How strange to look back on nostalgia with nostalgia. Here's a post from 2014 reminiscing on my time in WoW. Back then it was almost ten years since I'd played it. Now it definitely is over twenty. However this short post is to mark the final chapter in my WoW adventure. I've deleted my Mangos server, no longer having a desire to work on it. The nostalgia has run its course and now even the memories are faded, replaced probably by Skyrim or some other adventure. Goodbye World of Warcraft and thanks for all the fishing.
I'm finally going into Pillars of Eternity, under advisement. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm an aficionado of the Infinity Engine games. Just last year I started another Baldur's Gate II play through only to drop it when I realised I'd already done everything. Yes, everything. From Kangaxx all the way to the golden pantaloons.
Pillars of Eternity is inspired by the Infinity engine games. It was advertised and plays like a mix of them. It feels like its own spin on them certainly as everything is reminiscent but always slightly different. But does trying to live up to the entire legacy at once cost it in the end?
-The first Infinity Engine game shows its age. What Pillars borrows from this is the world map. Like Baldur's One, it's grid-like with its areas and progress consists of progressing through the areas to reach the other side, opening them up one by one. It has a lot of wilderness areas that are revisited only occasionally. Apart from this it's hard to see any comparison and Pillars undoubtedly stacks up better. Baldur's One was exceeded by its own sequel.
Icewind Dale/Icewind Dale II
The two Icewind Dales fall mostly together due to their shared focus, being dungeon romps of mostly linear progression. Icewind Dale II was a little stronger on story and characters, while Icewind Dale One had it in the atmospheric locations department. Icewind Dale influences are clearly seen. Some of the battle music is a call-back and the expansion The White March takes place in snowy reaches involving abandoned dwarven holds and a remote village struggling to survive against evil armies. However Pillars isn't focused on dungeon romps as much so it inevitably suffers compared against the Icewinds. It simply can't afford to do its dungeons the same justice because they're not the main event. Od Nua I'll get to.
The most character and story driven of the games. Torment has its own sequel planned in Tides of Numenera. In Torment you're not out to save the world, in fact you can't even save yourself. The best you can do is fix what you broke. Pillars does evoke a little of that in its story. It feels like it’s on the right track in terms of quest resolution. There are choices however frequently the choices are just 'Kill this guy' or 'Kill the first guy who asked you to kill this guy'. The companions too never quite reach the character they have in Torment. A personal preference of mine is for the 'Just you and your party' style of the Infinity engine games. The newer style of 'Everyone joins and the extras stay at your base' always feels too gamey to me, as if they're nothing but bundles of stats waiting for you to take them out for a spin.
Baldur's Gate II
The big daddy of the Infinity Engine games and the one most people remember. Baldur's Gate II balanced story, gameplay, characters and freedom into one big bundle. Pillars definitely positions itself as the successor to BGII, trying to do similar things with a Stronghold, an optional massive dungeon and a single main villain carrying out evil plots that involve shady practices by the Gods. Here unfortunately is where Pillars really falls down. Especially where it directly apes BGII. In the villain department, Pillars is lacking. Its main villain just does things, he's never really given a compelling motivation. Od Nua, which is Pillars' answer to Watchers' Keep feels thinly spread, with too many floors and not enough happening. There's many occasions where we're told rather than shown events happening. After the Gilded Vale in the first Act Pillars seems too concerned with opening out into a Baldur's Gate One style, losing the impact of the story. Ultimately Pillars fails on its ambition. Its plot is much more mature compared to Baldur's Gate II but also more abstract. It doesn't feel like a problem that can be solved by just beating the bad guy so when you do there's little sense of closure.
As a comparison against all the Infinity Engine games, Pillars vastly improves on the game system. Infinity relied on 2E D&D, always a shaky proposition for implementation. Its own system updates much of that, while still feeling similar. Wizards and fighters are still there but they feel new and fresh. It's not without its problems, stats are sometimes counter-intuitive and there's little incentives to level outside your class abilities but it's still a step forward.
There's not much to add beyond what I've already said. I could talk at length about minutiae like itemization or the specifics of certain quests but my ultimate feeling is the same. Pillars is a good game but not a great one and that's in part due to living in the shadow of its heritage. It's doubtful a sequel will be able to step out beyond that. The best that can happen is the making of a new game using the same engine, as Infinity was used, in that way Pillars could eventually be itself Baldur's Gate One, the aged parent to a whole family.
Anybody who is anybody knows that Bioshock Infinite (Irrational Games, 2013) is the best game ever. Full stop. And what better time than during an anniversary to release the remastered bundle of the games that everybody loves? Sept 13, 2016 marks the anniversary release of Bioshock The Collection which will include the game of the century – Bioshock Infinite (hereafter BS:Infinite, or is that Infinite BS? HEYYYOOO!). Spoilers – but not sorry, because you played this YEARS ago, remember?
