I love in 2018?

Developed by Motion Twin

My relationship with the RogueLike/RogueLite genre of games has always been a bit contentious. I want to like them a lot more than I oftentimes do however Dead Cells seemed immune to my fickle ways.

Thinking on it I haven’t been able to nail down precisely why and have come to the conclusion that the game in its entirety is the reason. Tight, responsive controls with engaging, fast paced combat underscored by a darkly atmospheric soundtrack leaves little room for disappointment. On top of that the variety of gameplay styles supported by the available weapons, perks, upgrades and items give the built in replayability even more variety. All of this is tied together in a vibrant art and animation style that you can’t help but admire.

Even with the time I put in prior to the full release I still can’t say that I have completed Dead Cells. However in rare fashion for me with these types of games the tug remains to go back and dive back in.

Developed by Fatshark

Warhammer as a franchise carries with it a seriously incredible amount of history regardless of whether you are talking about the Fantasy or 40k iterations. Whole YouTube channels, wiki resources and books have been dedicated over the years to cataloging and making sense of it all for people new to the lore. Vermintide II along with being a heart-pounding action game of running battles and skin-of-your-teeth survival scenarios is packed with tidbits of this lore. There is something that is fabulously appealing to me about media that is, rightly, confident enough in its story and setting to eschew the need for extended exposition to explain how and why a thing is happening.

Vermintide II thrusts you and your three companions, be they AI or fleshbags, into various save-the-day scenarios in which there is no time when you are not on the verge of being overrun. In the brief moments of respite that you have you can heal up and seek out items to either assist you in combat or increase the difficulty for additional rewards.

Each of the five classes in the game are embodied by one of five characters–

  • Sienna Fuegonasus – Battle Wizard
  • Markus Kruber – Mercenary
  • Kerillian – Waystalker
  • Victor Saltzpyre – Witch Hunter Captain

and my personal favorite –

  • Bardin Goreksson – Ranger Veteran

Truth be told all five are a blast to play for different reasons and each one has several different subclasses each with their own flavor of play for you to further augment.

At the end of the day you could water down Vermintide II to its core loop of completing (grinding) missions for rewards and better gear as you could with many games. Ultimately though it does a great disservice to the voice acting, writing, music and aesthetic design that build the tense and exciting environments in which you fight through. No matter how many times I’ve battled through a level the adrenaline rush of surviving a big fight or barely making it through to a portal with all grimoires in hand has never dulled. After that breath of relief you’re always ready to go again and test yourself against the skaven hordes or hulking armored chaos warriors.

Just writing this makes me want to reinstall it and start playing again. The question is who else I can drag down with me in the process.

Developed by Harebrained Studios

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a fatal weakness for giant robots piloted by puny humans. It’s the ultimate overcompensation and I still don’t care, forget your dually-axelled truck-nut adorned Ford Super Duty and give me a Cataphract CTF-1X loaded for bear. Give me the ridiculous weapons of Macross or the imposing frames of Gundam or Evangelion.

Do you have any idea how jealous I am that people on the bullet train in Japan get to see this?

Credit to The National

Battletech really scratched the itch I had for a turn-based strategy game and since playing it has thoroughly reignited my passion for the genre and also reminded me of the pain of things like X-Com. That may sound bad but it really isn’t, X-Com is as much a game you can love as it is one that makes you want to pull your hair out. Battletech excels in the more granular aspects of the RTS where things like Starcraft prefer to gloss over. The specific loadout, pilot and strategic placement of a mech in a given moment can drastically alter the course of a battle. Environmental concerns like cover, rivers, mountains, trees all add more complications to how you choose to approach a situation.

Outside of just the combat the granularity carries over into the campaign mode of the game where your existence is dependent on more than just clicking Next Mission. As a mercenary commander you’ve got to figure out the most effective way to pay the bills that keep you and your cadre alive and effective on missions. The outcomes of the missions you take on are not the binary victory of defeat you may be used to instead you have the option of retreating and earning a Bad or Good Faith Withdrawal. If you succeed in killing one enemy and completing a single objective before your retreat you’ll still receive partial payment for the attempt. This allows the player an opportunity to look at a tough fight and decide if financially its worth it to try and win or do what they can and get out before it goes south.

On the technical side the environments, animations and unit textures were all beautifully done using Unity. Whether you are zoomed out for a wide overview of the battlefield or zoomed in over the shoulder of a mech the game is stunning. Sound and music I thoroughly enjoyed although admittedly I’m a sucker for this particular mixture of synth rock, soaring orchestral pieces and the occasional chorus.

It’s not a perfect title but if you’ve been craving a solid futuristic wargame then this should be right up your alley.

