Syp’s gaming goals for March 2020

February 2020 in review

  • This was both a busy month and a weird month. I had a vacation, ordination exams, and a lot of other stuff packed into a shorter time span. So while I didn’t get as much game time overall, I did manage to spread out more as the month went along.
  • Neverwinter remained a daily activity as I shot up into the 40s, plowed through questing areas, and started in on my first two campaigns with my Chaos Warlock.
  • I found it hard to resist the lure of Star Trek Online, especially with all of the 10th anniversary giveaways and new missions. I started up a new Federation captain and had her piloting a tier 6 science ship from the start.
  • After about a month of no activity in Lord of the Rings Online, things started to move forward once more thanks to the release of Riders of Rohan for the legendary server. I gamely started in on this huge expansion, seeing how many levels I could make by the month’s end.
  • I did get to play the new investigation mission in Secret World Legends, which is a statement I didn’t think I’d ever be writing again on this blog.
  • Elder Scrolls Online got a few play sessions — usually a mission apiece — as I attempted to wrap up Elsweyr. I also have been logging onto World of Warcraft trying to grind out my bee mount, which is a neverending task.
  • For Retro Gaming, I finished up Toonstruck and dabbled a bit in Masters of Magic.
  • I also had some fun building tiny houses in Sims 4, especially when I went on vacation and had the game on my laptop.

March 2020’s goals

  • I’m not in a pressing hurry to advance in Neverwinter, Star Trek Online, or Elder Scrolls Online, so those will all get maybe a mission every night so I can inch things along across the board. If I get to level 50 in Neverwinter, 20s in Star Trek Online, and move on to a new ESO area, I’ll be happy.
  • I have no illusions about finishing up LOTRO’s Riders of Rohan in a month, but it would be great to at least get halfway through it by March’s end. It’s hard to tell with the decreased XP rate, but hitting level 85 doesn’t seem out of the question, either.
  • For Retro Gaming, I’ll be (re)attempting to blog through Chrono Trigger if the Steam version doesn’t barf on me like it did last time.
  • I’m mulling over some single-player game options right now, but I haven’t made up my mind on what I want to do there. Leaning toward getting into Divinity Original Sin 2, as that’s been on my backlog for a while. I also would really like to check out Sea of Thieves one of these days, but… time. We’ll see.

What are you up to in gaming these days? I’m always interested to hear what everyone’s been playing, so sound off in the comments or on Twitter!

Toonstruck: Nefarious H.Q.

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1996’s Toonstruck. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Things have never looked more dire for Drew. Separated from a mind-addled Flux, stripped of all of his possessions, and locked away in Nefarious’ dungeon, what chance does he have? Guess we’ll find out!

Escaping isn’t too difficult; Drew uses a dusty mat to make the guard sneeze himself unconscious — and sneeze out the key inside of his nose. Gross, but we’ll allow it. And speaking of gross, Drew soon has to transform himself into…

…to climb a vent. Don’t worry, it’s just a costume. I do get a kick out of seeing Lloyd spin around as he transforms, though.

So here’s a free tip that I’m going to give to all of you: If you come upon a clown-shaped door like this in your life… don’t go through it. Nothing that’s worth it lies on the other side of that painted maw.

Drew doesn’t heed my advice and therefore encounters Spike the Clown. Forget about It; Spike is the real deal in the scary clown business. He’s certifiably insane — and loves to torture balloon animals. There’s a backstory there, I think. In as many words, Spike admits that Miss Fortune electrifies his brain for the amusement of Nefarious. “Poor, poor clown” Drew says in a first for human history. In a fit of mercy, Drew secretly drugs Spike’s red nose and puts him to sleep.

It’s about this time that Drew experiences his first fit of turning into a toon himself. That’s an old hat for Christopher Lloyd, of course.

This game had gone way, way too long without a choreographed gator ice skating routine, and so we have a break for one. Actually, Drew iced up Nefarious’ bathroom floor and these gator guards end up skating right out of the window. Clever!

Earlier in the game, Drew met a couple of frog brothers who were lamenting how their third brother had gotten kidnapped. I was mildly impressed that he turned up in a chest in Nefarious’ castle. At least he was useful for some exposition, namely that Nefarious was working on a warp device to break into our world. Sounds like just the thing to get Drew home!

I only now noticed that Nefarious’ trio of henchmen are just pencil outlines of cartoons — kind of like how animators will start drawing a character. That’s pretty clever too.

OK, this was pretty funny. So Drew puts some TNT in a turkey (stuffing!) and sends it up to gator guards in a rec room. They try to eat it, the TNT explodes, and all of them turn into… alligator skin purses, boots, and belts. Took me a second and then I laughed.

