Space Quest: Planetfall

(This is part of my journey playing through Space Quest. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

pf1Reload.  I guess this is my “lucky” day, since my escape pod is actually going to land somewhere instead of floating out into deep space forever.

pf2I remember being so despondant when this happened back when I was a kid, because I was so happy to have my own spaceship in a computer game.  I thought that maybe I was going to be allowed to fly it around or something, but nope, I just crash-land mere seconds after taking off.

pf3Fortunately, there’s a survival kit in here that I can plunder.  Dehydrated water still cracks me up.  I’m very easy to amuse.

pf4“You have just become a vertical meal for the local welcoming committee.”

Oof.  This planet is not kidding around.  Well, it is, but in a deadly way.

pf5Kerona is not the most beautiful of planets, but rather a desolate desert full of people-eating worms.  If you would like to make a Tatooine reference, please do so now.  The game will not stop you.

pf6pf7In addition to death by worm, Roger bites it by falling to his demise and being blown up by a Sarien spider droid.  All within three screens.  This is what we called “replay value” back in 1986, kids.

pf8With the spider droid looking on in amazement, Roger finds a super-secret elevator and takes a trip down it.  What wonders — and brutal punishments — will this new area contain?  Tune in next time, faithful readers!

ArcheAge is starting to win me over

Yes, you can play soccer in prison.  This blows my mind for some reason.
Yes, you can play soccer in prison. This blows my mind for some reason.

At this point in my life, I do not need to hear, read, or see anything more about ArcheAge.  It does not help that I work at Massively and am sometimes required to write about this upcoming Korean sandbox import, but I do my best by plugging my ears and going “LALALALA!” while I type.

The thing is, this game was barely on my radar for years since I first heard about it.  “Sandbox” and “Korean” aren’t catalysts for my interest, although they’re not repellant either.  I just figured, fine, it’ll be another Age of Wushu or TERA or whathaveyou, and I will live in peace with it being played by other people and me playing what I want.

But slowly and steadily ArcheAge has gone from the fringes of my attention to a fast-pass into the center.  I keep reading articles and seeing videos that make me go, “Yeah, dang, that is cool!”  I think what I’m realizing is the major selling point of ArcheAge is that there is such a wide breadth of activities to do that it’s much more like a living world than MMOs that claim to have a living world.  Yesterday I was salivating over a ship video where they were showing all of the different types you can craft and use, and even something small like the realistic bobbing of the ocean waves (and your character/ship on them) resonated strongly with me.  I want to rowboat my way down a coastline, darn it.

And the mix-and-match class setup?  Housing and farming and all that jazz?  Honestly, the only thing that’s repelling me at this point is that you can’t own a house as a free-to-play gamer (you can “share” one with a subscriber), which sucks.  I didn’t expect that limitation from Trion, since RIFT has an incredibly generous F2P setup that includes housing.

So ArcheAge definitely moved up to a “must play” status for me, especially now that we know it’s coming this year.  The founder’s packs?  I think they’re really overpriced, although perceived value depends on the player and specific interest.  I’d be all about the head start if F2P players could use it to get in and grab a house, but… nope.  And this game will really need to be something else for me to sub up.  Otherwise, I can live without dropping $150 on a virtual product that’s selling alpha and beta access.

Diablo III: Jumping spiders or exploding frogs?

d3I haven’t gotten a lot of spare time to run around in Diablo III as of late, but I try to log in for at least 15 minutes a day to push my Witch Doctor a few more steps through Act I.  It’s still surprisingly enjoyable in a mindless, bubble-popping way.  I suffered a lot of indecision on the class choice, as none really were calling out to me, but pets plus some pretty visually funky attacks have endeared me to the WD.

Right now I’m running around with poisonous zombie dogs, tossing out exploding frogs, and generally feeling OK about my choices in life.  I’m hitting a level every play session or so, which almost always unlocks a new skill or rune or follower ability, and I’ve even found a couple of legendaries (I have legendary pants!  My pants are legendary!  They emit a stench when enemies are near!  I can’t stop telling my friends this!).

