Gabriel Knight 2: Things get gross

(This is part of my journey playing through Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

We rejoin our werewolf hunter-slash-pervert creeper as he casually breaks into people’s rooms to see what kind of undies they’re wearing and what scented oils they like to put in their bath tubs.  I’m finding it harder and harder to relate to Gabe, which is a good thing when I think about it. Gabe, what you are doing is not normal.  Then again, if it was, would I be playing it?

gabe1Gabe is initially elated that he managed to sneak into Von Zell’s room and find his personal ledger.  I guess he’s a little deflated once he remembers that, oh yeah, he can’t read German.  Seriously, Gabe, what were you doing for the past year in Germany?  Be a man and pick up a Rosetta Stone or something!

gabe2Well thank goodness that the most important piece of evidence in this book  was thoughtfully written in English from one German native to another.  I like the newspaper clipping as a nice touch.

I guess we know why Grossberg bought the farm!

Gabe scouts out Von Zell’s bathroom and spies a muddy orange footprint on the floor.  Hmm.  Probably a totally innocent thing.  Maybe the guy used the mud lodge!  Or he’s got an odd fetish that is probably best to ignore.

Gabe returns from his snooping to go downstairs for a chat with the friendly Hennemann.  Lots more character snippets here, but the most interesting reveal is that the club has another lodge in Altdorf — where many of the missing persons cases were.

gabe3Showing the wolf tags that Gabe took from the exotic animal dealer to Klingmann sets off a pretty interesting cutscene.  Klingmann reveals that he helped to steal the wolves for Von Zell to get into the club but had no idea what they were for.

Time to gear up before we go exploring outside!  Gabe picks up a lantern, matches, and a pair of shears.  I like how Gabe always tests everything (does this match light?  Oh yes it does!) before stashing it inside his Infinite Trenchcoat of Holding +1.

gabe4The woods are pretty in a Silent Hill-we’re-all-gonna-die kind of way.  It doesn’t take much exploring to find more muddy wolf prints, all leading to a dense thicket.  Fortunately, Gabe has matches and commences burning down all of this old growth in his pursuit to find justice.  Well, he WOULD have if the game had let me.  I guess gardening shears work too.

gabe5Gabe finds a cave and goes inside with the world’s tiniest lantern.  I really regret not taking a picture of it, because dang it is small.  Maybe the GK2 dev team ran out of money for its props, I dunno.  Anyway, Gabe’s making a lot of noises about how bad it smells in there — and to the game’s credit, it does a really good job ratcheting up the creep factor as to what Gabe might discover.

In the darkest part of the cave Gabe almost falls into a hole and then shines his light down to see…

gabe6A naked Von Zell eating one of several corpses.  Hey Von Zell!  What up, my man!  You didn’t tell me this was a BBQ!  Save some ribs for me!

Can’t say this is a surprise.  Gabriel Knight 2 might pay a lot of attention to details and backstory, but it also is quite ham-fisted with its foreshadowing.  But that screenshot makes up for any shortcomings.  I might even make that my new Facebook profile pic.

NEXT TIME ON GABRIEL KNIGHT 2: Gabe throws up.

Guild Wars 2: Happy patch day, everyone!

pistoleerYesterday was fun to watch on the Guild Wars 2 forums, Twitter, and elsewhere — everyone wanted that Feature Pack patch to drop and ArenaNet took its sweet time getting it out.  But by the time my household went to bed, it was online and seemingly functioning just fine.

There was certainly a lot to do once I logged into the game.  I had to check on each of my characters to collect all of my skins and get my bonus dyes (I ended up with 26 unidentified dyes and 79 transmute charges).  Our guild was sharing dye doubles with each other like crazy, so I put a bunch in the bank and took several out.  I’m pretty happy with the colors I’ve ended up with, and it’s certainly nice that all of my characters have access to all of the ones that I collected.

