Screenshot Thursday!

One screenshot for each MMO that I’m currently playing:

r2RIFT can be ridiculously pretty sometimes.  I love this shot so much that I made it into one of the rotating banners for Bio Break.

l1Riding my war-steed past a city in western Gondor.  I love how she holds the sword when she’s in combat.  Update 15 is next week!  I’m actually getting pretty excited.

jumpJumping in low-gravity in Farside is just about one of the most fun things in WildStar.  Especially while riding a hoverboard.  I actually get really disappointed when I return to normal-gravity environs.

secretA Halloween-appropriate screengrab from the Savage Coast in TSW.  The ferris wheel over the moon and the way the light is coming in made this a great moment.

RIFT: Ghosts and goblins

r1Things are moving fast now in the land of RIFT now that I’ve passed 50.  Jumping into Storm Legion content has been a significant boon to my character, not only in the quality of story, but in terms of gear upgrades.  I guess I forgot how much of a large increase it was from the vanilla game, but egads, practically everything I have has doubled from mere quest rewards.

On top of that, I finally have access to planar attunement (and had a few hundred PA points waiting for me when that happened), took a detour to grab Bernie from the Ember Isles, and can start running Storm Legion dungeons and assorted experts.

However, what’s making me the happiest is that Storm Legion has gotten a lot more leveling friendly since last I tread these grounds.  Story quest XP has been significantly increased, which lessens the need to grind out every last little carnage mission.  In fact, with that XP increase, XP vials that I’ve saved up, and various dungeon runs, I don’t think I’ll be doing anything BUT the main story to get through this expansion.  So far, I’ve gotten up to level 52 without breaking a sweat, and I’m actually tracking the story a lot better now that it’s not being broken up by tons of distracting tasks.

I decided to go the Brevane path for this character, as I recall enjoying these lands and quests a lot more than Dusken.  Navigating is a little annoying at times — jungle zones are typically some of the most obstacle-happy places in MMOs, and here is no different — but I’ll put up with it to explore a land of ancient technology that’s been abandoned.  Well, mostly abandoned if you factor in the ghosts hanging out.

For the most part I’m sticking with Bladedancer for most of my adventures, although I’ve been warming up to a full Ranger build as a long-distance alternative.  Sometimes I just don’t want to be running up to everything to attack, but would like the luxury of pointing at something 50 meters away and making it die.  My blood raptor, Jimmy, is invaluable in this regard.

I did feel vaguely guilty last night when a quest had me putting on a big boot to stealth-kick a fisherman into the mouth of a giant crocodile.  I guess he was an evil fisherman?  I didn’t really catch that, but his anguished screams and the subsequent way that the quest played it for laughs made me feel a little like a monster.  Ha ha, he died horribly from a sucker punch.  Aren’t I the hero.

Starflight: FTL

(This is part of my journey playing through Starflight. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

planet2Back to the inner planet to make my fortune!  Or at least to get my ship up to par.

Money drives EVERYTHING in Starflight.  It not only lets you buy fuel and starship upgrades, but allows you to train (level) your crew as well.  Ergo, you need a LOT of cash.  Yes, it’s pretty annoying to spend the first few hours in this game doing little else but mining, traveling, and selling, but that’s part of the space sim genre tradition!

clearWhile I do yet more mining, I want to point out that this game has a surprising amount of detail for such primitive graphics, up to and including a real-time weather system.  Yes, there are storms and yes, they are bad.

So as I continue the dull cycle of mining, returning to the ship, returning to the station, selling, returning to the ship, returning to the planet, and mining some more, let’s talk about Starflight’s little UI quirks.  It’s all controlled with the cursor keys and enter key, which is simple enough, but often when you want to go DOWN in a menu you have to press UP.  But not ALWAYS.

And then there’s the DOS save feature, which makes this version of Starflight far more Rogue-like than the later Amiga and Genesis versions.  Basically, you can’t save and restore multiple files; instead, you save when you exit and restore when you boot back up the game.  That’s it.  If you — if I — die, that will be it for the game.  So I am trying to be as careful as kittens here.  Have I mentioned how many ways that this game wants to kill me?  Oh so many.

