Try-It Tuesday: Kingdoms and Castles

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

While it seems like the Steam release that everyone is playing this week is Yonder, I went in another direction and picked up the interesting-looking Kingdoms and Castles. I am always a sucker for a good building sim, as they’re relaxing and gratifying on a different level than what I get in MMOs.

So what is this? Kingdoms and Castles is a streamlined — perhaps a wee too much — kingdom sim where you plant down a castle center and start building up a town to support your eventual Fortress of Doom. There’s absolutely no tutorial (why?), but it’s pretty straight-forward and after a couple of false starts, I found my groove.

Getting all of the production lines set up to harvest and bake food, cut down trees for wood, and hew rocks from the quarry is essential, as is creating a balanced village that has enough housing, amenities, and support structures to keep your peasants content. Seasons and years pass, everything grows, and I was always saving up the next round of resources for much-needed projects. It felt like I never had enough and had to prioritize what I wanted to build and how much I could support, which is actually good. Interesting choices and all of that.

Like the gameplay itself, the graphics are somewhat simple and functional. Everything looks like Legos and Fisher-Price, and I kept going back and forth on whether I liked it or if it could have used more detail. I think the latter. It’s colorful and does the job, but there comes a point when your minimalistic desires start to make everything too abstract instead of creating a visual reference for players to identify and bond with.

As your kingdom grows, threats emerge from inside and out. There are always plagues, fires, starvation, and discontent to deal with, but even if you have a fully happy and safe population, dragons, ogres, and vikings might show up to ruin the day. This is why it’s essential to have a decked-out castle with attack towers and troops and walls and moats, although making all of these takes a LOT of time and resources.

For $10, I felt like Kingdoms and Castles had good value as a casual building sim. I wouldn’t mind seeing the devs patch in more variety and even some better graphics, but it kept me entertained for a few hours and I’ll be leaving it on my desktop for future sessions. Oh! I’d love to see this on tablet. Man it would be sweet on tablet. Oh well…

The ’80s will never leave (and that makes me happy)

If there’s one thing that I got from a cursory inspection of the news and trailers from Comic Con this past weekend, it’s that the spirit of the ’80s is alive and kicking. Stranger Things, Thor Ragnarok, and Ready Player One are all channeling the Decade of Me in their own way. Then there’s last year’s resurrection of the NES (and this year’s SNES), the popularity of which left no doubt that people are pretty fond of the games from those times.

I don’t mind; in fact, I am all about hanging on to the ’80s as much as possible as years continue to distance ourselves from that era. There was just something gloriously unique about this period, from the style to the music to the colors to the pop culture. My office has Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, and Ghostbusters memorabilia decorated throughout, and I’m looking forward to when my kids are a little older and I can share Ferris Beuller and The Breakfast Club with them.

All of the reboots and period homages to the ’80s in pop culture lately has made me think about why the spirit of this decade is so strong right now. Practically, a lot of people who grew up or lived through the ’80s are in positions right now to create these TV shows, movies, and books. I think each generation holds tighter to their past when they feel it slipping away, and as we’re almost three full decades away from feathered hair and the height of MTV, it might have prompted some of these moves.

But that doesn’t account for the fondness that younger people seem to have with the ’80s, not as an era to look back and reflect on one’s childhood, but as an aesthetic that’s fun, different, and to be embraced. The cartoons and movies of the ’80s seemed a little crazier and more fun than a lot of what’s come since. There’s no “ownership” of an entire decade, after all, or any requirement that you actually had to live through it to adopt it today.

For me, I love these little bursts of nostalgia and representation. Since I was four through 14 during the ’80s, I can say that I grew up then but I wasn’t always in the river of pop culture. But when I see stuff like this, it takes me back for a moment to the things I do remember — the Atari 2600, seeing E.T. in the movie theater, garish Trapper Keepers, the sheer love we had of cartoons and their toys — and it warms my heart that it’s being remembered and honored and, yes, enjoyed today.

