9unm3741: Legend of Zelda.  This icon is for video game related posts. (Video Games)
While my conscious brain has had more important things to worry about, my subconscious brain has been wondering very hard about what the Skyrim remaster could possibly offer PC users given the already extensive graphical mods available. Well I finally found a video that explains it very nicely.
Youtube Link
9unm3741: Legend of Zelda.  This icon is for video game related posts. (Video Games)
Recently I've been playing a lot of the game Banished. I like it a lot. It is a city builder game in the same genre as Sim City, but substantially different. First, it seems to take place at around the 17th century (it is often called a medieval city builder, but colonial city builder is more accurate to the aesthetics I think). Second, it is more of a meso-level city builder. You can't micro manage the individual citizens, but on the other hand you aren't constructing a macro scale city. A few hundred citizens is a really big city in Banished.

I the vanilla game for some time, but once I figured out how to get past a few standard difficulties, it lacked the late game flare that I had hoped it would have. Getting through the initial precarious stages of starting a city, and the early low population die-offs from old age are the hardest parts. Once you get well over 100 population, there isn't much to do in the end game other than generate a lot of trade, which you need to do anyway since stone, iron, and coal are too unsustainable and personnel intensive to produce yourself. So I spend a lot of time making warm coats from cattle and sheep and selling them for iron, coal, and stone. Part of the problem is that there just aren't that many value adding buildings/professions. You can make cloths, tools, firewood, and ale. That is it!

As you might guess, this got boring pretty quickly. But I could see that the potential for a really great and involved game was there, so I went looking for some good mods. Boy did I find them. I found a medieval mod, which adds a more medieval aesthetic, and a LOT of late game professions and buildings, as well as splitting up the market into distinct stores. In addition, it adds canals, which are great for creating awesome looking cities. Finally, the houses stack up the three floors, so you can have a much higher density and place housing on top of buildings where people work. I also found a mod called Colonial Charter. Colonial Charter is substantially more complex, with exponentially more professions. I decided to go with the medieval mod first, and once I've started to play that out I'll switch to the Colonial Charter mod.

Now I want to show off my medieval canal city a bit.

One thing that I've learned to do, especially with the increased types of buildings, is to lay out my city beforehand. Fortunately, you can place buildings and then pause their construction. So I lay out most of my cities before even starting to play the game. Inevitably, things change a little bit and my preconceptions of what the city will be gets altered by unexpected terrain or when I get access to what crops and livestock. Here is my layout for my medieval canal city, Annecy!


Here is what the town looks like after being about half finished.



A look at a nice row of shops. These are the split up market shops with second story houses on top of them.



Another row of shops on the other side of the canal. These are a butcher, a baker, an alehouse, a clinic, a third story house that I used to make a sort of raised structure over a road, and a hostel.



One of the coolest things you can build is the cathedral, the first "wonder" you can build in Banished! Its quite the construction project! Here is what mine looks like as I began to build the second half of the city.

Titanfall

Jun. 2nd, 2014 04:40 pm
9unm3741: Legend of Zelda.  This icon is for video game related posts. (Video Games)
Titanfall went on sale recently for 50% off ($30 instead of $60) so I jumped on it.  I had recently become pretty disillusioned with the online first person shooter market.  Dominated on PC by Call of Duty and Battlefield, it had become pretty stale.  Ever since starting undergraduate I had gotten quite good at PC shooters, but after starting graduate school I just didn't have a lot of free time and the shooters available didn't motivate me enough to play them or put any kind of serious effort into cultivating my skills in them.  So, basically they weren't that fun so I didn't play much and when I did I sucked.  My hope was that Titanfall would be good enough that I would be willing to put in the time and the effort to be good and have fun.