Developed by 11 Bit Studios

I’m actually going to start this off by recommending a different game developed by the same studio called This War of Mine. It’s almost the micro version of the macro-style of Frostpunk. Where This War of Mine makes you care for each individual, Frostpunk aims to force you to look at the bigger picture and ultimately see those in your charge as resources. Like any other resources in this game they must be spent for the good of what little is left of humanity and it’s survival.

You know the situation is dire when the games Law system allows you to do everything from instituting Child Labor to potentially using the dead as fertilizer to increase the efficiency of your hothouses to stave off famine in your city. Suffice it to say that in this frozen hellscape there are tough choices to be made and they’ll fall squarely on your shoulders as the architect of this new civilization.

While the overall feel is an RTS where the enemy is nature, both human and otherwise, the gameplay is almost that of a Roguelike. You will most likely fail quite a lot and while you cannot carry over resources to your new game you can take your knowledge with you. Over time you’ll refine your strategy to ensure a society that is as stable as you can possibly manage for as long as you can manage against the cold and misery.

In this vein there is an honorable mention that came out about a month after Frostpunk called Surviving Mars. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to play it but if you like your survival city builders with a decidedly more sci-fi twist there is, of course, a game for that.

Developed by Wizards of the Coast

It’s been a long and honestly rocky road getting to the release, or open beta rather, of Magic the Gathering Arena but as a long time player I am so thankful we have finally arrived. With all due respect to Stainless Games and the hard work they put into the Duels of the Planeswalkers series of games. Even with respect to WoTC themselves with Magic Online and Magic Duels, Arena is what the game has been destined to be for some time now.

That being said it isn’t perfect as right now it basically only supports the Standard format which is comprised of the four most recent sets of cards to be released. If you’re a fan of eternal formats which allow far more card variety or things like Legacy or Vintage then this still isn’t quite the game for you. For now however Arena has shown, as much to WoTC as their customers, that they are capable of designing a game that actually looks and plays like it was made within the last five years.

If you are someone who knows of MTG and has been wary of trying out the physical version because it can seem intimidating then Arena is the perfect entry point. It is free-to-play and comes with a sleek New Player Experience to walk you through the basics of the game before letting you poke around for yourself. While there is some ongoing debate about the economy of the game I do think your average casual player can find enjoyment earning the free starter decks and building their collection. Gold rewards come fairly quickly with the completion of daily and weekly goals and Gems, the paid currency, are largely unneeded unless you want to participate in competitive or draft events. Players also have the opportunity to earn Wildcards which can be turned into any card of the equivalent rarity i.e. common, uncommon, rare, mythic. These wildcards are generally found as random rewards in packs that you open either by purchasing them or earning them through quest milestones each week.

Overall Arena shows great potential to grow beyond what it is now and WoTC seems determined to get this one right for the long run which is excellent news for players. It means that they are willing to listen to feedback and adjust as they go to ensure that when the game “releases” as the full non-beta version. So far this has lead to several community driven decisions to improve quality of life and player rewards since the open beta started last September. WoTC has also set its sights of positioning Arena as an e-sport platform for MTG which again shows a level of dedication to the success of this product that had been sorely lacking from offerings like Magic Duels.

With the longevity seemingly guaranteed for the foreseeable future I think it is as good a time as any for people who have been on the fence about giving the game a try to jump in and see what all the fuss is about.

Where did the time go?

Well heck, that ended up being much longer than I anticipated when I started this, not to mention I took longer to gather my thoughts. It also ended up being entirely about video games and not much else which is sort of disappointing given that there were quite a few other things I found last year to enjoy. I think I want to do a second part of this which I will hopefully have time to work on over the weekend but I also want to get back to my regular articles so perhaps we’ll pick this up next Friday.

We’ll see how the weekend goes. I’m not sure what days I’ll be posting on from week to week but for now two per feels about the right pace so I’ll start there.

Hopefully you enjoyed this and it wasn’t too rambly as I didn’t take the usual amount of time to write it, throw it out and then write it three or four more times. I promise I’ll try to not do that too often going forward.

I hope you’ve had a wonderful first week to the New Year and if you’re so inclined why don’t you let me know what games you enjoyed last year and why, I’d love to know.

For now thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon.

  • Anthony

In the Year of Humanity, 12,018

Celebrating another year gone by always feels a little odd as it inevitably forces you to face what you didn’t do as much as appreciate what you did. In the spirit of looking back, not to mention a healthy dose of blackmail, I’d like to take this chance to reminisce about the year of humanity, 12,018.