I certainly do like the renewed focus on collecting with this patch: collecting dyes, collecting skins, and even collecting the new traits.  Probably the happiest moment of the night was when I was finally able to unlock the skin for the Super Adventure Box staff that’s been lurking in my bank, unusable due to the fact that it was soulbound to a deleted character.

It definitely makes heart vendors more worthwhile, since the gear they sell often comes with unlockable skins.  Now I need to go around the game and check out all of the ones I’ve opened up!

I didn’t do a lot of wardrobe changes, funnily enough.  My Ranger and Engineer already have the outfits that I want them in, and I don’t have a lot of light armor skins for my casters.  I did splurge on a pair of sunglasses from the gem store because I always said that if Anet made town clothes usable in the larger game, I’d put my money into it.  I loved seeing notices saying that skins were unlocking as I looted them; it gave more meaning to looting, which is always good.

Mostly I puttered around on my Necromancer to finish up a zone and get dailies out of the way.  I was a bit bummed that dailies no longer automatically include gathering as one of the options, so it felt like getting five done last night took longer than normal.  Oh!  One small change that I definitely approve of is the new notification when you finish up a heart.  No longer does the game send you mail, but you get a wiggling heart icon to click on that blossoms into a large notice of what rewards you just got.  Again, it adds more substance to the reward system, and that’s a positive change.

I still don’t really get the megaserver thing and how that will impact me at all.  I noticed that Rata Sum was packed, but that’s neither good nor bad.

Finally, I spent time looking at the traits and creating a new build for my Engineer.  Right now she’s pistol/shield and that feels kind of fun.  The trait changes as a whole get a huge thumbs-up of approval from me.  Traits are easier to understand, to preview, and to change.  It’s going to be great to experiment more with them in the field.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the feature pack.  It may not have all of my most-wanted items (housing?), but the wardrobe and trait improvements are most definitely welcome.

The Secret World: Frankenstein II

Our Monday night Secret World group has agreed to dedicate four weeks in a row to exploring the four new investigation missions that were added last week, so last night had us going through our first one: The Animate Clay.

f1It was my first visit back to Dr. Anton Aldini in New York since a long time ago when I got Yeti’s new makeover (ain’t she a cutie?) and did the chainsaw acquisition quest.  Aldini has since not stopped with his insane plastic surgery experiments and things have gotten worse now that one of his creations has gotten loose and started killing.

What I love about this game is that there’s a real desire to take old myths, stories, and events and give them a fresh twist.  Yes, this is basically Frankenstein: The Quest, but it’s made far more complex by a meta self-awareness — Aldini is descended by the guy who inspired the novel (and he is NOT a fan of Mary Shelly’s work), and this new creature is quite aware of its literary counterpart.

I don’t want to spoil the mission for those who haven’t done it, but as far as investigation missions go, it was a really good one.  There were several puzzles that required out-of-the-box thinking and out-of-the-game actions: reading up on Frankenstein, a phone call to the United Kingdom (no, really), a music puzzle, a bar code scanner, and an awful lot of attention paid to details.

f2Ten Tentacles and I spent some time dancing in the NYC sewers as we waited for MMOGC and her husband to join us.  The homeless guy there was quite entertained.

We did this mission as a group and without a guide.  This was a ton of fun, because we got to shoot ideas back and forth as well as splitting up the foot work.  I don’t think any stage really had us stumped for long.

f3Best key pad ever?  Yes indeed it was.  And what happened next had us both laughing and retching slightly.

monsterThe final showdown with the creature took place almost entirely in shadow, making it very hard to get a clear glimpse at what this thing looked like.  That actually worked to heighten the creep factor, although I did get a couple of screenshots (above) that showed a few details.  In the end I felt a bit bad for this guy and a bit wiser in the ways of Frankenstein.

Battle Bards Episode 25: Holiday Themes

It’s always a holiday somewhere, especially in MMOs, so don’t blink twice if you happen to hear the Battle Bards talking about Christmas, Halloween, and Arbor Day on this week’s episode!  After all, special occasions necessitate special music, and holiday themes can be quite memorable indeed.

