A return to WAR, a return to the WAAAGH!

Twelve years. That’s how long it has been since I last logged into Warhammer Online. I was all hyped and blogging about this game back in 2008 and dove into it head-first… for about a year. By the end of 2009, I was washed out in it, realizing that while it had many strengths, the fact that it was a PvP game at heart meant that I would never be quite at home in it.

And since the game was cancelled back in 2013, that meant that there wasn’t any way to return. That is, until a volunteer crew established the Return of Reckoning server a little while back and made it one of the more popular MMO emulators out there. Since that happened, I’ve had it on my to-do list to dip back into WAR and revisit this title after over a decade away from it.

Making a new account, downloading, and logging into Return of Reckoning was incredibly easy. I’m very impressed how smooth it all went, although I had a moment of worry when I saw that the game’s sole server was located in Europe. How bad would the latency be?

I always regretted making a Dwarf Engineer my main back in the day, because I knew in my heart of hearts that the Squig Herder was right for me. I think it might have been a factional guild thing, too, but in any case, this is what I wanted to try.

The first thing that impressed me about WAR here is how active the chat was, especially the advice channel that was enthusiastic and welcoming. The second thing was the user interface. It totally skipped my mind how big and colorful the icons were, and I still get a thrill out of opening the Tome of Knowledge to this day. It’s a great idea. Wish other games would’ve stolen this idea.

I’d heard that some of the quest text didn’t make it in the conversion, so I was worried that all of it was missing. It was with some measure of relief that I saw this wasn’t the case (at least, not that I experienced).

Poor dwarfie. At least his beard will live on.

Unfortunately, combat was a noticeable weak point in my first couple of sessions. There was a lot of lag between activating skills and seeing them go off, no noticeable aggro from bad guys until you were standing on their face, and both my pet and mobs would just face random directions while attacking. That’s really disappointing, considering how essential combat is to this game.

Nostalgia Lane: Flightmare

The underlying mission of doing Nostalgia Lane posts on this site is to reclaim lost bits of my memory — games that were moved into long-term storage decades ago and haven’t been seen since.

There was a particular game from my IBM PC days that I vaguely recalled — something about airplanes and bright magenta graphics — but I couldn’t remember the name. Then I stumbled across it a couple of days ago and experienced that pleasing rush of reclamation as long-term storage surged back into the forefront.

So the game that I was trying to think of was Flightmare, a 1984 title that remains a rather unique experience. It’s set during a post-apocalyptic world where all of the bad guys have total control of ground vehicles and the good guys have all of the planes. For some reason. Just go with it.

As a plane, your job is to fly out and intercept the motorcycles, trucks, and rockets that are gunning for your factories and airfields. If they reach them, they’re toast, and since the factories make new planes and the airfield stores them, this is a problem.

When you do intercept an incoming force, the game switches to the above screenshot that tries to simulate 3D in a non-3D gaming era. You get two views of your plane — from above and from the side — and you have to switch lanes from the above view and then dive down in the side view to blast the bad guys. This gets REALLY tricky when you have to shoot  the tires from a truck, since you can only do that when the truck goes up a hill — and those hills want to smash your plane like nobody’s business.

While all of this is happening, the world map keeps moving, so there’s an immense pressure to wrap up fights and jet to the next ones. But you also have to keep an eye on fuel and ammo, docking with a blimp when you’re low on either.

Flightmare was really tough, I remember, but pretty fun too. It was pure action with a little bit of snark in the form of battlefield messages from your foes and inspirational slogans from your side. I’ll always remember “Win one for the Gipper” from this game way before I knew who the “Gipper” actually was.

Sam and Max Hit the Road: You’re my only hope

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1993’s Sam and Max Hit the Road. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

The Mystery Vortex only gets all the more mysterious the further that Sam and Max explore it. I think the upside-down room made me dizzy for a brief few seconds, but you can always flip your computer monitor over, right?

What’s interesting here is that there’s another melting display of ice, another missing Bigfoot (this one named “Bert”), and another patch of fur left behind.

To be fair, Max totally did say that when the pair go to the Mystery Vortex. Sometimes he’s pretty insightful, our little insane rabbit.

Also tucked inside the Mystery Vortex is another mole man, this one running on a hamster wheel rather than watching TV. He’s also a scooch psychic, so he offers to help point Sam and Max in the direction of Bruno the Bigfoot.

