Beyond Good & Evil: Jamaican Rhinos

(This is part of my journey playing through Beyond Good & Evil.  You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lanes page.)

I’m having difficulties getting this series going because the game itself is giving me a lot of problems.  I can’t tab out or take screenshots (although I solved the latter with fraps), plus the game sometimes just locks up on me and stops accepting input.  I think I’ve got it ironed out, so full steam ahead!

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Since my character apparently does not hold a steady job, I have to blindly take up any missions that come my way.  I get two: to fix our island’s hovercraft (which is important because, y’know, island) and to travel to the happy-sounding “Black Rock” where a Mr. De Castellac has an important mission for me.

Seriously, this game could not telegraph “THIS DUDE IS EVIL” more if they kept him hidden away in a black limo where a big-chested bodyguard with a villain moustache told me to head that way without any specifics as to the job.  Which is exactly what happened.

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My AI computer program is happy that he figured out how to access the cable news channel. Good for him.

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Here’s our hovercraft, which Pey’j can’t fix. I guess he’s like a semi-skilled auto mechanic, but we keep him around in case we get a hankering for some baconing.

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In the game’s first “puzzle” — yes, this is supposed to be an adventure game, but it’s only lightly in that category — I push a power thingie so it charges up the hovercraft. Go me.

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The hovercraft makes it about 200 feet out of the dock before breaking down completely. Again, I give this game credit for its looks: even the water looks pretty nice for 2003-era graphics. Considering I’m going nowhere, I might as well check out the ocean, eh?

The local garage comes to give me a tow.

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So the garage is staffed by Jamaican rhinos, which is so perplexing that I physically felt something snap in my brain. OK, so we know that because of the backstory and setting that this game takes place in our future. So where do the animal-people come from? Genetic meddling? Alien races? And in either of those scenarios, why Jamaican? Is there something going on on that island that I don’t know about?

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No sooner do we get our engine repaired than the DomZ attack again. This time they sent down a giant sea serpent, which I guess I have to blast because I’m the only full-time security force around here. The hovercraft does handle pretty well and, like the melee combat before, it’s pretty basic fighting stuff. Clicky clicky.

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Boom, nice knowing you, Mr. Sea Serpent!

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We make our way through the town and out the other side, where the Black Rock and Mr. De Castellac awaits. Well, this is bound to be cheery and end with my skull on his dashboard, so why not?

8-Bit Orchestra

On Battle Bards, it seems like I might be the only one of the three of us who likes older (i.e., non-orchestral/synth) (i.e. chiptunes, MIDI) video game music.  Which I do.  And some of our discussion made me think about wanting to share some of my favorite tracks from these eras, perhaps to convince that there’s something here worth checking out.

So here are a few of my favorites that I’ve loved from the 8-bit era:

5 nice little things about Guild Wars 2

gw659This week I feel like doing a short series of posts pontificating on the small things in games — the little bits that aren’t championed often but are still pretty cool when you do notice them.  So here are five nice little things about Guild Wars 2:

1. Day/night cycle

It seems like more and more MMOs these days leave out the day/night cycle, option more for an eternal setting.  So it’s cool to see the moon pop out (and sometimes in phases, I’ve noticed) in GW2.  Plus, some of the game’s events are triggered by whether it’s day or night, so it shakes up things.

2. Universal rezzing

The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that giving everyone the ability to rez should be standard in MMOs here on out.  Over a year later, I still see everyone rezzing everyone else, and that creates a nice communal bond.  Plus, the game incentivizes rezzing with XP and a title, and that’s pretty cool too.

3. NPC conversations

While I generally skip the cutscenes these days, I find myself pausing a lot to listen to the little conversations that the NPCs have between each other.  They’re often amusing and informative.  One that sticks out as of late was a mother in Snowden Drifts who was telling a few others how she was traveling to the capital with her sickly daughter.  After hearing that, I went to talk to her even though she didn’t have a quest or event (at least not at the time) attached.  I kind of wished I was able to give them a proper escort to help the kid.

4. Asura animations

Man I love playing my Asura, and her animations are a big part of that.  The flailing of the limbs as she jumps, the wiggling ears, the awesome faceplant she does if she falls too far, and, of course, the robot dance all make me so proud to be part of the best race in the game.

5. Ridiculously big swords

As a Ranger who prefers to play with a greatsword, I feel like I’m cosplaying with FFVII Cloud’s giganto-sword every day.  I mean, the thing is taller than I am, and I’m a Norn.  But it makes me feel powerful to be able to slash that monster around and looks awesome in the process.

WildStar: A group for all seasons

shiphandMy general stance toward WildStar as of late has been fingers in the ears with a side dish of going “LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU CARBINE.”  It’s done wonders for my social life because I’m mostly surrounded by toddlers who talk in all caps as well.  It helps us relate.

I feel a dangerous urge to just start trying to gorge on all of the pre-launch scraps of information and speculation, and I know that that path lies madness because it’ll only slow time down.  Still, a recent article about shiphand missions caught my eye and got me to unplug my ears long enough to write a few words.

