Birthday Party, Cheesecake, Jelly Bean, Boom

Social distancing continues.  From scrolling through social media, some of my friends and extended family are handling it better than others.

From the perspective of a Gen-Xer, however, it really hasn’t been that weird.  We grew up convinced that we were going to get blown up by nuclear war – or, worse, survive the war and need to live though the aftermath – and then after THAT seemed fairly unlikely we had the panic of wondering whether Bush was going to turn on the draft again and send us off to parts foreign to shoot at persons foreign.

Oh, then we had 9/11 right when my career should have been kicking into career mode, and the 2008 crash right when I had decided to go back to school to become a translator.

I also grew up making my own food from about the age of… I think I was trusted to work the oven at about 10 years old?  So a lot of my meals were “peel back corner of foil to expose tater tots” and the idea that you can get bored of eating the same thing every day is a little alien to me.

So, really, the last couple of months have been “oh, we’re having a global pandemic now? I haven’t seen one of those before.  Well, whatever.”

I really wanted an excuse to use this image.

My biggest source of stress, really, is that I work in – I hate this word – “cybersecurity”, which is a profession that is extremely busy right now.  Job security is nice and all, but I do occasionally wish that I could reach through the internet and throttle the people I work with.

After one particularly throttle-inspiring day, my wife suggested that I should sit down and play something familiar to relax me, which seemed like a great plan and which lead me to boot up Half-Life 2 for at least my fifth playthrough.  I originally played the astonishingly-good 2005 Xbox port and have gone through it twice in Windows and once on a Mac since then.

This time, I decided to give the Xbox 360 release a try – I wanted to see how the Xbox One X upscaling worked and it seemed like an easy way to rack up some cheap gamerscore.

I do like seeing numbers get bigger.

I’ve never pulled off the “Play through Ravenholm with the gravity gun” achievement, so I decided to give that a go this time.  It took a couple of retries on some of the bits where you are swarmed with fast zombies and don’t have a lot of convenient saw blades lying around, but I can mark this off the list:

I did NOT manage to get the Keep Off The Sand achievement, and I am mildly vexed by that.  Something for the future, there.

As for the upscaling, that turned out decently.  You get edges sharp enough to cut yourself on, albeit with some jaggies, and it’s really obvious what parts of the game are vintage 2004 bitmaps.  This is not a dsfix-for-Dark-Souls sort of revelation where it turns out that the low resolution was masking really nice textures, but it gets rid of the softness you’d see when running a 720p game on a modern 4k set and that’s really all I had hoped for.

You should be able to click on this to get the full 4k image, please excuse me for the 1.6 MB file.

A scripted event like this is probably the worst-case scenario for showcasing the upscale, since you’re just standing around listening to Eli and Alyx talk and have plenty of time to look at control panels.  When the game is in motion and you are trying to insert Bullet A into Combine Soldier B, you don’t really have time for that.

For comparison’s sake, I loaded up the Steam version and set it to 4k.  It looked pretty much identical, which was surprising.  I would have expected higher-resolution textures on the PC side of things.

There’s probably a mod for that.

Anyway, on a fifth playthrough, I have come to the conclusion that the game peaks with the “Sandtraps” level and that the Nova Prospekt / Entanglement / Anticitizen One / Follow Freeman! levels could stand to be about half as long as they are.  The Big Damn Climactic battle with all of the Striders in Follow Freeman!, especially, just seemed to drag on and on.  I do not remember the Striders needing seven rockets EACH to take down, nor do I remember there being FIVE of them in that fight.

If I ever go for a sixth run, I will probably just play up through Sandtraps, level-skip to Our Benefactors, and call it good.

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A few years back, with some long plane flights looming, I decided to dip a toe into the murky waters of the Pokémon franchise, and bought Pokémon Moon.

I thought it was pretty fun, though the main “go beat up small children and their pets until you become the league champion” plot kind of dragged on and didn’t hook me.  I really enjoyed the story of Lillie and her little escape artist, and even wound up buying some merch since I happened to be in Japan where there are many stores that sell Pokémerch.

And only Pokémerch.  The amount of money you could drop on crap with Pikachu’s smiling face plastered on it is just astounding.

Anyway, for a variety of reasons, I decided to go back a few years and try out Pokémon Black 2.

This was a mistake.