In spite of the sheer cliff like drop-off towards the end of the year I was actually proud to have accomplished a bit on the creative side of my life. Let’s take a quick stroll through what those accomplishments were, don’t worry it wont take long.

I Made This.

Back in March I took my first whack at writing an actual review that wasn’t just one long paragraph but was visually interesting as well. Golf Story remains, even a whole afternoon into 2019, one of my favorite games that I played last year. The review itself I was very proud of and still remains one of my most viewed posts as well as one of my most popular tweets which was neat.

Admittedly it’s a small thing but as anyone who has taken the time to write or produce any level of content will tell you that tiny bit of recognition goes a long way. Mostly it just gave me a warm feeling to think folks who read it found it in any way helpful. As Tycho from Penny Arcade once pointed out in a podcast he felt his job was not to help people save their money but rather how to actively spend it. That always struck me as a very productive view for people making recommendations to consumers. We spend a lot of time criticizing things we see as bad but perhaps not enough seeking out things that are worthwhile. It’s not to say there isn’t value in those criticisms and I certainly haven’t shied away from it but sometimes its more fun to be a spotlight than a Death Star.

After the Golf Story review I posted pretty regularly week to week as a sort of inter-blog challenge between myself and my friend who writes the incredible Histastrophe blog. It’s hard to put into words how much of an inspiration and motivator she has been this year but the fact that this blog has anything on it at all stands as a testament to that.

So as not to downplay the “It takes a village” concept there was plenty of encouragement and cajoling from my best friend who keeps his thoughts on StrideTheEarth.com. There you will find what most call “The Total Package” of video and tabletop gaming as well as travel posts complete with amazing photos. It’s millennial in the best possible way. Feel free to give him shit for not posting more.

If you’re into projects of all different kinds I expect great things from this awesome guy in the next year who started strong with a pretty awesome post about refurbishing a deck. I crave the woodworking project breakdowns I know are destined to come.

Last but certainly not least if food is your thing we even have a dork for that and don’t worry, she’s in the process of switching over to WordPress so you wont have to visit that weird, scary place ever again. Still though if you aren’t currently hungry the writing and photos there should cure that unfortunate reality in a hurry.

Live!-ish

A couple weeks after that Golf Story post a game I had been anticipating for years finally released, Star Wars Legion. At the time my head was swirling with possibilities and while I still want to attempt it, it’s clear that at the time my eyes were bigger than my abilities. I did quite a few test videos and versions of the pictured setup and none of them came out at a quality I would have liked to share. I argued with myself that it was acceptable for a first time out but honestly that seemed like more of a cop-out than anything. I have continued painting on and off and am still trying to figure out a good way to set up my craft desk so I can possibly make videos. The way I envision it is maybe a way to paint, craft or learn while chatting about things that didn’t make it into their own blog posts. A way to sort of empty my brain of stuff I want to talk about in a more relaxed setting.

It is entirely possible something like that only sounds interesting in my head and not in practicality but there it is. I’d like to give it a shot but in a way that is nice to watch and not an exercise in pure amateurism. Regardless of how much prep I do I know it’ll never be perfect but best foot forward and all that. Much like with the blog I realized that the more work I put in the better the end result. Effort equals quality shouldn’t be that alien a concept but sometimes seeing it in action can really crystallize it for you.

This was definitely a failure of mine in 2018 and while it still disappoints me I will say that the attempt taught me a lot. That knowledge fed into my ability to make cooler things to go into my blog posts and in general sped up my content creation. As silver linings go I can’t really complain.

In the same vein a lot of us experimented with some streaming on Twitch through the year and while it was fun I’m not sure it’s something I want to dive into in any serious way. At least not for now. On the fringes of my always swirling project clogged brain I think it would fun for us to stream as a group a game or three that we enjoy. Seems to me there are a few on the horizon for 2019 that would be quite fun but we’ll see what happens.

Emile Berliner Died for This

I’d like to think that the inventor of the microphone would be proud of what his creation has wrought over the years but alas came April of last year. There is no use denying it, we did this. One day many years ago two friends were playing a game of Civilization when one of them, who shall remain nameless, suggested that they do a podcast together. This would give them a way to discuss their creative journey of hopefully, eventually, reaching their goals of writing full time, among other things. Now while she’ll say she was in fact not responsible for this, she is and we all know it. Not to mention I have proof, not that you know it though, it goes to a different school up in Canada.

At any rate while the origins of this whole thing may be questionable the result wasn’t and I enjoyed the experience immensely. Rolling into the new year we both hope to return to this with a more organized format and schedule and incorporate some other fun ideas. I feel it’s important to note that there is no “endgame” as such for this podcast. It really is just something we do for fun and as a way to keep us creatively engaged, no more, no less.