Screenshot Friday: WoW, LOTRO, SWL, SoT

I haven’t talked much about Sea of Thieves lately, but every week I’ve been drooling over the videos showing tantalizing glimpses of the game and discussing the various mechanics — most of which sound incredibly fun to me. Can’t wait for this game, and I think my kids might like it too!

Off doing an exploration deed in Southern Mirkwood, came across this pair of trees again. Always thought that this spot was deliciously ominous. The rain helps with the atmosphere.

When it’s snowing in Wildermore and the sun is out, it’s like you’re in a giant, vibrant snow ball. Magical!

What’s in the gift box in Secret World Legends? I’d like to think that it’s a 20% off coupon for Bed, Bath and Beyond. And I didn’t take it, more the fool me.

I was trying in vain to frame the setting sun right behind this walking golem, but he wouldn’t stop moving and I didn’t want to get close enough to aggro. Still, I think it looks rather pretty, don’t you?

Pictures don’t do World of Warcraft’s Lost Islands justice, really. It’s such a relaxing and beautiful setting, plus there’s that great music.

Parachuting into a better life. Those little rips in the parachute always worry me, like the whole thing is about to go.

WoW: The Goblin life calls to me!


So I’ve had a very strange week or so in World of Warcraft in terms of guilds and characters. Originally I was fiddling around with an Undead Warlock on the Dalaran server when I saw the notice about my old guild over on Ghostlands. I was only about level 18, so I figured why not just roll up a new character over there and hang out with them. This plan worked well for about four or five days when the guild announced that they were thinking about transferring the whole guild to a more populated server… like Dalaran.

You can see my face right now, can’t you?

Since my character there was still a lowbie, there was no strong impulse to pay a transfer fee like everyone else — I could just hop back to Dalaran on Horde side and wait for everyone to red rover, red rover, come on over. But the whole deliberation and moving process took several days, during which I was fiddling about with different characters. Did I want to keep on with my lowbie Lock, or skip ahead in levels with a new Death Knight? Someone suggested Demon Hunters and I snorted so hard that coffee came out of my nose because it will be a cold day in hell before I roll up a haughty blindfolded elf.

The time I had let me think through what I wanted to do with a theoretical new character, and I kept coming back to the idea of healing. I love to heal and I wouldn’t mind having a healing spec as my current main. It would be a change of pace and helpful to the guild. But which one?

Priest has never appealed to me (plus I do not like running around in robes). I tried Monk a few times, but the animations and hand-to-hand combat really turned me off to the class. I’ve done Druid before and I wanted a different experience. Paladin? No… plus I’m not doing Blood Elf. But then I took a closer look at Shaman, and I thought that maybe I could make this work.

It’s something I haven’t done much of over on Horde side, and the healing kit looks pretty solid. I’ll be a little bummed I can’t pull out pets or melee, but there are always alternative specs so it’s not that prohibitive.

And if I’m going to walk on the wild side, I thought, why not Goblin? I really have dismissed this race ever since trying it briefly in Cataclysm, but the more I thought about it this week, the more it felt like a solid fit. I love diminutive races, and the Gobbos are as close to Gnomes (my Alliance favorite) as one can get. Quirky, punkish, and definitely a bit different. Plus, how often have I ever gotten the chance to play a goblin in an MMO? Warhammer Online is the only one I can recall.

So I created Lilaca — lilac with an a — who has adorably styled blue hair and a face that isn’t completely repugnant to me. I’ve been taking her through the Goblin intro zones, which are so different than pretty much anywhere else in the game, entertaining as all get out, and still pretty slow leveling. My goal is to get to level 15 as fast as possible so that I can plant my butt in a city and start chain-healing dungeons for advancement, but until then I’m going to have to suck it up and do the whole quest thing.