I managed to slog my way to the end of it, and I even started enjoying things after about the 7th gym, but there are just so many quality-of-life features from Moon that apparently weren’t around in Ye Olden Days of 2012, like being able to see whether an opponent will be completely 100% immune to the move you are about to throw at it or being able to see at a glance what items each of your team members has equipped, and the plot – as it was – completely failed to hook me.

I will put it this way:  I finished the game less than 2 hours ago, and the only thing I can really remember about the story is that my rival was intensely upset at the bad guys because they had stolen his sister’s pet kitten.

I did need to cheat a bit and look up what my opponents were weak to in order to make it through the final boss gauntlet.  In some cases, this didn’t help because my selection process for team members more-or-less began and ended with “does this guy look cool?” and that is a bad plan in a game that is based largely around exploiting elemental weaknesses in a crazy 18-direction game of rock/paper/scissors.

So when a guide says “all of the opponents in this fight are weak to Ghost, Dark, and Bug”, and I realized that I did not have a single Pokémon that was either Ghost or Dark OR Bug… well, I kind of had to brute force my way through that.

I lucked out a bit because I had caught a Magnemite in an early zone and evolved it all the way to its final form and gotten it fairly high level, and this is important because it’s one of the few Pokémon that cannot be killed in one shot.  As long as you have sufficient healing items on hand, it’s effectively immortal, and I managed to beat one of the “Final Four” simply by using it to soak hits until my opponent could no longer use its more powerful moves.

Put another way, I won that fight by getting punched in the face until my enemy wore himself out punching.  Bards will not sing of my victory this day.

At this point, I understand that I can move all of my virtual critters from the older game into the newer game that I already own, and that if I feel like buying one of the Switch games I will likewise be able to move them over to that game.  I think this is where I’m supposed to start complaining because not all of the old monsters are present in the new games?  When I bought the Black 2 cartridge, the guy who sold it to me seemed to feel very strongly about this, and I didn’t quite know how to respond to his quest for a kindred soul.

Wait, no.  I’m actually supposed to pick a Favorite Generation of game and find Intensely Personal And Valid Reasons why my Favorite Generation was the best ever.

Damnit.  This is going to get complicated.

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OK, I finished Ori and the Blind Forest. Then I finished the sequel.

Final stats:

77% completion, 9:45:15 played, 478 deaths.  That’s one death every 73 seconds, which means that I started dying even faster towards the end.

I put off playing Ori for a long time, because it had a reputation for extreme difficulty and because its fan base was very vocal about how it was intentionally hard and how you weren’t entitled to finish every game and git gud and all that.

Fortunately, the developers decided that people who were not all that good at games ALSO liked to buy games, and that money was good, so the “Definitive Edition” adds an Easy mode. Not that it’s terribly easy, but apparently it adds some checkpoints in the middle of sequences that previously needed to be done in a single stretch.

Anyway, I’m not sure I could have made it through if it had been any harder, but it was a stunningly pretty game and I am glad that they put the mode for older gamers in.

The sequel came with an Easy mode from the get-go, and it was appreciated.  If I am to believe the in-game counter, I only died 138 times in the 14-and-a-bit hours it took me to finish the story and reach 80% completion.

I don’t actually believe the in-game counter.

Anyway, Ori 2 was even prettier than Ori the first, and had some really nice quality-of-life changes, like having checkpoints roughly every five seconds and much-improved fast travel.

Much like the first game, it revels in throwing crazy platforming challenges at you, to the point where you start thinking that you are obviously pulling off moves that are SO brilliant and SO inspired that you MUST be jumping and dashing and climbing your way into an optional secret area and then you discover that, no, it’s the way you were supposed to go and the optional secret area is actually on the other side of the screen behind the whirling flame blades.

That’s actually kind of fun!  Except for the bits when you get stuck somewhere for ages because you’re sure that you are getting closer to figuring out a tricky platforming bit and eventually you realize that the issue isn’t your platforming skills at all and that actually you needed to hit a switch or something.

That happened a few times.

It DOES have some performance issues, at least on console and even though I was playing on a One X.  Most of the issues seemed to come from the constant data streaming, so I recommend that you install it to your Xbox’s internal hard drive or to an external SSD.  It also crashed occasionally while loading the game, and it has some problems with achievements unlocking.

On the other hand, the cloud save syncing worked flawlessly and I was able to go back and forth between the Windows 10 version of the game and the Xbox version of the game seamlessly.

So.  Two games down, both quite fun, both maybe just a LITTLE harder than they really needed to be, I have a sense of accomplishment, AND I didn’t have to actually buy either because they’re both on Xbox Game Pass, which is turning out to be one of the best deals in recent memory.