What to make of Stellaris? Another Space 4x game, another Paradox sandbox game. Every gamer has longed to conquer space since Galactic Civilizations. To seek out new civilizations and beat them up. My last space game was Endless Space, technologically engaging but dry. Before that there was Galactic Civ and Alpha Centauri. How does Stellaris measure up to these and to previous Paradox games like Crusader Kings 2? Read on.
A short demo with more credits than content. There isn't even a sandbox where you can idle. The demo is just, showpiece, a sample button pressing puzzle and then some deflecting shots with a lightsaber. You can tell those credits had to rattle this out in record time before jumping back onto a real project. It's a mere taster of what can be done in VR. But that lightsaber...
Let me tell you about that lightsaber. It doesn't feel like much, because you're just holding a plastic controller in reality. It doesn't look like much, because it's just a shaft of light tied to the controllers movements. It sounds like everything. From the low hum when its still to the loud vmmm when its swung. And the VR makes it real. You move your hand and the lightsaber moves. You swing it overhead and it purrs above you. You twirl the controller awkwardly, because the controller has a big round top that isn't built for twirling, and the lightsaber forms a web of protection before your eyes, blaster bolts reversing direction as they bounce off.
Don't be afraid to admit it. The screenshots look terrible. All those jagged edges and the tiny resolution. But again this isn't what the player sees, this is just the output to the flat screen.
I'm not afraid to say ILM have done a fantastic job with the visuals. There's all sorts of particle effects and photorealistic deserts you won't see in any other VR product. It really is a visual stunner. The gameplay is the weakest portion of this game. It's a cinematic event rather than a gameplay bonanza. It is one of the demos though, the kind you want to show to friends so they can experience VR. It's earned a recommendation from me on those merits.
Vanishing Realms has an interesting enough premise. Basic, but evocative. You're something like Gordon Freeman, a voiceless troubleshooter summoned by unknown powers to deal with a situation. What follows from there is a simple dungeon crawl. It's a launch title, showing the power of the technology more than anything. It also showcases why trying to take screenshots is annoying. These are the result of screenshotting while in-game. It's capturing the output to the flat screen rather than the two monitors that compose the headset. Not that a screenshot of those would be any better. They'd simply be two flat images instead of one. You'll just have to imagine the 3 Ds.
There's two aspects to Vanishing Realms. First is the "Whoah, they added that". Like how they have mining and archery. Well why shouldn't they? Other games have those features. So let's dispense with that. Yes Vanishing Realms has an inventory system so what. How do all these reinvented wheels work? Competently enough. Sometimes the inventory jumps around and it can be awkward trying to change weapons. Mining is just swinging a pick at things and collecting what drops out.
So what's good about it? The fact that it's VR. Combat is the most viscereal but just walking(teleporting) around is the wow factor. You start out underground with fleeting glimpses of the sky, so when you finally emerge into a quiet night it's breathtaking. The monsters are cartoonish but vicious. The fights are rough, though I probably wasn't in any real danger I spent most of my time cowering behind a shield and swinging wildly. There's also enough variation in the monsters to keep you busy and when multiple types show up together it becomes an exercise in tactics. Traps are not quite as great. There's some swinging blades in certain areas but it can be a bit hit or miss on whether you're in their arc. Other stuff like rockfalls are just decorative.
There isn't all that much to Vanishing Realms. I clocked in about two hours on both the first complete realm and the second, arena fighting one. Like most VR programs its really just a demo. A preview of what is to come. There's a lot of figuring out to do, will we be able to implement walking without motion sickness? Is there a fluid way to handle inventory? Will it be possible to do more environmental hazards? Well, Vanishing Realms is a good start.
Not my first but probably my most successful D&D campaign, Planescapin began back in 2013 and ran until July 2016. It finished successfully, albeit slightly rushed due to growing player fatigue. For a Planescape campaign it was surprisingly Prime focused, through my fault rather than intention. The group never really got involved in faction politics or the great conflicts of the setting, with the planes becoming exotic locales for them to visit in between wrestling with plot. What follows is my own retrospective of what happened, what worked and what didn't.
Following the tutorial I whipped up the basic star collection game and made one or two changes, like adding a double jump. You can find it here.
Now to see if I can do anything worthwhile with it.
One of the best parts of Tiltbrush is how it saves the strokes of each Tilt and on load plays them to reconstruct it. Watching this loading is an experience as well as showing how much work went into it.
After 5 years of work I've finally modded Skyrim to the degree I want it. I can step back and say there is nothing left to take away from this masterpiece (Well, maybe some better billboards). Come away with me.
The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd. --André Breton
Space was important. there’d never been space in Vienna. Space provided room for ideas to grow.
Charlie unlocked the door, slipping the key back into his pocket. It was the ornate one Sable had given him the morning they’d met.
”You look like someone who needs space.”
He’d followed her, the little tramp and his darling. He’d sketched her across the street, up the stairs into the empty room above the pottery store. They’d talked about the war, about Manchuria, about her cafe. They’d gotten closer and closer. And then she’d left.
“Don’t worry, just drop the key back when you’re done.”