Gabriel Knight 2: More fun with Xavier

(This is part of my journey playing through Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

x1It’s a new day in the game, but snooty ol’ Xavier is still wearing the exact same clothes since yesterday.  He informs Gabe that everyone is out and about, which makes me wonder what Xavier, y’know, does when that place is empty.  It pleases me to imagine that he skips through the halls singing showtunes.

Gabe interviews Xavier about the club, which he finds out was established in 1970 by Von Glower and has a membership of five people.  Xavier has the easiest job in the world, I’m just saying.  Five people?  Who show up once in a while to drink and then turn into murderous wolves?  Why can’t I get a job like that?

x2Doesn’t Gabe look like he’s levitating in this screencap?  That green screen doesn’t do the best job of meshing the two sometimes.

Gabe wanders around the lodge and discovers a locked room, but since his inventory has yet to be expanded with “lockpicks” or “sledgehammer,” I’m going to have to do the adventure game route of coming up with a bizarre setup.

x3Naturally this involves planting a cuckoo clock in a potted plant, because Gabe loves to play games with Xavier.  The idea here is that the clock’s alarm, when it goes off, sounds like knocking and Xavier will come back to check it out.  This fun activity has to be done twice: Once to take the keys out of the podium and once to put them back in once Gabe unlocks the mystery door.  Man, after all of that work, this better be the coolest room ever!

x4OK, it’s the coolest room ever.  There are tons of hunting trophies around, including endangered species and, oh yes, a human skull.  Plus lots of guns and high-powered rifles.  Gabe snarks, “What are these people hunting, ninjas?”  Doesn’t make much sense, but that’s amusing enough that I’ll let it pass.

Anyway, Gabe is caught by a club member but feigns ignorance and Xavier gets a talking-to.  With that bit of fun achieved, Gabe heads out and over to his new friend Von Glower’s house.

x5See, this is why I should never be rich.  I would hate getting this dressed up just to lounge around.  Is that a neckerchief with a robe?  Dang, you are a stylish dude!  Too bad you’re in league with Satan, but you’re still stylish!

“I find nothing more stimulating than a fresh companion,” Von Glower says in a not-at-all-creepy way to Gabe.  “New treasures to reap!”

Von Glower talks about the club and how each of the members were chosen for their great personal accomplishments, and how the group has a desire to get back to their physical natures.  Von Glower is very concerned that humans have lost the ability to be predators.  He’s all but broadcasting, “I AM A WEREWOLF!” although I’ll give the game credit: You don’t often see wine-drinking, philisophical werewolves in fiction.

The mention of the Black Wolf does startle Von Glower and cause him to spill his drink a bit.  He gets frantic covering up, talking about the recent murders, upset about the “pointless slaughter.”  But don’t you want to tap into your primal side?  Get back to nature?  Why doesn’t your club go hunting these “killer wolves”?

x6Cool mask, dude!  It’s Brazilian and I’m totally wearing that to Halloween next year.

Guild Wars 2: Stop to smell the events

r1Not having a current living story event going on in Guild Wars 2 is somewhat of a blessing, because the pressure is off to be somewhere and do something specific.  Instead, I’m ping-ponging between my Ranger and Necromancer doing map completion, which is my favorite activity in this game by far.

One thing I’m challenging myself to do is to get out of the run-run-run mentality of trying to finish maps as quickly as possible.  I already have a full 80, there’s no rush.  Instead, I’m exploring around a lot, pausing to listen to NPC conversations, and most importantly doing every event I come across.  I think I missed a lot of events the first time through, especially ones that chain off of each other, and that’s a shame because some tell really interesting little stories.

