Star Control 2: Glowy bits (NSFW)

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Star Control 2. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

By this point in the game, I am over and done with being bullied by Sylandro probes. NO MORE PROBING, do you hear me galaxy? Happily, the Melnorme sold me some info about where I can find the owners of the probes — the Sylandro themselves.

The Sylandro are full of surprises, starting out with the fact that they are floating gas bags that live on a gas giant. Their anatomy makes space travel difficult/impossible, so they made a deal with the Melnorme to buy a self-replicating probe to explore the galaxy on their behalf. So what went wrong here?

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Well, numskull Joyous Lifting decided that he’d tinker with the probe’s code to up its replication priority to 999 in the hopes that it would make more probes faster and that the Sylandro would get all of that juicy outside gossip they’re craving. The problem with this is that after each probe speaks with an alien ship, the high setting prompts it to try to break down the nearest target (said alien ship) on the spot. It’s not attacking, it’s just very, very hungry.

After an “uh-oh,” the Sylandro realize their mistake and give me a self-destruct code to use. Better late than never?

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Oh, if you ever get a chance to talk to the Sylandro, make sure to ask them about their glowy bits. Apparently it’s their genitals and they get super-duper embarrassed that you can see them while they cannot.

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Back at earth starbase, Commander Keen tells me that some fish-robots are visiting. I would LOVE to see that, to tell the truth. The Shofixti have contributed their ship design and crew, so now my personal fleet is full-up. Can we take the fight to the Ur-Quan yet?

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So totally cool — now I can just talk the Slylandro probes into destroying themselves. Don’t get any RU from it, however.

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Next up on our galactic alien meet-and-greet are the Yahet. Space pterodactyles, if you will. Apparently they used to be allied with earth, but in the intervening years have taken up with the Ur-Quan as battle thralls.

This all changes when I show them that one of their “children,” the Shofixti, is still alive, contrary to the word of the Yehat queen.

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Well these guys freak the heck out — happy that the Shofixti are still around, but livid that the queen has somehow betrayed the honor of the race. What to do? Revolution, of course!

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You got up today and went to work or school. I woke up and started a massive interplanetary civil war. I’m just that awesome.

The Secret World: Vampire country (Besieged Farmlands #1)

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(Join Syp as he attempts to document a complete playthrough of The Secret World from start to finish. What will The Secret Adventures discover next? Find out in this exciting installment! WARNING: Spoilers and stories ahead!)

Mainframe (story mission)

I’m out of Egypt — but not out of hot water, not yet. In trouble for not delivering on Illuminati ends, I’m given one chance to prove my worth to the organization. And that chance goes through the foul-mouthed Senator Cicero, who is apparently from Michigan. As a current resident, I don’t recall any Cicero, but who knows? Probably Wikipedia.

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Anyway, Cicero sends me on a mission to infiltrate the local Orochi office and pull out some data about the Promethius Initiative. If this sounds like one long sabotage mission… well, yup, it’s one long sabotage mission. No combat skills, but plenty of patrolling drones and guards to keep me company.

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I wish that something exciting would have happened in this mission or that I would have learned something exciting, but it really is pretty dull from start to end (especially for someone who’s seen the Orochi’s much more superior Tokyo complex).

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The good news is that my mission is a success and pleases the Illuminati. Geary says that I’m an “instigator,” which is what the company needs. As the data points to a large Orochi operation in Transylvania, that’s where I’m headed as well. Probably too late to save most of them, but thems the breaks for wearing the white-and-black.

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Transylvania: An interlude

I don’t ever think I noticed that the portal to Agartha in Besieged Farmlands was a Soviet bunker. I’m always noticing details that are new to me here.

So I want to take a moment to talk about this transition between Egypt and Transylvania. I know a lot of people way back when were renowned for saying what a relief it was to leave Blue Mountain and get to Egypt — into the sun, out of the near-eternal first zone. For me, the real relief came when I finally left City of the Sun God. A second time playing through that area hasn’t improved my impressions of it and I am just as happy as I was a few years back when I finally set foot in eastern Europe.

