Apple Arcade: Is renting games worth it?

About a week ago, Apple released iOS 13 for its mobile devices, and with it the vaunted Apple Arcade platform. The idea here is that instead of buying cheap/free (and heavily monetized) titles that are littering up the App Store, Apple Arcade would offer an all-you-can-play buffet of curated, high-quality titles for $5 a month.

And the first month is free. That’s how they get ya.

I checked it out just because I’ll take advantage of almost any trial that’s set in front of my face. So far? I’m kind of impressed. There definitely is a nice initial selection of titles, some of which I recognize from other platforms as moderately priced titles (such as Sayonara Wild Hearts and Overland). And there was a giddy moment when I just downloaded all the ones that I wanted to check out.

Of course, I don’t own these games. I don’t have any right to them. They exist on my phone as long as my subscription does, and when that free month goes poof, so will they.

There’s the trade-off for this kind of model. You get good quality, all you can enjoy, but like most subscriptions, you only can access it as long as you’re paying that monthly fee. And while the fee here is pretty low, I’m more than aware how multiple subscriptions can start to pile up.

Is it worth it? It’s definitely a good value, and I think Apple is going to see strong sales with this service. But its worth is a subjective matter. I’m sure I’d get five bucks of gaming enjoyment each month from it, but I already have so many other games on these devices I haven’t even played and some favorites I play every day that there’s not a huge demand in my lifestyle for a glut of high-quality titles on my phone or tablet.

For me, there’s also that psychological barrier between renting and owning entertainment. Apart from subscription-based MMOs, I don’t usually like to rent my games when I have the option to own them (even if that ownership is purely digital and could theoretically be taken away if the company decides to do such). My Audible subscription, as a point of comparison, doesn’t yank away all of my purchased books once the sub is up. I have that feeling of ownership and permanence that I won’t have with Apple Arcade. I also prefer to purchase TV seasons on DVD or through Amazon Video that I can access any time, sub-free.

It’s a small thing and not really worth getting worked up about, but we’re definitely heading into a future where such subscription services are going to be pushing all-you-can-consume entertainment… as long as you keep paying that monthly fee. I’m not quite on board with that.

Sunday Serenade: Alphaville, A Hat in Time, X-Men Arcade, and more!

Time for another Sunday morning dose of random songs that I’ve been listening to this past week! Welcome to Sunday Serenade — now let’s crank the jams up with…

“Main Theme” from A Hat in Time — I vaguely recall that Syl recommended this album. In any case, its main theme is a jolly journey in the spirit of a fun comedy. Lifts the mood, it does.

“Junk Factory” from X-Men Arcade — This is overblown in that ’90s way, where repeatedly sampling someone spitting out the name “X-Men” warranted a whole track to itself. And yet… it’s frisky and fast-paced and dorky enough to be fun.

“Don’t Take the Money” by Bleachers — Just discovered this single, and man oh man am I impressed. It’s all about that ’80s-style gated reverb, and I’m so in love with the percussion that drives this forward. Listened to it about six times in a row.

“Main Theme” from Doom ZX Spectrum — I think we’ve all heard the Doom theme to death… but this ZX Spectrum version is wildly different and wildly catchy. It’s trying to do the best with that computer’s soundcard, and I appreciate the creativity on display here.

“Main Theme” from Cybernoid –– Another ZX title, and this one also boasting a neat earworm. It’s not fancy, but it’ll do, pig.

“Big in Japan/Forever Young (Live)” by Alphaville — If anyone tells you that Alphaville is dorky, then you need to stop being their friend. I’ve been on a concert-listening streak lately and loved this duo performance.

“Song 2 (Live)” by Blur — The lead-up to the actual tune is tremendous here, with the crowd shouting “WOOHOO!” on cue… and then the moment it explodes is amazing. It’s short but definitely my favorite version of this song.

Fallout New Vegas: Waking up with a splitting headache.

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2010’s Fallout New Vegas. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

It’s time for a brand-new retro gaming series here at Bio Break, and I was in the mood to tackle an RPG once more. Out of all of the titles I have sitting around, one popped out at me that (a) had developed a strong cult following and (b) I have never actually played before. And that is Fallout New Vegas.

This was a 2010 spin-off by Obsidian, not Bethesda, that was notable both for its very buggy state and its generally better “Fallout feel” than both Fallout 3 and 4. Maybe it was the fact that it stayed out in the American Southwest (shades of Fallouts 1 and 2), or perhaps it was a simply better designed and written game. As a big fan of the Fallout franchise, I’m really psyched to be trying this out for the first time! It’s probably going to be a lengthy series, but that’s OK — I have no where better to be at the moment.

