Duke Nukem 3D: Death Row

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(This is part of my journey going checking out Duke Nukem 3D. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Captured by the pigs at the end of the last level, Duke is stripped of all his weapons and brought to a prison to be electrocuted. In fact, right as the level begins, I’m in the electric chair being fried — gotta move fast out of that! Not quite sure why Duke isn’t strapped down, but we’ll chalk that up to him being so powerful that he broke out of the restraints.

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All hell breaks loose as Duke kicks the first guard to death and then picks up a shotgun to even the score. I like how there’s a nearby observation room, although the curtains were closed when you were being fried because… privacy? I guess? Don’t read too much into it, Syp.

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There’s a chapel nearby with the encouraging instructions of “SILENCE. DISCIPLINE. REMORSE.” written at the entrance. I’m trying to figure out what these stainglass figures are supposed to be. The lizard troopers?

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Here’s something I never knew existed: A dead monk, hanging from the rafters. Sure. Why not. Totally makes sense for death row to have a medieval monk hang himself in the chapel. Honestly, I’m reading too much into everything when the key design decisions back in the 90s were made by this: “Does it look cool? Wicked? Evil? Go for it!”

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The team provided a bit of a nod to Doom in this level. You can click a button that turns the cross in the chapel upside down, activates red lights (to make it look hellish), and opens a passageway to “one DOOMED space marine” behind it. It’s all good natured fun, right?

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Following that is a lot of very boring hallways and rooms (pretty dark, too). There are showers, just in case you were worried that this game wasn’t going to fully check off the “prison must-haves” list. It would’ve been hilarious to see the mobs actually taking showers, but no. Opportunity missed.

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A little further in, I stumble upon this ugly looking hologram. Pucker up, sweetheart. You’re going to kiss the sky soon enough.

Breaking out of the prison is actually kind of ingenious. Remember Shawshank Redemption? So did the makers of this game. In one of the jail cells there’s a pinup on the wall hiding an excavated tunnel that leads down into the sewers, and then out to…

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A nuclear submarine floating in a lake? pond? Nearby. Duke grabs some scuba gear and goes up into the sub from below, taking it for a ride to the next destination.

Great level on the whole, although sometimes it was far too dark for my taste. Nothing really makes sense in this game but once you get into the spirit of it, it’s a blast (pun intended).

LOTRO: The size and shaping of Middle-earth

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The other day I was poking through all of the additions and changes to LOTRO from the past couple of years and found this map lurking, for some reason, on the collections page.

Why isn’t this the real game map?

This is a complete side tangent to what I want to talk about today, but can I say that it’s utterly baffling that THIS isn’t the default stable and game world map? It’s so clear to understand, it shows all of the stables, and it gives a whole-world overview in one fell swoop. Why oh WHY is this shoved inside a tab inside another UI window? Why are we still using the really antiquated stable interface to get anywhere? Probably because LOTRO wants you to spend real money on buying ports to these through the maps.

Another side tangent: I only noticed last night that now that I was in Gondor, the regional maps went from a hand-drawn style of the rest of the game to a more Google Earth-style top-down photo. Aesthetics aside, I actually like this style a lot more. It certainly makes the trickier parts of the map easier to navigate.

How big you’ve grown, LOTRO

OK, let’s get back on course with the discussion at hand, which is to boggle at how big this game has grown over the past decade — and yet still see that it only covers just a small swath of the full Middle-earth.

You can see how the map has been gradually filled in by the expansions and zone additions over the years, going roughly in a diagonal slant from north-west to south-east. And all of it is continuous, save for Ered Luin which is removed from the rest of Eriador by a loading screen and a so-far unfilled-in map. You can visit as far west as the Thorin’s Hall, as far north as the icy bay of Forochel, as far west as Gondor and Mirkwood, and as far south as the ocean that laps up against Gondor’s borders.