There’s another funny bit when Drew attempts to get some sunglasses in a storage room and ends up wrecking the place as the glasses keep eluding his grasp. If you ever wanted to see Christopher Lloyd wearing a blind donkey’s head, this is the game for you.

One of the big criticism that ’90s FMV games get is how awkward the characters interact with the scenery and items. Toonstruck gets major points in my book for making most of the cartoon/Drew interaction very seamless, including all of the cartoon props that Drew uses — such as these sunglasses, which reflect Miss Fortune’s hypnotic gaze back to her.

After an entire second act of farting around Nefarious’ castle without Flux, Drew finally gets the warp device and hijacks the Malevolator. He blasts Nefarious and Fluffy and then transforms Flux back into his old self — seconds before the two crash and plummet to their doom. Drew activates the warm device and heads back home…

…where he attempts to pitch The Flux & Fluffy Show to his boss. Ben Stein ain’t having it, and dejected, Drew returns to his office yet again. Except that now, Flux contacts him and tells him that Nefarious and Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun are still on the loose and the cartoon world needs Drew once more. As the toon mutagen takes effect, Drew is sucked back into that weird place…

And that’s it for Toonstruck! Apart from a couple of frustrating puzzles, I have nothing but high praise to give this game. It’s well-done across the board with plenty of funny lines, entertaining cartoon cutscenes, and a terrific performance by Lloyd, Curry, and Castellaneta. It’s a crying shame that plans for a sequel — which the ending clearly sets us up for — was scrapped after the adventure game bust of the late ’90s.

Battle Bards Episode 163: EverQuest upgraded

The Battle Bards return to the verdant fields of EverQuest for a look at the updated and remastered soundtrack that came out last year. If you only know EverQuest’s music in its MIDI format, why not venture into the modern era of the game’s score? It’s a trip down Norrath lane, just slightly belated from the MMO’s 20th anniversary!

Episode 163 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Main Theme,” “Boomba’s Exchange,” and “Faydwer’s Dusk”)
  • “The Jaunty Bardic Song”
  • “Dawn Over Norrath” 
  • “The Gates of Qeynos” 
  • “The Gypsy’s Trek”
  • “Faydark”
  • “Halfling Habits” 
  • “Norrathan Seas” 
  • Which one did we like most?
  • Listener note from Zinn
  • Jukebox Picks: “Victor X” from Ion Fury, “Et Ratio Principalis” from Control, and “Isabelle Battle Theme” from Shadowverse
  • Outro (feat. )

Elder Scrolls Online: Floating heads make the best enemies

I swear, wherever I go in Elder Scrolls Online, I feel like I’m on the set of Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones. The environmental artists in this game don’t get enough credit for how amazing they make this world look. I’d gladly use these visuals for most every other fantasy MMO if I could, just transplant in their quests, classes, and features.

Anyway, more gradual questing through Elsweyr. I think I’ve done most of the side quests that I’ve found (apart from dailies) and am focusing more on the main quest line that involves dragons and necromancy and more dragons and more necromancy. If only there was a floating, talking head to round things out…

Whew! That makes a bingo for me!

At this point, I want to be done with Elsweyr, not because the land is unenjoyable, but because I want the sense of progression and progress. You can’t quite get that until you can check off an expansion or region, and I know that there is so much else that’s out there in the world.

My Warden is nearing level 30 — levels are coming quite slowly now, especially since I don’t play as often. I probably should be popping experience potions more. I kind of forget all of the pots I have in my bag, but let me tell you, those daily rewards really fill you up. “Here,” they say, “have another 50 poison potions. Wait, did I say 50? I meant 100.”

Speaking of daily rewards, February’s been a profitable month for that calendar. Usually you have to log in for 21 days to get the One Big Reward (lots of gold, a costume, a pet), but in February, it’s three decent rewards, one per week. I think there’s a hat, then tattoos, and then a pet. That’s pretty nice. With update 25, they’re going to make us re-download the client (so sorry for the data capped folks) but give us a nice torchbug pet as a present.

One of my favorite quests that I ran last week involved navigating a not-too-tricky labyrinth that was dotted with tons of traps but few enemies. I liked how showy the traps were and how you could avoid them if you paid close attention to the environment. Sometimes I triggered the flame traps just to have fun running through them all. Whee! It’s like a very hot sprinkler!

So far I haven’t pre-ordered Greymoor yet. Probably won’t buy it for a while, at least not with all of the other zones that have to be explored. I do want to see the icy lands of Skyrim by the year’s end, however.