All paths lead to Frog Rock, where a UFO appears with yet another mole man who tells the pair to head to Bumpusville. Even with clear direction, they’re both disappointed that “Frog Rock” doesn’t look anything like a frog.

The next stop on this bizarre road trip is Bumpusville, the home of the world’s greatest country music star. “If we ever get this rich and famous, I want you to shoot me, Sam,” Max quips.

Inside the mansion, a bunch of talking animal heads spin the legend of John Muir, who was really big in the animal world. It’s pretty funny that Max is seeing all of this, but Sam doesn’t hear a thing and thinks Max is just being inconsiderate of dead animals.

Hey, it’s Bruno and Trixie — and they’re being held captive by Conroy Bumpus, who performs a whole musical number to sing about how he loves to capture the most strange and bizarre animals. When all of the animal heads on the wall started singing like Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, I lost it.

“That was gratuitous,” said Max.

“Sorry,” replied Sam.

World of Warcraft: Doing Druids wrong

You guys, I’m pretty sure I’m Druiding *all wrong* in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. First of all, I went with Maldraxxus for my covenant, even though the Druid Union stipulates that all nature-loving shapeshifters must pledge with the Night Fae and drink herbal tea whilst sitting on a recliner made of flowers.

And as I’m consorting with zombies and skeletons, I’ve also taken to wearing the above outfit that I’m calling “Death Druid.” I totally love the fact that I got my first non-cape back piece, which is sort of a small backpack with this flag/spear standard.

Anyway, I’m digging my life decisions here. Every night I’ve been logging on and choosing different things to do. Sometimes it’s pursuing a calling, sometimes it’s doing a renown quest chain, sometimes it’s just farming or Torghast running.

Speaking of Torghast, I have to question if Blizzard is really doing it justice in the rewards department. Other than running it for currency to make legendary items, I’m failing to see the point of it. You don’t get loot drops like you do in dungeons, and there are only four cosmetic rewards tied with very specific twisted hall achievements. I feel that Torghast should be dropping all sorts of desirable loot — pets, mounts, cosmetics — but other than soul ash, the only thing I’ve seen here are two champions that I recruited to use at my adventure table.

So I don’t get why we’re going to be doing Torghast for the long haul, unless there are rewards or long-term benefits I’m not seeing. I mean, it’s not like you can wear more than one legendary.

Anyway, I did want to share the above picture there because I thought it was an excellent little quest tucked into a chain. My character got thrown in jail, and the only way out was with a bit of necromancy. In this case, reanimating a skeleton arm that could only hop and platform its way to a release lever. I thought it was funny and clever, the type of MMO quest that shows me that devs have imaginations.

I really suppose I should be doing more Maw stuff, but to be honest, I feel lost in there every time I go. I don’t know where to go for rares and side objectives, since I don’t see them popping up on the map. And it’s disheartening to roam accidentally into a super-dangerous place, die, and then have to do a hard corpse run to get stygia back. I’d appreciate more direction in there, is what I’m saying.

Deathtrap Dungeon was a great way to revisit an old paperback classic

Thanks to a recommendation from Contains Moderate Peril’s Roger and a 70% off sale, I picked up 2020’s Deathtrap Dungeon over the holidays. This book was one of my favorites as a kid, and I vividly remember reading through it while on a Boy Scout camping trip one summer. This time, I roped my son in to go through the experience with me, helping to advise and make choices.

So Deathtrap Dungeon was one of those choose-your-own-adventure books that also factored in RPG elements, and it ended up being one of the best pocket dungeon crawls you could ask for back then. What they did here was to recreate the whole book as a narrated FMV, where the player makes decisions at key points, interacts with inventory, and engages with combat.

At the core of this is actor Eddie Marsan, who effectively plays the game master. Sitting in a cracked red leather chair, Marsan narrates all of the action and description without hurry. Sometimes he was a little too slow for my liking, which made me pour over details like his suit and the set dressing around him, but I think he was ideal for this kind of game. He’s got a good voice for narration, the kind that kicks the imagination into overdrive.

My son and I went through an entire game, which took us something like three hours from start to finish. There are numerous save points along the way, so if we encountered a game over or hated a decision we made, we could go back. But since it branches so much, it’s not like you could see everything in one run.