Fortunately it delivered.  It's really fun to play, and the movement mechanics really let you take your interaction with the environment to the next level.  Best of all, mutha-fuckin mechs!  I had recently tried Mech Warrior Online, a free to play mmo shooter with the gameplay of the previous Mech Warrior games.  Unfortunately, the free to play platform meant that as a non-paying player, I always lost to paying players.  Always.  No contest.  So the mecha genre had a hole that needed filling as well.  Titanfall fills that too.  The mechs are pretty easy to control.  You can enter and exit them in the middle of battle, and the AI controls them well enough that they'll hold out in a fire fight (but don't expect them to win) and are certainly not sitting ducks.  A couple things I wish the mechs had is more customizability and more dynamic damage systems.  You get to pick your main weapon, a hull weapon, and a special ability (for example, 40mm cannon, rocket salvo, projectile barrier) and pick from three different mechs, but I really like the Mech Warrior customization.  You had a number of mechs bodies that balanced speed, heat dissipation, ammunition capacity, armor, and weapon hard points.  You attached weapons to the hard points, which would either take ammo or produce heat, so you had to balance those weapons.  This sort of customization would be nice in Titanfall as well.  Mech Warrior also had more dynamic damage.  If you hit a mech on the arm it damaged the arm, hitting the torso damaged the torso, etc. and when enough overall damage was done the mech was destroyed.  This meant more balancing.  If you had only one really powerful weapon it could be destroyed and you would be left helpless.  It also meant that a damaged mech usually had a disadvantage over a fresh one.  These added a lot of uncertainty to the game that made it lots of fun.  I wish Titanfall had both of these, although there is certainly an appeal to the simplicity of the operation of the mechs in Titanfall.  Its really easy so the player can focus on the fighting and really have fun with that.

There are lots of other cool abilities the pilots (you play as a pilot) have.  Cloaking being the foremost.  You can cloak for a short period of time, which makes you, not quite invisible, but really close.  They also have a smart pistol weapon, which is an interesting concept.  It locks on to enemies.  It takes three lock on cycles to lock on to a human player, then it only takes one trigger pull to take them down.  At first I thought "thats bs, way to take any semblance of skill out of it.  With cloaking all you have to do is cloak, walk up to someone, and boom they're dead without even trying."  This isn't quite right.  Each lock on cycle takes a bit of time, and the range of a lock on is short enough that even with cloaking you risk being seen before it finishes.  The lock on doesn't work through objects, so if your target runs behind a wall, even if they reappear you have to start the lock on process all over again.  After playing, I would say that the smart pistol is well balanced.  It doesn't take less skill, it just emphasizes a different play style.  You must be good at dodging enemy fire, and playing stealthily is rewarded, which is not usually the case for FPS games, and feels very refreshing.

Some other cool things are that a pilot not in a mech can hitch a ride on someone else's mech.  This means you could ride along on a teammates mech, or you can jump on the back of an enemy mech, open up the circuitry, and start shooting to damage it without contending with the shields (that is, if you can get close enough without getting shot or squished, and if another enemy doesn't shoot you while you do it, or the pilot gets out of their mech, or used their ability to give them a defense system, so its hardly a sure thing).  The game refers to this as "rodeo" and its one of my favorite things to do because it feels so bad ass!

Anyway, so far its a really fun, really well balanced, really good game.  It's brought me back into online FPS on the PC, and, even better, I'm actually good at it!
9unm3741: Legend of Zelda.  This icon is for video game related posts. (Video Games)
After waiting a very long time to upgrade my computer to the point where I could play bioshock infinite decently, and then trying to find time to play it, I have finally beat the game!  And I must say, it was excellent.  The tone for most of the game is pretty lighthearted, but at time takes some serious turns.  All around, it isn't as dark as the first game was in Rapture.  Partly, I'm sure, because Rapture was already in ruin by the time your character sets foot in it in the first game.  In Infinite, you walk into a "thriving" city.  To be honest, although its interesting how the city changes over time in Infinite, I preferred the darker setting to the first Bioshock.  The other interesting difference is Elizabeth, your sidekick of sorts.  I must say, normally I develop a huge crush on these sorts of characters (for example Alyx from Half Life 2), but this time I didn't.  I think it was a more paternal feeling of a need to protect and provide for.  Whether this is a result of my aging or a subtle difference cultivated by makers of the game I don't know, but I liked it (I like to think it was the developers and that I'm not old enough to feel all paternal about stuff yet).  Over all, a good game, excellent actually, but not quite as good as the first Bioshock, which is still one of my favorite games of all time.
Ok, so I've encountered a problem.  My new video card has no VGA output.  This in itself is not a problem, as DVI and Displayport are better anyway.  What makes this a problem is that my monitor only has VGA and HDMI inputs.  So I am left in the conundrum:  buy a DVI to VGA adapter or buy an HDMI cable.  On the one hand, picture quality on the HDMI would be better, but the VGA input would give me better refresh rates.  Both are important for gaming.