As it stands currently there are several back episodes, cutting room floor type things and two experiments we did with different content which have not been posted. Starting fresh with 2019 seems like a good time to rectify that. I look forward to once again sitting down and broadcasting our thoughts into the ether for the enjoyment of anyone who cares to listen along.

A Polyhedral Life

Throughout the course of the year quite a few of my posts wandered away from video games and other media to the realm of tabletop games, more specifically, Dungeons & Dragons. Conceptually I just think there are lot of interesting avenues of tabletop roleplaying to explore and more than that I just like talking about it. This might be further exacerbated by the fact that my work schedule isn’t allowing me to actually play any of the tabletop games I’d like to so this will have to suffice for now. I don’t have much more to say on this for right now except 2018 was a great year for my love of rolling dice so I would like 2019 to be at least more of the same but if possible, better.

In the same vein as D&D content I also had the privilege of taking part in a streamed game of D&D with a crew of lovely folks I met through twitter with @DMCorry as our Dungeon Master. His Twitch page is here. While I wasn’t able to make the scheduling work out for the entire run they are still going strong and are a joy to watch. Hopefully in the coming year I’ll have a chance to once again collaborate with these folks and others in the Twittersphere but for now stop by and cheer them on for 2019.

All Things Cardboard

To summarize.

We’re back in. It’s likely a mistake but it happened, wish us luck.

National Blood Pressure Month

For the second year in a row NaNoWriMo has come and gone and shockingly Sophycles and I have managed to hit the word goal by the deadline. Technically having written two continuous novel length word piles is something I didn’t think I’d be able to do, especially not within the time span of a month. So for that alone I appreciate it as a personal accomplishment and while I doubt either of these things will ever see publication it has shown me that it is at least within my power to achieve. We talked briefly, albeit this should go into a podcast, about whether or not I really want to write novel length works at all. 2018 showed me that I very much enjoy article formats and being able to touch on a variety of subjects as they strike me as relevant or interesting. Overall this is something I intend to try and explore more thoroughly going forward and see where my passion really lay. Either way it feels as though I’ve made some personal progress towards figuring out what I want from this whole endeavor.

Even after having the last one still so fresh in my mind I’d be hard pressed to say that I wasn’t at least a little excited for next November and clearing that hurdle for a third time.

Looking to the Horizon

So after all that, where do we go from here?

I know for a fact that I want to keep creating in some form or another and continue learning new ways to bring fun things, people and experiences to this blog. One thing I definitely learned last year was the tight balance I need to keep between reaching too far and expecting too little. Once you get on any kind of roll it’s hard to stop yourself from adding new goals before you’ve even really achieved the previous ones. On the other hand improving and expanding is vital to keeping yourself engaged and productive. This balance by far has been one of my biggest downfalls over the years and in the looming 2019 it’ll yet again be the hurdle I need to clear every day, week and month.

For the third, fourth or… fifth? Time I’m going to try and revive a Friday thing I liked doing and wrap up some of my favorite things from last year in a more traditional retrospective.

I look forward to seeing you then and apologize for being gone so long. Thanks for hanging around and I hope you had a wonderful start to the new year.

Here’s to you and your goals, creative or otherwise, in the year of humanity… 12,019.

Happy New Year.

  • Anthony

Dungeon Delve: 4th Edition

A while back I wrote in a post that I had been absent from Dungeons and Dragons for large portions of 3rd Edition and returned around the release of 4th. For me 4th edition was quite different than the RPG games I had left off with insomuch as it deviated pretty hard away from theater of the mind. 4th didn’t just encourage but required the use of miniatures for both players and monsters along with grid based combat maps. For my personal preference I found that especially for new players the battlemap made them focus too much on what they were seeing and less on what was described. Certainly this was not all on them or on the design of 4th because as the DM I shared the blame for not adapting properly to the system and my players. Perhaps at some point in the future I’ll write a more detailed post about where things fell apart for me and 4th but for now I’d like to focus on some positives.

Years on and quite deep into 5th edition it’s easier to look back and appreciate the things that 4th did right and there is one in particular I’d really like to talk about today: items. Shiny loot that we use to reward our players for adventuring out into our worlds and facing its dangers while exploring its mysteries. These are some of the most important things you can use to add flavor to your world, empower your players or in some cases introduce conflict. They run the gamut from useless to humorous and from world saving to world ending. 5th edition has a plethora to take advantage of and more importantly its easy for DMs to create their own to sprinkle throughout the world. The question is, what did 4th do that’s missing from 5th?  (more…)