I still get goosebumps every time I hear Ron Pearlman growl out, “War. War never changes.” at the start of the Fallout games. This beginning is different than most of the other Fallout titles in that my character doesn’t start in one of the underground Vaults but rather is a courier who is waylaid by some ne’er-do-wells outside of New Vegas and then shot through the head. That’s the start of the game. You’d think that’d be the end, but somehow I survive that and being buried alive. Not quite sure how, but I’m not complaining!

If war never changes, neither does the butt ugly character creation options that these games have. That up there is seriously the absolute best I could make a character — the females, in particular, look bizarre, like an alien stretched a human skin over a weird skull.

So instead of being dead forever, I wake up in the house of Doc in a quiet Mojave town. The house serves as the character creation process, and it’s pretty well-integrated as Doc gets to know who I am and I absolutely rob him blind of everything not nailed down.

Then — and here’s the worst part — I sell it all back to him. He didn’t seem to mind, and I needed the bottle caps.

By far, my favorite part of Doc’s house is the Vigor Tester, which is a stat allocation screen disguised as one of those old timey Western saloon games. The animations, descriptions, and labels on this are arresting and even hilarious (I particularly loved the descriptions for luck). I’m going for an all-around useful character build, as usual for these games, although I do make one unorthodox decision…

I’m sorry, but when a Fallout game gives you the option to toggle on bizarre encounters, you take that with a polite “Thank you, ma’am” and don’t look back. I am definitely not “the serious of temperament.”

It’s actually really easy to get geared up even before I leave Doc’s house. It certainly helps that there are weapons, ammo, and food lying around, and Doc gives me a bunch of bobby pins, a Pip-Boy, and even an old Vault-Tec jumpsuit before I head out. I can’t tell you how excited I am at this point — let me at this world already!

And so I step outside with a new face, a song in my heart, and vague instructions to head to the saloon and make myself useful. This right here reminds me so much of the soon-to-be-shuttered Fallen Earth that it hurts a bit. All in all, a good beginning to what I hope will be an epic journey.

Nostalgia Lane: Lemmings and Tetris

Back in the 1980s, I’d say that I was so game-starved that I would play just about anything that we could get access to and running on our aging IBM PC. And you know what ran on just about any computer at the time? Tetris.

I have a soft spot for puzzle games, and I think that Tetris is where all of this began. There was something so hypnotic and zen-like when I got into a long stretch of Tetris. I could shut my brain off and bask in the satisfaction of making the blocks line up just so. Seeing lines — and the occasional tetris — vanish was a thing of joy. I spent countless hours late in the evening playing this, and I think it helped a little to distract me from a lot of the problems that I was facing at school and in my own teenage-addled head.

One thing I get super-nostalgic for is the backgrounds that came with the PC version, like that space station up there. I vividly felt the influence of the Russians — then our sworn enemies — in every screen, and while that had a foreign feel to it, I couldn’t help but love the game even so.

And since I’m on the subject of puzzle games, let’s talk about Lemmings. Ah, Lemmings! This is what happens when you take constantly moving puzzle games, give them personality, and then allow the player to blow them up at will.

Lemmings was a game that really benefited from the improved VGA and SVGA graphics of the early 1990s. That allowed us to see smaller and more colorful sprites, and those sprites came in the form of green-haired lemmings who would wander around — usually right toward something that killed them — until you guided them safely to the next gate.

The ingenious part is that the players’ tools in this game were turning normal lemmings into special ones. You could make a lemming a digger who would dig straight down, for example, or one who would stop everyone from going past him, or one who would build a diagonal bridge. Trying to create a safe path for the majority to the gate while the lemmings were bustling about was nerve-wracking at times, but it was amusing as well. I never got tired of blowing them up! Probably why I never beat the game.

Flying transforms Battle for Azeroth questing

As I said on the Massively OP Podcast last week, I’m not going to defend Blizzard’s habit of continually taking away flying from us with each World of Warcraft expansion, but I have noticed that there’s a powerful psychological effect to being denied this for a year and then earning it back. The second I got flight in Battle for Azeroth, it was like I had hit New Game+ mode for the expansion.

That tied in really well to putting my Death Knight in dry dock (at least until Patch 8.2.5) and dusting off my neglected Gnome Hunter. I had left her at level 116 and only one zone partially done, so she had a lot to do. And now she had the convenience of sky transport to do everything that my DK had to do while staying on the ground.