Nostalgia Lane: Doom

1992’s Wolfenstein 3-D introduced many of us to the fast, silky-smooth world of first-person shooters, to the point where my friends and I poured dozens if not hundreds of hours into it. But two years later, id Software bested itself with its best-known game ever — and helped to further revolutionize the FPS genre.

In late 1993, Doom arrived on the scene. It was fast, it was bloody, it was violent, it was immensely popular, and it was vilified by politicians and media alike. For myself, I felt downright scandalized the first time I played it, due to Doom’s dark themes (you’re literally fighting demons from hell in an isolated Mars facility). I also started to see the potential for FPS games with Doom’s jump to 2.5-D that included ramps and different elevations on the same map.

I don’t remember the first time I ever played Doom, but I know that it was incredibly hot right from the get-go. It was the shareware era, after all, where everyone was encouraged to make copies and share the first episode of all of these games between friends, so Doom spread like a contagious virus.

What I do recall was the slick production values that greeted me when I started in on the first level. Doom simply *worked*. It had a fast frame rate that supported a whole lot of action and events on the screen, and zooming through the levels firing weapons like a crazed lunatic was a mindless joy in and of itself.

Boy, was it bloody, though. I mean, looking at it today it’s almost quaint with its pixelated graphics, but there was still a whole lot of blood ‘n’ guts to go around. I guess that after fighting Nazis in Wolfenstein, id figured that the next best cannon fodder for a shooter would be hell’s spawn. Hard to argue that we’re on the side of evil if we are actively gunning it down, right?

Doom also had a way better arsenal than Wolfenstein (which just had the same gun in various rates of fire). There was a basic pistol, a chainsaw (which gave us feelings of being Ash from The Evil Dead), a plasma rifle, and the BFG 9000. Finding and feeding this arsenal prompted a lot of exploration through each level, because sometimes the best stuff was hidden or tucked away in easy-to-miss passages.

While I did play Wolfenstein, Doom, and especially Duke Nuke Em in the 1990s, they never really were my mainstay the way that FPS games were to others. They were guilty pleasures, ways to blow off steam for a half-hour here and there, but I would usually gravitate more toward RPGs and RTSs if I was looking for something a little more long term. As such, I completely skipped over id’s Quake and other late-1990 shooters.

Missing the Guild Wars 2 that was, not is

While I never talk about it, every evening I do log into Guild Wars 2. This is part of a quick rotation of games that I currently play or might play again that I do in order to grab daily rewards. Plus, logging in to GW2 unlocks the living world chapters when they come. So it’s kind of hedging on a possible gaming future.

Yet I’m just not sure that I want to play Guild Wars 2… maybe ever again. I wish that was not the case. The core game? I love the core game. I think ArenaNet was at the top of its game with the release of Guild Wars 2 and the way it crafted a world that was fun to explore and engage with public events. In a different universe, I could see development skewing more to feeding us casual-friendly players — particularly with the addition of proper housing.

That’s not the way Guild Wars 2 went. Instead, we got grindy masteries and fractals and — I still don’t know why — raids. Mounts seemed cool, but the game seemed like it drifted far away from what I used to know and love about it.

The other week, ArenaNet actually broke its silence to talk with its fans about the content coming for the game. Obviously, after last year’s studio gutting, Guild Wars 2 isn’t on fire as it once was. Even so, I’d hoped to see something really encouraging from what the remaining team had been up to. Instead… more fractals. More raids. More of stuff that isn’t that appealing and doesn’t call out to me to come back.

It would be much easier to hate on a game and denounce it once and for all. But I think MMO gamers know that special agony of loving a game as it used to be, not as it is at the present. Sometimes change is not for the better at all.

But hey, who knows. Maybe I’ll give GW2 some more time off and revisit it then and enjoy what I can. Maybe I’ll get through all of the living world stuff and expansions I have yet to do. And maybe, just maybe, Guild Wars 3 will emerge one day. For now, however, I’ll log in, grab my goodie bag, and log off without feeling a second of compulsion to actually play.

Sims 4: Making teeny tiny homes

The Sims 4 seems to be really popular in our household at the present. It’s one of those games I feel fine setting my kids loose in, because it’s much more about creation and experience than rampant destruction and violence. For me, it scratches that itch of wanting to create the perfect virtual abode and see how the computer people go about living in it.

This past month, Sims 4 released its Tiny Living stuff pack to feed into the huge Sims tiny house community. I think it’s more fun designing small houses anyway, with the added challenge of making everything fit and functional. It is tough, and perhaps the toughest part is coming up with an idea for a home that works. I’ve been noting some other creations to draw elements from, but I did want to see what I could do under my own steam.

