Fallout New Vegas: Bug phobias

(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.)

I’m still at that very vulnerable stage of a Fallout game where my stats aren’t great, my gear is sub-standard, and I’m not that great in a firefight. Perfect time to start working my way through a heavily armed camp of bandits inside of a hotel, right?

So this was me, more often than not: shot through the heart, and I was to blame. Reload. Die. Reload. It got even worse once I hoovered up enough loot that my travel speed slowed to a non-jumping slow jaunt, which I stuck with because I’ll be cornswaggled if I give up future caps because I want to run around like a track star.

Not advised: Using a huge flamethrower in a very small confined space. It’s kind of overkill — and has a tendency to backfire — but I had a moment or two of fun even so. Say hello to my little friend!

At least Primm ended up helping my advancement. After reprogramming a cowboy robot to ALSO be a cowboy sheriff robot, I dinged level 4. I know enough to pick early perks that pay out in more skill points and XP gained, even if those aren’t sexy perks. They’ll help out in the long run.

With loot sold and a deputy rescued who pointed me in the direction of Nipton, I left Primm during a particularly gorgeous day. It was the kind of day that made me want to strike out in a random direction and get myself killed in a glorious fashion.

One of my favorite elements of any Fallout game is the in-game radio, which I usually prefer to the soundtrack score. Not that the score is bad or anything, it’s just that the selection of songs and DJ patter put me at ease and give a feeling of companionship along the road. Plus, Radio New Vegas had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion with its goofs.

The road from Primm to Nipton proved to be mighty hazardous. Lots of gangs, lots of mutated bugs, and very little in the way of shelter or help. I went through ammo like nobody’s business, but at least I was raking in XP and clawing my way to level 5. So far I’ve been dumping a majority of my points into lockpicking and science so I can unlock things to get better loot, but I don’t want to neglect guns or other useful skills for too long.

GIANT ANTIE JUST WANTS TO GIVE YOU A SMOOCH! Mwah!

Sega Genesis Mini enters our household

The announcement of this retro all-in-one console didn’t hit me as hard as the NES/SNES ones did, as I barely touched the Genesis in my childhood. Yet there was a lot of strong word-of-mouth and good reviews behind it, and so I splurged on the Genesis Mini to add to my growing collection of retro consoles.

I think it was a pretty decent purchase. Our family has had a lot of collective fun with the NES and SNES (you’d be surprised how much effort my kids have put into games like Metroid, Earthbound, and Star Tropics), and right away I loved the fact that there was about 12 games that had a two-player option here. My kids argue over turns a lot, so letting at least two of them play at a time helps alleviate that.

I’d been saving it for a rainy night, and last week was that night, as most of us were laying around with colds and generally feeling blah. I hooked up the Genesis Mini and had it running within a couple of minutes, and right away I could see that it was a solid product. The menu screen and options were spot on, and the fact that there were 42 games here meant that we had a lot of exploring to do.

I had the right as the owner to indulge in first dibs, so I loaded up a half-dozen of the games to try them out quick. Road Rash II felt a little clunky, Ecco was… weird, Castlevania was surprisingly bloody, and Sonic was the same old Sonic I’d played for the last few decades. The hit of the night was tied between Mickey in the Forest of Illusions and Gunstar Heroes. The former had a lot of personality and charm to it, while the latter was an intuitive two-player co-op.

Also, my seven-year-old son figured out that you could grab the other player and chuck them across the screen, and that was it — that’s all he did for the next ten minutes, laughing like a madman until I thought he was going to throw up. He was laughing so hard that we ended up laughing at him laughing, it was that sort of thing.

From the brief night one survey of the titles, I noticed a few missing that should’ve been there and very few RPGs or schmups, but with 42 games, I don’t think we were going to get bored any time soon. It’s nice to have to rotate with the other consoles, giving my kids a lot of choice without having to switch discs or paying for new games. And I might get the odd moment of enjoyment here and there (I have my eye on Phantasy Star IV, a game that caught my attention as a kid but frustrated me due to no way to play it).

4 Lord of the Rings Online classes I’d play… if I had the time

At least for me, juggling a huge field of alts in Lord of the Rings Online isn’t really feasible. If it was my only MMORPG, then maybe I could push about four or so toons up there, but when any other game is in the picture sharing that time, then I have to limit myself. I’m already kind of toeing the line with both a Lore-master and Minstrel, so while whipping up a new character has that immediate gratification feel to it, it wouldn’t be possible in the long run unless I slowed all progress down to a crawl.

But that can’t stop me from musing about what alts I would play if I had the time and serious inclination. We all have those moments of “grass is greener” envy when we see what other classes can do, and I know that there’s plenty I have yet to experience even in a game that’s a dozen years old.

So here’s a quick list: Four class/race combos that I wouldn’t mind playing. You know. Some day. Probably never. But… yeah.