Really, getting flight transformed everything. I stopped planning routes or calculating the time left on my flight whistle and just enjoyed the freedom of flitting around to points of interest as I willed.

I started exploring out-of-the-way locales that I had missed before, such as this abandoned ski resort where the penguins have taken over (and are apparently greatly enjoying themselves). And questing turned into a super-relaxing gig, since I could just snap up all of the quests in the area and then start gnawing through them in any order I wished. Seeing rares, mining nodes, or treasure chests became an exercise in mounting up and rushing over to snatch them.

Obviously, this all results in a much faster questing pace than before, which is fine with me. I’m trying to get my Hunter up to 120 by the time the next Timewalking event happens so that I can seriously gear her up in those dungeons over that week.

My Beastmaster changes up my playstyle from my AoE-happy Death Knight. I’ve had to do some tweaking and experimentation, but I’ve started to get into a good rotation that heavily favors pet damage and long-distance support. It’s not as easy to mow down huge crowds as with the DK, but I think it’ll be just fine once I get her stats up to spec.

In the meanwhile, I’ve started to work on her other objective, which is to become my Gadget Gal. I grabbed Engineering and Mining and got to work leveling those up, even though I have no idea how do Engineering in this day and age. It’s a huge mountain of crafting, but I am sure I can climb it one toehold at a time.

And I’ve really tried to work on theming her with this. I switched her over to some awesome Ghostbuster-like goggles and the most gadgety-type rifle in my inventory. I don’t have much for the rest of her gear, but I hope that’ll come in time.

I am super-pleased that I have two mechanical pets fighting for me: my robot squirrel Tippytoe and my brand-new mechanical chicken. Haven’t given her a name yet, but I’m sure it’ll be a pun. All of this is combining into a look that I really love, and I appreciate that I have the flexibility to pursue this goal to this extent. What do you think?

Losing steam with WoW Classic

Compared to the first week or two of WoW Classic, I can definitively say that I’m losing steam with my eagerness to log in and put in some serious play time with this version of the game. That doesn’t mean I’m done with it… just slowing down. Retail WoW and LOTRO are of more interest to me, so it’s hard to give Classic my all when I just want to log into those other titles instead.

And I guess I keep thinking of the long-term future of Classic, which bugs me. I mean, starting a new character is a lot of fun. Feeling that sense of progression is downright terrific, with talent points and expanding inventory and green gear that feels more precious than any purple in retail WoW. Yet what lies at the end of this road? What happens even midway down the road, when I hit level 40 and start slowing down in that progression, start seeing fewer quests, and start thinking far more about the big dead end wall that waits at the end here?

Maybe my brain has been hardwired to expect at least an illusion of a future from MMORPGs, because I’m having a hard time facing a game that (at least so far) has a stopping point with no development or expansion past that. Would the community — would my guild — pick up the slack to provide the “content” needed to fill this void? Or will I spend a hundred or so hours working on a toon that has no greater future?

Hey! I just saw some of your relatives in retail WoW the other day! They’re far better dressed and give their regards.

Anyway, I’ll get over myself here. I’m not done with Classic, in any case. In fact, I rolled up a new Troll Shaman the other night that I’m really starting to warm up to. My problem with the Tauren Shaman was always the bulk of the character and the thought of having to ride kodos at level 40, so a Troll seems like a better option for the class. Smaller, almost human-like in profile with a bit of punk attitude.

Something that I haven’t seen people talk about much is using questing guides to level more quickly and efficiently in Classic. Back in vanilla, I always used such guides because I hated having to hunt down the odd quest or spend too many hours doing nothing but grinding. Joana’s guide was a go-to for me, and I was pleased to see that it was still around. I was less pleased, however, to see that most of the guide is behind a $37 paywall. I guess if you put in the effort to create all of that, you have the right to charge for it, but that’s a chunk of money that is up there in the “buy a new game” realm for me.

How’s Classic going for you? Picking up steam, losing steam, or full steam ahead? Give me a steam rating on this.

LOTRO: Pirate for a day

While most of the MMO blogging community seems fully bogged down in WoW Classic these days, the first game that I keep going to every night is Lord of the Rings Online. It’s not as helter-skelter crazy as retail WoW can be, but it’s certainly more refined and overall more enjoyable than Classic. That’s just my gut check on it.

Enedwaith adventures continue apace. There’s this cadence to LOTRO’s quests that asks you to slow down a bit and go on small journeys. I am never trying to rush through them, because I know that each quest is going to require some travel time and usually a good dose of objective hunting and killing. So instead of getting into the mindset of “I must get all of these rings done ASAP” I put on some music and pick the first quest and focus down on it. It creates a very relaxing and satisfying experience overall as I knock them off one by one.