So as I type this, I notice a funny little detail: My spacesuited man at the space station starts tapping his foot all annoyed if I leave him standing in one spot too long.  Hee.

iceTaking a break from mining on the first planet to check out the third, which is an ice giant.  The second I get out of the ship, I’m informed that I’m in the middle of a raging thunderstorm and that both Rubi and MJ are injured.  I rush back inside the ship, even though it says I’m “lost”.  Not going to take chances.  Not going to take chances.  This will be the dullest playthrough ever.

After picking another site only to lose the ship again thank to hail and “steaming heavily,” I decide that it’s probably safer to return to the first planet.  So much for being a dashing space explorer.

I’ll spare you a LOT of exceedingly tedious mining tales — suffice to say, I make around 111,000 MUs, which gives me enough to buy a chunk of fuel, class 3 shields, class 3 engines, and class 2 armor.  I’m not interested in fighting, so no worries about weapons.  It’s time to jump to lightspeed and ditch this solar system!

…oh man, I am so going to die, aren’t I?

galaxyHere’s the galaxy map, such as it is.  You can see that there’s not a lot in the immediate vincinity of Arth, my home world.  So I guess my choices are limited unless I want to get stranded, quick.  The only thing I recall from my youth is that there’s a nearby system with a planet that has minable fuel.  Maybe that’s just in my head, because I thought it was north-east.

Actually, there’s a system just a smidge to the north-west.  Maybe that’s it.  Lots of planets, so let’s get surveying!

The inner-most planet is a rock with very little to mine.  Boring.  One survey and I’m done.

syptopiaThe second planet is far more interesting.  For starters, it sorta looks like it could be a colony planet, so I log my recommendation and then land on the little bit of land that there is.

ruinsNearby the ship I see my first icons that aren’t merely mining nodes.   Actually, there’s a mining node there that spits out fuel (score!), but the triangle thing is an ancient ruin.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing I can do with it, but it’s cool to see anyway.

I find several more empty ruins, which is disappointing, but at least this planet is lousy with minerals.  I go on several trips to stock up my holds.  Are the ruins a sign that I’m going to meet aliens soon?  I really hope so!

My top 10 favorite PlayStation games

To go along with my previous listings of top favorite games from various consoles (Atari 2600, SNES, 90s PC games), I wanted to add a similar list of my top 10 favorite titles from the PlayStation.

When I went to college in 1994, I got out of console gaming.  We all had laptops at our college and thus mostly focused on PC gaming, and (hard as it is to believe today) only a small handful of us actually owned TVs in the dorm.  So during a good chunk of the 90s I was mostly ignorant of what was going on in consoleland — and generally OK with that.

My return to consoles came in the summer of 1998.  I was living in an apartment away from home for the first time in my life and feeling lonely now that my friends had left until the fall.  A certain “must have” killer app for the PlayStation caught my eye and convinced me to cough up cash for it.  And that’s where our list begins…

ff71. Final Fantasy VII

I sort of believe that Final Fantasy VII was the key factor in the PlayStation crushing the competition and becoming the “must have” console of that era.  For me, it was absolutely amazing: a multi-CD adventure featuring 3D graphics, the biggest Final Fantasy story yet, a huge world, tons of cinematics, and logically impossible giant swords.  I was so instantly addicted to this game that I called off work for three days straight to play it non-stop, something I’ve never done since.  Now, it’s fashionable to bash FF7 these days and say that it really wasn’t as good as nostalgia has us believe, but whatever — it was and still is a great game that was a blast to play.

re22. Resident Evil 2

Along with FF7, Resident Evil 2 was one of my initial PlayStation purchases based on the power of strong reviews at the time.  I certainly got my money’s worth, as I played the heck out of this survival horror zombie title.  There were a few parts that had me jumping every time, and I loved the bonus stages they threw in.

silent3. Silent Hill

Silent Hill had so much good buzz that I knew I had to buy it, even though I was starting to wise up to the fact that my temperment was too weak for survival horror games.  This game equally fascinated and terrified me, as I stumbled around the fog-shrouded town of Silent Hill trying to find my daughter while avoiding getting killed by everything that moved.  The devs were brilliant in how they used limited visuals and sounds (such as radio static) to enhance the experience.