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I really love the Transylvania zones in The Secret World. They’re beautiful in a way that Solomon Island wasn’t, more mythical and “old world” than Egypt (even though Egypt boasts a longer heritage), and frankly, more interesting to me all around. It’s a return to civilization of sorts, with lots of cool NPCs, breathtaking sights, and a welcome creepy take on vampires. It’s like a dark fairy tale, through and through, and that draws me in.

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As with the previous areas of the game, Besieged Farmlands is cut off from the rest of the world (heck, it’s in its name). The Secret World does have to bend over backwards to keep coming up with reasons why these areas are isolated from the rest of civilization in a modern era, and that’s kind of hard to do. I think Transylvania cheats a bit by going back to Solomon Island’s well, what with blocking off tunnels with crashed vehicles fleeing an apparent apocalypse of sorts.

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A Ghoulish Feast (action mission)

On hand to greet me right out of Agartha is Carmen and her horse, whom I’m going to call Jeeves. Carmen’s a member of the Draculesti, the local good guys group that’s been fighting evil since time immemorial. Mostly fighting vampires, but other evil too. She’s a one-eyed, no-nonsense lady who informs me that the local village, Harbabureşti, has come under a relentless siege by the local ghoul population. The outskirts have been taken over and it’s starting to look grim. Thank goodness I wore my leotards today, because I’m going to get a workout!

Props to The Secret World for not merely recycling the ghoul models from Solomon Island but coming up with new ones, by the way.

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These ghouls attack with sign posts! That cracks me up.

Anyway, what I respect about this quest is that it isn’t a mindless action romp against waves of ghouls. Instead, it shows you (not tells you) how the village has been holding up with some special defenses. First in line are the trees themselves, which apparently hold some sort of power. Then there are the Greenwardens themselves, these hulking satyrs that are patrolling the streets. Finally, the locals and Draculesti are doing their part as well. And you see this all as you go through the mission to the final holdout against waves of ghouls, throwing you in league with your new villager buddies.

RIFT: The Gecko Badlands is kicking my posterior

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Look at that! One zone down in Starfall Prophecy, a gaming speed record that puts me on par with a diseased tortoise. But hey, progress is progress, especially when it comes with an adolescent dragon being nominated as Forest King or somesuch. Hey, still better than the presidential candidates we had this year, am I right? (what, too soon?)

Scatherran Forest was a really pleasant zone in which to quest. Great music, lush visuals, and a pretty engaging storyline (weasel and unicorn silliness even so). I took my time, did all of the side and carnage quests, and came out of it entertained and level 66.

My one big complaint is that the loot kind of stinks so far. I’d say about 70-80% of quests only reward XP and money, very occasionally breaking form to hand up gear upgrades. That really robs a lot of excitement over quest turn-ins. And I barely got any drops for the zone entire. Heck, I get more daily loot from minions than I do from questing and fighting — and that doesn’t feel right to me.

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This has to be one of the most fru-fru collection of good guys ever in an MMO. I’m kind of cheering them on, especially Sir Bearington. He’s not just your average bear.

I was disappointed to see that Shyla and Tasuil weren’t going to accompany me to the next zone, Gedlo Badands (or as my head insists on calling it, Gecko Badlands). Instead, we get the king who looks like he’s heading out on a heavy metal band tour and one chatty kobold who sounds like a Dwarf.

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I do take a break from questing every now and then to visit my tower house. It’s starting to feel very cozy, especially the entrance. I need a lot more materials for it, but I do have a vision for what it will eventually become.

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Gecko Badlands is like night and day with the green forest that came before it. You all know my feelings on deserts, and so far this one isn’t really anything special. Lots of rocks, lots of tan, lots of sand.

What really surprised me is how hard this area is. Maybe my character still needs better gear, but the other night I must have gotten killed about a dozen times just trying to work on the first series of quests. The mobs are tough, tougher than the forest, and their density and patrols makes it quite easy to get in over my head.