I feel that my Hobbit Minstrel is in a good place, all around. She’s got a ton of great outfits now, although I am hugely partial to the new (and free) armor set that SSG gave out a few weeks ago. It looks fantastic, especially with the blue kite shield that she boasts, and I don’t get tired of seeing her yell and slash bad guys down.

I will say that there’s a special loathing in my heart for the Wood Trolls of Enedwaith. They’re nothing difficult to fight, but they have this initial attack of lobbing a big chunk of dirt/rock if I’m trying to skirt by them — and they almost always knock me off my mount and force me to fight them even if I’m not in the mood. Dude. I have a headache. No fighting tonight, OK? Maybe tomorrow?

Egads, look at that purple sunset skybox. I never get tired of how pretty LOTRO’s world can be.

One nice thing about Enedwaith questing is that I feel that the reputation rewards work really well in this zone. I’ve been unlocking a few great emotes from the Grey Company, including a spin and a jump emote that looks adorable on a tiny Hobbit.

Last week the game ran the limited-time mission, The Tale of the Shipwrecked Mariner. I can’t recall if I had ever done this before, but as it was tied into Talk Like A Pirate Day, I made sure I put it on my calendar so as not to miss it.

Turns out that it’s a pretty lackluster excuse for an “event.” It really is just a single mission to go pick up stuff that a ship dropped when it got into an accident, and the only pirate-themed anything is the hat and eyepatch that you can get as a reward. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting an eyepatch for my wardrobe, but I kind of expected something… more. I mean, why not do something with the fantastic Inn of the Forsaken dungeon, which is totally Goonies/Pirate-themed? That’s just me, though.

Why I’ll never go to another video game convention again

Way back in the early days of working for Massively, I was almost embarrassingly eager to travel to trade shows and conventions on the company’s behalf. I had always been a smidge jealous of reading about E3 and the like in magazines and leaped at the chance to not just be able to go for free, but to go as a member of the media.

And it was, to tell the truth, pretty fun and exciting in parts. I did feel a little “special” getting that media badge, having access to a journalism room, and getting to sit down with developers who were making MMOs and grilling them about anything that came to mind. I loved seeing advance demos of games and satiating some of my personal curiosity that way. And the swag and connections that I made with others was a nice perk as well.

But after my second or third PAX, I started to realize that I really didn’t like these shows. In fact, I actually dreaded them. For every good thing that I could name about them, there was at least two “cons” that dragged the experience down.

The big ones? For starters, I do not function well in crowds. They make me feel claustrophobic, especially as a shorter guy who ends up staring at the shoulder blades of others. And trade shows and conventions are nothing BUT crowds, lines, and sweaty masses of humanity all trying to get to the same places you are.

I always felt stressed from the second I’d leave for these trips until I was on the way back home. Everything felt stressful: Going through air travel, finding the place for the media badge, finding my way around, rushing from appointment to appointment, and of course, the FOMO — fear of missing out — of not getting good swag or seeing whatever I truly wanted to see. Very often I would suffer physically with sicknesses or my chronic illness that tends to flare up in stressful situations.

I also didn’t enjoy myself. It really WAS work, and that’s something I’ve tried to convey to others interested in doing this sort of media junket. I’d estimate that about 85% of the day was spent rushing to a place, interviewing people, and rushing back to write up pieces on that. I didn’t get to call my own shots and determine my own destiny. I wasn’t there as most people were, to fulfill their own desires; I was there on behalf of a company and a readership. I did my utmost to do my best.

I had a more and more difficult time justifying the effort of going on these trips as the years went on and I had a family that would miss me — and I’d miss them. I felt so incredibly lonely on these trips, not going with anyone, just doing a job and then coming home. I hated telling my kids over the phone that I wasn’t there because dad was looking at video games. In that light, it felt kind of trivial.

One more thing, and I’ll stop my litany of complaints here. The real straw that broke my back on all of this was when we got to a point where MMO studios would start thrusting out press releases and information online at the same time I was doing interviews and demos about those things. I can’t tell you how disheartening it was to spend two, three hours working on a piece only to see that the studio’s PR team jumped the gun and posted all of the relevant info in a press release or dev blog that same day. If we weren’t getting any lead on the timing of the article, then the only reason to do it was perhaps getting to ask questions from an angle that no other outlet had done. And I can do that over email or the phone without the stress of travel.