ff94. Final Fantasy IX

After the super-serious and somewhat ambitious Final Fantasy VIII (which I really did not like), it was terrific to see the series lighten up and get a bit more cartoony with IX.  It was like a love letter to the entirety of the Final Fantasy franchise and honestly an enjoyable ride from start to finish.

cross5. Chrono Cross

Nobody, the least of all me, is going to argue that Chrono Cross was better or even as good as Chrono Trigger.  But you know what?  It was a really terrific game in its own right, with parallel world-hopping, a fun combat system, and the ability to collect many, many party members.  One of the very last PlayStation games that I bought.

parasite6. Parasite Eve

To this day, I don’t even know what Parasite Eve was about or what kind of game it was.  It was like part contemporary RPG, part survival horror, and part bizarre science fiction.  It did have a kick-butt theme song and was interesting enough to play through at least once, and any game that lets me take shotguns to dirty mutants is a good time.

wipeout7. Wipeout

I’m not normally one for racing games, but in Wipeout’s case, I’ll gladly make an exception.  It was a fast-paced racer with a toe-tapping techno soundtrack that just got me pumped every time I played.

metal8. Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid was something special and different from the rest of the pack, and it made that apparent right away.  It was an endlessly clever and inventive “tactical espionage action” title that had me surviving torture, breaking necks, sneaking through halls in boxes, sniping targets, crawling through ducts, and hoping desperately that I wouldn’t be spotted.  Seriously one of the best console games that I ever played.

castle9. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

The PlayStation was, in some ways, the successor to the SNES.  It’s where the Final Fantasy series went (not to mention a lot of the fans), and it’s also where the “good” Castlevania sequel landed.  Symphony of the Night was absolutely tremendous, from its soundtrack to its RPG-like inventory and stat system.  There were just so many types of weapons to try and a huge sprawling castle that, once beaten, could be replayed upside-down.

medi10. MediEvil

This strange Halloween-flavored platformer became an instant favorite due to its Tim Burtonesque landscapes and its bizarre skull-headed protagonist.  They did a lot with the basic PlayStation graphics, making them cartoony and spooky-ooky in the vein of atmospheric haunted houses.  Loved it.

GOG gets Indy, Star Wars, Monkey Island, Sam & Max

indyI woke up to the best gaming news ever today, as GOG.com finally announced that it had landed long-time holdout Lucasfilms/Disney for its gaming catalog.  GOG fans, myself included, had been hoping for a while now that the site could get permission to sell DRM-free versions of many classic games — and now that’s a reality.

The good news is that the site immediately released six games:

The bad news is that they’re holding on to other titles for future releases (GOG said it got the rights to “20+ classic games).  So no Day of the Tentacle, Star Wars Rebellion, or the like yet.

But still!  This is an incredible bounty and I am going to need an advance on my allowance.  Monkey Island and KOTOR are fine to have, but they’ve already be re-released as special editions on many platforms over the past few years, so that’s old news.  But the other four are huge “must haves” for me — the Star Wars flight sims (although no X-Wing Alliance yet) are old favorites, as is Fate of Atlantis (which will HAVE to be my next classic playthrough).  And I never got to play Sam & Max back in the day, so that will be tremendous.

Woo!  I am elated!

The Secret Adventures: You must be this tall to die (Savage Coast #3)

(You can follow my playthrough of The Secret World on Bio Break’s projects page!)

jackJack’s Back (action mission)

  • I’ll be really glad to be done with Wolf’s missions, if just to be able to avoid the kindergarten from now on.  Those creepy kid voices and the music just gets to me, especially since there’s no explanation about it.  Maybe Wolf is waiting for me to leave before he turns to go inside and takes care of whatever monster is lurking in those dark classrooms.
  • Wolf mentions that Jack O’Lantern is lurking around these here parts, and while Wolf ain’t going to go after him (he’s got a pipe to smoke, after all), I’m welcome to the task.
  • Let me tell you that when this says that it’s an action mission, you better believe it.  This is almost non-stop combat from start to end as you follow Jack around the map, fighting through ghostlights, revenants, and those chainsaw/shotgun-wielding sackboys as well as the occasional Jack boss battle.  It’s a little tedious (I hate the ghostlights as they keep backing out of melee range and then splitting into two) but quite doable.
  • I almost, almost kill Jack at the end, but he does indeed escape for a second time.  Curses!  Geary tells me that he used to be a farmlad that a guy named Archie Henderson experimented upon (accidentally or intentionally).