Above all, what really endears this game to me is its atmosphere.  It’s like going through a giant Halloween playground with all sorts of visually impressive set pieces.  I forgot about the farmer you rescue who has his wife — now a skeleton in a rocking chair — down in the cellar.  It’s a goofy, grim world that would actually be pretty enjoyable to play as a proper over-the-shoulders MMO, methinks.  But this is almost as good and still quite visually detailed.

Last night I hit level 21 and finished up Act I.  It had been pretty much a cakewalk up to that point, so I bumped up the difficulty level from normal to hard, which started to feel more like a challenge.  I also got two skills I was looking forward to: my gigantic zombie pet and a fireball basic attack.  The last time I played Diablo III, I never progressed far into Act II, so I’m looking forward to seeing what lies beyond the boundaries of my past experience.

The Secret World: The Abandoned

ab1Our Monday night Secret World group hit a snag as the third investigation mission from the Sidestories pack bugged out on us pretty severely.  We switched over to the fourth mission so as to reset the third, which we’ll attempt once again next week.

So we ended up doing The Abandoned in the Shadowy Forest last night.  This one starts with the good ol’ bridge troll Mosul, who is one of the many old world fairy tale-ish characters that exist in Transylvania.  I kind of like him: He speaks slow like an Ent yet never lost my attention.  With this quest, he’s worried that the stories of the fantastic creatures in the woods are in danger of slipping away and charges me with learning about them and passing that knowledge along.

ab2While I’m totally on board with learning all about fairy tales, the reality of this investigation mission wasn’t so much storytelling as it was translating.  Lots and lots and lots of translating.  We first had to translate the message on this coin, of which my only contribution was to identify it as Greek.  I didn’t take Greek in seminary, because no one told me that one day I’d need it for a video game mission.  Who knew?

We had to find apps and virtual Greek keyboards to type in all of this, which pointed us toward a crypt that had something to do with Iele.  You see, I just didn’t get much of the story of this mission because the translations were kind of cryptic and the mission itself never stopped to really tell you what was going on outside of little fragments.  I enjoyed the trappings of it, but honestly I could not tell you what all of this was about.  There’s a tomb and a book and three sisters and some eggshells and a Blanji (the gnome dudes with big buck teeth).

ab3Probably the most interesting part — to me, at least — was getting this picture book and having to track down where it happened in the zone.  It’s a simple story about this creepy lady who lures a guy down a river and then rips his heart out and eats it.  Good old-time family fun.

ab4When you see it recreated, it’s hard not to be simultaneously charmed and weirded out by her.  I like the details that the devs put into her, like her little clapping hands emotes and the fact that she’s dirty and wild and has this shredded dress on.

Later on in the quest we had to throw broken eggshells into a river and follow them down (no, I do not know why).  As we walked down the creek, watching our eggshells bob and weave with the current, we were secure in the knowledge that this is probably the only MMO that asked you to do such a thing.

We encountered another bug with the next step, as the Blanji bugged out, so I looked up where we were supposed to go.  It involved dying and having ghost Blanjis put the eggshell back together.  In a cool closing twist, the final step of the quest asks you to share the story (the egg, which has painted scenes from the quest) to another player.

It wasn’t a hugely challenging quest, past the annoyance of translating things from Greek and Romanian (MMOGC said that her ex-boyfriend was Romanian but she didn’t think he would respond nicely if we called him up asking him to translate stuff from a video game).  I really do wish that I grokked more of the story itself, so I may have to do a little research and see what I missed.

 

Space Quest: Getting spaced

sq1(This is part of my journey playing through Space Quest. You can follow the entire series on the Nostalgia Lane page.)

After that very, very long (but entertaining!) trip through Gabriel Knight 2, I thought we’d return to simpler times for a faster playthrough of one of my all-time favorite games: Space Quest.