A few other observations:

  • Looking at all of the map segments, it’s very apparent how much actual space was given to the plains of Rohan to accommodate mounted riding and combat.
  • The core of the launch game wasn’t insignificant, but look at that map and subtract all of the expansions, plus the post-launch zones of Evendim, Forochel, and Eregion. That means there were only eight zones (by my count) in 2007. Right now there are about 40 zones, if you count both PvMP regions, the Beorning starting area, and all of Moria’s maps separately.
  • And we haven’t even gotten to this spring’s Wastes nor this summer’s Mordor expansion, which will continue to enlarge the map.
  • The gaps and unfilled-in areas of the map fascinate me. Probably there’s a lot of nothing in those areas, but look at all of the unclaimed and unexplored regions in the west. HUGE amounts of land there, all just possibilities.
  • Mirkwood is massive in total, and the bit we got for the expansion a while back is only just a small chunk of the southern forest.
  • Prior to playing LOTRO, I never really thought of Gondor as being both a mountainous and coastal country, even with the book maps.
  • Coming in 2022: The overseas expansion!

The Secret World: Sowing sorrow (Besieged Farmlands #8)

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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!)

Spy vs. Spy (side mission)

When I was up on top of the observatory in the mission previous, I snagged the side quest there (because I am not going to fight/dodge my way up to that place again if I can help it). I find out that the vamps there are spying on a local Romany girl, who I find is spying on the vampires right back. I do her a solid by disabling the three very close and very obvious security cameras that are being used by the vamps to watch her. You can thank me later by giving me more tasks to do, ma’am.

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Test Run (action mission)

The Vampire Hunter is an interesting character indeed that stands apart from many of the other NPCs in the game. For starters, he’s got no name, at least one given, and his extensive burns point to a rather gruesome backstore. For another, even though he’s not bee-blessed, he still fights in the secret war, mostly against the vamps, although he has to stick to the weaker ones.

He says that all of the vamps in Europe have been called to Transylvania, flocking to the “queen bee” (there are apparently very few vampires in North America), and he’s trying to figure out better ways to fight him. He recruits me to test out some sort of debuffing serum on them, so away I go!

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It’s a run back up the Observatory driveway through progressively difficult vamps, although none are really all that hard (and less so with the serum). I’m quite enjoying the pistols/elemental mix, as I soften them up with the flamethrower and a ground AoE field, do a one-two punch of powerful spells, then casually shoot down the remainders.

I feel a bit bad for the bigger vampires, the ones cursed to carry around those wrecking balls. That’s got to be a literal drag, even with extra muscles courtesy of the Red Hand. So you think that the Vampire Hunter will give me a gold star for my efforts? …nah, probably not.

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Ripples (action mission)

One of my pet peeves of this game is that because your character never talks (which is only occasionally mentioned and never explained), you end up taking a lot of crap and wild accusations from NPCs without being able to defend yourself. The Vampire Hunter especially bugs me, since it’s obvious that he has a huge chip on his shoulder about the immortal Secret Worlders (the “first class royalty”) and is shifting a lot of blame from some unmentioned past incidences onto me. He sends me off to face some of the issues that are plaguing both of our worlds and tells me to take care of it or he’ll hunt me down. Splendid.

I mean, I understand a bit where he’s coming from. He seeks and operates in this secret world without having the full power to really confront it, and he’s angry at all of the collateral damage and wants to take it out on someone. But the thing is? I’m trying to help. That’s all I’m ever trying to do.

Anyway, I truly don’t remember this mission from my previous playthrough of the game, and let me tell you, it was a shocker. If we were to make a list of the top five most gory and graphic quests in the game, this would earn a spot, easy. The nearby farm has been the target for some nasty work by revenants, and I have to go in after the massacre and clean house (both figuratively and literally).

And boy is it a massacre in every way imaginable. Dead bodies strewn about, headless, naked corpses staked up, bodies stuffed in haystacks, even a guy gutted and holding his own intestines. Seriously, some dev at Funcom was working through some dark issues with this mission.