Winter’s Legacy (side mission)

  • A collection of newspaper clippings in the League’s treehouse talk of the nearby amusement park and how several of its employees have gone missing.  One of the kids scribbled, “Are they still there?” which is of course true — they’re just not what they used to be.  Time to head to the park and put down some zombies!
  • So let’s finally talk about the amusement park.  As I’ve mentioned before, it’s absolutely baffling that there’s a full-blown park on an islane of this size so far out of the way, but that’s actually factored into the story.  Something wanted the park to be built on top of it.  Something needed it.  And it’s a bad, bad place.
  • Out of all of the locales in TSW, the amusement park has a unique visual effect when you enter it: The screen goes (mostly) black and white, grainy and wavy.  I’m not quite sure what it’s supposed to represent.  Going back in time, maybe?
  • The out-of-tune carnival music and the ominous purple rifts — on loan from RIFT, I swear — are not good signs, either.  The mission is straight-forward, at least: Kill four ex-employees-turned-zombie-cultists, and then assassinate their leader (a revenant in disguise).

rollerTheme Park Tycoon (action mission)

  • “Why in God’s name did he build this park?”  Good question.  Really good question.  Let’s start investigating that.
  • In the parking lot of the park is a car with a dead driver and an upscale, somewhat arrogant man standing nearby.  This is Nicholas Winter, the son of former park creator/owner Nathaniel, who has returned to Solomon Island (at the worst time ever, I might add) to investigate the park itself.
  • Nicholas begins with a heap of exposition, saying that the park suffered many fatal and gruesome accidents both during its construction and after its opening.  Finally it got to be too much and was shut down from 1980 on, which means that it’s been abandoned for three decades.  Yet the rides whisper and Nicholas can’t understand why his father became obsessed with the place.
  • It’s not the biggest amusement park in the world, but I could see spending an afternoon there.  It has bumper cars, a spinny ride, a rollercoaster, a lagoon with boats, and a ferris wheel.  That’s pretty impressive for the actual footprint.
  • The first challenge is to go to the Octotron and survive several zombie waves while the ride goes berserk.  You can actually use the out-of-control spin to your advantage by positioning the zombies to be hit by the cars, although this works on you too.
  • After a small assault on a statue, it’s off to — I swear this is a real quest objective — ride the roller coaster.  Yup, in this quest you actually do get to go on a full rollercoaster ride, and boy is it a doozy.
  • I think that by putting you into a locked-down first-person perspective for the ride, it does an effective job making you feel vulnerable.  This isn’t helped by the various ghosts swarming around you, the ravens that make the ride shake, the branches that threaten to knock the car off, and the first appearance of the Bogeyman: “Don’t fear the dark.  Fear me.”
  • There’s a super-effective jump scare right at the end of the ride that gets me every time, too.
  • From there it’s an assault on a mud golem in Lover’s Lake, followed by a trip to the ferris wheel.  The Bogeyman knocks me all over the place while invisible here, finally appearing to show how truly disturbing his model is.  As far as I know, he’s a unique-looking character in the game, and thank goodness.  His weird body proportions and long tongue haunt my dreams.
  • The finale of this adventure is a fight with an angry clown in the middle of the bumper cars.  The cars come to life to rock music during this part, although I think it was mostly for show.
  • In the mission wrap-up, Geary said that Nathaniel wanted to be Illuminati but was rejected, and that some parks are fronts for occult happenings.  That makes me very glad to be here.

bogeyA Carnival of Souls (action mission)