As with many new characters, as with many alts, who knows if this one will survive the long culling process of MMOs to become something significant. I might have a brief eye on the long game, but more and more these days it’s just playing what’s fun right then and there and not stressing out too much about it.

And while I am no stranger to the WoW Shaman, I never have played one as a healer nor a Goblin to any great extent. Both are novel to me, and I’m curious if they’ll stick. I like that the armor models aren’t broken up on the Gobbo the way that it is on the Forsaken, and the totem design is suitably eclectic and zany.

Secret World Legends: Surviving zone transitions

As I recently moved on from Blue Mountain to Scorched Desert in Secret World Legends, it was like night and day — in more ways than one. The abrupt and significant shift in the zones, themes, and even horror genres is a lot to take, especially when you’ve spent so long getting used to the previous area.

Back when I was first following The Secret World, I was under the assumption that areas like Solomon Island would be about the size and length of a standard MMO zone and that we would be hopping all over the world to many, many such zones. I didn’t realize that at launch there was only going to be three areas divided into eight zones and that we’d be spending significant time in each of them. That investment of time and interest acclimates one pretty strongly to Solomon Island, Egypt, Transylvania, and Tokyo so that while we may be ready to move on, the actual move itself is slightly traumatic.

Here’s the basic flow of the game:

We start in Solomon Island, which is dark and murky, set in New England and sporting the most “American” aesthetics (holidays, architecture, etc.). The horror genre is a blend of overt Lovecraft and Stephen King as well as a hearty dose of the zombie apocalypse and ghosties.

Then we shift over to Egypt, where the sun is blazing and the architecture is old and couched heavily in the desert biome. There is some modernity, but more antiquity than what we had before. The horror genres du jour is more mummies, creepy cults, giant insects and a dash of Indiana Jones and Aladdin.

Once we’ve adjusted to two zones of sun-blasted heat, it’s over to the old world of Transylvania with its craggy countryside, Soviet architecture, and European style. The three zones embrace a lot more of folk tales and traditional horror staples, such as vampires, werewolves, cannibals, ghouls, and fairies (yes, fairies are horror staples, at least to me). It’s… more Brothers Grimm and Van Helsing.

The final shift, at least for now, takes players to the “ground zero” of Tokyo, which is a golden opportunity for the devs to capitalize on all of the Japanese horror tropes. The Filth is by far a greater threat here than in zones previous, but there is plenty of room for spectres, Japanese demons, and intensely clean places that are sullied with too much blood. Tokyo is also the most modern and urban of all of the adventure zones, so there isn’t much in the way of roaming a countryside.

I love the diversity, even if moving from one area to another can be a shock to the ol’ gamer system in me. Egypt only pleased me in the fact that there was more light, but I couldn’t wait to leave it before that long.

It makes me wonder a lot about what’s ahead for the next adventure area. I could see both the Congo and South America as featuring more primal horror in jungles and whatnot, but Antarctica could hold a few surprises with snow-shrouded scares (just watch The Thing for some inspiration).

Battle Bards Episode 101: Ragnarok Online

As the Battle Bards cruise into their second hundred episodes, it’s time to cover a very long-lived fantasy MMO from 2002, Ragnarok Online. The game has an… interesting soundtrack and a devoted following in some circles, but as the crew discovered on today’s show, the score is not without its criticisms. It’s time to kick summer vacation to the curb and trumpet another parade of MMO music!

Episode 101 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Aplen Rose” and “Theme of Alberta”)
  • “Theme of Lutie”
  • “Splendid Dreams”
  • “March with Irish Whistle”
  • “Dream of a Whale”
  • “Sleeping Volcano”
  • “Antique Cowboy”
  • “Christmas in the 13th Month”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Mail from Frotierkilla
  • Jukebox Picks: “Meet Tiki and Mermaid” from Dragon’s Crown, “Devil’s Swing” from Bendy and the Ink Machine, “Drake’s Theme” from Uncharted
  • Outro (feat. “Erebos’ Prelude”)