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I honestly admit that I was scared to enter this barn. I mean, would you? Nine of those hell-scarecrows just waiting there, plus a couple of bodies hanging from the rafters for added affect. I inched my way inside to see what would happen, fully anticipating a pile-on ambush. It wasn’t that bad, but I was glad to be done with that place.

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The ravens are everywhere, so you know that revenant fights are incoming. There are three of them: one of plague, one of fire, and one of sorrow. Let me tell you, this game has made me deeply distrust any raven I see in the real world.

I felt bad for all of the farmhands and the family who got killed, but it wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t the fault of my faction. Like it or not, Mr. Vampire Hunter, I’m doing the best I can, and I can at least make sure these revenants don’t prey on anyone else.

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Scarecrow for Dummies (side mission)

One last thing to do at this hell farm, and that’s to make a pet scarecrow murder machine of my very own! Because there are notes from some anonymous magus nearby, and if that’s not a sign, what is?

Up above you can see the ingredient list for Scarecrow Syp. Hay — that just makes sense. A head — sure, pointless without it. Giant chainsaw — tons of these littered about. And a horse heart. A horse. Heart. Always wondered was was powering these animated scarecrows, and now I know: magic and dead horse hearts. Wish I didn’t have that knowledge.

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Chalk this up to another one of The Secret World’s strange little repeated mission types, in which you assemble/summon/befriend some sort of super-fighter and then only get to have it hang around you until the mission is over. Alas, I would’ve loved to have this guy come with me. He’s so personable! But no, I have to take him over to the windmill and drop him off as a security detail for some reason.

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Along the way I got a fright from seeing this absolutely massive “ursine horror” drag itself across the road. It’s all chewed up and its back legs don’t work and it’s leaking ectoplasm, but it’s still a really terrifying beast. He is not having as good of a day as I am, I think.

RIFT, I want to love you, but you’re making it hard

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It’s been a good long while since I talked about RIFT here, and that isn’t because I’ve been so enraptured by Starfall Prophecy that I couldn’t bear to rip myself away to jot down a few words. Morelike, it’s been weeks of logging in to do minion quests and then getting quickly frustrated with the combat and then logging out. Rinse and repeat.

I swear, if it wasn’t for one of the warmest and friendliest guilds I’ve ever been a part of, I probably wouldn’t log in at all these days. Genuinely great guilds aren’t always easy to find and I do enjoy the companionship that they provide. So I keep making an effort to love this game, but RIFT seems bound and determined to make it hard for me to do so.

The core problem isn’t the story of Starfall Prophecy, which is — to me — somewhat interesting and occasionally surprising. It isn’t the smaller scope of the expansion. The problem is that, as I’ve said before, the mobs make standard questing onerous and a chore. Every time I play I feel the urge to rant about how simple it would be to fix this: decrease the mob density and cut mob health down at least by a third. Packed-in mobs with huge hit point pools equals no fun for anyone.

It’s not the first time that RIFT started in with the mob HP inflation; the past two expansions were guilty of this too. But it seems really, really high here and mobs take wayyyy too long to kill. My highest DPS build on my Cleric — a primary Defiler build — takes about 20 seconds to down a single mob, and that’s after putting about 10 DoTs on it. 10. Every fight, I have to punch about a dozen separate buttons, and my hand does not thank me for that. And that’s my hardest-hitting build — the build I actually like takes a half-minute or longer for a single mob. And it’s not that the mobs are too difficult otherwise, just that they have enough hit points to rival other MMOs’ raid bosses.

Early on in RIFT, it was a sheer joy to play these classes because no matter what your build, you could have a lot of fun mowing down packs of mobs and gradually improving your spec. Now, as I’ve said before, this might be a result of the increasing difficulty of balancing the game as players get access to more powerful and diverse abilities and equipment. But wouldn’t you think that making the basic questing experience as smooth and enjoyable as possible would be a priority? That the devs would err on the side of making mobs too easy to kill rather than too tough?