We did enjoy it, I’ll say that. My son squirmed at a lot of the tough choices we made and repeatedly got frustrated that I was more daring in my decisions than he would be. Yet daring even so, we didn’t have enough gems to win the game at the end, which I felt was the weakest point of the whole deal. There’s nothing like getting right to the finish line and having the game say, yeah, you didn’t get all of the items you need, so you should probably start over.

I’m patient to a degree, but not that patient.

So for $3.60, I feel like I got a good run with this title. It was definitely different, and I can’t remember the last time after the 1990s that I even played an FMV game. Gabriel Knight 2, I suppose. They didn’t inspire a great legacy.

Sunday Serenade: The Triplets, The Tech Thieves, 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… 

“You Don’t Have to Go Home Tonight” by The Triplets — This was a new oldie to me! Great guitar solo in there, too.

“Places We Won’t Walk” by Bruno Major — So sad. So beautiful.

“Forget” by The Tech Thieves — This has got some of that dark spin on it that makes it savory.

“The Dreamer” by The Tallest Man on Earth — The distorted electric guitar, thumping beat, and whistling make for a unique (and addictive) experience.

“Party Like It’s 1920” by The Swinghoppers — Electroswing is a thing? I guess? It’s pretty peppy, even though I’m not a big fan of swing music.

Nostalgia Lane: 9 more Atari 2600 games I liked

I’m going to try to work on cleaning out my drafts folder in the new year, so here’s a list that I started a while back of nine Atari 2600 games that I remember fondly

Desert Falcon: While it didn’t look as good as the 7800 version, obviously, it was kind of impressive that the 2600 could pull off a diagonal shooter like this. It was one of the late-era 2600 games and a lot of fun.

Superman: This was SUCH a confusing game, especially for kids, but I remember watching my babysitter play it and be impressed with all of the different features that the game designers tried to cram into this title.

Spider-Man: Basic, sure, but Spider-Man actually delivered on the core concept of wall-climbing and web-shooting. A little imagination behind it, and it was a fun distraction.

E.T.: Everyone loves to dump on this game in the modern era, but I have a different perspective. First of all, it’s not like we could just return games or buy new ones; getting a new Atari game back in the early 1980s was a big deal, and so we played the heck out of whatever it was. And I actually liked the complex gameplay. Pulling off a successful run in this game felt like a good achievement.

Megamania: I won’t lie — I played this to totally pretend I was piloting the Enterprise. I’m sure I wasn’t alone. And it was a far better Space Invaders-style game than Space Invaders.

Tennis: Activision had ALL the good games on this system, I swear. Even Tennis was kind of addicting, and a good two-player game with great controls. I played my mom in this all the time.

Defender: One of the best things about the 2600 was that many of its games let you slip into this zen-like state of just playing without thinking about it too much. Defender was like that, and I spent many afternoons shooting aliens and rescuing falling people before they went splat.

Astroblast: A halfway decent shooter that had a wide range of colorful and bizarre shapes to blast.

Chopper Command: Who didn’t love that sunset? Oh, and those tight controls and highly engaging gameplay as you piloted the most lethal choppa in the world?

Yakkity Yak, don’t talk back World of Warcraft!

While I probably know a lot more about how World of Warcraft’s various systems work, my wife exceeds me in one significant way: She makes gold in ways that I could only dream about. She’s far better at playing the auction house and finding ways to meet market supply, and as a result, gold just flows into her account in Scrooge McDuck amounts.

But because she loves me — and because she ended up stealing my old account with all of the good unlocks — she does throw a lot of gold my way for tokens and other trivialities. It actually allowed me to purchase one of my most-wanted items over the holiday, the big ol’ yak mount from Mists of Pandaria.

Even for a purchase from an older expansion, 120,000 gold isn’t insignificant (that’s a WoW token these days). However, this isn’t an impulse purchase. The yak comes with a repair vendor and a transmogifier, both of which I use pretty much all the time in WoW. I’m forever looking for one or the other, and now I have both, permanently, on all of my characters. That’s worth 120k gold to me.

I’ve had some good fun with my Druid over the holidays. Her gear is settling into the heroic dungeon range and I’m getting on top of the whole daily/weekly cycle without feeling overwhelmed any more.