I am always in favor of games giving us choice when it comes to grouping.  I don’t want just one level (“You must group, period”) or even two (“Solo or hardcore raider”).  I like an array, because people group differently depending on available time, interest, and experience.  So, sure, throw in the raids and rich solo experience.  But also toss in challenging dungeons, path missions that can be shared, and pocket dungeons.  Now we’ve got shiphand missions which are an array unto themselves.

From what few details we’ve been given, we know that shiphand missions:

  • Scale from solo to five players
  • Are relatively quick (15-45 min)
  • Feature a progressive story chain
  • Have optional objectives
  • Take place on spaceships (hence the name)

The latter gets a cheeky salute and a “good show, old chap!” from me.  The conundrum of a sci-fi MMO is that it’s really hard to justify by lore why you’re effectively grounding all of your players and giving them bipedal transportation when we in the real world have cars and planes and the occasional high-flying balloon.  But unless you’re prepared to spread your population across a galaxy and bother with individual planetary design, then you’re going to have to figure out how to work within some limits.

So shiphand missions seem like a good compromise.  We don’t get our own spaceships (alas), but we can get off Nexus to do a little space-hopping.  Even if it’s “just” an instance, it’s psychologically freeing.  And it kinda sounds cool.

Plus, this sort of grouping experience is just about perfect for me.  I often need something a shade less involved than a full-on dungeon run due to time constraints, and a flexible group size means that a guild doesn’t have to worry about fielding a five-person team each time.  Just put your hands up if interested and let’s go.  Have more than five?  Split into two teams of three or whatever and let’s go.

OK, fingers back in the ears.

LA LA LA LA LA LA LA

Pocket Trains improves upon Pocket Planes

trainsI’ve been a big fan of developer NimbleBit since getting addicted to Tiny Tower three years ago.  Their design has been big on intricate pixelated graphics, cute charm, a F2P setup that is exceedingly generous and unrestrictive, and sheer addictiveness.  Their follow-ups have been solid but not as long-lasting as Tiny Tower, however.  Pocket Planes was too heavy on the micro-managing to be fun in the long run, and Nimble Quest was an amusing Snake-like that was interesting for a few days before losing appeal.

So I was really interested to see if their latest, Pocket Trains, would be able to rekindle the old feelings.  Spoiler: I think it has, although we’ll have to see how it fares over (ahem) the long haul.

Everyone seems to know that Pocket Planes used to be a train simulator before they thought planes was a better idea.  But while planes can go just about anywhere (given enough fuel), having the restricted rail lines of trains makes a game a lot more strategic.  In just about every way, Pocket Trains improves upon the Pocket Planes formula, keeping what works and ditching what doesn’t.

The basic idea is that you’re managing a rail empire by purchasing stations and railroads, then shuttling cargo from one city to the next.  Making bank is important to expand, although you also want to scoop up “bux” (premium currency) and train part crates.  The latter allow you to craft new engines and the former allow you to open the crates.  You can spend actual money for more bux, but you really do get a lot in the game so there’s very low pressure to drop cash on this.

So let’s talk about the differences from Pocket Planes.  PP’s airplanes would only let you take either cargo or passengers or a mix, whereas PT only restricts you by the number of cars that you can pull.  PP let you fly your planes anywhere as long as the plane could land at that airport and had the range; PT asks you to dedicate a rail line to a single train.  Because of this, there’s a lot of strategy in deciding where to put your best trains, how many stations/lines should be given to a single train, and so on.

One of the best changes is that Pocket Trains doesn’t charge for fuel like Pocket Planes did.  Often in PP you just would sit there, waiting for jobs to refresh, so that you could fill up the plane and make a profitable flight.  PT instead has a fuel meter for the cars that fills up automatically in the stations and drains while moving (you can make fuel cars to increase the tank and spend bux to quickly refuel if you’re that desperate).  This means that while it’d be great to have a “full” train run, it’s no longer necessary.  I quickly flick through the stations, load up, and send them on their way without freaking out about numbers.  It’s much more enjoyable and relaxing that way.  Psychologically, I like knowing that even when I’m not playing, the trains are doing something — getting to their destinations and refuelling.

There’s some manner of cargo micro-managing when you want to transfer goods long-distance (or get those valuable train parts/bux cars to their destinations), and the interface makes that a cinch.  Most stations can hold five cars, and you can pay to expand those.

So far my empire has grown to five engines that span from Glasgow to Minsk.  The same tiny world charm that Tiny Tower had with its rooms has returned in the cars, which range from karaoke to gothic castle (because, why not).  There are a couple of weird omissions, such as no “guilds” like PP had and no Bitbook (the fake Facebook app that dropped funny notices), but I’m glad to see music return and a much more friendly game all around.

GW2’s Karma: The most useless currency ever?

CGtu7Guild Wars 2 is already stricken with Toomanycurrenciesitis, a condition that is seen across the genre.  But what puzzles and sometimes really frustrates me is just how useless one of its most common currencies is: Karma.