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Oh, Pies

No video game post today.  I have been playing “Ori and the Blind Forest”.  I am not good at platform games, which is something I’ve mentioned here quite often, so I really should not be playing a platform game that was designed for people who ARE good at them.

I have played, thus far, for 5 hours, 31 minutes, and 35 seconds.  I am at 49% completion.  I have died two hundred and fifty-two times, or on average once every 78 seconds.

I am playing on Easy.

So let’s not talk about that.  Let’s talk about this terrifying piece of snack food, the “Birthday Cake Pie”, an incredibly cheap (50 cents) and yet incredibly fattening (410 calories) piece of confectionery:

Normally I avoid the Hostess-and-Hostess-Adjacent section of the grocery store, but this thing caught my eye.  I knew it was going to be disappointing, of course, but I needed to know HOW disappointing.

Despite the difference between how this looks in reality and how it looks on the box, I think there may actually have been sprinkles used in the making of this pie.  They’ve all sort of turned into mush in the filling, but the ingredients list on the back swears that there WERE sprinkles and the weirdly-colored filling sort of backs that up.

It also looks rather like something that might show up on Infernal Monkey on a slow post day.  If I only had some googly eyes, I would have slapped them on there to complete the experience.

The taste?

Well, to my surprise, it actually pulled off the “birthday cake” taste fairly well, assuming that”Birthday Cake” is white sheet cake covered with tons of frosting.

OK, really it was just the taste of frosting, like the entire cake has already been eaten but there’s a little wall of frosting stuck to the side of the cake box and you have decided to scrape the entire mess up with a fork and stick it in your face.  It’s that sort of taste.

I may be revealing a little too much about myself and my relationship with frosting here.

So, to put into a very few words something that I have spent several paragraphs getting to, it’s basically a Hostess fruit pie, only full of cake frosting.  I’m cool with that.

I’m not ever going to eat a second one, mind you.

I MAY get one for the next person I know who is having a birthday and carefully fill out the “to” and “from” on the box and hand it to them and make them eat it.

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Man Bites Troll

Well, the dreaded Wu-Han Flu Clan has been spotted in our neck of the woods and we are all being encouraged to, I think the term is, “socially isolate” which appears to be a code phrase for working from home and filling our other waking hours with video games and binging TV and just not ever going outside unless you absolutely have to.


Anyway, prep work for some glorious hermitage included spray-painting “DON’T DEAD OPEN INSIDE” on the garage door and then a quick trip to the grocer to pick up some essentials that we didn’t have in the house, like bananas and sour cream and  paper towels and eight twelve packs of diet soda.

Food?  I think we have some of that already.  There’s a couple frozen pizzas anyway, last I looked.  And some instant noodles that probably haven’t passed their expiration dates.  We’re good.

The lines at checkout were, as you may imagine, fairly long.  A mild inconvenience, of the sort that has you randomly browsing the carefully-arranged shelves of impulse purchases.

And that’s when my wife said, half to herself, “I wonder what flavor ‘Troll’ is?”

Following her gaze, I found her looking at a display of officially-licensed “Trolls: World Tour” Oreos, and picked up a package to see if I could answer her.

There was no answer to be found on the packaging.  It emphasized the pinkness and the glitteryness of the contents, but yielded no clues on the actual taste experience.

Naturally this bore further study, and a package made its way from the impulse-buy shelves into our cart, proving yet again that I am very susceptible to things that are bright and shiny.

Opening this package and extracting some of the contents.  Apparently the movie has some sort of musical theme to it.  I vaguely remember seeing a trailer.  It may have been in front of Frozen II?

Side note: I was quite sure that the homicidal horse in Frozen II was a kelpie and I was very happy about that, since kelpies are one of the things from the Monster Manual that rarely feature in fiction.

OK, so kelpies weren’t IN the Monster Manual but WERE in the Field Folio but were represented as women rather than horses.

Erm. I appear to have gotten off track.  Anyway, the horse from Frozen II seems to have been a Ceffyl Dŵr, or Water Horse, which isn’t actually a kelpie but is like the Welsh equivalent.

I should get back to the cookies, huh. Let’s do that.

The filling is not particularly glittery but it IS pink.  Not a pleasant pink, either.  I am very fond of the sort of coral pink that Nintendo used for its pink handhelds.  This is not that.  It’s an aggressive pink, the sort that screams that these cookies are NOT FOR LADS.