My association with Space Quest began in junior high, when a copy of this game had been installed in our school’s computer lab.  I think our teacher was just glad that we were interacting with computers, period, and didn’t so much care that we were playing games instead of programming. So I had the pleasure of not only going through this wacky adventure title, but doing so alongside of friends who were figuring stuff out as well.  Multiplaying adventure games can be really social!

As King’s Quest was to fairy tales and fantasy, so Space Quest was to science-fiction, Star Wars, and Star Trek.  The first installment — The Sarien Encounter — came out in 1986 and used the same parser and look of King’s Quests 1 and 2, but instead of being some noble wanna-be king, you were a space janitor.  And not a very good one at that.  The series went on to parody and lampoon wide swaths of the scifi genre (at least as we knew it up to that point in time) and had an even greater sense of humor and sarcasm than King’s Quest did.  I liked it because as a fan of both Trek and Wars, I was “in the know” and got plenty of the in-jokes and sly references.  Plus, the many deaths of Roger Wilco never failed to amuse.

However, even for a short game it was kind of tough and unforgiving, as early adventure titles could be.  Sierra took the “trial and error” approach pretty seriously and it was weeks before I could beat it as a kid.  Let’s see if I can do better today!

sq2GOG supplied me with the original EGA version, not the VGA remake, so this is as authentic as it gets.  Man, listen to that theme!  Kind of catchy, even today.

sq3So this is Roger Wilco, janitor of the ship Arcada.  The game really does start you in medias res, as Roger stumbles out of a closet after a nap to find that the ship is on red alert and has been boarded.  I got myself killed so many times before leaving this ship, because you’re unarmed and if you bump into any bad guys you get creamed.  Made me absolutely paranoid.

Oh yeah: The ship is also set to self-destruct.  Basically, I’m screwed either way.

sq4 sq5It doesn’t take too long to find one of the titular Sariens.  Thanks so much for making my day, dude!

sq6Reload.  Next to Roger’s closet is the Arcada’s library, which is a startlingly accurate vision of the far-flung future in which you must use a 400-pound terminal to order a slow-moving robot to retrieve a data cartridge.  Roger wouldn’t have done so, I imagine, except for the dying scientist who stumbles in and urges the janitor to grab information pertaining to “astral body” and vamoose.

sq7Have I said how much I love this game’s sense of humor?  It’s dry and blunt and completely un-subtle.  Just like a good breakfast cereal.

sq8Getting off the Arcada isn’t too hard as long as you duck off to a new screen or inside a door if you hear footsteps coming.  Of course, if you’re an idiot like me who likes to wander out in hard vacuum, then you might find that getting off the ship is quite painful.

sq9Escaping the ship requires nabbing a key card from the aforementioned dead guy, opening up the bay doors, finding (and wearing) a spacesuit, and activating the remaining escape pod.  So… this ship has just one pod?   I also grab a translater gadget because you just know that’s going to come in handy later on.

sq10But… but… I wanna!  I wanna!

Fine, let’s blow this joint first.

sq11Hooray!  I’m going to die anyway!  Wheeeeeeee!

Might as well push that button…

sq12OK, seriously, how awesome is this?  The game makes your escape pod crash-land into King’s Quest 1’s moat.  And you die.  But you die in a very memorable way, which is pretty much the best reward that this game can bestow.

Battle Bards Episode 26: Granado Espada (Sword of the New World)

It’s time for one of the most eclectic MMO soundtracks of all time: Granado Espada!  The Battle Bards wade through a wide variety of genres and deal with frayed nerves by getting all sorts of snippy with each other.  Will the music drive them apart?  Find out in this week’s show!

Episode 26 show notes

  • Intro (including “Forzar” and “Old Speckled Reel”)
  • “Main Theme”
  • “Death Book”
  • “Beyond Hope”
  • “Cite de Reboldeux”
  • “Helios”
  • “Endless Battle”
  • “Amanecer”
  • Which one did we like the best?
  • Mail from EverQuest 2’s Margaret “Luperza” Krohn
  • Outro (“Purple Snow”)

Listen to episode 26 now!

Gabriel Knight 2: Endgame

(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.)