As a side note, this reminded me one of the reasons why I'm a PC gamer and not a console gamer.  TVs have refresh rates sometimes as high as 120Hz, but HDMI only recently, with HDMI 2.0, has the ability to support 60Hz refresh rates (or 60fps).  Otherwise you're probably looking at around 30Hz (fps).  Monitors refresh at 60Hz standard.  VGA, DVI, and Displayport are all capable of 60Hz (fps) refresh rates.  Given the graphical strait of games and the power of your video card, a good in-game fps rate is probably around 40 (although for budget gamers 24 is about where things no longer look "laggy").  So, even though your TV can get the same resolution as my monitor, I still, as a PC gamer, have a higher refresh rate than is possible for a console gamer to achieve.  I also don't have to worry as much about gimmicky "this TV gets 120Hz refresh rate!" even though you can't get enough bandwidth to support even half that.

On another side note.  DVI cables are waaaaaay overpriced.  That is all.
Yet again I have managed to not post for a long time. The end of my Masters program draws near, and with it a massive move to Troy, NY. I have been clawing my hair out finishing my thesis and preparing to move, which includes moving stuff from both Aurora and Toronto. Did I mention it's stressful? Anyway, that doesn't mean I haven't had stuff I wanted to post. I have been playing a bunch of new games and mods for old games, all of which I would like to offer my impressions on. I also have my thesis to discuss. I will soon also have my new PhD program to discuss as well as (I hope) my first published paper. But this will all have to wait until I am sure I have survived August. Wish me luck. I will need it.

Diablo III

Jun. 21st, 2012 12:22 pm
9unm3741: Legend of Zelda.  This icon is for video game related posts. (Video Games)
So it's been since April that I have posted here. This mostly has to do with my not doing much of anything. I have been very focused on my academics. However, at the end of May I was gifted Diablo III, so I figure I'll discuss my experience playing this game a little bit now. So far I actually enjoy the game a lot. Although I actually like Diablo II a lot better, this game is still fun. Lots of running around and killing demons. There are four modes to the game: normal, nightmare, hell, and inferno where each represents a different difficulty. You must beat each on to unlock the next, and each mode offers new, better, sets of items to acquire and craft. Although the quests from mode to mode are the same, each replay is a little different as the map generator and encounter generator are random.

Although I do like the game because it is fun to play, there are a number of things that prevent the game from being as good as Diablo II. The first is that after normal mode, leveling is pretty insignificant in and of itself. In normal mode I got stuck, a lot. But if I fought enough enemies, I would either level or they would drop an item that would be an upgrade on an item I have already equipped, and I could continue on in the game. After normal mode that stops mattering as much. Levels are irrelevant when strong enemies are capable of one shot killing characters in a 10 level range (for reference as to how large that range is, the max level is 60). Thus items are king in Diablo III. After normal mode, the only real way to get past a rut is to get better items to improve your character, as leveling typically doesn't improve your character enough. But sadly it's very difficult to get a good item to drop from killing in game monsters. You do have the ability to craft items by destroying pick up items for parts and using them to make new ones. I think this mechanic is awesome. As you level your crafting ability (which is done by giving money and blacksmith plans/tomes/etc. to a blacksmith) you unlock the ability to create better and better items. Each item has a known base damage and known number of stat affixes, however, what those stat affixes are and how good they will be are random. So it often takes a number of tries to get a weapon that is any good. For example, I might craft a bow, but it gets a strength bonus and vitality bonus (affixes that would both be good for a tanking melee character, but hardly an archer). So often to craft a good item you must invest a great deal of money as well as salvaged material. It often ends up being an inferior method to the third and final item acquisition method: the auction house.

At the auction house you can buy and sell the items you find in game both for gold and (more recently) actual currency. This is often the cheapest and quickest way to get the items you want. Using the auction house also allows you to better design your character strategy, as you can search for specific affixes to items to implement the strategy you want, as opposed to trying to work in whatever item drops for you or whatever items you can craft. I like this, as the characters themselves lost a lot of customization from Diablo II (but gained flexibility). However, because the auction house is so much better at item grabbing than either of the other two methods, the game becomes more like playing the stock market than actually fighting demons. You get stuck, so you have to buy better items. But first you have to raise the money, so you try to sell items in the auction house. The items you found suck and won't sell, so you have to try to buy items on the auction house and flip them for gold. It's like I'm playing a bloody real estate game! I don't want to have to waste my time playing the item real estate game. I want to kill stuff!