Last night I was doing the events near the lodge in Wayfarer Foothills that has all of the kids and the snowball fights.  I triggered one that had a kid ask me to hunt a ram for him, and he took the head to his dad who turned it into a decoration for the exterior of the lodge.  Other than the head wildly changing shape depending if it was on the live creature, in the boy’s hands, or on the wall, it was neat to see.  But better were the idiot kids who started a bear ritual with honey on the floor, which then summoned all manner of bears and caused a kid stampede inside the place.

r2Silly as these might be, they make impressions.  I remember them.  And even though they’re not always optimal, I usually don’t regret doing them afterward.  I was so chipper, in fact, that I spent some time refining my snowball-throwing skills instead of waiting for more mobs to kill to complete my heart.

I don’t know if ArenaNet has given up on adding new small events into the game (we’ll have to see if we get a new normal zone, probably), but I hope not.  They add color and flavor and movement in small but important ways.

Guild Wars 2: Bring on the wardrobe!

Wardrobe UI - Wardrobe PanelMy joy and excitement at the upcoming April Feature Pack for Guild Wars 2 ratcheted up 10 notches this morning, as ArenaNet announced that it will be installing a wardrobe system for the game.

The basic rundown:

  • All armor and weapons that a character collects will have their look copied into a new part of the UI that will save the skin.
  • These skins can then be applied at any time to weapons and armor to customize one’s look.
  • These changes require transmutation charges, which will replace transmutation stones/crystals.  “Transmutation Crystals can be directly converted into charges, and Transmutation Stones can be converted at a three-to-one rate.”
  • The wardrobe UI also shows what skins you haven’t collected or unlocked yet.
  • Purchasable town clothes outfits will now go into the wardrobe, but can only be used as a complete look (no piece-mealing the outfit out).
  • Weapon/armor skin unlocks are account-wide.
  • Dyes are unlocked account-wide.
  • “If you already have the same dyes unlocked on multiple characters, when you log in on additional characters, you will receive one unidentified dye for each duplicate dye already unlocked on your account.”
  • Dyes will become harder to find due to demand dropping.
  • Dyes can be sorted by hue and allow you to select favorites.

Seriously, how terrific is this?  So terrific.  Much clothing.  T-shirt wow.

A good, functional, and flexible cosmetic outfit system is something we’ve been clamoring for since the game launched, and it’s so exciting to know that it’s finally coming.  The town clothes idea never worked and transmutation was a hassle.  This is a lot more elegant and even more powerful than what I expected (I thought it would be more like other games’ wardrobe system where you have a separate area to slot gear for looks).

As an in-game fashion junkie, I appreciate that all of these skins won’t be clogging up storage and will be accessible at any time.  What really sparked my interest here is the “collect ’em all” aspect of this new system.  I hope that a few of the items clogging my bank that are soul-bound to characters that no longer exist (such as a staff from Super Adventure Box) will go straight into the collection, and I am looking forward to hunting down some of the more interesting pieces.

Converting the current transmutation stones/crystals seems fair, especially since I have gobs of them.  ArenaNet definitely will have no qualms selling more charges and more outfits, but that’s fine by me.  If there are ways to earn these charges in the game, then we have options and no reason to complain.  I’ve been holding off buying a lot of town clothes from the store because of the old system, but now I might have to do a shopping splurge.

The dyes thing pleases me too.  Some of my characters have a huge array of dyes and some not so much, and I am looking forward to all of them having those rares I’ve picked up.  In fact, between the dyes and the wardrobe, any new characters I make will have a starting fashion advantage.

The only thing I’m not seeing and that I would want is the option to save outfits (and save trait builds, while we’re at it).  Not a huge thing, not a deal-breaker, but it’s something I’ve grown accustomed to in RIFT and LOTRO and wouldn’t mind seeing here.

I think the new wardrobe system is going to make hunting and collecting skins a much more powerful reward incentive going forward, too.  I trust ArenaNet knows that when it looks ahead to future content releases.  Looks over stats, I always say!  And now I can have both, all of the time.