This is it!  We’re going to finish this game or die trying today.  Or die trying and then finish this game.  Both work for me.  Are you ready to be done with The Dark Knight 2?

end1No jail cell can hold the incredible Gabriel Knight!  He does a Die Hard through the vents and gets out of the prop room.

end2Gabe went inside a dressing room and farted around for a bit — a bit too long, actually, as he’s discovered and the game abruptly ends.  How did he disappear, exactly?  Wouldn’t he just be ushered out of the room?

end3I try again and change Gabe into this… thing.  He’s going to have to kick his own butt now and he looks none too happy for it.

end4Gabe adds to his list of felonies that will never be prosecuted by tying up an innocent actor and taking his place on the stage.

end5Thus begins the longest cutscene in the game that’s 95% opera singing and Gabe coming in to clown around as a minstrel who can’t do anything right but seems to be amusing the audience anyway.  Above is a picture of the actor regretting his life choices.

It just goes on… and on… and on.  The music is OK, I guess, but I’m not a big fan of opera.  Right now, kids in 1994 are so happy that they badgered their moms to buy this werewolf game for them.

Eventually the music prompts the transformation of both Von Glower and Gabriel, although the game doesn’t ever show the transformation itself.  Both werewolves flee to the basement and begin a game of cat and mouse.  Or dog and dog.  Whatever.

end7Eventually both wolves, Grace, and the Komissar end up in the furnace room.  Gabe and Grace switch back and forth to work out a plan that involves knocking Von Glower into the furnace before Gabriel is shot.

end8Once inside the furnace, Von Glower looks surprisingly sanguine about being burned alive.  Or melted, as the game portrays him.  Werewolves melt?  Yes, because of all of the plastic hair.  I can only imagine the horror of the Komissar feels as he watches a person burn alive that he didn’t save, but oh well, we won the game!

end9Grace and Gabe have a stupid post-victory conversation that tries to tie up the themes of the game.  “You ever wish that you could follow your instincts?  Live in the moment?” Gabe asks.  Ugh.  Do you ever wish that you could cut a video game character’s hair and tape his mouth shut?

Final Thoughts

Wow… that was one long, long playthrough!  Thanks to all of you who stuck with me on this — I really didn’t anticipate it going for so long, but I wanted to see how it shook out.

Overall, Gabriel Knight 2: The Beast Within is a solid adventure title that is hampered and dated by its decision to use FMV.  Oddly enough, in 2014, Gabriel Knight 1 ends up being more timeless for its visual style, whereas GK2 looks like some sort of weird relic that combines adventure game mechanics with bad after school special acting.  The actors do a decent job, but the way that they have to keep pausing to allow for player decisions and dialogue choices is decidedly awkward, and many actions that you take are stretched out far longer than they should due to the director wanting to show every action acted out.  So the FMV is a severe strike against the game, as is the oh-so-cheesy music.

That said, I wouldn’t write it off.  As I’ve indicated, blending werewolves, Bavarian history, and opera together is an amazing feat of storytelling.  None of the “twists” were that startling, but I came out of the game definitely knowing more about Ludwig II than I did going into it.  Sometimes the dialogue is amusing and Xavier kind of rocked the house.  There are only a couple of puzzles that frustrated, including the final bit where you’re a first-person perspective werewolf running around the basement closing doors and wishing that you weren’t subject to motion sickness.

I appreciated the bouncing back and forth between the two main characters.  Despite my ribbing, Grace is a good character who is treated with respect instead of a floozy love interest (it helped that this game was directed by female Jane Jensen).  Gabe is more annoying than likable, but he does the plot justice and I’ll leave it at that.

LOTRO: The aftermath of Isengard

entWhen last I left my adventures in LOTRO, we were returning to Isengard to see what became of the place after Saruman lost big-time.  The Grey Company finally found Aragorn and had an explosion of hugs as a result.