I know there are greater issues with this expansion and that Trion is still dealing with a lot of stuff. But for me, this has pretty much killed all enthusiasm and interest I have in playing Starfall Prophecy. I have a choice of many MMOs at any given moment, and most of them have found a far better balance with high-level mobs than what’s here. I don’t often call for nerfs, but for the love of all that’s holy, Trion, nerf these mobs and nerf them now. I can’t be the only one who has gotten turned off from the expansion for this issue.

My guild was talking about how in the next patch, you pretty much HAVE to have a 61-point build or otherwise you’ll lose a massive chunk of your DPS, which takes hybrid builds off the table. RIFT has been going down a depressing path as of late where most everyone plays very specific cookie-cutter builds to be able to quest/raid/DPS decently, so one of the game’s biggest strengths — the flexibility of make-your-own builds — is all but gone. It’s aggravating and I just don’t know how much more I’m going to hang onto this game when it obviously doesn’t want to hang on to players like me.

Here’s hoping that Trion Worlds might one day remember what used to make this game really fun to play and return back to that instead of pushing down this path.

Battle Bards Episode 92: Dragon’s Prophet

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Strap in for a fiery ride across the skies in today’s episode of Battle Bards! While Dragon’s Prophet was not fated to last long — at least in North America — it did leave behind a treasure trove of music that we’ve only started to dig into. The bards get a little dragonish themselves for this show, perhaps of a different opinion of what constitutes the perfect score for giant flying lizards.

Episode 92 show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Rise of a Hero — Call of Battle” and “Candlelight”)
  • “Auratia”
  • “River”
  • “Flicker of Life”
  • “The Black Swan”
  • “Commoner’s Dream”
  • “Light’s Path”
  • “Helmoth”
  • Which one did we like the best?
  • Jukebox picks: “Main Menu” from Conan Exiles, “Richer” from Valkyria: Azure Revolution, “Early Game 1” from Majesty
  • Outro (feat. “Dawn”)

LOTRO is my ‘home’ MMO

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The boon of boosts

This past week was one of my most productive yet in my 2017 return to Lord of the Rings Online. Right now I’m probably spending about 90% of my gaming time on this title, just because it’s really what I want to be playing at any given moment. Plus, I feel very driven to catch up — and I’m starting to see real progress in that regard.

I’ve already finished up with all of the Rohan landscape story quest arcs, netting my character several more trait points, and have moved on to do the four central Gondor arcs (two out of four completed of those so far). Even better, thanks to quests that are finally awarding XP and a weekend XP boost across the servers, I’ve shot up from level 98 to 104 — and I’m not even to Osgiliath yet.

Hitting 100 was a great boon for me, as that meant I could equip my two first age legendary items and get them imbued. I had saved up so many different crystals and scrolls and runes for those that it was actually a relief to get to use them all on weapons I won’t be replacing.

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Challenging content? Perish the thought!

It was an adjustment when I finally started getting into content that was more on-level than I had been playing over the past few weeks. I’d gone from one-shotting mobs in the early parts of Rohan to actually having to watch my aggro in mid-Gondor. I’m still able to take down most anything thanks to my pets (and my “oh crap” button of Sic ‘Em), and I have four heals at my disposal just in case things get dicey. But still, questing has slowed down a tiny bit due to the slightly longer combat sequences.

Let’s just say that at this point, I’m really, really glad I didn’t elect to go through with my plan to grind out virtues. I don’t think I could’ve stood doing it here.

I am trying my hardest to put out of mind some of the big chunks of content that I’ve yet to get through, such as Osgiliath and Minas Tirith. Both are really impressive set pieces — and both are quite annoying to navigate, especially if you’re like me and don’t like sprawling and constricting urban landscapes.