The Secret World Screenshot Tuesday

Our normal Monday night Secret World group was mostly MIA due to various issues, so as a replacement for a tale of our thrilling exploits, I’ll do a screenshot dump with commentary.

t1We need more missions involving this possessed wagon.  I really want to see what’s inside of it.

t2“Ritual preparation available on request” sign outside of a butcher shop in London.

t3Dude, Bigfoot is ripped.

t4I appreciate the sound effects that you hear when you get close to this arcade cabinet, but Funcom really needs to program in the ability to play this game.  How cool would that be?

t5I don’t know what amuses me more: That Sam Krieg has a musical in NYC, or that the Illuminati have taken out a billboard in Times Square advertising how little the population knows about the group.

t6Even the denizens of Hell like to have a good time!  Someone rigged the Overlook sign to read out “hell” and someone else doodled a cute little cartoon deviil on the side of the building here.

t7This is like every bad dream I ever had.

t8Don’t make him tell you twice!

I don’t get Guild Wars 2’s dungeons

As an MMO hopper, MMO sampler, and MMO juggler of yore, I acknowledge that I’ll never truly know the ins and outs of a particular game the way someone will who plays that single title extensively.  So there’s always more to learn, but even so I have to admit to being really puzzled by Guild Wars 2’s dungeons.

I’ve been doing a couple of these every night since my re-entry a few weeks ago, and I am still mystified as to their purpose and design.  Unlike every other MMO I’ve played, it seems as though the group consensus is to avoid mobs at all cost, using speed to dash by them and terrain tricks to get them to reset, so that we can blast right to the boss.  Then most of the bosses are attacked with another set of tricks and terrain quirks, such as hiding in this corner or jumping up on that ledge.  Then there’s the “everyone stand on the exact same spot so we look like an unholy abomination of arms and legs and buffs” tactic too.  We get loot and gold — which is nice — and leave.  And I walk out of these dungeons just wondering what I’m supposed to be getting out of them.

There’s a lot to be said commending what I’ve seen ArenaNet do here.  Each dungeon has two major modes and several paths that the group can vote on, although almost all my groups choose a tried-and-proven path of least resistance.  The design is cool and I love the idea of flexible dungeon runs. Some of the boss fights that we aren’t tricking are pretty engaging and the battles can be nailbiting as we try to keep everyone up and fighting.  I love my Ranger’s spirit of nature pet, since it can do an instant-rez of anyone nearby.

But I can’t shake the feeling that either the playerbase or the design team or both have conspired to create runs that teach us to be cowards.  Run.  Flee.  Avoid.  Trick.  Loot.  If I stop to attack anything, I get told to cut that out and get running again.  It seems as though we pass up waves of mobs (and their associated bags of XP and loot) just to get it over with already.

When I’ve mentioned or joked about this to guildmates or party members, pretty much everyone ignores me.  I guess it’s what we’re all supposed to be used to by now — I’m not giving a brilliant new observation.

It’s not even a new thing to the devs, who more or less defend the right to go ahead and skip mobs.  So… why throw in trash mobs to begin with?  Why deliberately design a dungeon that encourages such behavior instead of creating a dungeon that’s just boss fights and nothing but?  Works for plenty of TSW instances and it wouldn’t make the dungeons come across as a failed experiment.

I’m not a huge fan of plowing through trash mobs, but I don’t feel much like a hero for avoiding them, either.  Maybe I don’t get what the community already understands, and maybe it’s the lack of dedicated roles that turn these dungeons into blitz fests, but… I’m stumped.

Gabriel Knight 2: The death swan

(This is part of my journey playing through Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

dr1Death swan!  Dunanananana Death Swan!  Sha-boom!

To recap: Gabe is called back into action to investigate a werewolf attack in Germany.  He figures out that, indeed, a werewolf attack in Germany actually happened and got himself into an exclusive hunting club.  His psychotic assistant Grace raced to the rescue but ended up berating Gabe’s housekeeper and doing some research on the side.  There.  I’ve saved you four hours of playing this game.