Episode 25 show notes

  • Intro (including “Wintersday Bell Choir” from Guild Wars 2 and “Lifeday Celebration” from Star Wars Galaxies)
  • “Winter Event” from Star Trek Online
  • “Winter Home” from Lord of the Rings Online
  • “Halloween Wonderland” from Rappelz
  • “Happy Holidays” from Project Copernicus
  • “Brewfest” from World of Warcraft
  • “Starlight Celebration” from Final Fantasy XI
  • “Missing Presumed Death” from RuneScape
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Outro (“Winter Event” from Star Trek Online)

Listen to episode 25 now!

Guild Wars 2: Music theory

organ1One of my growing favorite pasttimes in Guild Wars 2 is to make a note of where special chests are and how to get to them.  You can usually plunder these chests once a day for a green/blue item, but I like that there’s a bit of a challenge to get to them and that they’re often off the beaten path.  Rewards exploring without making it overt.  I can respect that.

I only recently realized that one of these chests comes from a little pipe organ mini-game at the bottom of a river in Caldedon Forest.  Must have rushed over it many times previously, but there it is, sitting there, waiting to be played.  The challenge is to reproduce the Guild Wars 2 theme (the most iconic part of it, at least).  I might have cheated for the answer, but hey, I’m not a musician.  I usually have to look up solutions for music puzzles.

There’s a nice payoff here when you do it: A nearby oyster opens up to reveal the chest and the soundtrack booms out this eerie organ version of the theme.  Plus, there’s a nearby Quaggan who’s humming the tune for both amusement value and a helpful hint as to the solution.

I always wish that games had more cool little things like this, don’t you?

organ2

Quality toilet time and Diablo III

Food poisoning sucks.  I’ve never had it before, but boy howdy did I make up for that oversight this past weekend.  My wife, my one-year-old and I all got it within a couple of hours of each other, and let me tell you that there’s nothing like trying to care for a projectile-vomiting little kid while you just want to be curled around the toilet yourself.

I bring this up because my gaming plans for the weekend got preempted by all of this, which is to say that I didn’t get to game much at all.  About the only thing I did was to reinstall Diablo III to see how the expansion updates changed the game.  From about 20 minutes into Act 1 I can’t see any huge changes, but it’s been over a year since I last played it, so I barely remember what it used to be like.

I did have one thought pertaining to MMOs from this brief expedition into D3, which is that I kind of really like the 3D isometric perspective — and I wouldn’t mind having that same view for an MMO.  Your character and everything else is smaller, sure, but you get a much greater sense of your surroundings.  It reminds me a lot of the worlds of Baldur’s Gate II and Fallout and those older RPGs.  Even though I’m not face-first into the surrounding details, the total sum of everything in the area sort of makes up for that.

Maybe there are MMOs apart from action-RPGs that do this, but it’s early on a Monday morning and my facilities have yet to be brought back online fully.  Ultima Online, definitely.  Salem?  I recall that there’s a sandbox MMO in the making, Albion Online, that uses this perspective and I definitely liked the look of it, at least.

albion

Gabriel Knight 2: Tiger time

(This is part of my journey playing through Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

azx1

What was Grossberg (one of the victims) up to?  That’s the driving force of the hour, as Gabe takes the dead man’s ledger and tracks down a guy named Dorn who was doing… something… for him.  But Dorn doesn’t really want to talk, and since Gabe hasn’t changed his clothes in three days now, can you blame him?  Probably has a ripe stench coming off that trenchcoat. To get him to talk, Gabe has to trot back to Harry, withdraw 14,000 bucks from the Ritter account, and then pay Dorn for previous unknown services rendered.  That gets Gabe in the door of a stinking kennel.  Man, what wonders $14,000 gets you these days!