I’m not particularly GOOD at being a lad, mind you.  I have never changed my own oil or butchered a deer or opened a bottle of beer with my teeth, so I figured I could go ahead and eat the pinkness.

After the first cookie, I was not entirely sure they had a flavor.  There was a sweetness, and a sort of unpleasant aftertaste that suggested that eating a second cookie might be a good idea to drown that aftertaste out, so I did that and still wasn’t able to pinpoint just exactly what it tasted like.

A third cookie likewise failed to assist in reaching a conclusion, at which point I realized that I had eaten 225 calories of Troll-themed Oreos in roughly 30 seconds and that I should probably stop.

So, if I had to put a name to the flavor of Troll, I would have to go with “regret”.



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13 Years Blog

Remembered an anniversary post this year for a change.

So.  Thirteen years of mostly talking about how bad I am at video games and occasionally flying to Japan and making fun of signs.  I still get a few readers every day, so I guess I’ll keep on keeping on. 🙂

February wasn’t the greatest month on a personal level.  We lost our third cat in the last three years, this time to kidney disease, and I will come right out and say that if there were some dark rituals that could be performed involving human sacrifice to prolong pet life, I would be warming up the altar and buying some chloroform and an unmarked and unremarkable white van.

That’s probably not the best conversational topic, though, so let’s talk about vidya.

It’s been pretty obvious that the last couple of years have been the slow years we always get before the launch of new consoles.  It’s been less obvious this generation, thanks in part to the mid-cycle refresh consoles both Microsoft and Sony put out and to the general doldrums around PC GPUs, but there just hasn’t been a ton of capital-H Hype since 2017.

Well, except from the Nintendo camp.  But that’s a group of fans who can work themselves into a frothing mass of all-caps HYPE over the reveal of a new Smash character, so it’s best to just not make eye contact.

One of the side benefits of being just a little checked-out of the gaming industry is that I’m not spending a ton of cash on games.  I still manage to look at my bank statement every month and wonder what happened, but at least it’s mostly going to life essentials.

So this month, I’ll talk about three recent games that I played for free-or-mostly-free.

One of my most happy discoveries last year was that our local library system is now checking out video games.  As you might expect, this is quite popular and the chance of finding any given game on the shelf is fairly slim, but it meant that I got to see “Control” on the shelf and check it out despite knowing absolutely nothing about it.

A few days later, I’d finished the story and gone back to clear up all of the optional bits to get the 1000/1000 gamer score.  I generally don’t DO that, so you may infer that (a) I liked it quite a bit and (b) getting 1000/1000 gamer score is fairly easy.  Both of these things are true.

Control reminded me a lot of The Secret World or Men In Black, in that the gist of it is that Weird Shit Is Actually Real and that you are part of an organization devoted to keeping the Weird Shit under control while also making sure that humanity in general doesn’t learn about the eldritch horrors lurking just outside the window.  It’s also a really enjoyable third-person shooter where your character gets all kinds of nifty psychic powers to go along with the Power of Gun, and in the end the actual shooting eldritch horrors kind of becomes this thing you do while all of your nifty psychic powers are recharging.

To expand on that, firefights in Control tend to play out with your character taking flight, telekinetically throwing a vending machine at something, knocking it over and weakening it enough that you can then mind control it and turn it into your loyal thrall, ripping concrete and rebar out of the floor to make a shield so you can advance on another enemy and finally throwing all of that concrete and rebar at them before remembering that you can go pew pew with a gun that can morph into one of five forms as indicated by the needs of the current situation.  It’s a very BUSY game, but not overwhelmingly-so.

It’s also a high-budget entirely single-player affair.  In 2019!  What a crazy concept.

Technically, I guess I pay for the library system with a tiny portion of my taxes so it wasn’t FREE free, but that’s a theme we’re going to see more of as we get to…

…Call of Cthulhu, which was “Free” in that it was a Games with Gold title for the month, so I got to play it as part of my Xbox Live subscription.  Still sorta free.

Several months back, I talked about Uncharted as the perfect “7/10” game, in that it was a game with mass-market appeal that did everything competently enough to be worth playing but didn’t really distinguish itself.

So let me go one notch below that and say that Call of Cthulhu is the perfect “6/10” game, in that it has some technical problems and can turn into a bit of a slog while you are trying to work through puzzles and has an annoying stealth segment that should frankly die in a fire and has a comical number of spelling errors.