Chapter Three opens with a rather bizarre dream sequence, and considering some of the conversations we’ve already had, that’s saying something.  Gabe is sitting on the shore of a lake, watching a swan come in for landing.  But oh noes!  There are flashes to… some people… perhaps from the prologue!  And a werewolf!

Oh yes.  It’s time to reveal what one of these nasty beasties looks like.  Steel yourselves, my friends:

dr2OK, Mr. 3-D Werewolf Designer from the opening credits?  You need to step up your game, son.  This is like an oven mitt that I used to own.

dr3Gabe wakes up from this swan-laden snooze to find… flowers on his chest.  I don’t know what to make of that, really, and neither does he.  Forboding flowers?  Also, why didn’t Grace just go to the address on the envelope that she mailed (yesterday? I think?) to meet up with Gabe?  The timeline in this game is screwy.

dr4The newspaper said that another wolf attack happened in downtown Munich.  Man, I love the German language, because every sentence should end with “ZU!”  Plus, the umlaut over the O makes it look like it’s a cartoon wolf’s head.

Gabe heads down to his lawyer — Harry, now that he’s on a first-name basis — and gets Grace’s package.  Seeing as how he’s staying at a farmhouse that is within walking distance of his own castle, I don’t understand why Gabe can’t just drive up to get her.  Oh well, Grace’s letter gives Gabe the quest notes for the next chapter.

dr5Thanks Grace.  I’m sure Gabe is dying to read your history paper.

dr6No tour of historic Munich is complete without a trip to the cuckoo clock shop!  Why, we have every type of cuckoo clock, from the ones with numbers to the other ones with numbers!  Make sure that you get your picture taken with the old man with suspenders, as his contract is up after the next season!  The first 100 visitors will be sold a clock at 2% discount, so act fast!

Anyway, when an adventure game makes a cuckoo clock available for purchase, you darn well better purchase it.  Good thing it won’t let me go into every store in this area — Gabe would go broke.  It is pretty funny that Gabe deliberately takes the clock as it is without a bag or anything, yet in the very next shot he’s standing around with the clock nowhere in sight.  Does he have enormously large pockets in that coat or something?

dr7Despite the newspaper already carrying the full story about the wolf killing (in the middle of a downtown district?), the crime scene is still plenty full, roped off, and interesting enough for a news team to be there.

dr8Gabe spots the commissar but despite his awesome business card-waving, the policeman gives him the stink-eye and ignores him.  Points to Gabe for trying, however.

dr9Because he’s a smirking American with nothing to lose, Gabe turns to the news crew instead and offers to do an interview on all of the evidence that he’s collected.  I must say, that cameraman has the sexiest mullet I’ve ever seen outside of MacGuyver.

dr10The commissar, outraged that Gabe is making him look like a fool, yanks him off of the camera and slams him into a van — all in the middle of the interview, mind you.  But apparently the news crew thought that a policeman tackling a guy that’s in the middle of spilling details about a multiple murder wasn’t worth following up on and stop filming or something.  At least Gabe gets his chat with the big honcho in the future!

Thoughts on The Walking Dead Season Two: A House Divided

clemLet me tell you, there are few things that fill my heart with dread like the menu screen of these Walking Dead games.  They’re just so still and eerie, yet slightly animated and desolate.  Every time I come back to this game I have a bit of a hard time hitting the play button, even though the actual experience of going through Telltale’s adventure series isn’t that frightening.

Last night I wrapped up the second chapter in season two, A House Divided.  Clem’s new group starts out on the run away from a nasty guy named Carver, and it’s during this run that they bump into a new group that has an old surprise for our young protagonist.  For a minute it seems as though there might be happiness in store for everyone — a reunion, new friends, a safe place with electricity and food — but these games never let good things go for very long.