(1) Beorning Beorning — This is, no doubt, an intriguing class. The human models are a nice step up from the Man models (neat tatts, as well), the shapeshifting aspect has an intrinsic cool factor to it, and the fact that there’s some serious hybrid potential makes it all that much more desirable. Plus, it can lob bees at people, and I’m all about lobbing bees.

(2) Stout-Axe Dwarf Champion — I think that if I wanted a very no-nonsense character that could wade into a pack of mobs and clear it out without too much time or damage taken, this is what I’d go for. Strong AOE plus the new race smell is a powerful combination.

(3) Hobbit Hunter — As you might recall, I very nearly rolled one of these on the progression server, only at the last minute substituting a Minstrel instead. I don’t regret the swap, but the Hunter would have been good too. Travel skills, decoy pets, fast running, and lots of long range damage dealing would be a breezy fun experience.

(4) Dwarf Rune-keeper — I’ve only occasionally seen RKs out on the landscape, but whenever I’ve paired up with one, I’ve been very impressed with the powerful magic attacks and neat light shows that they put on. Plus, the healing totems look way nifty and would kind of feel like I was bringing a WoW Resto Shaman to the fight.

Sunday Serenade: Castlevania, Erasure, Trine 2, 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…

“Mission Complete” from Agents of Mayhem — Hits all the right notes (har har): stirring, epic, makes you feel like you could grow hair on your chest just by listening to this enough. Good stuff.

“Castlemania” by AmIEvil (OC ReMix) — OC ReMix gets a lot of respect from me, and AmIEvil has churned out some of the top tracks for that site. This is a great remix of the two most well-known Castlevania themes. Love that whip!

“Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (Live)” by Erasure — A friend of mine back in college used to make me mix tapes all the time, and most of them contained at least one Erasure song. Hearing this definitely makes me think of her.

“Vapor Trail” from Skull Fang — You get into interesting places when you do searches for “underrated video game music,” such as this title. It’s like a perfected action movie montage theme from the 1980s and I instantly added it to my favorites list.

“Main Theme” from Trine 2 — What can I say about this one? It’s just a lovely, lovely theme.

“Solaris Phase 2” from Sonic the Hedgehog — I’m not big on overblown boss battle themes, but this one has that perfect mix of epic and exciting that kept me hanging on every note.

“130 House Street” by Ron Wasserman — You now have a new wake up song. You’re welcome.

Fallout New Vegas: From Goodsprings to Primm

(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.)

Continuing on with the tutorial section of Fallout New Vegas, I explore the starting town of Goodsprings. It’s a quaint little Western dive that is making its way in the post-apocalyptic world, and it even has a mascot — a roving robot named Victor. Who’s a cowboy. Because of course he is. Apparently, Victor is the one who saw the Caesars dump me into a shallow grave and rescued me, even though — according to the townspeople — he’s never done anything helpful in the past.

I have to say that the tutorial section is fairly well integrated into the game. Doesn’t really feel like you’re playing a tutorial, for the most part. Some easy quests, some light crafting, a bit of combat, all while I familiarize myself with the controls. It’s pretty familiar, coming from the other modern Fallout games, and I rejoice to have proper VATS working once more.

Another thing that the game does well at the onset is hitting you with the surrounding backstory from multiple angles. Various NPCs talk about what’s going on until I have a good sense of the larger situation — that the New California Republic has moved into the area to take the Hoover Dam, the evil slaver Caesars are pushing back, and New Vegas is a plum prize with its electricity and modern amenities.

There’s Vegas itself in the distance. I hope we’re not going there too soon; I don’t especially like the bigger cities in these post-apoc RPGs.

One thing that is hitting me hard about this game is how similar New Vegas and Fallen Earth are in feel. Both have that broken up desert southwestern setting, so I guess that makes sense, but in any case it makes me really glad to be exploring this game world.

With everything done in Goodsprings that I can see, I head down to the next major town and quest destination: Primm. It’s less cozy than where I came from, as the small village (which includes a couple of casinos and a broken-down rollercoaster) has been overrun by criminal elements and the NCR refuses to step in to help.

At least I’m starting to fill in the blanks as to my weird backstory. I am Courier Six, the last of a group of couriers sent out to deliver a package. I was the only one waylaid and left for dead, although a guy in Primm hints that there was something special about me that triggered this event. So to speak.

At least I get my first real dungeon crawl here. I’m not fully equipped for a heavy slog, but I have enough armor and weapons to make my way through. I find that with my large AP pool, it’s best to run up quick to a bad guy, trigger VATS, and then line up about six attacks in slow-motion.

VATS is what makes this a lot more enjoyable than it has a right to be. I’d hate for this to be a twitch-based shooter with murky rooms and hard-to-see mobs, but with this combat system, it’s a lot of fun to plan out attacks and then see how they unfold.