One of the things that has helped me connect more with this character was playing around with her talents. In particular, taking the ability to summon a trio of treants for 10 seconds every minute has proved to be one of the most fun abilities in her arsenal to use. The damage is nice, but having their powerful taunts means that I can pull them out to help dungeon groups or get a reprieve to fire off some heals.

I even dared to start healing heroic dungeons once I felt my gear was good enough to do so. I go back and forth between DPS and healing, and both have advantages. DPS is more relaxing and less stressful, but healing gets me into groups faster and features a nice change of pace.

Sam and Max Hit the Road: Tall twine tales

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1993’s Sam and Max Hit the Road. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Next up on the Sam & Max tour — the World’s Largest Ball of Twine! So large, in fact, that you have to take a lift chair up to see the top of it.

“It’s places like this that make me wish I was Canadian!” Sam grouses.

“They got one too, but half of it’s French,” the museum caretaker replies.

If you’re not exploring every dialogue and observation option, you’re missing out on so many great jokes. Trust me on this.

With Weird Al’s “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” playing in my head, Sam and Max take the tram to the ball’s summit, where a small restaurant resides. Sam makes mention of grabbing the loose end of the twine because, “you always need a large piece of string in games like this.” True dat.

As you can tell from even this post alone, Sam & Max doesn’t have any qualms against repeatedly breaking the fourth wall. It’s part of the charm, that it’s so self-aware, and one of the features of the goofier adventure games from the era (see Space Quest and Curse of Monkey Island for other good examples).

Getting the loose piece of string is, as is typical in adventure games, extremely roundabout. But it’s clever, too! Players who notice that the chef at the Ball of Twine restaurant is chopping off fish heads might remember the guy at World of Fish who was flinging fish into a net, which was then carried off by a helicopter.

Putting two and two together, Sam and Max stow away on a giant fiberglass trout, get fished up, take a choppa ride, and finally get their string.

Also, they fall OFF of the ball of twine, but they’re cartoons, so they’ll be OK.

By combining a long-distance grabber, Jesse James’ severed hand, and a World of Fish magnet, Sam is able to construct a device to reach into the ball and grab a mood ring lodged there. “That was wholesome,” he remarks. “And physically improbable!” Max adds.

Next stop for the duo is the Mystery Vortex in the Pacific Northwest. Gettin’ a real strong Gravity Falls vibe from this place! So what’s inside this place? I’m just as curious as you are!

This is everything I was hoping for and so much more. Lots of weird stuff doing weird things, all the while making Sam and Max grow and shrink.

“That’s a mirror!” Sam exclaims.

6 great YouTube channel recommendations

About half of the YouTube channels I subscribe to are for music alone, but the other half are a hodge-podge of informative and analytical channels. There are a few that, in my mind, stand above the rest in terms of content and presentation, so I thought I’d share six of them with you today.

SNES Drunk

This guy pumps out short (5-10 minute) videos that cover all sorts of SNES and 16-bit titles, and they’re a great way to revisit my favorite console of all time. It really helps he has an upbeat and honest voice that conveys real enthusiasm for the subject.

Sean Chandler Talks About Movies

While I love cinema, I don’t subscribe to a whole lot of movie channels. I do this one, because I really dig the guy’s approach and passion for movies. He covers a lot of topics that I find interesting, such as ranking franchise installments, and doesn’t have that condescending sneer that repels me from other critics.

Deep Look

Who ever thought that bugs, fungus, and other teeny tiny things in nature would be so incredibly fascinating? These mini-PBS documentaries are always a must-watch — and usually I’ll drag the kids into the room to watch with me. Unless they have spiders, because that’s a dealbreaker with my daughter.

Toy Galaxy

This is a relatively new find for me, but boy was I ever bowled over by this channel. I’m not even a toy collector, but I think these videos are engrossing — moreso because they cover entire cartoon franchises and all of the merchandising that spawned from them. The host is really funny and well-spoken, too.

CGP Grey

This guy’s really well-known, but I felt that if I didn’t include his well-written and often humorous videos in this list, I’d be failing at life. I don’t always agree with some of his conclusions, but I do like his research and presentation of topics like geography and pirates.

The Tim Traveller

While Tom Scott might be more well-known for visiting interesting places around the world, I thought I’d give a shout-out to Tim Traveller for doing much the same thing (although mostly in Europe). He’s like a tour guide for the lazy, and he’s likable to boot.