It also tries to mix some RPG elements into the puzzle solving bits, with results that are occasionally less-than-stellar.  It’s nice to get different conversation options based on how you’ve built up your character stats, but it’s another thing to try to lift a grate, fail the strength check and fail to lift the grate, get a random critical failure that breaks the lever that you would need to use to lift the grate so you can’t try again, and later discover that you were locked out of some bits of the story because you never went down under the grate.

… and yet, if you’re a fan of the material that it’s based on you will probably like it quite a bit.  Most Lovecraftian stories do not end well for their protagonists, and the happiest ending you can expect from them is that the timetable for the inevitable destruction of mankind at the hands of uncaring celestial nightmares is pushed back slightly. Godawful stealth bit aside, Call of Cthulhu gets that right.

And, finally, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which REALLY stretches the definition of free in that it was “free” with the purchase of a game console.

Of these three games, it’s the one I was most predisposed to like based on my fondness for earlier entries, and it did give me a good dozen hours of climbing over ruins and deciphering centuries-old Rube Goldberg machines and murdering a lot of copy-and-pasted goons, mostly* in self defense.  I loved the environments and the traversal, and they came together in an absolutely breathtaking final sequence, so really you can stop reading here if you just want to avoid me complaining about things.

* Mostly.  There’s one cutscene where one of the goons is scrambling back in a feeble attempt to escape from Lara and she stabs him to death with all the emotion of someone flicking an ant off the edge of their picnic table.  I think it was probably intended as a Super Badass Moment, but it came off a little serial-killer.

I didn’t much get on with the setting.  It’s hard to get excited for the exploits of a wealthy British girl when she’s plundering the tombs and temples of a place that actually has people living in it still.  It’s a little more defensible if you’re doing your Tomb Raiding somewhere where everyone has been dead for ages, or if you are sticking it to the English.

I always endorse sticking it to the English.

Also, and this is a personal issue, there’s too much swimming through underwater tunnels.  You don’t get a breathing apparatus, so there are conveniently-spaced air pockets where you can surface for a breath, and it feels a little TOO much like a video game when your focus is on “swim forward until you see an air pocket, take breath, repeat, eventually you will reach goal”.

Another especially video-gamy sequence comes after a daring escape separates Lara from her arsenal and she must navigate an enemy camp armed only with her wits and a knife and stealth on her side… and she dispatches at least a dozen mooks without ever even THINKING about taking one of their guns.  Apparently their guns had some kind of Bad Guy Cooties on them that she didn’t want to become infected by?  She then finds a bow and uses it to kill a bunch more guys, again completely ignoring all of the guns they drop.

I may be overthinking this a bit, but COME ON NOW.

The previous game – Rise of the Tomb Raider – had me absolutely hooked.  I put off finishing it for AGES in favor of cleaning up the map clutter that represented artifacts and secrets, and even spent some time with the optional time trials just to get More Game out of the game.  Shadow of the Tomb Raider was never going to live up to that, and all of my grousing should probably be looked at with that caveat firmly understood.

So that’s given me some things to play while we all wait for the Next Generation Of Consoles, which will offer UNPARALLELED GAMEPLAY EXPERIENCES except of course we all know that launch titles are generally a bit crap so really we’re looking at 2021, maybe 2022 until we get our next really exciting year.  Hmm.  That’s a bit of a downer when I look at it like that.

Maybe we’ll finally get that Demon’s Souls remaster they’ve been teasing?

Maybe I’ll still be writing this thing?

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by in the last 13 years, anyway.  I like seeing the views and the occasional comments.  🙂

Posted in videogames, Xbox One | 1 Comment

Nintendo has come a long way

Got a reminder in my inbox earlier this week that “Prison Princess” was now available on the Switch, and I’m just tickled to see a mildly-pervy game spotlighted under a huge Mario header.

I don’t know much about this particular game, but what I’ve seen reminds me a little of the  “密室のサクリファイス” or “Hidden Room Sacrifice” series of PSP games where you had to solve puzzles to escape a room with the help of a cute girl who always needed to do a lot of crawling under things with some terribly inappropriate camera angles, and that was enough for me to put it on the wish list for “when it’s on sale”.

This game has TWO cute girls locked in a dungeon who you need to direct to solve puzzles, and yes it promises lots of crawling under things.

And they say video games aren’t art.


Posted in Switch, videogames | 4 Comments