So here’s the strange thing.  There are plenty of things to spend karma on in the game — it’s just that pretty much all of them are pointless to me.  I can buy regular armor (but… why?), exotic armor (except I just use gold on the trading post for that), crafting mats (except I don’t craft), transformation potions (yay?), and sickles/picks/axes for gathering (that I can just buy everywhere else with regular gold).  I don’t need it for mats for a legendary, because Syp don’t do legendaries.  And there’s are roundabout ways of turning karma into gold, but they feel like a waste to me.

This makes me a little crazy because so much of the game’s reward system uses karma.  I mean, what’s the appeal of doing events, then?  I don’t get any sort of material reward — say a chest or a random item — from most of them; I just get money, XP, and karma.  I can get money and XP from plenty of other places.  The karma seems like it’s there to be an incentive to doing these, but there’s so little in the karma katalogue that is appealing that it makes the currency as useful as toilet paper to me.

I mean, let’s look at laurels.  There’s another currency in the game, but this one has a pretty solid shopping list: dyes, boosters, pets, and so on.  That makes acquiring a laurel a positive event.  I care about it.  I cannot say the same about karma.

I’m sitting on a pile of karma that I have no use for.  I wish I did.  I wish I could buy pets, or skins, or perhaps even just dump a load of it for that ascended gear that everyone salivates over.  Maybe I’m just not playing the game the way everyone else is, I dunno.  I just hate useless currency that I’ve worked hard to attain, and this feels like the king of the mountain.

Am I really off-base on this?  Are there awesome uses for karma that I’m overlooking?  Let me know!

Beyond Good & Evil: A cult classic revisited

BGE-cover(This is part of my journey playing through Beyond Good & Evil.  You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lanes page.)

As we move into the adventure game rotation of the Bio Break classic game safari, you guys have voted for me to check out Beyond Good & Evil.  This is an interesting title for this series for many reasons.  It’s probably the most recent (2003) that I’ll be playing for some time, it’s not just an adventure game but has platforming and stealth elements as well, and it has this weird cult following that loves to pop up from time to time to pronounce the incredible virtues of this title.

I do have a short history with BGE, as I played it part of the way through on the Xbox back in 2004 or so.  I don’t remember a lot about it, other than the fact that it had a strange setting — an alien planet with humans and animal-people and a kind of conspiracy plot.  So while there’s a history, it’s not a very deep one or an interesting one.  I can’t even remember why I didn’t complete it.  We’ll see if there’s enough “stickiness” to this title to compel me to play past the first two weeks as I head back into it, however!

jade1The game begins on Hillys, a mining planet that’s come under attack by an alien force known as the DomZ.  I am, as always, an Asian photographer-slash-staff fighter named Jade, who alongside pig-dude Pey’j, is taking care of a bunch of orphans in a lighthouse.  Their night terrors are what powers the light, I guess.

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The opening sequence is pretty action-packed.  The DomZ start falling from the sky and Jade makes a run for the lighthouse to activate the shield.  But wouldn’t ya know it, the power isn’t paid and the DomZ land and abduct the kids.  I ain’t standing for that, so I pick up a torch and start wailing away.  The combat in BGE, at least initially, is pretty simple: click, click, click for all your worth.  I smack all of the capsules open, only to be sucked down into a pit where that robot from The Navigator wants to have a one-on-one with me.a2

Does anyone else remember The Navigator?  Pee Wee Herman’s voice and time travel and shape-shifting spacecraft?  The 80s was truly the golden age of cinema.

Anyway, it’s a weird encounter because it seems like this eye is more interested in communicating than hurting me.  But Pey’j drops in and gives me my extend-o-staff (or whatever the game calls it), and I get back to clicking.  Here I learn the art of holding down a button until Link’s magic sword fully charges up for a super-attack.a3

Right as we win, Alpha Force drops in.  These over-the-top studs are — according to Pey’j — almost suspiciously late to the party every time.  But they put on a good show, I guess.  Then, with nothing else to do in the tutorial, I faint.a4

I wake up in the lighthouse surrounded by a Tim Burton movie.  OK, it’s a 2003-era game so the polygons are a bit chunky, but you know what?  The use of colors and stylized art design really holds up well.  I keep thinking “World of Warcraft” as I go around.  That’s not a bad thing.a5

To make some scratch so that we can turn back on the power, I’m given the option (well, the facade of an option) to photograph creatures for a science place that’ll pay me for them.  Like the combat system, the photography system is pretty streamlined and easy to pick up.a6

I do a little poking around the lighthouse — it’s not very big — and the orphans mention that their parents aren’t dead, just abducted by the DomZ.  So… should I have let the kids be abducted as well?  At least the families could be together!

I’m quite curious what Jade and Pey’j’s story is.  Who are they?  Why did they get saddled with these kids?  Are these two grown-ups lovers?  Family?  Casual business acquaintances that are harvesting orphan tears to sell to the highest bidder?a7After taking a few photos and getting the power restored, the game nudges me into Pey’j’s workshop.  This is the attractive half of Pey’j, by the way.  Man, what do they eat if pork and bacon are off the menu?

I finally find a save point and pause the game to continue later on.