It turns out that Dorn is an exotic animal dealer.  Looks like Grossman was buying these animals — in particular two wolves — perhaps to serve as hunting targets for the club.  Dorn informs me that he can get gorilla but not hippo.  Good to know.

Well, there’s nothing left to do here but deal with the tiger.

azx2What?  There really is a tiger!  I wouldn’t just make that up for dramatic license, you know.

The kennel where the wolves were previously kept now has a large tiger in it, because Germany is so dang awesome it hurts.  To calm it down, I try having Gabe offer up a couple of fingers.  That doesn’t work, so why not one of those horrible phallic sausages from way back when?  Good tiger.

azx3The seams of the game is definitely showing in this part, because there’s no indication that the tiger is anywhere on the set — or is anything other than some footage perhaps cribbed from a National Geographic special.  Gabe does his darndest to overact with his reactions to sell us on the clear and present danger, but I’m not buying it.  You’re just flinging a wurst across an empty green screen stage, dude.

At least he’s able to recover the wolf tags from “Parcival” and “Hilda.”

With that it’s finally time to go on this epic hunting trip that the game’s been building up for so very long now.  Gabe meets up with the goofy-dressed hunting troupe, and they all truck into the mountains to a much bigger lodge.  With nothing to do, Gabe starts barging into people’s rooms and…

azx4My eyes!  Ze goggles do nothing!

This dude is surprisingly cool about being interrogated while taking a bath.  Come to think of it, in game-time we only arrived at the lodge 40 seconds ago.  How is he naked and in a steaming bath already?

Once Gabe gets past the shock, they chat about Grossman (this guy was paying Grossman for those exotics) and how everyone hates Von Zell.  VON ZELL!  YOUR DAY IS COMING!

azx5I love how everyone but Von Glower is constantly calling Gabe out for being very nosy and weird, because he totally is.  I mean, the guy can’t go two minutes without barging into a man’s bath or — as you can see above — rappelling from one window into the next.  Don’t invite Gabriel Knight over as a houseguest is the lesson this game is teaching me.  He’ll steal your stuff, sleep with your women, and break into your rooms.

azx6Actually, check this out because I’m finding it a little ridiculous.  Gabe is making a big, BIG deal out of using this rope to… walk four feet over on a ledge that isn’t very steep, not to mention that there are plenty of handholds along the way.  Even if it was this treacherous, how does using the rope sideways like this help?  He’s leaning back, but the roof slopes to his right.  By the power of physics, he should fall right anyway, rope or no.  I guess he just wanted to put on a show for the imaginary cameras.

My initial reactions to SOE’s H1Z1

hizzyIn a move that surprised very few people who have been paying attention to the teasers and hints, SOE is creating a zombie sandbox MMO called H1Z1.  Lots of crafting, building, fighting against zombies — where have we heard that before?

My initial reactions:

  • H1Z1 is a terrible name.  Just terrible.  It’s not only annoying to type, but there’s no way I’m pronouncing all four letters and numbers every time I’m going to talk about it.  I’ve already decided that I’m calling it “Hizzy” until and when SOE realizes how bad the name is and changes it.
  • Smedley so should not have promised that this game would fill in the gap that was left by the cancellation of Star Wars Galaxies.  He probably looked at the crafting systems and player-built towns in that statement, but man that was a dumb thing to do.  Reactions from the ex-SWG community has not been kind so far, which is understandable.  Zombie sandboxes are not science-fiction sandboxes with a strong IP tie.  Smed’s statement will haunt this game for a while to come, mark my words.
  • Nobody, SOE included, can deny that this is coming out into a crowded field.  There are a lot of zombie survival games, both single- and multiplayer, both out there and in the works.  Some see zombies as overused, but I think they can be pretty fun as long as the setting and game is done well.  There aren’t a lot of zombie MMOs right now, not on this scale, and that could work to SOE’s advantage.  I’d love to see a State of Decay-like MMO (which makes me wonder how Undead Labs is taking this announcement, since it’s most likely working on a zombie MMO too).
  • Smed’s passion for PvP and its strong mention in this announcement worries me.  I don’t care for another DayZ gankfest that encourages cruelty and a zerg mentality.
  • What does interest me is a contemporary, post-apocalyptic setting, especially if it’s not 100% about fighting and avoiding zombies.  Exploring, surviving, and making tools to increase my life expectancy has strong appeal.
  • Free-to-play is good, if expected from SOE.
  • Playable soon?  I’m pretty amazed that it’s far enough along for this, especially with all of the other projects at the studio.  Between this, Landmark, and EQN, I’m not surprised that SOE felt it had to cut out four other MMOs to make room for future development.  Of course, trading Free Realms for a zombie MMO is no great consolation for the studio’s younger set.  Or maybe it is, who knows.