One of the reasons that I haven’t been logging into LOTRO much lately is because Isengard isn’t my favorite place in the game.  While technically spot-on to the books and all that, it is visually wearing on me and slightly annoying to navigate.  Well, it’s only gotten uglier and less accessible in my absence, as the Ents have flooded the place and killed pretty much everyone there.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s cool that the progressing story is shown in such a dramatic change to an iconic landmark.  I think I’m just a little tired of the whole Isengard storyline.  I did find one spot pretty impressive, as you swim over a huge gap in the earth and can look down into the former underground works:

floodToo bad we can’t swim down!

There are a lot of “mopping up” quests, the most annoying of which are the ones that send me to the non-flooded underground portions to fight the remaining mobs.   They’re all signature mobs and the first mobs that I’ve fought post-Update 13’s “mob toughening” programme.  Let me tell you, I was in for a shock — I got creamed when I went in there, swinging away with my usual rotation.  A Captain dying?  Seriously?  Such a thing has not happened since the First Age!  I had to switch to my healing spec and put in some effort for these fights, which I guess isn’t a bad thing, but it makes me worry about what the squishier classes have to deal with.

While Turbine’s devs were going on and on about how “Ent play” was going to be just the cat’s meow of this update, I had a feeling — later confirmed — that it isn’t anything truly special.  For one thing, haven’t we already stepped into the shoes of an Ent before in one of the Fangorn storylines?  I’m pretty sure we have.  For another thing, walking slow with a character that obstructs a good portion of the screen and only has three skills is not the fast lane to excitement.  Maybe those really into the lore can grab some giddy thrills here, but it’s just another day in Middle-earth to me.

However, I did get a few laughs out of the initial Ent quest, especially how the game portrayed the enormous length of the Ent moot by speeding up the Hobbits and the passage of day while you talked and moved in normal time.

I was hoping that Update 13 would have really reinvigorated my interest in LOTRO, but as it is, I feel like my attention tanks are a little on the empty side.  That’s OK, it happens and I’ll certainly keep plugging away at this storyline, but I don’t feel pressed to log in on a daily basis right now.

Gabriel Knight 2: Two months later

(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.)

With the lost Wagner opera and instructions in hand, Grace and Georg join forces to smile weirdly at each other.  And then…

two1Wait, what now?  The game just skipped ahead two months?  Has Gabe been languishing inside of a German tourist dungeon that entire time?  Because I’m totally fine with it.

two2This is by far the most cheery room in the entire game.  It’s the theater and Grace is getting ready to take in a show.  I feel that I must constantly remind my reading audience that this is both a game that has cannibalism, Bavarian history, and opera performances — and somehow makes it work in conjunction with each other.  Seriously, what did the planning sessions for this game look like?

two3Oh, I guess Gabe’s upgraded from dungeon to opera dressing room.  Has he been lying down for two months now?  I would have thought that you could be pretty mobile and “normal” following a werewolf infection shortly after being bitten.  Maybe he’s hamming it up so that Grace will nurse him while wearing those attractive khaki pants.

two4In the main auditorium, one of the actors is complaining about being a mute bird-thing or whatever.  Oh, the glory of the opera!  One hour until showtime.

There’s a lot of preparation tasks that Gracie has to do to trigger the opera and without exception, all of them are boring and I shan’t be recalling them in this space.  Basically all you need to know is that Grace is setting up some sort of trap for Von Glower and has invited the Komissar here as well.

two5One of her tasks is to shovel coal into the furnace and light it up.  Grace looks absurdly pleased to be handling coal, which makes me think that she missed her calling as an engine room worker on the Titanic.

gabenutsGrace locks Gabe away in the basement as the show gets ready to begin, and only then informs him that the theater measurements aren’t quite right and that the crystals in the chandeliers might not work.  Gabe flips OUT at this, invoking every word that makes this an M-rated game.  Is it the beast within or an actor milking the giant cow?  I can’t decide.

glowerThe opera begins and Grace uses her little opera binoculars to confirm that both Von Glower and the Komissar are there and sitting in the same section.  Von Glower is looking smugger than usual and Grace jinxes the entire thing by inner monologuing that he has no idea about the trap.