Fortunately, Blizzard recently patched the game, and made the cost of crafting items much much cheaper. It is still very expensive to level your crafting ability, but this is a one time expense. So it requires a large initial investment, but the production cost is low. This, I think, is a good balance between crafting and the auction house. Because the initial investment is so high, only a few people will choose to use crafting to get their items, and so the auction house won't be flooded with crafted items. On the flip side, if you just want to play and don't want to spend all your time in the auction house, crafting is now a viable alternative to get you past the hard parts of the game as long as you use your money to improve your crafting skills in between points where you get stuck.

Well there you have it, my impression of Diablo III. Overall, despite this being somewhat of a rant, I have fun with the game. I am currently playing a demon hunter (archer), and will post a few screen shots of my character looking cool on here later. Sorry for the length :P
9unm3741: Legend of Zelda.  This icon is for video game related posts. (Video Games)
One of the great things I love about Terraria is its creative capacity. Most games are based on instant gratification. The monkey does a trick, he gets a banana. Not that there is anything wrong with that, instant gratification can be very satisfying, and its a relieving break from the real world where all I seem to do is prepare for the future. However, Terraria offers a deeper level of satisfaction. It has the potential to truly be an creative outlet. Now that I have reached the point in the game where I am no longer trying to simply satisfy my characters basic needs (survival and game progression primarily), I have been exploring the artistic aspect of Terraria a lot more. For a 2D game, Terraria architecture can have a lot of depth. Just like all painters have the same three primary colors to work with, Terraria has limited tools for creating these works of art. Yet by combining them in new and interesting ways, one can create something a unique and eye catching piece. Unfortunately I am still experimenting with some of the more creative architecture, but I have made some progress. One of the big disappointments for me are the limitations set on buildings for NPCs. NPC housing must be fully enclosed, including player constructed background, with a minimum size, at least one table of other flat surface, and at least one chair or other comfort item. This is pretty creatively stifling, as it really limits the depth and lighting effects while forcing you to use per-rendered furniture pieces that will be the same in every creation you make for your NPCs. My strategy up until now has been to let my NPCs live in boxes off in the corner where you can't see them and play with the more fulfilling architectural creations somewhere else. However, recently I have been trying to come up with ways to make a much more aesthetically appealing NPC housing architecture. My idea: the NPC village. By making each NPC house different, and allowing the buildings to interact with each other and with the natural landscape, I thought I might be able to compensate for the lack of other architecturally artistic aspects. Enough rambling. Here is a picture of the houses I have so far.