So I stopped volunteering to do shows. I vastly more enjoy watching them from afar these days and still tune in with excitement to see what news comes out of them, but conventions — either as a regular dude or as a press dude — aren’t my thing any longer. It was interesting to do them, I’m happy with the work that I produced, and I don’t mean this to be any sort of critique against Bree or MOP. I’m just done with that part of my life and I wanted to explain why.

Sunday Serenade: Celeste, Age of Empires, Atlantis, and more!

Time for another Sunday morning dose of random songs that I’ve been listening to this past week! Welcome to Sunday Serenade — now let’s crank the jams up with…

“Scattered and Lost” from Celeste — I’m just now getting into this indie game soundtrack, and dang it if it isn’t amazing. The complexity and journey of this track is astounding, especially when it builds up into this rollicking tune.

“The Wind Gods” from Age of Empires — This franchise always did have the most relaxing and exotic-sounding tracks. When this particular one gets going (it takes a while), it becomes this earworm that’ll never leave.

“Sunriders” from Atlantis: The Lost Tales — This one sucks you right into its tribal chant, reminding me a lot of Baba Yet from Civ IV. It’s rich and incredibly replayable.

“Amphibia Theme” by Saturday Morning Acapella — Not familiar with this show at all, but it’s a catchy little tune… and I love highlighting this excellent channel.

“Au Revoir” by Cascada — Yes, all her songs have a very similar sound to them, but some are kinda catchy. I liked this one, despite the autotuning.

“The Passenger” by DJ Gollum — Sounds like this a remix of a very familiar song that I don’t care to Google at the moment. Nice if simple beat.

“Fast Track to Browntown” from Super Meat Boy — A genuinely awesome example from a genuinely awesome soundtrack. If you like your VGM old school and fast-paced, you got to go for this one.

Dagger of Amon Ra: Acts 5 and 6

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1992’s The Dagger of Amon Ra. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

The final part of Dagger of Amon Ra is a departure from a lot of what’s come before. Right away, the game transitions into a chase scene between Laura and her strangely robed (um, why?) murderous pursuer armed with a mace. There’s incredibly little time to do anything in a room before the killer barges in and insta-thwacks Laura’s skull, so this becomes all about precisely going to the right place and doing actions to stall the killer.

So, a LOT of trial and error. The stressful music adds to the not-fun feeling of all of this, but since it’s not that difficult to figure out what to do, I’m not complaining. At least Laura gets her cardio for the week.

During this chase sequence, Laura gets to see parts of the museum that were formerly hidden, such as (naturally) a sarcophagus room and a giant underground temple where people worship and sacrifice to the Egyptian god Amon Ra.

Um… wait, what? Could we go back to…

Guess not. So Laura gets captured by these happy folks, and the only way out is (drumroll)… hieroglyphic decoding! Not only do you have to solve two riddles, but you must do so with a hieroglyphic code that you had better copied down earlier in the game or else there’s absolutely no way to progress past this point. I can’t imagine how much of a kick in the pants this would feel for a player to be so near to the end of the game and yet 100% be unable to finish without resorting to an earlier save state.

My theory that Steve is the real murderer was dashed here when Laura discovers him tucked into a coal bin. Kind of wish that HE’D been the one bitten by a snake, but no such luck.

And just in case you were wondering, yes, there are so many ways to die in this last part. Laura practically ping-pongs between fatalities in Act V.

Ultimately — and I am not making this up — Laura leaves the underground temple and travels up through a secret passage that spits her out the mouth of a goofy looking T. Rex. Said dino also helps to capture the real killer, who dangles there without identification.

Of course, no good adventure game is complete without a test at the end, right? I am not joking. There’s an actual test. You have to have been looking for evidence, clues, and listening to conversations to figure out a whole series of whodunnits along with their motivations. That feels a little unfair, considering all that Laura has been through, but it’s in keeping with the investigative spirit of the game.

Solve all these and Laura becomes the talk of the town! Way to go, Laura, you’re swell.

So just in case you were wondering, the two main culprits of the game were Detective O’Riley and Watney Little. The latter was killed and the former gets 60 years of hard labor in prison. At least he gets to have his Scooby Doo monologue, promising vengeance in a sequel that never happened.

And so The Dagger of Amon Ra comes to an end. I had somewhat higher expectations for this game after hearing some people talk it up, but for me, it felt like an average Sierra game. Some yuk yuk jokes, some clever and infuriating puzzles, and some nice pixel animations. But the whole setup of the museum crimes and murders felt kind of ridiculous and nonsensical after a while, and I got extremely tired of all of the backtracking through the place.