  • Our investigation into the theme park continues, as we find Winter pouring over his father’s will, bitterly angry and confused as to the man’s obsession with the place.  Winter mentions that the ferris wheel saved him from the fog… and that it was quite odd that it was still operating.
  • Taking a ride on the ferris wheel doesn’t give me a bird eye’s view of the park — which I was expecting — but instead transports me to a slightly more frightening version of the park.  Another dimension?  I guess.  At least it’s easier to see in this version.
  • There are three statues around the park that have to be destroyed to help “the children,” after which I chase the Bogeyman around to the next one.  It’s not long before me and Mr. B have a showdown in front of what looks like a small split chapel.
  • This fight was originally one that kicked my butt, back in my Templar days.  It was a breeze this time, probably thanks to a better build and a lot of training with avoiding bad telegraphs.  Killing the Bogeyman nets me his monocle, which will come in handy with the next mission.
  • I always felt that the Bogeyman is underutilized in this game.  Almost as soon as he’s introduced, you’re killing him without getting to know much about him at all.  For a character with a unique model, I would have expected more.

circuitsGravity (investigation mission)

  • “There’s a gravity here,” Nicholas declares, going on to confess that the hold that the park had on his father has gotten to him, too.  And that while he’s gotten an offer to sell it, now he feels as though there’s something vital at stake and that he doesn’t dare do it.
  • Using the Bogeyman’s (Nathaniel Winter?) monocle, I see secret writing in the last will and testament.  It speaks of the sailors (Phoenecians) trying to get the place and how the park is perfect for some sort of plan.
  • As an investigation mission, this is slightly more tricky than normal.  It consists of trying to find the various pages of Winter’s blueprints scattered all over the park, which can be done by crafting the monocle with various bits of colored glass to be able to see what looks like circuitry on both the plans and on the ground.
  • The “circuits” run through most of the rides, culminating in a small shack in the middle of the park.  I activate the blueprints via colored chalk and… stuff blows up.  Truth be told, the ending is very anticlimactic and vague.  I guess Winter was trying to use the park to channel occult energy into him, which probably backfired and turned him into the Bogeyman.  So why did I turn it all on again?  And what happens to his son now?  These questions are never answered.

Stranger Than Fiction (side mission)

  • Right outside of the amusement park is a severed hand and a Sam Krieg novel, which mentions a group of kids getting picked off by a beast in the park.  How much and why Krieg knows and writes about the secret world and passes it off as fiction is intriguing to me.  We’ll get to ask him soon enough.
  • The “beast” is a wedigo (winnebago) that doesn’t put up much of a fight.  Kinda feel sorry for the guy.
  • This mission is a breadcrumb task to get me to go over to Krieg at the lighthouse.  Fine, fine, you’re next on my list, man.

Five great books I’ve read lately

traitorIt’s been a long, long time since I’ve done a book post here on Bio Break, although I’ve been reading rather voraciously over the past few months.  So let’s cut to the chase and I’ll give you five recommendations for books that I’ve really enjoyed:

1. Traitor’s Blade

Several fellow bloggers strongly recommended this book and man, am I glad I got to it.  It was a page-turner of the highest order, a kind of fantasy retelling of the Three Muskateers (but not strictly speaking) with characters that have these super-awesome “greatcoats” as armor.  Great plot twists, hilarious writing, cool action sequences, and a few quotes that were so darn epic that it made me want to punch the air.  I’m hoping for a sequel.

2. The Crimson Campaign

The Powder Mage trilogy started a little slow, but once it got going it was like a freight train of awesomeness.  This second book flashes between four principle characters, each with their own gripping storylines, such as an army incursion behind enemy lines, a quest to save a family, and a character coming to grips with newfound powers.  I just genuinely like these books.

3. What If?  Serious Scientifice Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

The XKCD guy penned a long series of scientific essays dealing with funny hypotheticals, such as what would happen if the earth suddenly stopped spinning or if you could make a jet pack that rides on machine guns firing.  The answers are pretty revealing and the doodles he does are entertaining.

4. Bird Box

Here’s a post-apocalyptic tale that has a fresh approach: *Something* spread across the globe that causes people to go insane and become homicidal and suicidal if they catch but one glimpse at it.  We see how civilization slowly collapses as everyone withdraws into their homes and learns to cope without seeing — and not being able to see, to know, is actually incredibly terrifying.  A quick, good read.

5. World of Trouble

The final Last Policeman book traces the last days of the earth as the meteor is about to hit — but the policeman is desperate to solve the mystery of what happened to his sister, a quest that parallels nicely with the apocalypse.  It’s a sad book full of finality and excellent questions, such as “Does any of this even matter?”  I think it does.  Finishing it made me want to re-read the entire trilogy again.