So this here is my first micro home (as defined by being 32 squares or fewer). You get the most buffs from it but have the least space, so it’s not really something you’d want more than a couple of folks living in.

It may not look like much on the outside, but I am still proud of it. I incorporated columns, turned a wastecan into what looks like a pseudo-well, and lined my walk with a dozen or so tea light bags.

Inside, the home definitely shines. It’s a two-room house (the bathroom always needs to be separate or the Sims freak out when they have to use the toilet). I’m electing not to use the new Murphy bed in my tiny homes because of their tendency to kill Sims, so I tried instead to pick furniture that would look at home in a lodge.

The centerpiece of the house is the fireplace. Initially I was reluctant to put something that large into the space, but it really gives the place character — especially when a fire is lit. There’s the bed area, a TV/entertainment area, and what I think is a pretty cozy kitchenette. The counter can be used for both food prep and eating, which is a neat trick that I saw somewhere.

To make this all work, I definitely had to fine-tune it with the “moveobjects” cheat code. Some rooms and objects — like the toilet — wouldn’t work unless they were scooched over just a bit. I also love the fact that someone showed me how you can put up different kitchen cabinet options. None of those are functional, but they really do look great even in a packed home.

I’m not quite done with the house; I’d like to add some more clutter and decorations where I can fit them. But for the most part, it’s done. The yard is going to need a lot of work, but that’s for the future.

I never have completed a full year of a Sims 4 household, so maybe that needs to be next. It’s just that building homes is something way more entertaining than living in them.

Toonstruck: Flushing for fish

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1996’s Toonstruck. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

We begin today’s jaunt in Toonstruck by flushing for fish. In Zanydu, obviously. I love how casual Drew takes all of the weirdness of this world. He understands cartoon rules, being a cartoonist, so I guess that all makes sense.

I mean, if you know cartoon rules, you’ll know how easy it is to kill a vulture by feeding it poison meat. ‘Course, you could do that to normal, non-cartoon vultures as well, but we here at Bio Break do not condone killing the most majestic of birds.

So yeah, lots of bouncing back and forth between areas to use one item to get another. And also to infect my brain with scenes that I dearly wish I could scrub clean. Punisher Polly, why won’t you get out of my nightmares?

Because I love you so much and I know how sensitive you are to spoilers, I won’t reveal the AMAZING SECRET that is locked away in this cupboard. But it is. Truly amazing, I mean. Would blow. your. mind. if you only knew. Whew! So amazing!

For the final ingredient for the Cutifier, Drew and Flux have to do some serious bowling in the Malevolands. This involves making a “bear trap” (gluing a bowling ball to a bear) and then bowling for a strike using Flux as the ball. Eh, whatever works. And as Flux said, “For a minute there I was afraid you’d have to shoot me out of your butt!” Er… what now?

This right here is the ultimate goal of the first part of the game — to collect and assemble 12 items into the Cutifier. They’re all pun opposites of what’s in the Malevolator, such as a roasting spit to the Malevolator’s polish.

So the good news is that Drew and Flux are able to use the machine to reverse all of the damaging effects that Nefarious did to Cutopia. The bad news? It turns out that King Hugh has gone a little off his rocker… well, a LOT off his rocker. He orders Drew to use the machine to turn every land cute, including Zanydu and the Malevolands — and Hugh won’t help Drew get home until he does it. Drew refuses, and Hugh unmasks to reveal that he’s…

Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun! OK, I saw the “Hugh being evil” thing coming, but not the fact that he was actually a bunny (who apparently kidnapped and imprisoned the real King Hugh). In the ensuing 10 minute cutscene, Flux gets zapped and gets a mental transformation, Drew goes on the run from the guards, Nefarious’ minions show up, and Drew gets kidnapped and brought to Nefarious’ castle.

And that’s not the end of it! Seriously, it’s a very long mid-game cutscene. Nefarious shows up to taunt Drew and attempt to turn him over to his cause. Drew discovers that he’s been injected with a serum that will transform him into a toon himself (which is a weird counterpoint to Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s mystery dip) — and to make matters worse, Nefarious’ number two, Miss Fortune, hypnotizes Drew and gets him to tell them where the Cutifier is and what Drew intends to do to escape. It’s certainly a very dark moment for our heroes!

Star Trek Online: These are the voyages of the Kuchi Kopi

It is time. After taking a full year off playing Star Trek Online in 2019, I felt that it was a perfect time — especially with the 10th anniversary in full swing — to return. And you know me, that means starting alllll over again instead of picking up where I left off. It’s just more satisfying that way, you know?