Knowing more about how these games (really, interactive graphic novels) work, I’m fretting less and less the choices and dialogue picks that I make, and just going with whatever pleases me and fits with what I think Clem would do.  Clem is more loyal to her old friend because the new group hasn’t given her much of a reason to trust (especially in light of throwing her in the shed in chapter one without medical attention).  Clem is blunt and honest.  And when everything goes down and the situation gets bad, Clem favors direct action and fighting even in the face of long odds.

Most of the big five choices take place in the last few minutes of this chapter, and even though my desire to lash out against this threat got the group hurt more in the end, I was OK with that.  It was the right thing to do.

What I love about these games and also SWTOR was the emphasis on choice, even if it was cosmetic 90% of the time.  If a game can get me to think about why my character is doing something and give me agency to control his or her path, then I naturally get more involved and invested.  The fact that the Walking Dead games will trundle on to the end no matter what decisions you make, overriding your free will with a sort of grim predestination, is food for thought and another article.  At least TWD covers it up well and delivers an authentic feeling of being in the midst of what’s going on and that I’m not just being swept along without a say in things.

I did get a bit frustrated at some of the artificial contrivances that this game would create so that people would end up in danger.  Walkers coming out of the woods?  Why, let’s just stand around shooting as they surround us instead of running for safety!  Dangerous bridge ahead with walkers?  Let’s split up!

Probably the most aggravating moment was when Clem goes to the top of a ski lift and sees pursuers in the valley below.  She then goes inside their lit safe house on top of a hill — that has a glowing Christmas tree, no less — and the game doesn’t let me scream to everyone to shut off the lights and barracade the doors.  Nope, we just talk and talk and then people get killed.

The comics, the TV show, and this game really make me wonder if people would be this terrible to each other during a zombie apocalypse.  In my experience, an external threat would have much more of a bonding effect on a group of people, because when you’re in danger of being eaten alive by ghouls, petty disagreements and daily issues tend to take a secondary seat.

As always, I do wish there were more points to explore freely and actually solve puzzles, but that doesn’t seem to be the goals of the creators.  At least it’s pretty gripping and got me through a couple of weeks of exercise as I slowly went through the chapter.

Gabriel Knight 2: Finding Gabo

(This is part of my journey playing through Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

res1Now that Grace has had her soap opera catfight with Gerde, she can get to the important part of her self-appointed mission to do some research for Gabe.  By the way, where’s Gabe?  If he mailed the letter and it took at least two days to get to Grace and Grace took at least a day to get here, it’s been a long weekend since we last saw him at the hunting lodge.

res2Grace does a bit of reading up on werewolves and past Ritter cases involving these beasts.  It’s nothing truly revealing, but I think it’s good that the game put this in to provide a full reference for folks who aren’t as familiar with all of the werewolf myths and tropes.

I am vastly curious how a research book on werewolves knows about the state of their immortal soul.  How does one look that up?  Pop down to hell for an interview?  “Hey Satan, can you direct me to the lycanthrope quarter?”

This book also discusses how an alpha werewolf might create his own pack by cursing others to become beta werewolves, and how the betas might have their curse broken with the alpha’s death.   I don’t think the game is even trying to hide the fact that Gabe’s hunting lodge visit was really a trip into a den of werewolves.  The book also says that the werewolf will reveal him/herself though personality traits:

res3So Grace is obviously a werewolf.  Seriously, that’s like a checklist of every mannerism she’s shown to date in this game.

res4Grace heads back down to the village to talk more with the mayor about the previous werewolf case.  When the Schattenjäger caught it, he sent it back to Rittersberg for a trial and examination.  They waited until the beast — who called himself the Black Wolf — transformed back, then naturally plucked his arms and legs off before burning him.  Charming folks, these villagers.  The mayor shows Grace the dungeon where the werewolf was kept, and Grace has a major psychic attack.  Or she’s just showing “bizarre behavior” that in no way means she’s about to transform.