SWG and Ultima Online’s Raph Koster rides again

I can see why, when you approach a certain age, that you feel a growing need — a pressure — to produce one last impactful legacy for your life. Even if you’ve already accomplished much and are known for it, there might be that urge to prove that you still have it in you. The compulsion to take all of your past achievements and accumulated knowledge and do something even better.

Creation is a fire that burns in some people’s bones, and it can’t be easily quenched by middle (or elder) age. It’s why I can understand how Mark Jacobs, Chris Roberts, John Smedley, Richard Garriott, and many other veteran MMO developers might try again. And again. And again. Now we can toss in Raph Koster to that list, even though he’s a man who has nothing left to prove about his skill and expertise when it comes to virtual worlds.

Last week was jam-packed with heavy hitting industry announcements — Tencent is moving in on Funcom! Mike O’Brien left ArenaNet! — the news that Raph Koster had founded a new studio with the intent to create a next generation MMORPG had me most riveted. I long since thought that Raph had retired to a speaking and consulting circuit, but I guess that fire was burning hot, because the mind behind Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online (as well as EverQuest II, Crowfall, and Metaplace) decided that it wasn’t just Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Harrison Ford who could don iconic outfits for one more ride. Actually, Raph isn’t even that old, just four more years than I, and I haven’t made a single MMORPG in my life.

It’s certainly exciting news, and this unnamed game instantly rocketed to the top of my most anticipated MMO projects. Raph has been examining the industry in-depth over the last couple of decades, and there are few people out there who have such a wealth of knowledge and insight as he does. Of course, his generation of MMOs has come and gone, and that type of wide open sandbox hasn’t been the norm for a while now. It’s trying to make a comeback, however, and he might have a shot to bring the best to the table.

Right now it’s all talk, but it is Big Talk. It’s the kind of talk that belittles the murderbox design that many MMOs have fallen into and promises much wider and more free frontiers for gaming. To be honest, I’ve heard such sentiments from many up-and-coming MMO developers over the last decade, but I’ll give more of a benefit of the doubt to Koster for his pedigree.

“Building online communities,” “community-driven,” “a game played in short sessions doesn’t need to be shallow,” “we are seeing demand for ‘sandboxy’ play all over the place,” and “I’d say that our goal is to make a sandbox that looks forward rather than one that looks backwards.”

It’s interesting. Count me in. We’re in for a long wait on this one (Koster says at least a few years out), but seeing him, Scott Hartsman, and others coming together to work on a new sandbox MMORPG is an occasion to sit up and feel kind of hopeful for the industry’s future.

When do you decide to ban a game studio — and its games?

Yesterday no you doubt read the news that Blizzard stepped into it big-time when it banned a professional Hearthstone player for delivering a brief but apparently heartfelt pro-Hong Kong, anti-China statement during an interview. Blizzard didn’t quietly deal with the situation, but came down on it loaded to bear. It yanked the guy’s won prize money away, denounced him in the strongest of language, and even sacked relations with the two interviewers.

All of this, of course, because Blizzard is heavily invested in China’s gaming market — and Chinese companies such as Tencent are financially invested in Blizzard. Dissent under Chinese rule is not allowed, not this publicly, and apparently Blizzard was more concerned with appeasing its business partners/overlords than upholding a measure of free speech and opinions, even in a tricky political sphere.

The callousness and punitive wrath that Blizzard used in this situation immediately caused a massive backlash. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people from different political parties and walks of life quickly band together against a decision like this. Nobody likes seeing free speech squelched or one guy have such a heavy boom lowered on him, especially when it’s in favor of an oppressive government. The whole event triggered a Twitter-trending call to #boycottBlizzard, and my feed (and Massively OP office chat) was filled with announcements or discussion about cancelling subscriptions and play hours to Blizzard’s titles.

Now, a boycott is usually done for one or both of these purposes: Because one’s conscience will not let that person support that company/practice any longer, or because one figures that a boycott will prompt change within that company. Used en masse, it’s a powerful social leverage. I watched in fascination as Blizzard got squeezed between the screws of its Chinese partnerships and the wrath of its community, each pushing for its own agenda.

On a personal level, the idea of boycotts has come up every so often in our home. The tricky thing is that when you start boycotting… where does it stop? What’s the line? Companies often do immoral, anti-consumer, and politically motivated actions, and it’s near impossible to keep track of them all. I suppose you do in the spheres that are closest to your interests, but I also find that it’s easy to become a hypocrite who bans one studio for one thing but lets a lot of other things slide. Plus, there’s always the type of boycott where you loudly state you’re not supporting this company any longer… and then, months later, you quietly slink back into its fold.

If your conscience is screaming loud enough that you have to do something — include boycott — then you probably should. But for me more often, the boycott is part of a push for change. It’s voting with my wallet and time, so to speak. And in this situation with Blizzard, I definitely feel that the studio went way over the line in its arrogance and greed, and therefore should not get my attention or money. At least for a while.