I’m mostly running a Bladedancer/Riftstalker build, but after a lot of frustration in this area, I threw together a Tactician build that — with one specific legendary skill that greatly upped my healing — virtually made me invincible. Slowly and surely I can now burn down pretty much any mob I encounter as long as I don’t mind how long it takes. No danger of dying, not really.

Here’s hoping the loot situation is going to improve. I know that the expansion has caught a lot of flak for being rushed out the door, and frankly, I can kind of see it in some areas. It’s still fun, but it definitely needs work. As long as the quests continue to entertain and I have places to go and conquer, I’ll be satisfied.

Syp’s Gaming Goals: December 2016

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November in review

I’d say that this past month was pretty enjoyable for gaming, especially with the release of RIFT: Starfall Prophecy. I’m slowly making my way through that expansion and greatly enjoying it (as are my guildies). Planet Coaster was my big impulsive purchase, and while it’s not bad, I don’t see it as being much more than a side diversion from time to time.

I am happy to report that I accomplished my goal of wrapping up City of the Sun God in The Secret World, and that’s going to give me great headwind going into Transylvania in December.

Interest in World of Warcraft is starting to dip for me, even though I have a lot yet to do in Suramar. I think world quests are eating into my gaming time there and making it feel more like a chore than a game. I was really happy to get my first legendary, however.

December goals

Let’s see if I can push through the entire Besieged Farmlands in TSW by the new year, shall we? There’s a couple of really tough quests in there, but I should be an old pro at failing by now.

Starfall Prophecy is going to take up a fair bit of time, I can tell. I’m only one zone down out of five in RIFT’s latest expansion, and I don’t want to peter out halfway through like I did with Nightmare Tide.

There’s just so much I’d love to do and I can tell that I’m not going to have as much time to do it this month. Still, I’d like to touch base with some old favorites this month, so doing that every so often will be a personal goal. It’s been so long since I’ve played Guild Wars 2, for example, and SWTOR has that shiny new expansion (and I haven’t even finished the last one!). Then there’s all of those Star Trek Online missions I’ve yet to do, WildStar’s Arcterra zone that I keep promising I’ll do one of these days, and more.

Project Gorgon and Elder Scrolls Online both remain on my radar, beckoning. We’ll see, my pretties, we’ll see.

What are your gaming goals for December?

RIFT vs. World of Warcraft: Upgraded skills and the RNG factor

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I don’t know if it’s been pointed out, but the other day I realized that both World of Warcraft and RIFT introduced a sort-of similar feature in each of their respective recent expansions. The feature in question is skill upgrades — that is, taking a standard skill and created a much-improved version that is so good it actually alters a player’s build.

Yet how each of these expansions is doing it is miles apart in execution, and I think it bears looking at because it highlights one of the ongoing struggles of game design: RNG versus a known quantity.

World of Warcraft is introducing these upgraded skills through its legendary items. I haven’t been playing WoW that hard over the past half-decade, but to my knowledge this is the first time that legendaries are featured so heavily in an expansion, to the point where it’s expected that a player might accumulate and equip four at once after a while. Legendaries have skill-defining traits attached, such as the one that I got last week that buffs my anti-magic shell. Before, it was a skill I hardly ever used on my Death Knight. Now that it heals me and is far stronger, it’s part of my standard defensive array.

Of course, there’s no assured way to get a legendary in this expansion; it’s all random number generator. You have to engage in certain activities — opening emissary quests, do mythic dungeons, etc. — and then cross your fingers for one. The devs said that they didn’t want a grind, so they chose the all-RNG route which makes players grind these activities over and over anyway. The only change from, say, a token grind is that the end goal isn’t defined and could happen any time (or not).

Plus, there’s the downside of not being able to get the legendary you want or need for your current build, so you could just be attempting to get the right one until the next expansion arrives.

RIFT, on the other hand, simply gives players one legendary skill point per level from 66 through 70. You know they’re coming, you can choose the upgraded skill you want, and that is that. There’s absolutely no chance to it — and no stress either. It’s exciting to ding because I want to see how my builds will change with these new skills. I can’t imagine how frustrating it’d be if these skill points were tacked on to gear and locked behind an RNG wall.