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Welcome home

Back in late 2015, I remember going through a phase where I was seeking out what many of us bloggers were calling a “home” MMO. This was supposed to be a game in which you spent most of your time, got the most invested, and made the most connections. I was seeking one out because I felt untethered and detached from games at the time, bouncing around like a crazy person. In 2016, I spent four months trying in earnest to make FFXIV my home (didn’t work) and subsequently started to settle back into World of Warcraft.

But it was really this recent return to Lord of the Rings Online that reminded me that I have had an online home that’s been here for me since 2007. Even though I was away for the better part of a year and a half, it was all waiting for me when I got back: the feels, the world, the great people, the sense of adventure… the whole package, really. This is where I feel the most comfortable, draping the game around me like a well-worn, nice fitting outfit.

I’m truly excited that there’s a lot to look forward to this year, and that excitement is driving a lot of my continued enthusiasm to log in and get stuff done in preparation.

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Moving day

Speaking of homes, the recent Update 19.3 finally brought my attention back to a feature that I had long abandoned in this game: housing. We all know that LOTRO player housing was subpar even when it first came on the market and hasn’t aged well since then. But this past weekend I got to experience two features that went a long way to making this content a lot more interesting to me than it was in the past.

The first was a purchase of one of the new premium homes. I originally thought that these homes were well priced out of my league, but then someone told me that the smaller basic Gondorian houses were only like 145 mithril coins, and since I had 300 left, I figured why not. It was a purchase well worth making, since even this basic house is far larger than the deluxe houses I was used to and brimming with hooks. The layout was great (although lacking windows on the ground floor, which made it feel more confined than it should be) and the fact that I can also have a regular house on the same account is a plus. Did I mention the two-tiered yard? Or the close location to a host of vendors and services right on the sea shore there?

The second was the big change in 19.3, which allows us to move housing decor on the full axis and well outside of the normal range. It’s still nowhere near full free-form placement, but it’s way, waaaaay better than it used to be. You can do more natural groupings of decor and arrange the rooms to look better. I was just happy to put a fireplace caddycorner in the library instead of flat against one wall.

I used up most of the decor I had on my Lore-master (which turned out to be quite a lot — I guess I was busy back in the day!) but my house still has a lot of empty hooks and needs some more love. I’m going to pay attention to the festivals this year and start looking around for other vendors (reputation?) to fill things out more. Anyway, I probably spent two or three hours working on my house and it was so much fun, which is not something I’ve ever been able to say about housing in this game before.

World of Warcraft: Treading water

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Logging in to do my daily emissary quests feels a lot like treading water in World of Warcraft. I mean, I get wet, I cool off, and I can fool myself that I’ve gone swimming, but it’s not that impressive overall. I should suck it up and finish the last Suramar chain and then really focus on my Hunter for a bit, but I’m not feeling particularly motivated and I’m not going to push it. I also could be making some more money by picking up additional world quests (especially gathering ones), but again, not a lot of motivation.

I’m drowning in order hall resources right now, somewhere around 40,000 or so, because I only spend them on missions for gold now that my champions are all maxed out. Gold-making missions are very unpredictable; there might be days in a row without seeing any, then two or three on a given day. Trying for the right combination to get the 200% bonus is the only challenge there.

I did have a stroke of good fortune this past Thursday, as my emissary quest paid out my third legendary. Now, to my great dismay, I’m going to have to choose: my auto-bubble shield, my beefed-up magic shield, or this new one, which lets me shoot out an AOE fireball every 1:20. I decided to ditch the magic shield (auto > situational activation), since the fireball packs a huge punch and has a cooldown that’s low enough to use every other fight. It did require me to go hunting for a new cape, since the loss of that legendary left the slot open, but thanks to world quests, I got a replacement in minutes.

Getting more into mythics and raiding might be a possibility, at least for a sporadic activity, but for now I’m really hoping that 7.2 is nearer rather than further away.