Plus, this time I can test out the newish ability to play a Tier 6 ship all the way from the start through endgame without swapping out ships numerous times. I have a trio of T6s unlocked on my account, so after some deliberation, I went with the updated Pathfinder (science) ship. It wasn’t a carrier, which is my usual preference, but I always have loved the look and function of science ships, and this one even comes with an aeroshuttle combat pet. So it’s like a mini-carrier in that regard.

The first night I came back to STO, I don’t think I did a single mission. Instead, I spent a couple of hours working on making a character and designing her outfit. This above look was a work-in-progress — the picture at the top of this post is my final result.

So meet Myfanwy, captain of the Kuchi Kopi (a nod to Bob’s Burgers). I had fun customizing the ship as well, choosing more “chunky” elements and those really neat nacelles that have stabilizer-like fins that move when it goes in and out of warp.

It’s pretty astounding to think that we’re already a full decade into this game. When Star Trek Online launched in 2010, it was a far more ramshackle deal with half-baked systems and lopsided factions. Now we have an MMO that’s fleshed out with expansions, races, eras, hundreds of shops, and a half-dozen factions.

I do think that a giant hologram proclaiming the name of the game and its age is a bit immersion-breaking to put right in the middle of Stardock, but I’ll allow this indulgence.

Finally, my voyages were underway. I’m tempted to jump into the 10th anniversary stuff, but it’s not going anywhere and I want to get into the groove with this crew first. Right now, I’m logging in to do about two missions a night and then moving on to a different game. No sense chugging when there’s no urgency for it.

I will say that I have missed the gameplay — the stories, the ship battles, and yes, even the ground combat. I think the ground combat gets a lot of jibing when it’s honestly not that bad. There aren’t many MMOs that let you lead around your own personal army all the time, so as a pet guy, I always feel like I’m fielding a crew of them.

And let’s not forget all of the cameos. Hearing Spock’s voice from time to time gave me a bit of a heart-twinge at Nimoy’s passing, but it’s good to know that he and others have a legacy in this game as well.

A friend said the other day that Star Trek Online’s writing team does an amazing job bringing all of the different shows and plot threads together — and that it often does this far better than the shows do (especially the newer ones). I kind of agree with this. The Discovery/Picard era shows feel so far removed from Star Trek even though they can be enjoyable on their own terms. But I’m having a hard time mentally meshing them with what came before. Maybe the MMO can be the bridge there.

New solo games I want to play in 2020

Last week, PC Gamer asked its community what games everyone was looking forward to playing this year. While I’ve talked about the MMOs and updates that I’m anticipating, I haven’t spoken as much about solo games. That’s partially because I have too many on my backlog as it is, but also because it’s not where my head is at most of the time. But if I had to pick a half-dozen or so titles that I wouldn’t mind playing in 2020, they would be…

Cyberpunk 2077

Everyone seems to be hotly anticipating this one. I’m more like lukewarm anticipating while I wait to see what the final product looks like. The cyberpunk setting is a huge draw, though, and I hope to Keanu that the studio gets it right.

Space Haven

This Rimworld-esque colony sim should be going into “stable early access” this year, and I will be there for day one. It looks amazing and if it’s even half as good as Rimworld but with pixel art, then I’ll be so content.

Bloodlines 2

Having just played through Bloodlines 1 last year for retro gaming, sure, I’ll see what the fuss is about when the sequel arrives. Not the biggest vampire fan in the world, but the first game nailed a great setting and roleplay experience. Here’s hoping for a solid follow-up.

Age of Empires IV

May AoE4 herald the great return of the real-time strategy game! I deeply love the Age of Empires series and can’t wait to see what the fourth installment will be like.

Baldur’s Gate 3

Mostly because I liked the second game — like any other RPG fan, I wager — I’ll be on board with this title. I know very little about it, so I’ll wait until a release date grows near to do some serious research.

Wasteland 3 & Wasteland Remastered

Man, I need to play Wasteland 2, don’t I? It’s been sitting in my bin forever. But the third game, set in the Rockies, has been getting some serious buzz. AND the studio just announced that it’s remastering the first game, which definitely deserves a shot. Can do a whole trilogy with modern aesthetics now.

The Outer Worlds DLC

I think Obsidian said that it’s working on DLC for Outer Worlds, so here’s hoping we see some in 2020. It was a great game and I’ll be wanting to replay it — but I’ll probably wait until there’s some more content in it for a second try.