Videos: Quest design and F2P approaches

I’m catching up on watching Extra Credits and really liked the following two videos:

Quest Design II: This one continued the discussion of good quest design using both The Secret World and Lord of the Rings Online as positive examples.  It really summed up well why investigation quests are so brilliant and engrossing in TSW.

Doing free to play wrong: Two things I strongly agree with here.  1. Make a good game first and worry about monetizing it later.  2. Present options that make us happy to spend our money on them, not forced to do so or trying to get around paying for them.

Gabriel Knight 2: In which stuff starts actually happening

(This is part of my journey playing through Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

One of the aspects of adventure games that I’m less fond of is how you can get stuck in a particular locale or part of the game for a very long time while trying to figure out how to progress.  There’s a tipping point that occurs between the pacing being acceptable and “if I have to see this screen one more time I’m going to swallow my tongue to end this suffering.”   Even while Gabriel Knight 2 has kept the investigation element of the plot moving along, so little has happened and so many of these locations have been repeated that I’m starting to go a little nuts.  Was the first game this boring at times?  I don’t recall.

We need stuff to happen.  And today, it does.

q1Grace brings the copy of Ludwig’s diary to Georg, confirming the creation of a lost Wagner opera.  Being a “one-upper” kind of guy, Georg whips out a Wagner diary and the two have the weirdest date ever.  Again, I am playing a game that’s spending an inordinate amount of time reading diaries.  Is this Lisa Frank Goes To Germany?  At least this ends chapter 4 and our current time with Grace.

q2OK, when I said that I wanted stuff to happen, I didn’t mean that I wanted to see Gabe get it on with a really, really bad actress.

Let’s back up.  Chapter 5 opens with Gabe recounting the night before, which started with drinks and laughs with Von Glower and ended with Von Glower pawning off his snuggle toy to Gabe, Gabe getting lucky, and Von Glower creepily caressing Gabe’s hair while he’s asleep.  I cannot help but think that Grace will probably castrate him when she finds out about this, if the Gerde Incident was any indication.

q3It’s the big day of the hunting trip, although the members haven’t started gathering yet.  Gabe returns to the club, snarks a bit at Xavier, and retrieves his tape recorder from the magazine that I remember planting (in Syp time) weeks ago.

He returns to Harry, his lawyer, and gets the latest mailed report from Grace.  Harry says that the Bavarian national forest has had a long string of missing persons over the past 10 years or so, so I guess it’s a good thing that Gabe is going there completely unprotected.  Well, he’s got a sausage in his pants pocket.  That will slow down the wolves somewhat, I imagine.  Harry continues to help out by translating the tape, which has the hunting lodge members talking about the killings, the wolves, and how Gabe is asking too many questions.  Harry is dutifully concerned.  I like Harry.

q4Gabe heads to the police Kommisar and uses the same tape to convince him to let Gabe check out the account books that the police confiscated from the victim Grossman’s place.  When the big, beefy Kommisar and his big, beefy partner leaves the room, Gabe rips out an account page, then lies to the Kommisar as to the location of the club.  Right now I think that Gabe is actively trying to get eaten.