I’m OK with RNG to dole out fun rewards, and even World of Warcraft has made regular looting fun through the RNG titanforge system. Every so often I get a piece of gear that’s just a little bit better than what I had before thanks to this. But it was a dire mistake to gate all legendaries behind RNG.

A much better suggestion and in line with the expansion design as it is would be to have legendary item quest lines, a la class order hall and class quest lines. At the end of each, you get to pick a legendary of your choice and then have the option to start the quest all over again if you wanted to get a second. That would keep it from looking too grindy, keep it fun, and give players choice.

WoW might be the more popular and successful game in most respects, but dang if RIFT doesn’t actually do design better in so many small and important ways.

Battle Bards Episode 87: Elves!

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It’s high time that the Battle Bards lay prostrate at the feet of their social and intellectual superiors, the high and mighty Elves! Yes, it’s a full episode of elven music, a virtual rainbow of harps and swirly magic and slightly grumpy hosts who use this opportunity to unload their gripes against this fantasy race.

Episode 87 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Teldrassil” from World of Warcraft and “Elf Wood” from MapleStory)
  • “Grey Havens” from LOTRO
  • “Elf Forest” from Forsaken World
  • “Allemantheia (The City of Truth)” from TERA
  • “High Elf Tomb” from World of Warcraft
  • “Unicorn’s Rest (Elven Village)” from Lineage 2
  • “Elven Theme” from Allods Online
  • “Rena’s Theme (Hope of the Elven)” from Elsword Online
  • Which one did we like the most?
  • Jukebox Picks: “Rhyldan” from The Repopulation, “OST” from Fantasy Life, and “Welcome to Rapture” from BioShock
  • Outro (“Rena’s Theme”)

Try-It Tuesday: Duke Grabowski Mighty Swashbuckler

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A month or so ago, friend of Bio Break Spagomat reached out to me and offered me a free copy of a game that he and some ex-LucasArts devs had worked on. I’m hardly one to turn down free games, particularly in the adventure game vibe, so I ended up with a copy of Duke Grabowski: Mighty Swashbuckler. A Thanksgiving weekend is a good a time as any to get all piratey, right? Sure, why not.

I’d never heard of it before, but right from the get-go I was on the receiving end of some serious Monkey Island vibes. That’s probably intentional, considering the art style, irreverent tone, and subject matter. Instead of a gawky, ambitious pirate, the titular character of Duke Grabowski is a hulking dullard of a man who throws in his sword to become the new ship captain. Nobody’s really having it, so they send him on a wild goose chase to successfully woo three women, which the rest of the crew figures is impossible with his temperment.

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From there it’s a very straight-forward, relatively easy adventure game featuring limited (as in three) mouse commands, lots of dialogue, and those trademark quirky situations and characters that we got with the Monkey Island series. If you enjoy the puns (there was even a SCUMM joke) and goofy attitude, the world will prove to be plenty engaging.

However, I found myself really adverse to the main character. I get that the devs were trying to subvert expectations by taking what would traditionally be a background character and shoving him to the forefront, but I couldn’t get into Duke very much. He’s quite slow in all mental respects and everyone dances around him verbally. And his character model — especially his face with the giant, bulging eyes, is off-putting. It made me miss Guybrush Threepwood and other sarcastic, intelligent narrators of adventure games. A thinking game in which your character can’t think seems so wrong.

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I played for a little over an hour to get a feel for it, but I wasn’t getting sucked in. The background artwork and music are top-notch, as is most of the voice work, and occasionally the game made me chuckle with a well-timed pun or two. And I’d always rather an adventure game err on the side of puzzles being too easy than too hard, although there was nothing that taxed my brain here.

However, the foreground models (including the characters) did not mesh well with the background, giving them a disconnected quality. And most of the NPCs I met were, to put it nicely, crudely designed. It’s as if there were two art departments, one which kind of phoned it in and one which did a tremendous job.

Ultimately, without a main character that I could get behind, I wasn’t going to invest any more time. It’s nice that the game was made and that the devs from the LucasArts era are still hard at work, of course. It just wasn’t for me.

With special thanks to Spagomat!