More investigation revealed that the Black Wolf was cursed by a gypsy to become a werewolf after he raped a village girl (who later committed suicide).  Since the werewolf then went on a rampage, I’m not thinking that this was a particularly bright gypsy.  Grace also finds out more about King Ludwig II, a great ruler of Bovaria who was killed by the people.

res5With several journals, letters, and a letter to Gabe in hand, Grace puts it together in a package and heads down to the post… waaaaitaminute.  Has this game been making me do a research paper on werewolves for the past two hours?  Do I get course credit for this?  Seriously, nothing has happened aside from Grace going nuts on Gerde.  This game better move the plot along, and fast!

I can’t help but think how different this story would be in today’s world, particularly with mobile phones and the internet.  It’s like watching a documentary of how hard people used to have it before they could access instant information and reach out to anyone at any time.

res6This triggers the final cutscene of chapter two.  Gerde and Grace, despite hating each other’s guts, are spending an evening sitting across a table from each other reading.  Before either can say a word, a knock at the door reveals two tourists — the Smiths from Pennsylvania.  The beehive hairdo lady in particular is so over-the-top you’d swear that she landed from another game.  She goes on and on about being an occult specialist and wanting to “talk shop” with the Schattenjäger, but then she goes into a seizure and predicts that Gabriel is in danger from a black wolf.  Boom.   Goodnight, Gracie.

The Secret World: Machine Bully

machineHell sure takes a pounding in The Secret World.  I think it’s a little weary of losing its status as a frightening vacation locale and being treated as a playground to a neverending swarm of tourists from Earth who keep shooting and slashing the heck out of the residents.

I joined up with Massively’s MJ and a few of her friends to run Hell Raised on nightmare mode last night, because why not?  Mama needs the loot and nightmare mode experience.

It was actually a pretty good run, all things considered.  We had a very experienced tank and healer at our disposal, and that covered for our noobishness and weaker gear.  None of the bosses presented too much of a challenge — I think we had maybe four wipes total among all of them — at least until the end.  On the second boss I got a really awesome new purple head DPS talisman which erases the mistake I made a long time ago of selecting a purple health head talisman from the Last Train to Cairo final reward.  Between that and my new shotgun, my purples have started to outnumber my blues and I’m seeing an increase in my effectiveness.

I ran a strike build last night that I kept tweaking.  I love shotgun dearly, although I truly wish it had a slightly longer range.

Anyway, the run was terrific right up until we hit Machine Tyrant, that awful (yet incredible-looking) final boss that features reflective bubbles and shooter hell in the form of constant bombings and roving crosshair attacks.  He’s nasty even on elite mode, and in nightmare, he’s… well, you get the idea.

We struggled a lot with him, because one wrong step and you’re dead — and if one person goes, there goes the fight.  He enrages after a few minutes if you can’t get him down fast enough, so four people really can’t take him.  Other than doing DPS my job was to purge a nasty condition that he put on us.

It’s a fight that requires just a whole heck of a lot of fancy footwork, situational awareness, and sheer luck.  It made me think of the other night in Guild Wars 2 when I was running a dungeon and someone was saying how challenging that was.  I choked back a laugh and said, “Mister, if you haven’t done TSW, you don’t know what challenging is.  This is cakewalk in comparison.”

The one PUG guy in our group wasn’t as patient as the rest of us, although he might have been more experienced, and he started getting frustrated at what he saw as lower-than-acceptable DPS.  I don’t think he was being mean about it, but he was asking us all a lot about our hit rating, which I guess was not up to par.  I’ll admit that I did notice that I was glancing too much and that I have a few holes in my gear that could use a glyph or signet.  But hey, it was a learning run, and even though we didn’t make it through, we had a good time, got some gear, and took some lessons away for the future.

My next step is to do a shopping trip in London.  I have some black bullion that I might be able to convert into another purple piece, and I should definitely make sure that all of my gear is signeted/glyphed up.

P.S. — I’m going to be doing some reading-up on nightmare runs and builds as well.  This thread seems particularly helpful for us DPS types.