I am having two major problems, which are related. The first one is that the village template takes up a lot of space. I have three houses on two "screens" of space where there are a total of, I think, 10 NPCs that you can get in the game. My solution is to utilize vertical space, ie. above and below ground. The problem there is that I want the village to mesh with the natural landscape, like a real village would. I want the houses to fit with the constraints of the land. It is hard to integrate this desire with the utilization of vertical space. As such, any advice on how I might do that is appreciated.
9unm3741: Legend of Zelda.  This icon is for video game related posts. (Video Games)
So for Christmas I got two new video games for PC. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Terraria. I'll start with MW3.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Background
MW3 is actually a pretty cool game. But before I get into the game itself, some background is in order. The COD franchise has been coming out with a new game every year, and they started selling for $60 back when games normally retailed for $50 (anyone else remember that?). So I have been skeptical. I had owned CoD, CoD United Offensive (an expansion to CoD that was practically a stand alone game), CoD2, CoD4: MW, and CoD: World at War before this game, so you might say that I follow the franchise. I skipped CoD3 because it was console only, ie it never came out for PC and I didn't own a console at the time. I have also, up to now, skipped MW2 and CoD: Black Ops because I have been boycotting $60 games. Unlike on Xbox 360 and PS3 where games are $60 because game developers must pay a royalty to Microsoft and Sony to sell games on their platforms, PC games are $60 because companies are greedy. Of course they cannot just charge whatever they want, video games still follow the laws of supply and demand. So if people didn't buy the $60 games, prices would stay at the already prohibitive $50. Thus my decision to not buy $60 games. Unfortunately it didn't help, and $60 is now the standard retail price for a mainstream video game on PC (this is also partly due to the combined Activision-Blizzard but that's another story for another time). Even were the more recent CoD games not priced at $60, CoD: WaW was amazingly disappointing. It was a fantastic game, except it was completely unrefined. Even after a number of patches, the game remained extremely glitchy, laggy, and unbalanced. In my view this problem is the result of a push for squeal development. Rather than smooth out the kinks in the game already on the market, you abandon the gamers who paid for the game, and develop a new game for them to pay for. I am not over exaggerating here either. A new CoD game has been released every November since 2005. Its the Madden of FPS games now. I have actually beaten the campaign on every CoD that has ever been released, and logged a fair amount of hours on all of their multi-players as well. They do get better each time. They add little things to the game to give it more depth, like running, or customization of your character. So its not like they don't improve every year. They do. So what does this have to do with MW3? Well its lets you know where I'm coming from, basically.
Review
So what do I actually think of MW3? I like it. Its not the best game ever, by any means, but its pretty solid. First, I found it fairly fine tuned. There are no glitches that I have run into, although I'm sure there are some. The level of customization means that its unlikely you will every encounter another character like your own, and there aren't that many cheese characters running around that everyone seems to play as, aside from akimbo machine pistols. On the down side, you have to play a lot before you can reach this level of customization. On the one hand, I understand why this is. In order to keep you playing you can't get what you want right away, you have to earn it. On the other hand, by the time I get what I want for my character, I'm getting tired of playing. My solution is rather than a levels system, why not use the xp directly to unlock things? This allows player to focus on the weapons, attachments, perks etc. that they want, rather than waiting until they are the appropriate level. For example, if I want to use the Mk-14, I'm going to have to wait a lot longer than if I wanted to use the Scar-L. But if I could use the xp to unlock the Mk-14 directly, I could get to using it much faster. So how are people kept playing if they get what they want to use so fast? I don't know about you, but I have a variety of different combinations of guns, perks, and attachments that I like to use, and I like to try out new ones, experiment a little. Well if you want to do that, then you have to keep playing and keep earning xp. The other downside to the multi-player is that some of the kill streak rewards require so many kills that by the time you get them the game is usually over because of the, now, small game sizes. Since the game no longer uses dedicated servers, instead picking a host player, the game size is pre-set. Of course its pre-set to the exact same size as for the console version which, historically, is smaller than what is typical for pc. The lack of server customization means that pc users have to play a game that was designed for console. Anyone who games seriously on both platforms will tell you that its very different. Map sizes and player numbers especially should be different. In previous CoD games, maps that were too small for pc could be omitted from the map queue and player numbers increased to a comfortable level. Can't do that this time around. I've only talked about the multi-player so far, and that is for good reason. While you can log dozens of hours on the multi-player, it only took me 5 hours to beat the single-player on the hardest available difficulty. Its short, and easy. And the story...it has one, but that's about all I can say for it. The CoD single-player used to be all about telling a story, it was part of what made CoD innovative. There aren't many other FPS games out there where you feel a real attachment to your character and to the other characters in the campaign. Part of this was due to the realism. Realism made it relatable. That realism is gone. CoD is well within the range on science fiction now, which has its own positives and negatives, but is not what I expect or want out of a CoD game. Thus the story has weakened. I spend more time going o_O than getting into the game. So there you have it. I have some minor gripes about the muli-player, but its generally good. The single-player, however, is a perpetuation of the downward spiral CoD single player campaigns have been experiencing for a number of years.

Terraria
Now Terraria, I will try not to drone on so much here. Terraria is, essentially, 2-D Minecraft (not my description, borrowed from a friend). Which is perfect for someone with a background in engineering (engineering physics for me). Its also an amazing way to waste vast quantities of time. Its a very free game, in that you can pretty much do anything. There is no real story, and the missions you have to complete (ie fight the boss) are very lax. You basically do what you want. I think this is mostly good, although it does mean there is no real sense of progression a lot of the time. Because there is no real progression, it is easy to get stuck. So you just dig and explore for hours and hours on end hopping to find something that will allow you to get better items so you can explore more places so you can get even better items. Thus the time wasting aspect of the game. Of course its all in good fun, so there isn't any real problem with that. However, one thing I would change is adding some sort of crafting book you can buy early on in the game, or perhaps that you start with. The items that go together to craft something and their required quantities are far from intuitive. Some things are obvious, ie iron armor requires iron :O but not everything. Don't get me wrong, I really like experimenting with things to see what sort of items I can craft, but not all the time, and not everyone likes to do that. Thus the book. One can always choose not to buy the book or not to look at it if you have it. But if there is no crafting book, then you can't look at it no matter how much you want to.

Well there you have it, some relatively quick and dirty video game reviews. I hope you enjoy. Feel free to comment if you have any questions, anything to add, or want to hear about any other aspects of these games that I didn't mention. Thanks.

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